In the second installation of Ben Ditto’s CLOUDBURST series about modern technology, we journey toward an imagined but perhaps not too distant world in which people breed Tamagotchi-style pets for more than just company. Care for them, and they’ll care for you, but don’t get too attached…
“I’M HUNGRYYY!” The pebble shape in my hand vibrates. It’s made of soft silicone and it feels warm and soft and a bit gooey. It sends a message to my Neuralink™ that makes my head feel like it does when a mum hears a baby crying. Mums have that feeling automatically so they know that they need to feed their baby, it comes from evolution. I can’t remember how it works exactly but now I get the same feeling whenever my pet gets hungry.
I pretend to be reading the open book on my table and look down at my hand quickly so the teacher doesn’t see me. My pet has purple gel with a retro LCD screen, it uses new crystals so it doesn’t look boring black and white like the old ones. My display is yellow with blue writing and it lights up when she’s trying to tell me something but you can get any colors, they match the pet. I squeeze the pet and think about a delicious meal, strawberries and bananas chopped up with yogurt and sprinkled with bee pollen. The pet throbs in my hand.
At lunch time I go to the field with my friends. We connect our pets and let them communicate with each other. It’s good to do that for a bit of time every day but not for too long because they can get dependent on it and then they sulk when they’re alone. It’s called “separation anxiety”. They can go on dates too, that can be cute. But pets aren’t romantic like people, they just like to chill together; I think it’s more fun for us than for them because we can be lil matchmakers and see who vibes together. Usually if you get along in real life, your pets will probably like each other too. Maybe it’s because of pheromones.
After school I walk home and go straight to the basement. My pet’s main body lives in a little room down there, it’s easy to keep it at the same temperature all year and it’s peaceful so she doesn’t get disturbed all the time. You can keep them at the lab but it is a lot more expensive, and I am sure she is happier living with me. I go in to spend some time with her IRL. I stroke her back: it’s furry and purple like the device with yellow stars that match the LCD screen. You can customize them when they are in the factory. Each one grown in an artificial womb. I saw one once on a school trip and it looks like a big see-through plastic bag filled with light pink milk with lots of tubes coming out of it.
We lie in the grass holding hands with our pets on our tummies, looking up at the sky. My friend has her speaker and we listen to music while our pets connect. It feels like a group hug in a swimming pool or warm bath or something, I can’t describe it properly unless you’ve tried it. Like; being with your friends but also with these creatures that help us to stay healthy. I can feel my pet purring; I close my eyes and let the sunlight play on my eyelids.
I have a necrotising organ condition from epigenetic microplastic hybridisation. It’s a condition that affects a lot of people of my generation, about one in five of us have it and you can’t cure it. In my case it affects my glands mostly although I have been through a few lungs and a liver also. When I was little I was in hospital allll the time but now just for transplants. My pet came with five of each organ but only one digestive system because my condition doesn’t affect that. She has a pancreas chain and no brain for ethical reasons, just a few mini brains running up their spine to keep everything working. I stroke her back and reach around to stroke her belly; I can feel the scars and stitches but they are mostly healed. She purrs, it comes from a bespoke organ below where the head would be but it resonates through the whole body. I switch on my AR and a face flickers to life on my pet’s body.
The pets are grown without real faces so you don’t get too attached to them but I like to have this option, you can choose the faces and talk to them and they talk back but in a goofy made-up language a bit like talking to a cat I guess. I know I’d be dead without her and I am grateful for her every day, but it helps to feel emotionally close to the thing that makes stuff which will one day be inside you. Like…it feels more cozy. I know she won’t live forever even if I do, but at least I can love her while she’s around.