Chapter 13: Big, plastic dinosaur

Tears streamed down Caitlyn’s face as she watched the moonlit scene in Randall’s living room unfold on a large, flat panel monitor in Stan’s office. She’d been OK while listening to Claire play the piano, but when Claire turned the chair around to watch Randall sleep… Caitlyn couldn’t hold back, and started to cry, silently.

“I don’t get it,” Stan said. “Now that she’s off the ‘Net, why keep the crazy bitch running on our…”

Caitlyn turned and slapped him, hard, full on the face, before he had a chance to finish his sentence.

“Shit! That hurt!”

Randall smiled from the leather couch in the corner. He was sipping a Heineken. Which, he thought, was a much better beer than Genny Cream Ale.

“If you evah touch this box,” Caitlyn hissed at Stan, pointing at the four-million-dollar piece of equipment now taking up a quarter of his office, “I will leave you. I will leave you fastah than fuck and I will take half of everything you own, sell it and burn the money.”

Randall laughed and spit beer.

Stan was clearly confused. “This is the… creature… the program… the thing that threatened to put porno of you on the ‘Net. That almost wrecked our company. That… that… terrorized you!”

Caitlyn’s cheeks were red. That was a bad sign. Randall knew this. He stood up to help Stan before his friend became a statistic.

Putting an arm in front of Stan, trying to back him away from Caitlyn, Randall said, “But she did it for love.”

And he got another one of those, You’re the one damn guy in the room who gets it, looks from Caitlyn. And that made it an even better day.

“But fifty… sixty years of keeping that sim running… fuck, Randall…that’s just not…”

Randall lowered his arm and got out of the way.

* * * * * * * * *

They spent the rest of the afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science. Geek habits die hard. Stan asked Randall nineteen more times if he was sure that Claire was confined to the fire-walled mainframe in his office.

“Yes, Stan. There’s only line in. She needs stimulation. New music, books, movies. It would be cruel to a creature with a cycle rate like hers to make her sit and wait for me, or a reasonable facsimile of me, to come home for a couple hours of conversation every day. She needs content.”

They were leaning over a railing that looked down on a life-sized model of a T-Rex. They’d come here at least once a month as grad students. Something about watching gangs of grade school kids on hyperactive, sugar-fueled field trips calmed them down.

“So SimRandall and SimClaire live happily ever after in a four-million-dollar box in my office.” Stan shook his head.

“And you don’t have to worry about Miss Terrorist of the Year anymore,” Randall replied.

“Yeah,” Caitlyn said. “And what about you, Randall? You’re going back to Buffalo tomorrow?”

He nodded. “Yeah. But that reminds me. I’m not going back to the old house. Too… weird. I’ve got a new place in Cheektowaga. I decided to finally buy instead of rent. Equity and all that. I’ll email you with the address and stuff.”

They all looked down at the big, plastic dinosaur. The air around them filled with the shouts and squawks of kids and teachers, all going about the business of learning… or at least pretending to learn.