Even with several months of successful trials, regular check-ups and software updates were mandatory for the prototype therapist every now and then, largely to make sure the string of happy patients is kept going.
Sitting on the elevated surface in Lillian's workshop, Cain tried to reach the cord attached to the back of his neck to adjust it, only to feel the programmer's gentle touch moving it away.
"I can imagine it's not very comfortable but please refrain from moving it around," Lillian ran one hand across his shoulder, signaling him to lower that arm, to which he obliged and rest it back on his legs. She smiled and turned her attention back to the open panel under his nape, disconnecting and reconnecting various drives containing patched software given to her by Adam earlier that day.
Of course, with Cain connected to the complex's server, she could've used wireless transfer while putting Cain in sleep mode, but despite manual updates through physical drives taking more time to complete she felt they were safer to apply and monitor, to avoid any disturbance to the delicate learning A.I.
Cain remained silent and turned his head forward, his bright-blue shutter-like eyes staring at the gray wall in front of him, through lines of codes and file names scrolling across his overlay display.
Used to his presence and often forgetting he's an artificial being, Lillian assumed he was simply tired, knowing people tend to be reluctant to carry out a conversation while experiencing any level of exhaustion, and considering this maintenance process has been going on for about two hours now.
For better or worse, Cain would always somehow remind her of his aspects of inhumanity.
"Please, Cain. We're all friends here," she laughed at the unnecessarily formal addressing, "you know you can call me Lillian."
Cain fell silent again. Over the gentle buzzing of the monitors and physical servers stationed near the walls, Lillian could almost hear the soft whirring of his optics as he looked at her from the corner of his eye, moving his head slightly.
He eyed her floral lab-coat, delicately patterned but still outstanding over the mechanical backdrop of the workshop. None of it was new to him. Lillian was always wearing that coat, and this was the same workshop he had undergone every other maintenance checkup.
Yet he still lingered over the contradicting images for a few seconds more before his eyelids dropped and he lowered his gaze.
"Lillian," Cain rephrased, looking down. His elbows leaned on his legs to support his hunched posture, and he could just barely see his bare feet over his knees.
"Yes?" she hummed back, disconnecting another drive once the update stored on it was completed, turning to tap something on her tablet.
There was another pause as Cain stared at his own hands, lined with electrical pads meant to transmit and receive information from the very depth of the human brain. The pads lining the tips of his fingers gave off an almost neon-blue glow, visible even under the white fluorescent lighting filling the room.
"Tell me..." he stopped, as if hesitant to carry on, and perhaps still considering the best way to convey what's on his ever-developing mind.
Lillian ceased her doings, putting her tablet away and taking out the last drive still connected to the panel in Cain's back. She tilted her head and leaned to the side, trying to catch a glimpse of the android's hardly changing expression, hoping to find a hint to what's behind all these pauses.
Cain kept staring at his hands, lingering a few seconds longer before speaking up again.
"What are memories, to humans?"
The programmer took a moment to realize what she was even asked, and another one to further process the fact that her robot had asked such a question.
She hummed and cleared her throat, as if preparing to answer, but lingered a little longer as she closed and secured the panel on Cain's back, resting her hands on the smooth, white surface. Her silence was only interrupted by a deep sigh when she walked around the elevated surface Cain was seated on, stepping in front of him.
It was the first time she ever took so long to answer, without thinking out loud towards an answer or casually admitting to not knowing. When Cain looked up at her, he could immediately see her expression wasn't a particularly happy one. He had seen it before, when first talking to patients about sensitive subjects. A look of doubt and discomfort.
But there was something else with Lillian. Something he hasn't seen with patients, but rather with other personnel in the complex. It was concern.
Still silent, her head tilted a bit to the other side, giving her a pondering expression, as she reached one hand to Cain's hair, combing some strands of it to the side. Despite her doubtful, distant stare, her hands were still sturdy, and her touch was as gentle and caring as ever.
Finally, Lillian broke the silence. "Why do you ask?" she wondered, handing the android his blue vest and his own lab-coat.
"My main directive is to handle memories of other humans, yet I only do this under supervised instructions," he answered while getting dressed, hanging his lab-coat over his shoulder and grabbing his AR visor. "I know how the memory works and the technicality of its alteration, but not what really stands behind it, or what it really means to humans."
Lillian fell silent again. She stared at a loss, like she was asked to explain the most inner secrets of the universe. In a sense, perhaps, it wasn't all that different.
Cain didn't miss a beat. "Something's wrong?"
"No, no!" Lillian snapped out of her silent trance, shaking her head. "I just..." her voice trailed off as she tried to figure out how to address the situation. "I just didn't expect you to bring this up."
"Was I not supposed to ask this?"
"No, I mean- It's not that," it was the first time Cain has seen Lillian trip over her own words trying to answer something.
He decided to keep quiet until she sorts her mind. Often dealing with skittish patients, he had come to learn that letting them think things through before talking helps them form better answers. She was clearly in somewhat of a loss, seeing as she was starting to look away from him, glancing around to find something to focus her attention on.
She sighed again before walking up and turning to sit on the elevated surface, next to the still seated robot. "It's...not a simple answer."
"I'm certain my processors can handle it," Cain looked over to see Lillian was the one staring down now.
She shook her head again, this time slowly. "It's not about that. In fact, we're still not sure about the definite role of memories in humans, beyond storing information crucial to our basic functionality, like motor abilities and language," looking over to the side, she noticed Cain nodding slowly. It was the same as him having basic programming that enables him coherent speech and a stable walk. "But this is not the type of memories we deal with. You were programmed to identify these types of core functions in order to avoid any accidental tampering with them, since it could really mess things up."
Cain nodded again. Nothing about this was news to him, he was instructed before about his purpose and programming and was well aware of what he's capable of in order to fulfill that purpose. His eyelids dropped as he looked at Lillian, sensing she's stalling for time while avoiding another uncomfortable silence.
"Every other memory, however," she stopped again, slowly tracing the spiraling vines decorating the fringes of her coat, grasped and twisted between her fingers. "Well...there are really many theories to suggest how this works, and-"
"What's your theory?" Cain interrupted; his gaze was fixated on the professor.
Lillian was taken by surprise, looking up at him. "My theory?"
"At the very least," he answered, ignoring her uncommonly nervous behavior for now. "I trust that a theory you've conjured or support is well grounded, even if it's not the only one. Don't you often say that in this profession there is no single, absolute answer?"
Indeed, caught by the words that have long served as a motto for researches in the complex, Lillian smiled and moved a piece of stray hair behind her ear. "Alright....Um," she stopped again, recollecting her thoughts. "One thing most researches have in common is a direct correlation between memories and shaping the mindset and personality of an individual," her voice calmed down once she started talking again. "The debate mostly revolves around just how strong the influence is, and how the impact can change depending on the age of the individual when the memory is registered, or between pleasant memories and trauma."
Cain listened quietly, fascinated. "What kind of effect would they have?"
Lillian hummed quizzically, twisting the fabric in her hands further. "Traumas are usually the cause behind what is perceived as irrational fears. Some experiences, even if forgotten or pushed away from one's conscious over time, can make that individual develop a seemingly unexplained, negative reaction to something that people wouldn't normally react harshly to, if at all," she looked down again, taking a deep breath. "But even bad experiences, some that may not be registered as 'traumatic', can also influence the way an individual reacts and behaves to all sorts of situations, most commonly by unexplained avoidance."
"What about the pleasant memories?" Cain wondered, straightening his posture. "If traumas serve as negative triggers, wouldn't it mean the pleasant experiences serve as positive triggers?"
"Yes, but they are actually more complex," Lillian admitted, looking back at Cain. "You see, the reaction to trauma is inherently logical, and based on a survival need, as the brain learns what endangers the body and signals it to avoid the hazard at all costs. But with pleasant memories, they seem to function more as mental protectors, something that people go back to when they need to deal with hard times."
This time Cain seemed confused, narrowing his eyes. "Go back to? You mean, reminisce?" the concept wasn't new to him. He has been around some other crew members on their casual chats over launch break in the complex, listening to them talk about vacations with families, times in high-school, university or college. They would always talk about their past with such grandeur and glory, although Cain found it simply illogical that it was all as euphoric as they made it sound. "Isn't delving in past events a bad thing? I was under the impression it creates a false sense of reality and delusion."
"You're not completely wrong," the corners of Lillian's mouth gently curled into a smile. "It's true that living in the past through reminiscing isn't ideal, but occasionally looking back on a positive experience could trigger the same feelings a person felt at that time. That's what nostalgia is. The feelings replicated by mentally reliving that moment release the same kind of hormones that were released during the original event, and these usually help people handle situations when they can't seem to recreate these feelings."
"Then it really is some sort of an illusion," Cain concluded, seeing Lillian giving an indefinite shrug. "Is that all these positive experiences are for?"
"You can say that. It's just to different degrees," she tried to clarify, "we look at photos to remember nice places we've seen or been to, listen to music that evokes some sort of emotions and enjoy smells that remind us of home. People may act kinder after someone has acted kindly towards them or learn some other sort of mannerism that stuck with them from then on. The pleasant memories could also shield people from losing themselves to the influence of traumatic events or lessen their impacts."
"I see," Cain nodded, pausing for a while as he stared down to his hands again. "So, what we're doing...is diminishing the effects of trauma, sometimes to the point of completely getting rid of its root. All that to make people...happier?"
"Sounds about right," Lillian agreed and patted Cain's back before getting to her feet. "There's nothing wrong with making people happy and improving at least one aspect in their lives."
Cain didn't answer to that and quietly got up, his feet hardly making any sound upon contact with the floor.
"I know it's a lot to understand, but you shouldn't let it bother you," Lillian smiled at him as she walked around the workshop once, making sure everything was turned off. "You should enjoy the rest of your free day," she hummed, giggling, "make some pleasant memories of your own," she added before stepping out of the room.
Cain followed behind her a short distance before their ways parted. Lillian headed to her office, while he turned towards the location presumptuously labeled as "The Natural Reserve" - just off the main lobby, at the center of the building - drawn to the lush green foliage like a moth to a flame.
The reserve was certainly a nice initiative by the complex's administration. Even though it was really glorified indoor garden, it was a well-kept one, and clearly a lot of thought and effort was put into it.
Even with just basic pressure sensors in his feet, Cain could feel the change from the hard floor to the soft, grassy ground of the reserve. With all the employees in the complex just finishing their lunch and settling back in their offices, the place was quiet enough so he could hear birds chirping around along with the rustling grass beneath him as he walked around the small enclosure. Despite having no sense of smell, just the vast array of colorful flowers was a sight to behold, surrounding him from almost every direction until he arrived at the other end of the enclosure, at some stone benches around a small, artificial lake, harboring several types of fish idly swimming around.
Natural sunlight from outside filtered in through a glass dome in the ceiling, sparkling like glitter over the calm water, and giving everything incredibly vivid colors.
Almost like an entirely different world.
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