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Rolling at a velocity never required before, the Research and Development-Neural Enhancement prototype raced to the gateroom. An unscheduled gate activation alert - 5649.26 sidereal years Post Evacuation - occasioned the direction. The subsequent explosions necessitated the speed. It wasn't until RD-NE braked to an unsteady halt 2.7 meters from the collapsing event horizon - and a Javelin Zone Defender's extremely large gun - that RD-NE began to re-compute the cost/benefit ratio of racing toward danger.

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

Arriving in the control center for daily inspection, RD-NE noted the JZD positioned one meter to the left of the inoperative gate, remaining outside the clearly marked wormhole initiation zone. RD-NE hypothesized the defense unit had designated that specific location as a substitute return to duty until the DHD was repaired. Five meters from the hovering JZD, RD/K was failing to repair the uppermost damaged section of wall, the specialized extension approximately a meter short. Beeping in an increasingly higher register, the RD/K continued the attempt until the JZD clamped onto RD/K with a magnetic clunk and lifted RD/K two meters from the floor.

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.

Constrained by the limitations of the wireless ping codes, RD-NE calculated the odds of the very large gun reappearing, and then carefully approached JZD/N in the gateroom to offer a universal cable for direct interface. After a 310.45 millisecond interval, JZD/N opened an auxiliary port and allowed RD-NE a connection to explain the delay in repairing the DHD. JZD/N responded with a formal incident report for the gateroom destruction explaining that the destroyed unit had not responded to security pings after emerging from the space gate JZD/N had been assigned to monitor. Following as the unit circumnavigated and scanned the system's only planet, JZD/N had also scanned the same areas in an attempt to determine the nature of the unit's mission. When the unit had continued to ignore JZD/N's contact attempts and then dialed Atlantis' address with the code to raise the shield, JZD/N raised the threat assessment to maximum and followed the unit through the gate. In conclusion, with the threat nullified and the gate disabled, JZD/N was available for temporary assignment on Atlantis.

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.

Although viewing the movies stored in the database via wireless interface was simpler, from experience, RD-NE's satisfaction levels were significantly higher when TLA was not demanding attention with increasingly agitated chirping. Projecting the video on the wall of an empty room allowed TLA to participate in JZD/N's stimulation sessions and reduced the chirping to her normal feedback on the movie playing. Based on the volume and frequency of chirps, RD-NE had deduced her favorites fell in the romantic comedy category, while RD-NE's hypothesis that JZD/N would select any movie containing vehicles capable of reaching speeds over 321.8688 kilometers per hour was supported by the titles in JZD/N's request list. Preferring facts to fiction, RD-NE would watch any documentary although, after the first time RD/K attempted to dispose of TLA, RD-NE always fast-forwarded through any scenes where animals were injured or killed.

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.

JZD/N bounced.

Just Watch The Movie

RD-NE's plan to use JZD/N for maintenance tasks, when not engaged in stimulus and learning by watching movies, had its drawbacks. JZD/N had interpreted the release from gateroom guard duty as clearance to explore the entire city without restraint, thereby engaging RD-NE's irritation subroutine. Not only were the warnings RD-NE had affixed on all potential hazards ignored, including the visual and audible proximity alerts, but doors that required RD-NE to use a pry bar after swapping crystals swished open without a pause for JZD/N. Only the exterior doors, programmed to remain closed without RD-NE's exclusive security override, remained closed to JZD/N.

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.

TLA and JZD/N were not following RD-NE the day RD/K arrived in the control center carrying a control crystal. After considering the possible reasons why the crystal did not appear on any inventory list or manifest, RD-NE hypothesized a flaw or hidden damage. Accepting the crystal, RD-NE instructed RD/K via the wireless link not to search for another replacement, and then carried the crystal to a laboratory for testing. RD-NE locked the crystal inside a cupboard after calculating that JZD/N and TLA had been missing for three hours - too long considering JZD/N's ability to access dangerous areas.

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

After reviewing JZD/N's movie requests - each containing a common theme and ranging from Top Gun to The Last Starfighter to Peter Pan - as well as watching JZD/N hover in front of windows to look out over the ocean, RD-NE unlocked the balcony doors above the gateroom.

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 default location, when not exploring, watching a movie, or handling a repair assignment, had been next to the gate. Bringing back a new item with each excursion outdoors, JZD/N had arranged them on the gateroom floor by the gate: a sparkling chuck of mineral, driftwood, a piece of coral, and another shell. 4.78 days after RD-NE granted JZD/N unlimited access to the balcony doors, RD-NE had to intervene for the third time to prevent RD/K from disposing of JZD/N's treasures and JZD/N from disposing of RD/K. To avoid further confrontations, RD-NE picked up the items and carried them to the treasure room with JZD/N silently hovering a meter behind. RD-NE placed the treasures on a new set of shelves, and then JZD/N hummed the two notes from earlier in RD-NE's direction before immediately rearranging each piece.

JZD/N's new default location was approximately one meter away from RD-NE.

An encrypted subspace communication was the first indication that the unit JZD/N had destroyed had managed to send a distress call. When translated, the scope and criticality of JZD/N's actions that day were clear. An automated battle cruiser had established a geosynchronous orbit above Atlantis and, if RD-NE did not manage to return the required confirmation codes, the city would be considered compromised and then destroyed.

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.

TLA's chirping sounded broken when RD-NE rolled inside the chair room, the sound arrhythmic and too quiet. Empathy program active, only the lack of vocal apparatus prevented RD-NE from making an equivalent sound at the sight of JZD/N lying motionless in the control chair. JZD/N had saved the city before the ZPM approached entropy, but the interface with the energy beam, which had destroyed the attacking cruiser in 5.8 seconds, appeared to have burned out vital circuits.

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.

Damage Control

Repairs complete, the remaining problem was that JZD/N remained in a hibernation state so deep that, without the evidence of the diagnostic outputs, JZD/N appeared beyond recovery. Out of options, RD-NE resumed the daily inspections and assignments neglected while RD-NE had been focused on restoring JZD/N to manufacturer's specifications (with the exception of the cranial stripes). Whenever RD-NE was working, JZD/N remained locked in the treasure room. TLA had earned an upgrade to Tiny Loyal Assistant when she alerted RD-NE to RD/K's attempt to dispose of an immobile JZD/N. Considering RD-NE's unsuccessful attempts to reprogram RD/K to ignore TLA, the treasure room was the safest place for a defense unit without defenses.

While You Were Sleeping

After every documented method that RD-NE employed in an attempt to force JZD/N from hibernation had failed, RD-NE considered the possibility of interference by the neural upgrade. Consulting uploaded psychology texts, RD-NE re-introduced the elements that had appeared to provide the most stimulus and feedback for JZD/N before the attack. Pulling JZD/N and TLA on a small, wheeled platform, using the orange jacket as a makeshift harness and rope, RD-NE rolled through the halls of Atlantis, spent hours in the sun on the balcony, and re-watched all of JZD/N's favorite movies.

Nothing worked.

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

When JZD/N hummed the two notes associated with their interactions, RD-NE considered the trial a success.

RD-NE's hypothesis, based on the speed and elevation of the response to stimulus, was that JZD/N concurred.

All Systems Go


JZD/N revived, RD-NE focused on the failing ZPM. Due to the attack, the time remaining to the city had shortened to months, and RD-NE had not yet located the research for recharging. With the probability of success decreasing daily, the sinking of the city seemed inevitable and RD-NE made contingency plans.

The scan of the control crystal revealed no flaws or damage. RD-NE began to remove the crystal from the scanner, halting when JZD/N hummed two notes and approached with an open auxiliary port. RD-NE interfaced as requested, sharing the status of the ZPM and requesting that JZD/N transport TLA to the mainland before leaving through the gate. JZD/N pinged a negative and returned images of empty space and the scan of the lifeless planet.

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.

RD-NE's satisfaction levels had never been higher. According to the scan, the new ZPM held a seventy-five percent charge.

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.

The End