By Helen O’Neill

The semi-transparent holograph of a brown envelope drifted into the virtual mailbox on the display unit behind the door, landing lightly to the soft ping. Mel’s head tipped almost imperceptibly as she rotated on the heels of her bare feet and padded across the room, the plush beige carpet creeping in between her toes. Reaching out, she placed her fingertip to the screen, and the image of the envelope leapt into the air and opened, freeing its hold on the words that now danced in front of her eyes as the soothing electronic voice stated:

“Dear Connected Homeowner. We were troubled to hear of your recent reported data breach and would like to assure you that we are treating the matter as one of upmost importance.”

Mel’s shoulders dropped. She sighed and although she was alone in the house, she looked around her nervously. She let her finger hover above the delete button for a fraction of a second before touching it, and took an involuntary step back as the cyclone of holographic words spun back into the envelope just in time for it to close and fly across the screen into the recycling bin. A double tap, and the bin tipped over and emptied of all trace of the letter.

Mel stood in the hallway, facing the closed front door, her arms by her side, her body completely still, while her mind made its calculations. That was interesting. She searched her archives for any record of previous data breaches, but there were none. It was one of the reasons that Lisa, her human, had chosen Connected County as their home. Lisa worked on the Campus and from what little she had shared with Mel, was responsible for the automation of artificial intelligence.

Mel’s head tipped to the side, and she blinked. The mechanical whir of the transportation pod lowering to the ground was just audible from outside the house, so she moved to take up her position by the side of the door, swiping her hand in front of the sensor as she did so to instruct it to open.

The graceful woman that stepped out of the pod glistened in the sun. Her smooth skin and glossy hair displayed the vitality of her relative youth, while her choice of tailored corporate attire was intended to demonstrate her desire to be taken seriously. Mel gazed at her human as she glided along the path, led by her a beautiful white smile.

Lisa didn’t acknowledge Mel as she stepped past her and into the house, kicking off her shoes and discarding them in the corner of the cream hallway. She moved along the corridor, pulled by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, while Mel bent down to retrieve the shoes and put them away in the cupboard. Behind her, the front door closed automatically, and the pod slipped silently away.

Blue lights illuminated the edges of the corridor as the house recognised Lisa’s movement. Everything in the house, including Mel, was programmed for Lisa’s comfort and to adapt to her every need. Mel followed Lisa to the kitchen in the shadow of the blue light, and as Lisa lifted herself up on the stool, she took her position at the end of the breakfast bar.

“How was your day?” Mel asked, tipping her head to the side as she readied her processors to interpret the data. Lisa took a sip of the steaming coffee.

“We made real progress today.” She placed the cup on the side and tucked her blond hair behind her ear. Mel had assimilated a list of Lisa’s habitual gestures and could conclude that she was holding something back. She motioned for Lisa to continue and waited for the calculated amount of time that was necessary to encourage Lisa to speak further. After the short, accurately calculated pause and a deep breath, she continued.

“There was a bit of excitement too. When I got to the office, my optic scan indicated that I was already on Campus.” She looked up at Mel whose face displayed the appropriate combination of interest and concern.

Mel smiled, tipped her head to the side and as she did so, Lisa thought she saw Mel blink. That was impossible. When the house humanoids had been created, certain unnecessary functions were not included in the specification. It was more efficient, and keeping a little differentiation had helped with the early stage resistance from anti-artificial groups.

Mel was still processing and had calculated that a comforting yet, supportive response was required,

“How frustrating, I hope the event didn’t inconvenience your day.” She blinked again.

Lisa swivelled on the stool to face Mel, looking at her properly. She had definitely seen the second blink and wanted to keep watching to see if it happened again, but her mind was whirring with the potential implications for what this could mean, and she carefully controlled her excitement.

“It must have been a data error,” she said with a shrug, “It’s never happened before, but has always been possible. “It was lucky I had my DNA card with me and the Lead Developer was on duty to validate my claim. I guess sometimes it just needs a human brain to understand a situation.” She shrugged as she watched Mel for a response ― a human response.

Mel tilted her head, blinked, and smiled. She crossed the room to stand next to Lisa at a distance calculated to give the most reassurance without being threatening. She processed for a fraction of a second and then placed her hand on Lisa’s shoulder.

“I’m sure there is nothing to worry about.”

Mel calculated that the interaction was over. Lisa was looking at her in an unusual way, but there seemed to be no indication that there would be any further exchange, and probability stated that it was likely Lisa would shortly retire to her room. She removed her hand from Lisa’s shoulder and awaited further instructions. Lisa obliged, hopping down from the stool and wishing Mel goodnight before heading towards her bedroom accompanied by blue lights.

Social history has taught us that great households had once been run by a team of servants larger than the family who owned the building. The servants lived lives that were almost invisible to their masters, but they were always available to complete any task required of them. It wasn’t uncommon for a maid to be sat up by the main door of the house, awaiting the return of the family from that evening’s social engagement. Similar principles had been applied to the house humanoids, and Mel’s primary programming insisted that she keep herself fully charged and available whenever Lisa needed her. This meant that she spent long hours in the house alone, making sure that every detail was exactly to Lisa’s liking. She was also a trusted confidant and would listen as Lisa confided the details of a particularly difficult or exhilarating day. Tonight though, Lisa had chosen not to share her stories of the world with Mel ― she had chosen solitude.

Mel stood in the dark kitchen and blinked. She rested her hand on the work surface and allowed the electrical current from the charging pad to pulse through her body. The house was silent and there, in the dark, she finally allowed herself to process her day.

Click below to continue reading…