It's been a couple of decades since Isaac found himself scurrying around a room and rummaging through files and paper to quickly stuff the ones he needed into a case. Just returning from a demonstration overseas, he didn't expect to have another meeting off-complex scheduled so soon and in such a short notice that already had him packing. This was almost like college all over again, only back then there were significantly less surprises in the curriculum compared to the sudden rise in what he could classify as 'outdoor activity'.
"I really appreciate you coming over on such short notice, Gabriel," Isaac fixed his glasses as he looked up to the coordinator standing barely a step past the threshold into his office, watching the founder going back and forth. "I know you're busy with the constant tasks the management rain down over you, but I was afraid the reception on the way might be lacking."
"That being said, do you mind getting to your point?" Gabriel's emotionless tone stood contrary to his impatient phrasing. "Seems like you're working on borrowed time as well."
Isaac stopped dead in his tracks like he had hit an invisible wall, holding the remaining files under his arm, slicking his hair back with the other. "I know you might not be too fond of me, but I never thought you're looking forward to my death," he laughed, clearing his throat upon seeing Gabriel raising an eyebrow at his joke, remaining his silent, stoic self. "Well, regardless..." he sighed and went to put the last files in his case, closing and locking it. "I've been invited to a meeting regarding some sought-after partnership. Considering this has been a sudden notice, it's possible they don't get much openings so it's imperative that we seize this opportunity."
Mildly impressed by the founder's swift shift of attitude, Gabriel nodded and took a quick glance around the uncharacteristically messy office, an understandable state considering the circumstances. "Do you need a last-minute transportation arrangement, or-?"
"Oh, nothing like that," Isaac waved his hand and picked the case off the table, "they were kind enough to provide the necessary measures of transport and other accommodations to make up for the hasty invitation. I know that I've just acknowledged your busy schedule, but I must ask you to take care of things on my behalf, namely reports and supervisions of whatever you can," he stopped, and added, "of course, do feel free to rely these tasks on whoever you find capable enough."
"That's quite a favor you're asking," Gabriel narrowed his eyes, following Isaac's movement as he approached the door. "However, with your reputation of being a considerate boss, I suppose there shouldn't be much work on your end around here."
Isaac smiled and patted Gabriel's shoulder once he walked out the door. "It shouldn't take more than a week. I'll try to care for whatever I can while I'm out, so don't overwork yourself, more than you already do," his voice gained a momentary tone of genuine concern before he kept walking. "I know you can handle it."
Gabriel gave one final nod of approval and wished the founder a safe trip before turning back to his work.
Heading towards the exit leading to the parking lot, Isaac was busy making sure one last time that all his identifications and papers were on his person when he was joined by another crew member.
And not just by any other employee.
"Are you, per chance, finally going on a vacation?" Stanley's voice chimed next him, and when Isaac turned around to see the expected signature smirk adorning his face.
He returned a smile and shook his head. "If I'm lucky, I'll have a day off or two for a little vacation. But no, it's for business. Again." he stopped, laughing. "Why, are you that eager to have me out of the complex?"
Stanley huffed, rolling his eyes. "Can't a guy just really want his boss to take a well-earned time off?"
"Since you sound more like a kid hoping for his parents to have a night out and forget to call a babysitter - you better know that I left Gabriel in charge," Isaac mentioned, amused to see the sheer disappointment on the programmer's face.
The man groaned and dragged his fingers down his face. "Seriously? If you're appointing some drone in your stead, a C.A.S.S unit would have been a better choice."
"Oh, don't whine," Isaac laughed at the reaction, one which he had also come to expect. "I trust Gabriel. The only thing I asked him to do on my behalf is reports and supervision, that he already does to an extent as part of his day to day tasks," he paused once the two arrived at the exit guarded by a member of the security team, who greeted them both as they approached. Isaac turned serious when he looked at the programmer again. "It's just a week, Stan. Be on your best behavior, alright?" he smiled before hurrying out, not waiting for confirmation.
Stanley huffed again and crossed his arms, watching Isaac disappear around a corner. "Please, when am I ever-?" he grumbled, mostly to himself, but soon noticed the security guard rolling their eyes and looking away in a snicker. "Hey!" he glared at them and promptly uncrossed his arms in defiance.
The guard shrugged and shook their head. "Chill, Stan. You heard him, it's just a week," they laughed and leaned against the edge of the door. "Gabe's gonna be a tough sitter though, better just steer clear of him."
"That wouldn't be too hard, he avoids us like the plague, anyway," Stanley sighed and turned to walk away, heading towards the I.T Department. Regardless of Gabriel's newfound authority, he couldn't have let this hinder the progress of his work, despite the two of them rarely seeing eye to eye. Best to just keep an even lower profile this week until Isaac's return, and the good ol' office drone will be back circling around the management.
Stanley waved at the source of the drowsy greeting, seeing Adam shambling to his office accompanied by his trusted mug of highly caffeinated beverage. "It's noon, you know," he laughed and followed his former intern to his workstation.
"Huh. Ain't that something?" Adam shrugged and took a sip of his coffee before putting the mug next to his main monitor. "So, how's your progress going? Any closer to that ultimate A.I thing?"
The senior programmer put one hand over his chest, looking offended at the question. "A 'thing'? A 'thing'?!" he repeated, appalled. "Adam, you can't have a hand at the development of one of the most important advancements in the making of an artificial mind and just call it a 'thing'."
Adam let out a low, tired sigh and scratched his beard, clearly immune by now to Stanley's faux theatrical reactions. "Right. It's your 'holy grail' of robotics," he nodded and turned on his workstation, watching the screens light up one after the other. "So, about your progress...?"
"Oh, right," Stanley rubbed the back of his neck, "it's been good. Phenomenal, actually," his insulted facade was replaced with excitement and his eyes lit up. "The first major hurdle has been cleared after that day in the park, and scans show that there are some significant processing changes since then," with a proud grin he tossed Adam a small flash-drive. "You still got your encryption key, right?"
"And here I thought there's no such thing as stupid questions." Adam caught the small data storage and plugged it in, loading up the scans of Cain's activity as recorded by Buzz. "This...It's rather..." he mumbled while looking between the scans, bewildered. "Inconsistent, don't you think?"
Stanley hummed and stepped up, standing next to him. "Erratic, even?" his lips curled in a clear sense of pride. "You know, I'm no psychologist, but I'm pretty sure humans don't possess a linear and consistent thought patterns."
Adam looked through the scans over and over, knowing that Stanley was waiting for him to comment on his latest achievement. Having known about the project for years, since about the time Stanley has decided to appoint himself as his mentor, he had admittedly found the concept fascinating and so he played along, assisting wherever he could in keeping the adaptive program stable. However, since these ever-changing algorithms have been introduced as an integral part of a highly advanced functioning android, he started having his doubts. Not only he would have to overcome the challenge of debugging a software that constantly updates itself, but there was something a lot more primal rooted in his thoughts that had him second-guessing this whole endeavor.
"Listen, Stan..." he sighed and rubbed his eyes, looking up at the chief programmer. "When was the last time you stopped to think if you should do something, rather than if you could do it?" he put his hand to the sides one at the time, imitating a scale.
His superior seemed indifferent, shrugging it off. "I'm just putting theories into facts. No real progress was ever made by just assuming whether or not something can be done."
"That's not what I'm asking, and I suspect you know it," Adam remained serious, taking another sip of his coffee. "There's an unmeasurable gap between a proof of concept and moral boundaries."
Stanley donned an innocently amused expression, as if this was a complaint that he had heard several times in the past and had to repeat the same answer on each and every occasion. "Well...enlighten me, then," the tone of his voice was worthy of the snake tattoo going down his spine. "What kind of moral boundaries am I facing that aren't already being crossed?"
"You're not smart enough to play dumb," Adam gulped down another mouthful of his coffee before setting the cup back next to the monitor. "The only reason you're doing this in secrecy is that management has strictly prohibited the development of independent thinking to any of the prototypes even if occurring at random or worse, in their opinion, through intentional creation."
The man's smile faded fast, but he chose not to respond otherwise.
Adam leaned back, peering outside his office to make sure no one else might hear them, straightening back in his chair soon after. "Cain is on thin ice as it is. His relative freedom has already put the management on edge, and after accidentally killing that bird - as insignificant as it may seem - Lillian had to really put up a fight in order to convince them to not execute a system reset back then." He stopped, seeing that Stanley's expression has changed to show that he's at least taking it seriously. "If you manage this breakthrough and give Cain even a semblance of free will, it will be terminated and leave both you and Lillian at risk as well."
Stanley lowered his head, looking somewhat annoyed, although Adam couldn't tell towards who or what. He put his hand under his chin, glancing at the scans on the monitor before reaching to the keyboard to turn them off. "It won't happen," he claimed with utmost confidence.
Somehow this statement didn't cheer Adam at the least. "There is such a thing as over-confidence," he warned, ejecting the flash-drive and handing it back to the senior programmer.
Still retaining his serious expression for a few more seconds, a smile crept back to Stanley's face and he put the drive in his pocket as he sounded a short, almost playful hum; the kind that would signal someone out as a villain in any other setting. "Even human behavior is conditioned," he started off, running his fingers through his hair. "Assuming that giving Cain a will of his own is what will make him 'human', it'll mean that he too could still be conditioned, although not by programming, but by simple guideline."
"Like the ones you don't follow?" Adam wasn't impressed, but Stanley ignored the remark.
"He can still be told to act a certain way, one that wouldn't disclose his new independent thinking process," his smile widened triumphantly. "Being programmed to read human expressions and gestures, this should be child's play to him."
"You're not going to let this go, are you?" Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose, knowing very well what the answer will be. But when no answer came, he looked up to see Stanley staring back at him, only to tilt his head slightly in a gesture that assured the bearded man that whatever he was thinking of - he was right.
Without another word, he waved and turned around to exit the office and crossed the I.T department towards the opening leading to the lobby as he set his pace towards the living quarters, going through what files and equipment he had to pick up before getting back home.
Despite being as confident in his words as he relied them to his former intern, Stanley couldn't help but reconsider his plan. Adam did have a point about guidelines and not following them. He couldn't set much of an example on how to follow the rules, especially the unwritten kind, to an android who learns from his environment at the same staggering speed of a growing child.
But there's was little to nothing he could do now to hinder this process; not that he really wanted to but risking his coworker's career wasn't something on the top of his list. More like somewhere at the bottom of it, for emergencies.
He kept mulling over the best and safest possible course of action, until about halfway to the living quarters where he noticed Lillian walking by with Cain after that day's therapy sessions have concluded.
"Speak of the devils," Stanley hummed under his breath and smiled, waving as they approached.
"Good afternoon, Stan," Cain smiled and waved back, but he soon stopped when Lillian did. "What's wrong?" he wondered and looked between her and Stanley, who appeared to be just as bewildered.
"Oh, it's nothing, really. Just..." Stanley cleared his throat, chuckling and running his hand over the back of his neck. "You've never called me 'Stan' before. Usually you're pretty formal," he explained, and Lillian nodded showing she was wondering about the same thing as well.
The android, however, still couldn't quite comprehend what the problem was. "I'm sorry, seems most of the staff addresses you this way," he answered, and Stanley could see Lillian was trying her best to keep the concern from showing on her face. "I can go back to calling you 'Stanley', if this informality is inappropriate."
"No, no. 'Stan' is just fine," the programmer laughed. "Well, I didn't mean to interrupt you two, knowing your schedule there are probably reviews to be done. To be honest, I actually have my own to do," he smiled and waved again as they parted ways, going on opposite directions.
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he felt the little plastic flash-drive against the tips of his fingers, already seeing the data encrypted on it in his mind's eye, seared in his memory along with Adam's words.
"A semblance of free will, huh?"
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