"Dammit, where's my screwdriver?"
"I think your dog has it."
"What-? Hey, come back here! Drop it!"
Stopping mid-work, the mechanic snapped around and lunged from his chair towards a quadruped robot that strutted along the workshop. Looking more like a cross between a dog and a giraffe with its long, jointed neck ending with a head resembling a canine skull, it held onto the sought after tool with the rubber nubs it had for teeth, tapping its similarly rubber-covered feet against the floor upon seeing the man jumping at him.
It made a low mechanical playful growl as the mechanic attempted to wrestle his screwdriver out of its maw, wriggling its body in an attempt to drag the human along.
"Stop playing around Caleb, drop it," he repeated, eventually prying the tool away once it had loosened its jaws. "Good thing you can't really chew this up, that's my good screwdriver," he muttered with a huff, and with his thumbs he straightened out a printed label glued to the handle, reading 'Mikhail Petrov'.
While Caleb went on to trot around the workshop, Mikhail's attention was redirected again at the sound of a stifled laugh. Light-blue eyes turned with the piercing gaze of a welding torch at the uniformed man next to the maintenance deck, half of his face covered with his metal-plated prosthetic left hand as he tried to conceal his amusement to no avail. "The programmers really nailed that 'dog' part, huh?" he grinned behind his hand, ducking away from a small empty container thrown in his direction. "Come on Mike, take a joke, will ya?" he looked over his shoulder, just barely catching a glimpse of something scurrying under the table with the container. When he looked back, Mikhail was already back at the deck, an elevated surface that had a simple humanoid robot lying flat on it, looking like an advanced crash-test dummy. "I mean, Caleb is more harmless than most real dogs, isn't it?"
"Of course he is," Mikhail muttered and donned his black gloves once opening some of the plates leading to the robot's inner circuits. "I never make something that could harm another human-" he paused, recalling who it was that commissioned the model he was currently tinkering with, "not by my own design, at least."
The man's smile wavered and soon disappeared as he moved his hand the scratch the back of his neck, visibly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "I'm guessing you're not too hyped about this new commission, huh?" his voice lowered to a mumble, sounding almost guilty.
Mikhail didn't even grace him with a glance. "You think?"
"Can't you just opt out of it? There are plenty of mechanics and engineers here more than willing to-"
He was stopped short at the simplest act of Mikhail ceasing his doings, feeling something heavy looming in the air that only intensified with the sound of scurrying and scraping now that it got quiet all at once. Even Caleb stopped moving around and folded its legs underneath its body to lay itself down.
When he spoke again, his voice was low and strained through his teeth. "I'm not abandoning this project just because these are your people, Samuel," Mikhail huffed and took his hands out of the robot's chest cavity, letting out a sigh and standing up, "sure, when the battle-learner will be active, it would eventually harm some people, but it's supposed to be in self-defense, for the sake of protecting whatever unit it'll be appended to. The current planned prototype is designed to be more defensive and withstand extensive damage rather than just be an automatic killing machine." He went quiet, looking at Samuel again before looking back down at the robot. "But I'm getting ahead of myself. The programming isn't polished enough anyway, so your friends will have to settle for some training dummies to beat up."
"I'm sure they'll be happy," Samuel grinned against Mikhail's somber tone, "gotta keep that reputation of the military having the best toys," his smile turned into a laugh.
As silly as that remark was, Mikhail found himself chuckling at it, slowly shaking his head. "Yeah, some interactive life-sized action figures. Prime toy material."
"See?" he was practically beaming.
Mikhail raised an eyebrow, tilting his head as he realized that his sarcastic sting may have just bounced off that man. "How did they make someone like you chief of security?" he rolled his eyes, leaning over the maintenance deck again to finish all the necessary rewiring.
"That's because I'm- Hey, wait a minute!"
Seeing he finally caught on, Mikhail just shot him a victorious smirk before turning back to his job.
It wasn't long before the android was standing on its own, having its balance tested by Mikhail pushing it back and from side to side, watching how the entire body detect the most minute imbalances, using both arms and legs to find its ground again and return to its default shoulder-width stance. The round lenses it had for eyes followed the mechanic as he moved around it, prepared to react to whatever comes next.
Only acting to regain its balance without initiating any other reaction against Mikhail, it kept its attention focused on him until the sound of light steps entering the room made it turn around to lock its head at the entrance, before either men could react themselves.
"Hellooooo Officer Schmidt!" came a sing-song voice from the workshop's door as Samuel felt a few pats on his back, followed by a small sharp inhale of pain. He looked to his left at the woman standing next to him at just over shoulder height, shaking her hand in a quiet whine.
He chuckled, gently patting her shoulder. "Sorry Evelyn, regulations have me wearing a bullet-proof vest even in here."
Holding onto her right hand with the left, Evelyn looked up at him smiling as the pained expression faded. "Noted," she laughed and soon after fixed her glasses to the bridge of her nose and taking a hopping step forward to stand next to Mikhail while eyeing the new model. "It's not going to attack me if I touch it, right?" she asked, sliver of hesitance masked by her clear excitement.
Mikhail shook his head, poking at the android's chest plating. "It's just a balance test. The self-defense reactions will only be activated during the test training with the security team," he gestured at Samuel, "so you're safe. For now."
Evelyn scrunched her face at him with a playful smile, fixing her glasses as she sauntered closer to the training dummy, circling it and examining its structure, occasionally poking between the black plates making out the exterior layer, inching even closer to the featureless face and grabbing it to get a better look at all of the delicate joints and seams.
"As always, your assembly is impeccable," she hummed without facing either men, "of course, I've spent some extra effort to make sure all the parts fit together with minor to no tampering at all to make the assembly much more quick and efficient-"
"Yes, you did," Mikhail let out a content sigh. "At least there's one person here who's making my job easier."
Evelyn giggled and raised her thumb to the side at the mechanic's comment, staying focused on the android. "So, do I get a permission to start printing more uni-OW!" cut short by a tug at her waist-length hair, she tried to reach back to release it until her hand contacted something hard. "Urgh, CALEB!" she huffed and patted the quadruped's head a few times until it released her hair.
It sounded a few mechanical barks - as if someone couldn't be bothered to record a dog barking and synthesized it instead - drawing its neck back as Evelyn turned around and tapping its rubber feet to the floor.
She gave Caleb another angered look while fixing her hair, but her expression soon melted into a smile and she took a knee in front of the robotic canine, grabbing its head and nuzzling it. "Aw, I can be mad at the cutest robo-dog ever!" she cooed and hugged its neck.
"Don't...don't encourage him," Mikhail rolled his eyes, glaring at the chuckling officer over his shoulder before checking his companion's maw for stray hairs. "As to your question - I'd like the security team to test it first to make sure it's durable enough without being too tough. After that's cleared, we can kick off production and start distributing them to bases and whatnot," he paused, looking back to Samuel again and then to Evelyn once she straightened up. "Speaking of tests and production, how are the parts for the new C.A.S.S units are coming along?"
"Oh, right!" Evelyn clapped her hands, beaming up. "The last batch of parts finished printing this morning. I'll be doing a quality check on all 3 batches today so you can start assembling them tomorrow," she hopped in her place from one foot to another, prompting Caleb to do the same, adjusting its already hoppy tapping to hers.
Mikhail laughed at their unified excitement, despite Caleb's tapping around simply being a standby feature to visualize attentiveness, one that kicked in after Evelyn called its name. Regardless, it still made Caleb look even more dog-like and Evelyn...much like a little child. "Fantastic," he tapped the canine's head a few times, signaling it to stand down, which it immediately did, "I'm looking forward to it, as long as you keep up the good work."
Evelyn giggled, giving Mikhail a friendly little punch on his shoulder. "You know it, Mikey," she grinned, skipping past him to the exit, "see you, Sammy," she waved to the officer, knowing better than to even lightly punch a metallic arm, before heading out and turning a corner heading to her own workshop.
Samuel waved off as she disappeared, turning back around to Mikhail with the most devious smirk - which he had missed, having his back turned once resuming his tests on the training dummy. But he had no intention of letting the opportunity slip by. "Mikey?" he hummed, acting fast this time around when Mikhail flung something at him, catching it in his prosthetic hand. "Oh, don't be like th- w-WHAT THE-?!" something writhed in his hand causing him to immediately let go, dropping a small segmented robot looking like a cross between a larva and a scorpion, that scuttled away under a nearby cabinet as soon as it hit the floor. "What the hell was that?!" he exclaimed, pointing at where the mechanic creature has vanished.
"A raker," Mikhail muttered as if he didn't just chuck a functioning insectoid robot at the officer.
"Little robots I've built to help me keep the tables relatively clear."
Samuel looked around at the mounds of parts littering almost every surface that wasn't the floor. 'Relative' was right. "How...many of those rakers have you built?" he wondered upon noticing the scraping sounds again.
"20, maybe 30."
"Give or take," he shrugged, writing down the last bit of data before escorting the dummy to its designated charging station and shutting it off. "They keep getting lost or stuck, and it's easier to make a new one than retrieve them."
"Wouldn't it be easier to...uh..." Samuel looked around again, shrugging as if he's stating the obvious, "just tidy up?"
Mikhail rolled his eyes and patted his leg to call Caleb over. "Yeah, how about I start with clearing some unnecessary clutter?" he suggested and nudged the quadruped, that soon leapt forward and barked at the officer, effectively chasing him out. "I'll catch you later to schedule some test training with your team!" he called after the runaway officer before calling Caleb back, running one hand through his hair before turning around to the maintenance deck.
There was still another project he had to tend to before he could sit back and relax.
"I used the training dummy's balancing system, after it proved to be a success even in combat sessions," Mikhail smiled proudly as he presented Isaac with the first full-body prototype for Cain.
Still without its programming, it was installed with the dummy's simple guidelines of following movement and keeping itself stable on its own two feet. Unlike the featureless training dummy, however, Cain's prototype already had its face covered with synthetic skin, with some joints and partitions still somewhat visible through it; bright blue shutter-like irises followed the men around as they examined the white exterior, adorned with several neon-blue markings, indicating the integrity of different internal systems.
"You and Evelyn really make a great team with building prototypes. This looks great," Isaac smiled, impressed, after circling the android once.
"We can't have all the credit, you know," Mikhail admitted, "it was your blueprints for the legs that really made balancing the body on different terrains much easier. How'd you find something like that? Couldn't find any record of something similar myself."
Isaac went silent, a soft smile gracing his face. "I planned it myself, as part of my medical engineering studies."
"Any reason why you went and designed a... bionic leg?" Mikhail hummed, curious,
Nodding quietly, Isaac kept looking at the prototype before turning to meet the mechanic's inquisitive gaze. "It was for my wife. She had lost her leg and was fitted with a rather stiff prosthetic, so...I took it upon myself to make her a new one to restore as much of her mobility as I could."
"You really love her, do you?" Mikhail smiled, but before Isaac could address the saddened tone attached to it he was already taking a stand next to the prototype, taking one of its arms and turning it around so the inside of the hand will show, revealing the delicate circuits and electrical pads lining its palm, glowing in a similar light to their markings. "I'm currently working on the last stretch of safety measures to the electric systems that should allow Cain to create instant neural mapping, so it won't cause harm to the patient, of course, but also to make sure the circuits don't fry after prolonged use."
Seeing as he continued with the technical stuff, moving along to show the prototype walking and generating electricity on command, Isaac decided to disregard his first comment for now, focusing on the reason he was there in the first place. "Do you think the safety issues will be resolved by the time his A.I needs to be tested?" he asked once Mikhail marched the prototype back to the maintenance deck.
"I'm sure of it. With all the Cass units operational now and the dummies approved, Cain now has my undivided attention," Mikhail smiled and patted the prototype's shoulder, earning no reaction other than a short side glance before the eyes focused forward again.
Isaac nodded, feeling the anticipation already fluttering in his stomach and flooding his entire body.
"I'm excited to see what results the next test will hold."
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