Every store in the Commonwealth trotted out their old, unshifted merchandise on Black Friday. As a date on the calendar, it was a quaint holdover from the pre-Reform, back when people sold you stuff you didn’t need just because you had money, and they could convince you to spend it. It was harmless cultural theater, like those recreations of historic villages with actors churning butter and feigning shock at your zippers.
My best friend Adrian and I ventured into the old commercial sector this year for some Black Friday window shopping. Our dads tried to talk us out of it, saying it was rude to waste a shopkeeper’s time if we had no intention of buying anything. Typical dadNet programming, trying to guilt us into staying home. We went anyway and had a great time trying on boots and coloring in mood panels with hand gestures while our dads remained docked at home. We had just left a home appliances warehouse and were about to break for lunch when I saw him standing in the window.
“Dude. Stop for a sec,” I said.
“Come on, Mike,” Adrian whined. “My feet hurt. I want to get some chowder before they’re all sold out.”
I refused to budge and stared into the shop window at a display of old-style dads. They had to be 5th Generation, maybe even 4th. “Look at these guys,” I said. “They sure don’t make them like this anymore.”
People always told me I was born in the wrong decade. My tastes had always been a bit old fashioned. I still bought boots with laces, I preferred to look at the menu instead of letting the restaurant’s AI extrapolate my preferences, and I always had an affinity for dads that looked like dads.
“They give me the creeps,” Adrian shuddered. “I like the way they build them now better.”
I respectfully disagreed. About a decade before we were born, dadNet stopped designing dads with visual authenticity in mind. Gone were the simulated crows’ feet, overweight builds, and gently paternalistic cognitive subroutines. The generation of dads I grew up with were boxy, metallic, and obsessed with quoting rules from the Commonwealth Community Standards. Sure, they were decent servants and interacted well with local government on our behalf, but that was kind of the point. Somewhere along the way, the definition of dad changed to mean something else.
“Let’s go check them out,” I said, already walking into the store. Adrian protested, but when he realized I wasn’t to be deterred, he followed me in.
The store, TechTime, was full of pre- and early-Reform era electronics and positronics. It was a veritable museum of the last century of popular history. I pretended to browse around, trying not to appear too keen on anything in particular. But my eyes never left the dads in the window.
“Hey, Mike!” Adrian laughed and waved a small, rectangular piece of metal and glass in the air. “They call this stupid thing a smartphone. What the hell is a phone?”
I nodded and smiled, just enough to register a socially acceptable level of interest, then meandered back toward the window display. Three dads stood motionless and inert amidst an idealized winter scene, staring blankly out into the street. The one on the left held a shovel and the one on the right was putting on a pair of mittens. I eyed the one in the middle, which wore an old-fashioned pair of denim jeans and a flannel shirt. He stood upright with balled up fists resting on his hips. His stance reminded me of old superhero holo-comics, but his appearance was more akin to an old educational film.
“Care to take him for a spin?”
I turned to face the salesman who had sneaked up behind me. “I don’t know,” I said, wondering whether the admonishment I got from my robot dad back at home was true. “I’ve got a dad back home that works fine. I just like the way they used to build them.”
The salesman nodded and pulled a control device from his pocket. “They are durable. Handsome, too.” He held the control out and I took it. “Everything’s on sale for Black Friday. Go ahead and give him a try.”
I looked at the small metal sphere in my palm as the salesman left to wait on someone else. I barely heard his footsteps fade into the distance. I pressed the blue button on the top of the sphere and pointed it at the plaid dad in the display.
He stood at attention for several seconds and then turned around. Noticing the control device in my hand, he looked at me and smiled. “Are you my Son?”
I laughed. “No, I’m not. My name’s Mike. I’m just trying you out.”
The dad stepped down from the window display and approached me. He was taller than he looked in the window. His beard and eyebrows were single pieces of flexible plastic attached to his face. When he smiled at me, they distorted slightly. He held out his right hand.
“Nice to meet you, Mike. I am 717.”
I shook his hand, surprised at the tight grip. My dad back home was such a milquetoast, but 717 was exactly the kind of dad I always wanted. Masculine, affable, and handsome.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said. “You know you’re for sale in a discount shop, right?”
717 looked around, appraising the situation. “I can see that it has been some time since I was last activated, Mike. But my programming is just as relevant today. You appear to have reached age 30. Do you have a dad?”
He placed his hand on my shoulder, and his uncanny plastic features contorted into a simulation of concern. I thought about the glorified microwave waiting for me in its docking station back home. That wasn’t a dad. This was a dad.
“No,” I lied. “I don’t.”
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