Dietrich stepped out of the bathroom stall and headed for the sink. His hard soled shoes echoed off the walls with each step, and the cool rushing faucet water broke the silence in the empty men's restroom. A quick splash of water to the face to calm his nerves a bit and a long exhale later, he looked through the mirror in front of him and over his own shoulder.
"…Yeah I know… I saw the email too… it's scheduled in three weeks, what you reckon I do about it?"
He paused to wait for the answer, but shook his head dismissively.
"Merle… seriously… I ain't havin' this today, understand? Don't make me regret teachin' ya sign language. Can ya just be quiet fer the next hour?"
He splashed more water on his face and dried off, careful not to drip any onto his black tie or white oxford shirt. His frizzy hair standing almost straight up, but that's how it normally was and most agents could care less how their hair looks while on duty. Dietrich would much rather be fishing for bluegill in the cool Ozark lakes than continue looking at Merle's blank expression in that mirror.
"I can't be talkin' to you like this right now. Why? Because folks are getting wise to this act like they always do. And if we're still here for the annual exam, shit's really gonna hit the fan fer the both of us."
He paused for a moment to look at the response.
"Fine. Just help me keep it together fer another week then I'll put in the transfer outta here before the appointment. But'cha gotta give me some space, Merle. Good? Good."
He adjusted his shoulder holster one last time before exiting the restroom and into the hallway, trying not to directly look at Merle in his periphery (which was something he'd gotten quite adept at).
Karlyle adjusted his jacket and walked into the server room. The technology center at Site-19 was impressive, no doubt, and to Karlyle it might as well have been magic. He toyed with the idea of childishly pulling a plug, just to see what kind of chaos it might wreak, but decided that would be better left to somebody a bit younger and a bit less responsible.
Dr. Hamilton was waiting for him near the north wall, idly tinkering with a loose socket. He noticed Karlyle approaching and stood up to shake his hand.
"Director," Hamilton said, "welcome to the server racks. This is… well, it's not the central mainframe, but it is for our department."
Karlyle shook his hand. "A pleasure, doctor. As always, the innovations that Site-19 is capable of producing are a wonder to me." Hamilton chuckled politely. "I assume that you received my inter-office communication, then?" Karlyle continued.
Hamilton nodded. "I got your email, sure. What did you want to talk about?"
"Your AI division. I saw some of your preliminary results, and I was thoroughly impressed. My technicians at Site-81 are interested in setting up a similar model, and have a very rough prototype in the making, but…" He paused, furrowing his brow. "Some of the more nuanced specifications are foreign to them, I am afraid."
"That's just fine, I know exactly who you need to be talking to." He hesitated. "That said, I'm not exactly sure why you're here. You're a busy guy, couldn't you have sent somebody?"
Karlyle smiled. "I enjoy seeing new things, doctor. Besides, I was in town for other business."
The moment Karlyle ended his sentence, Dietrich entered the room. He immediately adjusted his slouching posture and tried to suppress any amount of apparent surprise. The server room was about as exciting as the janitor's closet and about as frequently visited by the higher-ups. Nevertheless, it was just another Wednesday to them.
"Howdy." Dietrich expressed his normal casual greeting to both. "Don't reckon you two have login issues do ya?"
Merle visibly face-palmed in an adjacent reflection; an expression entirely ignored by Dietrich.
"Hardly." Hamilton gave a quirky smile. "Actually we were just discussing you, Agent Lurk."
"Lurk?" Karlyle raised a brow a bit. "That is not a call-sign is it?"
"No, it's uh, Scottish… Pa's side. Used to be M'Lurgh, but ya know how 'Mericans got trouble pronouncin things and such. Pretty much everyone reacts the same way when they hear it the first time."
Hamilton nodded awkwardly. "Right. Anyway, the Director is looking for someone to help develop an AIC for Site-81."
Dietrich looked at Hamilton, then Karlyle, and finally a quick glance at Merle who was pointing his attention back at the doctors.
Dietrich tilted his head in response, "Look… I may quack like a researcher, but I sure as hell ain't one… sir. I just help the real nerds turn their pet projects into practical tools. Tightenin' up that gap between theory and practical stuff, ya know?"
Karlyle smiled. "As it turns out, that is exactly what I am here to discuss. Dr. Hamilton, if I may?"
Hamilton waved his hand dismissively. "Go right ahead, director. I've got this feeling that I don't want to be any more involved than this."
Karlyle gestured to a side room, and followed Lurk into it. He closed the door behind them, and they sat down at the conference table.
"Mr. Lurk… "
"Better to call me Dietrich, if'n ya want to use names."
Karlyle nodded. "All right, Dietrich. I want to talk about your AICs, and how they might respond to an invasive, wholly technological threat." He kicked back in his chair. "Let us say that some aggressive, technological SCP entity breaches containment somewhere and gets onto the mainframe for a site. They are threatening to lock the site down, activate the on-site device, as such. How would one of your AICs handle such a situation?"
"Well…" Dietrich tipped back a bit in his chair to construct his words, ruminating on the problem for some time. "First off, this ain't my division. I've just been helpin' them get off the floor and into the field so ta speak. And second, I reckon it depends. AICs are like real folks. They think, feel, make mistakes… they just do it much faster than we can.
"But that's just it ain't it?" he continued, leaning forward. "They think fast and are even faster on the trigger… and sometimes both at the same time. If the barn's on fire, ya don't wait fer it to rain, right?"
Karlyle nodded. "In your experience, then, do you feel like the models we have available now are suitable for handling a site's day-to-day activities?"
"Reckon so. That's what they's built fer, anyway."
"What about combat?"
Dietrich hesitated. "What about combat?"
"Imagine, if you will, that an anomalous threat becomes apparent somewhere in the world. How far do we have to go until the AICs are capable of addressing the threat directly, attacking it and containing it, without outside direction?"
"AICs gotta be trained like anyone else. Acting on their own takes experience and experience can't be programmed. I mean sure… yer typical virus s'not even on the radar. But anomalous threats are…"
Dietrich's eyes darted past Karlyle for a moment to view Merle signing a message to him in the reflection of the wall mounted touch-screen. Before he could pick up on what Merle was trying to convey he realized he was pausing for too long.
"…unpredictable," he concluded. "It'll take some time 'fore being let off the leash like ya want."
Karlyle took a quick glance behind him, looked straight at Merle. Seeing nothing, he turned back to Dietrich and nodded in acknowledgement. "I see."
"Sir?" Dietrich asked. "S'there some'em that the AICs need to contain currently?"
Karlyle squinted. He wasn't quite sure how to handle this strange man. He was knowledgeable, certainly, but something seemed off.
"Not necessarily," he said, leaning forward. "Currently I am just exploring possibilities, for my own site and for other projects."
"Yes, apologies. Dietrich, how suitable would you say you are to maintain these systems in the field? How adequate is your expertise in this area?" He looked over Dietrich's shoulder into the server room beyond them. "Additionally, what other projects are you currently assigned to?"
"Currently? Just this. I've been bouncing from divisions and labs ever since I got transferred outta Mu-13. But in the field… we got some stuff on the backburner havin to do with mobile apps and AICs. That'd be a good start fer what yer lookin fer."
Dietrich placed his standard issue mobile device on the conference table. "I know these AICs well, sir. I can't build one from scratch, but I can tune and tweak them. That is to say, I know a'nuff. Ain't that right, Alex?"
The phone beeped and responded in a perky female voice. «That's right, sir!»
Karlyle looked down at the phone with an air of curiosity. "This is the fourth generation system, yes? The Alexandra system?"
Dietrich nodded. "Yessir, hosted right here in 19. The latest and greatest artificially intelligent conscript they've made to date."
The old doctor lifted the phone. An avatar of a blue haired young woman sat centered on the screen, and smiled when it turned to face Karlyle.
«Good afternoon, Dr. Aktus!» The vocal synthesis, Karlyle considered, was very good. «It is a pleasure to finally meet you.»
Karlyle addressed Dietrich. "This can hear me?"
«Sure can!» Alexandra replied, blinking a notification light. «I'm integrated into all of the hardware designed for these devices, and have access to whatever utility I want to use, whenever I need to use it. Cameras, microphones, lasers-» she laughed «-ok, maybe not lasers, but I'm sure they're working on that too!»
"Fascinating," Karlyle said, mulling the object over in his hands, "this is far superior to the Access system running at Site-81."
«Access, woof.» The avatar stuck out her tongue. «I've seen the source, that's pretty outdated stuff.»
Karlyle raised an eyebrow in agreement. "Dietrich, if you are willing, I might have a position for you in the near future, that is, if you are interested in continuing your work with these AICs."
"Imma round peg, sir. Jack of all trades, master of none." Dietrich drummed his fingers on the table. "Kinda prefer it that way to be honest. Don't like gettin' pigeonholed. Kinda why I left Mu-13." He then stopped drumming. "That said… Site-81? It's a change in scenery I s'pose. Why not."
Merle nodded in agreement at the change. It was a blessing in disguise for the two of them considering Dietrich was two steps and an annual psychiatric examination away from being labeled as schizophrenic.
"What's yer time frame, sir?" Dietrich asked.
Karlyle pulled a white envelope from within his jacket. "It would not necessarily be for Site-81, I am afraid," he said, sliding the envelope across the table to Dietrich, "and the time frame would be immediately."