"Don't be absurd."
"Oh, come on. Gabe!"
The suited coordinator glared at Stanley through the narrow, rectangular frame of his glasses, the penetrating stare complementing the blowtorch-blue color of his eyes. "Don't call me Gabe," he warned through gritted teeth, pointing his finger at the programmer. "You know full well why we keep this prototype in an environment as controlled and mentally-sterile as possible."
As soon as Gabriel turned to take his leave, signifying the end to this conversation, Stanley grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him back around, losing the friendlier and more relaxed approach he had when first relying Lillian's request. "First of all, Gabriel," he emphasized the name, his tone being nothing short of mocking. "Don't you call him 'this prototype' ever again. We gave him a name for a reason, and it's Cain."
"If you were to recall my stance on...Cain's complex sentience," Gabriel was clearly uncomfortable with being handled, as he soon batted Stanley's hands off his arms, "it was one of concern not only for the A.I to grow too far beyond expectations, but for the possibility of you two growing attached as well, once his mannerisms become too human-like."
Stanley didn't fight him but didn't break eye contact either, unfazed by his cold gaze. "Noted," he answered dryly, picking up his serious tone again. "And second, you can't keep him in the dark forever. The natural reserve is a nice gesture both to the human and robotic crew members, but it's not enough. Allowing an intricate sentience like Cain's to experience an environment that's not as 'sterile', as you say, is invaluable."
Gabriel listened quietly but was yet to be persuaded. "He's not supposed to be publicly revealed for a while. He may be the most human-looking of our models, but outside-"
"Throw a scarf and a pair of gloves on him and you'd hide most of it, even if he walks around in his lab-coat," Stanley interrupted, a victorious smile and hint of smugness in his voice suggesting that he had already thought about many counter-arguments for whatever Gabriel comes up with.
Narrowing his eyes, Gabriel's expression remained, otherwise, unchanged. If anything, it only served to enhance his disapproving look. "Taking him outside could expose him first-hand to negative human behavior, even with the intention of certain positive memories."
"Even Lucy supports this idea," Stanley hummed, donning a sly little smirk, "she said it may be good for him to see the lesser side of human behavior, giving him an option to make his own judgment on more neutral incidents," he raised his hand, already seeing Gabriel wasn't too happy, stopping his imminent reaction, "but, this won't be entirely in the hands of fate, Lillian will be with him at all times, making sure to keep him away from negative influences."
Gabriel's tone of voice changed slightly at the mention of Lucy being involved. "I see, so she was consulted about this as well," he adjusted his glasses. "You wouldn't mind me personally asking her opinion about the matter, would you?"
Stanley made a short, yet theatrically hurt gasp. "Well, I'd be offended at the implication that you'd think I'm lying," he put one hand on his chest, leaning forward, "but seeing as you just may be an emotionless robot, you can go ahead and ask her, and see for yourself that I'm not making anything up," he ended with a smirk.
Knowing the programmer was very deliberately playing on his nerves, Gabriel crossed his arms in a huff. "What would be their destination?"
"Meadow's Park, a short drive from here, nothing too busy," Stanley had to use every ounce of self-control to not ruin it with being overly cocky. "Lillian thinks it'll be a good transition for him, since the only semblance of an 'outside' Cain has is actually a miniature park."
"I do believe a 'day-off' implies how long this is."
Gabriel went silent, tapping one finger on his arm. "Half a day," he left no room for arguments. "It should be more than enough and won't risk Cain's battery getting depleted while outside."
"Okay, alright," Stanley smiled and raised both hands to his sides, willing to compromise. "Can you at least let them choose which half of the day they'll be out for?"
"Sure, as long as they report the exact window of time they are going to be out, preferably before I bring this to upper management," Gabriel lowered his head a little, running his fingers through his dark, slicked back hair. "That is, after I'll rectify the issue with Lucy."
This time Stanley couldn't contain himself at let out a chuckle. "You're just looking for an excuse to chat up Dr. Sternberg," he grinned.
Clearing his throat before looking straight back up at the programmer, Gabriel's expression somehow managed to remain a mask of cold mental resilience. "That is completely irrelevant," he stated, taking out a small pocket watch with a holographic display showing the time and date, and under that his next scheduled task, which appeared to be soon.
Stanley snorted and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. "Whatever you say, Gabriel," he shrugged and put his hands into his coat's pockets, "so I can trust you'll bring this the almighty higher-ups? That is, after you'll ask Lucy for her opinion - again."
"Yes, yes," he waved his hand, somewhat dismissively. "Can't give you my promise about their decisions, you know that, right?"
Already looking excited, Stan nodded. "Great, I'll make sure Lillian gets the news!" he hummed and turned to leave the office leaving Gabriel to his business.
"Aaaaaaadam!" Stanley was elated to see his former intern as he left the Gabriel's office, approaching him in a skip and throwing on arm around his shoulders. "There's my favorite ex-intern."
Adam looked up at Stan with a weary gaze, blinking slowly at his excitement. He looked over to the closed office door, then back at Stanley. "What were you doing at Kingston's?" he wondered, "and how come you're so happy about it?"
"Shortest time in getting him to agree to review some...extra-curriculum activity," the chief programmer grinned, patting his own chest. "The secret is to come prepared," he pointed, taking his arm off Adam's shoulder and tapping his own temple. "So, how have you and Evelyn been doing lately? Judging by how you look right now, I'm guessing you two are swamped."
The bearded man nodded, rubbing his neck and running his hand over his face. "Yeah, we just finished upgrading Cass' systems with the newest protocols, we're scheduled to do a test run with the security team later today before night patrols," he rolled his eyes from side to side, mentally sifting through various tasks, "as far as I know, Evelyn and her team are busy modeling upgraded and more efficient parts, both internal components and casings," he shrugged, focusing back on his former mentor, "that's the gist of it."
Stanley smiled wide, clearly in a better mood than usual. "Good, that's good," his step still had a skip to it. "I may require your assistance once more, soon," he declared after a short while.
Adam fought an urge to stop in his track, glancing up at him. "That sounds...Ominous. Unnecessarily, I hope."
"Depends on what you'd consider ominous," Stanley chuckled and sticking his hands back into his lab coat's pockets, lowering his voice a tad, "I want you to have a look at the development of my 'free will' project."
Turning his head completely at him, Adam was looking intrigued now. "Hm? New breakthrough?"
"You bet," Stanley couldn't help but puffing his chest a bit, proud of his progress. "Thought you'd be interested, and maybe you'll have some ideas of implication. I missed brainstorming together."
Adam nodded, smiling. "I miss it too," he admitted, "I'll stop by your office once I'll make enough free time. Should I notify Buzz, first?"
Stanley laughed, shaking his head. "Nah, just drop by. I don't have plans any time soon, so if I won't be at the office, I'll just head there in a flash."
"Sounds good," Adam ran his hand through his hair again. "So, what exactly is the 'extra-curriculum' thing you asked Gabe to review?"
He looked up to see a sly smile adorning the man's face, as if he cheated the devil himself on a deal. "Scored our best therapist some free time...outside!" Stanley's eyes narrowed in a show of sheer content.
Adam raised an eyebrow, puzzled. He remained quiet until Stanley decided to look over at him. "That's it?" he sounded like he was trying to gauge whether the chief programmer was overreacting in his sense of pride.
His smile turned into a pout seeing his former intern's expression. "You're saying that like it's not a big deal- and it is!" he argued in a huff before Adam could protest. "He was never meant to be outside until an ethics committee says otherwise, so just having Gabe to even consider it is already a double win."
"Did you mention to him that it was Lillian's idea?" Adam wondered.
Stanley appeared to be baffled at the question. "Yeah, why wouldn't I? It's only fair, we were both-"
He was interrupted by Adam's snickering. "Don't you think Gabe was just afraid of what she would do if he outright refused?" he suggested. "You do remember what happen to the last man who dared to doubt the legitimacy of Cain's humanity, right?"
Stanley audibly inhaled and rolled his eyes to the other side. His expression looked almost as if he was vicariously feeling some pain. "Oh yeah," he even winced a little, "and there I thought Lucy had a mean punch. Didn't she knock him out cold?"
"She did," Adam nodded. "So you'd see why Gabe will choose his actions very carefully."
"Well, regardless," Stanley shrugged, looking back at him, "he agreed to pass it on, and I do believe our argument will earn Cain his much-deserved day-off."
This time Adam stopped, almost making Stanley stumble over as he abruptly stopped and turned around. He looked as though something was out of place. "Much deserved?" he repeated. "I don't doubt that Cain should be treated as a human, mostly for his own sake, but..." his words trailed off, looking Stanley in the eyes, "does this have something to do with the development in your 'free will' project?"
Stanley stared back for a moment before wearing the same, sly expression again. "Wouldn't you like to find out?" he hummed. "I'd love for you to visit my office right away, but you seem so tired and busy that-"
"Let's have a look, then," Adam stopped him, turning serious. "We may not have time for brainstorming, but there's probably enough time for some quick observations."
As if knowing it would come to this, Stanley turned on his heels and gestured Adam to follow him as he turned to walk towards his office.
Adam hurried behind him, quickly catching up. "You know you're playing with fire," he didn't even feel the need to ask for confirmation, "dealing a little too much with 'freedom' around here is probably not looked upon with a kind eye."
"Which is why I'm doing it behind their back and under their noses," Stanley lowered his voice a little, poking at his own nose, and upon reaching his office he placed his palm on a scanner next to its door. "Buzz, please verify the presence of another guest, programmer Adam Winterbottom," he asked, and this time the series of beeps came from within his office as the two entered.
Once the door closed behind them, several screens on Stanley's desk lit up with what seemed to be like readings of brainwaves. Adam was quick to recognize the coded titles, and immediately took notice of what looked to be the latest set of readings, that looked hardly anything like the ones preceding them, by a large margin.
"Sure it's not just a glitch?" his concern was very obvious.
It even grew when Stanley shook his head. "I've seen glitches in an A.I before. It's nothing like it."
Adam narrowed his eyes at the readings, looking back and forth between them. "If this gets out-"
"It won't," Stan's voice was nothing but confidence. "The only one that's getting out, is Cain."
Once Stanley as delivered the news to Lillian, her excitement was soon to die out as soon as they turned to leave the office area where he found her to personally forward the message.
Clearly, she wanted everything to be ready as soon as possible, so realizing it may take some time to get the proper approvals and signatures took the winds out of her sails. Stanley walked up next to her, patting her back. "It's not like you'll be going out tomorrow," He reminded her, "there's still no final confirmation for this, so no reason to rush it. We haven't even told Cain it's being approved."
Lillian sighed and shifted her weight from side to side as she walked, looking around. "I... didn't really want to tell him...yet," she admitted. "Thought it'll be nice to make it a surprise."
"You realize it's going to be impossible, right?" Stanley chuckled, ruffling her hair. "Whatever appointments he may have that day will have to be cleared, and you'll have to see if the clothes actually fit him...these are some suspicious preparations, and he's really perceptive."
"And we're to blame," Lillian sighed and fixed her hair. "But I guess you're right, if he's going to see through it, better just tell him," she agreed, looking up at him, wondering. "Do you think he'll be excited?"
Stanley hummed, eyes hopping left to right. "I wonder," he smiled, curious. "I'm sure he'll be anticipating it, but I don't think he was ever in a situation that could elicit excitement for him."
"That's true, the closest thing I saw him express was bewilderment, the first time he saw the reserve," Lillian recalled, smiling as she did.
"I'm pretty sure this would be a bigger reaction than the one to the reserve." Stanley said as they came up to the android's room, reaching to knock on the door.
Lillian nodded quietly. "Let's just hope this excitement won't be met with disappointment..."
Stanley looked at her as his knuckles met with the metal coating of the door, three times. Sure, there was always a shadow of a doubt, the off chance of something going wrong, overshadowing everything else despite being so small.
Despite that, he just smiled brightly at her.
"Nonsense. Everything is going to be just fine."
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