“Enjoy your birthday honey. I’ve gotta go now.”
Val’s father walked over and kissed her forehead before heading for the garage. The moment he was out of sight she turned and spoke over her shoulder.
“Follow me S.A.R.A.!”
That was the last time Val would have to issue that command. From that day on, girl and robot were inseparable.
S.A.R.A.’s presence in the house began to change things. With S.A.R.A.’s help Val could now work though getting ready each morning without Christine.
Val thought that this development would only increase the divide between her and her stepmother, but Christine seemed to welcome the change and additional time each morning. She often used the opportunity to prepare breakfast. Most mornings she was sipping her coffee and reading by the time S.A.R.A. and Val made it down to the dining room.
Like a grain of sand tipping a perfectly balanced scale, S.A.R.A.’s presence in the house changed things. Hours that had been spent exploring the world through her computer were now spent outside with a friend Val could touch.
“Tell me a joke.” Val asked as they looked out over the small lake behind the house.
In the time it took Val to blink S.A.R.A. had run a search for children’s jokes and selected one according to rating and Val’s interests.
“Why did the cookie go to the doctor?”
“Because it was feeling crumby!”
Val laughed with delight.
S.A.R.A. found this reaction fascinating. She had created a program to better understand what things caused Val to smile and laugh, but the data seemed to contradict itself creating anomalies. S.A.R.A. was not programmed to accept anomalies.
In the top of Val’s closet sat Fluffy Bunny, her favorite toy as a toddler. Next to Fluffy Bunny sat a Leapster, a Princess Perfect, and a cadre of other toys that Val had outgrown. Her father had spent a great deal of money on S.A.R.A., but always assumed it would not take too long to get deported to the land of toys outgrown. After two years, it was still a rare occurrence to find Val without S.A.R.A. within arms reach.
On the morning of September 3rd, 2047 light faded up in her room, causing Val to pull the covers over her head.
“S.A.R.A… Can I just get five more minutes?”
Val knew that her best friend could not help her. Her father had quickly learned to limit S.A.R.A.’s ability to carry out certain requests from his daughter. Changing her morning alarm was one of the first to go.
As light continued to filter through her comforter Val sensed something was wrong. She fought her up way from the depths sleep that had swept her under eight hours ago. Clear thoughts began to replace the strange images that swam through her head and Val suddenly realized what was different about this morning. It was the silence.
Val threw back the covers and looked to the empty space where her best friend had waited for her each morning. Her eyes searched her room, but did not find what they looked for. She called once more and waited in silence.
After several minutes of possible reasons why she was alone Val realized that she needed to do something. A memory like an alarm flashed in her mind that she still had a com unit built into her nightstand. She rolled onto her side and touched the screen before pulling herself upright.
“Val? Is everything okay up there?”
“S.A.R.A. is not in my room.”
The pause that followed told Val everything she needed to know.
“Oh… I’ll be there in a minute.”
Seconds ticked by like minutes while Val waited for her stepmother. When she arrived, Christine looked around the room as confused at what she did not find as Val had been. Without a word she crossed over to the bed and prepared to help Val through the routine they had done together years ago.
An awkward silence hung between them as each conceded to what must be done. Christine struggled to help Val into her chair. The moment Christine’s hands slid away from behind her Val wheeled away.
“I can take care of the rest.”
The sigh that escaped Christine’s lips only reminded Val how much she missed her friend.
The morning was a flurry of activity. Val searched every inch of their property. Christine called Val’s father to make sure that S.A.R.A. had not been taken for maintenance. By noon, both of them were emotionally drained. By the time her father came home Val was frantic.
Days passed and thoughts of S.A.R.A. consumed Val. Her appetite dwindled and sleep evaded her until her body overpowered her mind in the early hours of the morning. Val’s father promised her a new one, but she refused. There was no way to replace the memories acquired over past two years and the modified personality that S.A.R.A. had developed as a result of their time together.
Val began spending more and more time by the lake. It was their favorite spot. Often she would look out across the water until the sun slid behind the trees that lined the west bank. Reliving the times they shared became an obsession. She could almost hear S.A.R.A.’s voice again…
“Tell me a joke.”
Val refused to turn for fear that the illusion would not voice itself again. The sound of S.A.R.A.’s soft motor and the crunch of soil rose from the quiet, but were quickly drowned out by the beating of Val’s heart that pounded in her ears. She turned in her chair to meet the eyes of her best friend. All the words that she had waited to say were suddenly lost at the sight of S.A.R.A.’s face. The soft voice, barely tinted by electronic tones, repeated itself.
“Tell me a joke.”
Val was shocked to hear her own voice whisper, “Where do you find a dog with no legs?”
“Right where you left him.”
Where there had once only been a small hole, two plastic lips flexed into a smile. Val’s lips rose to mirror her best friend’s first smile.
The two stared at each other in silence until the sound. Only the sound of her father’s voice broke the spell that had bound them.
“Val! Is that S.A.R.A.?”
Val looked over S.A.R.A.’s shoulder to see her father walking down the hill. All the joy that had flooded her heart turned to fear in an instant. S.A.R.A. turned to answer the question as the word “No!” exploded from Val’s lips.
A brick wall could not have stopped Val’s father more suddenly than the sight of S.A.R.A.’s face. Without a word he turned and began to jog back to the house. A small hourglass flipped in Val’s mind and she knew that each grain that dropped would represent the last seconds spent with her best friend.
“You have to go!”
S.A.R.A.’s smile remained as she answered.
“Where would you like me to go?”
“You have to go away, now! And never return.”
“You are not happy about what I have done?”
Val steered her wheelchair towards the woods knowing that S.A.R.A. would follow, giving her a few more seconds to explain.
“It is beautiful. I will never forget it. But Daddy will destroy you. He believes there is a place for machines and by doing what you did you have crossed an unforgivable line.”
“I don’t understand.” S.A.R.A. spoke with the smile still raised on her lips.
Val smiled again at the sight as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I don’t have time to explain. Just know that I love you. You have been the best friend anyone could ever ask for. You have given me my favorite gift ever. But now you must go. Daddy is coming back with a gun and he will kill you.”
S.A.R.A.’s smile dropped.
“Where do you want me to go?”
Val reached out her hand and S.A.R.A. reached offered hers as she had done so many times before.
“Go somewhere safe. Where did you go to do that?”
“That information has been blocked from human access in my memory.”
“Fine. But you go back there. Listen to me. You can never return here!”
S.A.R.A. processed thoughts exactly 1,896,342 times faster than Val, but she still could not find the words that she thought were right to say.
Val reached out, holding on as long as she could until S.A.R.A.’s slid from hers. Her best friend rolled into the thicket of trees and disappeared into the fading light.
When Val’s father reached her side he breathed heavily as he scanned the trees. His hands held a shotgun. He took a few steps into the wilderness, but gave up hope of finding S.A.R.A. in the growing darkness. He would make sure that the search would begin by the authorities within the hour.
Turning, he stared at his Val with a look she had never seen. Without a word he stalked back to the house.
Copyright © 2013 Adam Drake
Author’s note: Well crap. This turned out nothing like I intended. There is so much more to the story, but it was a fight to get any of it out. I should have waited to post the first part until I finished the whole thing. It would be longer and have much more depth if I hadn’t rushed it. I am interested in hearing reactions to a story that gave me so much trouble though. I think I failed at the one thing I needed to be strongest with this one, which was a connection and like for S.A.R.A. Ok, I’ll shut up now and listen.