big boy, the day sergeant major of guards at the tower, was looking forward to the end of his shift. he looked out the large window of the tower lobby, saw something he didn't like, and sighed. he went outside and crossed the plaza to the wide sidewalk, where a guard was staring at a green limousine parked at the curb.
"what are you doing, guardsman?"
the guard turned to face big boy. "i'm guarding this singular vehicle, sarge, as i was assigned to."
"singular. that's a mighty big word, for a robot just off the line."
"they program us young these days. did you come all the way out here to comment on my vocabulary, sarge?"
"no, i came out here to tell you not to stand so close to the singular vehicle."
the guard looked up, bewildered. "i'm not standing that close to it."
"you are standing close enough, that if you were hit by lightning, you might fall and hit it. that's too close."
the guard shrugged and moved back. "where's the driver? can't he get close to it either?"
"there is no driver. the lady drives it herself."
"how do i know? what are you, the question man?"
"i'm inquisitive, sarge. it's how i was programmed. i'm new model. what do you want, some street robot rolling around on wheels?"
"i just might prefer it. why are they sending me robots with smart mouths and attitude problems? they might as well send me humans."
the guard backed away from the car a little more and looked up and down the broad street. "this isn't very exciting."
"young fellow, if you thought tower duty was exciting, you were seriously misinformed. nothing ever happens here - nothing. it's the tower."
"so why am i standing here watching this?"
"because you are. but your ordeal is over, because here comes the lady now."
charlotte had come out the front door and was coming down the steps with jeanne behind her.
"stand a little further back," big boy told the guard. "she's not the chatty type. don't say anything to her, she won't say anything to you."
charlotte went past the two robots without glancing at them. she got in the drivers seat and jeanne went around and got in the front passenger seat. they sped off.
'that's funny," big boy said
"what's that, sarge?"
"she didn't look half so nasty as usual. she was almost smiling."
the guard looked down the empty street. "if she's so high and mighty, why isn't she here in the tower?"
"how do i know? there you go again, asking questions."
"director of population! ha, ha, ha, ha!"
'jeanne slumped own in her seat and looked out the window. "it's not a bad job."
"yes, for a robot. ha, ha! what will he be next, director of food? director of mush? ha, ha! "
"i wouldn't mind being director of population."
"oh please. think a little better of yourself than that. do you want to sit around with a bunch of robots, deciding how much sodium and how much glutamate to put in the mush every day?"
'oh, by the way, thank you for your kind words to mrs r."
"don't be coy, jeanne, you know you were the bone i was throwing her. but what could i do, i couldn't stand there like a schoolgirl with my thumb in my mouth. i'll make it up to you."
they drove on in silence for a while. the streets looked even emptier than usual.
jeanne finally spoke. "do you think bates will become permanent director?'
"that seems unlikely."
'stranger things have happened."
"do you want it?'
"of course not. a new department, with new openings? openings for enemies!"
charlotte slowed the limo down as they approached uc headquarters. she turned to jeanne. "you don't want it either."
"i think i could handle it."
they entered the virtually empty garage and charlotte drove to the far end of it and parked.
"trust me, you don't want it. it will be a bomb waiting to go off."
'if you say so."
"my day will come and yours will come with it. be patient."
"are you going to put anybody forward?"
charlotte smiled. "that's something i'm not prepared to discuss just yet, even with you."
"don't sulk. come on, we have work to do."
they got out of the car. a stubby human male with a handlebar mustache, wearing a uc uniform with a corporal's insignia, emerged from the shadows and approached them.
"just check the engine, sanders," charlotte told him in a mild voice. "you don't have to bother cleaning it."
"'charlotte's vision is a noble one.' why didn't she just bring out the holy oil and anoint her right there?"
'oh, stop being a big baby," olivia told the duc as he settled back behind his desk. "do you want a coffee?"
"no thank you."
olivia opened the office door. tall boy was slumped in his chair outside it.
"go down and get two coffees. no rush." olivia told him.
"i said i didn't want one."
"they're both for me. we have a long day and night of scheming ahead of us."
"you got on the police because you won a lottery?" sally asked larry. they were cruising through the outskirts of town.
"yes sort of."
"listen up and i'll tell you how it really went down."
sally looked out the window. "i'm listening."
'i was a waiter - "
"in this place we're going?"
"yes. so one night charlotte and mrs roosevelt come in."
"who's mrs roosevelt?"
larry thought for a few seconds. "she's a powerful personage."
"if you say so."
'so i wait on them -"
"what did they order?"
"what did they order? i don't know, back then we had a seafood special. maybe they had the seafood special with artichokes."
'do they still have it?'
"we'll find out."
"if they still have it, can i have it?"
"good. then what happened?"
"where was i? well, when they're finished, mrs roosevelt says to charlotte, you tip him, i don't have any coins on me. and charlotte says i've got something better than a coin, and she pulls out the lottery ticket and sticks it in my shirt pocket. and the next day i won. and i started at the academy."
"how about that."
"pretty interesting, huh?"
"to you, maybe." sally turned and looked at him. "so you never rode around in a green van in a blue suit and picked people up?"
'just for a little while - everybody has to.
but then i started in u c. and from that day to this, charlotte has never said anything to me about it, and i've never said anything to her."
"amazing." sally looked back out the window.
"maybe she just forgot about the restaurant, and never recognized me."
"maybe. you know why?"
"because she's an idiot."
larry turned into a narrow street. "charlotte's pretty smart. she might end up running the universe some day."
"too bad for the universe because she's an idiot."
larry laughed but didn't answer.
'are we almost there? this is a long ride."
"so if you knew how long it was, you wouldn't have come?"
sally hesitated. "i guess i would have."
"we're almost there."
"it better be good.'
"or else what?"
"i mean, i hope it's good."
"so do i. well, here we are." larry turned one more corner. they were on the waterfront. a little wooden restaurant sat on stilts over the water, just out of reach of high tide.