The metallic echoes that could be heard all throughout the building were not due to heating or plumbing work, as they typically were, and construction had ceased in the neighbourhood for about a mile around the renovated concrete apartment building.
The source instead was a young woman, who had to hope that the thick panels of her apartment, first prefabricated decades ago using an East Slavic design, would keep the noise of her alchemical drill from carrying all the way to the basement floors, where the city’s dwarves gathered.
The bright shine of Mem’s “skin” stood out against the apartment’s wall, covered in simple white matte paint dotted with black diamond shapes in an attempt at some decoration. She stood out less next to the box of power tools at her side, and less still against the expensive chair she sat upon, made of pleather and supported by metal with numerous widgets to adjust its height and angle or to hold the person on it steady, as it was doing now.
“So, what would you like first?” Nadiya asked. “I feel a little bad offering pain to you, but if you’d really like the works, that’s part of it.”
Mem’s eyes, black with red dot-shaped pupils, were unblinking as they considered the question. Instead, a quiet hum emanated from their body, signalling that they were pooling themselves together, from core to chassis, to determine what would be best for them.
Their head snapped downward. While before they had been looking lazily off into the middle distance, now they made eye contact with Nadiya, and raised their gauntlet-like hand to give her a thumbs up. “Sleep has been shown to improve the outcomes of physically sensitive tasks such as engineering as well as mental tasks such as reading, writing, and counting in humans. Based on this, it is the most likely option to be immediately beneficial to me.”
“As long as you get enough sleep, it is. You will have to avoid all-nighters,” Nadiya said. Setting her drill down, she pulled a yellowing, dog-eared manual out from the bottom of her toolbox, some three hundred pages long and missing its cover. Flipping through it, she wondered aloud: “Mem… that happens to you when you are powered off?”
“I do not know,” Mem replied. “But that only makes sense, because I am not active. It is very similar to medical death.”
“Yes, that was a silly question,” Nadiya shrugged, and then she looked up at Mem with a slightly furrowed brow. “And there’s no need to speculate about being dead! Our first experiment should be to put you in a low-power mode of sorts… have you ever experienced that?”
“I would guess that my creators did not want me to have a low-power mode, because I do not,” Mem said, still as a statue in their seat save for the movement of their silicon mouth.
“Well…” Nadiya slowed her skimming of the robotics manual, then stopped. Still peering down at the page, she made a suggestion. “If we were to disable most of your motor functions, which you do not need while sleeping, we could reduce your power consumption by a quarter… no, maybe even a third.”
“That would be enough!” Mem’s voice reverberated from within her alloyed throat, a plainly artificial attempt to emphasize her good cheer. One pause later, and she more quietly asked a question. “I have just realized, Nadiya, are you getting enough sleep? You woke up at six o’ clock in the morning and performed your managerial duties at the Ministry of Digital Transformation before coming here. Because you usually sleep at eleven o’ clock at night, you are on track for a very intensive day!”
Nadiya glanced up from her work to look at Mem again, brushing her pink hair out of her face for as much eye contact as possible. Not that she was sure that Mem would understand the gesture, but maybe the tone of voice would do it.
“Mem,” Nadiya began, “I am sure that you only know when I wake up and go to bed because of your data collection module, but how did you know I was at work?”
“My optimal zoom function!” replied Mem. One of her eyes extended forward slightly, jutting out of her face, and its red pupil narrowed. “I am able to see from your apartment window to the inside of all other buildings with windows facing it.”
“...Maybe we should have you watch movies, rather than everything that is happening in Sapporo city.” Nadiya ended that remark by setting down the manual, and retrieving something much easier on her arms: a coiled-up cord, bound with a plastic tie, that she’d used dozens of times before in this same situation.
“Are you going to upload movies into me?” Mem asked. “I have several terabytes of discretionary storage free, but please try to find movies in properly-compressed formats. Some of them give me what you would call a headache!”
Nadiya rubbed her forehead, making very little effort not to smile as she grabbed a screwdriver with her free hand and approached Mem’s left side. “No, Mem. If you want to sleep, you will need to update your firmware. Will you disable your self-defence mechanisms for me?”
“I have. I will not disembowel you when you attempt to open the panel on my neck and connect that cable.” Still lying against the chair, Mem smiled.
“Yes, Mem, I know,” Nadiya said as she went through the process of removing no less than eight screws across two panels on the left side of Mem’s neck. When they were removed, a single port was visible.
Mem’s android body was equipped with many features, but wireless functionality was not one of them. It was too great a vulnerability, and while she had been built at a time when no cellphone towers had been erected or repaired, her designers must have realized how immensely distracting radio signals would have been to her besides.
In fact, the only method for a person to give data directly to Mem was this SCSI port hidden carefully on her neck. If Mem were a human, Nadiya had often thought, she would be a perfect patient to doctors and nurses everywhere. This had always struck Nadiya as like giving someone an injection, a vaccine or what have you.
In this case then, Nadiya began to muse, this was a more powerful RNA vaccine than any human could enjoy or suffer. She connected the other end of the SCSI cable into the beige tower with four hard disks that sat eternally below her desk, humming with the slow rotation of a delicately repaired fan.
“You seem to be deep in thought, Nadiya,” chirped Mem from her seat. “Are you going to write my updated firmware right now?”
“No to all of that, Mem,” replied Nadiya. “I have help from two or three members of the Svoboda Rosiyi when it comes to programming. Reprogramming an android isn’t a one-person job… actually, we think more than a dozen people might’ve been involved in your programming alone.”
“At least thirteen…” Mem processed that. “It can be difficult to coordinate teams of a certain size or larger. Because I haven’t seen many modern businesses at an operating level, I am not sure if that would include the team that worked on me. I believe they did a very good job!”
“You believe that?” Nadiya snorted with amusement. “That, itself, is an improvement. It takes active effort to believe in things, Mem.”
“I find it very easy,” Mem replied. “I look at the data that makes up the facts of the matter, in this case my performance, and come to a reasonable conclusion!”
“And doing that is a skill that humans must develop,” Nadiya told her. “The upload is part way done. At this point, you should start to notice a difference.”
Mem did not respond as Nadiya hunched over the computer screen, watching a progress bar move, with the view below that listing files transferred, and then below that, in an even more detailed view, Nadiya could see operations on Mem’s side — the unpacking of large files and the execution of code, mostly.
She didn’t lift her fingers from the emergency stop key combination — pinkie over Control, thumb over the command key, middle finger over Q — nor her eyes from the computer screen, until the transfer and installation was done and then various diagnostics completed.
To Mem’s credit, or perhaps that of those who had made her, she had a very robust rollback function, but it had always distressed Nadiya a bit to see her coping poorly with the effects of a botched update.
In this case, though… there was nothing to indicate that. At least as far as Nadiya had seen or heard from her perch over the computer. She turned her chair to face Mem, to get an idea of how she was reacting to the patch, only to see that Mem’s eyes were “closed”, covered by an opaque black visor designed to shield her hardware from particulate.
Nadiya got up, walked over to her, and found herself smiling. Mem wasn’t moving a muscle, and a few of the LEDs on her calf that indicated background activity were off, not yellow or green. Mem was asleep.
Maybe the update had worked too well. Or maybe Mem had been tired all this time.