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 everyday. 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 time frame 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 Stephanie Wakovia had won California was ameliorated by the fact that his candidate had at least 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 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 for 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 was 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 her 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 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 alright 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 were walked in the huge revolving door of the station at exactly two hours before the 10:26 departure time.
In actuality, they spent less then 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.”
“Alright. 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.”