[[ Good afternoon, Mr. Kingston. ]]
[[ A reply has been issued from the management in regard to the enactment of restricted protocol C-421. It's marked as urgent. ]]
Solomon's voice talked monotonously through Gabriel's earpiece as he was making routine rounds between the various departments in Neosansus, mostly making whatever calls and talks to needed individuals to complete his own schedules tasks. This time, however, he was far more attentive to his surrounding than usual, trying to get some clues to either verify or debunk his suspicions.
He didn't expect much, as people tended to be cautious around him, even more so if they were hiding something. Once the message came in, he excused himself from his conversation with Uriel about recent patient input and walked away, taking out his pocket watch to check the incoming message.
It was very brief, and only asked of him to attend the conference room as soon as he's able to discuss this decision. Taking into consideration the fact that he didn't specify his reasoning, Gabriel expected to be called in for further details rather than just being granted an immediate approval or decline to issue this protocol, one which mere existence have raised quite a few questions and ethical issues before.
Within no longer than 10 minutes of receiving the reply he was at the entrance to the conference room, taking a few seconds to straighten his suit and slick his hair back before pushing the door open and stepping inside. Around a long, oval table with a dark, wood-like matte finish, sat the full set of 12 board-members, with Sheppard appropriately seated at the far end of the table facing the door, and now Gabriel.
The scene wasn't new nor was it surprising to him, knowing that the decision over the enactment of the requested protocol required the majority of the board members agreeing to it, bringing forth one of the rare occasions that gathers them all together in person.
"Thank you for arriving so soon, Gabriel," Sheppard commented dryly as the coordinator walked to the other end of the table, silently followed by the cold gazes of the other board-members who were more than likely at least somewhat miffed to be dragged all the way over just to give their word in the matter.
Gabriel ignored their glares and calmly looked back at the Chairman. "Of course, I wouldn't have kept you waiting. Not when I was anticipating your response."
Sheppard hummed and interlocked his fingers in front of him on the table. "Well, seeing as you're full of confidence as ever, would you be so kind to reiterate the reason for this gathering?"
"Certainly." Gabriel didn't bat an eye and adjusted his glasses. "I've asked you here in order to discuss the issuing of protocol C-421," he explained and looked around the deadpan expressions. "For those who may be unfamiliar with this protocol, it allows bypassing some ethical guidelines in order to compile data gathered from company-manufactured tablets as listening devices, enabling us to hear everything that goes on within the complex."
A low murmur went around the table, and some of the board-members shifted slightly in their seats, clearing their throats one at a time. "It certainly goes against basic company ethics," one of them spoke up, not looking away from the very beginning, "if the enactment of this protocol - nay, it's consideration alone - will be brought to light, it could stir an uprising throughout the entire-!"
"Easy there," Sheppard calmed the board-member down, looking between them and Gabriel. "A complex-wide eavesdrop is, indeed, not to be taken lightly, as the other employees wouldn't see it kindly," he agreed, his statement laced with a curious tone. "Clearly you're knowledgeable enough to know that even discussing this protocol requires a probable cause, preferably an imminent state of emergency," he stopped and cocked his eyebrows, expecting Gabriel to pick up and continue.
Which he did. "I have reason to believe it just might be," he remained stern with his claim, "a security scan brought up sensitive phrases that have been picked up 3 times by the complex's surveillance system 2 weeks prior. The recurring phrase, one of several that the system is programmed to listen for, was 'free will'. It might have been spoken more often, but out of the system's range."
The murmurs and nervous shifting increased, turning into a low rumble. Sheppard remained silent, expression almost unchanging, but the sharp-eyed coordinator caught a glimpse of concern on his face. Anything regarding the issue of 'free will' would irk every board-member enough to make them squirm. "Then why turn to such an invasive protocol as your first act?" he wondered, narrowing his eyes and leaning back in his chair.
"And here I thought you knew my way of work," Gabriel refrained from showing any kind of emotion in his voice, fighting the urge to be sarcastically offended at the doubt. "I have issued an R-737 protocol following the security scans, targeting Chief Programmer Stanley Shain who - as you are all well aware - is the only person that could possibly achieve this feature in an A.I," he explained, looking around the room to see some rather reluctant nodding. "I had an intention to look into other specialists' tablets, but I've encountered an unexpected issue." Gabriel stopped again, looking forwards to Sheppard and seeing he was now leaning his elbows on the table with his fingers still crossed in front of his face, slowly gaining a grim expression. "Even under the protocol's clearance Solomon couldn't access the files due to a foreign program acting as a firewall. My guess is that it's an A.I he programmed himself, considering his expertise. While that's a violation of the company's rules on its own, I'd be willing to overlook this had it not served as a tool to keep his files hidden. This might be far beyond acceptable means of keeping privacy and is grounds to believe he's hiding something."
Sheppard remained attentive to every detail. He closed his eyes and let out a low sigh. "This is a serious accusation, especially against our renowned chief programmer." he commented, resting his hands on the table again. "It seems your arguments are indeed grounded, but if you happen to be wrong-"
"This protocol can gather us enough data to target any intentions of creating 'free will' programming, in the event that it's not Stanley," Gabriel answered his concern. "The data gathering process shouldn't be traceable, so even if we find nothing, no one will know. I understand that this is a risky move, but it's better to be safe than sorry."
A hush fell on the conference room and was soon disturbed as the board-members turned to each other, mumbling and muttering their concerns, all while the Chairman remained silent, mulling over his own thoughts.
One by one, each board-member turned to Sheppard with a single, quick nod of approval, and once they have all made their stance clear he looked up to Gabriel again, expression frozen and blank.
"Looks like it's unanimous. Issue protocol C-421."
"So how was the park?"
"That was almost two weeks ago."
Evelyn giggled and moved a few strands of hair to behind her ear, turning her chair around to face Cain, who was sitting behind her and watching her working on 3D models for his exterior shell, planned to be made from better materials. "Well, there wasn't an official report about that," she shrugged and took the android's arm, straightening it and taking measurements of different segments, "and it's not like you're getting regular structural upgrades like Abel so we don't really get to hang around."
Cain smiled a little at the comment, moving and rotating his arm when Evelyn asked to make the process easier, making a note of each measure in case she might get distracted and forget. "It was a nice time," he answered, hearing her mumble the results under her breath. "It was so different from how everything is in the Natural Reserve, and there were so many new people around," Cain started to reminisce, lowering his arm when Evelyn looked up at him with a smile once she took all the necessary measurements.
"Yeah? How was it different?" she wondered, leaning her chin on her hand.
"I could hear how the water and the trees move in the wind, and all the different animals," he started, gradually sounding more and more excited. "The light outside is so different from the complex, too, and..." he paused, lingering over something he seemed to have some trouble expressing, "I never knew the sun was so...warm."
Evelyn perked up, intrigued. "Really?" she hummed, rolling her chair closer. "So that means you could really feel the temperature difference outside? Could you feel the change when you moved to the shade?"
Confused at her sudden interest, Cain nodded silently at first. "Yes, I could. However, not as fast as Lillian did," he remembered. "I don't seem to share her reaction to colder temperatures."
"That's because your body is built for optimal function in lower temperature compared to the human average, so as long as you're not wet or freezing, you'll be able to endure lower temperatures before it starts affecting your system," the modeler explained, forgetting about what she was doing altogether. "Did you feel any hindrance to your functionality when it got warmer?"
Starting to understand where this was going, Cain tried to recall the specifics of that day, but nothing came up. "Nothing noticeable, but I believe the presence of trees and shade along with the proximity to a large body of water lowered the surrounding temperature," he speculated, seeing Evelyn nodding.
"Fascinating," she grinned wider. "This could be a good opportunity to test a new material that we recently purchased," Cain could tell she was already seeing several steps ahead into production. "It has better insulating properties, and when applied as your exterior shell it could provide better thermal regulation to make sure your power usage won't fluctuate too much with changes in temperature."
"Do you think they'll let me get out of the complex for long enough?" he wondered, hoping he was well-behaved enough for the management as he didn't receive any sort of review about it.
"I'm sure they will," Evelyn assured him, turning back to her modeling program only to peer back at him mere seconds later when she, as expected, forgot the measurement she took, and thanked Cain once he read them all back to her. She turned back to enter the needed data, shaping the models that quickly took a form nearly identical to the android's white exterior. "However, you know how stuck-up the board-members are, so this may take some time. But they haven't a reason to not allow you to go outside again, as long as the same precautions are applied."
Cain was aware of that but couldn't seem to get a straight answer regarding any of the reasons behind it all. "Why would they insist so much on keeping me in here?" he voiced up a thought he almost pushed to the virtual oblivion of his mind since the ride to the park. "It couldn't be that I'm dangerous, if they're already deploying Abel. I don't even have the capacity to-" the word eluded him, and he felt like he was unable to finish the sentence. It was like something else suddenly took up his entire processing ability; something bad.
Evelyn turned around again upon noticing the android had gone silent, seeing him staring at the floor and the electrical pads on his hands flickering for a moment. "Well...Hard to say, honestly," she admitted, rolling back next to Cain. "Especially with the higher-ups being all secretive and whatnot. But if I had to make an educated guess, they probably don't want competition. Abel is no big deal compared to you, mostly a walking tank that can think for itself, on top of being a project commissioned by another party," she stopped, looking around before turning back to Cain. "Of course, Debbie would throw a fit if she heard me say it, but it's your base programming applied to Abel that makes him more than an autonomous exo-suit, and it allows him to function as a one-man team," she smiled and patted his back. "You, on the other hand, are capable of a lot more. Your abilities put you ahead of many other prototypes, and management probably wants to make sure you're at your best before others try their hands at making a copy."
"But...wouldn't that be a good thing?" Cain asked and looked up at Evelyn. "There are a lot of people in the world that need help, isn't it for the better that there more of...well, me?"
"Aw, you're so sweet." Evelyn's expression softened; her smile was now mixed with a hint of sadness. She moved her hand up from his back, ruffling his hair, displacing his visor a bit. "Ideally, you'd be right. But since there's money to be made in this, Neosansus must maintain exclusivity regarding your abilities," she leaned back in her chair again, taking off her glasses to clean the lenses. "Besides, that way you remain unique, like every person is. You don't want to have mass-produced clones walking around until you can't tell what makes you 'you'. Right?"
"I really wouldn't know," Cain took off his visor to fix his hair, placing it back on his head soon after. "It seems like a logical reason, albeit a greedy and egocentric one," he added and looked behind Evelyn, scanning her screen. "Looks like your files finished rendering."
Evelyn turned around in an instant, looking excited to see that her files were indeed ready. "Sweet. I'll send it out to print," she got up to grab the raw material to be used for the new exterior, feeding it to a specialized 3D printer before heading back to her workstation to confirm the process. "And... there. It should be ready by tomorrow, so I'll let Mike know he needs to free up some time to upgrade your shell."
"There's no need to hurry, isn't it?" Cain stood up, looking at the steadily moving mechanism of the printer. "You said that it might take some time until the management would let me out again."
"You know that 'some time' could be next week, or even tomorrow, right?" she chuckled and turned around to face him. "Besides, it's already printing, as good as ready. Shame to have fully prepared parts just lying around."
Cain nodded. "I suppose so," he agreed, starting to turn around. "It's been nice talking with you some more. I'm glad I was able to assist your work," he said, turning to walk out of the office.
"Hey, Cain?" Evelyn called just as he was at the door, and the android stopped and looked over his shoulder. She remained quiet for another moment before smiling at him. "Don't think about this too much, alright?"
Almost mimicking her actions, he remained silent too before smiling back at her. "Alright," he answered and turned again, walking away.
Evelyn remained standing there, listening to the soothing, monotonous hum of the printer as it plastered together one layer of material after another.
"You are, truly, one of a kind."
Comments (0)See all