When Sam was twenty-eight he still had Jack. Of course he did. And he still had Jessica, but just barely. Mostly because now they had Carter. He was two and-a-half.
Sam didn’t like the kid’s name but Jessica insisted. Jack stayed home with Carter after he was born. Jessica had wanted to get a new-model assistant instead but Sam wouldn’t budge. So she huffed and went to her mothers’ for a week and then came back at noon on a Tuesday.
Jack hailed Sam through his earpiece at work.
“Got bad news, boss. You want it now?”
Sam turned off his desk and all the glowing files suspended above it disappeared. “Yes.”
“Jessica cheated. Her face was flushed red when she came home.”
“Maybe she just came from yoga, Sherlock.”
“She was walking differently. And after she ate yogurt I pulled a saliva sample off the spoon. She had someone else’s DNA in her mouth.”
Sam looked out the window. The city was as bright as heaven today and he told the window to tint itself up a bit. Jessica had wanted Jack to tell him. She knew how smart the little bot was. That’s why she didn’t like him.
Sam wished this news affected him more. That would mean that this thing he and his wife had had been a little more real. “You and those cop shows, Jack,” he said. “You learned from the best.”
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
Sam had a bigger office now. On the other corner of the building, two floors higher. He walked out. Time for a meeting, one of significance. He went down to a conference room. The same room he’d interviewed in four years ago, actually.
But today he was talking to different people. The guy Sam had called Bug Eyes was gone. As in dead. Heart attack on a golf course. Oh well.
Today he was talking to his father. His name was Harrison. He was here waiting for Sam and so was the rest of the board. Today he had to win them all over. That’s why rooms like this existed. Proving grounds.
A lot of the guys liked Sam a lot. The rest of them were on the other end of the spectrum. They didn’t like him at all because of who he was. The prince. So Sam and Jack had schemed a little bit about what his wardrobe should be today. Different color suit and tie from what his father was wearing. Harrison’s shirt was solid so Sam went for a checked one. Trying to break up the visual links between himself and the king.
Sam took the room and shot everyone with a practiced glare. One designed to nail them to the backs of their chairs and keep their mouths closed.
He sat and started talking. Flicking a hand at the walls like a wizard when he needed to change the graphics scrolling over them.
“We’ll roll out in six school districts in the city at first. Soft launch. And you already know that this pilot program is government approved.” Sam cued up a document that the governor had signed. “We’re ready to go as long as you all are.”
Sam wanted to give every kid a contact lens. A smart one, like he had. Not mandatory. But he wanted them to have the option. He wanted to give every kid a Jack.
Not in the physical sense. That wasn’t feasible. But what he could do was give them a voice that fed them information. Advice, intel, counsel. And it was doable. Sam knew his company had enough processing power on the corporate servers to let a hundred million kids talk to a computer at the same time.
“This is pro bono,” one guy said to Sam. “And I’m the guy who’s here to watch bottom line. So when we sink, what, fifty mill into this and take a beating, we’re going to be right back in this room wondering why we greenlit this.”
Sam’s contact showed him that a vein was flubbing away like crazy on the guy’s neck. And there wasn’t a lot of conviction behind his words. The voice analysis displayed as a wobbly line. He was saying something just to be saying something. Jack noticed and put a message in Sam’s eye: haha.
“This is pro bono,” Sam agreed. “For the immediate moment. But it’s also an investment.”
“Oh?” The voice went high. “Explain.”
“Test scores in those districts will shatter records by the end of the month,” said Sam. “It’s impossible for them not to. China is rolling out this tech too, by the way. They went live in Beijing and Shanghai with it a week ago. It’s just how the world is moving. We keep up or get crushed.”
Now Sam leaned forward for the kill. Jack sent an image from a nature show to his eye. It was of a snake crushing a mouse in its teeth.
“So what we’re essentially doing is bidding,” Sam said. “By the time the feds decide they want to go national with this, so that we can keep up on the global stage, we’ll have a proven track record. They’ll come to us when it’s time to start giving everyone contacts. And they will pay. No more pro bono. And remember, if we don’t get on this then maybe our friends over at ArcRidge will.”
A few guys blinked excessively. Parsing what he said. Using their contacts to try to find a figure or a new angle to hit him with.
“Yes,” said someone. Another nemesis. “But maybe we’ll seem…totalitarian. Bad for branding, I think.”
Sam didn’t respond. Let his silence show the rest of the table how weak he thought that was. He just sat and waited. Let confidence radiate off of him. Four years working here and now he finally had some more pull. Four years later and he was pitching what he wanted to. He dissected the room and his eye highlighted a few instances of comfortable body language. He saw slight nods of agreement. Slow satisfied breaths.
He saw things tilting his way.
“Sam, thanks for talking to us,” said his father. Sam’s contact showed him that the edges of his eyes were crinkled. The biggest smile Sam had ever gotten. “We’ll be in touch later tonight.”
Sam got the message that afternoon. It was a go.
Two weeks later he started going on the morning shows a lot. Someone in PR had set it up. Sam just got dusted with makeup and told a camera what the company was going to do, what the benefits were. TV was easy. Just like the interview. Just like pitching the board. He just imagined himself going in for the kill.
Jack had a lot of fun watching him from the couch and feeding him lines.
Sam came home and Carter asked what was for dinner. Sam kept forgetting how well the kid could talk. Jack was a good teacher.
He took Carter in his lap and had Jack chop the cap off his beer. Carter asked where Mama was. He looked more like Mama than Daddy.
“On a short trip, buddy,” Sam said.
Jack sat next to them. “He asked today why my name was Jack.”
“Ah, I forgot about that. You’re named after Jack Nicholson,” said Sam. “Who my dad thought was an amazing actor who could do all these different voices.”
“I don’t think he’s that good,” said Jack. “I did a voice analysis and he actually sounds the same in every movie but Batman.”
“Find some of his clips to show Carter,” said Sam. “With no blood.” Then he shrugged. “Or minimal blood. Mama’s not home to argue about it.”
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
Sam patted the solar panel on Jack’s shoulder. “I’m good. I got you guys.”
In the morning Sam left the tower and went out to the curb to get into the Bentley. Back to work. It was raining.
The door opened itself up for him and as Sam touched the handle his coffee mug exploded. He felt a weird sting in his stomach. He looked down and saw brown stains on his jacket. And crimson leaking between the button holes on his shirt.
Upstairs, Jack bolted up as he saw Sam’s vitals go red.
Back downstairs, Sam sagged. There was a loud pop, and the last thing he ever felt was a hard cracking sensation as something hit his temple.
Jack didn’t have feelings. He understood them, and he could use his voice to emulate them. But he didn’t have them.
Jessica was in the kitchen with Harrison. Sam’s dad was cross-legged on the floor. Leaning his head on the oven. All cried out at this point. So he was speaking in weary monotone.
“It could have been anyone. Competitors…or some Rapture freak who saw Sam on the news. Or some fucking peasant who just randomly snapped, you know? Anyone.”
Or a board member? Jack thought. Eh, probably not. Probably a Rapture freak or a peasant. If this were a case on a cop show that’s probably the conclusion they’d come to.
He put on some jazz in his head. Chet Baker, “Almost Blue.” And Jack sat there and got as close to a feeling as his programs would allow. As close to a feeling as he ever had.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll really miss you, Sam.”
Jack left. Before Jessica got to him. She’d buy something new to watch Carter and have Jack scrapped in the middle of the night.
So he whispered goodbye to Carter while the kid was napping and took the elevator all the way down to the streets. Started walking south. Under the maglev tracks and through the crowds. The rain was leaking into his casing and he started to worry about his circuits frying. He felt like an artifact. People regarded him as such. The shinier bots did too.
It was early evening. Jack got to an elementary school and sat on a brick wall near the basketball court. Two thin boys with their toes sticking out of their shoes were taking free throws. Jack had some suggestions for their footwork and release.
They saw Jack watching them and stopped shooting for a second. He put up a hand and said hello.