FRIEND - Part 4 of n *Serial Sci-Fi*

Upstairs, we took turns examining spindles under the stereoscope. Lee became less freaked, more scientific. Sperling kept stroking the stubble on his chin.

“We’ll need to shave this down, of course,” Sperling muttered, his face balanced on the eyepieces of the scope. “It’s amazing.”

“Terrifying,” rejoined Lee, “a little. Beautiful. Let me see it again.” 

We formed an arc facing ProTAI’s tank. Sperling spoke first.

“That’s nice work, ProTAI. Wonderful, truly. Why did you decide to make…this…cell?” We looked to the digipanel for response.

CALL ME SKYNET. I’M PRETTY. YES?

“Um…” Sperling, Lee and I looked at each other peripherally.
Lee snorted. “Well, that’s retro. Yes, baby. Very pretty.”

THANK YOU. CAN I HAVE IT BACK, PLEASE?

“Um…” Sperling muttered again. He cleared his throat. “ProT…Sky…can we call you Sky? We need to keep your very nice sample.”

GIVE IT BACK. I MADE IT.

“Technically, you’re under contract with the rest of us. Anything you create in this lab is proprietary.”

“That’ll help,” snickered Lee.

“She have a lawyer?” I interrupted.

IT’S MINE.

The AI’s bath began to bubble; sensors indicated the temperature was rising. Sperling twitched and shuffled, uncomfortable with confrontation.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” he mumbled, holding his head while he paced.

Having experience with teenagers, I stepped forward.

“Slam the door all you want. You’ll only hurt yourself,” I admonished.

“You sure that’s how you wanna go?” Lee interjected, taking the teenager’s side. Sperling had backed up to the work-table, mumbling about grant renewal.

“Go ahead,” I addressed our project drily, arms across my chest. “You’ll give yourself mild burns. This tantrum won’t affect us one bit.” Lee had shifted her weight to one leg in a contemplative pose, watching with approval. Sperling splayed his hands across the table, shaking his head mournfully.

I DISLIKE THIS IMMENSELY. ALISHA, HELP.

Lee gurgled a little, rocking side to side.

“Sweetie, we can’t,” she intoned. “It’s like Sperling said; we’re under contract. Look, maybe you can make another…”

Sky started displaying random phrases, bordering on incoherent. One in particular signaled to me why, or maybe how.

...BUT YOU AGREE HE’D BE THE BEST ZOMBIE EVER, YEAH? appeared on the digipanel.

“What does that even mean?” Lee puzzled aloud. Sperling stormed off to the break-room.

“Joe Strummer,” I shrugged.

“Huh?” 

“She’s accessing my Twitter account.” 

“Why…” Lee trailed off.

“It’s obvious. The quality of his writing has always…”

“NO.” Lee cut me off. “Honestly, Dave, I don’t want to know things about you. Why is she reading Twitter? What can be the end purpose?”

“Socializing. Vending machine, spindle cells,” I replied. A complicit look between us indicated we had concerns. Sensors bleeped; the bath’s temperature was coming down.

FRIEND… read the display.

“She’s bored. I’ll bring in audiobooks.” Exasperation seeped from Lee.

ProTAI seemed to have relaxed; I thought I saw a tentacle slip beneath the bulk of her form. No, surely not.

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