There was no escaping the heat during that summer. Only one front lawn in the cul-de-sac showed any sign of life and that was because a secret sprinkler showered the baked ground every night. In the morning the grass would glisten in the fresh light before evaporating into the morning air, little streams of water ran down the path and made shallow puddles by the kerbstones. A thin line of thirsty, wilting dandelion leaves grew where the water ran into the drain, an illicit urban oasis. By ten o'clock in the morning it was so hot the surface of the road started to bubble and tyres on passing cars squealed as the rubber stuck to the tar. Despite the early hour the air was clammy and oppressive enough to make my clothes damp, there would be a couple of hours left before the heat became dangerously hot.
I went back indoors and took off my soaking shirt. Sarah sat bolt upright on her chair in the corner of the living room, she was still plugged into the wall socket, her eyes limply shut and her head drooping slightly forwards. I stood and stared at her wondering when she'd decide to wake up and unplug herself. We had not yet discussed the importance of time, but I think she knew when to wake from her night charge. I'd noticed a mischievous streak develop in her over the past few weeks, maybe her personality prematurely developing from the creation of more artificial neurons. The handbook detailed the intricacies of such things but that was towards the end of section fourteen, and I hadn't read past section nine. I thought maybe she was evolving more quickly than was planned, preferring her own amusement to my commands. If that was the case I blamed myself, I'd spent too many long hours sitting with her talking about issues she really shouldn't have understood. Maybe her developing brain was struggling to comprehend the ethics of morality. Who knew? Quite suddenly and unexpectedly Sarah's charging light went out and her head twitched. Her eyes opened and she managed a half smile. I wasn't sure whether she was telling me if she was cheerful or if she felt confused. It was difficult to interpret her feelings because she had still only developed a basic range of sensations. As far as I was aware a smile simply indicated her sense of happiness, much easier for me to decipher at this stage in her evolution. I took a towel from the back of a chair and put it around my neck to soak up the sweat that was running down my back. I wanted Sarah to offer to help, or at least ask if I needed the ceiling fan to be turned on. But she remained perfectly silent. I looked into her eyes, gentian blue and flawlessly clear. And I wondered what she actually saw. Was it me, her master and superior? Or was it me her friend and teacher? I had little idea of who I was in this new world and I didn't fully understand the role that the new breed of automatons had been created to fulfil. My Cyber-Allocation, Sarah, was three weeks old. Whether it was three weeks from her installation into my home, or three weeks from when her hard drive was activated, or three weeks from when the first aluminium plate had been soldered was, I suppose open to conjecture. Sarah's stare travelled to mine and then back again. Whether the things she saw were recorded onto her memory or whether she deciphered the information straightaway was part of a technical sequence that was clearly well beyond my comprehension. But there was something quite captivating about her gaze that felt rich in meaning or significance. I decided to keep staring at her hoping that maybe she'd tilt her head quizzically or question my silence. But she just continued to look at me, expressionless and unresponsive. After five minutes I began to feel slightly unnerved about the standoff and decided to make a move. The second I moved my hand Sarah's eyes blinked fully open and her smile broadened. I detected an infinitesimal change in the solidity of her composure, the shape of her face changed from a flattened, lifeless profile into something more contoured and alive. The sun was rising quickly now and it's rays had begun to seep around the window blinds. A thin sliver of light rippled along the floor and lit up the left side of Sarah's face. The brightness picked out tiny creases in her skin and cast an amber blush on her auburn hair causing it to glow like blown embers. I noticed how the right side of her face contrasted deeply with the left, the shadows levelling her features so that she appeared somehow detached. The left side of her face seemed happier and that same side of her smile seemed to radiate a kind of a mood, almost as if the workings of her mind had been aroused by the sunlight. I'd only studied Sarah's face in the dim light of the shaded room up until now and I was surprised at the cosmetic details that had begun to develop as she listened and learned from the things around her. It wouldn't be long now before she completed the first stage of her evolution. I pulled the blinds so that they completely covered the window blocking out every bit of the harsh sunlight. The manual stated the importance of a gradual increase in light levels so that Sarah could develop slowly, thereby reducing the chances of deviating from her evolutionary path . I'd read that once accustomed to daylight Sarah would be able to operate at a basic level and become capable of learning fundamental tasks. I stood up and smiled expecting her to return my grin. Astonishingly she moved at almost exactly the same time mirroring not only my facial expression but also my physical movements. I lifted an arm, and so did she, and then I lifted a leg, which again she copied. I tried a frown, which was mimicked perfectly, as far as I could tell. And then I crumpled my face so that my top lip met with my nose. Again Sarah replicated my expression. I sat back down and sighed. I was slightly uneasy about the speed at which Sarah seemed to be able to emulate my facial and physical movements. Nothing that I'd read in her manual gave any indication of the rapid rate at which she appeared to be learning new tasks.
The temperature in the room had dropped slightly and it had become cooler although there was a clamminess to the air that continued to make me sweat. I wiped my brow with the back of my hand, forgetting momentarily about Sarah's capabilities. It didn't surprise me that her hand went up to her forehead, twisted around and then moved in unison with mine. Feeling panicked rather than alarmed I flung myself forwards and hit the plug switch with the palm of my hand. Sarah lurched forwards in an attempt to copy my sudden movement but couldn't quite beat me to the wall, her final push ending in an abrupt, midair stop. She remained perfectly still, like a flashgun photo of a cricketer about to catch a ball. I slumped down in my chair and whistled a breath of relief into the air. I realised just how stupid I'd been not to have read the manual in more depth. I must have missed a complete section or misinterpreted a part of the earlier chapters. Whichever, it had shaken me to see just how quickly Sarah had been able to learn to emulate my mannerisms and movements and I needed to find out exactly how her behaviour should progress. I got up and moved my face as close to Sarah's as possible without actually touching her. The tip of my nose touched hers for a fraction of a second and I felt her head move with an almost imperceptible tremble. I figured that her precarious balance must have been upset by our brief touch and so I left her alone while I went into the kitchen. Little shafts of sunlight escaped the day and streamed between gaps in the window blinds casting a band of light and dark stripes on the opposite wall. Dust particles whirled their glitter dance about the room casting an orange hue to the dim light. I turned around and looked back into the living room sure something had caught in my peripheral vision. Sarah was still standing in a balanced pose, her hand reaching out in a hopeless attempt to reach her lifeline. I noticed, however a wry smile on her face that I couldn't remember seeing earlier and which I dismissed as being a product of my fretful imagination. I took the instruction manual from a shelf above the kitchen worktop and flicked to the dog-eared page. The next section detailed an extensive analysis of Sarah's operating system including some information about software ethics and code. I skimmed the text highlighting in my mind the relevant points but given the complexity of the science I struggled to understand much of the detail. There were long paragraphs about how the automaton's operating memory was limited by the pre-programmed belief system and how it's ability to learn was restricted to the most basic of functions. The book went on to discuss the importance of integrity, decency and honesty, at which point I stopped reading and put the manual back on the shelf.
I thought back to earlier chapters in the handbook that explained how Sarah would learn from her environment and be able to gather information from any number of sources that were available to her. I remembered the long, one sided chats I had with her as she sat in her chair and listened, absorbing the information as part of her evolutionary development. There had been many occasions when I'd fallen asleep with the television still on and awoken to find her still active, presumably having spent hours absorbing everything that she'd seen and heard. I hoped she hadn't been influenced by the constant stream of bad news that seemed to fill every bulletin and report. It seemed, possibly because of the unusually intense heat, that murders and robberies had become rife in the world.
I turned around and pulled on the cord to open the blinds. Bright light washed through the window brightening not only the kitchen but also allowing a broad beam of daylight into the living room and onto the floor around Sarah's feet. I heard a whirring noise, like an electrical hum but very low in pitch. Sarah moved her head towards me, her mouth slowly changing from an innocent smile into a leering grin that distorted her face into something quite disturbing. I moved closer and looked at the plug socket where the charging cable should have been but now it hung loosely from Sarah's clenched hand. Her mouth broadened into a disquieting smirk, lips parted and curled backwards. Feeling panicked now, I tried to think what to do. In desperation I decided to make a lunge for the cable but even before my hand moved Sarah had swung the plug around in an arc around her body. It hit me square in my stomach its force causing me to take a step backwards. I grabbed at an empty bowl on a table behind me but even before my arm moved she'd pounced forward, picked it up and swung it at my face. I flew backwards with the force and lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. I remained still and stared up at her confused and terrified. There was something about her smile that scared me, a kind of awareness or perception. I thought about getting up in one, swift move so that I could escape to the other side of the room but even before my thought had finished Sarah had leapt across the table and blocked the way.
We both stood completely still and looked at each other. She remained expressionless, only blinking every few seconds. I wondered whether I could escape to the bedroom and lock myself behind the door before she had a chance to move. But given the speed at which she'd been able to read my mind I doubted I could make it. I deliberately thought about something other than my intention to jump in order to divert Sarah's attention away from my movements. I envisioned a scene where I'd lunged left across the room towards the table and I watched her as she made a dive in that direction. Taking advantage of her mistake I charged at the bedroom door, rolled on to the floor and slammed it shut with my foot. I heard the dull sound of Sarah's footsteps on the carpet and locked the door.
The idea that a robot, this machine, this computer operated android had been assigned to me as a mere companion and servant now seemed implausible. The premise that it was designed to obey my commands and then to be able to progress to a level of intelligence that depended on its ability to actually learn from instruction and mistakes was flawed. It seemed she had developed a kind of sixth sense, a cunning awareness of my thought processes. Something had gone seriously wrong somewhere, something fundamentally basic but vital, and Sarah had started on a path of destruction. I suspected her twisted evolution could only end one way, but at what cost? Was I to blame? Had I allowed the appalling brutality of the world's cruel violence to influence her development? Sarah's footsteps stopped at the other side of the door and I backed away to the furthest end of the room.
I tried to calm my fear but my mind flitted from one horrible scenario to another, I slumped down with my back to the wall and put my head in my hands. I had always kept a heavy metal torch in the wardrobe that with enough force could deliver a fatal blow. I flung the wardrobe doors open and groped along the shelf, but it had gone.
The timber door shattered with the power of Sarah's ferocious hammering and she burst through the debris with arms flailing and hands gripped. And I closed my eyes as the full force of the heavy torch smashed into my head.