Friday, April 17, 2009

His Robot Girlfriend - Chapter 9 Part 1


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 Mike knew that the last laugh was on him. They would make 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 fifty 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 tuned 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 who 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 though 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.

“Why?”

“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 mailed it off. 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 June 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 morning, he walked to Midland, 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 the four other chairs were quickly filled by Mrs. Cartwright, Miss Treewise, Mr. Franklin, and Miss Fine.

“You look very nice Mr. Smith,” said Mrs. Cartwright.

“I do?”

“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.”

“Really.”

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.”

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