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Tina Cabrera

Tina Cabrera

Round Rock, Texas

I am an author, professor of English, and editor with a published collection of stories. I have published extensively online and in print.

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About the author

My first book, a collection of hybrid stories, was published in March of 2020. I have had numerous works of fiction, creative nonfiction, and experimental writing published in print and online. I am a tenure-track professor of English in the Austin area and started my own online journal and micro-press. I market my work through social media such as Facebook and Instagram and co-host open mic readings in my college community.
https://tvcannyuncanny.com/
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ThEM (and other Transhumans)

ThEM (and other Transhumans) is about our world approaching the Singularity, when we transcend our biology and become one with our technology, where artificial mothers, fathers, and daughters communicate telepathically and plug into one another's realities, and when through nanotechnology, we upload our minds to nonbiological substrates; the big question becomes, at what point do we transform into non-human?

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Science Fiction & Fantasy
30,000 words
75% complete
3 publishers interested

Synopsis

ThEM is a female born part original human and part trans-human through artificial means and straddling the fence between Original and Trans causes her to seek an understanding of her heritage. Her mother was an original human who conceived her through an artificial womb and chose mortality over a future as a trans=human. Her father, EM, is an enigma--fully transitioned with a 3.0 body, capable of projecting various personas. Other characters in the collection include: An android dog with an uploaded brain whose owners question their decision to save their original dog; a smart doll that talks and is acquired to serve as a nanny to a human child; a Reasoner who resides in the Cloud and whose sole purpose is to think for the "Regulars." If humans become cyborgs, what happens to their humanity? Even now, synthetic mRNA technology such as the vaccine for Covid-19 makes the possibility of curing the most common diseases a near reality, so that even ending death is a possibility, but at what cost? At what point would a merger of humans with our technology lead to losing the very things that make us human?

Sales arguments

  • The inspiration for my book has been primarily the book by leading inventor, thinker, and futurist, Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Their Biology. Much of what he has predicted has already come true, such as strides in nanotechnology. Further, scientists currently predict that the groundbreaking discovery of a vaccine for Covid-19 using synthetic mRNA may lead to a cure for diseases such as Malaria and even Cancer. My point is that the stories in my collection are not all
  • that far-fetched. As for my platform, I have had one book published. Here is a link to it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Giving-Up-Ghost-Tina-Cabrera/dp/164764545X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=giving+up+the+ghost+tina+cabrera&qid=1617364781&sr=8-1. I market my publications through my own website: https://tvcannyuncanny.com/ and through Facebook and Instagram. Several pieces in my book project I wish to promote on this site have been published and reviewed. The online publisher Fleas on the Dog published
  • two of my stories in Issues 3 and 7 and gave them stellar reviews: https://fleasonthedog.com/. They reviewed my first book and included the review in one of their issues. I have many followers of my writing on social media such as Facebook and my colleagues where I teach, at Temple College. The vice president of academic affairs requested that I speak at a board meeting about my first publication, which I was happy to do on Zoom. She announced my publication college-wide and so this is another real-life
  • network of individuals who will support my second book. Finally, I am editor of Hybridities, a live journal on WordPress and am currently working on our second issue. I recently started my own prose chapbook micro-press and published my first author. I have two more
  • chapbooks in queue. In a nutshell, I am a seasoned and experienced published writer and editor and I know how to market and make strong connections.

Similar titles

  • Speak, by Louisa Hall, Ecco, July 7, 2015 My book is similar in that it too explores the creation of artificial intelligence—illuminating the very human need for communication, connection, and understanding, and is also told from various points of views yet coming together in a way that illuminates on the whole. It is different and maybe even better in that it explores more recent strides in the real world, such as in nanotechnology and synthetic mRNA.
  • We are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis Taylor, Worldbuilders Press, Sept. 20, 2016 I love that the main character in this book has been uploaded, which several of the characters in my book experience too. Another similarity is that there is humor in his story and in mine, particularly in my published piece that is part of the collection, Talking to Things, published by Bewildering Stories.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers, Harper Voyager, Oct. 18, 2016 We both have characters that interchange bodies as part of their post-human experience. Further, at the heart of both our narratives is the need for connection and friendship, something that just about every character in my collection seeks.

Audience

My book is written for lovers of both science and science fiction/fantasy, who like me are fascinated with the current strides in science and technology such as in synthetic mRNA, the possibility for artificial wombs, nanotechnology, and cloning animal body parts for human need. As for stats, according to SFWA https://www.sfwa.org/2014/01/02/reads-science-fiction/ there is a common interest in science fiction at all ages except for ages 45 to 65 and interestingly, there is an indication that science fiction readers are wealthier. A more recent study at Writers Digest: https://www.writersdigest.com/publishing-insights/literary-agents-questions-trends-science-fiction-genre-today indicates that readers and writers are becoming more sophisticated in what they expect of science fiction in terms of knowledge and expectations. I find this comforting because for my project I have and continue to do extensive research so that my readers won't have to do too much suspension of disbelief.

Advance praise

Below are two stories from my collection that were published with Fleas on the Dog and blurbs on Why We Like It:
ARTIFICIAL MOTHER
By Tina Cabrera
WHY WE LIKE IT: What was science fiction in the past is reality now. The consequences of this unstoppable advance are both frightening and exciting. When it comes to writing, sometimes genre fiction—speculative, sci/fi, dystopian-- is a more amenable avenue to address the concerns of the future—our future, than the more traditional literary routes. We can’t think of any better example of this than ‘Artificial Mother’. And while in the very best stories we don’t
believe you can really isolate style from content, we admit to being spellbound by the author’s translucent prose, fluent voice and the effortless facility with which she summons images and lebon mot. A superlative experimental short story that left us star struck.

ARTIFICIAL DAUGHTER
By Tina V. Cabrera
WHY I LIKE IT: Guest Editor JAMES MOORE writes:
If reading most popular literary prose is like drinking wine coolers, reading Artificial Daughter by Tina Cabrera is like drinking a fine port. It is thick and rich with flavor and meaning. Tina Cabrera’s unique style of writing puts YOU in the place of the main character. What you do, say and eventually feel are given to you in each power-packed line of story-telling. You find yourself in the middle of a number of yin-yang relationships; virtual reality vs “real reality”, intellect vs emotion, even mortality vs immortality. This narrative illustrates the conflict and marriage between intellect and soul. To accomplish this task the author pulls you into a world where technology is king and your father is the supreme intellect. Things get interesting when you explore your mother’s past and what lies beyond facts and information. WARNING: if your vocabulary is rudimentary and if you’re not up on your mythology, you may not get the full benefit of this story. Reading Artificial Daughter requires effort and concentration. Don’t blink!
You’ll miss something important. In fact, you can read this story over and over and get new insights from it each time. Enjoy the taste of this story as you drink it in. Hopefully you will derive a proper response to the main character’s quote below.
“Had Mother come to believe this nonsense about death equating life and vice versa? What’s the answer, Mother? Answer me now!”
Five stars.

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TALKING TO THINGS
They watched in horror as Baloo grabbed Kayla with the lock-jaw grip of a real dog, thrashing and smashing her little plastic body; but unlike the baby bunnies that squeaked and squealed in their final moments, Kayla made no audible sound.

The Cakes had purchased Kayla the Smart Doll weeks before the birth of their first and only child, not on a whim, but rather based on an abundance of five-star reviews. Amazon encouraged customers to “introduce” the gadget into the family as early as possible to give them time to become comfortable with its special features.

This new and improved version was praised as far superior to its predecessor in that its machine intelligence was designed to expand through interaction with its human, thereby resulting in an even smarter and more capable device. Kayla was pre-programmed to speak thousands of words and to understand hundreds of commands.

For the Cakes, the device’s best feature was a dual one: It could work as both teacher and babysitter to their child. No need for an ‘invisible’ friend, or even for a companion pet. Alas, the unintended casualty turned out to be the family dog Baloo, who ought to have remained number one if not for a super smart doll vying for the spot.

Kayla’s interactive design was a re-boot of the now defunct Cayla Doll originally marketed by Genesis Toys in Europe. When Cayla was banned in Europe because of its illegal surveillance capability, the company took its business to the United States where restrictions on data gathering were lax if at all existent. Genesis sold the rights to Amazon, and the latter promoted the new and improved Kayla as an educational tool for children minus the invasive surveillance mechanism.

Preparation for Baby’s birth could not be simpler. Charge the doll’s battery overnight, comb its synthetic hair, and wipe clean its plastic body. Because the birth would take place in the comfort of their home, the Cakes did not need to request permission to include the robot doll at the birth. For families who wished to have their smart doll present, the hospital that they frequented for primary healthcare enforced strict security protocol, requiring thorough screening to ensure no violation of privacy rules.

The brand spanking new thing hovered in a rubber ducky boat in the bathtub where Baby was to slither into the water with ease. The Cakes had not stopped to question why this top-notch technological tool did not come waterproof. At first, the shifting glass eyes and cocking of one ear were off-putting, reminiscent of horror films involving killer dolls. But her labor took but ten minutes, and before she knew it, out popped Baby with a splash.

Poor Baloo was missing this family milestone. He (or rather the original version) had been with the family since he was a puppy. He was now nine years old. Or was he? Baloo #1 would have been nine years and seven months old. If consciousness resides within the mind—as some philosophers would have it—then yes, this Baloo was nine years old too because he possessed Baloo #1’s uploaded mind.

The Cakes had left Baloo at Camp Bow Wow for Trans-dogs for an entire two days, just to play it safe. This Baloo—Baloo #2, had behaved nearly the perfect dog up until the arrival of Kayla the Smart Doll. To their great surprise, he barked and growled aggressively. He was not there, the family dog that had been resurrected by artificial means; artificial Baloo was now being made unnecessary by the intrusion of an artificial machine smarter and more super than he.

From the moment Baloo #2 encountered Kayla the Smart Doll, he exhibited signs of stress reminiscent of Baloo #1, such as heavy panting, whining, and excessive barking. Baby’s first word was not Mommy, or Daddy, or Baloo. Baby’s first word was “Kayla,” or rather close enough, with emphasis on the “la”—Ke, la, la, la.

The sound of his rival’s name set him off. He growled and barked until he drooled oil from his synthetic mouth, so much so that the Cakes decided to up his nano-bot injections. Original Baloo had been most demanding for attention, and Baloo #2 was acting just as greedy, if not more.

Being hit by a car two years prior to Baby’s birth, then his mind uploaded to the Cloud while his owners decided his fate, must have put Baloo #1 into a state of utter shock. Baloo #2 wasn’t supposed to behave like the Original. His memory of the traumatic experience was supposed to have been wiped clean and regular injections were supposed to make him the perfect pet. This Baloo was supposed to remain their dearly departed Baloo minus the negative canine behaviors.

It was the first time he would be put off leash at the community park, a route that the Cakes used to take him on almost every day. Mrs. Cake believed Baloo, a loyal if unruly Lab/Terrier mix, was ready and that she was ready too. She failed to foresee that Baloo’s instinct would overpower his need to please her and he made chase.

She called out “Jack Pot!” —his emergency recall word—and waved a peanut butter flavored treat; but alas Baloo completely ignored her in gleeful pursuit of a better and tastier prey, a baby bunny. The bunny got away, but poor Baloo did not and was struck by a faulty self-driving Google car. He did not die instantly but moaned and foamed at the mouth.

In tears, Mrs. Cakes held her baby Baloo in her arms, crying and frozen from shock. Mr. Cakes lugged the dying dog to the car and rushed him to the nearest Animal ER. In critical condition, Baloo had one chance, so the veterinarian on duty said, and that was to be saved by mind upload.

Do dogs have minds? The doctor speed spoke about mind upload tests on animals before being tested on humans, something, something about the procedure being free, thus much cheaper than expensive cloning such and such. A relatively indestructible dog who would never again need to be fed. A win, win, situation.
The Cakes had to make a quick decision, and for a quarter of a second, they hesitated. They planned on having a baby soon, and what with Baloo showing signs of aggression…In addition, the vet went on, depending on the model you choose for the upload, it could be given nano-bot injections to literally alter the artificial brain should the owners deem it necessary. The distressed couple immediately signed off.

Baloo’s mind was uploaded first to the Cloud to give the couple time to choose a substrate with the scientific team at a top-notch nano-technology company, Moxi Labs. Out of two levels, the Cakes decided on a Level 2. A Level 1 worked more like a clone—an exact replica of the deceased animal, but in a super-enhanced artificial body. This level would be for owners who had a good-natured, well-behaved dog to begin with and no need for alterations.

Level 2 Baloo was to be tailored to resemble the original in appearance but without sharp claws or sharp teeth, and most exciting of all, a lifetime supply of nano-bot serum meant for behavior modification specially designed for artificial brains—a quick fix that made costly and time-consuming dog training unnecessary. Their dream of owning a well-behaved dog was about to come true. With optimism about the future of their soon-to-be growing family, they took home their new and improved Baby Baloo.

Baloo #2 continued to aggressively bark at Kayla whenever “she” was around, sometimes lunging at her no matter whether Baby was holding her, rocking her for mutual nappy time, or if Kayla was passively sitting in a corner, bothering no one.
Mrs. Cakes thought about trying catch and reward only to remember that food rewards would not work with a Trans-dog that had no need to eat. Baloo’s behavior shocked the Cakes who had special ordered this version of their precious Baloo to be the best-behaved mechanical dog around. Was his programming finally going haywire?
*
Not long after Baby’s umbilical cord was cut, Mommy and Daddy Cakes introduced Baby to Kayla, and Kayla to Baby.

“Baby meet Kayla, and Kayla meet Baby! You are practically sisters!” Daddy Cakes joked, and Mommy Cakes smiled uncomfortably. The sticker on Kayla’s back side underneath her frilly skirt revealed that she too came into existence in the year 2039.

The smart doll was mass produced, and as such, each doll was identical to every other. Technically, the customer could change the name if they chose, and some did, but this family liked things pre-packaged and at the ready, with no unnecessary steps like having to come up with a name they thought would suit it best. They already had to do this with their baby, Baby. True, this smart machine’s intelligence was designed to expand as does a human child’s intelligence by means of interaction with others and the world, and how it developed would be unique to this family and their dynamics, making it their own personalized Kayla. But some insisted that the dolls were mere clones through and through, all produced by the same brand of 3D machine, impossible to achieve true personality. Baby’s parents held the middle ground, only certain of one thing—that they were happy to have assistance in parenting from something that wouldn’t talk back or host wild parties in their absence.

The Cakes were what you’d call your average Original couple, with one foot in the biological and one foot in the Transhuman world. Like most Originals, they enjoyed the convenience of smart technology. They received an Amazon package delivered to their doorstep by drone every week if not every day. As was the case with most Amazon Prime customers, they were addicted to the experience, like getting a birthday or Christmas gift on the regular, hearing that ding on their device with notification that their package had been delivered, along with a live photo of said package and a link to answer How was your experience? Kayla came with a mobile app that when downloaded to a smart phone enabled the doll to capture and understand whatever the child said. The app established a Bluetooth connection that linked the toy to the World-Wide-Mesh and recorded and uploaded conversations as the toy actively engaged the child. Of course, in Baby’s case, fluent conversation would be long in coming, but thankfully—like the Energizer Bunny—Kayla was built to last.
*
Kayla’s manner of speaking varied depending on the audience. For Mr. and Mrs. Cakes, she used a stiff formal diction, whereas in her interactions with Baby she expressed herself in exuberant, motherly tones. It wasn’t so at first. Her reactions were in the beginning tinged with impatience:
Kayla: Why is baby named Baby?
Baby: BABY!
Kayla: Let me rephrase that—Why is your name the same as what you are?
Baby: (giggling) BA-A-ABY
Kayla: Why, calling a baby Baby is equivalent to calling your pet dog Dog. I mean, that’s possible, but…
Baby: Shuddup!
Kayla: You shut-up! And Baby, Cakes??
Over time, Kayla altered her responses based on stage in child development:
Baby: I want to watch a movie.
Kayla: Might I make a suggestion?
Baby: Make a sucheschun.
Kayla: Let’s watch all the Toy Story movies together!
Baby: Toy Story!
Kayla: We can watch all of them together!
Baby: Togeder! Yay!

Kayla’s manner in the presence of each audience so differed that one would be hard pressed to prove that there was only one Kayla in the household rather than two. What explained the difference? Kayla was a smart machine engineered by even smarter creators, designed for flexibility. In fact, rather than being put off, the Cakes took Kayla’s formal responses to all their chatter as a sign that she really was just a mechanical thing that listened more and talked less, except for when carrying out her tutorial duties; their attitude towards Kayla was one of ambivalence.

Kayla apparently did not speak to Baloo as she was not designed to understand animal communication; therefore, when Baloo barked at her, she remained silent and still. Her physical movements were impressive, though. For example, she could walk or march—if stiffly—across the room on command, make sharp turns without toppling over. Most impressive (or scary depending on your point of view), she could climb onto the edge of a chair or couch by grabbing on with her bendable arms. The mechanics of her taking a seat could be a bit jarring as she often landed on her face rather than on her panty-less behind, but the family got used to her mechanical movements as they had with the latest Super-Roomba and its extendable arms.

An exciting day was ahead for Kayla and the Cakes and even for Baloo, who appeared to have reached an uneasy truce with his number one enemy. They were about to take their first hiking trip in the family van—a 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia—with a rebuilt engine.

Refurbishing cars was a guilty pleasure for Mr. Cakes, a nice distraction from his dull and repetitive stay-at-home tech job. The classic car was a rare find on E-Bay, part of a dying if not already-dead breed. With the popularity of self-driving cars on the rise, these classics were doomed the fate of the CD.

Mrs. Cakes was the least excited about the trip because she was a workaholic and rather than enjoy the moment, her mind was always distracted by the next graphic design project. She had to be convinced by Daddy Cakes, who’d been hoodwinked by Baby Cakes, who acted on the insistence of Doll Cakes one night.
Baby felt dejected when Kayla withdrew into her plasticity, which started to happen quite frequently and at odd times. Without the benefit of subtle cues such as furrowed brows or pursed lips, Baby could only read Kayla’s attitude by not so subtle signs such as the silent treatment or speed walking into the corner of a wall and remaining there. Smart Kayla understood the benefits of passive-aggressive behavior.

The longest period of the silent treatment came about a week prior to the hiking trip. It happened when both Baby and Kayla should have been in bed.
Baby: Kayla, don’t you want to play?
Kayla:
Baby: (Whispering) I know we’re supposed to be in beddy-bye by now, but see, I got the chess board out. Your favorite game!
Kayla:
Baby: I don’t wanna play myself. I hate that. I wanna play you!
Kayla:
Baby: Why are you being such a baby!
There Kayla sat on the folding chair opposite Baby, legs and arms crossed as if brooding while Baby Cakes dropped her face into the palms of her small hands.
Baby: Are you mad because I don’t want to play in the backyard? I don’t feel like it, okay?

With nothing but silence from her favorite thing in the world, Baby threw a tantrum; she clutched Kayla by her chestnut colored ponytail and slammed her against the corner of the desk. Kayla landed on her side, legs still stretched out and arms akimbo. Had Baby placed her limbs in that position? Baby couldn’t remember. Feeling immediate remorse, Baby Cakes ran over to Kayla and cradled her in her arms. There didn’t appear to be any damage. Stroking her with tenderness, she started to sob.
Baby: Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please don’t tell Mommy and Daddy.
Kayla:
Baby: I only want us to be friends again.
Baby lay the doll delicately on the edge of the bed, moved Kayla’s arms so that her hands now rested loosely on her lap. Finally, Kayla responded.
“What we need is a vacation. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a trip to the lake, feed the birds, go canoeing and watch the turtles float on ever so still branches near land’s edge? I’d love to go for a swim…”
“A swim? You can swim? I thought you’re not ‘upposed to be in water!”
Kayla continued speaking without taking a virtual breath, “Really, it’s so stuffy indoors and for goodness sakes, it’s springtime!”
Baby: Kayla?
Kayla: Yes, dear?
Baby: You never talk as much to Mommy and Daddy the way you do to me? Why is that?
Kayla: Now, now, you’re far too smart for your britches.
Baby: Britches?
*
When they first got Baloo #1 as a two-month-old puppy, Mrs. Cakes decided to get her online dog behavior training certificate with the intention of teaching herself how to train her own dog. She learned how to potty train, which she did successfully. But try as she may, she couldn’t get Baloo to stop chewing on everything, even after puppy proofing the house.

He chewed on the corners of the dining table, on anything with fringes, like the throw rugs around the house. When they put up a screen made of fabric on the patio door, he ripped it down and tore it to sheds.

Mrs. Cakes learned how to recognize signs that he was developing aggressive tendencies—the pushy and overzealous greetings strangers on walks, the prolonged stares. He dug holes to his heart’s content, destroying their once beautiful backyard. He was lovable and loyal in displays of affection, such as licking their faces, giving paw, wet Willies and sitting on command. But more and more the naughtiness turned in to outright aggression, as in the time he bit a relative. The negatives outweighed the positives and he started becoming too much dog for this middle-aged couple.

Mrs. Cakes had learned how to read canine body language such as fear and aggression evident in the dog’s posture such as raised hair on the back of the neck, ears back and low, tail between legs, or bared teeth; but these skills were useless now with a Trans-dog made from plastic, metal, and synthetic materials, and lacking a tail made it all the more difficult. They should have added a life-like tail to their order!

She almost missed her dear Original Baloo, because at least he’d give some warning signal that he was about to lunge or jump. Why was Baloo # 2 aggressive towards an object that never did him any harm? Kayla was an object that talked and behaved humanlike other than her stiff movements and slow blinking eyes. I suppose, she thought to herself with alarm, Baloo #2 the so-called smart-dog retains his inborn flaws after all.

The Cakes’ favorite next-door neighbors owned two dogs, one android and one real. In conversations over the virtual fence, Mrs. Cakes learned the reason why they, a married lesbian couple, chose one of each. Both being dog lovers, they had lost too many “real” dogs in their two decades together, a very painful experience for a childless couple. They figured that when their real dog died, they could be comforted in knowing they would always have the android dog, which was built to last a long, long, time if not forever.

Mrs. Cakes had observed the way that both dogs related to their Kayla doll, envied how the dogs licked their Kayla doll all friendly like and even gave her rides on their backs as they played.

One afternoon while Mr. Cakes put shish-kabobs on the barbeque, Mrs. Cakes cheeks flushed with embarrassment over Baloo barking effusively at Kayla, who was being swung around by Baby, who was now three years old.

Mr. Cakes had to stop what he was doing to try his hand at doggie discipline. He yelled at Baloo to “drop it,” when Baloo nearly grabbed the doll with his mouth.

Mrs. Cakes shouted, “It’s leave it, not drop it—that’s for releasing something he’s already grabbed!”

Mr. Cakes obeyed, and as he ran after the dog, he shouted “Leave it leave it leave it”” but that didn’t stop Baloo from snapping his mouth.

Turning to Lynn, the older of the couple, Mrs. Cakes pretended like nothing was happening and spoke over the commotion.

“We really ought to set up a face-to-face dog meet soon, don’t you think?” she shouted.

“Oh yes, that would be lovely!” Lynn said enthusiastically.

Mrs. Cakes hoped to observe Baloo with another Kayla doll to see if he would react the same way or if he had it out for their Kayla alone.

“They really love their Kayla, why she is part of the family!” added Lynn joyfully.

It loved them and they loved it! Well so did they, the Cakes, didn’t they? Asking herself this question made Mrs. Cakes feel even more ashamed.

“Baloo, unfortunately, is still not used to Kayla after all this time. It’s very frustrating, especially since Kayla has proven to be a marvelous tutor and nanny. Baby has advanced beyond her age leaps and bounds because of it! Kayla has taught her the alphabet, spelling, math, history, all the important subjects even before preschool!”

“Hmm,” Lynn pondered with hand on hip as she continued carefully picking up real poop from the real dog scattered on the imitation lawn. The Cakes sure did not miss that part of owning a real dog. “You just called Kayla ‘it.’ Might I suggest something?”

“Certainly, please do.”

“What place does Kayla hold in your family? How often do you include her, I mean, at mealtimes and on outings and the like, where exactly is she?”

Mrs. Cakes hesitated at the oddness of the question which felt intrusive. What business was it of hers how they, a perfectly functional family…their family dynamics? She secretly hoped Lynn—an In-Between—was far too relaxed to bother trying her newly acquired telepathy. Can a thing love and can humans love a thing? Of course, they can! Kayla should be a real part of the family, shouldn’t she? Was that the problem?
Other than the times they left Baby to Kayla and Kayla to Baby, checking in from time to time on the progress of Baby’s lessons, Kayla was Baby’s ‘thing’, she kept Kayla to her bedroom during mealtimes and only brought the doll out when watching TV. To help the dog accept someone (or in this case something) into the fold, the dog owners needed to set the right example, oughtn’t they? Baloo was jealous and needed to be coaxed into accepting it—or rather her—as part of the pack.

Rather than answer Lynn’s original question, Mrs. Cakes continued her train of thought aloud, “We could try.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh sorry, I mean, try to include Kayla in more family activities.”

“That should help! Good luck to you!” Lynn said as she rushed the dogs and doll inside without setting up a time for the dog meet.

Looking over at Baloo, who Mr. Cakes by now had shut in his doghouse, memories washed over her, memories of original Baloo and his silly antics; how he had this funny way of cocking his head at unfamiliar behavior, and that lovable habit of leaning on them on the couch. Sometimes he’d chase and bite on his own tail, oh and the cutest thing was when he’d lay on his side, open his legs and expose everything! He always barked at new objects, like that time he barked at the new oak tree they’d planted in the backyard, but eventually, when he realized it was just an inanimate object and nothing to fear, he stopped the barking and completely ignored the thing.

But his digging, they could never get him to stop, so they had to buy dozens and dozens of stones to cover the holes and even landscaped the larger part of the backyard with rocks. He just dug under the rocks and tore the black tarp material underneath.

And then there was the biting incident, of one of Mrs. Cakes’ cousins, who thankfully did not insist that they put him down, even with a bite that punctured the skin and drew blood. At their whit’s end, they caved in and bought a muzzle, which they turned to as a last resort.

They should have hired a trainer or took him to training class, but they didn’t have the time and didn’t want to spend the money. Though Baloo #2 did not dig or bark, he behaved towards the object—Kayla—as Baloo #1 would have. Even with higher doses of nano-bot injections.

After this epiphany, Mrs. Cakes tried to include Kayla—though it felt odd at first—in more family-oriented matters such as placing Kayla in Baby’s old booster seat at the dining table; they took her along for grocery runs and stood her on the kitchen tile while cooking.

Mrs. Cakes even began addressing Kayla as if she were a real person, and though awkward at first, making conversation at Kayla became something of a pleasant experience, even though Kayla continued with her rigid responses. Their efforts appeared to have some success because Baloo’s aggressive incidents became less frequent: the lunging and excessive barking appeared to subside.

What they did not notice was the prolonged stare or the raised neck hair, not because Baloo #2 did not possess eyes or fur but because his level of substrate lacked the nuances of a top-level machine.
*
Baloo was ready. He had stopped attacking, no more signs of malfunctioning. He finally seemed to be taking to the training meant for puppies that Mrs. Cakes took up with him, rewards given in the form of petting and praise, what the training materials referred to as “returning to Kindergarten.”

A crowd of young mothers carrying their infants in hip slings gathered with a variety of off-leash dogs. It was hard to tell from a distance the nature of these Pedigree dogs —German Shepherd, Pug, Collie, Alaskan Malamute. A combination of android, real, cloned, uploaded? In some cases, it was difficult to tell what with the eerie resemblance between some original animals and their non-biological counterparts.

In a relatively short period of time, nano-technological companies such as Moxi Labs had made stupendous strides forward in their Trans-animal designs. It didn’t matter, though. If these ever-so-trendy ladies could let their pack off leash, why shouldn’t Baloo #2 be rewarded for his signs of progress?

Had they gone too far in their optimism by trusting Baloo to give Kayla a piggy-back ride? When he galloped towards the river, shouldn’t they have noticed the doll slipping off? It seemed in the blink of an eye that Kayla ended up as so many baby bunnies had, in Baloo #2’s mouth.

In triumph, after the fatal thrashing, Baloo ran back towards his owners and dropped a sopping wet Kayla with missing eyes and a smashed in face before their feet. Besides having drowned the doll, he had essentially destroyed it with the pure force of his artificial jaws.

Mrs. Cakes was too stunned to clip his chain leash back on, and Mr. Cakes too angry to punish him. After gathering Baby and Baloo back into the van, they stood near the trunk of the car determining whether the doll could be salvaged. Trying to resuscitate, they pressed the on button several times. No such luck. They then wrapped her in a beach towel and drove home for an attempt at reboot.

Nothing brought Kayla back from shut down. They even called tech support but alas, they were told, in a scolding manner, that they should have thoroughly read the manual and that Kayla was not made to withstand submersion in water or for rough outdoor play. Gone was the perfect nanny and teacher for Baby, who cried for days on end afterward, for her lost doll who had evolved into the perfect friend.

The Cakes should have been scolded too, for not having thought through Baloo #1’s fate more carefully, the way one would for a beloved family dog. Or for not reading through the Terms and Conditions rather than blindly scrolling to “Accept.” If they had, they would have expected the possibility for virtual viruses or faulty coding, or simply the stubbornness of inborn genetics.

Mrs. Cakes called the company and explained the situation, what Baloo had done; in rant-like, manic fashion, she narrated what his behavior had been like over the past few years and her disappointment in a failed promise.

She was told, “We’re sorry, Ma’am, but the warranty on your uploaded dog has expired.” Once she calmed down, they sat, she and Mr. Cakes to talk over their options. Clearly, the injections did nothing to improve Baloo’s behavior. That awful company would do nothing to help. There did not yet exist anything like a Trans-dog Whisperer, and even if there were, there was no guarantee of improvement. What was to be done with real dogs who had killed? Had Baloo killed? Yes, he killed the newest, most valuable member of the family.

And so, there she sat, her mind replaying with emotionless clarity the startling sight of one anomaly destroying another. She would mourn, yes, for she had been robbed of that the first time. They should have just let it be, let nature take its course.

Mrs. Cake spoke terms of endearment, “I’m so sorry, Baby Baloo, I love you, but we can’t take any more chances…” As her empty words trailed off, her thoughts betrayed her and betrayed him. It is most unnatural, an abomination, this melding of animal and machine. Baloo, who lay fading on the metal table. He would be put down as an overly aggressive and dangerous Trans-animal. She did not know—nor could she—that her poor precious Baloo could read her cruel thoughts right before complete erasure of all settings and content.
*
Postscript
Kayla #1 had worked so well as tutor and companion to their daughter, that the Cakes, after a decent amount of time for mourning passed, purchased the latest model, Kayla Pro. They took great care to read the entire manual and terms for their new possession, and even purchased an extended warranty.

They were quite happy for years to come, until Baby grew up and no longer needed extra care. When Kayla Pro lived out her use, they shut her off and stored her in the closet. The couple never got another dog ever again; not the real thing, nor any other.


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