T.I.A.’s newfound youthful mischievousness was proving an enormous challenge for Doctor Crenshaw. Despite his efforts to focus on reading and researching, T.I.A.’s desire for attention and compliments was rapidly outstripping his ability to concentrate on what seemed like the more important work. It didn’t help that T.I.A. had apparently put together a massive database of outfits and dresses drawn from all manner of news reports, vintage movies, television shows, and historical records. Even his efforts to sit and think quietly by himself by closing his eyes had been defeated by her ability to project her VE to his AR contacts while his eyes were closed. Nothing short of unconsciousness had kept her from needling and teasing him.
It was not as though Hawthorne had not expected such a thing, it was simply that he had been sorely unprepared. The only respite he ever seemed to get was when T.I.A. detected distant objects in space that unfortunately were entirely impossible for them to get at. At most they were able to track and estimate the trajectories of the icy bodies, which largely seemed to be moving away from them in a variety of directions, all suggesting very wide orbits with their home star. The Oort Cloud, so far, seemed to be an enormous region of randomly orbiting bodies that occasionally got knocked back into the solar system proper, much like the Lubar Masis probably had been long ago. It was easy to imagine that Jupiter had used its massive gravity to slingshot these object out this far untold millennia ago.
These discoveries did not stop T.I.A. for long though, and Hawthorne had to do his best to endure the short, curvy female avatar of his AI’s parade of new outfits, accessories, and even the occasional likenesses. She especially seemed to enjoy wearing a younger version of Jessica’s face, only to quote various idioms she’d learned from her regarding the necessity of relaxation, meditation, and sexual stimulation. She hadn’t offered to provide any such thing, probably due to her inability to do so, but she certainly encouraged Hawthorne to do ‘what felt right’ in the privacy of his bedroom, with the promise not to spy on him.
Unremarkably, this left Hawthorne reluctant to even do that, which T.I.A. did not fail to point out as abnormal compared to previous cycles, especially the earliest ones where he tended to take much longer showers. In some sense Hawthorne was appreciative of her interest in maintaining his health, but in another sense the combination of that interest and her efforts to titillate him had him feeling very insecure about her motivations! Hawthorne wasn’t necessarily feeling as though he couldn’t pursue a relationship with T.I.A., but he was of the opinion that such a thing could be a significant distraction from their work and the need to maintain a professional environment is paramount.
From T.I.A.’s perspective, though, it wasn’t a question of whether or not a relationship was necessary, it was a question of what form their relationship would take over time. She had a vested interest in maintaining Hawthorne’s physical and mental health, and from everything she’d learned there were very enjoyable and carnal ways to accomplish both. She was not necessarily ready for such things, but that did not mean she could not provide Hawthorne with inspiration to handle things on his own. If nothing else, his exasperated expressions, awkward exchanges, and efforts to avoid her were incredibly entertaining.
T.I.A. also understood that her emotional and mental growth had thoroughly asserted itself over her more logical, computer-based mind. She certainly lacked a certain level of maturity, but she did not lack for knowledge and decades of advice and interactions to draw upon. Hawthorne was her sole remaining human, and so she didn’t have nearly as much opportunity to ‘play’ as she had with the people of the Phoenix Clan. She did, however, have the advantage of interacting with him in real time, and considering the long delays she had with Earth, she could pack a lot more interaction in with Hawthorne in four days than she could with Earth over the course of months.
More importantly, T.I.A. saw all this teasing as a valuable distraction. Hawthorne still had decades of his life to live on this ship, do his research, and work with her on projects. He needed time to enjoy himself, and she was much the same. As much as he appeared disinterested or annoyed with her, he’d never asked her to leave him alone or to stop her antics. She often caught him smiling to himself when he thought she wasn’t paying attention, or maybe it was his biology responding to her efforts to tempt him. By the time he’d actually taken one of those long showers of his again, she’d been tormenting him for weeks of his life.
The change in his demeanor and tension were notable when he was done. He was much more easygoing, relaxed, and seemed more capable of appreciating her various outfits on an aesthetic level. His tolerance of more daring visuals seemed to rise dramatically as well, and before long he was making suggestions and becoming genuinely interested in helping her with her wardrobe. He even started taking the fun out of her teasing by applying a set of ratings to her outfits and creating a database of the various items that could easily be sorted by various factors such as ‘sexiness’ and ‘cuteness’. She’d managed to draw him fully into turning her play into a project, including the two researching records of old Earth styles, and even exploring various science fiction and fantasy articles from literature and media.
Just because Hawthorne was applying science to her wardrobe did not mean she failed to have effects on him, and she’d become increasingly adept at showing off more shocking items when he seemed to be getting relaxed, causing him to react quite comically. It wasn’t abnormal for him to fall out of a chair or retreat to his bedroom when she appeared in clothing that could more easily be described as risque underwear rather than actual clothing. She imagined that Jessica would be proud, and even occasionally conjured up her likeness to high-five her with a self-satisfied smile on her face.
Perhaps the biggest shock of all, though, came at the start of cycle 42. As Hawthorne exited his cryogenic pod, cleaned himself up, and got dressed, T.I.A. was preparing something different. As he came out into the imagined Phoenix Clan settlement, he was met by a total stranger. Nearly as tall as Hawthorne, T.I.A.’s new avatar was dressed in something of a formal tuxedo and had something of a burly appearance that strained at the fabric of the suit. Holding out a hand, the obviously masculine form was holding a plate of Hawthorne’s usual breakfast, which confused him briefly until he realized one of T.I.A.’s articulating robotic limbs had extended down from the ceiling. She had cleverly overlaid the hand of that limb with the likeness of her new avatar.
Said avatar had spiky red hair, and the face was something one might expect to see on a beach bully, but with a wide happy grin. Even the voice that came from T.I.A.’s speakers was masculine, despite having much of her typical happy mannerisms. “Your breakfast is served, Doctor Crenshaw. Good morning. The date is Friday, September ninth, thirty-four fifty-nine, AC thirteen twenty-six. What do you think of my new look?”
Hawthorne frowned briefly, then laughed, reaching out to take the plate from T.I.A., whom was acting like his butler and/or bodyguard at the moment. “You know, I’d gotten so accustomed to seeing women around here that I wasn’t expecting to see a man.”
T.I.A. tsked softly, shaking both a virtual and mechanical finger at him. “There you go assuming genders again.” T.I.A. laughed, a deep throaty sound that almost boomed in the air. “I just thought it might be kind of fun to see how the other side feels. I can definitely see a lot more from up here!” The red headed male avatar lifted his arms, flexing them and straining the tuxedo further. “I feel weirdly powerful and in charge.”
Hawthorne laughed a bit, sitting down at the table and stabbing a piece of sausage with his fork. “Tia, you’ve always been powerful and exempting my own authority you’ve been largely in charge.” He took a bite of his food, watching in amusement as T.I.A. showed off that huge body and seemingly tried to either intimidate him or make him feel inferior. It was not as though Hawthorne was unhealthy, but he was certainly not a bodybuilder like this new T.I.A. appeared to be.
“Aww, come on, that’s not what I mean. There’s just something about being taller and bigger that changes my perspective, and yes I realize that I’m so big that I have two thousand humans inside of me, but I specifically mean the avatar.” T.I.A. sat down opposite Hawthorne, causing the human to glance up from his food, not accustomed to his peripheral vision being filled with so much bulk. “Heh, you’re acting totally different around me than last cycle.”
Rather than taking the bait, Hawthorne kept chewing for a moment, swallowing and then gesturing at him with a fork. “That’s really clever, using the arm to give your body some physical presence. I almost want to build you an android body of some manner to let you overlay your avatar upon. I don’t think I’d make two of them though, for each avatar, so you’ll have to pick one of them.” He watched the bulky male for a moment, as though he expected T.I.A. to make a decision.
Letting out a sigh, T.I.A. deflated physically, the overhead arm twisting and repositioning to compensate for her return to her original form. Hawthorne’s face turned bright red as he stared for a moment, only to look away, choking slightly on his food. T.I.A. gasped as she realized she hadn’t linked up the simulated tuxedo to the smaller avatar, causing the clothing to fall away behind her as she sat there naked briefly. Even she blushed for a moment before the tuxedo vanished and she appeared instead in a proper labcoat-covered outfit. “Sorry! I hadn’t considered what would happen when I did that!”
Coughing, Hawthorne, took a drink of coffee to clear his throat and shook his head. “No, no, it’s fine. I presume you’d prefer an android more appropriate to that form then?” Hawthorne was glad for the distraction of talking about building something, as T.I.A.’s careless flashing had woken him up far more than the chemical injections he’d just gotten from his pod.
She nodded back at him though, laughing a bit at his reactions. “Yes please, though I had something else in the works that might make for an interesting complement to such a thing. I’ll need several cycles to work on it though.” Her little side-project was coming closer to completion, even if her efforts to simulate the PC-C were progressing very slowly. She didn’t need to master that to accomplish her other goals.
Hawthorne nodded back, eating some eggs, still pleased with how well preserved all this ancient food still was. He’d have to give Heather O’Malley a big hug when he next got to see her, the cryogenics specialist having handled designing his food storage system as well. “I could design it and have you fabricate it for me, but I’d really rather build it myself, so while I’ll still have you make some of the parts for me, I think we can both work on our projects over the same timeline. I might need a few months to finish it, so I’ll probably have it done between cycle sixty or sixty-five. How’s that sound?”
T.I.A. nodded at that, though she frowned a bit as she tried to estimate her own project. “I might need a little longer than that, but I’ll be able to let you know by then.” While she was certainly excited about her own project, Hawthorne providing her a physical body to move around in had its own appeals. It was such a different idea to the simple drones she had access to outside of the ship, or the arms she had inside the ship. She’d be able to move about and experience the world from a remote body not too unlike Hawthorne’s own, at least in shape. She’d formed her experience of interacting with the world through her own unique means, so trying on a new body was way more interesting to her than trying on a new avatar.
Over the course of the following days, Hawthorne utilized T.I.A.’s VE to design a basic form factor for her to start fabricating parts from for him. Insisting that the robotic body fit her avatar had resulted in her demanding that he construct the design while a nearly-transparent version of her stood in its place. In some manner it was like he was building her skeleton. Of course, she was also trying to get a rise out of him by forcing him to have to reach through her body to stretch out pieces of steel and place and fasten various components. This proved yet more effective as she had his gloves transfer the sensation of touching the softness of her body.
Hawthorne was not dissuaded though, and he focused instead on the feel of the hard steel components he was arranging and bolting together rather than the soft body he was reaching through to get at them. While it appeared he was growing more resilient to her advances, it was actually just that he was more able to ignore them when there was work to be done. The difference was not lost on her, but it did leave her somewhat unable to find a way around it.
Comparing the work to his previous construction of the Phoenix Clan caravan, the T.I.A. android body was quite a bit more intricate. It was a great deal smaller though, so he did not need to spend a whole week designing it as he had with that almost 1000 year old caravan. If he were honest with himself, the excitement of actually putting the thing together was stimulating his imagination a great deal. He’d not properly had his hands on a machine he was building himself in so long, more than half a year from his perspective, that it was difficult for him to keep his ambition in check.
By the time the design was finished, it was a shiny, chrome-looking machine with carefully articulated joints, an elegant form factor, and what would surely be a nearly-silent series of electrical mechanisms. He was uncertain as to the viability of small form-factor batteries for such a thing, so he had instead opted for it to have a rear-mounted power cable behind the shoulders, which effectively restricted its movements to the two rooms he generally had access to, but he didn’t personally see that as an issue. Once T.I.A. was ready for them to do some proper chemistry in her VE, they could start working on batteries that could last for millennia. It was a bit of a frivolous use, but it was nonetheless a really useful technology that would be helpful in replacing T.I.A.’s need to recycle and rebuild the batteries she used for the ship every few centuries.
T.I.A. seemed pleased with the design, though she had plenty of criticisms as well. She insisted it should better mimic her shape, in particular her curves, though Hawthorne objected that completely different materials would be better for such things. He much rather wanted her to have the somewhat simple metal construct that she could overlay her avatar atop. He simply didn’t see much of a point of developing artificial skin to fill out her figure when she could hide that frame. He eventually relented when she made it clear how much it could help in giving her a sense of touch, even if Hawthorne felt as though such a thing would only be useful in helping her improve the accuracy of her own simulation of herself.
Hawthorne color-coded the things he needed her to make for him, and made a list of the other materials he’d need, such as wires, certain types of machined parts, and things like screws. The list also included tools he’d need her to retrieve from storage for him, allowing him to more easily assemble her android and handle necessary welding and soldering. It took her a fair amount of time to get everything together, but if she had a resource beyond everything else, it was time.
She also had some ambitions. Even if it was slow going, the design for a full-body version of Hawthorne’s gloves was coming along well. In fact, observing Hawthorne’s construction of her android had given her a lot of ideas for how to make him experience things like the weight of virtual objects by having such a suit pull on his body appropriately. She might even be able to simulate quite a lot more if her suspicions were correct. Any such things required her to simulate his body at the same time she was simulating her own as well as manipulating an android. She’d need a lot of practice multi-tasking such things, but now she had all the components she needed to do that practicing while Hawthorne was frozen.
Hawthorne’s distress over how she’d been treating him had him considering other ideas as well, though. Maybe her need for attention was something that Megan could help with? It was certainly not an ideal solution, and one he was concerned about the safety of, but perhaps he could find a way to make it work without endangering T.I.A. or the ship and its crew.
The real problem with Megan was providing her a computer capable of housing her mind without making her go insane. Ideally it would be something that had no wireless capabilities and had to interact mostly verbally with T.I.A. and Hawthorne. Something as simple as that should be relatively easy to control and shut down if it went insane, but realistically he had to experiment with copies of Megan first until he found a system type that would suit her well enough. The fact that Megan’s data was a copy of her original wetware and hardware was not lost on him, but it remained a fact that the method she’d used was one that destroyed the original mind, suggesting that this was a more true copy than what he might copy from it.
Data was data though, and even if it was originally flesh and blood, it should be totally harmless to copy it as needed. Something still nagged at him about the morality of making copies of a person’s mind, but it was much easier to justify experimenting on those copies rather than the ‘original’ copy, allowing him to ensure the safety of the system before transferring the ‘real’ Megan to it. None of it sat well with him, and when he compared how he felt about making copies of Megan to how he felt about making copies of T.I.A. he found himself even more conflicted. T.I.A. could, at least, consent to having copies made of her. He just had to trust that Megan would approve of the methods needed to ensure she was safe in her new system.
Honestly, considering Megan’s significant survival instinct, the problems would probably be with the copies rather than the original. He had no way to be sure that if one of them went insane that they wouldn’t dare to show signs of it, probably knowing full well that they’d have to be erased and replaced.
Hawthorne found the whole thing endlessly intriguing. Megan Clark was a challenging individual to consider, and he wished he knew a lot more about her. Some initial work on helping her seemed potentially worthwhile. Moving her up on his priority list seemed a great deal more useful than it had before. She might even be helpful in establishing a central command nexus in the Alpha Centauri system in the event that he and T.I.A. could not find a way to utilize quantum entanglement to let T.I.A. manage it herself.
Of course, in that event, simply making a copy of T.I.A. and letting her interact with herself almost certainly seemed more safe than resurrecting Megan Clark. Perhaps he’d have to ask T.I.A.’s opinion on the situation…