The X52 Tiger Security System
by David Henson
Walter opened the huge crate and stood face to face with the new security system. The life-size Bengal Tiger robot looked like it could take his head off with a single chomp. It was his wife Helen’s idea to get it after the spate of home invasions in their neighborhood.
He struggled with the online setup for hours. Helen could’ve done it in half the time if she had been home instead of spending two weeks out of the country training programmers. Not that he was complaining.
When he finally entered his Command ID and clicked on “finish,” the beast’s eyes clicked open, and it sat in the neutral position. He instructed the robot to pair with him and fought the urge to run as it pressed its nose to his neck to record his scent, then studied his eyes to memorize his retinal patterns.
After he’d led the X52 around the house, he took it into the laundry room where he’d put the charger. “Tiger, sleep,” he commanded. The X52 quickly went to its pad, stretched out and entered sleep mode. The unit would be fully powered by bedtime.
* * *
Before turning in that night, he called out, “Tiger, patrol” and immediately heard a soft growl then the tread of paws. He felt his heart race as the X52 approached, and he breathed a sigh of relief when the tiger brushed past him and started prowling the house. He crawled between the sheets and slept like a baby. Good thing; he didn’t plan on getting much rest the following night.
The next morning, he stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. The X52 gave him a look and a sniff then went to the picture window in the living room and watched the street. Walter went to the office, where he mainly thought about the coming evening and watched the clock.
* * *
Joanne arrived at his house around six. As soon as she walked in, the X52 leapt and snarled, its ears back.
“Tiger, friend,” Walter said immediately and pointed to Joanne. The X52 hesitated then pressed its nose to Joanne’s neck, studied her eyes and resumed patrolling the house.
“Sorry, Baby,” he said to Joanne. “That won’t happen again. It’s our new security system.”
Joanne was trembling. “Geez, Walter. Can’t you turn it off so I’m not worrying about it all weekend?”
The last thing Walter wanted was for Joanne to be out of the mood. “Tiger, sleep!” he yelled, and the X52 headed for the laundry room.
Joanne took a deep breath then removed her jacket revealing, the low-cut, pink blouse Walter had bought her. “How do I look?” she said.
“You look delicious, Baby.”
“Speaking of delicious,” Joanne said, “the restaurant’s running a ‘surf’n turf’ special the next two nights. I’m losing a lot of tips calling in sick to be with you.”
Walter nibbled at Joanne’s neck. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”
* * *
A growl interrupted them. Joanne screamed. The X52, its ears flattened against its head, was crouched at the foot of the bed.
“Tiger, sleep!” Walter shouted. The X52 gnarred.
“Tiger sleep Tiger sleep Tiger sleep.” The robot jumped onto the bed and put its face an inch from his. He froze. “Easy, Tiger. Look at my eyes. Smell me.” The X52 slowly receded and crouched again at the foot of the bed.
“What the hell, Walter? Do something. I thought you turned it off.”
“I did. Sleep mode. Must be some kind of glitch.”
“A glitch that’s going to get us killed,” Joanne whispered. “Call emergency or something.”
Walter reached for his phone on the dresser but, when he did, the X52 hissed and bared its fangs as if it were daring him.
* * *
Walter looked out the window and saw a bright orange stripe on the horizon as dawn was breaking. Inside nothing had changed. The X52 was still glowering at Joanne and him.
“Isn’t its battery ever going to run down?” Joanne said.
“It has to be charged only once a week.” It was Saturday. When would his office send someone to check on him if he didn’t show up next week? Tuesday? Wednesday? How long can a person go without water? How would he explain Joanne being with him? He imagined Helen getting home next weekend and discovering them dead.
“I have to pee,” Joanne said in a kind of sing-song voice. Walter noticed that when the X52 heard her, it relaxed its ears slightly.
“Sing something,” he said.
“Sing anything. Just sing, Joanne. Maybe it’ll calm the tiger.”
“You know I’m tone-deaf. Go ahead.”
Joanne hesitated, then sang in a quavering voice, “Three blind mice. See how they run. Run, run, run.”
Where did this girl learn her nursery rhymes? he thought. “Keep it up,”
“Run, run, run. Carpenter’s wife. She’s so nice.”
The X52 started chuffing, then sat in the neutral position.
“You can stop,” Walter whispered. “Music hath charms.”
“You know. ‘Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast’.” Walter looked at the X52. “Tiger, sleep.”
The X52 immediately made for the utility room. Walter followed cautiously behind and watched as it lay on its pad and went into sleep mode. He then reached down cautiously and flipped the kill switch behind its right ear.
When he got back to the bedroom, Joanne had locked herself in the bathroom and was either laughing hysterically or sobbing uncontrollably. It took him almost half an hour to coax her out.
“Baby, please don’t go,” he said over and over. The last thing he wanted was to miss out on a whole day with her gorgeous body. But she dressed without a word and left, saying she wasn’t staying in the same house another minute with “that goddamn monster.”
* * *
Walter sat at the computer and read the troubleshooting section of the online manual. As he did, there was a chime. Helen. He clicked “accept,” and she appeared on-screen. “Well, hi, Honey,” he said looking around the room nervously hoping Joanne hadn’t left anything that might be in view. “What a nice surprise. What time is it over there? Why aren’t you working?”
“Three in the afternoon. I get Sunday off. Or have you been so occupied you’ve lost track of what day it is?”
What’s she so bitchy about? he thought and looked around the room again. “No, of course not. I miss you, Honey.”
“I’m sure you do.” Suddenly her image disappeared, and code began scrolling down the computer screen. What the hell? “How did you like the changes I made to the X52’s behavioral parameters, ‘Baby’?” Data he couldn’t begin to understand flooded the screen. “And I hacked into the tiger’s visual and auditory receptors. You think I didn’t know what you had planned while I was gone, ‘Baby’?
“You deleted the In-basket but forgot about the Sent folder,” Helen continued. “I thought you’d grow out of whatever it is you’re going through, Walter. I put up with the motorcycle and the hair plugs. But not this. Oh, not this.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Helen. I can explain. It’s not what you think.”
“I’m not sure why music calmed the tiger,” she said. More code roiled. Walter reached for the keyboard: alt/control delete, alt/control delete, alt/control delete. No effect. “But you’ll find not even Brahms will soothe the savage ‘beast’ now.”
Walter started to reach for the computer power cord. Too late. A loud growl came from the utility room, and he could hear the X52 approaching.
Walter ran for the door but, before he reached it, the X52 was on him. He lay prone and put his hands over the back of his head like he’d seen on a nature show about grizzly bears. He felt a powerful paw roll him onto his back. “Helen, make it stop,” he screamed. “I’m sorry. Forgive me. Tiger, sleep! Helen, please!”
The X52 leaned down and opened its mouth around Walter’s head.
“Please,” he whimpered.
There was a crackle from within the tiger’s throat. “By the way, it’s ‘savage breast’, you idiot,” Helen’s voice snarled as the X52’s jaws chomped closed.
Copyright © 2018 by David Henson