When Chini was little, she was fascinated with the app. Each time he came to visit and by the time he left, there would be a cache of photos of the two of them- all funny and endearing in that way that one looks at photos two or three decades later and thinking, 'my, how life had changed, how kids have grown'. And all of them- over 15,000 and taken with predictable regularity- preserved on the Cloud probably forever and ever. And of course, Chini clever as she was, soon learned on her own to take photos of herself without help and without prompting. Every child did, such were the days.
And then the technology leap-frogged in a way people didn't expect. One day, the app inventor thought that maybe it was time to take it to the next level. People had been flirting with hyper-realistic and enhanced images all the time that two-dimensionality had become boring and banal.
Step out of the frame, the app inventor said, and at first, it was like a baby giraffe struggling to get up on its long, spindly legs. The materials that passed for skin either didn't have enough coagulation or enough adhesion. And the colours and textures- suede was easy enough (3,000 shades!), but crocodile skin with its lattice of armour-like osteoderms, or the smooth firmness of watermelon with the familiar flat styrations of green- how to replicate an endless variety as limitless as one's imagination?
The answer was the Cellular Codex that was secretly being used by the Chinese for the good part of a decade to 3D print practically anything they wanted.
All it took was the threat of outing the Chinese government for printing agricultural and livestock products passed off as traditionally grown and reared to feed nearly half its population to acquire the technology- the app inventor assured them that he wasn't interested in using it to create stuff that could be eaten (there was virtually no research anyway on how safe it was, but it was probably proof enough that 900 million people eating the damned stuff were still up and about). The app inventor just wanted to create stuff that people could wear in a different way.
He remembered the year the beta came out, two weeks before Halloween. The costume shops were abandoned. Racks upon racks of latex masks, cardboard witches hats and superhero costumes were left unsold at department store aisles. All it took was choosing what you wanted to be, putting your head inside what looked like a vintage salon hard dryer and pressing the button on the app.
Looking back, the first generation of the app now seemed crude; the kooky disguises, the cartoon faces, the fantastical facial accoutrements of mythical creatures and beasts. It had quickly evolved of course into something else once people got bored of the mundane and the app inventor couldn't agree more. At this point, he was the richest person on earth and was building a home on the moon and couldn't care less about the raging social debates or the millions of electronic clucking that his people filtered and monitored every day.
And so it came to be that governments had to regulate and legislate. No using the app when passing through airports and borders. CCTV had to evolve and be equipped with sensors that looked into and identified people on a DNA level. A black market sprung up (with the Chinese leading the pack) where the printing was bio-regenerating and it wasn't even that expensive. He got sick once and it was his kidney. The doctor's words were inoperable, acute and dialysis. But the doctor was also a mate and whispered 3BR (3D Bio-Regeneration). Sure, it would cancel his insurance permanently, but it was either believing traditional medicine and facing less than satisfactory results, or choosing this technological miracle- there seemed to be no other more appropriate word for it.
Besides, he was never traditional to begin with. No family. Nothing to lose.
And that was 30 years ago when he was 51. Today on some days, he could believe that he was 81. He would close his eyes for a few minutes and let his mind wander down the long dark corridors of the past, his path lit up by memories that were probably the only real things he had. Awake and looking at the mirror he sometimes struggled to believe the reflection; it was his face at 43 (which even then, could pass for 35 and a good one at that) and that's where it stayed. Indefinitely.
Some people had gone too far and suffered horrific consequences; like you can't regenerate the entirety of your skin for example, or that brain cells were tricky, but that didn't stop people from trying. True beauty is on the inside he would remind himself and he stuck to this, as internal organs were regenerated keeping him at least in a state of statis. The science wasn't sure- it was too far mired in a social and ethical maelstrom as large (and permanent) as Jupiter's red spot.
But he couldn't care less as he had deliberately shied away from the internet and finally could say he had found the peace and rhythm he wanted- the (very) long ebb and flow of days spent reading, writing and drawing. He was 14 or 15 again, without a care in the world or a friend to his name and the truth was that you don't miss what you've never known or experienced. At least this was the state of his mind- most friends and family were either truly old or dead anyway.
He was alone and in this aloneness, the world seemed as clear and crisp as a sunny winter's day.
He dreaded it though when Chini came to visit and she always did with the regularity and devotion of his visits when she was a child. He dreaded it because he came face to face with the reminder that he could have chosen differently, and that now, looking at his reflection, he no longer had the heart nor the courage to change it. But Chini didn't judge, even as she was an Organic- untouched by the app, raised well by her parents who wisely resisted the technology, and now at 40, looking like them in every way, an amalgam of his sister's and brother-in-law's fine features as well as bearing the patina of her own journey in life as an architect and a mother to four accomplished children.
And yes, they go through their photos on some days- all 15,000 of them- with a glass of wine each and catching up on gossip, with updates on every one in the family.
But they have never taken another picture of them together.
That was the past and that man in the photos was no more.