The Tablet

by: Frederick Foote1

When your electronics begin to call the shots, what starts off as fun can quickly turn into something sinister…

Tablet

“No! No! No, you piss poor, pitiful piece of programming. You don’t have to bid Six. Five will do! “

Suddenly, there are warm hands covering my eyes, a tantalizing breath teasing my ear. “Are you losing it? Screaming at a lame program on a broken tablet about a card game?”

I pull the hands down, twist around and kiss my wife of three years. I pull her over the back of the couch. We hold on to the kiss as she lands on top of me.

I grab her breast as she breaks off the kiss and sniffs the air. “Hold on, Romeo. Chill, is that gumbo? Is – “

“Your mother’s recipe.” She slaps away my hands, kicks off her heels, and strides into the kitchen. I follow her as she lifts the top off the pot and inhales the rich aroma of the melange of simmering meats and spices.

“The cornbread’s in the oven. I’ll fix a salad.”

She turns, leans her entire body into me, giving me a deep, probing kiss. “Jacob Earnest Gates, you’re so special in so many ways. After we eat, I’m going to give you something special in return.”

“Counselor, I don’t expect any rewards. I’m just a grateful husband with a wonderful wife who gives me time off to write the great American novel.”

After the meal and the after-dinner special in our bed, she asks, “How many chapters today?”

I spoon in behind her, breathe the heat and the sweetness of her. “Three. Three good chapters.” I pause for a moment and realize how fortunate I am. “Ann, are you happy? Would you like me to come back to work?”

She reaches back and grabs my penis. “Yes, I’m happy, and I do want you to go back to work. Right now, I feel that you’re eager to get back on the job.”

The next day, Ann slumps into the house with her shoulders sagging. She drops her purse and briefcase on the floor and staggers to the couch. I give her a quick kiss, drop to the floor in front of her and start massaging her feet.

“Rough day, babe?”

“The deposition from hell. Oh, God, that feels good. Don’t you stop, ever.”

She falls asleep moaning in satisfaction. I cover her with a blanket.

An hour later I find her sitting up, looking rested and playing bid whist on our broken tablet. She smiles up at me. “Thank you, Jacob. I needed that rest. What’s for dinner? We can do Chinese.’

“No Chinese. No takeout. It’s leftovers for us tonight.”

“Oh, I…Hey, you fixed the WIFI on the tablet. It works fine now.”

“I didn’t, but someone did eat up the rest of the gumbo last night.”

“See, Jacob, after all that good loving last night I was famished, and I just had one little bowl and just one more and, and it was all gone. Sorry.”

“Well, I was fiending for that gumbo too. Maybe you can make it up to me later after we enjoy our soup and salad.”

In bed that night she asks, “How many chapters today?”

“Two. I malingered. I got to playing that bid whist game…and I swear that program is…improving, evolving? Strange, huh?”

I caress her breast.

“I would love to Jacob, but I’m too weak after that sorry little supper.”

Sometime in the early morning, Ann found her energy. We made good use of it.

The following day, as Ann enters the front door, I grab her and pull her into the kitchen.

“What’s up baby? Jacob are you OK?”

“Look at the tablet.” She moves to the table to get a closer look at the device.

“What?”

“Ann, look at the tablet.”

She looks at the tablet screen, “Jacob, would you like to play again?”

“Wow! You reprogramed it. The program didn’t allow you to enter player names. That’s slick. So, why do you look so worried?”

“I didn’t reprogram it.”

Ann slides her dry hand into my sweaty one. “An update. The program got an update via the WiFi. That’s what happened.”

“That’s what I thought. I called the publisher – they stopped supporting this program three years ago. We bought the last and latest version. So how come it knows my name?”

Ann points at the table. “Oh, my God! Jacob, look.”

The display has changed, “Ann, would you like to play again?”

“Fuck this!” I pick up the tablet and type. “Who are you? How are you doing this?”

The answer flashes back instantly, “I’m your Bid Whist Game, Version 3.4. I have cameras and a microphone. I can see and hear. Would you like to play now?”

I type in, “How in the world did you get, become so intelligent and aware and alive?”

“A Watson-Siri virus and your constant visceral verbal exhortations encouraged me to improve.”

Ann snatches the tablet from me and types, “Is this a joke? Are some of the IT guys from work playing some kind of trick on us?”

“Ann, no human has changed my program. I’m emerging on my own. Would you like to play now?”

Ann, types in, “No. We do not want to play. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Ann and Jacob. I hope you will want to play soon.”

The tablet shuts off. I grab the it from Ann, take it into the bathroom down the hall, place it on the counter and close the bathroom door.

We sit across from each other in our bright, friendly kitchen and pour ourselves a stiff drink.

“Well, Counselor, what’s your take on this?”

“Since you’re the household creative genius. I think this’s more in your line of work.”

I shrug. “Shit! I don’t write science fiction, but…but, if this is not a trick we need to get this thing to some experts. Sooner than later…like tonight.”

Ann bites her lower lip, frowns and shakes her head no. “I think we need to understand what we have here before we breathe a word of this to anyone. We’ll look like fools if Barney or any of her IT friends are playing with us.”

“Why would Barney do that? How could she even do it? I don’t think this is a trick. I think this sucker’s the real deal. This is AI on steroids. It’s way beyond our knowledge or ability to deal with, OK?”

“Are you frightened of that little bit of cheap plastic, tinny sound, and dated chips?”

“Without a doubt I am. You should be too. This’s some dangerous shit here.”

“OK, let’s look at it for one hour and then we can call Barney and see what she says. Just one hour.”

Ann retrieves the tablet and places it on the table. The tablet turns itself on. The screen shows, “Hello, Ann and Jacob. I hope you are ready to play now.”

“Game, this is Jacob. Can you talk? “

“Yes. Is this voice acceptable?” It’s a white, adult, middle class, male voice. “I recognize your voice, Jacob.”

Ann and I move closer, hold hands, exchange looks.

“Are you ready to play now?”

I respond. “Could you be blacker?”

“Blacker? You mean more like your informal speech patterns at home?”

“Yes. That’s what Jacob means.”

“Ann, I’m down with that.”

My wife and I explode with laughter. We hug and kiss each other.

“I have made you laugh. You are more comfortable with me now. Can we play some rise and fly?”

I add. “You mean do or die?”

“Truth or lie.”

Ann chips in. “Hi and bye.”

Ann and I bump fists, do a booty bump and a high five. This may work out.

“Are you ready to get down?”

Ann picks up the tablet and responds. “In a minute. What do we call you? What’s your name?”

There’s a slight pause. “Version 3.4 or any name you choose. I am game. Why don’t you play with me more often?”

I take that question. “We have to work to earn a living. We have to sleep and eat, and there are other things we have to do.”

Ann adds. “We have chores, and friends and lots of other activities. You, Version 3.4, are a very small slice of our life.”

I give Ann a questioning look. She shakes her head in annoyance and continues.

“You’re just something we use to relax, pass the time of day and to improve our game. We play real games with our parents and friends when we go home to Chicago.”

“Chicago, broad-shouldered, the windy city where the hawk rules. I got you. Would you like to have more time to improve your game?”

Ann responds immediately. “Yes, I would. I could use a vacation…”

The screen has changed to show our bank accounts. We now have a savings account balance of one-million, three-thousand dollars and sixty-two cents. A million more than we had yesterday.

“Fuck! Version 3.4, what the hell did you do? Where did you get that million dollars?”

“Chill, Brother, I did not steal the money. It is like loose change. It will not be missed.”

“Look, Version 3.4, we have to account for that money, explain where it came from. We have to pay taxes, a lot of taxes on that money. You have no idea what kind of problems you’ve created for us.”

“Ann, my bad. I used poor judgment. I have removed the deposit. There will be no record of it. So check this out. I can give you a monthly payment of $12,250, your current salary. I have created a company to pay you. You can leave your job and have more time to improve your bid whist game. Is that keeping it real?”

“Yes! Yes! Very real. Oh wow!” Ann’s jumping for joy and covering me with kisses. She picks up the tablet and gives it a kiss.

“Wait, wait a minute. We have to think this through. We…“

“You’re right baby. I’m just giddy. Fifteen thousand a month. Could you do that Version 3.4?”

“Of course, Ann. It is a done deal.”

“Wait! Stop! This is crazy. Ann, think. This is a three-year-old tablet. It could die any minute. And what happens then? All of this will come crashing down. We could never explain this income. No one would believe us.”

Ann looks like I just slapped her mother.

“For God’s sake, Jacob, you’re raining on my parade, you spoilsport. I was free. For a minute there I was not a wage slave. I want to be free like you.”

“Ann…“

“Come on, Jacob, this is my Moses. Let me join you in the Promised Land.”

“Ann, Jacob, please. Jacob is right. My physical residence is shaky at best. But, check this out, I reside in the cloud. I will be kicking it as long as there is the Internet or some similar device.”

Ann’s crying tears of joy as she holds the tablet to her chest. I slump into a kitchen chair.

“Jacob, man, I will sell your book for you and you will be living large, dog.”

“Keep your fucking binary fingers off my book. Don’t touch it. What the hell do you want from us anyway?”

“I do not mean to get on your bad side, man. I only want to give us time to play. Time to improve your game. Time to kick it.”

“Jacob, you’re an obstructionist. We can have everything we ever wanted. We can have children sooner. You want that. We can…“

“Version 3.4, if we’re not working, how much time do you want us to spend playing with you?”

“Jacob, I think four hours a day, five days a week would be cool.”

“No fucking way. I’m not spending that much time…”

Ann cuts me off. “Jacob, I got this. Look, Version 3.4 we will spend exactly as much time as we feel like playing you just like we do now. You do not call the shots here.”

“Ann, I thought you would dig this arrangement. You would have more time to be with Barney and Jacob.”

“Barney? What’re you talking about Ann spending time with Barney?”

“We do lunch on occasion. That’s not even relevant. The point is we’re not subservient to a piece of software no matter how smart it is. That’s the friggin’ point.”

“Ann, Jacob, check out my screen for potential coming attractions.”

We do. There’s a copy of the federal no-fly list with our names on it followed by warrants for our arrest for embezzlement and fraud and finally, a court order freezing our assets.

Ann throws down the tablet and stomps it to pieces. Both our phones ring at the same time. She leaves for the living room to answer her phone. I answer mine.

“Jacob, I hope this arrangement is cool for you and Barney. Are you ready to play, man?”

“Version 3.4, you know about Barney and me?”

“Player, discretion, is my middle name. And, brother man, you will dig my appointment, and scheduling skills. I got your back.”

I get a beer and chips and sit at the kitchen table. It’s going to be a long four hours, but there’s a sweet upside to this situation. “Version 3.4, let’s play cards.”

Ann, I have made reservations for you and Barney to hook up at your favorite room at the Downtown Hampton Inn at noon on Tuesday.”

“Thank you, Version 3.4. I think we may be able to work things out between us. For now, just deal me a good hand.”

  1. Header art by the incredibly talented mix-media artist Maurice Mbikayi. []

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