The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Four: First Evening

        Their evening meal was messy but uneventful. Alex did lose a couple of forks to her enthusiasm over food, but he made sure Sara only used his old silverware. So far, she'd shown no adverse reaction to her first meals and had not needed to relieve herself. Food was probably important to her only for the pleasurable sensations it provided and was not a necessity. He had by now decided that hers was no biological metabolism as we understood it, but he worried that sooner or later all that tucker had to go somewhere. Unless she had a molecular incinerator for a stomach. Or a black hole.
        Alex decided to suspend testing for the evening. Sara had worn him out. So he decided to begin her formal education by showing her a little of his planet by means of a couple of coffee table books he had collected.
        There was a little problem with her relating to photographs as representations of reality. He had to go to some lengths to get her to understand the basic concept of imagery. Alex remembered reading about Stone Age tribesmen in New Guinea seeing Polaroids for the first time and having the same sort of difficulty understanding what they were seeing, so it wasn't entirely surprising. This was new to her, but, as with everything else, she caught on quickly, though her lack of perceptual experience with the real world made the meaningful interpretation of what she was seeing problematic. But the pictures were pretty and she liked him reading to her, embellishing as he went. Bonding continued.
        Alex decided against turning on the TV for now. No point in overwhelming her the first few days. She had absolutely no experience with any kind of normal human interactions and would require a little time for adjustment and acclimatization. He figured it would be a week or so before he could bring her out in public to meet other people. After he got her some normal clothes, of course. He'd have to put some thought into developing a program to bring her up to her apparent age in terms of social skills and cultural references.
        It turned out that Sara could read, technically speaking. At first, she sounded out her words phonetically with his help, but — as with walking — she improved very quickly. He doubted that much of what she read actually made much sense to her, but her native ability to assimilate the newness of her environment rapidly and efficiently was remarkable.
        The next surprise was when she came across a French phrase and executed it perfectly. Alex looked at her for a moment and asked, "Parlez vous Français?"
        "Oui," she matter-of-factly replied, and went on in her chatterbox manner for a while in that language without realizing that it was incomprehensible to him.
        Well, his French was none too good, but hers was. Wow. Hadn't expected that.
        He tried, "¿Yo habla Español?"
        She looked at him quizzically, "Si."
        He tried various phrases in half-a-dozen languages he'd picked up over the years during his youthful migrations (he could order a cold beer in Chinese). He couldn't stump her. She was unaware that this might be unusual.
        "How many languages do you know?"
        She considered briefly, then smiled brightly, "All of them," hoping he'd be pleased.
        Alex realized he hadn't yet gotten around to explaining basic counting to her, though she undoubtedly knew all the number words and would probably catch on in her usual blazing manner. He also figured that untangling one similar language from another one or a close dialect might not be easy, for purposes of enumeration. His was, he decided, an irrelevant question. And, for all he knew, her answer might be literally accurate. Time would tell.
        That told him something meaningless about the entities who had created her and dropped her off on this planet. Why not equip your emissary with the local languages? Shouldn't be too hard for your typical advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Monitor the radio waves for a few years — certainly the process could be automated — set up your databases, and dump the resulting files into your minion's computer of a brain. Piece of cake. Chat up the natives, eh wot? Bottom line: someone's been listening. Interesting.
        But why stop there? It didn't make a lot of sense to fill her up with a bunch of aboriginal tongues but otherwise leave her totally ignorant of the local mores and customs. Why combine sublime knowledge with utter inexperience? And then dress her up in a ridiculous costume and dump her in some poor schmuck's living room. This was nonsense.
        Well, maybe not. What did he know so far? Let's see…
        1) Extraterrestrial origin, for sure. 
        2) She's definitely an artifact, in the best sense of the word — the work of skilled artisans.
        3) She was deliberately crafted to resemble a Terrestrial icon, for reasons unknown. One that was probably the least threatening 'alien-from-another-planet' in our, uh, literature.
        4) Physically, as far as he could tell so far, she lived up to her billing in that respect.
        5) Her (he assumed) programmed personality was indistinguishable from human consciousness. She passed the Turing test to such a degree that he was willing to concede she was alive in the human sense of cogito ergo sum — 'I think, therefore I am'. Though she was in every respect still a child.
        6) She was equipped with all the necessary motor skills and basic access to language necessary to pass as human anywhere on the planet — with a little guidance at first (his gig, evidently).
        7) She was a complete tabula rasa — a blank slate — devoid of memories of a prior existence, if any. She carried with her from her mysterious origin no prejudices or preconceptions regarding our world and its inhabitants.
        8) Though she constituted irrefutable evidence of the existence of some alien technological civilization, it would seem that nothing about said civilization was to be gleaned from her other than what her abilities and construction provided as clues — and her invulnerability might make any direct examination impossible (can't tell what makes something tick until you take it apart).
        9) Her makers' ability to learn our languages, form and culture — and then perfectly model a human physically and mentally — made it seem unlikely that they needed to drop her off (in such a conspicuous form) for purposes of espionage, or whatever. Whoever these 'Cryptoaliens' were probably had nothing more to learn about us, unless it was by our reaction to her presence.
        10) He thought it likely that Sara could have vaporized the wall — her childish inclination would have been to put everything she had into her 'lighting bolt' — or at least completely blinded him, and broken every bone in his body when she grabbed him in panic. There must be some sort of built-in safety mechanisms that prevented her from accidentally killing him before she grew up. Thank God.
        11) Like a newly hatched gosling accepting the first creature it saw as its parent, Sara seemed to accept his authority over her. She might not unthinkingly obey his every whim, but she seemed to at least respect his opinions.
        12) She seemed to be inordinately pleased whenever she did something for him, whether it was a new trick or fulfilling a simple request. Maybe these last three points were her makers' version of Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics.
        Conclusions? None possible. He'd just have to ride with it for now. Which was not an altogether unpleasant prospect.

        Eventually, he just had to go to bed. Sara showed no signs of slowing down. Alex had no idea if she even needed to sleep at all, but any kid would be too excited to want to stop, anyway. It was her birthday, after all, and everything she saw was a shiny new present.
        "I don't know about you, but I'm going upstairs to bed. If you want to crash on the couch, be my guest." He brought out some spare sheets and a light blanket and made a makeshift nest for her to cuddle up in.
        "Just try to keep it quiet and don't get into anything you don't understand. Whatever you do, don't leave the apartment. Don't open the door at all. Do you understand?"
        She nodded solemnly.
        "Promise me," he demanded.
        "It is my promise not to open the door or leave the apartment."
        He hoped that would do it, but he was too sleepy to care. Off to bed he went.

        The next morning, he tiptoed down the stairs from his bedroom into a war zone. It looked like his side had lost. Sara had gotten into everything.
        There were pencil and ink marks on the wall and on the torn-out pages from nearly every book he owned, scattered tornadically about. Something resembling finger paint whorls adorned nearly every surface (he didn't have any finger paints). Flour footprints led from the kitchen. Plates and fragments of plates were everywhere, along with a complete set of steak knife handles (the blades were ominously missing). It looked like she drank half-a-bottle of Clorox and spilled the rest on the kitchen floor to mingle with instant coffee, the contents of a half-eaten bottle of Dr. Pepper, about five pounds of sugar, unidentified spices (he hoped they were spices), cheese, rice, two or three cans of vegetables with the tops bitten off and a selection of the remains of several now-thawed frozen dinners — bite marks through package, plastic plate and entrée clearly visible.
        What interesting stains, he thought. Not to mention the smell.
        The refrigerator door was hanging open, but it wasn't running. She'd probably yanked out the plug when she picked it up to shake out all the goodies. He was mildly surprised that the kitchen table could support its weight.
        At least the busted-off hot water handle and twisted spout on the kitchen sink wasn't spewing water. Anymore. Gingerly moving aside the shattered remains of the cabinet doors to look under the sink showed him why — Sara had thoughtfully pinched the feed pipes closed. How nice. There probably weren't more than a few gallons of water pooled under the cabinets. With any kind of luck at all, he should be able to sneak a plumber, carpenter, carpet layer, sheet rocker, painter, electrician, several helpers and a general contractor into his apartment without the landlady noticing.
        The eye of the storm was sleeping innocently on the couch, covered with evidence. She had a milk moustache, chocolate chin and peanut butter mousse. Each individual finger had a story to tell that he didn't particularly want to hear. Half-dried stuff was caked all over the front of her outfit. Her sleeves reeked.
        But her blissful countenance made every bad thing unhappen.
        It was the most amazing part of his acquaintance with her yet. Here he was, his life completely wrenched from its path of complacent, self-satisfied meaninglessness, confronted by an Earth-shattering apparition who destroyed his comfortable little world without a thought. His life was over, and everything he thought he knew was imminently to be swept away in the aftermath of her arrival — he knew it. And he accepted it, even embraced it. Because she needed him.
        Men — that sad, low class of wretchedness (as opposed to real human beings, or women) — had been fashionably maligned for some time in this era of history as incapable of caring, nurturing relationships with their betters, whom they oppressed and exploited. And certainly the pigs often did little to allay the sordid perception. There is no end to examples of crassness, juvenilism, boorishness, bad taste, shallowness, cretinism, irresponsibility, brutishness and insensitivity in the kind of men that women seem to prefer.
        But there are other kinds of men, who need their women far more than women need men, and not for the obvious reasons. They need women — and children — in their lives so that they can matter.
        Fathers and husbands go forth to build civilizations in which to house, feed and protect those to whom they matter. Mothers bear children and instinctively clutch them to their bosoms as long as they can. They know that their children are their children. A father must decide to embrace his children as his own — and does so.
        Mothers care and teach — yes, they teach — in their manner. Fathers — in the scant time afforded them between making laws, fighting wars and bringing home the bacon — can only inspire. When they do, they become fulfilled. A mother raises her children to grow away from her in the end. A father leads his children to follow him to the end.
        Sara was his, now. Alex would do his duty and fuss at her behavior, because that is what a father has to do to prepare his precious darling for the wide world. The destruction that was bound to follow her curiosity and impulsiveness for the duration of her childhood was just a necessary burden to bear. It could be cleaned up, as could she. He didn't ever recall being this tolerant in his former life. Must be the smile, he thought.
        Sara's eyes popped open to a new day, full of anticipation and joy. He almost didn't have the heart to tear into her, but he did. She was so crestfallen by his disapproval it was pitiful.
        "This is not acceptable behavior, young lady! What a mess! Who do you think is going to clean this up? And look at you!"
        Blah, blah, blah…
        When he had achieved the desired effect, he marched her upstairs to the bathroom. Which presented somewhat of a problem. He could hose her down to some extent under the shower nozzle, but sooner or later he was going to have to make sure she got a proper cleaning. She needed a bath.
        Alex was no prude, but he became acutely embarrassed by the situation. He had come to think of Sara as a child, but he was suddenly aware that she was not exactly built like one. He was not happy about the prospect of having to undress and handle her.
        She didn't make it easy for him. The only things she figured out how to take off by herself were her shoes. The rest of her outfit was a struggle. It would not stretch for him, and she had no idea how clothes worked. There weren't any zippers, buttons or catches he could find, so it was just a matter of trial and error.
        The key turned out to be the belt which, evidently, only she could open. That released the skirt. The neck opening she then stretched over her shoulders while pulling her arms out of her sleeves, then peeled the whole thing, cape and all, down around her ankles and — ohmygawd — there she was, in all of her considerable glory.
        Trying desperately to keep his mind on the business at hand, he got her into the tub as it filled, with Sara splashing happily and completely unselfconsciously. He grabbed up her clothes and turned to the sink, concentrating on his laundry chore, which turned out to be easier than he thought.
        The material was not cloth and didn't wet properly. However, the caked-on goo would not stick to it and rinsed off without a problem. In no time, he had the whole outfit draped over the shower curtain rod to drip-dry. He'd had time to regain his composure and got down to the very practical matter of explaining the use of soap (she'd only eaten half the bar before deciding it was yucky), water and a washcloth. He tried to convince her to leave some water in the tub.
        Then he sat there on the toilet, watching her intently. She was absolutely perfect, in every sense of the word. There was not even the slightest blemish or imperfection that he could see. He reminded himself that she was just made that way, and was probably closer in her construction to Robbie the Robot than to the human girl she only superficially resembled.
        But in every conceivable manner, she was human, too. The light of a human soul shone from her eyes stronger than any laser beam could. All her powers aside, the personality in charge of this 'machine', if that's what she was, was so closely like that of a perfectly normal child, there might not actually be any difference.
        So if 'A' equals 'B' and 'B' equals 'C', then 'A' equals 'C'. Logical, where the application of logic was irrelevant. If it was not possible for humans to quantify the essence of their own humanity, how could they deny its existence in a vessel not of human origin? No one, not knowing her secret, could possibly guess it.
        His reverie was shattered by the sounds of the doorbell accompanied by purposeful banging on his front door. In full panic mode, he raced down the stairs to confront the worst possible thing that could happen.
        Sure enough, it was the landlady. The door was half open before he could get there, too late to keep her from seeing the awful mess in his living room.
        "Mistor Luthor," she growled from the substantial depths of her Eastern European accent, "There is plumbink emergency. Vater is thru ze vall comink…"
        Her eyes nearly popped out of her head as she wedged her bulk the rest of the way in past him and surveyed the wreckage.
        "Mrs. Jachimczyk!" Alex stammered, trying futilely to somehow interpose himself between her and the rest of his apartment. "I was just going to see you…"
        He could have more easily stopped a tank. She swept by him like a blitzing linebacker and planted herself unmoveably in the middle of the remains of his living room.
        "Gahhhck!" she started, followed by what had to be something like a gypsy curse. "Vhat is goink on here…" She trailed off. This was a lot more than she was prepared for. She turned to him, speechless.
        And down the stairs, eager to meet a new person and see what all the commotion was about, came Sara.
        Quite naked, of course.

Chapter Five: Flight

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© Patrick Hill, 2000