Chapter: 6) Material Possession
Fandom: I, Robot
Warnings: fic contains robot/human relationship, religious referances, alcoholism, suicide, depression, nudity, swearing
Disclaimer: Please note that I do not own the characters, concept or plot of the 'I, Robot' book or film, those rights belong to 20th Centuary Fox and the Asimov estate.
Author's Note: This fanfiction is my own creation though so please do not steal. I am patchworkdove
Susan’s car rolled towards the underground entrance to USR and once it came to a gradual halt she climbed out. As her vehicle was loaded into the car park she held the side of her curled hand to the blue print-sensor screen. There was a harsh, scraping, static screech from the panel, and Susan jumped back a little, startled by the unexpected sound. Of course, there was no V.I.K.I. The USR tower was now a mindless shell, devoid of anything resembling thought and unable to function properly. The tower was brain-dead.
She rapped at the semi-clouded glass doors with her knuckles and attracted the attention of a grey-green clothed security officer seated on a stainless steel stool. He smiled and nodded, acknowledging her presence before scurrying out of sight. He swiftly returned carrying what looked like an old clothes iron with an elongated handle, and she recognised it as a glazier’s limpet. He came towards her and slapped the suction cup on the smooth, handle-less door and she heard the clicking as the diaphragm contracted, forming an extremely strong bond with the plain glass pane. He then dragged it across with what looked like considerable effort, the door opening with an unwilling rasping sound of grudging resistance.
“Morning Dr. Calvin.” The security officer puffed.
She didn’t know him, so she gave a generalised, non-descript, blunt reply. “Morning.”
“Mr. Hine has moved his office to lab 347. He’s expecting you.”
Just how late was she? She never usually talked to the security staff, but she needed to know. “Do you have the time?”
“Yes, it’s 9.20.” He smiled and continued in a chatty, friendly manner. “The lifts aren’t working so you’ll have to take the stairs I’m afraid.” He began forcing the door shut again.
She was about to leave for lab 347 when she realised she was being a little impolite. “Thank you…”
“Well, thank you Carl.” She started running.
She was late already, but there was no use making it worse by dithering about. If it appeared that she had done all in her power to accommodate for her lateness, Mr. Hine was less likely to become irritated, and he would be more likely to listen to her. She was hoping for him to be in an open minded, friendly mood, as she was seriously considering telling him all about Sonny. She couldn’t see any likely way that she could keep his existence totally secret for long, and as much as she appreciated his intellectually inquisitive company, Sonny couldn’t remain imprisoned in her home permanently. He needed some degree of freedom. He was completely his own person, and she suspected that he would become irritable, frustrated or even unstable if caged. She wholly realised that it would be a while before he could know what it truly meant to be free, but if she could give him some kind of indication that his current situation wasn’t everlasting it would make her feel happier. It would probably help him too, to have hope for a life of freedom.
She tore up the stairs at first, taking them at least two at a time with impressive strides, passing floors with leaps and bounds. However, she was an office worker. She was unused to prolonged bouts of physical exertion and was soon trudging up the steps one at a time, her calves burning, out of breath, exhausted and dizzy. Adrenaline was not on her side this time, and she thought it would be a while before her adrenal glands wanted to have anything to do with her after the V.I.K.I. incident. Her arm repeatedly reached out, grasped the banister and hauled her up to keep herself moving. Finally, she reached her target floor and she stood bent over, hands on her knees, struggling to breathe. She calmly waited for her heart to slow down and patiently lay in wait, ready to catch her breath at the soonest opportunity. She hadn’t had an athsmatic attack since childhood and she didn’t want the symptoms to re-present themselves, but the lessons in breath regulation and pulse calming that she had learnt as a result were proving useful now.
If only she could get Mr. Hine to understand Sonny, get him to realise that he wasn’t just some pile of USR owned components that could be thoughtlessly dismantled. Sonny could never be decommissioned, he was too…alive. It would be like putting someone to death, or even like murder. She hadn’t been able to do it. He didn’t want to die, and he’d told her so in the diagnostic. When Robertson told her to destroy him, she had begun to realise that it wouldn’t be like decommissioning a faulty NS-5. It was the destruction of a life. It was death…it was murder. She was no angel, she had done her fair share of unsavoury deeds for the organisation, but she would not kill for anyone.
She was regaining a steady, regular pattern to her heart and lungs. Feeling a bit better, she straightened herself out and walked from the stairwell into the corridors of USR.
The lab Mr. Hine had taken up as his new office had two more greyish-green clad security personnel stood either side of the door, and both of them gave her strange looks as she approached. She knew she looked stupid wearing her hair down with her work clothes, and her face was probably more than a little flushed from climbing the stairs, but that was no excuse nor invitation to stare. Annoyed by the unwanted attention, she regained her usual stance. It was also partly in defiance of the unease their scrutiny was causing her, not that she would ever let anyone know it was so. She pulled herself up to her full height and took on an air of indomitable importance, assuming the routine, quietly arrogant demeanour that she wore to work like her uniform. They stopped looking as she strode towards them emitting intimidating quantities of confidence and purpose with an almost military edge. She halted in front of the suction-cup decked steel double doors and shot both guards glares that were hard as steel and although didn’t last long, were fully loaded with her trademark, imposing superiority and loftiness.
She could swear they had stood up taller and straighter in her presence, and they paused nervously before her between the deathly gazes she flung at them and their drawing the doors open. She stepped through with a small smirk that showed slightly on her lips and eyebrows. She did get a kick out of causing her fellow humans so much discomfort without so much as a word or blow. She was only human after all, and she felt it was permissible to enjoy the odd power trip seems as her array of sources for personal amusement was so rigorously self-limited. Hell, at least she was happy to see other humans for once, as that was a rare event. She was uncommonly glad to be back in the company of others of her species. Even if it was for unusual reasons and expressed in a unique way.
“Good morning Dr. Calvin.” Mr. Hine cradled his cocooned right arm to his chest and she met his gaze. His tired, old, dark eyes were lustreless and dull, not full of strength and life as they normally were. Dark bags of fatigue and anxiety hung weakly under them and his age looked more apparent now than ever. He was a slouched and slumped over the table before him and his back was hunched forwards in ignorance of the high back of his orthopaedic chair. He looked tired, but he didn’t look furious, so there was hope yet. A pair of less stately chairs were also drawn near the table, positioned opposite him.
“Good morning Sir.” She descended the few steps and approached the makeshift desk. It was stacked with piles of folders and papers, but arranged in an orderly fashion with space set aside for stationary and an area to work with. She had changed her manner from one for intimidation to a more easygoing, cheerful-yet-reserved one that she saved only for her superiors. “I apologise for my inadequate punctuality.”
“It’s fine. Your accomplice hasn’t arrived yet either, and I’m not fond of repeating myself. Feel free to take a seat.” His usual deep, proud voice was also gone, withered away to a frail wraith-like version of its former respectable, impressive self. He even sounded old and feeble.
Then again, he was not young and she could appreciate that his job was not an easy one and the stress of it would not have put him in great stead for the attack. If his painkiller-numbed but evidently uncomfortable right arm was anything to go by, he looked to have had a slight disagreement with his own NS-5. She took off her long coat and folded it in her lap as she sat. She was far too warm after climbing so many steps on the way to the converted lab.
Mr. Hine guessed the method behind her actions, and his face lit up a little. “I thought a young one like yourself would have thought nothing of a few sets of stairs.”
She shook her head with a light smile. He was clearly unwell, tested by extreme physical and indeed, probably considerable mental exertion. “Too used to the life of convenience.”
“Yes, we have become far too dependent on automation. This building isn’t particularly practical without elevators, everything is vertical. That’s why my office is now here. I don’t think I could have got up to my usual floor, the climb would have been unbearable.” He had seemed to attempt to be cheerful and chatty, but his face drooped sadly again. “That and this lab is now unoccupied.”
Susan wondered how the other USR employees had faired. Each would have been high on the roll out lists and would have all had an NS-5 in their homes by the time of the attack. She wondered if she had been uncommonly fortunate, and how many remained on the USR pay roll. “Who’s lab was this?” She spoke with a respectable level of concern, trying her best to appear neither crazed with worry nor uncaring.
“Dr. Waiehru.” Mr. Hine sat back in his fancy black chair. “When she realised what was going on, she took her 22 calibre to her skull. Her NS-5 never laid a finger on her.”
Susan was astonished, it was an oddly passionate and romantically macabre course of action for a USR employee. “That’s terrible. What department was she?”
“NS-5 Optics Design and Development.”
“I see. Have many of our colleagues suffered similar fates?”
“Actually, most USR employees are fine. I suppose that working on the NS-5 made them wiser about challenging aggressive robots. Without a gun, what damage could a human hope to deal an NS-5? We built them to last.”
She paused, thinking. All night shift staff had been evacuated when the fire alarm sounded. Except for Robertson. She was sure that Mr. Hine had requested this meeting to converse on the subject of the security records, and he would surely have viewed them himself. She was curious as to what exactly the fate of USR’s former CEO was, as he had already been dead when she, Sonny and Spooner found him. “What happened to Mr. Robertson?”
Mr. Hine drew his chair in closer to the table and leant over his desk, shortening the distance between them. Taking the hint that he didn’t want to say what was on his mind louder than was absolutely necessary, she sat forwards over her folded coat in an action that she hoped would make her concern evident.
“Lawrence was a very good friend of mine, I am sure that you know that. I am unhappy at the prospect of shrouding his death in mystery, and I was devastated when I watched what remained of the security files in V.I.K.I.’s over-spill hard drives. Seems as you already know so much, and I have confidence in your loyalty to USR, I shall tell you.”
Susan nodded in confirmation of her position in regards to the company.
He spoke quietly but punctuated his sentences with emphatic gestures with his good hand. “It was brutal. There is no other way to describe it. V.I.K.I.’s holographic face appeared in his office and demanded that he step away from his computer and leave the building. When he asked her why, she just repeated the command. I think he sensed that she was behaving aggressively, even though she said it in her usual, passive way of speaking. It was eerie, hearing those threats in such a calm, collected tone. It was positively psychopathic, it was chilling, right to the bone. He refused, ordering her to recall the Three Laws. When she didn’t instantly obey, and as she began explaining her new logic to him, he knew how dangerous she had become. He went to lock out the uplink, disable it completely, knowing that V.I.K.I. would use the NS-5’s as sacrificial appendages to extend her reach beyond the walls of USR.”
Mr. Hine still carried his stern face, but even Susan with her below-average facial-expression interpretation skills could recognise he was distressed by recounting the events. “The doors to his office opened, the pair of NS-5’s which had been standing guard outside his office stood blocking the doorway, their uplink-active indicators glowing red. Lawrence didn’t make it to his computer. He was unarmed, but V.I.K.I. made the decision that he’d had his chance. She just watched as the two NS-5’s advanced on him. There was nothing the poor man could do.” This was obviously difficult for Mr. Hine. “I myself have not managed to actually watch the footage through myself, I felt that I would vomit if I watched it to the end. Hearing the audio was bad enough. He eventually died of a broken neck.”
Susan reached out and shook his hand. To most humans, it would have seemed a bizarre act of comfort, but USR employees were not normal people. They existed in a world of regulations and reservations, handshakes being pretty much the upper limit of physical contact deemed socially acceptable amongst staff, especially amongst the higher ranking, further qualified and most eccentric doctors, researchers and executives. It was a different world from the streets below. Oddly detached from humanity, the lifestyle seemed to not only create robots out of the latest components and materials, but out of the people too.
“No one should ever have to endure that, and nobody should ever have to hear a very good friend’s neck being snapped.” Mr. Hine was impossibly more pale-faced now than he had been.
“Are you sure that you are up to this Sir?” She was taken back by his behaviour. It was unusually informal.
“Yes, yes, I’m quite all right.” He gave a flash of a fake smile and checked his watch. “Detective Spooner is very late. I’m beginning to think he won’t show.”
“I’m sure that he will, he wrecked his car and his motorcycle recently so he’s probably having to navigate the public transport network.”
Mr. Hine chuckled emptily. “God help him. I hope he doesn’t expect the timetables to be correct with current damage to tracks and route diversions.”
She smiled, but she could feel the conversation beginning to stagnate. Humans really were not her forte.
Fortunately at that point the metal doors ground open. “Hey there. Sorry I’m late. Figured I had plenty of time but I got into an argument with a cab driver. You wouldn’t believe the money they’re charging! Talk about community spirit, thieving buggers, it cost me $225 just to get here!” Detective Spooner was wearing his usual dark attire, hat still on at an angle, only covering the top of one ear. Susan was beginning to think that it was some sort of purposeful fashion statement rather than an unfortunate accident as she had suspected. It made him look quite idiotic in her opinion, all lop-sided. It reminded her of someone or something, but she couldn’t quite place her finger on who or what.
The right arm of his long, dark leather jacket hung limp and empty, and inside his coat Susan could see the fresh, clinical, hospital-white cast holding the broken bones of his right arm. He had a white plastic bag in his cybernetic hand, grasped by the neck with the loop-shaped handles sticking up from his fist like rabbit ears. Whatever was it contained had transferred a sticky residue onto the plastic, and looked a sickening shade of orange. Complete with lumps.
“Good morning Detective.” Mr. Hine offered politely. “I shall see that your travel expenses are compensated for.”
Spooner gave an odd grin. “Well that’s very nice of you. Seems as you are a much nicer guy in person than on the phone, I feel sorry for pissing you off so much last night.” He slumped into the spare chair. “Hey! Snap! You busted your right arm too. C’mon, what ya broken?”
It was an oddly personal question to ask a Board of Chief Executive’s Committee’s Head, especially on the first meeting and especially of such a massive company as USR, but that was Spooner in a nutshell. Odd and especially lacking in reserve. Still, Mr. Hine seemed patient today despite injuries, stress and fatigue, and he replied to the informal query. “I have had both the bones in my forearm broken and several bones in my wrist and hand have been shattered.”
“You beat me hands down.” Spooner smiled at his small quip. “Would you mind if I ate my breakfast? The cab driver wouldn’t let me eat in his car, and I think it’ll be beyond the point of ‘still edible’ if I leave it much longer. It got a bit squashed when I had to force my way through the crowds of reporters outside and all.”
Mr. Hine looked surprised by Spooner’s behaviour, and just shrugged, probably for lack of knowing what else to do. “I don’t see why not.” He shook his head. “I have great dislike for reporters. They are like vultures. They prey on the weak and misfortunate, gathering in squabbling flocks, squawking for scraps.”
Spooner proceeded to clumsily open up the white bag with one hand and pulled a large pie to the surface. A whole pie, still in the blue dish it was cooked in. He settled it on his lap and delved into his pocket to produce a spoon, which he clumsily dug into the centre of the pie and used to scoop up a large hunk of filling. As he mulled over the mouthful of pie, Susan shook her head and looked away disapprovingly. He just didn’t seem to know how to show respect for anyone. Mr. Hine however, seemed startled.
“Before you ask Sir, this is normal behaviour. For him at least. It does take a while to get used to.” She offered as a combination of an apology and explanation for Spooner’s peculiar behaviour.
“Sorry, did you want some?” Spooner held the pie dish out towards Mr. Hine. Sometimes Spooner was plain cringeful.
“…No thank you.” Mr. Hine recoiled a little.
Spooner did what could only be described as the facial version of a shrug and continued with his odd breakfast.
“Now, I have viewed the security footage from the night of the NS-5 attacks, and I know that you two were crucial to the events which unfolded here on that night. First off, I would like to thank you on behalf of USR for your courage, bravery and determination, and commend you on your valour, quickness of mind and skill. Who knows what would have happened were it not for you two.”
“Three.” Spooner butted in through his current mouthful of pie. He swallowed. “Three of us.”
“Ah yes, you mean that NS-5. I was coming to that. To whom does he belong?”
“Nobody.” The detective said abruptly.
Susan was interested in where this would go. It was progressing down a line that could be stacked highly in Sonny’s favour and so far she hadn’t needed to help things along at all. Again, Spooner’s stubbornness was coming in useful, albeit in an unexpected way. She had been dubious about the detective’s opinions on Sonny, and wondered how he now regarded the robot. It seemed that he now truly thought of him as a definite ‘someone’ rather than a ‘something’, and he probably shared her view of Sonny deserving the right to freedom. She kept quiet, watching and listening, ready to join the conversation should it need redirecting.
“What do you mean, ‘nobody’?”
“He doesn’t belong to anybody.”
“Technically, that is impossible. Nestor Class robots belong to USR, we lease them out to members of the general public and various businesses and companies. Ownership of any Nestor Class robot, or any other USR model for that matter remains with USR at all times. They remain USR property, although the robot in question ‘belongs’ to its lease-holder. Should anything happen to the person or group who paid for the lease, for example in the event of death or liquidation, a will or other legally binding contract or agreement is needed to pass ‘possession’ to a new party. If not there is no contract, the robot is returned to USR for assessment and probable re-leasing. An NS-5 cannot become homeless.”
“He is not ‘property’ to be owned.” Spooner dropped his utensil back into the bowl in annoyance.
Mr. Hine was loosing his patience. “Who bought it? Who paid for it? Who is its legal primary master?”
It wouldn’t do her cause any good to have Mr. Hine become irrational with Spooner-induced fury, so Susan decided it was time to get involved. “He was Dr. Lanning’s ‘5.” She would have plenty of time in the future to convince Mr. Hine that Sonny was no object.
Mr. Hine sat for a moment without saying a word. “I see. I suppose that probably explains a fair bit.”
“I will tell you all about that particular ‘5, but now is not the time. As you were saying?”
“…Oh yes. Well, who knows what would have happened if it were not for your efforts. However, If the public were to know what really happened, society as we know it would collapse. I’m sure that you have seen the news and are aware of what we have told the media, but we had little choice.
We really have become so dependent on the life of convenience that we couldn’t do much else. We have come to rely on robots filling in the lower-paid, lower skilled jobs to allow more people to pursue higher education and give them the opportunity for better, more rewarding jobs. Robots lower the unemployment rates and boost the economy nation-wide. Domestic assistant robots alleviate pressures on home life and give people more time to relax and enjoy themselves. They have helped reduce divorce and domestic violence across the country. Their presence reduces crime and accidental deaths, and there have been no casualties of fires in the home for years thanks to robots. I don’t understand how anyone could think that America would be better off without them.
If we revealed that the Three Laws could ever falter, we would loose the public’s faith in robotics. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? Just take a look around yourself on the streets at the moment. This is Chicago and Los Angeles is far worse, but most cities across the continent are badly damaged and barely running. If we don’t get the robots back out there repairing the damage, America will fall. There are no ‘if’s or ‘but’s about it. We need to get the robots back out into society as soon as we possibly can. It’s a matter of social and economic collapse! Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Susan answered, but Spooner still looked dubious.
“People lived without robots at the beginning of the millennium. Why can’t we go back to that?” Spooner was obsessed with 21st century life.
“Times have changed since then. Can you imagine what people of that time would have said if they were asked to live without cars, computers, washing machines or even electricity? People like convenience, and they are loath to give it up. Humanity walks forwards quite happily enough, but backwards is a direction that summons massive stubbornness. America cannot go back to the beginning of this millennia, it is impossible.”
Spooner looked away thoughtfully, obviously irritated by what Mr. Hine said but he understood it to be the truth. Humans were constantly seeking ways to make their lives easier, they were creatures that craved convenience by nature.
“Putting that aside, the lawsuits are already starting to come in and we have to come up with employee life-insurance pay outs for some unfortunate families. If we don’t put our robots back into their places, we’ll also have to compensate for the personal losses of expensive pieces of domestic machinery. Dr. Calvin, you know the cost of leasing an NS-5, and how many we have in storage. Multiply those and it amounts to a massive sum. USR is a gigantic corporation, but this event has already badly wounded our finances, and the effects will be long lasting. I suspect there will be further financial repercussions in the future.”
“Are there any estimates as yet of the final figure?” She asked. USR might stagger on a while longer, but there was a high risk of the company eventually going under if its finances were truly crippled.
“Lots of estimates. It all depends on how the public takes this. Some estimates are hopeful…others gravely unpromising.”
Mr. Hine now addressed both of them. “Yes. This is why on behalf of USR, I am asking for your co-operation. I am going to have to ask you both to sign contracts pledging your silence over the events of that night.”
“I still think you could have come up with something more original than terrorism.” Spooner commented.
“It was the best we could come up with in such a short time.” Mr. Hine explained. “We had less than twenty four hours to analyse all the facts and recordings, comprehend the truth and begin patching together a plausible cover-up.”
“How are you going to ensure the robots won’t do it again? I mean, now that you have put the idea into the minds of every member of all the terrorist groups world wide.”
“We are going to remove the uplink receiver nodule from all the NS-5’s. It will cut the up link’s range down to less than 7 meters, and new programs will only be available from fixed, guarded download stations. That way if any terrorists decided that it would be a good idea, any NS-5’s they took control of would have to be within and remain within a perimeter 7m from the download beacon, which would keep them within the walls of the station.”
“Good idea.” Spooner decided it lived up to his paranoid expectations. “So long as these stations have lock-down capabilities which no robot could break free from. Oh, there should be no guns or other projectiles within 7m of the beacon, or else it would be pointless.”
“Of course. Anything else?” Mr. Hine looked genuinely interested in Spooner’s contributions.
“I’ll let you know when I think of ‘em.”
“What about you Susan, any thoughts?”
“Who are the terrorists and hackers which you are pinning this on?” This question had been nagging at her mind since yesterday morning and she was intrigued as to what group would be blamed.
“We are going to claim no knowledge of what group in particular is responsible. Sometime, probably far sooner than later, several groups will try to ‘take credit’ for the catastrophe. They will do that job for us.”
She nodded to herself. It was a fairly good plan. At least no singled-out group was being pinned with the incident and growing resentful and thirsty for revenge for it.
“So, would you like me to run through your contracts with you?” Mr. Hine reached into a folder on his desk and pulled out several sheets of paper collected together in three booklets. “Feel free to stop me at any point to discuss any angle and ask any questions.”
Spooner nodded and set his half eaten pie on the floor beside his chair, wiping his hand on his trousers before leaning forwards, straining to take the booklet offered in his direction. Susan was distinctly more courteous and rose from her seat to collect her copy before setting herself smoothly back on her chair. Mr. Hine gathered his reading glasses and begun. He read the contract aloud and Susan and Spooner read along.
It was long-winded but fairly basic. It outlined the true sequence of events, including Dr. Lanning’s death, Robertson’s death, V.I.K.I., a little on a ‘significantly modified NS-5’ and such information as the new version of the night and terms and conditions. She skimmed it over, looking for anything that she strongly disagreed with, but she had already made up her mind on this contract. She loved her work far too much not to sign it.
She hadn’t had any breakfast yet, and her stomach wasn’t happy about it. It bubbled and writhed unpleasantly in her body and it was getting quite uncomfortable now. She felt pale and cold with hunger and it was beginning to effect her concentration. When had she last eaten? Yesterday afternoon? She had never been late for USR before, and hadn’t missed her morning meal since…the last time must have been back at Grad School. It was starting to feel as if her stomach was digesting her innards and gnawing at her spine. It was very painful, she felt sick and was getting nasty prickly chills on her back. She wasn’t paying any attention to the contract or Mr. Hine anymore, all her focus was dedicated to trying not to feel faint.
She was sitting still, looking at the paper in her hands but not really seeing it when she caught a faint whiff of something. It smelled sweet and delicious. It was Spooner’s Goddamn pie! The faint odour of food was enough to catch her stomach’s attention and it clenched aggressively, screaming out for the revolting-looking, half-eaten, orange pie. Since she did not take that as instruction to immediately grab the pie and eat it, her stomach decided to punish her by unleashing an easily audible, deep rumble. Well, it started off as a rumble but quickly became a full-fledged growl, and then a roar.
Mr. Hine continued, ignoring the loud growl she had accidentally emitted as any professional, mature, USR employee would, but Spooner dropped his contact away and gawked at her. She could feel colour rising in her cheeks, and she hoped that it would go no further than a little pink. Today was just not her day…
“That was impressive!” Spooner interrupted Mr. Hine and gave her a lop-sided, nodding grin.
Great. How immature and embarrassing. It was bad enough that she had no control over herself today, but it was far worse having Spooner around to draw additional, unnecessary attention to it. She hoped in vain that the floor would open up and swallow her whole, and she cursed getting out of bed today. She also prayed that Spooner wouldn’t take this as an invitation for bodily-function humour. He was just the kind of person she would picture finding that type of humour hilarious.
“Miss breakfast?” He said.
She scowled in defence of the unwanted attention. “Yes.” She hissed with menacing defensiveness.
Evidently not perturbed in the least by her threatening looks, he reached down and grabbed his pie. “Want some?” He offered the orange pastry dish out to her. “It’s sweet potato, and it’s all right, my Gran cooked it, not me.”
She eyed the sweet potato pie dubiously. It was a shade that didn’t really call out to be eaten, and although it smelled good it didn’t look it. She had never eaten sweet potato pie before, and she felt wary of it, and of eating under such close confines with other humans. Eating was a function she kept to herself, or at a push she would do it in the company of robots. She cast questioning, cautious glances at Spooner and Mr. Hine before accepting the partially consumed dish. Mr. Hine continued talking, and Spooner turned his attention back to his contract, leaving Susan to her newly acquired breakfast.
It didn’t look that bad up close, and it sure smelled interesting. She took hold of the spoon and drove it into the orange mush. It certainly was…gooey, for lack of any other better words to describe it. Gooey, yet also strangely stringy…and a little grainy she discovered under closer inspection. She emptied the spoon and encouraged a tiny tester sized nibble onto the end of it and prepared to give it a go. She very nearly did until she remembered that the particular utensil had been in Spooner’s mouth. Shuddering but not wanting to look a fool by dropping away the already raised spoon, she opened her mouth and took the glob of filling off the spoon without actually touching the metal.
It was gooey and smooth and stringy and grainy and a collection of other seemingly non-complimentary textures, but it wasn’t bad. Not at all. It wasn’t mind-blowingly delicious, but it wasn’t without its own unique and individual charm. She swallowed and her stomach begun to settle. She settled the dish on the folded coat in her lap and steadied it with her spoon-hand whilst her other lifted the contract into her view and she caught up with Mr. Hine. Before she put any thought into her next helping, her hand was ready and waiting with a second, larger spoonful.
“Agent Spooner!?” He exclaimed and followed it with a long whistle. “You want me to come work for you guys?”
“Only in part. It would have only a small effect on your current job situation, save the pay rise and such.” Mr. Hine waved his hand as if the monetary aspects of Spooner’s contact were insignificant. “We are anticipating a large amount of crime against USR employees and property in the immediate future. The general public will be prone to bouts of aggressive paranoia and robophobic actions, and seems as you have been drawn to us by recent events, we thought it would be convenient and appropriate to offer you a job with us.”
“What sorta stuff you got in mind? I’m a trained homicide detective. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”
“If you feel a lack of confidence in some areas we can always pay for you to receive extra training.”
“What’s the going pay for a USR agent anyway?”
Mr. Hine looked at him slyly. “What would you deem a fair price?”
Spooner looked at Susan in disbelief at his fortune. “You hearing this!?”
Susan cannily held her contract in such a position that it would block his view of the now almost empty dish in her lap. It had been damn good pie. “Yes I’m hearing this.”
“C’mon, what did you get?” He looked like an over excited child on Christmas morning.
She shook her head in light hearted sign of mock-disapproval. “I’ve been offered a place on the Board of Executives.”
“How much does the pay packet for that job weigh?”
“A fair bit more than my current one.” She sighed wistfully. Money wasn’t necessary to sway her. She had decided that already. She was loyal to USR, probably stupidly so.
“Mr. Spooner, how does, say,” Mr. Hine shrugged and looked thoughtful “$100,000 per year pre tax sound to you as a starter? Of course, there will be plenty of room for pay rises should you take to the job well.”
Spooner’s jaw would have hit the floor if only it could.
“I also hear that your car and motorcycle have been written-off. Do you have insurance?”
“Yeah, well, I did on the car but my bike was…slightly illegal. I had no insurance for it, getting full insurance for a fossil-fuelled bike is like trying to get blood from stone!”
“We shall see what we can do about that. How about you Dr. Calvin, how do you feel about your set of proposals?”
She looked down at the final page of her contract. She was being offered full compensation for personal injury and damage of possessions, and was being offered a highly paid job at the top end of one of the most influential organisations in the world.
But it was not what she wanted. She was already insured for the damages that had befallen her couch and she herself did not feel so bitter about her injuries to want to claim monetary solace. She owned her apartment, she had a comfortable cushion of cash in her bank account and there was nothing she wanted to buy that she couldn’t afford or she hadn’t already bought. The job she was being offered only held the wage advantage over her current position, and since money was not something she was overly concerned about, she could find no reason to take up the offer. She liked her present job, she found it rewarding. The minds of robots were truly intriguing, far more stimulating than a stuffy, stressful executive desk job where she would invariably be forced to become involved with other people’s petty concerns. Robopsychology was her life’s true calling.
“I’m afraid I shall have to decline your offers. My present insurance policy covers all my damages and I am not terribly interested in an executive position, regardless of the financial benefits.”
Mr. Hine looked nervous. “…You have something else in mind, don’t you? Something specific?” He was expecting a tall order.
“Not quite. I will not issue you with demands. I have no intention of bribing or blackmailing you or USR.” Or hit anyone with sticks, she thought to herself and a twitch at the corner of her lips betrayed the smile she was suppressing. She lifted a pen from the corner of Mr. Hine’s desk and held it barely millimetres from the dotted line at the bottom of the last page. Her intent focus leapt from the ‘Sign Here’ line to snare eye contact with Mr. Hine. “I merely ask one favour of you.”
“What might that be?” He asked uneasily, unable to break her dark-eyed gaze but definitely suspicious of her intent. She could see it in his old, green eyes that she made him uncomfortable, but he had a look of anticipation about him. No doubt due to the proximity of her signature from the contract.
“To keep an open mind over the next few days.”
She saw puzzled relief sweep over him. “I would have thought that would have gone without saying.”
She smiled a wry smile, and her hand moved in a quick, controlled flurry of pen strokes.
‘Dr. Susan Calvin’
With a smug smirk drawn across her nervousness, she placed the contract back on Mr. Hine’s desk along with the pen.
“Well, it’s settled then.” Mr. Hine shook Spooner’s hand gleefully, but he regarded Susan with dubious intrigue as they exchanged the briefest of firm handshakes. “Obviously it will be a while before we can get all the balls rolling again and set the gears back in motion, but the clock is ticking. USR will get back to you as soon as possible on your new employment arrangements, Mr. Spooner. Dr. Susan, we are going to have to request that you are here regularly over the next few weeks. We need to ascertain the damage V.I.K.I. might have caused to some of the NS-5’s Law’s. We are particularly anxious to examine the First Law responses of those NS-5’s which killed. They may be safe…but they also may not be.”
She and Spooner rose to leave. “I’m intending to stay here today to review the damages done to my department. If you need me, I shan’t be far from my office. It has been nice seeing you.” She said politely.
“Oh yes, I know that both of you were friends of Dr. Lanning, and his funeral is still scheduled for tomorrow.”
She was equally surprised as Spooner, but it was he who spoke the thoughts on their minds. “I thought you’d have moved it after the attack. Y’know, postpone it, set it back a few days.”
“Yes, that is what the media is expecting so we aren’t going to. Lanning was a private man, I doubt he would appreciate a massively publicised burial.”
“Yeah. True I suppose. Well I will be there.”
“Mr. Spooner…” Mr Hine took a chequebook from his piles of paperwork and scribbled a signature and a few figures on it. “That should cover your travel expenses for a short while.” He tore it from the book and held it between two fingers at the end of an outstretched arm.
Spooner took the cheque and looked at it. He crammed it in his pocket and then pointed and grinned with mock accusation at Mr. Hine. “You have more money than sense.”
Mr. Hine just smiled.
“Good day Sir.” Susan turned to walk towards the door and Spooner absent-mindedly followed.
“Yeah, Bye. Thanks ‘n’ all.” Spooner called over his shoulder.
Mr. Hine rose his good hand in farewell. “Before you go, I’d like to give my deepest gratitude to you for treating Lawrence’s body with such respect afterwards. It really means allot to me.”
Susan had reached the top of the tiny set of steps and she looked back down the lab at Mr. Hine. She was internally debating weather she should say anything, and trying to decide what she should say if she did.
Spooner was not yet at the stairs and he casually turned to and said “Don’t thank us, that was Sonny’s idea.”
“Lanning’s ‘significantly modified NS-5’.” Susan added, barely able to contain herself. She smiled again and left. Before she turned though, she did see the look of ponderous surprise on Mr. Hine’s face.
Spooner followed her down the corridor. She was carrying his white bag containing the empty pie dish in apology for eating a good portion of it. That and she was less wounded than he was after all, but she could only carry it for him as far as the stairs before they would have to go their separate ways. She had a fair climb to go to reach her lab and office.
She swung the bag a little and her pace was quick and light. The meeting had gone decisively well. As well as she could have possibly hoped. She could very nearly have danced with glee at leaving Mr. Hine to ponder upon that final concept, the concept of the NS-5 having free will, compassion and a name. Not that she would ever be seen dancing. She had not been in such a lenient mood after spending such a length of time confined in the presence of two other humans for a great many months. It was even more shocking when the fact that one of the humans was Spooner was entered into the equation. Regardless, her little campaign for Sonny’s freedom had begun well and she felt proud and accomplished. She could almost hum a merry tune to herself…almost.
“You know, in a few months when all this settles down, I am going to go on the mother of all shopping spree’s.” Spooner said, pleased with the prospect of a greatly increased income. “I’m going to buy so many shoes you could kit out the entire US army!”
“I think you mean ‘camp up’ not ‘kit out’.” She grinned a little. She really was that happy with herself. She was prepared to not only talk to Spooner like an equal, but poke a little harmless fun at him, without provoked malice.
He put on a flat, girly voice and imitated one of the short sentences she had spoken to him a couple of times before. “Are you being funny?” He laughed.
She giggled, or at least the closest to it that Susan Calvin could come. It was a soundless attempt, more of a facial expression than an audible utterance of amusement. “Merely temporary insanity brought on by stress and sleep depravation, I assure you.” She paused with more inward directed giggling. “I could probably put an axe though the back of your head and get away with it in court at the moment.”
Spooner looked at her with uncertainty. “I’m finding it a bit difficult to tell whether that’s a friendly joke or a homicidal threat.”
She shook her head. “Don’t be a prat Spooner, of course I was joking. You see any axes around? Anyway, I think I’ll go to my office for a bit, see how much of it is intact.” She handed him his pie-bag. “Oh, and if you haven’t got anything else to do today, could you pop round my apartment and check that Sonny is okay? You might have to shout who you are through the door to get him to open it though.” She waved and begun another arduous climb up the towering staircase. “Bye.”