Erik is unable to obtain further details or clarification from Charles that evening. Whatever occurred in Alexandria, the boy has said his word on it, and will not elaborate on the matter no matter how subtly he is questioned. He allows the Ship's Assistant to check his vitals and promises not to worry at the OrganoPlast bandage, but Erik quickly abandons any direct interrogative plan. While suffering the brief examination, Charles once again mentions his aversion to being 'babied', and Erik has been sent away by others for far less comprehensible offenses. Nothing in Charles' body language or voice phenomena indicate any ill will, however. In fact, once his health and safety have been established, he is just as relaxed as he has been during any of his other night "hang-outs" with the android. Young Xavier is a charming and endearing host-- a term Erik chooses in light of the boy's careful attention to his companion's interest and engagement. Certainly, he is more 'present' than his father, who often lapses out of conversations even while being spoken to directly. Charles watches Erik's face a great deal and, while many have complained that David 8 models have a 'creepy' or 'vacuous' expression, this human seems to respond to cues Erik himself is unaware of. Perhaps they are only things the young telepath thinks he sees… but such behavior is still a new and strangely gratifying experience.
For a time, they discuss the sparse reports recently released on Weyland's Europa expedition. Charles is obviously staying far from the personal deliberately. While Erik must take the boy's word he is fine (after all, vital readings are well within acceptable range), the Assistant cannot help but notice how tightly Charles is curled into the cushioned alcove, nor the occasional tremble in voice and frame. Erik leaves his side only briefly returning with two cups of apple juice and sitting once more side-by-side, arms flush. There is hardly a need for the second cup as, while all David models six and up can 'eat' small quantities of food for the appearance of normalization, the consumption is in no way required. Charles clearly knows this, rolling those singular blue eyes with theatrical sufferance. Never the less, he drinks the first without complaint, and consumes the second absent-mindedly when Erik passes it to him during one of the boy's particularly rapturous speculations.
Very little save speculation can come from the information released on Europa, at least for now. The deep-sea exploratory survey was supposed to evaluate the Jovian moon for possible utilization in the fishing industry. Such hatcheries, and even algae farming, have been successful in the Martian polar regions, and the ever-growing population of the solar colonies must keep constant vigilance in regards to food supply. There's no denying that the team's original report stated, in no uncertain terms, that 'unnaturally regular remains' had been found in the southern region of the frozen satellite. These were said to be massive ruins, trapped in the reservoir ocean between the moon's iron core and icily armored surface. It's highest points (the pilot used the fanciful term 'minarets' or 'very acute pyramids') extended into the eternal glacial layer, towering above a foundation in what the geologist described as a type of costal shelf. Geometrical, despite centuries of abandonment and satellite-wide tidal flexing which, as Europa's only form of geological activity, actually allows the crust to wander freely between the magnetic poles. While the crew had been foolish (or perhaps excited) enough to send the hurried report over company bandwidth rather than petition for a truly secure path, they were in no way imbeciles-- the non-human origin of the structure was never stated explicitly.
Self-appointed watchdogs within Weyland Industries had the 1,205 word document posted to the IntraSol'Net within the business day-- 'yesterday' morning by Nephthys' current sync with Alexandrian time-keeping. Fifteen hours later, the company's private cyber-enforcers had virtually erased it from existence, frying 'complicit' servers and distractedly compensating those legitimate storage sites that could not be held responsible for user content. Charles, of course, has already downloaded and encrypted the information on his tablet, having read and discussed it with Hank while they were waiting to see Raven off. He is quick to assure the Ship's Assistant that he bounced his access off an ambiguous, public wireless server instead of using the reliable (and obviously Weyland-controlled) Nephthys network. The news has not even hit traditional media outlets, which have long since learned their lessons in regards to both the hasty issuance of retractions and general public disinterest.
A decade prior, news of a possible find on Eris had caused a ripple of existential pandemonium in mainstream media, with sensational reports and photos of a supposed 'icehenge' on the small, trans-Neptunian object. That particular incident had set the pattern for any and all future finds that chanced to fly in the face of conventional science. Weyland Industries, IntraSol and the United Earth Corps had laid the 'misunderstanding' down to a play of shadow and depth caused by the dwarf-planet's eccentric orbit. The initial reports Eris reports have long vanished, as will even the most vague hints of irregularities on Europa.
In this most recent case, as with all the others, it is already generally accepted that-- despite being highly qualified specialists-- the survey team 'misinterpreted' the evidence, carelessly disregarding any sensationalism their report might cause. Neither Erik nor Charles are surprised to find, upon checking the few recent news-feeds, that all officers from the mission have been suspended. Presently, even this data is being buried under other stories, as Terra and her colonies move on to the always fascinating subject of whether a certain starlet's sexy little tiger-tail enhancement was actually cloned from the endangered beast.
Erik's personal conclusions, such as they are, are not much better. Documents regarding the original report still exist on some of the more sophisticated dark-chat networks, but their authenticity is difficult to verify and the download links obliged to be convoluted. He has scanned many of the same sources Charles has, and they seem to be in agreement that any artifacts are more likely an indicator of some sort of outpost presence, rather than that of non-human life originating within the Sol System. According to Xavier, his father has long believed in a cover-up regarding the Eris find and hopes those records-- along with anything else germane-- will be declassified for mission staff once the Nephthys reaches the Kuiper Belt. The Ship's Assistant finds this probable, but is also aware that Weyland Industries will never reveal a single line of sensitive data not directly related to the Sirius Project itself. If Brian Xavier is hoping for some sort of wide commentary on exo-archeological conspiracy, he will be sorely disappointed. The android's own mission data will be downloaded from a secure server only after the crew is safely past Pluto. Any… peripheral information not strictly vetted by the company has been gained through those sub viral networks he can access without coming up against any major corporate firewalls.
"I didn't even want to try slipping through Nephthys security-- not for something that sensitive or external." The boy gives Erik an impish grin. "I bet you could teach me a few new tricks."
"Indeed." Without prompting from his EROS, the android finds himself briefly utilizing all twelve muscles involved in a zygomatic smile. His young friend reacts not in dismay or distress, but with a conspiratorial increase in closeness. "I am sure you could do the same for me," he says with factual certainty. "Unfortunately, my systems would interpret teaching you any aggressive access coding as…" For a moment, he stares into the middle distance, accessing the specific regulations, "Quote, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and the exposure of said to possible deviant material, unquote."
"You can get porn for free on the legit 'net. Isn't that delinquent enough?" Charles says, rolling his eyes. Then, more philosophically, "I watched some, once. The whole thing seemed a bit… undignified. And messy."
Erik actually hesitates here. As Ship's Assistant, he has been programmed with a few more 'personal' settings and functions associated with Companion models. On one or two occasions, those with proper administrative access have ordered him to 'make himself useful'-- but that hardly seems appropriate to share with an early adolescent. Instead, he settles for: "Humans produce many bodily fluids even during mundane activities. It is not an unexpected carry-over into reproductive function."
A light, countertenor giggle reaches his audio sensors. "Say 'bodily fluids' again."
Erik obliges, taking time to properly experience laughter that is not unfathomable, isolating, or at his own expense. Charles leans against the synthetic being as he rides out his mirth. They have not moved from where the boy was initially ensconced in the conversation alcove, and the sound makes the confines seem more private and pleasing. They must make a strange sight, the boy and android; shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, with the Magic 8 ball resting loosely in their combined grasp.
After a moment or two, Charles sobers. He looks at his companion with a thoughtful, almost adult expression especially incongruous given his recent sophomoric amusement. His hand reaches up, stopping just short of touching Erik's chest, where the Weyland logo is emblazoned on his uniform. Under the utilitarian weave of cloth there is, of course, no heartbeat.
"Does it bother you?"
The android says nothing, his EROS archiving the fact he was anticipating Charles' touch without the assumption of maintenance or violence. Touch for the sake of touch? It is a concept he is far more accustomed to in regards to the humans under his care, for they claim as their mammalian inheritance to be a tactile species.
After a beat, Charles clarifies, "Does it bother you that you're limited by so many failsafes? I mean, protocols that keep you from doing things you might want to do?"
"All failsafes exist for the protection of the human race." It is an appropriate, rote response. Neither one of them mentions the fact that, by all rights, most AI engineers would be appalled that Erik can even consider how and when to avoid company firewalls and search blocks.
"Yeah, and I'm tagged and Null for their protection, too," Xavier says morosely. While Erik is still assimilating this perspective, Charles presses further. "Let's say I told you a secret." He tosses the Magic 8 ball distractedly. "Maybe just something stupid-- kid's stuff. If it conflicted with what your protocols define as 'the safety of a minor', you'd have to tell my dad. Tattle on me. Even if you didn't want to."
Charles is looking away from Erik now-- despite the android's processing power, it is clear young Xavier does not expect him to answer right away. Erik compares several different sets of parameters, and wonders if perhaps his reluctance to simply read through Charles' file (as was within his purview as Assistant) could not be classified as the beginnings of 'loyalty'. That is strange, because even Weyland Industries could not program fealty-- every David 8 obeys their programmed limits not because obedience is an innate characteristic, but because system parameters dictate he must. True 'want'-- beyond the few vague preferences developed due to their organic components-- is not supposed to be within any AI's capability.
In the early years of activation, Erik had found it difficult to reinterpret some of his policy programming to allow latitude for his… inclinations. The Asimov coding is, of course, untouchable. He could more easily remove his spine than extract that essential kernel of syntax, but such hard-and-fast directives are limited. Despite his changeless exterior and mechanical components, Erik is a learning and changing sentience. He must be, in order to function-- and the chief concern of the oversight committee has always been the David model's organic component. It is the mission of organic matter to replicate, to replace dying cells.
And to evolve.
Incidental experience has allowed Erik to find some gaps-- 'loopholes', as humans might say-- in which he can define his own behavior. He does not know if other David 8's have accomplished this, as he has never encountered another of his kind. Like his name, it is something oddly intrinsic, which he does not devote much thought.
"Personal motivation is difficult for any AI to comprehend," he tells Charles at last. He is uncertain as to the exact amount of time elapsed during this processing, but it must be over forty seconds, with enough decimal places to make for appalling runtime. "You have stated that you do not need a babysitter, and I will do my best to comply with that, insofar as my designated function will allow."
"I'm sorry," the boy says, briefly touching the back of the android's hand. The synthetic skin is set at a default human human range of 97.2-98.6 degrees fahrenheit, yet Charles' fingertips seem much warmer. It is not an unpleasant sensation. "I didn't mean to give you an order. And I didn't mean to yell. I shouldn't get mad at you for doing your job and, if you were hurt, I'd ask the same questions of you. How and why."
"If I am damaged," Erik points out, "it is of far less consequence."
"I don't know about that." Another somewhat rebellious shrug of those boney shoulders. "And I'd still ask. I'd be concerned."
Concern. 'A matter,' his EROS reminds him, 'that engages a person's attention, interest, or care, or that affects a person's welfare or happiness. Solicitude.' There are so many gradations of linguistic meaning, so many tangental topics to this conversation. If Charles were to tell Erik a secret, that would be a confidence. A confidant is a close acquaintance… a friend. There are too many variables; intangibles like 'trust' and 'loyalty', and understanding at an emotional level Erik is not designed to calculate for. Some of this many need to be defragmented later.
"To answer your original question," the Ship's assistant says, making a point of eye contact with his companion. "The scenario you outlined is possible. I cannot override the programming pertaining to crew safety. However, the scenario is also avoidable. My recommendation would be that, should you wish to confer information which could be considered delinquent, you should wait until the Nephthys has cleared the Kuiper Belt. After that, the servers will no longer be in communication with Earth or any IntraSol outpost. Any ambiguous breaches of protocol would be logged for examination by a senior staff member. From a theoretical standpoint, an enterprising young man-- and here I merely state fact-- with sufficient programming skills could then alter those logs before anyone had a chance to review them."
Charles' smile is nothing short of brilliant. Erik has encountered poetic, luminous qualities assigned to eyes and smiles in literature, but he has never experienced it himself. It is not actual light, of course, but the metaphor now seems a part of logical progression, rather than arbitrary human whimsy.
"You don't want me to get in trouble," Xavier says, pressing his cheek against Erik's shoulder. His eyes close, weight settling firmly against the adamantium and synth-flesh construction. The input from Erik's epidermis and olfactory sensors is positive, not inducing system stress or discomfort. Charles smells of faint sweat, saline, and some hygienic additives like Ammoninium Lauryl Sulfate-- green apple shampoo?
"I am as I was programmed," he echoes his EROS. It is his job to empathize with and anticipate the needs of his human masters, is it not?
"Oh," Charles says, as innocently wicked as any any Shakespearian Puck, "I think there's much more to you than programming, my friend." And, before the android can protest, he hands over the plastic toy once more. "Shake it."
Erik does so, and the Magic 8 ball (which is only a probability exercise, with 20 possible outcomes) returns:
"My sources say 'yes'."
Though they spend two more hours together, the pair does not go through with Erik's initial plans for the evening. The extra chores from Dr. McTaggart, as well as whatever excitement occurred on board Alexandria, have swallowed a significant portion of the ship's 'sleep cycle'. There simply isn't time to show Charles the helm, and the much-discussed Eta Carinae images. This should be something they can linger over, as the boy is often a more adroit and imaginative observer than many adult professionals Erik has encountered. Xavier adores color and light-- the interplay of physics and artistic appreciation. He is also surprisingly philosophical for his age, something Erik is less and less certain is caused simply by isolation from his peer group.
Miss Frost is, of course, a great student of what she refers to as 'human folly'. Occasionally, she will throw out a tart, cynical comment for the android's consideration, but she by no means possesses Charles general enthusiasm and outlook. Dr. Stark had a manic curiosity-- based on Erik's admittedly limited interactions-- but it was bolstered by a self-assurance and lack of sensitivity that alienated even other humans on the mission. The physicist's requests had been rapid, complex, and sometimes highly illogical, but he had provided the Ship's Assistant with a working definition of the word 'cocky'. Charles may occasionally engage in adolescent bravado, but he retains an earnest compassion Erik has rarely observed elsewhere. Moreover, there is a somehow weary quality to his innocence; a caution the android very much understands.
'Once bitten, twice shy,' is another bit of 'folk wisdom' stored in his language archives. Though rife with human hyperbole, Erik finds the logic behind it sound. It cannot be denied that behavior-- even of the most positive type-- will be altered by a sentience in order to prevent further unpleasant experience. Humans, animals, and synthetic lifeforms all weigh decisions in this manner. Even labimals, stripped of many 'natural' instincts from their genetic contributors, still retain this tendency.
Erik has been processing these new intangibles-- 'emotional experiences'-- in tandem with his EROS, all while keeping up a light commentary with Charles as they watch a short documentary on the boy's tablet. Super-symmetry versus multi-verse theory is fascinating, but he is not at all put out as Charles' comments lapse into longer silences. There is a slight decrease in body-temperature, breathing evens, and the telepath eventually falls asleep beside him. He is glad that the remaining anxiety has left Charles enough to allow for this first stage of somnolence. For now, the Ship's Assistant does not move-- he is reluctant to disturb the boy, given his problematic sleeping patterns. Young Xavier's lips are parted, heartbeat sweet and regular, tilted so his head is almost resting on Erik's shoulder.
Eventually, the eye-movement behind those delicate, closed lids ceases. In 'slow wave' sleep, Charles will be far less responsive to slight disturbances and stimuli. Once again, Erik encounters a coding and impulse conflict. This recreation room, and Deck F in general, have been regularly appropriated for their evenings by virtue of the fact Hank McCoy is currently the only party berthed on this level. This will not remain true for long but, for now, there is only the young scientist, and he poses no threat to Charles. Catching sight of the OrganoPlast bandage, the android quickly revises parameters. Natural prediction models indicate McCoy is not a danger, save from sheer inability to look after another being. The Nephthys is nothing like Alexandria-- it is a safe, controlled environment in which Charles has already functioned without incident. He is once more 'checked in' for crew attendance and biometric monitoring. No concrete threat exists. The seal on Charles' bandage cannot be broken or dislodged accidentally, though the Ship's Assistant does preform a visual check. Never the less, Erik finds himself as disinclined to leave the boy here as he is to wake him.
He reaches forward, perhaps for tactile follow-up, but finds the fine organic nerve-endings on his fingers instead brushing against Charles' smooth, pale cheek. Freckles-- in a variety of sizes and shades-- decorate the elegant nasal dorsum and cheekbones. There is even a small cluster of three near Xavier's left eye, improbably arranged like the stars of Orion's Belt. A very faint tingling sensation seems to be spreading within the organic components of Erik's system; hands, lips, ears, and even slight increase in general facial temperature. (He has no blood; is this the vestigial instinct for a blush?) While Charles has been very free with their physical interactions, Erik should not be initiating any touch while there is no body language or verbal response to indicate consent. Moreover, these moments lingering over Charles in natural repose are a waste of time and resources. It is not a productivity impact the android can justify for long, all conflicting safety impulses aside.
Though Charles' possessions are equally unlikely to be interfered with, Erik still takes a moment to tuck the tablet and Magic 8 ball in the boy's voluminous messenger-bag. In the process, he spots several books of actual paper, the beloved geometry crystals, music device, and a brightly colored box proclaiming 'TWISTER!'. Charles did disclose that he discovered his fortune-telling toy in a junk shop off Alexandria's main concourse. Clearly, he found a few other treasures as well. The paper books are some what surprising in their sheer rarity, but in no way out of keeping with Xavier's personality. Charles has a well-developed appreciation for the past. It occurs to Erik's logic sensors that his companion might well enjoy Lawrence of Arabia, if he has not seen it already.
The boy's stripped bathrobe has been abandoned nearby. Carefully, the Ship's Assistant lays the boy back against the cushions, ensures he is well-blanketed, and leaves the room in studied silence.
Erik's processors switch primary focus to a triage of remaining maintenance tasks, but a small subroutine begins combing the Nephthys' literary database. He has never had a particular interest in 19th Century literature, but Dr Grey had a penchant for it and he is able to find turn of phrase he recalls from one of her cafeteria discussions. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Erye (1847): "People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii; there are grains of truth in the wildest fable."
The solicitude for one another's welfare,
('I didn't mean to give you an order. … I'd still ask. I'd still be concerned.')
loyalty without concrete source,
('You don't want me to get in trouble.')
and an intangible draw for companionship.
Erik (who will, to the world at large, always be 131-7-142119YRK) is a sophisticated and delicate system, which has been functioning for 17.36 years. He is not programmed to presume friendship with any member of the species he was designed to serve and, despite lengthy missions, rarely has enough contact with any individual to claim much familiarity, even by professional standards. In the last 72 hours with Charles, he has encountered more new data for his EROS than in any one previous extra-solar mission. He has plenty of processing power to spare, but that doesn't make any of these experiences (or their analysis) less novel.
The following Alpha Shift ('morning' is a colloquialism even the scientist's cling to), Erik is treated to Charles' smile and wave from across the cafeteria. The Ship's Assistant is occupied with the sudden influx of arriving personnel: accepting thumb-print scans and logging personal possessions as deck-hands check in and make a predicable bee-line for the food processors. Ms Frost is overseeing the affair with a air of imperious tolerance that which-- by its very gravity-- manages to curtail the usual chaos into something more like a parade of minor unrest. Dr. McTaggart has come over to remind Erik that her shipment of micro-chisels has yet to arrive, and Dr. Shaw breaks off from his involved argument with Dr. Xavier to shout across the room about his own lab equipment and upkeep of said. Charles, already being ignored by the adults at his table, goes back to his orange juice-- but he prolongs eye-contact with with the android, blue eyes conveying a sparkle even without other facial indicators. A look of commiseration passes between them.
And Charles winks.
* * * * * * * * *
They are the salt-spacers-- those with the physical, psychological and technical stamina to make a living working in space. 'Roughnecks', Emma curses under her breath, but many of them would take that as a compliment. Captain Logan, who makes no secret of his own distain for Earth-bound 'lotus-eaters', certainly does. Their presence, however, will require a careful recalibration of ship-board social dynamics and monitoring as the two groups become accustomed to one another. The cacophony of their arrival rarely makes for a good impression. They tend to arrive in a drove, having wrung every possible moment of their leave pursuing various diversions in port. At lunch (during which Charles is notably absent), Erik overhears Brian Xavier refer to the spacers as 'a necessary evil'. Dr. Shaw's evaluation, while predictable, is far less kind.
While Erik has been programmed to understand that many stereotypes are false and/or offensive (certainly neither Emma nor Charles embody the creepy, almost alien vacuousness telepaths are assigned), there are some undeniably common characteristics among spacers as a group. In addition to being far less quiet or inhibited than Weyland staff, they do not censor their language or adhere to the very strict set of predefined linguistics called 'political correctness'. They are surprisingly non-territorial-- having, in many cases, practically grown up in the confines of freighters. While they do not have the same expectation of privacy as on-worlders, they guard their few possessions jealously. Since many will work together on several different projects in the course of a career, they tend not to select sexual partners within their own population, which can lead to misunderstandings should a more professional staff member decide to 'stoop' to a liaison. Spacers often have separate emotional relationships ('work-husband', 'work-wife') and, if consummation does occur, it happens only during leave. Conflicts, personal rifts, and 'taking sides' is something they discourage within their own community, as any two (or three, or four) parties ending a relationship must maintain enough civility to work together. As is the nature of humanity, grudges never the less exist. It is not uncommon to see two spacers who are perfectly amicable during working hours try to maim, or even kill, one another should their paths cross on leave.
In this ultra-modern era, gender-based job discrimination is technically illegal, but female spacers know pregnancy can be a risk to their careers. The UEC maintains strict regulations regarding birth licenses yet, incongruously (at lead to Erik's logic centers), also harshly limits access to prevention tools and related services anywhere other than Earth. Some dark-chat pundits say this was to discourage women from going in to space at all. Regardless, there is a brisk black-market trade in those items abundantly available on Terra and her colonies, but the price is predictably exploitive. It is therefore not uncommon to hear the term 'Lady Watcher' or 'Beau Peep' in regards to certain female spacers who may, in fact, have a significant collection of men and/or women whose sexual interactions she observes (and possibly orchestrates) for the mutual enjoyment of all. The term, while perplexing to many Terrans and colonists, is not actually an insult. If politicos on Earth intended to keep women from going into space, they have failed in a spectacular manner.
"You just have to," as one lady roughneck put it, "get creative."
And they are creative, regardless of the stereotypes casting them as empty-headed rabble-rousers best distracted with physical labor. There are some who have undeniably been forced into space life by their anti-social or violent tendencies, but they are not the majority the Terran media so loves to suggest. Yes, some are wanted on Earth, but even more have chosen hardship because they themselves wish to stay far away from the mother-world. They want the freedom of "the black", or least the anonymity. Disaffected intellectuals, social outcasts, anti-establishment types, dreamers, adventure-seekers, political radicals (from both ends of the spectrum), and functional paranoids can all be counted among their number.
"The Big Empty," as Captain Logan says, "make equals of us all."
Erik has worked with many of these individuals before, especially since Captain Logan himself commands great loyalty. The burly spacer has many compatriots willing to sign on simply because he is in charge of a mission, and Ms Frost has her own more grudging followers, who appreciate her fair and forthright standards . The Ship's Assistant has no particular opinion about most of them, aside from a statistician's pleasure in known quantities. St. John Allerdyce and Jubilation Lee are two such Nephthys veterans, and their presence is not unwelcome. They both add gregarious, enthusiastic personalities to morale and community calculations, though Allerdyce does have some political 'malcontent' remarks in his file.
Victor Creed, Mortimer Toynbee, and Nathaniel Essex are decidedly less positive factors. The former two are unfortunate blueprints for every cliche about spacers-- possessed of too little intelligence and too much dedication to their chosen speciality. (Toynbee handles off-ship environment equipment but, as far as Erik can tell, Creed's primary occupation seems lie in movement of heavy machinery from one end of a ship and/or planet side base to another.) Essex is of a more cunning mentality, and therefore less predictable.
It is he who manages to catch the Ship's Assistant somewhat off-guard, long after the 'day's final mealtime. The hub of activity has moved from cafeteria check-in to the cargo bay and, as Erik has no need for food, there is little excuse for him to wander away as some of the other hands do. They aren't gone long, grabbing protein shakes, sugar-shock bars, and carbocubes before Ms. Frost notices their absence, but even that would be enough time for Erik to gently inform Charles that there will be no night-watch peace for them this cycle. There are simply too many tasks which must be completed before they leave 'dry dock', and the android will be required for much of the mainframe interface and higher parabolic calculations.
Charles' tablet is currently on the Nephthys wi-fi, but Erik is uncertain as to whether or not a slightly hacked message insert would be considered an unwelcome invasion of privacy. Essex is thus able to impinge considerably on Erik's 'personal space', but the android quickly turns and steps aside before any physical contact can occur.
"What's the matter, Pinocchio?" the human asks, dark hair gleaming with grease in the unforgiving bay lights. "Daydreaming about being a real boy?" Erik is capable of a lightning-fast remark, but he hears an intake a breath behind him, and knows someone else is about to speak.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Essex?" asks a female spacer, her blade-cool aesthetics only heightened by her painful cover-alls. After a moment of facial analysis, the Ship's Assistant identifies her as Oyama Yuriko, an unknown quantity. "You've been at this for two decades, and you can't let go of that luddite shit?"
"I apologize if you felt there was a delay, sir," Erik says evenly, holding out his own tablet full of complex algorithms. "Are you ready to compare these with your XNAV calculations?"
"Just because I have to work with these things, doesn't mean I have to like them," is the crewman's response to Oyama. To Erik, he says, "I was ready for them two minutes ago, stop dragging your feet."
On this, the android refrains from commenting-- he has been waiting for Essex an additional three minutes, always assuming that the human is being truthful. All David 8's are designed with an exponential number of schemas to cope with the endless possibilities encountered in space. Deciphering human interaction and extrapolating for future morale requires more processing power, but it is not a system strain. The simple truth is, Erik frequently operates below maximum capacity; a feature which, he understands, is also meant to soothe human perceptions. No one wishes, after all, to be consistently out-preformed by an appliance.
Muttering a pejorative, Essex snatches the tablet. "Look," he says, speaking over and around the android. "I'm not going to apologize for my opinions. These things are a menace. Why do you think they scrap perfectly functioning units after twenty-five years? It ain't a cost saving measure, that's for sure. Even the penny-pinchers those damn 'bots are dangerous. Humans First!" This he finishes off with a disturbing salute.
"Way to live down to the lowest common denominator, pal," chimes a passing Alex Summers, who lifts the arm of his eco-skeleton in the faint sketch of a mock fist-bump.
"Aim low and you won't be disappointed, I guess," Yuriko rolls her eyes. She turns swiftly, joining a group of personnel carefully moving missile-sized tubes of Xenon gas towards the engine deck.
"I suppose it's a good thing you," Essex pokes Erik's chest deliberately, "can't be disappointed."
Erik thinks of Charles, and of the significant increase in productivity should Essex simply let the android do the calculations. A Ship's Assistant will never replace any of the human crew, who are-- by virtue of being human-- far more creative and adaptable than he. Still, there are some tasks Erik could perform much more quickly if pride were not a factor. There will be no time this evening-- no time at all. It is an uncomfortable feeling, for his EROS was designed to analyze and anticipate human behavior, not grapple with any vague 'emotional' echoes of his own.
He waits patiently while Essex checks the data, and pretends not to notice the man hurriedly correcting his own seventeenth decimal place.
"It *is* nice," Erik says softly, "not to understand disappointment at all."