Laena checked her appointments as she scrubbed her hands, almost positive she had someone coming in at some point in the next hour. 2:30—Annie Monroe she read, and then dried her hands. She figured she had a bit of time to kill, maybe long enough to eat something, until she saw the clock. "Oh, hell," she muttered, jogging down the hall to the waiting area.
Annie Monroe was sitting primly on a chair with a cat carrier on her lap. Laena could feel her cheeks heating and briefly wished she could send awful thoughts and feelings at Z or something.
"I am so sorry! I just lost track of time, Z's working on something for Mark Ronson and it's interesting and then she knocked...and that's not actually important. Come on back," Laena babbled. Annie was smiling at least, so at least being nearly an hour late because of Z fucking Berg hadn't annoyed Annie too much.
"I went to school with Z," Annie said. "I know what she's like when she's working."
"Complete disaster until somehow she makes it work at the last minute?"
"It sounds like she hasn't changed then," Annie said. "She managed to blow up one of the school chem labs at least once a year starting in third grade. She also always managed to place in the top five at the science fair. There's probably some kind of correlation there."
"Probably," Laena agreed. She gestured for Annie to place the cat carrier on the table. "So, what brings you and, uh-"
"Curiosity," Annie said apologetically. "Not the most original name, but it seemed like the most clever thing in the world at four in the morning. In my defense, I'd been up for about three days by then."
Laena laughed, "I've heard worse. You should hear some of the names the Ways and Dr. Iero come up with. So, what seems to be the problem with Curiosity?" As she asked, she opened the carrier and tried to gently draw the cat out. She was surprised at how soft the grey fur was and how much it hissed and flinched away from her. Annie knocked her hands out of the way and successfully coaxed the cat out. She soothed it, fussing over its ears and telling it that it was a pretty kitty. Laena was rapt; she wanted to take notes.
"Something's been off with her motor control since I upgraded the AI last week. I've run diagnostics, but I can't work it out. You're the best with small robotics, so. Help me figure out what's going on?"
Laena wasn't entirely certain she could do it. If she hadn't know Curiosity was a robot, she'd never have guessed. Annie did amazing work (or knew people who would do amazing work for the parts she couldn't do) and even without looking at the schematics or the AI program Annie had written, Laena knew they'd be works of art. She didn't know Annie very well—Annie had been at Stanford when Global had recruited her and Laena spent the better part of three years mostly knowing Annie by reputation. Five years after she'd left for college, everyone (at least, everyone under thirty and everyone who worked on Global's robotics and AI projects) still talked about Annie Monroe.
(Whenever they all got together and Alex was bitching or bragging about Ross and Urie being tiny diva geniuses and Spencer's programming, someone else brought up some of the other computer geeks and Annie Monroe always came up. "Her programming, it's beautiful, Laena. It always works and it's so elegant," Tennessee would rave and almost everyone agreed.
Laena knew of at least three project coordinators who'd called dibs on Annie once she was done with school and officially hired by Global. She also knew of half a dozen bets about which team Wentz and Stump would actually assign her to.)
"I can try? If you can power Curiosity down, I'll take a look at the schematics and we can open her up."
Several hours, three coffee runs, a slightly rambling lecture on AI programming, and some metaphorical and literal poking with a stick later, Laena had absolutely no idea what was wrong with Annie's robotic cat.
"It's not anything physical," Laena said. "The plans were solid, the alterations you did—"
"Tennessee, actually. She did most of the fabrication, I'm crap at casting and like, making physical things. By Eureka standards, at least. I know she altered the joint design so they'd be lighter and move more naturally and a couple other things, but that was before everything went haywire," Annie said. Annie was sitting cross-legged on a work table looking more than a little disgruntled. Laena tried not to laugh at her.
"Okay," she said. "So, the actual physical chassis is fine. As far as I can tell, the circuitry is fine. I think that just leaves the programming and I'm nowhere near good enough with AI to help you figure out what's wrong with it." Laena rummaged around her desk drawer for the snacks she'd hidden from Z. She held up an orange and some kind of granola bar thing that appeared to have chocolate in it. Annie pointed to the orange and Laena started to peel it as she listened to Annie rant about the conceptual framework for her cat's AI and her programming.
"There's nothing wrong with it!" Annie said. "I checked it over several times before uploading it, nothing got corrupted when I installed it, I uninstalled and then reinstalled it just in case, and still nothing."
Laena swung a chair around to face Annie and offered her half the orange. "Well it's got to be something computery, that's the only thing we haven't ripped apart. And like, it's smart AI or whatever, right? Your cat is supposed to learn, not just mimic cat behaviors. So maybe it learned something wrong or that's interfering with something else."
"Strong AI," Annie corrected thoughtfully. "You might be on to something there, we built Curiosity last year and I've been tweaking the AI ever since. It's only in the latest version that I've really brought in the dynamic elements—the stuff that lets her learn and like, develop more of a personality. The programming is all correct but it's programming to allow for unpredictable stuff. I literally don't control that, other then adding or removing it and making sure that she can't decide to use the lasers—I have to override that manually."
"Why does your cat have lasers?" Laena asked, a little appalled. "Why would a robotic cat need lasers?"
"Why wouldn't you add lasers?"
Annie seemed to be genuinely confused by the question and Laena reminded herself that she was in Eureka and Annie had been born and raised here. Lasers and explosions were completely normal and no one questioned the addition of them to anything.
"Never mind," Laena said diplomatically. "So, it might be connected to something she learned. Or maybe it's something you missed in the code—" Laena preemptively held a hand up to placate Annie. "I know, you're the resident AI genius, but we all make mistakes and there's always something small and stupid we miss that ends up coming back to fuck us over later, so maybe there's some kind of error. Even if it's not in the code, you should have someone like Spencer or Suarez or maybe Bebe—Wentz's new assistant—go over it with you. They might have some ideas about how a learned behavior could interfere with motor control."
Annie made a face. "I suppose you're right. Maybe I'll ask Bebe, Spencer's too smug to deal with and Suarez comes with Gabe and I don't need him stealing my ideas for his stupid cobra's AI."
"Spencer's not bad," Laena said. "At least, when you get him away from Ross, Urie and Greenwald. And Valdez. And Wentz."
"Exactly," Annie said darkly. "Also, he's a cheating bastard who clearly cheated in order to beat me in the eleventh grade robotics challenge and then bragged about it right through graduation."
Laena refrained from commenting. She'd heard several versions of this story and she was pretty sure Spencer'd had a last minute breakthrough and he'd been so amazed he'd beaten Annie that he hadn't been able to shut up about it. It was obvious that sharing this theory with Annie wouldn't go over well.
"Bebe's kind of brilliant," Laena said.
"Yeah. I should grab Curiosity and head over to Global and see if I can catch her before Wentz gives her another insane project." Annie brushed her hands on her skirt and scooted off the desk. "Thanks for taking a look at her."
"No problem," Laena said, helping Annie gather her things and reassemble the cat. "I'm almost always up for helping people out with projects and your work is beautiful. Keep me updated on Curiosity? I'm all invested and curious about it now," she said with a grin.
Annie groaned at the pun. "You're terrible. And yeah, I'll tell you once we've got it sorted out. You should meet her properly."
Laena walked Annie to the door and stayed for a moment watching her drive away. She hadn't been planning on spending the afternoon playing vet for a robotic cat, but she'd definitely had worse. With a small smile she headed back in.
Z was leaning against Laena's workroom door. "I saw that," she said smugly.
"What," Laena said, amused by Z's demeanor.
"You and Annie. Flirting."
'We definitely weren't flirting." Laena would have remembered flirting.
"Please," Z said dismissively. "You hate doing stuff with advanced AI and yet, you agreed to work on Annie's pet project. For free, even. And don't even try and pretend you spent hours looking at a fake cat and listening to her talk about AI because you think her work is beautiful."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Laena said loftily. "And even if—and this is a huge if—I was interested, I would not use her concern about her robotic cat to try and get into her pants. That's more your style. Besides," she added. "There's no way she's into me. So it's all completely irrelevant."
Z opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. She blinked at Laena for a moment and Laena wondered again why the hell Z bothered with the false lashes and heavy eye makeup when she spent at least half of her waking hours wearing goggles. Finally Z seemed to figure out what she wanted to say.
"Laena, you know that I love you dearly and that I in no way hold it against you that you don't actually have a super genius-level IQ and that you aren't from Eureka. But sometimes you're kind of an idiot. Annie's twenty-three and she's one of the top AI specialists in a town full of the best scientists in the world. There's nothing actually wrong with her cat, she just fucked with the programming to fake a problem so she'd have an excuse to spend the afternoon with you."
"Really?" Laena asked.
"Really," Z said dryly.
"So I should probably ask for her help on a robotic mouse project," Laena said thoughtfully.
"Or you could just ask her out for coffee," Z said. "Because otherwise you'll be taking cat and mouse games to a level I'm not comfortable with."
"Or I could do that," Laena agreed.