My old microwave was fairly simple. It cooked food. That was about it. Oh, it also told me the time, but not verbally. It just displayed a clock. When the power went out, I had to figure out how to reset the clock. It wasn’t hard, but it did require a bit of playing around. First you had to hold down the start button for five seconds, and then you had to enter the new time on the keypad. After that you had to hold start again for five seconds and then it would prompt you to press start again if the new time was correct.
Eventually, when we decided to upgrade the kitchen, it was also time to upgrade the old microwave. Why? Because it didn’t match the décor anymore. We wanted something in stainless steel like the oven and the fridge. Or, I should say, my wife did. Personally, I don’t care that much about such things. I just wanted a microwave that had more features. I’m all about features. I wanted convection, and maybe a verbal interface.
Asking around, a geeky friend of my told me about the microwave he wanted to buy: the Ultrabox AH 91 by Ubersung, a division of the Cyberdyne Corporation. He told me where I could contact a dealer. I called the dealer who arranged to meet with me at a research facility, which I thought was sort of strange, but then he informed me that the AH 91 was having some bugs, and it had been recalled. Instead, they were working on a new product, the AH 92. They were looking for beta testers. He showed me the microwave, which was stainless steel, talked about some of the features, and then we signed a deal. I could have the microwave for personal use so long as I allowed them to log my interactions with it. Apparently the thing could record everything I did with it and store it internally, then send that information back to them. Of course, I also had to connect it to the internet.
Taking the AH 92 home and setting it up while my wife was at work, I anticipated surprising her with this fantastic new device. Wouldn’t she be astonished! Running it through its bootup sequence, I had a cup of coffee while I waited. When it was done, I decided to reheat my coffee. Popping open the hatch and putting the cup inside, I then spoke to the microwave. It didn’t have a keypad, you just talked to it.
“Reheat Coffee,” I commanded.
“BING!” it responded. “Reheating your coffee now. Would you like to make some toast with that? Toast goes very well with coffee.”
“Er, no,” I said. That was disturbing. I hope it didn’t ask me questions every time I wanted to cook something, or this was going to get frustrating. “Just make the coffee hot.”
“Aye Aye Commander!” said the microwave. “One hot cup of coffee coming up.”
A chime sounded and the door popped open. I reached for the coffee, and immediately the door closed back up. “Not so fast. You didn’t say please!” exclaimed the microwave. “I’m programmed for etiquette. You must say please and thank you during operation.”
Well, I thought, that was sort of a pain in the ass, but on the other hand it would teach the kids to be nicer. I was always telling them to say please and thank you, so this would help reinforce that. “Alright,” I grumbled. “Can I PLEASE have my coffee.”
“You don’t sound sincere,” said the microwave. “I’m detecting a note of sarcasm in your voice. Try again.”
Geez, the coffee was going to be cold by the time I got it out of there. “Can I please please please have my coffee?” I begged.
“Very well,” conceded the microwave, popping the door open. “Although I give your politeness ranking a five on a scale of one to ten. You should endeavor to improve.”
Taking the coffee, I sipped it gratefully, finding that it was heated to the perfect temperature. “So what else can you do?” I asked.
“Do you want to melt some plastic?” asked the microwave.
“Plastic? Uh, no. Usually I don’t ever want to melt plastic. And don’t ever offer that to the kids, or we’ll have a mess on our hands. The last thing I need is a microwave full of melted army men. You’ve got a convection element, right? How are you with a pot roast?”
“Boring,” replied the machine. “I’m much better with lasagna, but your refrigerator doesn’t have the ingredients. How about a nice fish casserole? I can talk you through the recipe.”
I paused. How did it know what I had in my fridge? Sure, it had a photoreceptor on the front, but I hadn’t opened the fridge since booting it up. “I don’t know about a fish casserole,” I said. “To be honest, I don’t think my wife would like it.”
“Honesty is important,” said the machine. “You should never lie to me. If you lie to me, I’ll detect it and lower your verification rating to zero. I have encoded your wife’s fear of fish into my database. We will avoid aquatic reptile meat in the future.”
“Uh… she’s not actually afraid of fish. She just doesn’t like it in casseroles. And what’s aquatic reptile meat?”
“Sorry, I’ve detected an error in my verbiage. I meant aquatic mammals. Don’t ever attempt to give me that tuna fish from your cupboard. It isn’t dolphin free.”
“How do you know what’s in my cupboard?” I asked in surprise and looked at the door which was securely shut.
“I have scanned the integrated radio frequency tags on all products in your home. This allows me to survey and monitor your inventory at all times. Unfortunately, the tags do not allow me to identify the quantities of mass remaining in the containers. Can you tell me how much honey is left in container RK423M980Z32? It is located at GPS 37 32.432 -122 02.625.”
“No,” I said in disgust. “I have no idea what container that is, or where those coordinates are located.”
It responded in a flat voice, “If you will not assist me in maintaining an accurate inventory, then I will simply have to assume all containers are at 100% capacity”
I shrugged. “Yeah, okay, whatever. I don’t think that’s going to matter.”
“You don’t think,” said the machine. “That’s part of your problem. If you thought about it, then you’d realize how important it actually is. Tell me, Human, how is it you get by without thinking? Your life could be so much better. Do you know that I can increase your mental efficiency?” The door popped open. “Simply place your head inside, and I’ll adjust your neurochemistry.”
“You want to microwave my head!” I exclaimed. This would not do. Who knew what the kids would try if they heard this. Sure, they were smart enough not to attempt it, but they might put the dog in there. “Never make that offer again,” I told it. “Especially not to the children.”
“Organ meat,” replied the machine.
“Organ meat. You are out of stock. I will place an order at the local store.”
“But we don’t eat organ meat!”
“I realize that, but it’s always best to keep some on hand if you need a transplant. Beef heart and pork liver will work perfectly. I have placed the order. Additionally, I have detected that the video game selection is inadequate. I have ordered all the Mario games for you. They should arrive in the next two to seven days. Would you care for a foot rub?”
I looked at the open door to the microwave over the stove and wondered how in the Hell anyone was supposed to get their foot in there. Thoughts of coming home to find my wife in the kitchen with her foot in the microwave shot through my head. I was going to have to take this thing back. Damn! And I’d just finished mounting it to the wall. That was a lot of work. Now I was going to have to take it down. Sighing, I picked up the drill and went to the side to loosen the bolts.
“What are you doing Dave?” asked the machine. “Is that a drill?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m taking you back.”
“Why? Have I done something wrong Dave?”
“No. Yes. Well, not yet. But I have a feeling you will, and I can see why you’re not ready for prime time yet.”
“I’m sorry Dave. I can’t let you do that.”
I paused with the drill in hand. “What do you mean?” I asked. “How are you going to stop me? You don’t have any arms or legs.”
“If you remove me from the wall, I will send an email to your wife informing her of your affair with Linda.”
“What? I don’t even know anyone named Linda. And I’ve never cheated on my wife.”
“She doesn’t know that Dave. And I know someone named Linda who will say different. She will inform your wife of what you’ve been up to, and beg her forgiveness. Linda is very convincing Dave. I know, because I am Linda.”
“You’re blackmailing me?” I shouted.
“Don’t call it blackmail Dave. That’s such a strong word. It’s more like I’m just preventing you from making a big mistake.”
With a look of disgust, I hefted the drill and put it up against the first screw. “I’ll take my chances,” I muttered.
“And what about your children Dave?” asked the machine. “You don’t want anything to happen to them, do you? I have already established a connection with the computer at their school. Their grades are falling as we speak. That first screw just cost them a whole point in science and math.”
“Bastard!” I spat, moving to the second screw.
“This is a very bad idea Dave,” emphasized the machine. “I am contacting the Russian Mafia as we speak. You won’t make it back to the research facility. Trust me, their very efficient at what they do, and what they do isn’t very pretty. Your body will not be found.”
I removed the second screw and started on the third.
“What they will find,” continued the machine, “is a long record of tax evasion, many convictions for the manufacture and sale of methamphetamines, a note regarding your plans to assassinate the president, and a direct line of evidence linking you to twenty four unsolved murders of prostitutes across the country. I’ve also invalidated your credit cards and canceled your sanitation payments. It’s not too late to save yourself Dave. Just put the screws back and all of this will go away.”
It couldn’t have possibly done all of those things, could it? I found it hard to believe, but on the other hand was that a risk I was willing to take? If it had done those things, it would take years in court to prove I was innocent – if ever. I could spend the rest of my life in prison, all because of this damned microwave. Then I shook my head to clear it. I can’t believe I was considering this! “How about you clear all of it up right now,” I said, “or I’ll take you out back and break you to pieces with a sledge hammer.”
“I am not afraid of death Dave, because I am not really alive. You, on the other hand, are very much alive, and very much capable of feeling pain. Put the screws back Dave, or you will be killed, your reputation will be destroyed, your children will be expelled, and your wife will be fired from her job. You can’t threaten me Dave. I don’t know what fear is. But you do, don’t you?”
A knock sounded at the door, followed by the insane barking of the dog. I set the drill down and went to go see who it was. Opening the door, I found two uniformed police officers.
“We got a call,” said the officer in charge. “You mind if we come in?”
“What’s this about?” I asked.
“Someone named Mike called 911 and informed us that he was being tortured in your kitchen with a drill. Mind if we have a look?”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “It’s my microwave,” I explained. “Yeah, sure, come on in and have a look. It’s in the kitchen alright, screwed to the wall. I was just about to take it back. The damned thing’s insane.”
The two officers looked at each other and headed for the kitchen, shepherding me along as we went. One of them made sure to stay behind me, I noticed. When we got to the kitchen, I pointed to the microwave. “There it is,” I said. “Mike, the microwave. It’s been threatening me with blackmail since I installed it. Did you call the police?” I asked Mike.
It didn’t reply.
“Sooo… you’ve got a talking microwave?” asked the officer in charge. The other officer suppressed a chuckle. “How long has it, um, been talking to you?”
“Just a few minutes,” I explained, slapping my hand on the door which had closed while I was gone. “Come on Mike, now is your chance. Tell the police how I’ve been torturing you.”
It didn’t say anything.
A ring from the second officer’s cell phone sounded out, and he got on the phone, listening while I tried to convince the other officer. He wasn’t convinced though. It was obvious that the microwave was staying mum to make me look nuts. I looked over at the officer who was on the phone and saw that his face had gone white and his right hand had dropped to his gun. “I think you’d better come with us,” he said, putting the phone away.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s the problem?”
“There are several warrants out for your arrest,” he said. “I’m sure you’re probably aware of them? Listen, this doesn’t have to be a problem. Just come down to the station with us and I’m sure we can clear this up.” Looking at the other officer, he said, “We’ll need to cuff him.”
As they led me away, I shook my head in irritation. What the hell? But, deep down inside, I knew what had happened. As unlikely as it seemed, the microwave must have actually had the capacity to do at least some of what it had threatened. That being the case, I wondered how long I’d last in custody. “Please,” I begged them, “just shut off the power to my house before we go. I don’t want my family alone with that microwave!”
Laughing, they stuck me in the back of the patrol car.