“You didn’t tell me you had a deep-seated crush on Liza Soberano!” Janice teased. Art by Gica Tam
Culture Spotlight

Meet my iBae

She looked like Liza Soberano, her voice and poise hinted at the intellectual rigor of Simone de Beauvoir, and her eyes showed the self-immolating tendencies of Sylvia Plath. 
Jade Mark Capiñanes | Jun 29 2019

FICTION 

 

Last week, exactly on the day of its official release, I bought an iBae X. The latest model of the iBae, yes. I couldn’t afford to pay for it in cash, but luckily it was available on installment. I also got a 20 percent discount because I was one of the first 50 buyers. Everyone was crazy about it. In less than half an hour it went out of stock, setting a world record, according to the news.

My order promptly arrived within the day, just as Shopee had promised. Probably their latest PR stunt after that BLACKPINK thing, whatever that was. The delivery guy made me sign a lot of documents I didn’t bother reading. “You’ll never regret this purchase, sir,” he said. “Satisfaction guaranteed.”

“You bought one for yourself too?”

“Of course!” He showed me his selfie with someone who looked like Nadine Lustre. “Look at her. So pretty, so sexy, so easily programmable.”

If only you looked like James Reid, even just a little bit, I thought but did not say. “Good taste,” I said instead. “Thank you.”

The box containing my iBae X said it was FRAGILE, HANDLE W/ CARE. So I did. Unboxed it so delicately that I think I should’ve filmed it. It was bubble-wrapped too, but I was so excited to see what my iBae would look like that I decided to save the bubble wrap popping for later, maybe even do it with my iBae.

My iBae was at first a human-sized translucent blob made of rubber, plastics, wires, lithium-ion batteries, and maybe everything nice. You just had to turn it on and plug it into your computer. Then you had to run a series of programs, click things here and there. Then you had to answer, via voice query and command, a few questions about yourself, your preferences. I remember being asked about my favorite TV shows, and whether I felt special when I didn’t watch a TV show everybody else was watching. Finally, as the latest feature of its iFantasy OS, you had to link the software to all your social media accounts so that it can “analyze your personality with state-of-the-art accuracy and precision” and then “create an iBae tailored specifically for the real you.”

Art by Gica Tam

Everything was so user-friendly and intuitive that in less than 10 minutes I already had my customized iBae standing in front of me.

“Hello,” she said. “I know it’s heavy-handed, but you can call me Galatea. Tea for short.”

She was jaw-dropping. Her physical appearance recalled Liza Soberano, her voice and poise hinted at the intellectual rigor of Simone de Beauvoir, and her eyes showed the self-immolating tendencies of Sylvia Plath. She would’ve been perfect if it weren’t for that very faint trace of my mother’s likeness. But no matter! Just exactly the iBae I wanted.

“Of course!” He showed me his selfie with someone who looked like Nadine Lustre. “Look at her. So pretty, so sexy, so easily programmable.”

I took a selfie with Tea and posted it on my Instagram. All of my online friends also posted something about their iBaes. I saw iBaes in many forms, from Kpop artists to anime characters, from anthropomorphic animals to even literally plants. But love was love. Everybody was pleased.

That night, when Tea and I were in bed, my phone rang. It was Janice, my childhood friend, inviting me for a video chat.

“Hi, Lance!” Janice greeted. “Meet my iBae.”

“Call me Thor,” her iBae said.

“He looks like Thor, doesn’t he?” Janice said.

“So where’s his hammer?” I said.

“Unfortunately iBaes don’t come with a free mythical hammer. But if it’s any consolation, I don’t need a hammer to do some pounding,” Thor said, winking at Janice.

Janice blushed, giggled.

Marupok ha,” I said. “Anyway here’s Galatea. Tea for short.”

“Hi,” Tea said.

“You didn’t tell me you had a deep-seated crush on Liza Soberano!” Janice teased.

“How would I know if it was deep-seated?” I said.

“I’m more than my looks,” Tea said. “Maybe we can talk about the fundamental oppressive apparatuses inherent in the very structure of a society historically and socially constructed by men.”

“I love her,” I said.

“What I’m really concerned about has something to do with Darna,” Thor said, “since you’re said to be the next one.”

“I heard Liza quit because of a finger injury,” Janice said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Thor said. “So, Tea, if you’re Darna, let me ask you: spit or swallow?”

“Thor!” Janice said.

“No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility,” Tea said.

“See? She doesn’t even need me to defend herself,” I said. “A strong, independent woman. I just love her.”

“This is awkward,” Janice said.

“Yeah. Goodbye,” I said.

Janice hung up.

“You’re amazing,” I whispered in Tea’s electronic ear.

“I eat men like air,” she said.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to ask this,” I said. “But can I be a little bit naughty?”

“You don’t have to ask it. I’m your iBae. What else do you want to ask?”

I grinned. “What else do you mean when you say you eat men?”

“You’re a bad boy, don’t you know that?”

“At least in appropriate contexts.”

“If you really want it now, you can purchase the iTouch upgrade.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Is it available on installment?”

“I’m downloading it now.”

What could I say? It felt so real.

 

I WOKE UP NEXT to Tea the following morning. She was looking me in the eye, her face so close to mine. I kissed her lips and asked: “How was your sleep? Or did you sleep?”

She didn’t say anything.

“Are you okay?”

She was acting weird.

“Tea?”

Finally she said something: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

“Feminism. What a way to wake me up, my love.”

“Pangit ba ako? Kapalit-palit ba ako?”

“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Tea. I won’t look for another woman to love.”

“Darna!”

“I thought it was already established that Liza wouldn’t be the next Darna?”

“Why don’t you get your ass off your bed, you ungrateful bastard! I regret shooting you out of my vagina! You’re a big disappointment, just like your father!”

“Did you just quote my mother?”

She shrieked and stormed out of the room. Worried and confused, I ran after her. I found her in the kitchen, crying against the wall, erratically turning translucent. She was murmuring words I assumed were lifted from Ariel and The Bell Jar. She looked at me with her very sad eyes. She said she loved me and then inserted her head into the oven.

“Oh my God.”

I immediately pulled her head out of the oven and hugged her tight. She was twitching real hard. Through her translucent body I could see some flickers of light inside her. She wriggled out of my embrace. I didn’t know she was that strong. Good thing I hadn’t modeled her after Captain Marvel, or else I wouldn’t have managed to lock her again in my arms. Even though it was difficult and painful for me, I long-pressed the button at the back of her neck, effectively turning her off.

Art by Gica Tam

Turned out she’d malfunctioned. Also turned out that all iBae X units had gone bonkers and broken beyond repair that day. Kpop iBaes had reportedly spoken in unintelligible languages, anime iBaes had insisted they were still below 18, furry iBaes had turned into their real animal counterparts, and plant iBaes had just wilted away. (But let’s not talk about that Venus flytrap iBae. We’ve already seen the horrible pictures that went viral.) Tinder Corp, in its press release, said that there was an unprecedented internal system error in the iBae servers. There were rumors, though, that an anonymous group had hacked into the iFantasy OS Cloud, infecting all iBae X units with a virus people were calling ILOVEYOU 2.0.

At least that’s what we’ve learned so far since the massive product recall a few days ago.

I called Janice and asked her about Thor, and she said something about Thor turning into this sad, fat man, so far from the muscular, panty-dropping iBae he once had been. When she tried to ask him what was wrong he tried to clobber her with a real hammer. Wherever he’d gotten that hammer she didn’t know. Luckily Janice managed to dodge. She was about to run away when she noticed that Thor was gouging his eyes out. There was no blood, only small sparks. Then it was as if he’d called forth an invisible lightning upon himself. He electrocuted himself.

“Do you want me to come over?”

“Please.”

She turned off the TV when I arrived at her house. She offered me a seat and a cup of coffee.

“Do you think they can fix it?” she said.

“Fix what?”

“I don’t know. Everything?”

“If it’s gadgets, I think so. If not, then they’ll invent new ones.”

“What if it’s us? Can they fix us?”

I looked out the window.

“Janice,” I said after a while, “did you return Thor?”

“I did. Did you return Tea?”

I nodded. I opened my bag and took something out. “Except for this.”

“Wait. Is that Tea’s hand?”

“Yes.”

“Can I touch it?”

I let her touch it. “It’s not warm anymore,” she said.

“But it still feels so real, right?”

 

END