"Alright, uh...let me put it like this-"
Stanley was trying his damnedest to simplify the possible shift in the A.I's behavior. "Imagine if your only experience of the world you live in was through two-dimensional photos that weren't even consistent in quality and stationary stereo for all the sound," he suggested, adding, "well, I suppose that in this case, it's more like only seeing the world like a slide-show on a television screen, but the point stands - you get the idea of what the world is like, but it's still lacking. Right?"
Lucy narrowed her eyes, nodding slowly. "So..." she hummed, putting one hand on the side of her face, looking back to the wavelengths visualized over several screens next to them, "are you suggesting that just by experiencing the outside world first-hand, his entire thought process changed that much?"
"That is exactly what I'm suggesting, yes," he raised his eyebrows, smiling triumphantly. "I admit that it's quite a feat that he managed to adapt to so many abstract concepts in such a short time."
She turned to look back at him, tilting her head to the side. "I've been on my own couple of days off, wasn't notified about how it went," she ran her hands through her hair, fixing her sunny hairpin. "Care to summarize?"
"Warmth of the sun, rippling pond, the sound of music and a magical sunset," Stanley gestured an arc shape with both hands, accentuating the last part. "These were the major contributors, from what I've heard."
"Contributors?" Lucy wondered, and Stan gestured to the screens. "Oh, I see. Sounds like a lovely date, overall."
Stanley laughed at the comment and sat down in front of the screens leaning against the table. "And who said you can't teach some romance to robots?" he mused, dismissively shaking his head upon seeing Lucy crossing her arms in front of her. "But in all seriousness, encountering abstract subjects that don't necessarily trigger reactions that can be easily categorized and clumped together have most likely forced Cain's A.I system to create its own interpretation rather than generating a reaction based on memories and experiences of others."
"But over the course of one- scratch that, under half a day?" the advising psychologist was clearly still concerned. "It's almost like a switch has been flipped. I mean, you're the expert on how these things work, but it seems to be a very fast and drastic change, almost akin to hypnotism therapy-" she stopped, resting one hand under her chin, "the only other instance of such a fast change is the treatment Cain uses in his sessions."
"It's true that it's the first time we've seen such a large-scale change in such a short time," Stanley agreed, still looking at the visual comparison. "At least, without outside intervention.”
He looked up, seeing Lucy turned serious once she caught on. "Wouldn't that mean that unless Lillian actively reprogrammed Cain's A.I while they were out, it independently changed its own coding, to allow more freedom of interpretation?"
"You can say that, yeah," Stanley chimed and leaned his head on one hand, still glancing up at Lucy, a smirk adorning his face.
Lucy narrowed her eyes, uncrossing her arms and keeping her hands slightly raised, to just about shoulder height. "No... Stanley, no."
"I know that look, Shain!" She slammed her hands on the desk, staring the man down, "I've seen the look of 'something's not right', and that's not it. Did you..." she stopped and looked between him and the screen, "did you plan this?"
Stanley simply shrugged, adding a clueless hum. "Who's to say-?"
"You're to say!" Lucy glared back at him, her nails almost carving through the table's coating.
He remained undeterred. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Lucy pulled away from the table, running her hands over her face with an annoyed grunt, leaving them over her mouth for a moment as she weighed her words. "I can't believe you're tampering with the programming like that! I should've told Lill-"
"I didn't 'tamper' with anything," Stanley calmly stopped her, "I never altered the program in any way since Cain's first activation, other than assisting Lillian with tune-ups every now and then, and you can't really be thinking I could possibly make such major changes right under her nose," he shrugged and crossed his hands behind his neck, leaning back. "I know you're unfamiliar with the procedure needed to make major augmentations like that, but it includes forcing Cain into a complete shutdown, like you'd put a person under anesthesia during surgery."
Knowing he was really just informing her of something she wasn't aware of, it didn't do much to clear Lucy's confusion. "But that's clearly a major augmentation, how would-" she stopped, lowering her hands and looking over the monitors again, resting her gaze for a moment over Buzz's case. "All those recordings...You weren't just curious; you were monitoring progress..."
Stanley's expression remained unchanged, not letting her know whether she's on the right track or not, but she was adamant.
In fact, she felt that his attempted poker-face was just indicating she was on to something. "It's not augmentation...Because it was pre-programmed," she looked at the programmer again, while he didn't budge from his laid-back position. "You created the equivalent of suggestive hypnotism for some ungodly purpose and waited to see what would trigger it."
"Please, as if anything we do here is 'godly'," Stanley rolled his eyes and stood up, putting his hands in his coat's pockets. "Unless, of course, you count the creation of a sentient, self-taught A.I as 'trying to play god', in which case - you're simply looking at some very expected advancement."
"Wha- Are you even listening to yourself?!" Lucy walked up to his face, just barely containing her already short fuse.
"Of course I do. How do you think I got to where I am now?" he smiled, on the fine line between sweet and cunning, as he walked around her, only to be stopped when having his arm grabbed firmly.
Lucy's face turned slightly rosy and her cheeks were puffed. For a short moment she wouldn't even look up, just digging her fingers into his arm while taking one deep, audible breath to calm herself before speaking up again. "Is this just a game to you?" Even after calming down, her voice was still clearly strained as she opened and closed her other hand repeatedly. "Just some...some...trophy project?"
Stanley shrugged; his expression was almost that of amusement. "I prefer 'Grail'-"
"Like it matters," Lucy gritted her teeth, letting go of his arm once she made sure he was staying put. "Stan-" she held her tongue for a second, unsure of how much she really wanted the answer to what she was about to bring up. "Why did you apply to Neosansus? There's no denying you're a cut above the rest - way above," despite the flattery, her glare was piercing if not downright deadly, "I bet no company would turn down a brilliant programmer like you."
She saw his eyebrows arching in what she could only interpret as subtle pity, along with the side of his lip curling up. "Oh, my bright little ray of sunshine," he hummed and started to turn around, swaying away from Lucy's grip as she attempted to stop him again. Lunging forward was her only option at stopping him before he's out the door, but she wouldn't go that far. He knew she wouldn't.
Just as he was about to cross the threshold, he turned to look over his shoulder, angling in a way that his hair moved just enough to reveal the head of the snake tattoo on the back of his neck, its mouth hanging agape.
"This is about more than just programming."
"I hope I'm not keeping you up past your bedtime, old man."
Isaac laughed as he followed Mikhail to his workshop. He was invited to provide a second opinion on Abel's new upgrades, both to his body and programming.
The workshop was flooded with low, warm light to not cast too much of a shine outside as the lobby's lights were turned off for the night, now that most staff members throughout the company's various department have retired either to their homes or personal spaces in the living quarters.
That is, other than Neosansus' chief mechanic working into the little hours of the night to make sure his work is up to the highest standards.
"I should be the one apologizing for leaving you such an absurd window of time for some brainstorming," Isaac took off his glasses to wipe them clean, "but you know, corporate meetings are quite demanding," he smiled and soon put them back on to look at the armored android idly seated on the platform, looking down at the two. "Hm... Did you change something in the facial structure?"
"Perceptive, Doctor," Abel complimented, his shutter-iris moving slightly in a faint whirr as his facial recognition software activated. "However, inaccurate."
Surprised at being addressed by the subject of this meeting, Isaac looked over to Mikhail for clarification.
Unlike the elder engineer, he didn't seem as taken aback by Abel speaking up. "I asked Josh to map out a less menacing range of expressions for the programmers to incorporate," he explained the specifics, "something that kicks into effect while he's not in a hostile environment."
"I see. He certainly has less of a death-glare compared to the last time I've seen him-" Isaac admitted, earning a snicker from the mechanic. "What?"
Mikhail rolled his eyes, crossing his arms over his stomach. "When was the last time you actually saw Abel in person and not in scattered parts?"
"Touché, Mike," Isaac walked to give him a pat on the shoulder. "You're not wrong that I haven't seen him in a while, but I do sometimes come across him before deployments," he stopped, seeing Abel nodding to affirm that. "Thank you. But regardless, it's a noticeable change, albeit a small one. Well done."
"I'm glad you think so. Of course, there's more, wouldn't have dragged you past the night patrols just for that," Mikhail walked to the platform, still looking at Isaac. "Anything else you find different?"
Isaac hummed and walked closer as well, running his hand over the bare exterior shell and tapping it with the tips of his fingers, alternating between parts covering the arm and firing mechanism to the plating covering his chest, listening to the echo and pitch of the sound each tap made. "Lighter metals," he concluded, without a hint of doubt, "at least over non-vital areas. The center-mass is still protected by our best armored plates."
Mikhail smiled in approval. "If I took that away, I would need to fashion an armor to protect myself from Debbie," he mentioned, clearing his throat. "I decided to opt for lighter armor wherever I could afford it, to correspond with another upgrade Josh suggested. Abel's programming now has a further developed analytic capability, enabling to assess enemy forces and decide the safest course of action rather than acting as a bullet sponge," the mechanic explained and patted Abel's back a couple of times. "Lighter armor will grant better maneuverability to allow avoiding enemy fire and safely transporting or leading his unit to a safer area and to strategically superior areas."
"So you changed both his build and his programming?" Isaac rested his hand under his chin, not hiding the concern in his voice. "Any preliminary testing?"
"As with every new combat protocol," the mechanic went to grab his tablet, opening logs summarizing said testing. "We ran several iterations of the programming through every simulation we could conjure and had the security team assist us with testing the durability of our available metal samples to determine how much damage they can sustain before internal components will be affected. The best scoring sample in terms of lightness and durability was used to make some parts of the new armor."
Listening carefully, Isaac scrolled through the data logs in order to see the specific results of every simulation and material tested. It was clear that a great amount of effort was put into ensuring the best protocol-build match, but even then, it was all under sterile conditions. As real as the simulations may have been, that's all they were. "So, for the next deployment-?"
"It's risky, yes," Mikhail agreed, running his hand over the back of his neck, "but otherwise we'll have to carry out a two-phase adjustment that may not yield the most reliable results. Testing the new protocols with the heavy armor wouldn't allow Abel to properly execute them, while having the lighter armor without the new protocols would just make him susceptible for serious damage."
Isaac examined to data logs once more before handing Mikhail his tablet back. "So the new program will allow Abel to determine the best course of action based on his surroundings and current circumstances, instead of simply charging or shielding others at the cost of his own integrity," he looked up to see Mikhail nodding.
"Couldn't have said it better."
"Sounds a lot like Cain's protocols," Isaac mentioned, looking up at Abel with a smile. "Guess you can't really avoid that brotherly similarity, with you two sharing the same core programming."
Abel turned his head at Isaac following that statement. "Would that really be a good thing in a combat field?" he wondered, and while his expression wasn't as rigidly menacing, his non-blinking stare remained most unnerving.
"I'm certain it would. Combat is done with reason just as much as it's done with brute force," Isaac answered, and it appeared that both him and Mikhail were in agreement over the matter, "maybe even more of the former than the latter."
"Don't worry, we don't expect you to talk the enemy into submission," Mikhail added, laughing, before turning to Isaac again. "Well, these were the main features I wanted to run by you. I'll send you the rest of the data logs tomorrow."
Isaac nodded, looking rather pleased. "Seems like you got everything under control," he stopped to look at Abel again and then back at Mikhail. "But you may want to do some more combat testing."
"I know where you're going with that. Caleb?" he called while grabbing a piece of paper, jotting something down as the mechanical quadruped shambled over, stopping next to them and tapping its rubber feet against the floor.
Mikhail put the paper between its rubber teeth and Caleb gently closed down its jaws over it. "Take this to Samuel, alright?" he patted its head and within seconds it ceased tapping and galloped out of the workshop.
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