"You, uh...Wanted to see me, Mikhail?"
"Oh, hey Josh. Yes, come in," a familiar Russian accent was heard from inside the workshop and soon after Mikhail walked to the entrance wearing a stained shirt and an overall hanging from his waist, "Debbie has been chewing my ear off all day."
He grabbed Joshua by the sleeve and pulled him to what looked like an operating table, where a deactivated Abel was lying after stripped from his uniform.
Joshua stumbled over, almost tripping over his own feet after the forceful tug, grabbing onto Mikhail to regain his balance once he stopped. He could hear him grinding his teeth around a plastic toothpick was chewing, starting to feel uneasy. If the chief mechanic was calling on him right after Abel's return, it couldn't have been for much of a praise.
Mikhail gestured to the robot without saying a word and Joshua soon realized there wasn't even a need to point out the issue - multiple bullet holes scattered across the tough, exterior shell, concentrated around the chest and arms; a couple of scrapes on the shoulder plates were uncomfortably close to the head.
"Oh..." Joshua muttered, running his hand through his short hair and over the back of his neck, "is this what Debbie-"
"She wants stronger armor, and more of it," the mechanic sounded defeated. "I can't make stronger armor than what he already has without taking away from his mobility and range of maneuvers."
It wasn't a surprise to Joshua, after working closely with her on the A.B.E.L project since its conception. By now most of the employed staff in the complex knew she holds the metal giant near and dear to her heart, sometimes making demands that are just short of irrational while wanting the best for her creation.
He looked over the scarred metal shell, then back to Mikhail, "I see how that's problematic, but you know that I'm no engineer, right?"
"Right. You're a tactician. And since we can't do much more in terms of brawn, it's time to use brains," the mechanic looked around as he talked, scanning the utter chaos covering the shelves and the walls, and even parts of the floor. "Caleb," he called, and within seconds a mechanized barking sound was heard from the depth of the mess as something started to move around it. Crawling away from its charging station until it reached a clearing wide enough to unfold, Caleb started tapping the rubbery nubs acting as its front paws against the floor, appearing excited. "Please get my tablet, boy," Mikhail asked, and Caleb immediately sprang into action, rummaging through the heaps of scraps until after a short minute it managed to grab onto its owner's tablet, still in its protective case, and hurried over to retrieve it.
Joshua smiled, impressed. "What a good boy," he mused, in a similar tone to how one would address an actual dog, scratching Caleb's head as it turned to him after delivering the tablet.
"Best companion I've built," Mikhail smiled and activated his tablet, pulling out a small, designated pen from an attached holster, not bothering with taking off his work-gloves. He tapped it several times before turning the screen at the tactician, who immediately let out a deep sigh once realizing it was a list of Debbie's demands.
Even though it wasn't new to him and he has heard bits and pieces before, seeing it all in an organized list was almost overwhelming. No wonder Mikhail was looking for an alternate way around it. "I see you've crossed off some of these," he mentioned after scrolling through it.
The mechanic shrugged, turning his tablet back. "Well, not everything was beyond reason. A fair share of these were actually viable suggestions that will incorporated into the prototype over time," he mentioned with a sense of praise, "but some were more fitting for a parent fussing over their first-born."
Knowing how accurate this was, Joshua huffed a quick chuckle in an attempt to remain professional. "So... where do you want me in all this?"
"Abel needs some new combat protocols, that will give him a sense of self-preservation," Mikhail summed up, opening another list on his tablet, "something to balance his need to fulfill his purpose to protect humans at any cost. Maybe evaluating what would be a safe place to take shelter in when under heavy fire."
"That would require an ability to quickly assess the enemy's fire power against the unit's own arsenal, in both offense and defense," Joshua immediately picked up on the problem, already wrapping his mind around it. "If the programmers can give him some analytic processing system that will enable him to make calculated decisions based on the new data input, then it could improve on his performance and reduce the average amount of damage taken throughout future missions."
A wide smile spread across Mikhail's face at the suggestion and patted his back. "I like the sound of these gears grinding, Josh," he laughed, already excited about the possible updates and upgrades.
Joshua rubbed the back of his neck again, flattered. "It's...just common sense, really."
"Shall we take another look at that list?" Mikhail laughed, managing to draw Caleb's attention to them, but he soon told it to return to its charging station. "Don't be so humble, what you got is far beyond common sense. Which is why I'm completely trusting your judgment with the rest of the adjustments."
"I'll do my best."
"I know you will," he gave the combat adviser another pat on the back before tapping on his tablet again, "I'll send you my assessment, it includes my own gripes with Abel's current behavioral programming."
Joshua nodded, soon hearing a short ring coming from his wristwatch to indicate an incoming message. "I'll review it back in my office," he promised after making sure it was indeed the assessment that's been received, "there's a good chance the new protocols will be finished today, and hopefully the programming team will incorporate them before Abel's next deployment."
Mikhail seemed pleased with the efficient approach. "Then I'll have him fixed up in time for you to apply the adjustment to his program."
The second day of repairs started up with what Mikhail could only assume was an urgent call as his tablet rang with an incoming call once he took two steps into his shop, first thing in the morning.
Only half-a-cup of coffee into the day, he slid his finger across the screen, not even bothering to see who it was.
The mechanic almost chocked on a scalding sip of his drink, positive that he was turning down the call.
No getting away from it now. "I don't know what kind of drugs you're on, Evelyn, but they are definitely stronger than what they put in the coffee here," he answered right away, recognizing the voice right off the bat.
She replied with a giggle on the other side. "Right, right. I forgot you're not a morning person."
"My dear, that would be an understatement," he sighed and took another careful sip now that his tongue went numb, sitting down next to the deactivated soldier. "So, what is it that I can help you with today?"
"First of all, a new batch of exterior shells for your training dummies will be ready by the end of the day," Evelyn declared proudly, to which Mikhail muffled another sigh by running his hand over his face.
But he couldn't let the time of day ruin his common courtesy. "Not to say that I'm not grateful for your quick design and execution in the manufacturing process of structural upgrades for my robots, but..." he stopped, no longer able to hold back a yawn, "was a morning call really necessary, when you can just as easily send a memo?"
She giggled again. "Does this big brain of yours ever stop working? You're being awfully wordy for someone who's not a morning person."
"If it'd stop working, I fear this complex would eventually stop running so smooth," Mikhail took another shot at his drink, looking over the spots he had marked on Abel's body, estimating how much the remaining repairs would take of his day.
"Yes, well, a man can dream," he hummed, still examining the robot. "So, what's the second thing? And for the sake of this call, I hope there really is another thing."
This time it was Evelyn that answered with a sigh, albeit an amused one. "Would it be too much asking to see your lovely face for the rest of this conversation?" her tone sounded hopeful.
Mikhail let out a chuckle. "Evelyn, please, 'lovely' is the last term I'd use to describe my current complexion, especially at this hour," he stopped to drink the remains of his coffee while it was still hot, "I thought I've told you before that flirting is futile."
Evelyn was heard rolling away from the microphone, laughing. "Come on, Mike!" she beckoned as she rolled back. "Do you want me to personally come to the workshop, before noon?" something in the tone of her voice had a hint of a threat in it.
And it worked wonders, having Mikhail spring up from his chair to grab his tablet, activating the video chat. "You drive a hard bargain, lady," he surrendered, propping it on a stand placed on the 'operating table'. In a matter of seconds, the screen changed to the image Evelyn waving at him from the screen, her long, light brown partially clasped over the back of her neck, with strands flowing over her shoulders.
"There, isn't that better?" she laughed upon witnessing the defeated look on the mechanic's face, adjusting her glasses. "Although I don't know whether or not I should be offended at how much you don't want to see me in person."
The look on her face made it clear this wasn't a genuine concern, but Mikhail played along. "Rest assured that it was the 'before noon' part," he promised and ran his fingers through his dirty-blond hair. "So, what are you so eager to show me?"
"Just wait, you'll love it," Evelyn smiled before disappearing from frame, and her footsteps were heard moving away.
Not wanting to waste time waiting, Mikhail moved to pick up his tools and resume his work on Abel. After a short moment he heard footsteps coming back, not bothering to look over to the call and kept working until Evelyn will settle back in her workstation to show her latest creation.
A high-pitched shout made the mechanic drop his tools, that in turn fell in a loud clatter on the metallic surface. He let out a tired grunt, glancing over to the new face leering from the tablet. "For the love of..." he muttered and looked over to the small yet extremely close face looking at him from the screen, a blue-eyed pout framed with ginger-brown bangs. "Dammit Debbie, how many times have I-"
"Is he fixed yet?!" she huffed, squinting at the little camera on the other end. "I told you he needed more armor; my poor child came back like Swiss cheese-!"
"Whoa, whoa, Deb. Please," Mikhail pointed one of his multi-tools at the screen, "not a child - giant metal behemoth," he then pointed off-screen to where Abel was lying, then back at the screen. "And I'm working on it, just got to the shop. It's not an overnight job, you know."
Debbie grumbled and moved back, revealing a little bee-shaped pin attached to the lapel of her slightly over-sized lab-coat, given to her a couple of years ago as a birthday gift. "Fine," she murmured, puffing up her cheeks, clearly miffed.
"Deb, quit hijacking my calls!" Evelyn's voice was soon heard from the other side of the room and the little programmer hurried to scurry away from the desk. She sat in front of the tablet again with a sigh. "Sorry, never thought she'd be that uptight after the first deployment..."
Mikhail sighed and leaned on the table, letting his head sink between his shoulders. "Yeah, um...how urgent is this...other thing?"
"Oh, I guess it's..." she stopped, realizing he wasn't looking over. "I'll drop by later, alright?"
He smiled a little, somewhat grateful for the wordless understanding. "Can I be rude and request a lunch delivery later?"
Evelyn laughed, putting aside whatever she intended on showing. "That was you being rude?" she wondered, seeing him shrug in response. "If that's so, can I be rude and accompany you for lunch at the shop?"
"Sure. That'll be nice."
"Two birds in one stone," she felt relieved hearing him laugh at that, "I'll see you past noon."
Mikhail waved, turning off the call and opening one of his many lists, this time more of a log of past repairs, checking if there are some recurring structural issues to resolve. There was much to take care of in order to have Abel ready for later readjustments, just as he promised.
"You see," he turned to Abel, sitting next to the massive robot, leaning over to start registering the damaged exterior plates before removing them to check for internal damage, "that's why usually I prefer robots."
"I still can't believe you guys pulled it off."
Lucy turned to greet the security guard at the main entrance before walking over to Stanley who waited nearby, looking positively enthralled.
"You better believe it, little miss Stern-doubt," he wore a smug smile once she caught up and they walked towards the offices together.
"It's 'Sternberg'," she corrected him dryly, rolling her eyes, "but you can't blame me for having doubts about all of this going through the necessary approvals from the higher-up," she defended her stance, "just passing it through Gabe must've been a nightmare."
Stanley chuckled lowly, sounding almost devious. "Not as much as you'd think," he hummed, "in fact, I'm sure even you could've gotten a 'yes' out of him."
The advising psychologist was not convinced. "That didn't seem like the case when he went into parole-officer mode, asking if I really approved the possible benefits of that day-off," she then smiled, thinking back to that exchange. "To be honest, I told him that if it proves effective, he has to take a day off, too."
The programmer burst out laughing as soon as she mentioned the deal. "So you scored a day out for a therapist and some free time from Gabe?" he sounded excited. "I'm surprised that workaholic didn't turn it down at the risk of not working."
"As if we can make him," Lucy chuckled. "But we still need to prove that really was beneficial. Of course, I'm assuming by the fact you're not freaking out that it wasn't harmful, at the very least."
"You'd be right," Stanley started turning, leading towards his office. "First of all, no sign of nightmares since the day-off, but that's just the beginning."
Lucy raised an eyebrow, following him into his office once he asked Buzz to boot up his workstation. The familiar-looking display of the A.I.'s 'brainwaves' was already loaded on the main screen.
"Is that before and after the day off?" she asked after just a short glance.
"Good observation, sunshine," Stanley grinned and ruffled her hair, but soon pointed to a specific piece of data on the screen, "but can you tell how far apart these are?"
She looked up at him before leaning closer, examining the data she could decipher out of the strings of code that was foreign to her.
"Are these scans...from the same day?"
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