The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 19 Excerpt

Terrence followed his gaze and saw spread out across the savannah, a line of lizardmen. They were so well camouflaged that they blended right into the rising landscape behind them. They stretched out to the left and the right so far that they created a half circle around the humans, and this at a distance of more than a mile. Many of the lizardmen were painted red and white and black, and most wore feathers. Most also carried the swords, made of wood and flint, that the men had seen before.

“Kafira,” said one of the soldiers. “There must be a thousand of them.”

“More like five thousand,” said Labrith.

“Talk to them,” said Terrence to Augie, indicating the two lizardmen with them. “Find out if these are our friends or the enemies.”

Augie hissed. Sarkkik hissed back. Augie translated.

“We know of your people. Though it is far away, we know of your people living in Mallontah. We know how they have enslaved the natives there. We know you intend to do this here. We have shown you to Suusthek.”

“What does that mean?” asked Terrence. “We have shown you to Suusthek.”

“Oh, sorry. My mistake,” said Augie. “Not ‘show’. It’s ‘delivered’. ‘We have delivered you to Suusthek’. Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”

“We have dealt with you in good faith,” said Terrence.

“Your blood runs warm. You cannot be trusted. We have heard your talk. Szuss can hear your speech. He hears how you want to rule the land.”

“Bugger!” shouted Terrence.

Sarkkik hissed again.

“He says ‘now you die’,” translated Augie.

Terrence turned around and walked two steps then turned around again. Then he pulled out his .45 revolver and shot Sarkkik in the head. It seemed as if the reptilian would fall backwards for a moment, but this was prevented by his tail. He rocked back, then from one side to the other, and then collapsed in a heap. Before Sarkkik had hit the ground, Terrence had fired a second time, and Szuss had a hole through his skull as well. He fell forward onto his alligator-like face.

More than a mile away, a deep rumbling sound rose up. It was a low gurgling, growling noise. It came from the massive army of lizardmen and it grew louder and louder as five thousand warriors joined in.

“Formation!” shouted Augie. “Get into formation!”

The soldiers rushed to form two lines, one behind the other, ninety men wide. The formation looked pathetically small compared to the line of reptilians that dominated the landscape.

“First rank, kneeling positions!”

The front row of soldiers knelt. The rear row stayed standing.

“Fix bayonets!”

Each soldier pulled a wicked looking dagger from a sheath on his belt and attached the six and three quarter inch blade to the end of his rifle.

The throaty sound of the lizardmen continued for several minutes. Suddenly and seemingly without a signal, it stopped. Then like a wave moving from the ocean onto the beach, the lizards surged forward. They moved quickly, at a sort of slithering trot, brandishing their stone-encrusted swords as they came. And they were silent—eerily silent.

“Ready!” called Augie. “Aim!”

“Fire!”

The one hundred eighty soldiers fired their rifles in unison and more than a hundred reptiles fell to the ground. The hole created in their moving line quickly filled in with others of their kind, and kept moving forward.

“Ready! Aim! Fire!”

The soldiers fired again, and another hundred reptile warriors fell. Running headlong into thundering death, the lizardmen directly in front of the humans began to falter, while to either side, they surged forward. Terrence had holstered his pistol and pulled the .30 caliber rifle from his shoulder.

“Uuthanum rechthinov uluchaiia,” said Labrith, and a lightning bolt, beginning at his fingertip, spread out shooting through the bodies of a dozen reptile warriors.

“Fire at will!” shouted Augie. The soldiers began to pick their own targets.

“Watch your flanks!” he shouted. Fanning out slightly on either side, the humans began firing on the lizardmen coming in from the sides.

“Uuthanum beithbechnoth,” said Labrith, and a missile of magical energy darted from his fingertip, striking one of the lizards square in the chest, killing him. A half second later a second magical dart shot forth, and then a third.

Seconds later similar magic missiles shot from the lizardmen’s lines, hitting two of the soldiers. Terrence aimed his rifle in the direction from which they had come. The reptiles had their own magic user. He was easy to spot too. Unlike the others whose greenish skin was painted black or red, he was covered in blue. Terrence shot him through the throat.

Suddenly the lizardmen stopped coming and dropped down into the tall grass. So sudden and so well coordinated was the move that it seemed that they had just vanished into thin air.

“Hold your fire!” shouted Augie. “Are they crawling? Watch the grass!”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 18 Excerpt

Many people on the shore were watching as the two ships steamed out of the bay and no doubt many people had many different emotions flowing around within them at the sight. Some might have felt frightened with the realization that their last tenuous lifeline to the world of civilization was now severed. Some might have been excited that the challenge of taming the new world was now theirs and theirs alone to pursue. Zeah Korlann didn’t know what he felt. He didn’t have time to dwell upon any feelings however, he had plenty to do.

By the time the sun set that evening, he had accomplished quite a bit. He had arranged for new work details for the former Freedonians. Like the colonists who had arrived eight days before them, these individuals would be expected to provide six months of service to the colony. After that, they could purchase land and begin whatever lives they wished. That was the theory, anyway. He had also overseen the clearing of the first bit of forest outside the protective wall. The first shops and stores would be built here hopefully, when that six month period had ended. Zeah looked forward to visiting a bakery there. Inside the walls, they had finished constructing a large smokehouse. And finally, that afternoon, the colony’s first fishing boat had floated out into the bay.

Zeah had two stops to make after dinner and before he went back to his own apartment. The first was to the headquarters tent of Miss Dechantagne. He would have gone to report to her in any case, but he felt doubly obligated to stop because the Royal Colonial Governor was alone. Her brothers had left at first light the day before with one hundred eighty soldiers and accompanied by a half dozen reptilian aborigines. Their mission was to elevate one of the local chiefs to dominance, and at the same time show off modern Brech firepower—put the fear of God into the locals, let them know who was the boss. Nobody expected stone spear equipped lizardmen to be able to face the power of four platoons of riflemen, and both brothers had spent their time in the army. Still, it was a combat mission, and things could happen.

Knocking on the tent pole that served as a doorjamb, he was rewarded with a “Come in.”

Miss Dechantagne was not alone. Zeah’s daughter Yuah was in the tent. She was sitting in one of the folding chairs in front of Miss Dechantagne’s massive desk and Miss Dechantagne herself was sitting in the heavy oak swivel chair behind it. The two women were sipping cups of tea.

“Hello Papa,” said his daughter, standing up to kiss him on the cheek.

“Good evening. I didn’t expect to find you here.”

“We were just having tea,” said Miss Dechantagne. “Would you like some?”

Only Zeah’s carefully regulated composure allowed him to reply without stuttering. Miss Dechantagne inviting him to tea? The heat must have somehow addled her.

“No, thank you. I just wanted to check in and let you know that everything is on schedule.”

“I’m quite excited about the smokehouse, myself,” said Yuah. “Mrs. Colbshallow is already planning sausages.”

Zeah looked at his daughter with a raised eyebrow. It seemed that the governor was not the only one who had lost her mind. Yuah was sipping tea and making small talk with Miss Dechantagne.

“Thank you Zeah,” said the governor. “I’m pleased to see that our new arrivals are proving to be more of an asset than a hindrance.”

“Indeed.” Zeah stood for a moment

“You should go get some rest.”

“Very well. Good night.” He nodded to the women and stepped out the tent flap. The two women laughed. Zeah shook his head and walked off.

His second stop was to see Egeria Lusk. She had completely recovered from her wounds at the hands of an unknown attacker and had in fact, spent much of the day supervising work on the Result Mechanism, though she had left the actual pressing of buttons and throwing of switches to someone else. He knocked on the door of her apartment and again was asked to “come in” and again found two women sitting and sipping tea. This time it was Egeria and Sister Auni, the Kafirite cleric. Sister Auni rose as he entered.

“Good evening, Mr. Korlann,” she said. “I was just leaving.”

“No need to leave on my account.”

“No, no. We’ve had a lovely talk, but now I must get back to my own room.”

“Well, good night,” he said, as he held the door open for the clergywoman.

“I’m so glad you came by,” said Egeria, once Sister Auni had left. “Please sit down.”

“Thank you. What were you two talking about?”

“Oh, life, the universe, and everything.”

“And what was her take on it.”

“We were just chatting, really,” said Egeria. “I was sorry that we didn’t get to have supper together.”

“I didn’t really have time for supper today,” said Zeah. “I was hoping that you would join me tomorrow though.”

“I would be delighted,” she smiled.

His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 10 Excerpt

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?

“Patience?”

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.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Look at all these lousy zeets,” said Graham Dokkins, as he and Senta walked between the hundreds of makeshift tents on the southwest side of the hill from the barracks.

“What are zeets?” asked Senta.

“That’s what they’re called. My Da says they’re evil, and they don’t even believe in Kafira.”

“Zurfina doesn’t believe in Kafira either. I mean, not like us. She says the Church is all bullocks.”

“Yeah, well my Da says she’s evil too.”

If Senta was offended at the idea that anyone would call Zurfina evil, she didn’t let on. She bounced ahead, her skipping steps seeming to defy gravity. In one hand she carried a stick and in the other her doll. Graham stomped after her.

“Why do you gotta carry that doll everywhere?” he asked.

“Cause I’m a girl, stupid.”

They reached the edge of the tent village. Some of the women from among the Freedonian refugees had set up a series of clotheslines and were hanging up clothes. Almost every piece was black, white, or grey.

“They don’t seem any different to me,” said Senta. “Except they talk funny.”

Suddenly several of the women who had been hanging clothes began to scream and they all began to run toward the tents. Looking up, the two children saw a steel colored streak flying downward from out of the sun. The steel dragon buzzed the tops of the women’s heads and then zipped along parallel to the clothesline and with a flick of its tail, knocked every other piece of clothing from the line into the dirt. Spreading its wings out to their full six-foot breadth, it stopped in mid-air and dropped to the ground at Senta’s feet. It opened its mouth to the sky and a small puff of smoke shot out.

“Funneee,” said the dragon.

“It’s not either funny, you potty twonk. You’re going to get everyone angry, and who’s going to get in trouble? Not you. Me, that’s who.”

Despite Senta’s declaration that the dragon’s actions were not funny, Graham was laughing heartily. The dragon hopped over to his feet and rubbed his head against the boy’s leg as if to share in his mirth. Graham, still laughing, slapped his knee. The dragon suddenly bit his hand.

“Sod it!” shouted the boy, his laughter suddenly gone.

The dragon looked up in the air, with feigned innocence.

“See, now you’ve made Graham angry too,” said Senta. Both the girl and the dragon looked at the boy, who had gone all white and sweaty.

“My Da didn’t say it, but I think dragons are evil.”

“Pet,” said the dragon, in a pleading tone.

“Yeah, all right,” Senta said, fishing a small brown bottle from the pocket of her baggy black dress. “But if you bite anyone else, I’m going to need a new bottle of this.”

She poured the draught from the bottle onto the wound on Graham’s hand. The liquid bubbled and fizzed on contact with the boy’s blood, but after a few moments nothing was left of the injury but a small scar.

Senta, Graham, and the dragon looked up to see they were completely surrounded by a crowd of people. The reptile leapt to the girl’s shoulder in one swift motion and curled up around her neck. Graham stood up next to Senta and took her hand in his. The people began to whisper amongst themselves. Finally one of the women stepped forward.

“Sorry about your clothes,” said Senta.

“Der drache is, how you say, vunterfull,” said the woman.

“Oh yeah, he’s great,” said Graham, sarcastically.

“He is bootifull. He is yours?”

“Yeah, sort of,” said Senta.

“You bet he’s hers,” said Graham. “She’s a really powerful sorceress and he’s her dragon. And they’re really scary and magical. Just look at them. And that’s her magic doll.”

He suddenly started laughing. The dragon made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smirk.

“We’ve got to go now,” said Senta. “I’ve got to lock up my dragon and my troll here.”

“Hey!” shouted Graham, following Senta who was already hurrying through the opening in the crowd that magically parted before her. “Who you calling a troll, monkey face?”

The two children walked up to the top of the hill and parted without saying goodbye, but with the innocent expectation that they would see each other later and continue on just as they had. Senta made her way to a quiet place that she had found next to the protective wall. She plopped down in the grass and the steel dragon climbed off her shoulders. She stretched out and he curled up beside her and placed his whiskered snout on her stomach.

Senta held her doll up and looked at it. The doll had on an outfit just like hers. She called the dress she was wearing her doll dress for that very reason. The doll had the same hairstyle that she did. She could almost imagine that the doll was made especially for her. But it hadn’t been. She had seen it many times in the toy store before she had purchased it.

“I wonder what Geert’s doing now?” she mused. “He’s my cousin,” she explained to the dragon.

His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 9 Excerpt

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.

“Hmm?”

“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.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 16 Excerpt

The shouting and gunfire brought Terrence out of the white opthalium induced state. He was sitting on the ground with his back to a massive redwood tree. It was in fact, that first tree that Iolanthe had tagged with a ribbon to save its life. It was completely dark all around him, and at first the lapping of the waves nearby was the only sound that registered with his befuddled mind. When he again heard the shouts and gunfire at the far end of the compound and he recognized them for what they were, he was actually happy. It meant that he hadn’t been awakened by someone discovering him while he was seeing.

Could you call it “seeing” if you didn’t really see anything? Terrence had used the drug from the small blue bottle several times since the arrival in Birmisia, but he had seen nothing in the other world except that endless fields of the ever-present purple flowers. Never before had he been there without meeting Pantagria. Now he searched for her and she was nowhere to be found.

Terrence picked up his helmet, which was sitting next to him, and then stood up and began trudging up the hill at a modest pace. When he saw a blood covered Zeah Korlann being escorted by two riflemen into Iolanthe’s headquarters tent, he ran the rest of the way.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as he burst into the tent. He stopped short when he saw Miss Lusk, lying on her side, bloodied, on the dirt floor. “Let’s get Father Ian in here.”

“Father Ian isn’t coming,” said Zeah shakily.

“Sister Auni, go get another acolyte to cast a cure wounds spell,” ordered Iolanthe. Then she opened the top drawer of her desk and pulled out a brown bottle. “Soak her bandages in this and poor the rest down her throat.”

She handed the bottle to Dr. Kelloran, who was kneeling over the red-haired woman’s prone form. The doctor did as directed and a moment later was rewarded with Miss Lusk opening her eyes. Sister Auni arrived after a few minutes with Brother Galen, who followed the exact same procedure that she had in casting a spell. Color returned to Miss Lusk’s face and she began to breathe freely.

“Who did this to you?” asked Iolanthe.

“I didn’t see them,” said Miss Lusk. It was an obvious labor to speak. “Someone was running the Result Mechanism. I went around the corner to see who it was, but…”

“There were papers coming out of the machine,” said Zeah.

“Go find those papers,” Iolanthe ordered her brother. “Maybe we can find out who was using it.”

Terrence nodded and left the tent. He picked up a gas lantern nearby and stomped down the hill toward the still chugging and clanking Result Mechanism. Just before he reached it, the machine stopped, letting out a long whistle of leftover steam. He pulled out one of his nickel-plated .45 revolvers and circled around the huge device. Standing at the controls was his brother Augie.

“What’s going on, old man?” said Augie, when he noticed Terrence.

“What are you doing here?” Terrence asked.

“You know you really shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Augie replied. “The machine was running and nobody was here, so I shut it down.”

“You didn’t see anybody here?”

“No, and I waited around for a couple of minutes too.”

“Are there any papers coming out of the slot on the side of the machine?”

They both stepped around to the far side, where the printing slot was located, but there were no papers either sticking out of the slot or on the ground below.

“You don’t have anything to do with this, do you?” asked Terrence.

“Anything to do with what? A bloody machine making a bunch of racket?”

“The stabbing.”

“Stabbing? What stabbing?”

“Egeria Lusk has been stabbed. Right over there, by the look of the ground.”

“Kafira! And you think I had something to do with it?”

“No. But you were at three of the crime scenes, at least three, so some people are going to get the idea you could be involved.”

“What do you mean three? The murders on the ship? I thought you pegged Murty for that, and pegged him good too, I might add.”

“Yes, I did. And Murty was a bad sort; I don’t doubt it for a moment.”

“You know I wouldn’t stab a woman. What’s that all about? I was very fond of Danika.”

“Danika?”

“Miss Kilmurray.”

“Oh, Kafira. You knew her?”

“I knew her, but I didn’t do anything to hurt her. I certainly never killed her, and I didn’t kill Miss Lusk.”

“Miss Lusk is alive.”

“Well, thank heavens. Now she can tell you I didn’t stab her.”

His Robot Wife – Chapter 8 Excerpt

“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?”