“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.