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.