When she got downstairs, only fifteen minutes late, she was not surprised to find David sitting in the living room looking decidedly more awkward than he had the night before. Both her parents were there as well, trying to engage him in some sort of conversation. They, on the other hand, looked a lot more comfortable with David than they had with Dmitri.
Grabbing a leather jacket off its peg in the hallway, Victoria went in to rescue David. “Hi, sorry I’m late. Yuen-Ja and I were working on that problem all day and still didn’t get to the bottom of it. I can’t wait to unwind a little bit, it was totally exhausting.”
Relief and shock washed over David’s face. “You look great!”
“Just my favorite jeans and a comfy shirt.” She grinned at him, knowing she looked fantastic in these jeans, that’s why they were her favorite pair. “Let’s get going, I want to see the previews!”
“Yeah we should go. Thanks for letting me borrow her for the evening.” He shook hands with her father and they walked out together. Victoria saw his car was a 1963 VW Beetle, he couldn’t have been more opposite of Dmitri she thought with a chuckle.
“He might be old but he’s a fun little rig.” David said, sounding a little defensive.
“I love it! He fits you perfectly, a touch nerdy but cute as hell.” She gave him her best smile and watched it take effect.
“Uh yeah.” He hurried to open the door for her, his face coloring in a slight blush.
“You said you did some stuff with robotics?” She asked, sliding into the passenger’s seat, “I’d love to see your work some time.”
“Yes, yeah I do a little bit with robotics.” David looked sideways at her as he started the car. “You really want to see my work?”
“I really do, is there time before the movie starts?” She asked, glancing at her phone.
They were just down the block, and instead of turning right towards the interstate he turned left. “Maybe, I mean if we miss it I won’t be upset.” He gave her a shy smile, “I’m really proud of the piece I’ve just finished actually and was trying to figure out a way to get you to some see it. I think you’ll … I think you’ll like it.”
Victoria looked around, “I guess I don’t know where your house is David.”
“It’s not far, only about a half mile or so. It’s all city streets though so it can take a little time.” David was not paying enough attention to the road for her taste. Maybe it was just a sign of how used to Eugene’s precise attentive driving she was.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be distracting you.” She said, trying to be slightly more tactful than she had been over the last few days.
David noticed he was over the center line and jerked the car back into the proper lane. “My folks aren’t in the country right now. Dad works for American Automation and he’s working on machinery at some mining facility and mom is a pilot for Delta and she’s only home one week a month. I’m not all alone though; my sister is staying at home while she’s going to college so I see her almost every day.”
“Wow, I don’t think I’d do well being that independent already. Or at least I appreciate what my parents do for me right now you know? My mom’s breakfasts are pretty epic.”
“Yeah, I miss them sometimes but it’s nice to have the house more or less to myself. It gives me space to work.” He grinned, “Besides I make companions, after a sort. You’ll see what I mean when we get there.” They rode in silence for a few minutes, Victoria trying not to pay too much attention to his driving style and David seeming to be lost in thought.
David steered the car into a short driveway and into the garage of a massive old house. It was a rambling three story monster with fading paint and windows old enough to be wavy with age. The inside of the garage had old steel signs from gas stations on the walls, a tiled black and white floor and a spotless workshop.
“Here we are, home sweet home.” When he got out of the car the garage door closed behind him with a mechanical hum and recessed lighting in the ceiling flickered into life. A small circular robot moved from a niche in the wall and swept up minor trail of dirt that had come in on the Beetle’s tires.
“Whoa is that one of those things from the Sharper Image? The Rondo or whatever?”
David laughed, “No this one actually works. I call him the Little Butler; he uses lasers to find foreign objects on the floor and sucks them up with the suction power of a full size vacuum. I designed it myself.”
“Right, I should have known. What happens when it finds something too big to pick up?” Victoria watched the machine precisely clear the floor around the car, pause in the center of the floor and slowly spin before moving back to its tiny home.
“If it finds something that doesn’t belong it contacts Grover my garage organizer.” He gestured towards the ceiling at a robotic arm. “Watch.” He picked up a wrench from its cradle on the workbench and tossed it on the floor and touched a button on the wall marked ‘Clean Up’. After a few moments the small bot came out, scanned the room again and the arm on the ceiling swept down, paused over the wrench and then swiftly picked it up and replaced it in the proper location.
“Awesome, how does it work?” Victoria asked, truly entranced.
“Well I input the coordinates of everything on the bench and everything here has a barcode.”
“No, not that I mean the robotics.” She said, “You have some seriously advanced servos in that thing, how much can it lift? Does that thing have access to the entire garage?”
“Yeah, I tend to make quite a mess and I got sick of cleaning up after myself.” He gave her a big smile, “If you like this wait until you see the things I’ve made in high school.”
“Holy shit! When did you design this thing?” Victoria was even more impressed now.
“When I was ten. Come on in, I’ll get you something to drink and show you my latest invention.”
He opened a door in the back of the garage and she followed him down the stairs it revealed. When they got to the bottom he turned on the lights, revealing a workshop that rivaled the lab Eugene worked in.
“So this is my dad’s workshop. Pretty sweet right? I mean I don’t have access to a laser lathe in here but he has almost everything else.” David walked to the back of the room and gestured for Victoria to sit on a bench that looked like it had begun its life as a church pew. There was also a small refrigerator from which he removed a couple of cans of soda.
“I guess rather than trying to explain my latest achievement to you I’ll just show you.” David handed her a Mountain Dew and walked over to a workbench and began fiddling with a box with what looked like two aluminum legs sticking out of the bottom. They were made from a tubular exoskeleton with cabling and a pulley system visible running down the open center.
“I put some gyroscopic stabilizers in the box but once you get the hang of using it you don’t really need them. I really wish I had some different sort of cabling system to use because this one isn’t as efficient as I would like. I can’t put enough tension on them to get the performance I want either, right now they can’t support much more than their own weight which means battery power is pretty limited.” He pulled the legs off the edge of the bench and picked up a remote control from an old R/C plane. The feet were four segmented metal fingers with rubber pads on the bottom and they splayed out on the floor as the machine stood up, wobbling slightly and took a few steps forward.
“That is amazing David, you even made joints for the hips and knees that mimic human ones!” Victoria walked around the machine, watching as it shifted slightly from foot to foot in order to maintain balance.
“Yeah, the feet are the only problematic thing as far as realism is concerned. I wanted it to be something that could be used to be a replacement for people who lost limbs and if it looked too outlandish nobody would want to buy it. If I could just get more cable tension through the feet I could eliminate the need for the gyro’s completely and it wouldn’t have rock side to side when stationary either. As it sits right now the feet aren’t strong enough to pull it back if it gets overbalanced.”
“Can it go up the stairs?” Victoria asked.
“Hell yeah it can!” David steered his invention around the basement, showing her how it could move and turn just like a pair of human legs, but with added benefits. The hip, ankle and knee joints were fully articulated so it could spin completely around on one leg without moving the foot. The feet could grip as well or better than a human hand, making picking things up an easy task. After five minutes or so, the unit lost battery power.
“I am using lithium ion batteries from a couple old laptop computers but they just can’t store the amount of juice this thing draws.” David said, lifting his invention back on to the workbench.
“That’s a setback I’m sure you could overcome, after making something this complex surely it wouldn’t be an engineering impossibility to come up with a better battery cell. You really need to get in touch with the designer of my prosthetic. I think you and Eugene would really hit it off.” She scribbled Eugene’s number down on a random piece of paper and stuck it to a cork board on the wall.
Victoria’s phone rang, interrupting her thought. She rolled her eyes, “It’s my mom, just a sec. Hi mom, what’s up?”
“Oh thank GOD you’re safe! How did you get out? Are you OK?” Her mom was nearly in hysterics.
“Mom, what on earth are you talking about?” Asked Victoria, puzzled.
“The fire in the theater!” Her mom said, “Where are you honey?”
“I went to David’s house first, he is showing me some things he has invented.” She said, “What’s this about a fire?”
David turned on a TV mounted above the workbench and tuned in the local news. It showed a cluster of fire trucks circling the theater they had intended on visiting engulfed in a massive inferno.
“I see it on the news now mom. Boy, we dodged that bullet, it would be hard to survive a fire that size.” This was obviously the wrong thing to say to her mom who burst into tears on the other end of the line.
“We’re OK mom, we aren’t even within ten miles of that place. Calm down, I’ll come home right now.” She hung up, “Sorry David, can you bring me back? My mom’s losing it”
“Yeah, sure.” He was staring at the TV, looking slightly green around the gills. “Shit that could have been us Victoria.”
“But it wasn’t, what’s the big?” She looked at him with her head tilted off to one side, “Every day you make decisions that could be your last. Driving your car to my house and back is probably the most dangerous thing you could do and yet we take that totally for granted. Focusing on what could have happened is only going to make you stay in your room for the rest of your life.”
“That’s a pretty pragmatic attitude for a teenager.” David said, “It’s not like you’re really that old.”
“I’ve had an interesting few months I guess you’d say.” Victoria said, “If I didn’t try to keep looking ahead instead of behind I think I’d probably have a nervous breakdown.”