WRITTEN BY ALISON CARTER
Overworked executive Jasmine has a surprising extra option in her quest to arrange more care for her elderly mum…
Jasmine opened her mum’s front door. Two sticks were propped up in the corner. It looked as if Mum was still determined to get around unaided.
Jasmine examined the Domestic Control System on the wall. Her mum had obviously been fiddling with it again – lights blinked and frantic messages scrolled across the screen.
“Hi, Mum,” she called out.
Clare came into the hall.
“How nice to see you, love! Coffee?”
Clare followed the direction of her daughter’s gaze.
“Oh I know,” she said. “I’m not supposed to override anything. I’m meant to let the Intelligent House do all the thinking. In my day we were allowed to decide on our heating, and when we vacuumed!” She grinned. “I’m a stroppy old bird.”
“You’re not,” Jasmine said fondly, “but I do have to watch you.”
It was the winter of 2053 and Jasmine had just turned fifty-three. She had been a “millennium baby”. Jasmine’s father was dead, and her brother had moved to China to work for a multinational eco-energy company, so the task of keeping an eye on their mum fell to Jasmine. She had a high-powered job in web currency exchange, and life was very busy indeed.
Clare was happy to be called old-fashioned. Her grandchildren stared at her whenever she mentioned 1969, the year of her birth, as if it was prehistoric.
“The first man walked on the moon,” she would say proudly, “a couple of days after I was born.”
Her grandchildren had grown up used to seeing friends off to the Mars Colony.
Jasmine saw her mum’s hand shake a little as she pressed the frothy milk button on her auto-beverage maker.
“I’ll take the coffees through,” she said. “Have you had this thing serviced lately? I’ll call the company.”
“Relax, Jasmine,” Clare said. “You need to slow down.”
Jasmine smiled, a slightly thin smile
“Except I have a full-time job which takes up seventy hours a week – and kids.” She felt momentarily very tired, as all the tasks awaiting her at the office flashed through her mind. “I wish I had more time to visit you.”
An hour later, Jasmine was on her way. She stopped briefly at a garage to empty the waste water tank of her hydrogen car, and then set off for the Robotics Centre.
She felt guilty. Even though her mum was beginning to show signs of frailty, it seemed underhand to be looking into the possibility of a robot carer. Jasmine would definitely talk to Mum before she went much further with her enquiries.
“This technology is well developed,” the Centre’s scientist explained, smiling. “I think you’ll be impressed by the advances. I’m Bea Hollis, by the way. I’ll look after your whole experience here at the Centre. So, what are you looking for?”
“I’m wondering about a clone robot for my mum’s house… maybe. I’m still not sure.”
“Many of our clients have doubts about robotic care for their loved ones. We understand that, but it is often a great solution. Care of older people is our fastest growing market.” Bea picked up an electronic pad. “It’ll take about a week to get your full print.”
“We use your social media accounts to fill any gaps”
“That’s all the data we need in order to recreate you, but in a second format. We use a variety of interviewing and psychometric methods and then we use your social media accounts to fill any gaps. They’re a brilliant source of information.”
Jasmine exhaled. “Wow. I wish these robot clones had been around for childcare back in the Thirties when I was rushed off my feet.”
Bea smiled. “Many parents are going to work now, really confident that their children are cared for by someone who is just like Mum and Dad.”
Jasmine looked at a shiny poster on the wall. A man in a suit waved goodbye to a happy copy of himself which stood in the doorway of his house.
Bea grinned. “Parents get to follow the career they love, and give the best care to their kids – the care they’d provide themselves – but without the exhaustion of parenting. However, today we’re all about helping your mum.”
“This is all new to me…”
“There’s no rush.”
For the next hour, Jasmine watched clone robots in action. None of her friends had a robot yet – they were costly, and Jasmine was lucky to be a high earner.
It was astonishing what was on offer. A smiling figure – a woman like herself but not flesh and blood – moved around doing the sort of tasks that Mum might need, with patience and good humour. Jasmine sat holding a sheaf of brochures, feeling a bit overwhelmed.
“I have a busy job,” she explained more than once, “a stressful job. I don’t want to start getting ratty with Mum if her needs increase.”
Bea nodded. “It’s often still women who take on caring responsibilities, women who still have great careers – and parents well into their hundreds. They’re pulled in several directions.”
Jasmine bit her lip. “I think I will book the initial data sharing session.”
Jasmine dashed to her office. A member of her team was being difficult, and had complained about her to HR. Her team had recently been doubled in size, and she was finding the increased management too much; she seemed constantly to be chasing her tail.
“You have meetings at five and at six-thirty,” her assistant said as she passed his desk. “The second one may over-run – the tech set-up with Japan is a bit dodgy.”
Jasmine battled her way through the meetings. Then she sat down to wrestle with some spreadsheets. An hour later, she realised that she’d missed dinner with her husband, and sent him an apology message. Her screen blinked like Mum’s Domestic System, with accounts and analyses waiting to be dealt with.
Sometimes it all seemed so repetitive… but so difficult at the same time
As she was about to shut down, a taster video of the clone, from Bea, popped into her inbox. She watched a calm, cheerful copy of herself, chatting on-screen.
I wonder, Jasmine#2 said, looking at her hand-held computer, if we might catch a film this afternoon, Mum – there’s a musical on in town.
Jasmine stared at the screen. Already it – she – was so accurate! Her mum loved musical theatre. The Robotics Centre, thought Jasmine, was very good at what it did. She felt ready to broach the idea with Mum.
“So this clone takes care of me when I lose the plot?” Clare asked, eyeing her daughter.
“No, Mum! Firstly, you’ll never lose the plot. Secondly, no robot can ever actually take my place. She’d be a helper, with an ‘off’ switch. I’m your daughter.”
Clare nodded. “I’m not going to say no to this outright. I’ve read about the technology. I reckon you still like coming here, so I won’t lose you to –”
“Of course you won’t! Mum, I love you.” Jasmine took her mum’s hand.
“I’m not an idiot,” Clare said crisply. “I know that a time may come when there might be… difficulties between us, when I get more useless, and you get even busier. I’ve seen it happen before. Having another version – a robot version – of you, might avoid that.
“I am also aware that your career is important to you, so this might be an answer. Rather than a random carer who doesn’t know me, I get… well I sort of get my own daughter.”
Jasmine felt as though a weight had been lifted
“If you’re still OK with the idea next week, when you’ve thought about it, we’ll go for a session,” she said. “It’s called ‘secondary data’, when the person to be looked after comes along.”
They went to the secondary session together. Afterwards, Jasmine had to hurry straight off to a conference in London.
“You look tired,” Clare said as they parted. “If we do get this robot, you could take a couple of hours out to get a massage, while Jasmine#2 does the shopping.”
“If I get free time,” Jasmine said, “I’ll be sorting out our house. The solar needs servicing, the water system has bleeped a dozen warnings and Robert’s never there – he’s always at work. He said he wants a dog, and I’d love one too, but there’s no way.”
Several weeks later, they went to view an actual prototype. Clare and Jasmine marvelled at its accuracy.
“It – she – keeps tucking a lock of hair behind her ear,” Clare said, astonished, “just like you’ve always done. It’s uncanny!”
“We obviously have the cooling-off period,” Bea said as they played with the control system.
“Cooling off?” Clare asked.
“We don’t install immediately. It’s quite an adjustment for you to own a robot carer, and you need to think it through thoroughly.”
The cooling-off was one month, and during that time Jasmine noticed a change in her mum’s mood. Clare seemed distracted and forgetful, and Jasmine began to worry about dementia. Despite advances in treatment, the dreadful disease still stalked the earth.
Jasmine’s own life seemed to get more and more hectic, and she thought about the clone robot with relief. Her company was bought out, and the new man at the top was ruthless, raised on the business talent shows of the early twenty-first century.
Jasmine felt that if she could get the robot into her mum’s house, she could relax a little. She picked Clare up one fine morning, so they could go and sign on the dotted line.
“I’ve a fridge full of food going off,” Clare said, fretting. “I seem to get poorer at planning my shopping.”
“That’s just what Jasmine#2 is for,” Jasmine said encouragingly. “All the stuff I’d help with, if I had the time, she’ll polish off in seconds. I’m good at menu planning.”
“So the clone will be,” Clare said dully.
“The car’s outside. I’ve got until eleven, then I have to be at a seminar.”
They sat down in front of Bea. A smiling assistant brought tea, and Jasmine noticed the pot and proper mugs. They seemed old-fashioned here.
“Do you need anything else, Doctor Hollis?” Bea’s assistant asked her.
“No. Thanks, Pete.”
“Are you a doctor?” Clare asked.
“Yes, a doctor of psychiatry,” said Bea. “So, how are you both?”
“Fine,” Jasmine said. “As ever, I’m in a tearing hurry, so –”
“Just some final questions,” Bea interrupted calmly.
Both women were taken aback; Jasmine had taken her tablet computer out, ready to make a bank transfer.
Bea asked Clare about her state of mind. She wanted to know if Clare felt out of sorts. Then she turned to Jasmine and probed about work, and her hopes for the future. Jasmine, wondering if this late-stage assessment was really necessary, explained her job was stressful.
“I see. I have picked up this,” Bea said, “during our appointments, and as I built Jasmine#2. It emerges especially from your social media accounts.”
“Does it? What does?”
Bea nodded. “Jasmine, could you rate your job, on a scale of one to ten?”
Jasmine blinked. “Oh, it’s a good job. I’m close to the top of –”
“Sorry,” Bea interrupted. “I wasn’t clear. I mean, tell me how you feel about the job. Today, for instance. How much are you looking forward to work?”
“Today?” Jasmine felt suddenly sick. Her mum had turned to watch her.
“Three,” she whispered. “No, two.”
“And Clare,” Bea went on calmly. “Rate how you feel, on a scale of one to ten, when I say that Jasmine#2 is waiting outside with Pete, and that she – your robot – can drive you home today.”
Clare seemed to shrink into her chair.
“Er, I don’t want to answer now. I don’t want to upset Jasmine.”
Bea pressed her fingertips together, and looked from Clare to Jasmine and back again
“I propose some modifications to Jasmine#2,” she said. “The forms you signed have allowed me to make frank psych assessments of you both. I am going to take the liberty of suggesting you think again. Jasmine, you can choose to remain in a job that makes you unhappy, while somebody else spends time with your mother, thereby making yourself miserable in two ways.
“Or you can choose to spend quality time with your mother, have leisure time in your own home, and be happier.
“Clare, your choice is simpler, between your daughter and a really excellent copy,” she smiled modestly, “though I say so myself. I should add here that my lengthy assessment has shown up the strong emotional bond between you.”
Jasmine leaned forward, frowning.
“I don’t think you quite understand my financial position, Doctor Hollis,” she said. “I must earn a living. I’d love to throw in the towel and redecorate, and grow roses, but –”
Bea held up a finger
“Hear me out,” she said. “Jasmine#2 is more than suitable to be operations executive at NetCurrency. I think that’s your most recent job title. Her skills in financial analysis are second-to-none, modelled as they are on yourself, Jasmine. However, Jasmine#2 does not suffer from stress. She does not get eczema when overtired, or need to self-medicate with espressos. She manages people efficiently, but difficult employees do not upset her, because her circuitry is simpler than yours, and she has almost no physical limitations.”
“The clone does my job?” said Jasmine, aghast. “That’s ridic –”
“And you grow flowers,” Bea interrupted, “and spend time with Clare. Jasmine#2 can be reprogrammed to have no interest in horticulture, whereas I know you will always long to feed your roses, Jasmine. I think you’ll find NetCurrency will be receptive – we have already replaced two employees at directorate level in your US office.”
Clare turned to look at her daughter, and held Jasmine’s hand tightly. Her eyes were bright with hope.
Jasmine’s own eyes filled with tears.
“Mum’s seemed unwell lately,” Jasmine said, her voice cracking.
“Clare, you don’t have dementia,” said Bea, “if that’s what worries you. You’ve merely been very anxious.” She stood up. “I’ll leave you to consider this option. Pete will bring more tea. Let me know if you’d like me to begin the fresh data entry for Jasmine#2. Your firm will just need to share its HR systems with me.” She opened the door and smiled. “We aim to please.”
The door closed behind Bea and the two women looked at each other. Jasmine was imagining her clone sitting down to the usual fifty difficult emails at eight in the morning. She felt light-headed at the prospect of freedom.
“You look eighteen again,” Clare said.
“How do you feel?” Jasmine asked.
Clare paused. “About not being doolally, but only miserable? About seeing you more? About my daughter being happier? I feel eighteen again too, Jasmine.” She took her daughter’s hand.
“You feel very, very real,” she said.
“And I plan to stay that way,” Jasmine replied softly.
Enjoy a new Sci-fi short story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during November!