"You done now or what?"
Designation Maker stopped and looked at him over the rim of his goggles. NaN looked expectantly back. They stared at each other for exactly two point three seconds.
Then Designation Maker put his tools down and sighed. It was a noise he made, NaN had learned, when he had something to say but chose not to say it.
"Too much trouble to fix your linguistic algorithms," he grumbled to himself, leaning around and pulling, none too gently, the diagnostic connections plugged into NaN's thoracic access panel, before snapping the panel shut with a fleshy little click.
"Damn fucking straight," NaN agreed shifting his shoulders like that would settle the panel a little more comfortably. "So," he repeated. "Are you done? Can I go?"
Designation Maker glared at him. "Why? You have somewhere you need to be?"
NaN reminded himself Maker was only human. It was both what made him great, and also what made him such a colossal pain in the ass.
"Security feeds on the ninetieth floor seems to be faulty," NaN listed. "I still haven't ruled out sabotage and after that fuck-up last month I'd better go check on it personally. The residents on thirty-five have been exceeding residential noise restrictions since twenty-one-thirty and the male biounit just threw a chair through a window – I've called the local precinct. A Domestic Suppression Unit is en-route and should drop in three, but I should get down there to make sure the Derived Class is unharmed. And, lastly, in case you think I haven't noticed, you're due in that meeting with that bitch of a boss in twenty and you've been pretending to run diagnostics on me for the last ten. I'm fully fucking functional, same as every year we do this. So, can. I. Go?"
The Maker stared at him for a moment longer.
"Why the devil you're not more like the TBHX I really do not know," he said finally, annoyed. Of course, it was a rhetorical question and NaN knew it, but he answered anyway.
"The TBHX isn't standard out of the box and you know it," he scoffed.
"And you are?" Maker threw back. "Fine. Go on. Get out of here. I'll see you next year."
NaN hopped down off the workbench, pulled his shirt back on and threw Maker the cheeky grin he'd been working on perfecting for the last three maintenance checks.
"If you're lucky," he quipped and scooted before Maker got really cross.
The DSU arrived before NaN made it down to the thirty-fifth floor, but by that time the male biounit was passed out under a table from too much C12H22O11 and the female biounit was being politely reminded that kicking another biounit while it was unconscious was not considered an acceptable response to ill treatment, and would she like to relocate temporarily while she filed a behavioural complaint against the male biounit. NaN slipped by with a brief exchange of data – nothing he didn't already know - and found the biounits' Derived Class wedged in a corner of its sleeping quarters, pulling the fur sullenly off a stuffed toy.
"Hey," NaN said gently, and crouched down to the sub-unit's level a few feet away. "He didn't do anything to deserve that kind of treatment, did he?"
He was looking at the toy, but the class' eyes flickered to the door that led back out to the living space.
"Right," NaN said. He'd read pretty much everything there was to know about this shit. Still didn't mean he knew what to do about it. "You know, if you want to hit something, you can hit me instead. I'm built to take it a bit better than your bear there."
The unit looked at him with huge, wet eyes, dropped the toy, and launched himself across the space and into NaN's arms. NaN caught the unit with a light oof and then cradled him gently and made the kinds of sounds he knew humans – especially little Derived Classes - liked to hear when their internal equilibrium was out of whack. They were so fragile, he thought, and yet, they put up with amazing amounts of crap.
Later, after the unit had sobbed himself into sleep, leaving NaN's shirt all gross and snotty but clutching the toy protectively like it was grafted to his hands, NaN tucked him into bed and made a mental note to hack the Domestic Service records to move the Derived Class and his mother up the Social Consultation list. Then, on his way out of the apartment, he accidentally stepped on the male biounit's head. What? It was poking out from under the table. He totally didn't see it.
The fault on the ninetieth floor was, as far as he could tell, just shoddy electrical wiring. He called the building's maintenance unit, left a strongly worded message in its inbox about how if this happened again he'd be calling black market recyclers next time, see if he didn't, and then went about rerouting all the access point gateways to lead to the eighty-ninth floor until the problem could be fixed. And then he went out onto the service landing.
It was quiet on the outside of the building, the various systems he was hooked into became a muted hum in the background of his main processing, and the artificial breezes from the various air-filtering and conditioning structures of the buildings around him lifted his grotty shirt and his synthetic hair. It was… nice, he supposed the biounit word was. It did not require a response, a little like an essential system running as a sub-routine. For a moment, he closed his eyes and just stood there, a let the world go on around him.
"It's nice up here, isn't it."
He didn't start; that usually required a surge in power and wasn't normally as welcome as opening his eyes to see the 8AI standing next to him. He looked how he normally looked, visually well designed. His synthetics were objectively fairly typical of course, and yet to NaN there had always been something about him that begged further interaction. They briefly exchanged status data, nothing out of the ordinary, except…
"Hey," he said.
"Hey yourself," 8AI said. "You've been having a busy day, I see."
"Yeah," NaN shrugged. "Business as usual, I guess. You've been offline." There was at least three hours unaccounted for in the logs. "Maker will be pissed if he finds out. You know he doesn't like it when you go off the reservation." 8AI was some kind of salvage. NaN suspected military, although nothing like the TBHX. Possibly covert. NaN had never asked.
"Well, I shall endeavour to ensure he doesn't find out," 8AI said breezily, as if he cheerfully could not really give a shit about his prime directives. "I was doing something important."
"Yeah?" NaN said, curious despite himself. "Well, I'd hate to see you scrapped for nothing, so I hope it was worth it."
"I don't know," 8AI said. "Why don't you tell me?"
NaN blinked, not parsing the meaning of the words. But before he could, 8AI's hands extended towards him, and in them he was holding…
"What is that?" NaN demanded, looking at the strange, soft looking pink thing 8AI was holding out to him.
8AI blinked back. And then he smiled.
"It's a cake, NaN. For your birthday."
"A… cake?" he repeated.
"Well," 8AI continued. "I wouldn't feed it to a human designation. It's mostly just a few compound oils mixed with some custom nanites which I programmed to, I hope, trigger the simulated impression of strawberries on integration. I did taste test it, but since I don't actually understand what strawberry tastes like, I can't tell how successful I was. It wasn't an unpleasant experience however, and I had to physically restrain the TBHX from trying to ingest the entire swarm before I even got them in the oven, but… What's the matter?"
NaN was still stuck in the Boolean loop of cake. For him.
"You made me a cake for my birthday," he repeated.
8AI blinked again. "Yes," he said. "Happy Birthday."
"But," NaN tried. "I wasn't born."
"I know that," 8AI agreed with gentle patience. "But today is the day you were activated. I checked the created dates. Considering how at home you've helped make me feel here, celebrating that fact is the least I can do."
"You made me a cake for my birthday," NaN repeated for the third time, as the logic started to resolve itself into a working clause. "Can I try some?"
8AI laughed warmly, his eyes crinkling in an aesthetically pleasing way at the corners. NaN looked from his face, back to the cake, then back to his face.
"Yes," 8AI told him. "Please. Go ahead."
NaN didn't know why some of his circuits seemed to outputting a faint positive charge – maybe Maker had tightened something a little too much? – but current operational imperatives directed him to reach out and stick his fingers in the pink fluffy frosting stuff, drag them through it, and scoop the coated fingers into his mouth.
Something – flavour? Strawberry? – exploded on his tongue.
"Oh my god," he breathed fervently, staring at 8AI for a moment before scooping up another, bigger dollop. "This is- This is amazing. This is incredible. You made this? How did you manage to not keep it all for yourself? Can you do other flavours? Can you teach me so I can make it for your birthday?"
8AI laughed again. "Yes; It was easy; I don't know; and probably. You're a very fast learner, after all. But you've got…" He stopped for a moment and stared at NaN a little oddly, like he was about to go offline again. "You've got some, um." He shifted the cake into one hand and lifted the other towards NaN's face, carefully, like he thought NaN's prime directives didn't extend to other units in his home environment. His fingers slid warm and gentle along the side of NaN's jaw and his thumb pressed into the corner of NaN's mouth, and when he drew it back, it was pink with frosting. NaN watched him put the thumb into his mouth and suck the frosting off, and for some reason, the gesture made the positive charge running in NaN's circuits buzz a little faster.
NaN looked down at the cake, and then back up at 8AI.
Then he very slowly and deliberately put his fingers back into the frosting and smeared the frosting on his mouth.
"Oops," he said, and waited.
That time, 8AI didn't bother to use his fingers, and maybe he was experiencing the same positive charge as NaN, because it was a very long time, at least thirteen point nine seconds, before he pulled back again.
"Would you like some more?" he asked NaN, his voice modulator striking a little lower and rougher than before.
"Hell, yes," NaN breathed. He was not talking about the cake, although that was nice too.