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I NEVER KNEW WHETHER to curse or praise the day I fished Sherlock out of the Obsolete Equipment Storage Center, which is essentially a glorified scrap pile. VH Labs, my employer, used that overstuffed old room in the basement to store whatever malfunctioning, outdated, or broken-down machinery they chose not to dispose of outright in hopes that one of their enterprising engineers would find some way to recycle it. I was one such engineer—in the biomedical division—and had gone down there in search of salvageable equipment for my lab. Though VH had plucked me out of university two years before my expected graduation in order to sooner harness my talents—after I won an interstellar science award, it mattered little that I had not yet obtained my degree—they were unwilling to allocate too much budget to a sixteen-year-old girl.

Like everyone else, I'd heard about the ill-fated Project Sherlock, which had been shut down three years before I joined the company, but I hadn't expected to find Sherlock herself staring at me from a under a heap of mechanical rubbish with her one remaining robotic eye. Named after a figure from ancient Earth Zero mythology, she'd been VH's attempt to replace their own scientists with an artificial intelligence. They'd given her a humanoid body and programmed her to think not only analytically, but creatively and practically as well. This had the unintended side effect of giving her an unmanageable personality—and sentience. Though sentient AIs were nothing new, they were rare. And despite a century having passed since the first known synthetic being with humanlike consciousness was created, no one quite understood why some AIs developed such self-awareness while others remained purely mechanical. The creation of artificial life was illegal in the Interstellar Confederation, but that did not prevent VH from attempting to use their creation, claiming that Sherlock was only a convincing imitation of life. However after she proved to be not only obnoxious and disobedient, but destructive as well, they deactivated her and left her to collect dust—I stumbled upon her.

I don't know what possessed me to take her home with me that day. Neither can I explain why I thought it would be a good idea to repair her (as other engineers had mined her mechanical body for parts) and reactivate her. Especially since I was a biomedical engineer, not a mechanical one, and these efforts caused me many, many, many headaches and far too much time. Perhaps it was for the challenge of it, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't also because I was affected by the sight of such a human-looking face, behind which lay so much intelligence and potential, lying slack amid discarded computers as if she were no different. My employer was not happy when they learned of what I did, but as they'd already relinquished claim over her by designating her as garbage, there was nothing they could do to stop me.

About a year after I found her, I was in my lab working on solving one of the most frustrating challenges in the biomedical world—how to create synthetic human bone, complete with marrow that could produce blood—when the alarm on my slate began buzzing urgently. I'm fairly certain I was on the cusp of an epiphany, but I'll never know what it might have been, since I was so startled by the loudness that all thought flew from my head. Since I didn't recall setting any alarms, I scrambled to dig the device out of my bag, thinking I'd forgotten something important.

But after I unfolded the slate from its portable triangle shape and snapped it flat into a rectangular tablet, I found not a reminder, but Sherlock's face filling the screen. Her right eye, usually almond-shaped, had expanded into nearly a perfect circle, while the metal patch over her left had been pulled so high by her lifted eyebrows, it threatened to pop off and expose the hole beneath. Her wild expression gave her a frightening look, despite the fact that her face had been designed to be attractive and non-threatening. No one had a good explanation for why an AI named after a middle-aged man had been built made to resemble a nineteen-year-old actress named Shi Lei Wang; my theory was that the engineer who headed Project Sherlock had a thing for black-haired beauties.

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