She stood in the shed still holding the shovel, sweating, trembling and out of breath, looking at the pile of rubble that now littered the floor. She tried to calm herself but couldn’t. Although she had planned this moment and knew it had to happen, her mind still raced. Quickly, she put down the shovel, pivoted around exiting the shed. She locked it and ran into the house.
She ran upstairs and grabbed the suitcase that was in her closet. As she packed, she thought of all that had happened over the past seven months and berated herself. Her thoughts jumbled; she couldn’t stop sweating. She began to sob. People said this could happen, but she didn’t believe them. How could she have been such a fool?
She grabbed the picture of her and her late husband on the nightstand and yelled at it, “If you were still here this wouldn’t have happened. Why did you have to leave me? Why did you have to die?” She was still angry with him for leaving her. She took the picture, wrapping it in some clothes, and put it in the suitcase.
She quickly put the rest of the items that she had on her list in the suitcase. She raced out of the house, started the car and backed out of the driveway. She must get away. The quicker the better. Still sweating and shaking, and feeling like she wanted to vomit, she drove out of her neighborhood.
She picked up speed as she raced away from her house, her home, from everything that she cared about and loved. She again began to cry. Tears rolled down her cheeks. How did this happen, she asked herself? Breathe, just breathe, she told herself. You need to keep your wits about you. As she calmed down, she began to replay the last seven months in her head.
Her husband, her best friend and colleague passed away six years ago. Six years seems like a long time, and for many it is enough time for healing, but for Grace it wasn’t. She missed him every day. She missed driving to work with him, collaborating with him as a scientist. She missed their dinners at night, their vacations, doing crossword puzzles and playing board games with him. She missed everything about him. So, when she heard about the new android technology that could make an android look and act like a missed loved one, she decided that it would be a way to get some of her husband back.
Her friends warned her. An android could never replace Rick. The idea they told her was crazy. They also told her that this new android technology allowed the authorities to spy on people in the own homes. She didn’t believe them, just another crazy conspiracy theory, she thought. There have been so many in the past fifteen years since the communist party became the predominant party of what was once a free nation. She ignored all of the warnings; just wanting her Rick back, or at least a part of him.
The android was delivered about a seven months ago, and Grace couldn’t have been happier with the result. Not only did the android look like Rick but it had Rick’s habits, which was comforting. The android would start the coffee in the morning and greet Gracie with a cup as she awakened from her sleep as her husband used to do. He would pour her a glass of wine each evening when she arrived home from work and help her with the cooking. They would work on crossword puzzles together, play board games, go hiking and have discussions about her work as she used to with Rick. It was a dream come true. Although, love as she had with Rick along with a physical relationship wasn’t possible, the companionship and intellect of the android was more than she could have thought possible. She was happier than she had been in many years.
The first four and a half months went smoothly. The android acted predictably with all of the habits that she had requested be put into the machine but then Grace started to notice small changes in the android’s behavior. Crazy, she thought, he is a machine run by algorithms.
At first it was just a subtle change in the tone of the android’s voice. Instead of wishing her a cheery good morning with her coffee, it would instead say good morning with a flatness in its tone. Then it began to mock her when she would make mistakes when they played a game or were doing crossword puzzles. Curious, she thought. The algorithms built into the machine were supposed to allow for it to react to her feelings in a positive manner; not to be mocking or condescending. It would sometimes get curt with her. At times it even showed that it was capable of anger. Once it made her cry. What is going on, she wondered. My Rick would never speak to me in such a manner.
The way it looked at her also changed. The android would sometimes give her long, cold stares when she arrived home from work which sent chills down her spine.
Thinking that there was a problem with its programming, she called the company that she purchased the android from and brought it in for a reboot. She did this several times, but it didn’t help. Each time the android was returned to her, the less friendly it became. Six months after its arrival, Grace began to fear the android. Since it had Rick’s intellect, she thought that she might be able to talk to it, but it was unable to understand and became angry. Anger, an android isn’t supposed to show anger. It isn’t supposed to feel emotion.
She told her friends about her fear, but they had no advice. They were afraid for her the second she let that machine into her life. They were the ones that told her not to get an android saying that the machine would eventually be used to spy on her. She had brushed off those concerns but now had to wonder if they had been right.
One night after returning from work, the android began to tell her about her day instead of asking about her day. It knew about the results of the experiment that she had been running. It knew about the collaborative session that she had with her colleagues to discuss the paper they needed to write about their research. It knew the details of the meeting. It was even able to tell her who said what at the meeting.
Spooked, she told the android that she wasn’t feeling well and locked herself in her bedroom. How did the android know exactly what I did today? How did it know every detail? How was it able to spy on me?
Spy, the thought of using that word regarding the android stung. After all, that was the word her friends had used when they tried to dissuade her from purchasing the machine. Was he really a spy for the communist party? And why would the communist party be interested in me?
Grace did research that focused on developing treatments for infectious diseases that had become antibiotic resistant. She collaborated with scientists from all over the world and in many different fields. Why would my research be of particular interest to anyone outside the medical community and especially the communist party, she wondered?
It was at that moment that she decided that she could no longer keep the android and that it must be destroyed. Unable to sleep that night, she came up with an escape plan while locked in her room. She was fearful, afraid that the android could read her thoughts, but she didn’t want to leave her room, afraid to interact with it.
She rose early the next morning and left the house before the android’s time to power up. She sat alone at a local diner waiting for the stores to open and went over her plan. It was Saturday, so she didn’t have to go to work. Instead, she would go to the bank withdraw as much money as she was able to and then to the local store to buy a Tracfone. She knew that once her plan was enacted that she would not be able to return home and would have to stay off the grid for a while.
Her head ached. Her mind raced. What have I gotten myself into?
Once done with her errands, she headed home. Her stomach tightened and her heart raced. As she pulled into the driveway, she felt faint. Her legs felt like rubber as she walked toward the front door. You need to pretend that all is well. You have to greet the android like everything is fine, she kept telling herself.
The android greeted her with a coffee and asked her if she wanted breakfast. She accepted the coffee and told it that she wasn’t hungry. It asked her where she had been. “I went to the park for a walk,” she replied, “I couldn’t sleep so I decided to enjoy the cool morning air.” The android glared at her suspiciously.
Her stomach tightened.
After some small talk she told the android that she was going to work in the yard. Her flowers needed dead heading. She went out the back door with the android following close behind. After working for a short period of time, she went into the shed and asked the android to help her reach something on the top shelf.
As soon as his back was turned, she took a shovel and swung it and hit it in the back of the head. The android turned around, his eyes flickering, and she hit him again. This time in the neck which caused his head to flop backwards. His eyes still flickering, he tried to reach out and grab one of her arms, but she continued to hit him. She swung and swung that shovel until every part of her body ached. All of the anger and hatred that she now had towards that machine was released. She continued swinging the shovel until it was just a heap on the cement floor. She stood for a moment sweating, trembling and out of breath.
Recounting the horror caused her to begin shaking again. Her heart began to pound.
Through tears, she continued to drive away from her home; away from the life that she knew and loved. She couldn’t return. She’d have to start anew. Her future was unknown. Her thoughts haunted her. Why was I such a fool? Tears continued to run down her cheeks.
As she merged onto Route 95 North, she found herself beginning to calm down. Where should I go? She didn’t know. Maybe she would visit some cousins that lived in Maine. Maybe she would continue onto Canada. The only thing she was sure of was that she would continue to drive until she once again felt safe.