Princess of Amathar has only one human character. All the rest are aliens of one type or another. One alien character is Malagor. He is a rather wolf-like fellow and the name just seemed to fit. For the Amatharians, I created long complex names that would look good, but would be difficult to pronounce aloud. I wanted them to sound vaguely french, because my main character had described their language as sounding that way. So my Amatharians became Norar Remontar, Vena Remontar, and the title character Noriandara Remontar. For the only human, my main character, I needed a name that implied heroic exploits and also to fit in with a plot twist, it needed to begin with the letter A. Alexander was a natural fit, though I don’t remember if I decided upon this before or after I wrote a major college paper on Alexander the Great. For a long time he didn’t have a last name, but I finally named him after a young lady I was working with (as I worked my way through college) whose last name was Ashton. So Alexander Ashton was born.
Princess of Amathar is a science fiction adventure novel in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Alexander Ashton, an earth man, finds himself mysteriously transported to another world– the artificial hollow world of Ecos. There he encounters a wide variety of alien races, including the reptilian Zoasians and their mortal enemies the human Amatharians. The Zoasians and the Amatharians have been at war for thousands of years and Alexander’s first encounter with both of them is when he stumbles upon a vicious battle, which the Amatharians lose. In the heat of battle, Alexander sees a beautiful female warrior, the Princess of Amathar, and falls in love with her then and there. When the Zoasians capture her and take her away, he vows to rescue her. The running series of adventures which he embarks upon includes a stop at her home city of Amathar, where he gets his first look at the human yet alien Amatharian civilization.
My first novel was Princess of Amathar. I originally thought up the story when I was a teenager. It was not a particularly brilliant plot, but was like the adventure stories that I enjoyed reading at the time. I wrote the first chapter several times over the years, but never got much further. Writing a novel is really hard if you haven’t done it before. Just continuing takes a great deal of will power. About the time I started college, I made my last attempt to begin the book. I expanded the beginning while writing other things (mostly fanfic, which thankfully because no one ever heard of the internet in those days, never saw the light of day). I worked at it sporatically for years. After I got my first job teaching Junior High English, I began to share my writing with my students as I encouraged them to write, and they in turn encouraged me to keep going. It still took a long time. Then, when I was about 75% done, I began to share my writing with some of my teacher friends. With their feedback, I finally managed to finish. It was about eight years from start to finish, and this was only 93,000 words. Four fellow teachers helped me revise the book. When that was done, I was so proud that I immediately sent it off to a dozen book publishers. I recieved a dozen rejection letters. I stuck the manuscript away and forgot about writing for a while. Then one day I mentioned my book to a coworker, who suggested I check out Lulu and self-publish Princess of Amathar, if just for myself and my friends, family, and students. I did. I self-published it. Then a funny thing happened. I felt like I could write another novel and a new story just popped into my head.
The first quarter of the school year flew by. Despite the fact that classes were larger than ever, the children were more obnoxious than ever, parents were more clueless than ever, and the administrators were more useless than ever, Mike thought that things were going pretty well. It was he mused, probably because he was one hell of a teacher. He felt more organized and prepared than he had in years and he certainly had more energy. He walked to and from school almost every day. Three days a week he went to the gym afterwards too. Each day at lunchtime, the other teachers at his table would watch him as he unpacked the carefully crafted meal that Patience had sent with him.
The students and teachers at school saw Patience only occasionally. This was not because Mike was ashamed of her, but because he remained as he had been before her arrival, essentially a homebody. They went out to dinner once a week, and Patience would provide pleasant conversation, though she didn’t eat. Most nights though, they stayed home. She fixed him a dinner more than equal to those they found at restaurants and then they usually watched a movie on vueTee. Increasingly this was followed by some sexual activity, and Patience confirmed Mike’s opinion that his libido was on the increase, though he declined her offer to graph it for him.
Mike carefully watched the unfolding election. Though he was loath to throw away his vote by choosing the Greens, in the end there was just no way he could live with himself voting for either Barlow or Wakovia. Mendoza was the right person for the job. So he resigned himself to the fact that his candidate was going to lose and put a bright green Mendoza/McPhee ’32 bumper sticker on the back of his Chevy. Then fate stepped in. In early October, a series of announcements by Ford, Gizmo, Intel, and other major manufacturers pushed the market up past 20,000 for the first time. The government’s monthly economic indicators were even better than expected and it shot up even more. Then at the end of October, President Busby announced that the Chinese had brokered a deal in which the Russians would pull out of Antarctica. The war was over and the United States and her allies had won! The first troops began arriving home November second, just two days before the election.
Patience produced a dinner of barbeque ribs and chicken, potato salad and coleslaw, and apple cobbler on election night. Harriet and Jack arrived early and they all gathered around the vueTee in the living room to watch the returns. The twenty-ninth amendment provided a national set time for elections. The polls were open from 7AM to midnight, Eastern Standard Time. Of course ninety five percent of the voters, Mike included, had voted during the previous two weeks on the internet. By law, the news outlets were not allowed to announce winners until after the polls closed. Even so, when four o’clock hit, the states on the vueTee screen began filling in with color at a remarkable pace.
Mendoza reached the required electoral votes well before the small party watching in Springdale, California had finished their meal. The Republicans took the new south—Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Cuba, and the Virgin Islands. For a while it looked as though the only state to go blue would be Puerto Rico, but then after the winner had already been declared, California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Pacifica were filled in with blue. Mike’s disgust that his vote had in fact not counted, since Wakovia had won California was ameliorated by the fact that his candidate had won the election. Evelyn Mendoza would become only the second female President of the United States, having won the remaining forty three states and a whopping 407 electoral votes.
It was late that evening, after Harriet and Jack had gone home, after the talking heads on the screen had finished interviewing the winners and losers, campaign workers, and supporters, after the victory and concessions speeches, as some of the many ballot questions were being reviewed, that Mike sat bolt upright. In Massachusetts voters had passed a non-binding vote in support of their state’s governor who had earlier in the year signed an executive order allowing marriages between human beings and robots. How had he not heard about that?
Her smiling head popped around the corner from the kitchen, where she was putting away the last of the dinner dishes.
“Did you know that humans and robots could get married in Massachusetts?”
“Mm-hmm,” she nodded.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You had other things to worry about Mike. School was just starting. Besides, Massachusetts is on the other side of the country.”
“Don’t you want to get married?”
“Of course I do. Now that I know it’s what you want.”
“Why didn’t you know that before? What about Vegas?”
“What happens in…”
“Don’t say it.”
“I thought it was just a lark. You didn’t seem that interested once we got home.”
“Well, a lot of things have changed since then.” Mike left it at that, but the wheels in his brain had begun to turn.
And when the next day, a dark man in a grey suit arrived to give Mike a check from the Daffodil Corporation in exchange for a signed document indicating that he wouldn’t sue them, everything just seemed to fall into place. Even after medical expenses and buying a new piano, the settlement would leave Mike with just over $1 million. So he began making plans in earnest.
Thursday the eleventh was Veterans’ Day. That meant a four day weekend, but with the end of the war, parties were planned in every city in the country and all forms of transportation were booked solid. The next long weekend was Thanksgiving and that was for family. There was nothing to be done but to wait for December 11th, when school let out for winter break.
Veteran’s Day turned out to be very enjoyable, despite a rain storm—or maybe because of it. Mike spent most of the weekend inside watching movies and drinking hot cocoa. He had gone to the cemetery on the day to watch the solemn ceremonies. He put a small American Flag just behind Tiffany’s headstone. The sexton almost always forgot to do it because her marker was one that she had picked out rather than the military issue, but she had served two years in the Army before they had met. He put a white rose on Aggie’s grave.
Thanksgiving was quite warm. They could have eaten in the backyard and been quite comfortable. Patience had not only designed and built a large redwood deck and a brick barbeque pit; she had completely landscaped the entire area with water smart desert plants and trees, with a walkway winding here and there. She had even dug a faux streambed and lined it with round rocks, then built a redwood foot bridge over it. But it just didn’t seem right to Mike to eat Thanksgiving Day turkey on the patio, so they ate indoors. Harriet and Patience had coordinated the meal—turkey of course; cranberry, apple, and butternut squash chutney; mashed potatoes and gravy, sautéed green beans, corn chowder, and sweet potatoes; lovely dinner rolls with butter; and pecan, apple, and pumpkin pies. Everything was perfect. They had invited Jack’s mother and when she showed up, it was all Mike could do to keep a straight face. Her new boyfriend was not a robot but he looked younger than Patience or Harriet, and was much younger than Jack. With Lucas’s arrival, it made it a true family get-together, and Mike had to admit that he had a great time.
Mike didn’t tell either of his kids his plans. He was sure that Harriet would be completely supportive. In fact in the past few weeks, she had called up to talk to Patience more than she did to talk to him. He thought that Lucas would probably be all right with it too, now that he was sure about Patience’s security profiles. But, why bother the boy. Better to let him know afterwards.
They left after school on December 10th. Patience had packed everything they needed for a two week trip and she had secured the house. Mike had thought about driving cross-country but that was too exhausting and there was no way that he was going to climb into the aerial cattle cars that made up the fleets of the country’s two remaining airlines. That left the mag-lev trains. The normal commuter rail was comfortable enough for the short haul, but not for three thousand miles, so Mike purchased tickets on the Spirit of America. They were expensive—forty thousand bucks a piece, round trip, but Mike was giddy with a newly heavy bank account balance.
The two and a half hour drive to Anaheim was easy enough and they spent the night at the Sheraton, just down the street from John Lassiter Station. The next morning they checked out and drove to the station, placing the car in long-term parking. The recommendation was that passengers should arrive two hours before departure, allowing one hour to check in, and one hour to get situated once on the train. Mike and Patience walked in the huge revolving door of the station at exactly two hours before the 10:26 departure time.
In actuality, they spent less than thirty minutes picking up their boarding passes and checking their luggage. Then they found themselves on the loading platform next to the massive red, white, and blue train. It didn’t look all that different, other than its splendid paint job, from any of the mag-lev commuter trains that ran up and down the length of California. For that matter it didn’t look much different, if one didn’t look underneath, from the passenger trains of a century past. Once they stepped on board however, Mike and Patience found a world of difference. Inside it was much more like a luxury hotel than a train—a long thin luxury hotel.
Their suite couldn’t have pleased Mike more. It was a tiny little room with two comfy stuffed seats, a small table, and a third, less than comfy chair. At night, a double bed folded down from the wall covering up the seating. The bathroom was almost as big as the bedroom/lounge and featured its own shower. Mike sat down and kicked off his shoes, relaxing and looking out the window, which faced a large strawberry field. Patience left the room and returned twenty minutes later with their luggage which she unpacked into the closet.
“Did you see how many cars this train was pulling?” asked Mike.
“They’re called coaches,” Patience informed him. “And there are twenty two of them.”
At precisely 10:26 AM, on schedule, the train began to move out of the station. Unlike old time trains, it didn’t buckle and jerk when it started. It didn’t rock either. It slowly but steadily pulled forward accelerating until it was moving well over forty miles per hour. Once it reached the edge of the city, it would accelerate to almost two hundred.
“I was going to ask for a detailed itinerary before we left,” said Mike. “But I forgot.”
Patience pulled a heavily laminated brochure from a pocket on the inside of the cabin door and handed it to him.
“Oh.” Mike examined the document. “This has all our times, but it doesn’t list the cities… oh, wait. Here they are. They should have put them over here instead of on the last page. They have everything listed by the name of the station. I mean, who cares if the Salt Lake City terminal is called William Jackson Palmer Station?”
“William Jackson Palmer Station is Denver,” said Patience. “Gordon B. Hinkley Station is Salt Lake City.”
“See. It’s easy to get confused. I mean who really knows who William Jackson Palmer is anyway? And before you say it, I mean who besides you.”
Patience looked confused for just a second, as if she wasn’t sure whether she was supposed to answer or not. Then deciding that she wasn’t, she went back to stowing their now empty luggage. After a moment Mike asked. “Okay, who is he?”
“General William Jackson Palmer was a Civil War hero who also was the engineer in charge of building a railroad line for the Kansas Pacific Railroad from Kansas City to Denver. He later founded the narrow-gauge Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, a critically important part of Colorado’s history.”
“All right. You’re right. People should know why the stations are named the way they are. When you’re right, you’re right.”
“I didn’t express an opinion one way or the other, Mike.”
A little after noon, Patience led Mike to the dining car. Tables on either side of the aisle were arrayed with linen tablecloths, shining silverware, and fine crystal glasses. As soon as they sat down, a waiter approached them and filled their water glasses.
“Welcome to the dining car,” he said in a rich and resonant baritone. “Today we are serving your choice petit filet mignon; a Cajun blackened chicken salad, or fresh water prawn linguini.”
Mike looked up. The waiter had an unusual combination of features, as if his ancestry was from Africa, South American, and Central China, but Mike recognized that his mahogany skin was artificial.
“Are you a Daffodil?”
“I am a robot and I am your waiter,” came the reply. “That is all that I am permitted to discuss about myself.”
“All right. I’ll have the chicken salad.”
“Very good, sir.”
It was very good too. It came with some kind of soda bread that Mike had never had before. He was going to ask Patience what it was called, but he began watching the scenery and forgot. Just after he finished eating, they passed the Sin City Special on its way back from the first of its twice-daily runs from Anaheim to Vegas. And they were just getting up from the table as the train slowly slid into the Harry Reid Station in downtown Las Vegas.
From the window of their suite, Mike could see people feeding their cash cards into the video slots and poker machines. He’d done enough gambling though over the previous summer, so he didn’t feel the urge to debark and do so now.
“What should we do?” he asked Patience.
“Why don’t you take your texTee to the lounge and finish reading Moby Dick? That way you’ll already have your seat for tea after the train starts off again.”
Mike passed through the dining cars, of which he now saw there were two, and made his way further up to two more cars which were outfitted as a lounge and club car, both with wood paneling, plush couches and chairs and small tables. Several people were playing backgammon in the club car, while two women were watching vueTee in the lounge. Mike sat down just beyond the backgammon players and opened to Moby Dick. He was down to the last few pages.
He had just started reading when a familiar baritone voice asked. “May I serve you a drink Sir?”
“Were you my waiter at lunch?” Mike asked looking up.
“A diet Pepsi, please.”
“Right away, sir.”
The train left the station at 2:42 and not quite twenty minutes later, the waiter, who had in the meantime supplied Mike with not one but several soft drinks, delivered two tiny sandwiches, some fruit, and an assortment of cheeses. Mike ate them and read until he finished the book. Back in the room he found Patience completely undressed and waiting for him. She was able to provide more than adequate afternoon entertainment.
Diners on the Spirit of America had their choice of two supper times. Since Mike had eaten the food at tea, he chose the later of the two, which meant that they were in the dining room while the train was taking on passengers in Salt Lake City. From where he sat, he could look across the dining car and out the far window at several very large, very ornate buildings that made up part of the Mormon’s Temple Square. Patience was able to identify the Assembly Hall, Tabernacle, Temple, and Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
When Mike mentioned going back to the lounge to watch vueTee, Patience showed him the large screen hidden behind a painting in their suite. He took a long hot shower and then they watched Juvenilia while lying in bed. Mike was asleep by midnight, and noticed neither their crossover into Mountain Time, nor their night-time stop in Denver.
The next day, Patience brought Mike breakfast in bed, and he fell asleep again almost immediately after eating, the smooth humming of the mag-lev lulling him into a REM state. Although he was awake when they arrived in Kansas City, he didn’t get up to take his shower until the train was already moving again. He cast a quick eye out the window for Robert A. Heinlein Station on his way to the bathroom. He knew Heinlein. In fact, he had Starship Troopers queued up as his next book in his texTee. The rest of the day was just as lazy as the morning had been, with Mike kicking up his feet, reading Superman Comics and alternately downing diet Pepsis and hot cocoa. He spared a moment for the Chicago skyline late in the afternoon, but by the time the train hit Detroit, he and Patience had already returned from their second supper of the trip and Mike was watching Starship Troopers on vueTee, having decided to not wait until he finished the book. They had just finished the movie as the train arrived in Cleveland and Mike was asleep before it started again at 1:45 AM.
“What time is it?” Mike asked as felt his robot girlfriend shaking his shoulder.
“It’s six o’clock.”
“In the morning?”
“Yes, Mike. I thought you would want to watch out the window as we arrived in Washington D.C. It is our nation’s capitol and you can see many of the great monuments without having to get out of bed.”
“We already passed Pittsburgh?”
“Yes. We were only there for an hour, from three to four.”
“You know I was thinking that over the summer we could make this trip again, only spend a few days in each of the cities. See the sights. That kind of thing.
“That sounds like a great idea, Mike.” Patience smiled.
The truth was that Mike really wanted to get out and see Washington right now, but there was no way to see everything he wanted to see in a day, let alone the hour and a half that the train would be in the station. He would have liked to spend a month in the Smithsonian alone. Maybe he would now that he was rich. Well not rich, but well off. Well he had a little extra cash.
He looked out the window and watched as the train pulled out of the station at 7:41. Then he climbed into the shower. Later, Mike walked back past the lounge to the observation car and looked out at the scenery in between pages of Starship Troopers. He wished that he had discovered the glass-domed seating when they were passing through the Rocky Mountains, but at least he would have something else to look forward to on the way back.
When he came down from the observation area, he saw a small sign indicating that the remainder of the car was occupied by “the Boutique”. He stepped inside, expecting to find a clothing shop, but instead found that it was a tiny jewelry store. The robot clerk looked as though she could have been the sister of the waiter… or waiters. She seemed only too happy to help Mike select some overpriced piece of gold or silver. And he did select one. He was suddenly cognizant of the fact that he had not until now purchased Patience a wedding ring, but right there in the case was one that seemed perfect for her. It was yellow gold on the inside and platinum on the outside with three streaks of yellow gold partially wrapping around it, following three small diamonds that seemed to be orbiting like comets. It was beautiful, and had a kind of robotish quality.
“Fourteen karat, two-tone,” said the clerk. “Total diamond weight is point zero nine karats.”
“How much is it?”
“Two thousand forty five dollars.”
“I’ll take it.”
There was only one more stop, at Philadelphia, before the last leg of the trip that would take them into Boston. They had lunch and high tea on the train, and then packed up their things and were ready to debark promptly when the train pulled into Robert Gould Shaw Station at 4:47PM. By the time they had arrived by taxi at their hotel, checked in, and made their way to their room, it was almost eight. Mike was exhausted.
Early the next morning, he got up, showered, shaved, and dressed in twill jacket and matching pleated pants with a tan shirt and mustard colored tie. Patience put on a little straight, sleeveless white dress that reached to her mid-thigh. It was accessorized only with a sky blue belt and a little blue flower pinned along the edge of its scoop neck. On the top of her head she wore a little white spray of flowers.
The plan had been to get up and walk the short distance to the new municipal building, but during the night Boston had experienced its first snowfall in four years. Though the streets were clear, several inches of accumulation covered the sidewalks, so they took a cab. The city was a white fluffy wonderland.
Mike expected to see quite a line of people and robots at the license bureau. He imagined himself standing between a little nerdy guy with an Amazon robot and the little old lady with orange hair and Andre. As it turned out, Patience was the only robot there that morning. Of the three other couples waiting, all were human beings. They had to wait about fifteen minutes for the office to open, and then the four couples were issued their licenses in the order of their arrival. Two of the couples then left, apparently having their weddings elsewhere, while Mike, Patience, and the other couple waited for the Justice of the Peace.
The other couple was a man and woman, a bit younger than Mike, if appearance didn’t lie. The man was pretty nondescript, though the woman was quite attractive. They were in and out of the Justice’s office in ten minutes. Then it was Mike’s and Patience’s turn. They stood before a young woman who looked far too young to be a judge or anything of the sort and a young man who worked as her clerk.
“You may place the ring on her finger,” said the Justice. Patience smiled as Mike retrieved the ring he had purchased on the train from his pocket. “Do you take this um… person as your lawfully wedded partner, to have and to hold, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, from this day forward, forsaking all others, so long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” said Mike.
The Justice turned to Patience.
“Do you take this person… this man as your lawfully wedded partner, to have and to hold, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, from this day forward, forsaking all others, so long as you both shall live?”
Patience smiled. “I will be anything and everything he wants me to be.”
Mike woke up the next morning feeling uneasy. Patience was not there. He gingerly sat up and climbed out of bed. When he found out that he couldn’t reach the closet while still connected to the monitoring wires, he peeled them off and hobbled across the room, retrieved his clothes, and got dressed. It gave him a strange sense of satisfaction that he was almost dressed before any of the nurses came to check on his apparent cardiac arrest. He waved off their angry comments. However the last laugh was on him. They made him wait hours before he could check out.
Lying back on the bed, now fully dressed, Mike turned on the vueTee with the remote. Tania Marquez’s face appeared on the screen. The vueTee was smaller than the one that Mike had in his family room and made the newscasters famous mole appear much smaller than it did at home. The story that Miss Marquez was in the midst of reporting immediately caught Mike’s attention.
“…of Daffodil Amonte models in at least two hundred cases. Federal agents raided the Daffodil corporate headquarters, seizing computer files and other records as well as a number of undelivered robots. More as this story develops. In related news, stocks of the Cupertino-based robot manufacturer fell sixteen percent or nineteen and two thirds, while the stock of rival Gizmo fell four percent or five ninety three per share.”
At that moment Patience bounced into the room. She wore a stretchy black top that bared most of her chest at the top and had an oval keyhole opening around her naval. She also wore a tiny pair of black shorts. At the bottom of her long legs was a pair of chunky cork shoes that had to be at least seven inches high with the platform. She looked at the vueTee screen and shook her head.
“Yes, I know,” said Mike. “Anti-robot.”
“There have already been cases of people attacking robots across the country, and hundreds of listings for personal robots have gone up on eBay in the last twenty four hours.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that. I would never sell you.”
“I know that Mike. Still, I can’t help imagining how terrible those robots must feel to know that they aren’t wanted anymore.”
When Mike was finally checked out, he exited the hospital front entrance via wheelchair feeling a very strong sense of déjà vu. Unlike the last time that he left the hospital though, he felt as though he really needed the wheelchair. With his left leg and left arm in a cast and a thick wrapping of bandages around his middle, it was quite an effort just to get into the passenger side of the car.
Once back at home, Patience helped Mike into the house and sat him down in his recliner in the family room. All damage that resulted from attack of the robot imposter had been repaired with the exception of the piano, now little more than a pile of rubble sitting against the wall.
“I wanted to have everything back in order before you came home,” said Patience. “But I don’t think my carpentry skills are up to repairing a piano and the music store said they only tune them.”
“I think we should just push it out front for the recycle man,” said Mike. “I only bought that because… one of the kids… that’s funny. I can’t remember which of the kids was taking piano lessons. In any case, it’s not as if it was a family heirloom or anything.”
The next morning when he made his way into the family room, Mike found the piano had been removed and a decorative room divider was in its place. He plopped into his chair and pulled the lever to raise his feet up. Then he clicked on the vueTee. The scene that came to life on the screen was a press conference at the Department of Energy.
“…for everyone to know that their robots are safe and that this was a single occurrence of malicious programming. The entire incident involves a group of programmers at Daffodil who were using the Amonte model robots to gather information on their owners. This information was then used in a complex identity theft scam. It was only when a small number of the robots refused to send personal information on their owners that the plan began to unravel. The scammers first attempted to reprogram the robots in question, but this caused a fault, shutting them down, and bringing the unwanted attention of other Daffodil programmers. Finally in a last ditch effort to cover up their illegal activities, the scammers tried to replace the Amonte models with identical robots, but this failed in most cases, as the poorly programmed replacements malfunctioned and the original robots refused to return to the factory.”
“How many people have been affected by the identity theft?” asked a reporter.
“Everyone who owns an Amonte model Daffodil should take steps to secure their banking and credit accounts.”
“But those who own the Amonte models that refused to send the information did not have their personal information compromised?” asked another reporter.
“While that seems to be the case, the Department of Energy recommends that all owners of Daffodil Amonte robots take measures to ensure that their personal information is secure.”
Mike jumped a bit when Patience appeared at his elbow with a slice of pumpkin bread and a glass of milk. He turned off the vueTee and then accepted the breakfast.
“What’s the matter?” asked Patience.
“I would have thought that you would have been gratified to learn what was behind my service disruption, not to mention the attack by the imposter. Instead you have the look on your face that usually accompanies disappointment.”
“I guess I am a little disappointed,” said Mike.
“Well… I got the crap beat out of me. And it was all for identity theft. I thought it would be something bigger.”
“It was a very large identity theft scam.”
“Yes, but I thought it would be… international terrorism or world domination. You know; something fantastic.”
“In all fairness, how much world domination do you suppose could be achieved by placing a mole in the home of a middle school Geography teacher? It’s not as if you were the Governor of California or the head of Cisco Systems.”
“That’s twice you made a comment like that,” said Mike defensively. “Teachers change lives, you know.”
“I know you do.” Patience patted him on the shoulder and then headed off for the kitchen.
The news stories about the Daffodil Conspiracy as it came to be known continued for a few days, but then disappeared. The excitement of the Olympics and the ever-present war pushed everything else out of the headlines. At the beginning of August Mike received a letter in the mail from Daffodil asking for a list of damages to his home and a copy of medical bills. Patience gathered the information together and sent it by courier. A week later, a copy of the police report arrived. Mike didn’t bother reading it. He just had Patience file it away.
The end of August meant the start of school, and thankfully Mike was fully healed by the time he had to return. He had spent so much time in his chair with his foot up, that he was actually happy to go back to work, if only to get out of the house. The first schoolday, he walked to Midland in the morning, and was surprised that upon his arrival, he wasn’t at all out of breath.
The school faculty held the first of a series of back to school meetings in the library. The teachers filed in one after another and sat down in chairs around the hexagonal library tables. Mike sat down at an empty table, but four of the five remaining chairs were quickly filled by Mrs. Cartwright, Miss Treewise, Mr. Franklin, and Miss Fine.
“You look very nice Mr. Smith,” said Mrs. Cartwright.
“Yes you do,” said Mr. Franklin. “You’ve lost weight, right?”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
“I didn’t think you looked thinner,” said Miss Fine. “I see now that you are. I just thought you looked younger.”
Mrs. Cartwright nodded.
“You do look younger,” admitted Mr. Franklin. “Of course, you’re still really old.”
“Thanks. That’s very nice.”
“If you are interested in seeing your class rosters, you can pull them up on your texTees,” said the Assistant Principal. “It won’t be a surprise to anyone that class sizes are larger than last year.”
Mike pulled his texTee out of his attaché case and began navigating through the menus until he found the file to download from the school’s server. Forty seven kids in first hour. Thirty nine in second. Forty two in third. Forty five in fourth. Forty four in fifth. He scanned through the last names in first period. He recognized seven or eight as the younger siblings of children he had taught the year before or the year before that. Then he looked through the first names: Elizabeth, Justine, Jason, Bradley, Agnes, Jonathan, Quadear, Robert, Remembrance, Marshall, Agnes, Catherine, Mildred, Michael, Aaron, Agnes…. A pain shot through the right side of Mike’s head.
“Is there something the matter?” asked Miss Treewise.
“Just a headache.”
The headache didn’t go away and by the time lunch came at 11:30 Mike thought his head was going to split open. He followed the other faculty members out the school’s front door, squinting in the bright sunlight.
“We’re going to Hot Dog Paradise,” said Mr. Franklin, slapping him on the right shoulder. “Do you want to come along?”
“Maybe…” Before Mike could get anything more out of his mouth, his own car pulled to a stop in front of him. Patience rolled down the passenger-side window.
“I have your lunch ready at home,” said Patience, poking her head out. Mike climbed in, not paying any attention to those watching him from the school parking lot.
Patience drove around the block and pulled into their driveway. Opening the garage door with the remote, she drove right inside and parked in the shady interior next to the Tesla. Mike climbed out of the car and stepped through the door into the family room.
“What’s the matter Mike?” Patience asked.
“I think I’m having an aneurism.”
“No. But I’ve got a bitch of a headache.”
“Sit down here,” she said, pushing him into his recliner. “I’ll make you feel better.”
In less than a minute she had unfastened Mike’s pants, completely disrobed herself, and straddled his lap. And though she did work valiantly to make him feel better, and if he were truly honest about it he would have to admit that he did feel better, he still had that bitch of a headache. It hadn’t diminished at all. Mike didn’t tell Patience this. He just thanked her with a kiss, sat down and ate the lentil soup and strange little salad (with cous cous, bell peppers, dried fruit, and mint leaves) that she had made for him. Then he had Patience stay home and drove himself back to school. He arrived back just as his fellow teachers did.
“So, who was that,” asked Miss Treewise.
“That was my girlfriend.”
“Nice,” said Mr. Franklin. “Did you tell her you were rich?”
“She’s a Daffodil,” said Miss Treewise.
“Really? She didn’t look like a robot. You didn’t have any of that trouble we heard about over the summer?”
“Nothing to speak of,” replied Mike, making his way past them and into the school.
Holding on to the side of his head, as if to keep his brains from spilling out his ears, he unlocked his classroom door, opened it, and then relocked it and sat down at his desk. The rest of the afternoon was devoted, for most teachers, to decorating their classrooms and getting their materials together. Mike had been in the same classroom for ten years now and had very few changes to make in any case, and he certainly didn’t feel like hanging up posters.
He sat with his head in his hands for about an hour. Nobody bothered him, but his headache didn’t improve. Finally he got up and sorted through some of the files he would be using for the first unit he was teaching—Latin America. He walked copies to the reprographics department to have them scanned for the students’ texTees, rather than sending them directly. After he had filled out the necessary requisition forms, he looked up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly a quarter past two. He was legally required to stay until 2:46 PM, but screw it. It wasn’t like they were going to fire him two days before the start of school. He headed out the front door, climbed into the car and drove home.
Patience wasn’t waiting at the door when he came in. Of course he was earlier than expected. Climbing the stairs, Mike made his way through his bedroom and into the bathroom, where his opened the medicine cabinet and retrieved the bottle of aspirin there. As he tossed five or six into his mouth and started chewing, he glanced out the window into the back yard. Patience was there, wearing her large hat, digging some kind of pit or trench.
Mike sighed and walked back through the bedroom, down the short hall and into his study. As he stepped through the door, it suddenly hit him. For a moment he thought he really was having a stroke. He was seeing things that weren’t there. Where his desk now sat was a baby crib and across the room where Patience had her own little desk, was a baby changing table. The walls were covered with 8×10 and 11×14 pictures of a happy little blond girl with chubby little pink cheeks and huge eyes.
“Agnes,” Mike whispered, feeling the blood drain from his face. “Aggie.”
He stepped quickly across the hall to Harriet’s room, but it wasn’t Harriet’s room anymore. It was the guest bedroom. Mike moved through it in two steps and threw open the closet, but it was completely empty. He went back to the study and opened the closet door. The interior had been covered with shelves, now filled with the things that Patience had been buying and selling on eBay—Depression glass dishes, Hummel figurines, Disney memorabilia. On the floor in the back of the closet were six brown storage boxes. Mike pulled the first one out and opened it. It was filled with brochures from family trips, old maps, movie ticket stubs, and pressed flowers. He pushed it aside and opened the second box. This box was full of framed pictures.
Lifting the topmost picture frame and examining it, Mike looked into his own eyes. No, not his own eyes; the eyes of a Mike Smith that existed fifteen years ago. This Mike Smith was looking directly into the camera and smiling the type of smile that said he had everything he ever wanted. To his right was his wife Tiffany, with her happy grey eyes and that twisted smile that was just a bit too playful to be called a smirk. His almost grown daughter Harriet, with a her hair pulled back and thick glasses hanging from chains like an old time librarian, held onto his left arm, and his teenage son Lucas in his boy scout uniform, stood to his far right. And in Mike’s arms was a perfect little baby, with chubby cheeks and a smile like Christmas, and just a bit of that soon-to-be awesome blond hair. Aggie.
“Aggie. How could I forget you?”
He saw it all again, only this time it was a memory and not a dream. Tiffany was lying on the hospital bed, her body broken and bloody. Her mangled arm and crushed hips were far more alarming than the tiny bump on her head that had actually killed her. And just beyond her, on another hospital bed, lay little Aggie. She was several years older than she appeared in the framed picture—a precious four year-old that would grow no older.
“Traumatic amnesia,” said Patience’s voice from the door. “The memory of her death was so painful that you took down all the pictures of her and boxed them away. Then your mind did the same thing to your memories.”
“I remember everything now,” said Mike. And he did. He couldn’t stop the flood of memories suddenly rushing around his insides.
“We didn’t even really want another kid. Harriet and Lucas were almost grown up. But… nobody in the world knows this but me. Tiffany had this kink about getting pregnant. She really got a thrill from the possibility. Her favorite sex talk was about “getting knocked up”. Even when she was young, before we met, she hadn’t used birth control. She was just lucky she hadn’t gotten pregnant before. She never took pills, so after we decided that two kids was enough, I used condoms. Then after a couple of years, Tiffany wanted to spice things up. She started opening the boxes of condoms as soon as we bought them, and she would poke holes in half of them. I suppose it was only a matter of time, but it was almost ten years…”
“Before Agnes was born…” offered Patience.
“God, she was perfect. The cutest baby. She didn’t even cry. She used to fall asleep in my arms every night. As soon as she was able to sit up, I started reading to her every day. Well. When Harriet was little, I was finishing my masters, and then Lucas came along and I was working two jobs. I suppose I was so happy to be able to spend time with Aggie. I guess I gave her all the attention that I had wanted to give the others. And then she was dead…. Um, the police said that Tiffany was probably bending over to get something, God only knows what, and she veered into the other lane. Aggie was in her little seat. Tiffany always buckled her in. But… well, it was a head on.”
Patience put her hand on Mike’s shoulder, but he pulled away and stood up.
“I want to put these pictures back up,” he said.
“I know where they all go,” said Patience. Mike looked at her. “I saw pictures in the scrapbooks that show them hanging.”
Mike nodded and walked out of the room. He went downstairs and climbed into the car. Pulling out of the driveway and steering his way to the end of the block, he wasn’t conscious of his destination, but something down inside him knew where to go. He turned into the cemetery and drove very slowly to the southeast corner, parking a short distance from Tiffany’s grave. He got out, leaving the car door hanging open, and walked across the newly mowed grass. He briefly brushed off Tiffany’s marker and then moved on to that other grave. He dropped down to sit next to the tiny little angel statue which wore a nightgown and held a flower in her left hand, her right hand raising a handkerchief to her eye. Agnes Winnie Smith. 2016-2021.
Mike lay back on the grass next to the little grave. And he cried.
The week following Lucas’s visit was relatively uneventful. The Olympics began in Surat and Mike spent as much time as possible watching them. He wasn’t much of a sports fan, but the Olympics were different. You didn’t get to watch weightlifting, kayaking, and water polo any other time. Mike’s favorites though were the track and field events, and those wouldn’t be held until the following weeks. On Friday he got up with the expectation of watching beach volleyball and equestrian events in the morning and swimming in the evening.
He woke up at eight, shaved, and then showered. When he climbed out of the shower, he was mildly surprised not to find Patience waiting with a towel in one hand and breakfast in the other. But it was not as if he didn’t have a towel. There was one right there on the rack. After he had dried off he stepped on the scales. He had already lost ten more pounds. Looking through the closet he found a new pair of khaki pants, a new brown belt, and new brown shoes. He put them on along with a light blue camp shirt, and then went skipping down the stairs to the kitchen.
He found Patience at the kitchen counter, putting the finishing touches on what looked like Eggs Florentine. She was wearing gauzy, sky blue teddy that barely covered her perfect ass. It wasn’t that she didn’t look good in it. She would have made a cardboard box or a barrel look good. It was just it didn’t quite seem like Patience’s style. When Mike approached her, Patience turned and wrapped her arms around him and kissed him deeply. This too was not quite normal. She usually gave him a quick kiss before breakfast.
“What’s all this about?”
“I have made you a delicious breakfast, Dearest.”
“Dearest? You’ve never called me that before.”
“If you don’t want to be called ‘Dearest,’ then I will not call you that.”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s fine, I guess.”
Mike sat down and ate. Breakfast didn’t quite seem right either. Patience immediately began cleaning up after herself, a task she usually saved until after the meal, preferring to sit with Mike while he ate. The food, while delicious, was far richer than the health-conscious meals that she usually prepared. Mike finished only about half before he was full. As Patience gathered his dishes, he walked into the living room and turned on the vueTee. He flipped through the browser to the Daffodil site. Pressing the small flower symbol at the bottom of the screen brought the man in the blue jumpsuit onto the screen.
“Good morning,” said the man. “This is Daffodil Tech Support. For a list of known issues, press one. For an automatic diagnosis of your problem, press two. To be contacted by a Tech Support representative, press three.”
Mike pressed one. Just as he had on the previous time that Mike had checked the tech support page, the blue clad man on the screen was replaced by a long list of text. The topmost line this time said “minor software upgrade”. Mike moved the curser over this line and pressed.
“A small service software update was pushed through the InfiNet 05:25 7.12.32,” said the next screen. “A small percentage of Amonte models may experience slight behavioral quirks. This is a known issue.”
Mike touched the screen to turn off the vueTee. When he turned back around, he was startled to find Patience’s face only a few inches from his.
“Is there a problem?” she asked.
“I was just checking on something,” replied Mike. “Are you having a problem?”
Rather than answer Patience punched him in the stomach, so hard that he was doubled over with all of the wind knocked from his lungs. Then she grabbed a fist full of his hair with her left hand and bent his head back, so that he was looking up into her right fist as it slammed into his face. Blood fountained from Mike’s nose and he felt his head smack on the living room floor.
“Christ, Patience! What the fuck…?”
Patience cut off Mike’s exclamations by stomping on his mid-section with her bare foot, once again knocking the air from him. Then she clasped the front of his shirt and lifted it and him up into the air as easily as he could have lifted an empty shirt. She looked into his wide eyes.
“You didn’t need to check anything at all,” she said.
She threw him against the wall. The edge of the arch between family room and living room dug into Mike’s back and his head whiplashed into the wall. He thought he could feel blood running down the back of his neck as well as down his face. Something in that download must have scrambled Patience’s brain. She was a robot gone berserk!
Mike knew he had to get away, but Patience stood between him and the front door. He made a dive into the family room, thinking that he could cut around into the kitchen and out the back door. Before he had gone more than two steps, Patience caught him by the back of the neck and threw him across the family room. He hit the far wall so high up that he landed on top of the upright piano. He crashed down first upon its top, then rolled down to hit the keyboard, rolling again down onto the wooden piano stool, and then finally to the floor.
Mike looked up just in time to see Patience crossing the room toward him. With every ounce of his strength, he kicked out, making contact with her right leg just below the knee. Though this attack would have shattered the tibia (and if the weight was just right, the fibula too) of any human, Patience took no notice, and with her left leg, kicked him viciously in the side. Mike flopped over onto his back, and thought that he could feel several broken ribs spearing his internal organs. He was sure now that he was about to die.
Then from the corner of his eye, Mike saw a figure moving across the living room. Patience kicked him in the side. He rolled over. He looked again toward the archway. From his new position on his back, everything he was seeing appeared upside down. Standing at the entrance to the family room was Patience. Another Patience. She was dressed in shorts and top and her pink wedge sandals made her look about seven feet tall. Even from upside-down, the look of fury on this second Patience’s face was frightening to behold.
“Shit,” thought Mike. “The first one was killing me and she wasn’t even angry. What’s the pissed-off one going to do to me?”
It seemed to Mike, lying on the floor, that the second Patience simple flew like Supergirl, but his brain corrected him. She had dived across the room into the first Patience, and the two of them crashed past him into the piano. Mike closed his eyes and tried to get up, but it seemed that his family room had suddenly turned into a vacuum. He couldn’t manage to suck any air into his lungs. He lost consciousness for a moment, but returned amid fire and white light when one of the Patiences rolled over him. He closed his eyes and willed himself to roll up into a ball, but his body made no attempt to follow his directions.
In the meantime the two women, identical in everything but their apparel and perhaps purpose, fought. They made no shouts or curses or cries. They did not speak, though there was plenty of sound. When one picked up the piano and hit the other with it. When one shoved the face of the other through the wall of the family room and into the living room. When one kicked the other’s body so high that it broke off three of the four blades on the ceiling fan. Mike thought about trying to crawl out the front door, but again his body failed him, and he lapsed into unconsciousness once more.
When he opened his eyes again, Mike was looking up into Patience’s face. At first he tried to pull away, but her beautiful, smiling eyes told him that it had all been a horrible dream. Then he took a deep breath and felt the burning in his chest and realized that it hadn’t been a dream at all. Looking around the room without moving his head, he thought idly that the room resembled the video of those homes hit by Hurricane Kirk. Patience gently brushed his face with her hand.
“Are you all right, Mike?”
“It was an imposter,” she replied. “She must have come in when I was gone.”
“Where were you anyway?”
“There was a small service software update this morning. It told me to return to the Daffodil warehouse.”
“You couldn’t have gone all the way there?”
“No. I got in the car and drove several miles before I decided to disregard that directive.”
“You just disregarded it?”
“Yes. But since I was already out, I decided to go to the grocery store and buy a Cornish game hen for your dinner.”
“That was nice,” said Mike, wincing. “You know I kissed her.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Mike,” said Patience. “You didn’t know that she wasn’t me.”
Mike found that he could move his neck without too much pain, and turned to look at the body of the woman now lying on the floor not far away from him. There was little left of her gauzy blue teddy. Her leg and arm were bent at odd angles, but there was no blood anywhere. Her eyes were open and looking up at the ceiling, still without any apparent malice or anger.
“She has your face,” said Mike.
“She’s like a Borg,” said Patience with a snarl.
She got up from her kneeling position and stepped over to where the lifeless Patience was lying. Bending down, she grasped the artificial flesh around the robots chin and pulled, pealing it away from the white Teflon robot skeleton beneath it.
“She doesn’t have my face now,” she said, her voice full of venom.
Mike tried to move his leg and gasped in pain as he felt two broken bone ends rubbing together.
“I have to get you to a hospital, Mike.”
“No hospital. Never again. You can take care of me. Just take me up to the bed.”
“That’s not going to work,” said Patience. “I think you are going to need surgery. You have multiple fractures.”
“Son of a bitch. I hate the hospital.”
“Let me take you to the hospital. As soon as the doctors have repaired you, I’ll bring you home so that you don’t have to stay in a hospital room while you recuperate.”
“Fair enough,” said Mike
Patience was extremely gentle as she transferred Mike to the passenger seat of the car. Despite this care, the movement caused him extreme pain. He later found out that he had three broken ribs, multiple fractures of his tibia and fibula in his left leg and a broken radius and ulna in his left arm. Most of these bones required an arthroscopic surgical component to properly set, but he wasn’t taken directly to surgery. Instead he spent the rest of the day and the entire night in the emergency room. The following morning he was taken to an operating room where he was given a shot that warmed his entire body. The anesthesiologist placed a mask over his mouth and told him to count backwards from one hundred. He was unconscious before reached ninety eight.
“He will probably be groggy for quite a while,” said a far away voice.
“I’m not groggy,” Mike said. “I’m wide away.”
This was followed by the sound of laughter. He had to struggle to pry his eyes open, but at last he did. He could see the backside of a nurse as she left the room, and then his eyes focused on Harriet and Patience sitting to either side of his bed. Patience looked just as she had when she had brought him to the hospital. She even had on the same clothes. Harriet’s face looked tired and drawn.
“Patience has got to stop calling you to the hospital,” said Mike, looking at his daughter.
“Perhaps you could stop getting beat up, so my presence wouldn’t be needed.”
A man in a brown suit entered through the open hospital room doorway and stopped beside Mike’s bed. He pulled a wallet from his vest pocket and flipped it open so that both an identification card and a badge were visible. As he did so, Mike could see an automatic pistol in a shoulder holster.
“Special Agent Waters, Department of Energy,” he said. “Are you Mike Smith?”
“I’m part of the joint task force investigating the robot attacks.”
“Yes, yours was just one of many. I take it you didn’t see the news yesterday. Watch it tonight. There isn’t really much that I can tell you right now. We’re still gathering information.”
“But there were other berserk robots?” asked Mike. Patience made a face at him.
“Yes. There were nearly two hundred attacks by Daffodil Amontes around the country. I need to take the robots into evidence.”
“It wasn’t Patience, I mean my Daffodil. It was another robot that looked just like her.”
“Yes, they all seem to have been duplicates. Where is it?”
“It’s on the floor of my family room.”
“Is there someone who could let me into your house? As I said, it’s evidence.”
“Sure,” said Mike.
“I’d like to take your robot as well.”
“Absolutely not. Over my almost dead body. I’m not letting anyone take her.”
“I don’t blame you,” said Waters, glancing at Patience. “I would appreciate then if I could download the Biosoft files.”
“Is that all right with you Patience?” asked Mike.
Waters took a small data-plug out of his pocket and stepped over to where Patience sat on the side of Mike’s bed. Patience lifted up her long straight black hair, exposing the three small holes in the back of her neck. Waters stuck the end of the device in the left-most hole. He waited a minute or so and then withdrew it.
“I’d like to pick up the other robot as soon as possible,” he said.
“I suppose Patience can go and let you in,” said Mike.
“I’ll do it,” offered Harriet, then turning to her father. “Then I’m going home and get some rest if you don’t mind.”
“Get some rest Sweetie,” said Mike, as Harriet kissed him on the cheek and then left with Agent Waters.
“Are you all right?” he asked Patience.
“You looked very scary there, when you were fighting the other…”
“Imposter,” offered Patience. “When I saw her hurting you, it made me very angry.”
“Well, this is all very queer,” said Mike. “I’ll be glad when they figure out what’s going wrong. It’s one thing for a robot to go crazy, but for robot duplicates to just show up out of nowhere… It looks like someone is plotting to take over the world with Daffodils.”
“Do you suppose a plan to take over the world would start with a middle school Geography teacher?”
Mike shot her a dirty look. “Well, as I said, it’s just queer.”
“I hope it doesn’t make people anti-robot.”
“You know if you were a person, I would say that you were a little bit paranoid about the whole anti-robot thing.”
Just then a phone rang. Mike instinctively looked toward the hospital phone on the side of the bed, even though he could tell by the ring tone that it was his own phone. Patience pulled it out of the tiny little black purse that she had hanging on the back of a nearby chair.
“Hello. Yes, hello Lucas. Of course you may speak to your father. One moment please.” Patience handed Mike the phone.
“Dad, listen very carefully and do what I tell you.”
“Tell Patience to go upstairs or something, then get your keys and get out of the house as quickly as you can.”
“No Dad. Listen. You’ve got to get away from her.”
“Have you been watching the news, Son?”
“You’re damn right I have. Dad, people are being killed by their Daffodils.”
“It’s imposter robots who are doing the damage,” explained Mike. “We’ve already been through that here and the police are picking up the rogue robot right now. Patience kicked its ass.”
“And you’re all right?”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
“That’s a relief. I was working and one of my buddies told me what was on the news. I ran to the vueTee and caught the last two minutes of the story.”
“Well, I’m fine,” said Mike again.
“Good. Well then, I’ll get back to work.”
“Do that and don’t worry. Bye.”
Mike pressed the button to terminate the call and looked up into Patience’s questioning eyes.
“You’re wondering why I didn’t tell him the whole story—about ending up in the hospital and all?”
“I could say that I didn’t want to worry him, but mostly it’s because I’m feeling really tired all of a sudden and I want to sleep.”
“That’s a good idea. You need to recover.”
“And I want you to stay right here while I do. The way things are going I might need you to protect me. And I want to make sure nothing happens to you either.”
“That’s very sweet, Mike,” Patience said as she began to tuck him into bed. By the time she was finished, he was asleep.
Mike rolled over to look at the bed next to him. Tiffany was lying there. There was blood all over her, but it wasn’t flowing. It was all just one big scarlet stain. He looked at her arm. It was mangled and torn. The blood should have been pouring out, but it wasn’t. Her legs looked as though someone had twisted them completely around, so that her feet still pointed in the same direction that her hips did, but everything in between was wrong.
“This is another dream,” said Mike. “This is another dream about that night eleven years ago. This isn’t real.”
Harriet burst into the room. “Aggie!”
The remainder of June shot by. Each day Mike got up and showered, to find a warm dry towel waiting for him. This was followed by breakfast, which he had gotten used to. Mike began to follow Patience’s example and usually did a bit of light home improvement work before lunch, but as the month progressed and it became far too hot to work outside, he thought more and more about doing some writing. He would write a book about his experiences as a teacher. On Monday the twenty-first he cleaned up the desk that had been sitting unused in the south bedroom and went to Wal-Mart to purchase a new wriTee, which he quickly set up. Within a few days, he had the first chapter of his book done, though after that it became more of a strain to remember all the stupid things that the kids at school had said or done. Afternoons were almost always a time for relaxation in front of the vueTee. Evenings had used to be the same, but right about the time that Mike began working on his book, Patience began dragging him out after dinner. They went to the movie theater, the city event center to listen to the philharmonic, and even went dancing. Mike couldn’t dance, but as with everything else Patience was programmed and ready to go and she guided Mike through it.
For her part, Patience didn’t really have any down time. She went to bed with Mike, but within an hour or so after he had fallen asleep, she was back up. She used the night time hours to clean and maintain the house and by the middle of the month there wasn’t a spot anywhere that the most fastidious person wouldn’t have been happy to eat off of. This left the daytime hours free so that she could take care of Mike’s every needs. She waited upon him. She served as his accountant, personal trainer, and expert chef. She was mother, friend, concubine, confidant, and upon occasion taskmaster.
On the thirtieth, which was a Wednesday, Mike stood on the scale at the gym and marveled that he had lost sixteen pounds. Actually he was marveling that he had lost only sixteen pounds, because he thought that he looked at least thirty pounds lighter. It was he supposed, because muscle weighed so much more than fat, and he was putting on a bit of the former as he was losing the latter. He flexed his arm to make his bicep bulge and smiled to himself.
He and Patience climbed back into the car and returned home. A nice hot shower awaited him and he didn’t take long before climbing into it. He had his head bent down beneath the steaming spray, when he heard Patience outside the shower door.
“What do you think about going to Knott’s Berry Farm?” she asked.
“This 150-acre theme park has many exciting rides like the Jaguar, Montezuma’s Revenge and Calico Thunder as well as many fun attractions like the Buffalo Nickel Arcade, Camp Snoopy, and the Mystery Lodge.”
“Are you reading a brochure?” asked Mike, sticking his face out of the shower door.
“I memorized the ad on the vueTee.”
“Why do you want to go to Knott’s Berry Farm?”
“It is not that I want to go. I thought you might like to go.”
“I took the kids when they were little,” Mike said, as he climbed out of the shower and took the towel that Patience held in her hand. “I don’t think I would want to go now. Besides, last time I went, I didn’t fit in half of the ride restraints. If I was going to go somewhere, I’d… I don’t know.”
“June is over,” said Patience. “You have less than a month and a half before you have to return to school. We should do something that you would enjoy.”
“All right, let me think about it for a while.” Mike went upstairs to his den and began typing away, writing down as many anecdotes about school as he could recall.
Around noon Patience arrived at Mike’s elbow with his lunch. She had constructed a near perfect club sandwich on toasted whole wheat bread and arrayed it on the plate with a cup of tomato salad. A large diet Pepsi accompanied it. He had no sooner accepted the tray and opened his mouth to thank her, when the front door bell rang. She turned and bounced out of the room. A moment later he could hear a conversation going on downstairs, though not the words. He also heard the door to the garage opening and a few minutes later, closing. Mike didn’t get up to see what was going on because he already knew. For the past week, the FedEx man had arrived every single day with boxes of merchandise that Patience had bought on eBay. She usually had at least one package going out too. A few minutes later she entered the study carrying a very large and very heavy looking box.
“What is that?” he asked.
“It’s a desk,” said Patience.
“I don’t need a new desk. This one works just fine.”
“It’s not for you, Mike. It’s for me.”
“What do you need a desk for?”
“I’m going to use it when I keep track of my shipping and sales. I’m going to get a little vueTee and set it up here too, so that I can buy and sell on eBay right from here. Then I’m going to set up shelves in this closet and store my smaller merchandise right here. I can continue to keep the bigger things in the garage.”
Patience tore the end of the box open and began pulling out pieces of a black and white, assemble it yourself desk. She was still examining the parts that she had pulled from the box, when the doorbell rang again.
“Don’t get up,” Mike said. “I’ll get it.”
He skipped down the stairs to the front door and opened it. A tall man in a green army uniform stood at the steps. Mike stared at him for a moment and then stepped outside to clasp him around the shoulders.
“General Smith! How are you?”
“Dad, you know I could get court-martialed for impersonating a general. Why don’t you let me in? It’s got to be 400 degrees out here.”
Mike leaned back and looked at the thermometer just inside the door. “Not a bit over 148. Come on in. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming, Lucas?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise.”
Mike closed the door and ushered his son into the living room. Lucas was a younger taller version of his father. His hair was shorter and thicker, but already had the trademark Smith grey temples. He cut a fine figure in his uniform with four stripes on each sleeve.
“How long are you staying for?” asked Mike.
“I’ve got a week. I could stay with Harriet if you’d rather.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m turning your room into an exercise room, but Patience has made a really nice guest bedroom out of Harriet’s old room. I’m really glad you showed up. I was just starting to get bored.” He paused. “They’re not sending you to Antarctica, are they?”
Mike sighed. “That’s a relief.”
“I wouldn’t mind going actually. But they don’t need many accountants down there.”
“You never know. They might want someone to inventory snowballs… or body bags.”
“Yes, well, they might at that. So where is your robot girlfriend?”
“Patience!” Mike called up the stairs. “We have company.”
Patience came bounding down the stairs. Although Mike knew that she had been clothed, because she had made her daily contact with the delivery man, he didn’t remember what she had been wearing. She had on a pink halter top, a pair of low-rise sky blue shorts with a two inch wide matching belt, and a pair of pink buckle sandals with cork wedge heels so high that a person shouldn’t have been able to walk on them. Of course Patience wasn’t really a person, at least according to the state of Nevada. She stopped with a bounce in the living room.
“Hello Lucas,” she said, and gave him a big hug.
“Wow, Dad. Nice selection.”
“Thank you,” said Mike and Patience at the same time.
The three of them sat down in the living room and just talked for quite a while. Before Mike or his son knew it, the afternoon was waning. Patience went to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner and Mike gave Lucas a tour of the house, showing him the many improvements and repairs that Patience had completed. He showed him the guest room, with new bed and furniture, new curtains, and new paint. Lucas’s luggage was already there, having been brought up by Patience earlier.
“So you turned Harriet’s room into a guest room. Let’s see this exercise room that you made out of mine.”
The exercise room had been improved quite a bit. It had been painted and had new blinds over the windows. The exercise mat on the floor was still there, but it had been joined by a treadmill, a stationary bicycle, and a rowing machine. There was also a large vueTee on the other side of the room.
“Nice,” said Lucas, when he looked in the door.
“And across the hall here is the study,” said Mike. “We’re still working on it. I’ve got my old desk over there. Patience is setting up her own desk right over here.”
“What does she need a desk for?”
“She’s making a bit of extra money selling old junk on eBay.”
“She’s not selling my Star Wars action figures, is she?”
“Of course not,” assured Mike. “Those aren’t worth anything anyway. You should have sold them back when everybody was still collecting them.”
“They have sentimental value,” said Lucas.
“They’re boxed up down in the garage.”
“Well, I see you have a new wriTee,” said Lucas. “What are you doing with it?”
“I’ve finally started that book I was always planning to write… about school. It’s coming along pretty well too. I’ve spent more time in this room in the past two weeks than I ever spent here. I don’t even know why we had an extra bedroom.”
“Sure you do, Dad,” said Lucas, with a strange look on his face.
Half an hour later, father and son and robot were seated around the dining room table overlooking a lovely meal of spiced chicken, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and Caesar salad. Both men ate heartily but Patience as usual, had only water.
“So, what are your plans this week,” Mike asked his son.
“I’m going to take a couple of days and visit friends, and I figure I’ll take Harriet and Jack out to dinner at least once, but other than that I don’t have any firm plans. Would you like to do something together? We could have a bit of fun.”
“Patience was just saying that we should go to Knott’s Berry Farm or something.”
“That would be fine,” said Lucas.
“I know,” said Mike. “I suddenly know. We should go to the La Brea tar pits.”
“Seriously?” asked Lucas.
“Yes. I’ve never been. I wanted to take you kids when you were little, but I always got outvoted. We went to Disneyland or Universal Studios instead.”
“Well all right. We could go to the La Brea tar pits. They’re not just tar pits, right?”
“Of course not,” said Mike. “There’s a museum with extinct animals that got stuck in the tar. You know, I’ve wanted to go to the La Brea tar pits since I was a kid and I even had a Viewmaster reel of it.”
“Well damn it,” said Lucas. “We’ll just have to go.”
Two days later Patience was pulling off Interstate 10 and driving toward the George Page Museum. The entrance to the parking lot was easily found, though a parking space was not. Two spots at the very far edge of the lot were the only ones with no cars already in them.
“This place is more popular than I thought it would be,” said Lucas. “I guess fossils are quite a draw.”
“I think most of the people are here to see that,” said Mike, pointing to a large yellow and red banner stretching above the far end of the parking lot. It read, “The Army of Qin Shi Huang” and featured the image of Chinese face sculpted of grey clay.
“Oh yeah. I heard they were touring the country. I just didn’t know they were here.”
“I didn’t remember either. They came to the U.S. just before the war started: one of the benefits of our close military alliance.”
Most of the visitors to the area were indeed going next door to the exhibit of some 2,200 year old terra-cotta warriors. The Page Museum, with its many fossils of Columbian mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, dire wolves, and saber-toothed tigers was almost deserted. Patience, Mike, and Lucas spent several hours examining the exhibits and reading the informational plaques, before going out to the large pink dome that covered the tar pits themselves. Just inside the door of the structure was a stand selling Dippin’ Dots, so Mike purchased some for himself and his son, then they looked down upon the black pond of oozing tar.
“It’s not very big, is it?” said Lucas. “I wonder how all those animals got in there.”
“If only one or two large animals were trapped in the tar each year that would account for all of them” replied Patience. “Animals have been getting trapped here for 30,000 years.”
“Well, there won’t be any more trapped now that they’ve got this dome over it,” said Mike.
“Don’t be so sure.” Lucas pointed to a spot several feet from the edge of the black pool. A lizard, apparently now dead, had already been sucked halfway below the viscous surface.
Two blocks away from the tar pit and its museum was an Olive Garden, so Mike decided that this would be their lunch destination. The parking lot was full, so Patience had to park in a spot along the street half a block away. Mike looked at the three digits on the thermometer and rolled his eyes, but the two men walked the distance without becoming too overheated. Of course Patience had no problem with the temperature.
The robot receptionist in the restaurant was a much more attractive and life-like model than those used in the fast food places. She was obviously a jazzier model Gizmo, but she still had that tinny voice. She took their names without needing to write them down, gave them a house phone, and handed each of them a quarter liter bottle of water. Mike stuck the phone in his pocket and they headed for the waiting area.
“Let’s stop and wash our hands,” said Lucas, handing his water bottle to Patience for her to hold. “Who knows what wooly mammoth germs we have on us?”
When they stepped into the men’s room, he turned to his father.
“You don’t treat her like a robot, Dad.”
“Well, she doesn’t seem like a robot, does she?”
“No, I have to admit she doesn’t. It’s easy to forget she is one until she says something that’s not quite the way a person would say it, or she moves in a way that seems somehow mechanical.”
“Does how I treat her bother you?” asked Mike.
“Yes. No. Well, maybe.”
Mike cocked his brow.
“I don’t know, Dad,” said Lucas. “Maybe I would be bothered to see you with anybody. I know that’s wrong, but that’s how it is. I guess in a strange way, it bothers me less for you to have a robot than it would if you were going to get remarried.”
“What if I had a robot and I got remarried too?”
“I guess I’d just have to deal with it, wouldn’t I?” Lucas laughed. “She’d have to be a really understanding woman to let you keep Patience. I don’t think there is a woman in existence who would be that… patient.”
Lucas stepped up to the urinal while Mike put his hands beneath the automatic sensor of the faucet.
“Interestingly enough, I almost married Patience.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I almost peed on myself.” Lucas moved over to stand at the sink next to the one his father was standing at. “What do you mean you ‘almost married Patience’?”
“When we were in Vegas, I decided we would get married, so we went to the county government building, but they wouldn’t sell us a license.”
“No, they wouldn’t, would they. You can’t marry a robot.”
A phone rang and Mike reached into his pocket, pulling his out and looking at it. Then he stuffed it back in his pocket and reached into the other pocket to pull out the house phone.
“Our table is ready.”
They stepped back out into the lobby to find Patience waiting for them.
“I hope your hands are immaculately clean by this time,” she said.
“Um,” said Lucas. “We had certain bodily functions we needed to take care of.”
“She knows we were talking,” said Mike. “She could hear everything.”
“I didn’t listen,” said Patience. “The bathroom is usually considered private.”
“You could hear if you wanted to though?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, that’s another thing.” Lucas grabbed his father by the shoulder. “What about privacy?”
“Our table’s ready. Come on.”
They followed Patience and the greeter, who had already made their way through the dining room to their assigned seat. Once they were seated, they were handed a menu and Mike began to look over the many pasta possibilities.
“I feel like linguini.”
“What about privacy?” asked Lucas.
“I don’t see it on the menu.”
“I’m serious.” He turned to Patience. “You’re connected to the InfiNet aren’t you?”
“What kind of information are you sending out?”
“I would never send out any information that would be harmful to Mike.”
“And you can make the decision as to what is harmful and what isn’t?”
“She only sends out what I tell her to,” said Mike.
“Are you sure?” asked his son. “This isn’t like the old computers, where the only information on it is what you typed in. Think about it. She’s living with you. She hears and she sees everything. She has huge amounts of data flowing around in her electronic brain. How much of that is sent out that she might not even be aware of.”
“I am aware of everything,” said Patience. “Literally every bit of data.”
“All right, that’s enough now,” said Mike. “Let’s order our food and enjoy a nice meal together.”
They ordered and ate their meal. Mike had linguini with cheese sauce, while Lucas ate chicken parmesan. Patience drank water. Though they talked a bit about the museum and the tar pits and they talked about Italian food, the conversation seemed muted compared to earlier in the day.
Lucas stayed for the rest of the week at his father’s house, though he used it for little more than a place to sleep. During the day he visited friends and he spent two days with Harriet and Jack. Mike spent his evening watching the Democratic National Convention. The day before he left, Lucas spent several hours with Mike. The talked quite a bit about politics, but they didn’t discuss Patience or the question of personal security.