It wasn't until a pinged exchange of clearances and a scan that left RD-NE's distal circuitry tingling, followed by the power-down of the JZD's weapon, that RD-NE was able to survey the vicinity and assess the damage. Whatever the JZD had apparently followed through the gate was in pieces, a single LED flickering out as RD-NE rolled closer to inspect the remains.
The unidentifiable unit's condition supported RD-NE's decision to extend certain emergency response times in the future.
However logical it might be, that decision did not prevent RD-NE's conditioned response when the Tiny Leaping Annoyance abandoned a relatively safe position atop the gate and foolishly hopped across the gateroom floor toward the new arrival. Years of repeated interventions, whenever the sole remaining Repair and Disposal/K-series attempted disposal of the biological contaminant, sent RD-NE rolling between TLA and the JZD's gun. Fortunately, RD-NE's clearances overrode the containment protocols, and neither RD-NE nor TLA ended up in many useless components.
Latest crisis averted, and with TLA chirping from a favorite position directly above RD-NE's heat-producing CPU, RD-NE rolled through the gateroom and control center while compiling the list of repairs. RD-NE calculated that the charred craters in the walls and the broken windows could be restored using the specialized attachments RD-NE had created for RD/K.
The shattered control crystal inside the intermittently sparking DHD console could not.
In conclusion, the JZD with the very dangerous weapon and overactive defense programming would be confined to the Atlantis gateroom until RD-NE could manufacture and install a new crystal in a repaired console.
Investigating and initiating control crystal production immediately acquired the highest rank in RD-NE's queue.
There's A New Kid in Town
The JZD supported RD/K until the repair was complete, and then returned RD/K to the gateroom floor without causing any damage. The gateroom returned to its original condition, minus RD-NE's pending repair of the DHD, RD/K quietly trundled off to store the attachments without any further interaction with the JZD. After watching the JZD return to the gate, RD-NE decided to access Atlantis' primary systems via direct interface and review the equipment specification datafiles. Although the JZD appeared to be standard issue, with the exception of four dark cranial stripes, the evidence of initiative suggested otherwise. Even RD/K, upgraded to capacity by RD-NE, could not deviate from limited set of instructions without specific temporary overrides.
The search against the JZD's identification code returned a match; like RD-NE, the JZD was a prototype with a Neural upgrade. Although not approaching RD-NE's level of sophistication and learning capacity, the documentation indicated that JZD/N's abilities extended well beyond simple attack and defense. In addition, JZD/N's flight module could prove to be invaluable for repair work outside the range of RD/K's attachments, making JZDN's access to areas outside the gateroom an acceptable risk.
Risk was always a heavily weighted factor in RD-NE's planning for future projects. When RD-NE had studied the causes and possible solutions for the severe attrition rate for Atlantis' equipment, RD-NE's hibernation during the first 4287.65 sidereal years P.E. appeared to have contributed to RD-NE's survival. While RD-NE had been sleeping, repair and maintenance units had been crushed under falling walls, overloaded their delicate circuits or been incinerated and, in several bizarre incidents, sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
After RD/K's query ping had awakened RD-NE, which had saved RD-NE from disposal as non-functional, and as the only unit in the city able to extrapolate beyond coded parameters, RD-NE had taken over repair, upgrade, and assignment of the remaining units. Although RD/K still fulfilled the majority of the tasks associated with the maintenance of the abandoned city, the order of assignment and execution was under RD-NE's control. Any task RD-NE deemed obsolete or irrelevant received a priority under the threshold for required in order to reduce wear and tear on aging machinery.
With the number of functional units and their repair parts growing smaller each year, RD-NE had cancelled equipment upgrades beyond manufactured limits. That decision had been reached after RD-NE had interfaced the Personal Trainer/R-series unit, which had never been outside the exercise facility, with the Tactical Ballistic Elevated Launch module. The negative result of PT/R's high-altitude escape and subsequent disappearance from Atlantis had been compounded when the Weight, Exercise and Nutrition/D-series unit chose to enter hibernation mode in front of the repaired exit window.
Accessing JZD/N's history to determine whether the defense unit could handle maintenance tasks, RD-NE discovered JZD/N's current assignment. The stark details activated RD-NE's previously unused empathy program, RD-NE's satisfaction protocols having been the primary drivers until then. Patrolling alone for 5678.93 Atlantean sidereal years, in close proximity to a space gate positioned above a planetary research installation, JZD/N had been denied the stimulation and interaction that all Neural Enhancement modules required for positive feedback and advancement. RD-NE added JZD/N's abandonment to the list of human failures, which also activated RD-NE's irritation subroutine on the lack of vocal apparatus. The inability to indulge in a high-volume recitation of appalling errors was a significant design flaw that RD-NE had not been able to correct.
Based on the information acquired, RD-NE prioritized the identification and supply of the necessary stimulus for JZD/N ahead of researching control crystal manufacture, which had already proved elusive in the heavily encrypted Ancient database.
On review of JZD/N's scans of the lifeless planet, which supported RD-NE's earlier assessment of human failings, RD-NE presented a list of movies with summaries available for JZD/N's immediate viewing.
Outside of the list, JZD/N provided no feedback to RD-NE's attempt at providing stimulus until Close Encounters of the Third Kind. During the closing credits, JZD/N hummed the five-note introduction/query and TLA chirped it back. Although TLA's response did not surprise RD-NE, JZD/N bounced in the air above the window seat and repeated the hummed query. TLA answered, leaping .5 meters high with each chirp. RD-NE had never heard the grating sound that issued from JZD/N before and it had RD-NE temporarily concerned about internal damage, but it appeared to indicate a high degree of satisfaction, since JZD/N followed it with pinged positive.
Hovering in front of RD-NE, JZD/N hummed the five notes again. After considering a pinged negative, since RD-NE's intelligence should not be in question, RD-NE lifted his right manipulator, then raised and lowered it to the relative position of each note on a scale. The repeated grating lowered RD-NE's satisfaction levels fractionally but, since any feedback was an improvement, they rose again almost immediately.
Interaction complete, RD-NE started the next movie - one of TLA's favorites. The theme music for Beauty and the Beast filled the room and TLA resumed her position on the window seat, chirping once in her code for agreement or satisfaction.
Just Watch The Movie
RD-NE had not ventured outside the city's walls since discovering the Calibration, Reference, and Sensory Network unit had fallen off Pier 42 in a freak accident involving an unexpected waterspout. It was a matter of risk mitigation. RD-NE had calculated a significant percentage of the accidents involving water in a floating city could be avoided with due caution - the reason the arboretum was sealed instead of being repaired after the Botanical Reproduction and Nuture unit was destroyed by the combination of a burst water pipe and high-voltage electricity. Limiting access to water, especially seawater, had been the logical solution.
JZD/N had also taken to following RD-NE through the daily inspection and maintenance assignments, as well as observing RD-NE's equipment repair and database research. This habit led to JZD/N's discovery of RD-NE's 'treasure' room, the label appropriated from Treasure Island. Behind the locked door was RD-NE's collection of unique items discarded by the evacuating humans, rescued from closets, cupboards, and drawers not accessible to RD/K or the other repair and disposal units. There weren't many pieces, since the units had worked diligently during RD-NE's hibernation to dispose of anything not found on an inventory list.
Ignoring the three pens, deflated football, and single boot on the middle display shelf, JZD/N picked up an orange jacket before focusing on the marble chess set RD-NE had found in the closet of an emptied room. Nudging one of the carved pieces across the board, JZD/N pinged a query code. RD-NE, seizing the opportunity to use information downloaded about the artifact, carried the board and pieces to the window seat in the movie room, only pausing long enough to ensure the treasure room's door locked. After setting up the game, RD-NE offered another data exchange. JZD/N allowed the connection without delay, and RD-NE carefully only allowed the transfer of the game's rules and nothing else - despite the recorded fifty percent increase in satisfaction levels while connected.
The regressed levels dropped an additional five percent when RD-NE lost the first match due to JZD/N's intermittent humming of The Imperial March with TLA chirping harmony.
Accessing the internal sensors, RD-NE identified one life sign in the east tower's firing range and assumed JZD/N would be with TLA. When RD-NE arrived at the location, it was apparent the assumption had been valid; both TLA and JZD/N were on the firing range.
It also appeared that TLA was a moving target.
Although RD-NE had witnessed TLA's unpredictable ability to survive adverse conditions, the odds of TLA avoiding JZD/N's very large gun were too low for RD-NE to ignore. Rolling onto the firing lane and under JZD/N's laser sight, manipulators waving in the air, RD-NE expected at any moment to become the newest target with large holes in it. JZD/N powered down the weapon, but didn't move, and RD-NE turned to rescue TLA.
TLA refused to be rescued, chirping loudly at RD-NE from her perch on a smoldering paper target. After four unsuccessful attempts to capture the stubborn biological contaminant, RD-NE's irritation subroutine overrode the conditioned protection response and RD-NE rolled out of the firing lane, leaving TLA behind. Exiting the range, RD-NE heard the sound of JZD/N's gun powering back up, a blast, TLA's chirping, and then a familiar grating sound. Rolling away down the hall, RD-NE considered offering to adjust JZD/N's laser sight, rejected that since it would increase the risk to TLA, then speculated on whether too many years alone in space had negatively affected JZD/N's logic circuits.
Home On the Range
Ignoring past risk assessments, RD-NE followed JZD/N outdoors, slowly rolling onto the balcony while JZD/N rocketed into the sky and TLA chirped on the balustrade. Solar panels extended as the reason for remaining outside, RD-NE limited observation of JZD/N's actions to 1 second per 30-second interval to avoid encouraging the defense unit to perform increasingly dangerous maneuvers.
Abandoning the air, JZD/N dove into the ocean, exploding from the water a few seconds later, droplets spinning free to sparkle in the sun. Shimmering over JZD/N's surface, the light transformed a dark grey sheen to gleaming black pearl, and RD-NE's satisfaction level dropped at the comparison to scuffed, faded blue. RD-NE's irritation subroutine then shared processor time with a new risk assessment when JZD/N hovered above a sea mammal RD-NE classified as a Ridiculously Oversize Not Narwhal. Extending his auditory receptors, RD-NE could hear JZD/N humming a five-note greeting and receiving a low-thrummed reply, reducing the threat level. After spending 13.7 minutes flying over and diving under the RONN, JZD/N headed east across the ocean at high speed, no longer in sight at RD-NE's allotted thirty-second interval.
Aware that the door required either RD-NE's presence or reprogramming and confirmation to allow JZD/N to re-enter Atlantis, RD-NE waited for JZD/N to return, rolling back and forth along the balcony for 2.87 hours. Focused on the east, with TLA chirping overhead, RD-NE almost set off an alarm when JZD/N returned from the west. Satisfaction levels down, irritation subroutine in control, RD-NE was unprepared when JZD/N hummed two notes and then opened an auxiliary port without RD-NE requesting it first. Connecting, RD-NE absorbed JZD/N's sensory output: the sight of ocean, forests, and mountains; the sound of the wind, birds, and insects; and the drag of air and water.
RD-NE disconnected slowly, then rolled to the reprogrammed door and pinged for JZD/N's clearances for confirmation. JZD/N complied, hummed the same two notes, and a small compartment opened under JZD/N's left manipulator. Reaching inside with the right manipulator, JZD/N extracted a glossy, curved shell and presented it to RD-NE. Although RD-NE could not detect any sound with the shell held next to an auditory receptor with the sensitivity set maximum, the irritation subroutine aborted and satisfaction levels doubled. Carrying the shell inside, RD-NE led JZD/N and TLA to the treasure room. After carefully placing the shell next to the orange jacket, RD-NE followed JZD/N to the movie room to win a game of chess and then watch The Incredible Journey.
Pay No Attention
JZD/N's new default location was approximately one meter away from RD-NE.
The fact that humans had evacuated the city because of a galaxy-wide plague, not a military retreat, hampered RD-NE's efforts to identify and transmit the codes. It appeared that key humans had stored the codes in their memory, not database files. The allotted time expired, RD-NE failed to produce the codes or an override, and the cruiser began firing on the city.
Before the arrival of the cruiser, RD-NE had estimated that the single remaining ZPM, coupled with optimized power usage, would sustain the city for another 3769 sidereal years - enough time for RD-NE to locate, complete, and implement the interrupted ZPM recharging research. RD-NE's estimate dropped to under fifteen hours with the city's shield under continuous bombardment from the unresponsive cruiser. Recognizing the need for a battle strategy, RD-NE turned away from the primary command console, only to find JZD/N gone.
JZD/N had never been so still. No light reflected from a black matte surface minus the shimmer of a shield; no irritating hum harmonized with TLA's chirps.
RD-NE retrieved the Javelin Zone Defender schematics from the equipment datafiles and went to work.
While You Were Sleeping
Finally, alerted by TLA's increased chirping while viewing Sleeping Beauty, RD-NE calculated the risk factors associated with introducing a new variable and embarked on a new tangent. One evening after sunset, RD-NE unsealed the exit to pier 42, and then RD-NE and JZD/N rolled outside with TLA hopping behind. At the midpoint of the Atlantean sidereal day, under the light of the second brightest moon, RD-NE removed the orange jacket, inserted a cable into JZD/N's auxiliary port, and initiated a data exchange without permission.
Moonlight and Fairy Tales
All Systems Go
RD-NE did not accept JZD/N's refusal and displayed the projected damage to the city along with images from The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic. Repeating the negative ping, JZD/N replied with recordings of RD-NE allowing JZD/N to select movies and mimicking the five tones, RD-NE attempting to protect a chirping TLA at the firing range, RD-NE peeking over the balcony wall to watch JZD/N flying and diving above the RONN, and finally, RD-NE carrying JZD/N's treasures to the room. Before RD-NE could muster another rebuttal, JZD/N disconnected and hummed the two notes for RD-NE, then picked up the crystal and headed to the control room.
RD-NE followed with an unusually quiet TLA perched above his CPU. Depositing the crystal on the console, JZD/N took up position next to the gate, waiting. Irritation subroutine cycling at maximum at the unexpected loss of TLA's transportation, but without an alternative that would not leave JZD/N stranded in a sinking Atlantis, RD-NE installed the crystal and dialed the gate. The event horizon established and, after a quick flip of right manipulator in RD-NE's direction, JZD/N floated through and was gone.
RD-NE watched as the gate shut down and then exited the control center. Opening the balcony doors, RD-NE rolled outside, ignoring the rain and high winds despite the high risk. Forced to find another way to save TLA, RD-NE was still considering the design of a small solar-powered boat when an unscheduled gate activation alert sounded. Irritation level still high, RD-NE rolled back inside in time to see JZD/N exit the event horizon with a ZPM.
RD-NE's irritation subroutine aborted.
Removing the ZPM from the scanner, RD-NE placed it in the same locked cupboard that had held the control crystal, and then rolled out of the lab with JZD/N following close behind. RD-NE calculated there was more than enough power remaining in the old ZPM to last another day, and TLA was waiting in the movie room. It had been her turn to choose and she'd wanted to watch Romancing the Stone.
Nothing else ranked higher in RD-NE's queue.