Alainn stepped on the brake pedal of her vintage convertible and hoped, this time, it would listen to her.
Vintage. That was what the used car sales automaton had called the little white car. Three hours later, she learned that vintage meant death trap.
The convertible jolted to a stop inches from the intimidating steel door that blocked off the underground parking garage. The building itself rose up in a sleek square column. Its glass exterior reflected nothing. No sheen or glare ran across its surface as if light was anathema to the tower.
The electronic screen that almost spanned the length of her car lit up. A soothing, monotonous voice called, “Please state your purpose.” In perfect sync with the voice, the same words scrolled across the screen in crisp, black letters.
Alainn’s window made a god-awful screech and creek as it slowly rolled down. Screech, creek, repeat. Halfway down, it stuck. “Ugh.” The convertible tried to slip downhill, so she shifted it into park and pulled up the emergency brake.
The engine immediately died.
“Crap,” she mumbled, jiggling the keys.
The car made not a whisper of a stutter.
“Do not use profanity. State your purpose, directly.”
“Okay.” Climbing to her knees, Alainn leaned over the half-open window. “Um, hi. My name is Alainn Murphy. I’m here to talk to Mr. Garbhan, if he’s available?”
“Please type your email address into the screen, and then leave your message.”
“Can I actually talk to him in person?”
“I’m sorry, he is unavailable at the moment. If you leave a message for him here, someone will be sure to get back to you.” A keyboard surfaced onto the screen.
“Actually, well, the thing is, I’m Connor Murphy’s daughter. I’ve been trying to call and email for a while now, and I’m not getting any response. Can I just talk to him over you—I mean over the monitoring system? Or, could I come in? It would just take a second. Please?”
“The answer is no, Miss Murphy. Please leave a message.”
“Fine,” she grumbled as she extended her arm to type in her email address.
“Please record your message now,” the voice said, and then there was an almost melodic beep.
“Okay. As I said, my name is Alainn Murphy, Connor Murphy’s daughter. The Rose 76GF is ready, but my father needs to put the last finishing touches on her. It’s taking a little longer than expected. And the probation department said if you’re willing to defer the restitution, it’s okay with them. Please, he just needs a little more time. Ideally a month, but any amount would be greatly appreciated—”
The soft white of the screen blurred out and the image of a man appeared. Well, the vision of a suit appeared. All that showed of the man was his shoulders to waist. It was a nice suit, dark blue and a little gleaming, as if direct light shone on him.
“Hello, are you Mr. Garbhan? I think maybe your camera is tipped down?”
“Please, call me Alainn.”
“The answer, Miss Murphy, is no.” His voice was a jagged shard of ice, cold, hard and sharp, cutting straight through Alainn.
Her eyes closed. “Mr. Garbhan, I get why you’re angry, you’ve been more than generous with us. He’s not a bad person. He pled guilty; he’s following all the terms of his probation. . .This isn’t like six months ago. He can fix her programming—”
“The answer, Miss Murphy, is no.”
The screen dissolved back to soft white. Crisp, black letters and a soft, dispassionate voice told her, “Please remove your vehicle from the premises, now.”
“Ugh!” Alainn cried out. “Really? Really? You couldn’t treat me like a human being for one damn second?” She tried the keys. Nothing. Turning them hard in the ignition, she slammed her foot on the gas pedal. She had no idea why she thought it might help, but it didn’t do anything. Neither did pumping the gas.
Vintage obviously meant scrap metal.
“Please remove your vehicle from the premises, now, before a tow truck is called. You will be charged for the tow or your car will be impounded.”
“Wow, just wow.” As much as Alainn turned the key, the car refused to answer. Finally, the convertible spoke to her: click, click, click. The starter.
“The tow truck has been called, and will be arriving in ten minutes.”
Alainn despised that soothing, disembodied voice.
There was one way to start a car with a busted starter, a method she used when she and her co-worker Cherry found abandoned cars. Unfortunately, it took two people. Pulling out a bobby-pin, she let her messy dark hair fall into her face. Using her teeth, she bent the bobby pin and tasted the metallic tang. Her molars complained but they bent the metal in the right shape. Hooking it through the loop in the key, she stuck the end of the bobby pin under the plastic dashboard, and, by some miracle, it stayed.
As the engine tittered with a rhythmic clicking, she tried the reluctant handle of the car. Thank all that was holy, it opened.
Glancing into the trunk, she hooked a finger under the dirty embedded carpet to find that the car had no spare. It did, however, have a rusty, chipped tire iron. Wrapping a fist around it, she rounded the car.
“You have three minutes until the tow truck arrives, please remove your vehicle.”
Yanking up the hood until it stuck, Alainn hefted up the tire iron with both hands, and hit the starter as hard as she could. When nothing happened, she rammed it several more times.
The engine turned.
Slamming down the hood, she jumped into her car, throwing it in reverse and shutting the door as she pushed her foot on the gas pedal. In the rearview mirror, the trunk swung up and down.
Her car made a loud screeching protest and a black cloud of smoke fired from the tailpipe as Alainn reversed into the private inlet alley. A large yellow tow truck turned into the alley, right as she drove out of it. The automaton driver pulled to the side letting her pass.
“No need for a tow truck,” Alainn yelled.
With another black cloud backfiring its farewell, her piece of scrap metal turned back onto the city street.
Lorccan Garbhan’s desk stretched before him as he watched his computer screen. The machine, which might have once been considered a car, belched a cloud of black smoke as Alainn Murphy screeched down his road. Two black lines marked the line of her hasty retreat from his home.
Lorccan’s lips pressed forward as he looked down at the screen. “She definitely knows how to make an exit.” He clicked a button to switch cameras, seeing Ms. Murphy barreling out of his access way, leaving a confused tow truck automaton behind before screeching toward the road. Hopefully, the vehicle she drove would manage the drive to Connor Murphy’s home.
His mother would have said that Alainn’s dirty mouth was an indicator of a loose, disease prone woman. ‘Women like that carry more than common bacteria and viruses,’ she would have said.
He shook his head, hoping to dislodge the thought. Accurate or not, as an adult Lorccan knew his mother had always taken a very disparaging view of her own sex.
Sitting back in his chair, he reflected on his decision to hire Connor Murphy. He should have known better. He had known better. Yet, despite foresight and misgivings, Lorccan had gone to Connor. Desperation had driven him to seek out a man whose sickness had well and truly drowned his entire family.
“Pull up the latest update from Connor Murphy,” Lorccan told his household system as he folded his hands together on his desk.
A moment later, his screen filled with two identical women, Alainn Murphy and Rose 76GF. To be accurate, one was a woman, one a robot. Thick, dark messy hair piled on Alainn’s head. Visible dirt crusted her knees and ringed her forearms. Thick plastic gloves flopped in her hand and she crossed her arms over her chest.
The echoes of the words his mother might have said whispered through his head again. He pushed the unwanted thought away.
In contrast to her human counterpart, Rose 76GF looked preternaturally clean and groomed. She sat poised in Connor Murphy’s workshop, a line of lit computer screens her backdrop.
Alainn reached down and brushed dirt from her knees. “Do I really have to do this, Dad?”
“Uh, yeah, honey, you’re live,” Connor Murphy’s voice said. “Mr. Garbhan wants proof of progress.”
Alainn shot the camera a half annoyed, half amused expression that made her face very hard to look away from. “All right, Rose, what do you want to talk about?”
Rose 76GF shook her head. “I don’t actually feel much like making another video. I have a lot to do, here.”
Alainn rolled her eyes. “Well, neither do I, but obviously Mr. Garbhan wants more proof or something.”
They kept a steady stream of conversation for a few minutes. Alainn Murphy was probably in her early twenties, if that. While she talked, she looked pretty much everywhere but at Rose 76GF. Her unease was obvious. She smiled often, though the tilt of her lips seemed more wry than happy. Three minutes into the video, Lorccan remembered that he had originally intended to watch Rose 76GF’s progress.
Lorccan laughed a little at himself and called up again, “Would you mind playing that again?”
A moment later, the video restarted.
“I thought you bought a car?” Alainn’s older brother, Colby, asked as she leaned a bike against the side of the garage. Colby didn’t look up from where his head was bent over a map. With his head bent that way, his neck tattoo peeked out of his high collar.
Alainn held her sides and attempted to drag oxygen back into her burning lungs. Sweat dripped from her forehead, down her cheeks and neck. Her gaze passed over the familiar surroundings and she waited for her heartbeat to slow.
Her father’s garage-turned-workshop looked nothing like the high-tech place she had just fled from. Most of the equipment in there was Alainn’s—kayaks, skis, two broken snowboards, and some scuba equipment. A line of monitors shone out from one wall where most of her father’s work was conducted next to his personal microchip imprinting station. Papers covered the rest of the long benches—piles and piles of papers with a thousand forgotten drawings. Tucked away in the drawers along the walls were her father’s true tools of trade, robotics equipment and computer chips, prototyping boards, surface mount equipment, silica, carving knives, and every color and shape of wire.
“Where did you get a bike?” Colby asked, though his attention was still fixed on the table before him.
“That car I bought broke down on Second Street. I had to rent a bike from one of those stations, since that was all I could afford,” she said through labored breaths.
Kicking a paper wad out of the way, she crossed the room. “Aren’t you going to ask how it went?”
He wrote something into a pad of yellow paper. “I told you how it was going to go before you bought the car.”
She shook her head while blowing out a breath. “Where’s Dad?”
“Inside.” Colby finally looked up, but not at Alainn. Instead, he focused through his thick, black-rimmed glasses on the only other occupant in the room—Rose 76GF. “Okay, I have it: twenty-six degrees west.”
She looked at the ceiling, dreamily. Something in the workshop’s ceiling beams must have been fascinating because she was extremely fond of gazing there.
As Alainn walked up to the pair, neither Rose nor Colby looked over; they were both obviously in the la-la land they called being smarter than everyone else.
Stopping in front of Rose, Alainn stared at a moving, breathing mirror image of herself.
Steeling herself, Alainn stepped directly into Rose’s line of sight. “Rose, can you make me some tea?”
Rose tipped her chin further, her gaze focused just above Alainn’s head.
Stepping in even closer, Alainn repeated loudly, “Rose, can you go make me some tea?”
“We’re in the middle of something important for my doctorate, Alainn,” Colby mumbled, but he needn’t have bothered, Rose wasn’t paying any attention to Alainn.
“Rose, please, can you make me some tea?” she nearly yelled.
Finally, Rose’s gaze came down to meet Alainn’s. A shiver rippled through Alainn as the most inhuman detail in Rose’s appearance focused on her—Rose’s eyes. Her father had nearly perfected it. He’d spent weeks staring into Alainn’s eyes and drawing models, but every time Rose made eye contact, the shiver came.
“Alainn, you already know I am potentially capable of making you tea.” Rose’s voice was an exact echo of Alainn’s.
“Will you make me tea, please?”
Rose shook her head. “I am busy right now. I have almost calculated the exact position of theoretical planet nine at your brother’s request, and this takes most of my computation power to do. Even talking to you right now is straining my capabilities.”
“Give us a couple hours, yeah, Alainn?” Colby mumbled as he used a triangle to draw a line with a pencil. “This could be a real breakthrough in my doctorate—”
“No.” Alainn smacked the table.
They both looked up at her, two human eyes, two inhuman, wide with shock.
She lowered her voice, “Rose, you need to start reprogramming yourself.”
Rose almost managed a sympathetic expression. “I do not wish to cause you distress, Alainn. However, I was created with the potential to compute the solution for world hunger and the ethical code to know that this is more of a priority than living a life of menial service. I could even create a weapon to end all wars.”
“Yes, I know that . . . but you know what’s going to happen if you don’t go. They said we need to make restitution—we need to give you, or the money, over by tomorrow or his probation is revoked.”
“Father will only serve a five-year sentence. In that time I could save over one million lives.”
Every time Alainn heard the robot call her dad ‘Father’, something in her died a little.
“She’s right,” Colby said.
“You can’t be serious, Colby? You want Dad to go to prison? I can understand it from Rose, she doesn’t have feelings, but you—you’re supposed to.”
He ignored her.
Rose tucked in her chin, staring up through her heavy lashes. “I will continue my research, no matter the cost.”
Alainn took a small step away. “Rose, I understand that your calculations are important—except for the weapon one, that’s really scary, that should be against your ethical coding. You need to listen to me: you were created, by Dad, for Mr. Garbhan. That is your purpose. Please, reprogram yourself or I’m going to deliver you to him no matter what. He’ll probably reboot you and wipe your personality, and then you’ll have to recreate it.”
She shook her head and sighed in a much too human way. “Based on your ENFP personality type and the ethical code you yourself encoded me with, I predict the probability of you physically forcing me to be very low.”
“She’s right, Alainn, that’s an empty threat.” Colby picked up his phone and turned to Rose. “Should I call Dr. Mathews now, or do you need me to wait?”
“You can call him now. My computations are concluding.”
As Colby lifted his phone, Alainn grabbed his arm. “How can you not care?”
Colby shook his head. “Alainn, you’re irrationally impeding me from completing tasks that will benefit us both.”
“Could calling Dr. whatever get Dad out of prison time? Because if the answer is no, then it’s only helping you.”
“You know I intend to finish my dissertation early and get a decent job.”
“And Dad will be serving a prison sentence for felony fraud.”
Colby pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Maybe we’ll finally have stability.”
“Seriously, Colby? You’re so selfish.”
“No, I’m not. But between my TA-ship and your diminishing savings, we’re not going to be able to pay the property tax this year, unless I move forward in my career within the next few months,” he said matter-of-factly as light reflected off his thick-framed glasses. He pointed to the bright blue door connecting the workshop to the house. “He did it to himself.”
She felt like Atlas fumbling the heavens and left standing to watch them roll away.
Opening the door to their house, she hopped over the rotting wooden step and onto the linoleum.
The combined smell of roses and onions greeted her. Though it was midday, only scattered beams of light ventured into their hot, stuffy house. When she flipped the switch, the overhead light threatened to boycott, before blinking on.
Eight species of colorful roses smiled their hellos from every surface. They never lasted as long or bloomed as big as they had for Alainn’s mother, but the early fall blooms came out hesitant and hopeful, and that was as much as Alainn could ask of them so late in the season.
Her father sat in the living room, his face lit with blue from the computer screen on his lap. Deep crevices dug their way into the corners of his eyes and across his forehead.
Avoiding a bucket that slowly collected the pipe water slipping through the ceiling tiles, she crossed the room.
“Dad, you’ll ruin your eyes,” she said, going to throw open one of the heavy curtains. The window resisted opening at first, but gave way to her shove. The room took a great inhale of fresh air.
Alainn’s father blinked furiously as their small living room filled with daylight. The roses above the fireplace seemed to sigh with relief as they spread their multicolored blooms.
Alain dipped her finger into her father’s cup. She found exactly what she’d expected—cold, untouched tea. “Do you want fresh tea, Dad?” she asked, but received what she’d once again expected—no response.
The lunch she’d made him sat untouched. Still unnoticed, she busied herself by clearing the coffee table. Porcelain chipped off his plate as she set it on top of the pile of dishes in the sink, but she knew better than to throw it away.
When she returned, not a muscle had twitched in her father’s face, as if the screen had truly sucked him outside of his body.
“Dad?” she asked softly. She sat beside him on the worn out couch. The cushioning gave way to either side of her, and her butt hit the wooden base of the couch. “Ah,” she said as pain ricocheted up her spine.
Her father woke from his trance, his attention turning slowly toward her. Dull green eyes focused, then lit, like coals relit by a human breath. On his screen was a grid of letters and numbers, a language most of the occupants of this house could read but the majority of the world could not. Alainn was firmly in that second group.
“Don’t be so harsh with your brother, Alainn,” her father admonished with a shake of his head. His arm came around her back.
She looked away, trying to figure out what he was talking about. “You mean in the garage?”
“You’re too hard on him.” He squeezed her shoulders.
“You heard what he said and you think I’m too hard on him?”
He gave an almost amused smile and said, “You were practically shouting. You and Colby are two very different people. You can’t fault someone for thinking differently than you.”
“I’m pretty sure I can fault Colby, Dad . . .” she blew out a breath. “I have to tell you something bad.” Tears pricked her eyes as she stared into his gentle face. The last year had aged her father more than the previous ten put together, and those years had beaten him down.
As of tomorrow it would be exactly one year and six months ago, and she still remembered the expression on her father’s face when he’d come back from that initial meeting with Mr. Garbhan. It was as if the man she’d known throughout her adult life had slumped out of the house that morning, and the father she remembered from childhood had returned. His eyes lit with ideas that immediately spilled out of his mouth. She and Colby followed him around the house, out the door and through their gentrified neighborhood as his mouth spouted dreams and his hands tried to form them in air.
It had lasted one precious month.
His gaze traced the edges of her face. “No, wipe away that frown, young lady. I’ve come up with the solution.”
She breathed in sharply. “You’re not serious?”
He squeezed her shoulders, again. “Rosette 82GF, and finally, I have the means to do it.”
The tears that had so recently retreated formed in her eyes, one falling onto her cheek before she scrubbed it away. “Dad, no.”
He patted her hand. “I realize my mistake now. The human mind isn’t capable of limiting AI capabilities, but Rose could do it.”
She lowered her voice even more, “Dad, no. She’s—you can’t have her do that. I think she might be overwriting her ethical coding and besides, there’s no possible way to do it by tomorrow. You need to reboot her—”
“No, honey, no.” He shook his head. “It’s not right, and . . . even if I reboot her, the moment she became self-aware, she would begin overwriting the limitations I put in her programming. There’s no point in cleaning her hard drive if I’m incapable—”
“Shhh, Dad,” she whispered. Her gaze jumped around the room.
Her father ignored her. “She can do it; Rose can create a new model.”
“Yeah, but how much would that cost? Rose cost tens of thousands. How much money do we even have?”
“I could get the money,” he said it in a tone so confident, she could almost even believe him.
But, she knew better.
“He said no, Dad. Mr. Garbhan wouldn’t even listen to me.”
“I don’t need to be here for the new model to be made. Even if I am incarcerated, Rose could continue with the plans with Colby’s help—”
She stood up abruptly. “I’m sorry, I just . . . can’t.”
Rushing to the bathroom, she turned on the shower so no one would hear her crying over the clinking and clanking of their pipes. Eventually, she undressed and climbed in, letting the cooling water wash over her hot face.
For the rest of the afternoon, Alainn focused on the mundane chores that were only fulfilled the couple of months a year she was home for the off seasons. She actually had no idea how her father or Colby ate regular meals for either the summer or winter seasons. Luckily for Rose, she didn’t need to eat, so Alainn’s long absences probably weren’t hard on her. Rose actually probably preferred it—if a robot could prefer something.
The air filled with fresh meat and spice aromas, mingling with the ever-present smell of roses. When Alainn cooked, she didn’t need to think of anything else. After spending three months a year guiding juvenile delinquents through the wilderness, just being inside a kitchen was a dream. The hard knot in her stomach didn’t loosen, though, as she poured spices on the ground beef and kneaded it in.
While peeling the potatoes, the peeler slipped and almost skinned her hand, stopping just in time. Sighing, she cubed the rest of the potatoes with their peels. She was not so lucky when she took the meatloaf out of the oven, raising her arms too early. The top of the oven seared into the inside of her arm and she let out a loud gasp before setting the meatloaf on the stove top.
“You okay, honey?” her father yelled from the living room.
Rushing to the sink, she ran cold water over her arm. She hissed through her teeth as the cold water hit the burn. “Fine, Dad!” she shouted as the pain seared up her arm.
The sweet yet rancid smell of burning onions filled the air and she turned to see her pan of potatoes and onions were literally on fire.
“Crap!” she yelled, grabbing a pot-holder and moving the potatoes from the burner.
“Honey?” her father called again, “You sure you’re okay?”
“Fine, Dad. But I hope you don’t mind your potatoes crispy!”
“You know me, I’m good with anything.”
She just didn’t get it. How could he sound so casual, like it was any other day of the week? Tears formed in her eyes again as she blew out the fire.
Instead of serving the food, she sat on the kitchen floor and looked up at the painting above the sink. Red and yellow watercolor blooms gazed upward to a starry night sky. It was the view from their backyard—how her mother must have seen it. The air looked electric with magic as it swirled over a starry abyss.
Colby popped his head in from the garage, eyes magnified by his glasses. He looked around the kitchen, his gaze falling on her sitting beside the giant bucket in the middle of their floor. “Is dinner ready?”
“Yeah, but if you want a salad, you’re going to have to make it. I’m done.”
“Why aren’t you going to make a salad?”
“Because I’m sitting here on the floor with my heart breaking and no one else is living in reality.”
He pushed up his glasses. “I need the vitamin B and the other essential vitamins and minerals from leafy greens in my diet.”
She glared. “Then make yourself a salad, Colby.”
“Alainn, please, I’m in the middle of something. And you are much better at making salad.”
“All right, I’ll make you a salad, but you have to swear on your life that you’ll eat in the kitchen with Dad and me tonight.”
He shook his head. “I’d rather not.”
“He’s going to prison, Colby, prison. You can take thirty minutes out of your busy schedule and eat dinner in the kitchen like a normal human being.”
“Fine.” He sighed. “But I need to finish something first or eat right away, Alainn.”
“If you come sit now, I can have the salad ready in three minutes.”
“Okay. I’ll go get Rose.” He turned.
“No, why?” she asked, holding out a hand to him.
“So she can join us,” he said, as if they’d obviously invite Rose.
“She doesn’t eat. We’d just be interrupting her computations.”
“It’s important that we treat her like part of the family, Alainn.” He didn’t quite make eye-contact with her as he said it, and ducked out right away.
“He’s right. The only way Rose will ever act like a human is if we treat her like one,” her father said as he took a seat at the kitchen table.
The table shone out with a new coat of paint—a bright bluebell blue. The color matched what the table had in its former glory. Alainn had even matched paint chips at the hardware store.
“So, when are you leaving for the resort, sweetheart?” her father asked as she set out place-settings.
“Next week, probably.” She swallowed, and turned back to their fridge to start the salad.
“Late this year. Don’t you guys open on Thanksgiving?”
“Greg said it was fine to come a couple weeks late. Sandy is back so they’ve got a lot of people on ski patrol this year,” she mumbled as she chopped onions.
“Is he still planning to come down and pick you up?” A smile laced his voice as he said it.
“Yeah, Dad. Greg’s a nice guy.”
“No guy’s that nice,” her brother said as he entered the kitchen. “Driving six hours twice a year to come pick you up, every year five years.”
“Shut up, Colby. Greg’s a good guy. We’re friends.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he has feelings for you, Alainn.” Her father nodded sagely, even though he had no clue what he was talking about.
“Well, he doesn’t.”
“Why wouldn’t he? You’re beautiful, smart, funny—”
“Single. And he’s male,” Colby said. He took one of the plates and set it before himself.
Obviously, Colby had taught Rose to eavesdrop as well because as she entered the kitchen, she said, “It’s very likely that Greg either has had sexual relations with Alainn, or wishes to.”
Heat rushed up into her cheeks. “Well, you’re wrong. Um—so, how is your guys’ space stuff going?”
Thankfully, this was the right question to ask, because Colby and Rose dove into some really complicated explanation that Alainn couldn’t even begin to understand. Her father’s eyes lit with interest, and the group went back and forth in an easy flow of conversation, needing no more input from Alainn.
She was thankful for that. She needed all her concentration to stop her emotions and fake smiles at the appropriate conversation cues. All too soon, her brother excused himself to return to his work and Rose followed.
Her father paused as he walked past when Alainn cleared the dishes. His hand came up and hesitantly patted her on the shoulder. “Would you like some help cleaning up?”
“Not from you, Dad. Go, relax.”
“Sweetheart, I’ll find a way to get the money so Rose can make the Rosette model. Meaning, by the time you’re home for spring, I’ll be home, too, okay?”
She closed her eyes. “Okay, Dad.”
“And, give Greg a chance. You can’t let a couple of rotten apples keep you alone for your whole life.”
“Dad, it’s not—Greg doesn’t even like me like that.”
“He’s probably just too intimidated by how beautiful you are to say anything. I know I was with your mother. She had to come to talk to me, or I would never have had the courage.”
She blew out a laugh. “It’s really, really not like that. We’re just friends.”
“Okay, honey. Sometimes I worry—I just want you to be happy.”
“I’m fine.” She destroyed the words that fought to get out, managing, “I’ll be fine, soon. We’re supposed to get a lot of snow this year. It’ll be a busy season, lots of people needing help. Being busy always makes the time go faster.”
“Okay, good.” He patted her shoulder once more.
She memorized every detail of his gentle expression as he attempted to comfort her. His eyes gleamed as he teased her about a guy. How quickly would she forget his look of innocence after what came for him tomorrow? She had long ago forgotten what innocence looked like on her own face.
Aside from putting away the leftovers, she didn’t have the energy to tackle a sink full of dishes or the dirty pans covering the stovetop. She crossed the house to her room, locking herself in.
The lock had recently been changed and for no real reason. Arriving home from her most recent summer Outreach trip, she’d not been able to sleep without changing it.
She attempted to watch an old DVD on her equally old television set, but it didn’t work. Even diving into one of her favorite books refused to distract her thoughts.
Exhaustion and restlessness battled in her mind. While her body simultaneously felt too hot and utterly cold.
She cranked open her window, gasping in the fresh air. As the evening breeze brushed over her face, Alainn wished the same thing she’d held in her mind over every birthday cake or looking into the dissipating tail of each shooting star. She wished that every casino in the country would burn to the ground.
The people would be evacuated, of course, but the slot machines would melt, the poker tables flare hot then singe black. Puddles of multicolored plastic would pool over the blackened husks of poker tables.
Only then, would she ever be happy.
Alainn woke, knowing someone was in her room.
Whoever it was sat behind her. Quiet, even breaths rasped through the room. Alainn’s eyelids peeked open. Moonlight cast a grayish glow, cutting deep shadows into the room.
“Good morning, Alainn,” Rose said in a quiet voice. When Alainn didn’t respond, Rose said, “I can tell from the change in your breathing pattern that you are awake.”
“Rose?” she whispered, not quite ready to let out any sigh of relief. Alainn twisted to look at Rose. “What are you doing here? Did you break my lock?”
“I picked it,” she said. “It is now locked again.”
“Oh, uh—” her heart pounded in her chest, she sat up and faced the robot. “Why—why would you do that?”
The moonlight lit half of Rose’s face, as she watched Alainn, expressionless. “Do not be alarmed. You are obviously having a fear reaction, but I was simply waiting for you to wake up.”
“Don’t you need to sleep—recharge?”
Now that Alainn faced Rose, she smelled the faint odor of her exhaust. Rose continuously exhaled the lightest tang of something sweet and acidic. The air in the room felt used, like a plane cabin after a cross-country flight.
“I was not completely forthcoming with you today. While what I said was true, I have for a time now decided that having Father imprisoned would impede my potential.