T.I.A. had gained a preference for utilizing her male avatar while Hawthorne was concentrating on work, or rather, Hawthorne had found that avatar much less distracting than her female one, allowing him to more easily concentrate on work. This was not an entirely ideal solution, though, as T.I.A.’s habit of popping up from blind angles turned out to be a great deal more intimidating and startling when she was a giant, physically imposing man rather than her petite, deviously cute female form. Early in Cycle 43, Hawthorne had to lay down the law.
“Okay, you can’t act the same with that avatar as you do with your normal one. A male tends to be more deliberate, more thoughtful with how he moves and how it affects those around them. I’m a tall man myself, for instance, and I can say from personal experience that I spent the vast majority of my attention when walking around campus trying to avoid walking into people and trying not to get tripped up my things on the ground. It’s far more natural to watch where you’re walking with your eyes looking for obstructions you might trip over and people and things you might collide with. For instance, recall how short most of the Phoenix Clan was, and at my height I would have been constantly in danger of trampling over them if I got careless. The habit of people before we left to focus their attention on their phones tended to leave them more at the mercy of others avoiding them seeing as they often were worse at avoiding danger themselves.”
Hawthorne laughed at a specific memory. “In fact, the self driving cars had to be specifically programmed to identify humans whom were visibly distracted like that to avoid crashing into them when they tried to cross streets mistakenly. That became an even worse problem when people realized that they could just randomly walk across the street at any time and just trust that the cars would stop and let them by rather than waiting for signals. So many people ended up getting ticketed because they just didn’t want to wait that they had to increase the cost of jaywalking tickets to help pay for the lawsuits a lot of Auto-cab companies were bringing against people, which jammed up the court systems. It was ridiculous.”
T.I.A. stared at him quietly, the aside seeming somewhat unrelated. “So, Doctor, what you’re saying is that the bigger you are, the more responsible you are for those around you. What happened to people being responsible for their own actions? Shouldn’t people who distract themselves like that be responsible for their consequences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to program the cars to disregard distracted pedestrians, allowing them to collide with a handful of them? Surely it would have much more quickly caused people pay attention and not tempt fate around such dangerous roads?”
“Uhh… Well…” Hawthorne cleared his throat. “That could have been effective in solving the problem of people trying to cross the roads, but the car companies would instead have been sued by the probably-dead peoples’ families, and that would probably have cost said companies a great deal of money, making them reluctant to enact such a policy. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to prove that some companies left potentially lethal programming in their products, and considering the types of people we were dealing with it’s not too hard to imagine some people intentionally allowing themselves to be maimed or killed so that they or their families could get a big payday by suing the auto companies…”
“So… I need to be careful because I can’t trust people to be smart.” T.I.A. was frankly appalled by the ideas being presented here, but it was really hard to disagree with Hawthorne considering the kinds of historical records she had of Earth after they left. She shook her head and let out a sigh. “Okay, okay… that’s not what this was about though, right? You just want me to act differently, not think you’re a babbling imbecile. I’ll try not to startle you, okay?”
Hawthorne nodded, sighing. “Yeah, sorry about the tangent, I was just trying to explain the mindset. I guess it’s less that I want you to try to adopt my mindset on moving around, and more that I’m so accustomed to being the biggest person around that a person bigger than me in some ways coming at me from a blind angle activates self-preservation instincts that I’m not accustomed to. Hell, I’m less accustomed to that than your female form in some of those skimpier outfits, and those are unbelievably distracting.”
T.I.A. hummed, tapping at her chin for a moment. “You know, I’m definitely bigger. I have two thousand one people inside of me.” She giggled softly at the notion.
Hawthorne rolled his eyes, and then pointed a wrench in his hand at the android blueprints that were standing near the pile of parts he was currently working on. “Sure, but your avatar and android aren’t. Heck, the way I see it, I’ll be making one of these for myself as well so we can both work on projects on the comet, too. It’s very appropriate that we make sure they’re human sized, seeing as in the future they may need to be worked on by humans other than myself.”
T.I.A. nodded at that, though she was distracted by the idea that they both might be remotely operating android bodies with full tactile sensory input for both of them. The amount of potential for mischief was superb.
It took two and a half months to properly assemble, wire up, and connect the T.I.A. android to her systems. A power cable attached at its back between what would be a person’s shoulder blades, and an overhead track allowed T.I.A. to quietly move a series of rings that kept the cable overhead and untangled. One of the most remarkably difficult things to implement were a pair of microphones in the ‘ears’ and a pair of cameras in the ‘eyes’ of the android. T.I.A. had spent almost two thousand years utilizing the same set of cameras and microphones within her body, and she had used her VE to simulate the presence of things she couldn’t see, but knew were there, so having a new set of eyes made it remarkably difficult for her to adjust to observing her environment.
The primary issue with this was that T.I.A.’s experience of being had mostly existed within the body she had begun with, and the use of her visual and auditory senses were things she simply didn’t have to think about anymore. Realistically, she had more experience with simulating virtual bodies than she did with existing within a separate physical one. As such, T.I.A.’s initial efforts to utilize her android body were… clumsy at best, and damaging at the worst. Her avatar kept getting ahead of her body, causing her to misjudge steps or to lose track of objects her avatar had already avoided. As of cycle 60, T.I.A. found herself simply incapable of operating her body properly, and she had deemed herself a danger to Hawthorne.
As such, she spent the intervening 34 years between cycle 60 and 61 practicing without Hawthorne. This delayed her own project, a full-body sensory suit and minor exoskeleton for Hawthorne, seeing as she had to put so much attention into utilizing her android rather than focusing on the fabrication of parts and materials for his new outfit. The main difficulty for her by the time cycle 61 approached was the fact that she was learning how to move about while using magnets in the feet of her android, rather than walking under simulated gravity like Hawthorne does. The reasoning for this was raw practicality, as the extra thirty-four years of wear-and-tear on his spinning habitat was simply unacceptable. That would be more than double the time it was intended to be in operation during their whole journey, and putting that kind of strain on it so early would have been completely irresponsible of her.
It also just made more sense that she learn to walk with the magnets on, seeing as that was the sole way they’d be able to move around on the comet. This also caused her to realize that they needed a flooring on the comet to walk around on if they were ever going to end up working over there, so she tasked some of her drones over there with creating a large metal box, not unlike Hawthorne’s own habitat, with plenty of cover to defend against foreign objects. This was especially important as it had become apparent that the comet was hopelessly exposed to foreign matter, and totally lacked the defensive abilities that T.I.A.’s mobile shield arms had in preventing damage. In truth, the comet totally lacked the necessary sensors to even detect such things, though T.I.A. was mostly able to see everything aside from the opposite side of the comet.
It seemed like a sensible project for her and Hawthorne to work on in the future, upgrading the defensive abilities of the comet. Her cannon turret and defensive arms could only defend it so much, and if a foreign object caused it to break apart they might have a pretty terrible situation on their hands.
Regardless, T.I.A. was able to personally greet Hawthorne as he exited his pod, though he did not seem as pleased to see her as she expected. For one, he didn’t have his contacts on as he came out of the pod, only allowing him to see the feminine-shaped android standing over his pod, but the fact that he was naked seemed to bother him a lot more than it bothered her!
“Tia! Jesus Christ, I was not prepared to be woken up with someone standing over me.” He put his hand over his chest, letting out a breath, and T.I.A. could tell from her cameras that his heart rate was rather elevated.
“My apologies, Doctor, I hadn’t considered that. I was just excited to show you that I’ve learned how to move around much better.” She did a little twirl, the metallic clunks of her magnetic feet hitting the ground more than obvious. “See? I’ve been practicing!”
Hawthorne wasn’t exactly blind without his contacts, but his vision wasn’t stellar either. He didn’t need to see to hear those clunks though, and T.I.A. found him crouching down before her as he listened to her move around. “Of course… you had to learn to move with the magnets because you didn’t get a chance to practice as much under gravity…” He hummed, nodding. “Well, that’s actually not a problem, seeing as most of the environments you’ll be working in will lack gravity, but perhaps someday you’ll be using this very android on the surface of a planet, so try to get what practice you can.” He stood up and shook his head. “How long did it take you to learn to move around like that?” He had also noticed the difference in her having her voice coming from a speaker in the android’s ‘mouth’, rather than the overhead speakers she usually spoke through.
T.I.A. blushed reflexively, despite the fact that he couldn’t see her blushing. She did however watch him walk away, appreciating his lean, athletic shape. He had certainly been shaping up during his journey. “Almost the whole time you were in stasis. I put some token effort into other projects and continuing to work on the PC-C simulation, but I put most of my focus into learning to walk around… and fixing some dents in things I made.”
Hawthorne gathered up his things, heading into the bathroom to shower, choosing to not take his time today seeing as T.I.A. had met him straight out of his pod this time. He was somewhat confused by the light clothing she’d left out for him, a pair of knee-length shorts and muscle shirt. He immediately regretted not taking a long shower though as he realized the outfit she’d chosen for her avatar was a sporty bikini swimsuit. She’d even put on a bit of a tan, none of which had any visible tan lines. Of course, it was all just a costume for her, but the visual had certain implications that made a blush rise on Hawthorne’s face before he turned to head out to their work room. “Of course...”
Of course, rather than the familiar old PC-C simulation, T.I.A. had replaced the visuals with a sunny beach, complete with soft looking beach sand, gentle waves crashing against the shore in a somewhat obvious repeated animation, and little else. The gloves on his hands felt rather warm, owing to the bright sun overhead. “You know, that body of yours would probably not be the best on a beach like this, seeing as sand would get in all the joints and mechanisms and such. We’d have to completely redesign it for dusty, sandy environments.” Looking back over at her, he could not help but smile as he saw her pressing her feet into the sand, spreading her toes into it and rubbing it back and forth. Of course, an accompany metallic scraping sound of her android rubbing its foot on the metal floor brought more of a flinch from him.
“That’s fine. I’ll worry about that sort of thing in another ninety-eight thousand years or so. Plenty of time.” She frowned a bit, looking up at him. “I kind of regret focusing so much on practicing with this body, actually, since I was getting very accustomed to focusing on the times you’re awake rather than the times you were not. It was remarkably lonely. I should have practiced with you instead, but I’d have been a total menace.” She stepped closer to him, pressing her shoulder under his arm, around his mid ribcage, the smooth shoulder not nearly as soft as her avatar’s shoulder probably was.
The tactile contact was effective though, and Hawthorne curled his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close and smiling. He didn’t have to worry about pulling her through him with this odd body combination of hers now, so it was easier for him to enjoy holding her close. He could even feel that softness against his hand. “Hey, I didn’t mean for this project to drive you away, I wanted it to be something nice so you could enjoy working with me in person more. Try not to rush it.”
T.I.A. blinked up at him, then looked down at his hand, then back up to him. “Huh… I think I was supposed to imagine that feeling differently? Jessica said it should feel different.” T.I.A. was realizing she hadn’t been practicing or considering certain things.
Hawthorne, however, was realizing he’d allowed his hand to rest atop her breast without realizing it, and the way he jerked away and almost fell over had caused her to lose her own balance as she had been leaning against him. “Whoa!” Hawthorne was forced to catch her, lest she damage her new body more than necessary, especially considering her shift in momentum had made it difficult for her magnets to hold onto the floor while keeping her upright. His hands landed firmly on her shoulders, her somewhat heavy body causing him to drop to a knee to hold her up. He found himself looking up at her, blinking and blushing heavily.
T.I.A. laughed, using a combination of some tugging on her power cable and a hand on the nearby table to push herself upright. She moved a hand to help him back up, smiling brightly. “Careful, Hawthorne, I set out the scenery so we could relax, not so you could hurt yourself.” She hadn’t minded the touch, though she hadn’t found it especially exciting either. It wasn’t like when he’d acknowledged her and looked at her, it was not something she’d been actively pursuing, so she hadn’t built up any feelings about it in anticipation.
Hawthorne just tried to calm himself down, taking the hand and standing back up. “Y… you’re right, you’re right. Sorry, I don’t know why I freaked out like that. I just… didn’t mean to touch you like that.” He blinked, raising an eyebrow. “What’d you mean?” He found himself curious by this new mystery.
T.I.A. hummed softly, thinking. “Well, she said a touch like that should have been… exciting, fun… Ah! I know.”
T.I.A. pulled up the video in question, with Jessica specifically talking about things like sex with the AI. Her voice was nostalgic, her face youthful back in the old bunker. “Well, the touch of a lover is supposed to be exciting, a sign that they’re interested in being with you. They’re seeking you out for sex, after all, and while they’re certainly out for their own pleasure, if you’re receptive then you are too. It’s all instincts of course, with touches on the breast, or butt, and whatnot being an indication of desire to reproduce. The reason it’s exciting is because it stimulates the flow of hormones that let your body know it’s an opportunity to reproduce, and that’s possibly the strongest instinct of all. Even if your logical mind isn’t seeing a child, your body doesn’t necessarily know that, so it throws everything into trying to make you interested, if the person you’re being signaled to excites you anyway.”
Hawthorne watched curiously, finding the frank discussion of sex interesting. The Phoenix Clan always was very open about sexuality and psychology, and it seemed as though there was a great deal of education on why such instincts existed and what they were for. He supposed it was no wonder they were able to control their reproductive instincts if they were all instructed on the processes at work, and how to circumvent them. It was a curious way of teaching he couldn’t help but admire. Sex and nudity were very often taboo, with pronography itself being illegal in many places, and proper sexual education sometimes hard to get. It was interesting to hear a very different culture’s thoughts and ideas on it. “Tia, what prompted that conversation?”
It was T.I.A.’s turn to blush. She even bit at her lower lip a bit as she thought of how to respond. “She was interested in what I knew about sex, seeing as I’d told her how infrequently you masturbated, and she-” T.I.A. flinched at Hawthorne’s outburst.
“What!? You told her that? Why?” He let out a groan, turning around and staring at the fluffy clouds in the sky. Why was Jessica so damned interested in his sexual habits?
T.I.A. let out an exasperated sigh and pulled up the video instead. Jessica again appeared, in a slightly different outfit. “How often does Hawthorne masturbate? I assume since he doesn’t have anyone to make love to up there, that he’s got to at least do that, right? It’s very important for his health. At least three times a week, I think it was? Anyway, it improves a man’s health, his immune system, and keeps their hormones from building up and making them agitated. It’s perfect to relieve stress, headaches, and lets them focus on work. How do you not know that? What have you actually been taught about sex, anyway?”
“Huh…” Hawthorne looked back at the video, the frame frozen in a concerned-looking face. Jessica was genuinely worried about him. “Is all that true?” How had he never bothered to look into such a thing?
T.I.A. nodded. “Yes, among other things it reduces the risk of prostate cancer, reduces the risk of producing genetically compromised offspring by cycling out older, possibly-compromised sperm, and plenty of other obvious benefits. It makes sense, honestly. Here, she continued.”
Jessica’s video started playing again, the woman shaking her head for a moment. “It’s basic shit! I mean, it doesn’t really mean as much to you, but humans are sexual, social creatures. Evolutionarily, people who had regular sex were both propagating their DNA, and were improving their social ties, so of course your body rewards you for that. People who were less social, who were less capable of attracting partners, were weaker and less healthy, and more likely to die before passing on their genes. It’s in our nature as a living creature. Humans are good at overcoming such things, allowing them to use things like masturbation to stimulate the body’s response to such things. It’s not quite as good as skin-to-skin contact and proper sexual bonding, but it does have at least some of the health benefits. I know it seems small and silly when compared to interstellar spaceflight and shit, but these are some advanced biological mechanisms at work!”
Hawthorne was agape. Of course, she was dead on. “God damnit. Heather and Emily are going to kick my ass if they ever find out about this.” An engineer not being more knowledgeable about one of the most advanced machines ever made, the human body, was a disgrace.
T.I.A. laughed a bit. “The biologists? Yeah, they’ll probably be mad at you, but I think they’ll understand. Jessica seemed to understand what kind of people she was dealing with after we started sharing movies and shows and whatnot. Your culture was apparently hilariously backwards when it came to sex, sex education, nudity, and the like. That’s why she encouraged me to tease you and entice you.”
Hawthorne had his arms crossed over his chest, fingers drumming on his biceps. He wanted to be mad, furious even. Jessica had encouraged T.I.A. to all but seduce him, but it was all for his own health. Of course T.I.A. wanted to do it too, seeing as she had a natural interest in his health. He’d also promised her that he would be better about minding after his health, and this was apparently an aspect of that that he’d totally misunderstood. He knew it felt good, but somehow, in all his years he never bothered to consider why. He was so absorbed into learning, working, and escaping Earth that he’d totally missed the reasons why he sought out Tia Monsalle’s bed so eagerly despite no overt emotions attached to the acts.
At the end of the day, it all made perfect sense, and he felt foolish. He turned back to T.I.A. properly and pulled her into a tight hug, leaning down to kiss her forehead. The metallic taste on his lips was slightly distasteful, but that wasn’t the point. “Thank you so much for trying to take care of me, Tia. I didn’t even realize why you were doing what you were doing.” He thought quietly for a moment, before pulling back. “You know, with that information, I think we can figure out why touching your breast didn’t feel like anything for you. You probably don’t actually have much concept of a sex drive, or physical attraction, or anything like that. You lack the biology to encourage you towards reproduction, like she said, so your responses to such stimulus lack that motivation.”
T.I.A. gasped. “Of course! I’d have to make myself want such a thing to be able to properly experience it.” T.I.A. visibly reeled at the concept of having to pretend that she could have a child in order to stimulate her mind into wanting to have a child so that she could get excited and respond to stimulus that could result in such a thing. It was an excruciatingly complicated idea that she had no idea how to approach. “I… I don’t even know where I would even start with such a thing.”
Hawthorne laughed a bit at that, nodding in agreement. “Me neither. Jessica was definitely better for that sort of thing. I suppose we could try asking one of the crew members, but that presents all sorts of complications. Maybe the best thing to do would be to try practicing masturbation yourself while trying to imagine the motivations behind it?” He wondered quietly, the very idea of teaching his AI about sex seeming strange. It seemed totally unnecessary, but then she was highly unconventional and had lots of different influences at this point. If she could master such a thing, she’d essentially have a way to relax herself at will, though, and that certainly had its value. Of course, there was the possible danger of systems overload, but there was no reason to think that was possible with the way he’d designed her systems.
T.I.A. reached up to cup her hands under her breasts, squeezing her fingers into the plump flesh. Hawthorne very nearly fainted as she did this. “N.. not right now…! Th… that’s going to take a lot of work, right? You said you wanted us to relax this cycle and enjoy the beach, right?”
She nodded a bit, smiling and moving in to hug him instead, “Right!”
Relieved, he hugged back, only for his stomach to rumble a bit, feeling very ignored.