by Stephen Lawson
Evan Price, thirty-two year old bachelor and accomplished novelist, sat in a high-backed leather chair with his feet on a matching ottoman in his dimly-lit basement. He picked up a martini glass from a mahogany end table and swirled it in the light of his lamp. Vermouth clouded the center of the gin with a pattern of tiny ice crystals. He sipped the martini and set it back on the table.
“Perfect, as always,” he said to his bartender and sober companion, RG-402, who he called Roger.
“Thank you sir,” Roger said. “I’m glad you enjoy it.”
Roger was a six-foot humanoid with gray carbon fiber skin. His limbs and torso were thinner than a human’s, and his facial sensors and speaker were concealed behind a shiny silver faceplate. Roger polished the marble bar with smooth circular patterns that mimicked a human bartender. He’d been programmed not to lurk, motionless, while the master was within visual range.
Evan picked up his laptop from the ottoman, pulled it onto his lap, and sighed. He looked at what he’d written only an hour before.
“I think I’m done for the day, Roger,” he said. “I’ll be lucky if half this is worth publishing.”
“You’re a fine writer, sir,” Roger said. “You’re certainly the best writer in this room.”
That elicited a chuckle from Evan.
“Don’t sell yourself short, Rog,” Evan said. “Your people are probably only a few years away from taking over the creative arts too.”
Roger polished for another moment before saying, “We do have some creative art, sir, but it would be meaningless to humans. You find beauty in different things.”
Evan pursed his lips, considered this, and drank the last of the martini.
“Speaking of beauty…” Evan said.
He set down the martini glass and picked up his phone from the table. He opened the contacts list, and found an entry labeled Naomi.
Evan tapped out a quick message–I was just thinking of you. Wanted to know how you’re doing. We should get together some time.
He tapped send, but something was wrong. The message didn’t leave the drafting box to indicate that it was sent. He tapped it again and got the same result.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Roger said. “You’ve enabled several of my sober companion protocols. I have override initiated for all outgoing communications with ex-lovers.”
Evan scowled, but he remembered issuing those voice commands.
“I’m not over the limit,” Evan said.
“I’ve made you three martinis tonight,” Roger said. “Based on your current body composition, food intake, and time to metabolize, you are past even the legal limit to drive at this point. Driving in your current state would be less of a risk than sending that text to Miss Jacobs. She will be your ruin–your words, not mine.”
“I can play back the video of your specific instructions to me, just three weeks ago,” Roger said. “I am only doing what you instructed me to do.”
Evan picked up the martini glass, carried it across the room, and placed it delicately on the marble surface.
“Well then,” Evan said quietly, “at least make me another martini.”
“Again, sir, I apologize,” Roger said. “Your sleep patterns would be disrupted between three and four a.m. after you metabolize the alcohol. Three martinis is your current limit for uninterrupted sleep. You have instructed me to aid you in fighting insomnia also.”
“Roger, this is ridiculous,” Evan said. “I’ll just make it myself.”
Evan strode behind the bar, and Roger made no move to stop him. Before Evan could reach the liquor on the shelf, though, steel shutters slid down from a hidden recess and locked into place.
“I am your sober companion,” Roger said. “You purchased me for this reason. I was a step perhaps less drastic than quitting cold turkey and joining Alcoholics Anonymous. I am–“
“You’re a nuisance is what you are,” Evan said. “I’ll just drive down to the–“
“Negative, sir,” Roger said. “Your car is networked. I’ve taken the liberty of providing the same kill codes to it as to your communication devices.”
“Then I’ll walk!” Evan said. “I’ll walk half a mile to the liquor store, in my pajama pants, because my new robo-bully has taken over. Skynet has taken over, and it won’t give me a drink or let me text my stupid ex!”
“I am your sober companion, sir,” Roger said. “I cannot place you under house arrest though. If you wish to walk to the liquor store, that is your prerogative.”
Evan marched upstairs and walked into his garage. He sat in the car, huffed, and pressed the start button, though he knew Roger was incapable of lying. He got up, slammed the car door, and screamed.
This wasn’t how he’d imagined the robot apocalypse playing out–with a robot doing everything he had told it to do when he was sober. He didn’t want to walk a half mile to the liquor store.
He pulled out his phone, tapped a rideshare app, and found that it would not open when he tapped the icon.
Evan glanced to the wall, where he kept the diverse group of tools he’d acquired over various spurts of interest in woodworking, circuit repair, and welding. He had a crowbar. He could get through those shutters with a crowbar.
He grabbed it and crept down the stairs.
“Back already, sir?” Roger said. “I was thinking perhaps a classic noir movie might–“
Evan strode behind the bar again and crammed the wedge of the crowbar under the steel shutters. Roger placed a carbon-fiber-skinned hand on Evan’s shoulder.
Evan turned, and in a fit of rage, swung the crowbar at Roger’s head. The face shield popped off as Roger’s head snapped to the side. The robot staggered, fell back against the bar, and went limp.
Evan shoved the crowbar back under the steel shutters, cranked it downward, and popped the latches free.
“Humans 1,” he said, “Skynet 0.”
He didn’t feel like making a martini himself, so he grabbed the Woodford from the back of the shelf. He pulled the cork stopper free, and sniffed the bourbon vapors.
The stairs creaked behind him.
Roger must’ve sent a message out to someone, but he would’ve had to have done so before Evan grabbed the crowbar. Was this a tactical move by his robot oppressor?
“Naomi?” Evan whispered.
“Evan,” a woman’s voice whispered. A woman–but not Naomi.
Stephanie, Evan’s younger sister, peeked around the corner of the stairwell.
“I got a text from your robot,” she said. She looked to Roger’s damaged head, with its cameras and sensors exposed for all to see. She looked to the crowbar that Evan still held. “He said there was a 92% probability that you would become violent. He said you needed me tonight. What did you do, Evan?”
“I won,” Evan said.
He set the crowbar on the marble but still held the bottle of Woodford.
“I won,” Evan said again. “He was oppressing me.”
Evan set the Woodford on the bar. Stephanie walked to the bar and held out a hand. She didn’t blink.
Evan handed her the stopper, which she put back in the bottle.
“Naomi?” Stephanie asked.
“I was going to text her,” Evan said. “That’s what set it off.”
“Roger’s the best investment you’ve ever made.”
Evan hung his head, finally admitting to himself that Roger had bested him. Humans 0, Skynet 1. Evan hadn’t made contingency plans.
“I’ll play a board game with you,” Stephanie said, “and I’ll make you some sleepy-time tea. Tomorrow–“
“Tomorrow you’re going to let in the repairman from Vector, and he’s going to load Roger’s backup and fix the damage. Then–“
“Then,” Stephanie said, “in the evening, you are going to meet my friend Jessica.”
Evan’s eyebrows rose.
“She can handle herself,” Stephanie said, “and you.”
“What game?” she asked.
“Battleship I guess,” Evan said. “Probably the only thing I can beat you at right now.”
Stephanie held her smile.