"Good morning Cassandra!"
"Did you just call it 'Cassandra'?"
A woman in a floral lab coat turned from the ambiguously built android to the young brightly-dressed man standing next to her, starry eyed. His fingers were slightly interlaced together in front of face, just barely covering his enthused grin complementing the almost golden shine in his brown eyes.
Realizing the question, he snapped out of his excited state and turned back at her with a short quizzical hum. "Eh? Oh, yes," he chuckled, clasping his hands together over his chest. "I mean, she looks like a 'Cassandra', doesn't she?"
"I don't know, Mr. Mayer, just referring to the unit as-"
"Oh, no need for that," he ran a hand through his short blond hair, "I'm honestly humbled working with a master programmer such as yourself. You can just call me Uriel."
"Would 'Uri' be fine?"
"Absolutely!" he smiled brightly again. "Now, Lillian, you were saying?"
Lillian flashed another brief smile and looked at the android again. It stood just slightly taller than she was, body covered in silver and white plates that provided protection over the internal mechanism while minimizing mobility loss; the facial articulation wasn't hidden under artificial skin of any sort, but was designed to fit almost as naturally as a human's facial features; the eyes - two almond-shaped LED screens - were dark while the unit wasn't active and the top of the head was adorned with what looked like artificially constructed short dreads; the body's build, all in all, had no indication towards an intended gender. "Well...just to refer to it as a 'she'-"
"Is there a problem with that?" Uriel wondered, taking a step closer to the deactivated model.
"Not really," Lillian admitted, scratching the back of her neck, "but it wasn't meant to be of any gender."
Uriel shrugged and looked back at the programmer. "The name's pretty feminine, though."
"It's called C.A.S.S., it stands for-"
"I know, I know. 'Combat Adroit Security Sentinel', " Uriel stopped her, counting the initials on his fingers before sticking his hands into the pockets of his own open lab coat. "I wrote all about what she's capable of and what this name means in the preliminary report."
After another second of staring, the corner of Lillian's mouth curled to an amused smirk at the young man's persistence. "There's no stopping you now, huh?"
"And not ever," there was a sense of pride in that statement. "There's something...nice, about it. Addressing the robots in a more human-like manner," he looked up to the C.A.S.S unit once more. "I wonder if she likes the name Cassandra."
Lillian let out a quick chuckle. "It's not her name. Unless you tell her otherwise, she won't even respond to being called Cassandra."
Looking disappointed for a split second, Uriel brought his knuckles under his chin, leaning against them with a thoughtful hum. "Would she respond to just 'Cass'?" he wondered.
Briefly mulling over the possibility, Lillian tilted her head to the side. "I suppose she would, yes," She nodded, pulling out a tablet embedded with the Neosansus logo on its back, "but there's only one way to find out." she then started tapping in the unit's activation sequence.
Visibly getting more and more excited, Uriel turned to the unit again, but soon leaned over to Lillian. "Hey..."
"Hm?" she answered focused on the lines of code running through the screen.
"You said 'her', just now."
She stopped, a light blush gracing her cheeks for a moment to match the few stripes of her hair dyed pink, now faded.
"Yeah. I guess I did."
[[ Initialization protocols complete ]]
[[ Optics systems at full function ]]
[[ Communication channels active ]]
[[ BOOTING UP C.A.S.S-01 ]]
The dark eyes now displayed bright green irises, shining over the black flat screens while still managing to appear soft, even before they finally focused forward from their blank, distant stare.
Slowly, the head followed the eyes to divert the attention to Lillian, first watching the tablet in her hands for a brief moment before looking up, stalling on her face for a little longer.
The soft material composing the face moved slightly around the lips, mimicking the programmer's anticipating smile. "Good morning, Prof. Wilson," the voice was rather flat, but had an almost feminine hum to it.
Lillian wondered whether there was truly something about the tone of her voice, despite being meticulously sampled to be as neutral as possible or was it just her own mind already influenced by Uriel addressing the unit as a female. As she began thinking if the programming would even enable this unit to associate itself with any gender at all, Lillian realized she was being rude for not answering. "Good morning, Cass," she smiled warmly back, earning a small nod of acknowledgment in return.
Guess that answers one of their questions.
Cass then looked to the side, examining Uriel who just barely held his excitement, rocking on his heels and slightly biting into his lower lip behind clasped hands. "Good morning, Dr. Mayer."
Uriel couldn't contain a giddy little chuckle, like a child on Christmas eve. "Good morning, Cass," he answered as Lillian did, waving at the android.
As Cass mimicked his gesture, Lillian quietly turned to look at the starry-eyed young man, realizing there was something she wasn't aware of up until that very second. He never brought it up while they were working together, nor did he correct anyone, not even herself when addressing him. "Dr. Mayer?" she repeated, putting an emphasis on the title.
Snapping out of his excitement and directing a bewildered look at her. "Hm?" It seemed to have taken Uriel a long, silent moment to realize why she spoke with that confused- no, surprised tone. "Oh! the doctor thing?" he wondered, genuinely clueless.
"Yes the 'doctor thing'!" Lillian laughed, holding her tablet close to her chest. "I mean, I know I shouldn't judge by looks, but...well, you look so young! And you already have a PhD?"
Uriel let out a quick chuckle, scratching the back of his left hand, twisting and tugging at some colorful bands around his wrist. "Ah, that. I got it a few years ago, almost at 30. Methodology," he was quick to add before Lillian had a chance to address his presumed age. "But I'm just a very diverse researcher, as far as you or anyone else in Neosansus is concerned, and I'm fine with the way it is," he summarized, not once letting his smile drop or waver, looking to the floor for a second before turning to look up at Cass once more, as she was silently looking between them while they talked, listening for possible commands.
He wondered how much of all of this she could grasp.
"Cass," Uriel hummed, a commanding tone added to his voice behind the lasting smile making the android straighten up as she turned to him completely, "please initiate combat protocol 00."
The illuminated eyes were soon obstructed by a dark visor comprised of two interlocking lenses sliding from a slot around her temple, hidden until the command was given; her entire posture hunched and shifted as her stance widened, hands balled to fists and raised close to her face. Faint green flashes of marks and data could be seen across the visor, adjusting as her focus was directed to different points around the room.
Startled by the change of demeanor, as if looking at a completely different model, Lillian looked between Cass and Uriel. It wasn't that she was surprised by the protocol itself - she was once of the main programmers to implement it - but it was the first time she had seen it work in practice, how fast the unit shifted between two different sets of response code. While inherently similar, as both of Cass' modes were intended to protect people, the combat mode was more aggressive in nature as one would expect by the name alone, making the caretaker appear menacing even while just engaging in a strictly demonstrative protocol.
But that wasn't the only change she had noticed in this turn of the tables.
Uriel's eyes were still shining at the sight of the combat-ready android, awaiting a further command, but his childish smile changed to one of...Lillian couldn't quite pinpoint whether it was anticipation, amazement, or something entirely different. The change of his expression was so subtle it was almost unnoticeable, but it was the change of his voice that really caught her attention. Cass wasn't meant to respond to a certain tone, yet Uriel's voice became uncharacteristically assertive when initiating the base protocol-
She snapped out of her thought, realizing Uriel gave her an inquisitive look. Was she staring? "Oh, I'm...I'm sorry, did you say something?"
He just smiled at her confusion. "I was just wondering how many of the listed protocols have been implemented by now," he patiently repeated the unheard question, "I've seen reports about the standard caretaker protocols, they seem to be functioning without a hitch," the excited smile was once again gracing his face. " I've yet to see extensive reports on the combat protocols, beyond some basic testing like the stance shift," Uriel then gestured to the idle model.
"Well, um..." the swift shift between an excited spectator to a professional inspector, much like Cass' mode switch, still had Lillian in tangles, costing her an extra moment to put her thoughts together. "That's because we've yet to get a training slot with the security team. The protocols exist, but are currently inaccessible through voice commands until we can test them against trained professionals," she explained and walked closer to Uriel, showing him her tablet with a list of numbered and coded battle protocols, and all but the first one were grayed out.
Uriel sounded a high-pitched hum as he briefly scanned the titled protocols, skimming over the technical code that turned to look almost like Morse code for him. "So, all of the grayed protocols...can they be manually activated from the tablet?"
"Not exactly," Lillian took her tablet back, clutching it close to her body. "Until all of them are proven safe, a two-part authorization will be needed, from myself and Mr. Shain."
"Ah, of course, the Chief Programmer," the young researcher recalled, having seen the man in question around the complex several times. "That makes sense. It's good that safety is held in high regards here."
Lillian was puzzled at the statement. "Of course it'd be, why wouldn't it?" she looked over at Cass again. "Cass, return to default state," she chimed, and just as fast as Cass took her combat stance she straightened back to her full height, arms crossed behind her back as her visor retracted back to her temples. Her calm and peaceful bearing resumed, and she looked between Lillian and Uriel, waiting their next command. "It's going to be the first model Neosansus produces for commercial use, both private and corporate. Private use is more likely to lean towards her standard protocols of being a guide or a caretaker, while corporate are likely to use the combat mode," she explained, seeing Uriel smiling and cocking an eyebrow as a reminder that it's been covered in his report. "Right," she cleared her throat, "this is why we want to do some careful testing on the combat protocols first. While we'll be applying similar safety measures that would deny the activation of unnecessary commands for a unit's designated role, we want to make sure that even if one should activate, by chance, it can't harm someone who's meant to be protected."
"I see!" Uriel perked up a bit, hearing about these measures for the first time. "That's good. And marketable," he added. "Since the company's out to accumulate some funds for the main project, it's important to take that into consideration. Incorporating advanced robotics is still not without its share of controversy among the general public, after all."
The fact was well known to Lillian, from the moment she turned to specialize in advanced AI programming. "Then reassurance of safety is key."
"Bingo," Uriel winked. He was about to say another thing but was cut off when Lillian's phone rang, complemented by a blinking icon on her tablet.
She hastily apologized and took a few steps to the side to answer, leaving him with Cass.
He looked to the android again, taking another few steps towards her and standing on the tips of his toes to get to her eye-level, seeing them slightly adjust to focus on him. He tilted his head ever so slightly, and so did Cass. "Can I call you 'Cassandra'?" he asked sheepishly, stepping down again without breaking eye contact, eager for an answer.
"I'm sorry, that name is not registered within my ID database. Please refer to a designated programmer for further instructions," she answered, her tone making it sound as though it was a sincere apology. A pre-recorded one, at that.
"I told you, didn't I?" Lillian's voice startled Uriel to a small jolt as he immediately turned to her, only just noticing she was standing a step away from him again.
"W-well..." a small rhythmic set of beeps was heard from a watch strapped to his right wrist, which he promptly covered up to turn off, taking a deep breath to settle his pulse, "it was worth a shot. There's no harm in trying, isn't there?"
Lillian chuckled at the jumpy response, raising her shoulders with an endearing smile. "No, there isn't," she smiled and patted Uriel's shoulder a few times. "Isaac's calling, he's finally out of that godawful meeting," she rolled her eyes and gestured with her head towards the door. "I need to show him some progress with the new project. We'll leave Cass to her own for now, until we could run some tests."
Uriel nodded quietly, turning to exit the workshop while Lillian remained and looked at the android. "Sleep well, Cass," she waved.
A mechanical voice followed, resonating from the center of her body.
[[ Shut down process initiated. Good night, Prof. Wilson ]]
Cass' eyes went dark, remaining locked in her posture, unresponsive as the two turned off the lights and went outside, each to their own way.
[[ Input received : ID number 225-167 ]]
[[ Identification verified ]]
[[ Hello, Dr. Durante ]]
Bright blue text shone across Isaac's glasses, and he glanced over to see Lillian's excited smile.
"Go on. Ask something," she prompted the man, knowing that a mere identification wouldn't be much of a reason to pull him straight out of a meeting.
Isaac smiled and typed back -
"Do you know your purpose?"
A few seconds went by before an answer appeared on the screen.
[[ My general directive is to help people. Further details have yet to be established ]]
It wasn't much. But it was a start.
He thought for a moment and typed again, unsure how much can the A.I process at this point.
"I'm sure people would be enthralled with you."
A longer delay came between the input and the response this time around.
[[ I hope they would be, Isaac ]]
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