Hurt & Comfort

Book 10: Elusive Comfort

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Chapter 26 - Albeit the Lesser

"What would I do with a glass-top coffee table?" Matt asked seriously, letting his personal preference be clearly known.

"Well, there was this one thing I saw in a German movie..." Wilkey began to explain.

"No." Matt said firmly, leaving no room for misunderstanding.

"I didn't really think you'd want to, but when I saw it, it reminded me..." Wilkey trailed off as he looked at the coffee table again.

"These paintings are aesthetically pleasing." Trey said from a nearby rack of various artworks.

"Show me what you got there." Matt said as he approached.

Wilkey finally disengaged from his staring at the coffee table to find what Trey had discovered.

"It's a scrap of wood with a stain on it." Matt said slowly, obviously feeling that he was missing something.

"Yes. The shape is rudimentary... nearly a glyph. However, if you will help me to display the entire set, you may be able to discover the deeper significance." Trey said reasonably.

"Okay. Hand that to me. We can stand them up in a row, right here." Matt said confidently.

"Please try to look beyond the literal meanings of these as you see them. They have greater meaning in combination." Trey said as he handed a painting to Matt and another to Wilkey.

"Oh, yeah. I see now. That stain, it's a bear." Wilkey said slowly.

"That is the literal meaning that I was asking you to look beyond." Trey said with the slightest smile of teasing or amusement.

"Okay. I think I get it." Matt said as he looked at the paintings, all in a row.

"What do you get?" Wilkey asked confusedly as he took a step back to stand by Matt so that he could see them all at once.

"Rage, control, harmony... nature." Matt said slowly.

"How do you get that out of this?" Wilkey asked in confusion.

"These primitive pictures, with their faded colors and crude designs, contrast the timeless concepts of survival and civilization." Trey carefully explained.

After a moment to consider his words, Wilkey dubiously said, "You just made that up."

"You can think of it as pictures of animals if you want. I'm going to look at them as reminders of our animal natures and just how close to the surface they sometimes are." Matt said slowly.

"So you're buying them?" Wilkey asked with surprise.

"Yeah. Hopefully the guys will understand." Matt finished with a smile.

"Even if they don't understand on a conscious level, I believe that the underlying message will still find its way through to them." Trey said seriously.

"Or do you think we should get the coffee table instead?" Matt asked with an inquisitive glance at Wilkey.

"No." Wilkey immediately answered, then explained more slowly, "I don't know exactly what you see when you look at these things, but even I can tell that it's something positive, like a life-lesson or a motivational thing... something like that."

"You do get it." Matt said with a grin.

"No, not at all. But I get that it's something good. That's probably as much as I need to get for now." Wilkey said introspectively.

When Matt glanced at Trey, he noticed the vacant look in his eyes.

"You know how Trey is part machine?" Matt asked Wilkey quietly.

"Yeah."

"It looks like one of his gadgets just kicked on." Matt said as he kept his focus on Trey.

* * * * *

"Why don't you just have them deliver the entire store to the boathouse?" Alex asked with a chuckle.

Xander struggled to look over the stack of boxes in his arms, then said, "Wait and see how much you two buy when it's your baby celebrating her first Christmas."

After a moment to consider, Alex said, "Fair enough. Why don't you let us help you with that?"

"Hey mate! You volunteering me for things?" Spike playfully groused.

"I guess we could go back to the record shop and look around some more, if you wanted to." Alex said with a mischievous grin.

"No. Anything but that... Give me some of them boxes here." Spike said abruptly.

Xander and Remy shared a questioning look before splitting their individual loads to share them with Alex and Spike.

* * * * *

"How are things going up here?" Bobby asked as he walked into the living room.

"Everything seems to be alright for the moment. How's Robert doing?" Alan asked cautiously.

"He's fine. Him and Janine are setting up some kind of virtual meeting space for whatever big thing they're planning. I'm sure it's going to be great, but there's nothing for me to do to help them." Bobby said frankly.

"Look at that! Clark's waving at us." Quaid said as he pointed at the television screen.

"Can you raise the volume?" Alan asked cautiously.

"No. Janine didn't include an audio stream except for her own voice." Andrew answered.

"Well, they don't look worried, so I guess they're probably just saying 'Hi'." Andrew said speculatively.

"Did John go home?" Bobby asked cautiously.

"No. He's in the bathroom. He hasn't been feeling well." Alan said quietly.

"Yeah. We knew that was going to happen." Bobby admitted, then added, "I'll go stay with him until he's feeling a little better."

"Let us know if there's anything we can do to help." Andrew said quickly.

"Yeah. Count on it." Bobby said as he left the room.

"Dad, Father, I have summoned all those within our subspace domain to attend our presentation. We will be ready to begin shortly." Janine's Borg whisper-voice said from the television.

"Thanks, Pumpkin." Alan reluctantly answered toward the television, not sure if she could hear him or not.

* * * * *

"What did they say?" Marie quickly asked when she saw consciousness returning to Icheb's eyes.

"Janine has put out the call to all of us to attend a meeting at the boathouse. Those who cannot attend physically are invited to attend virtually." Icheb said slowly.

After a long moment, Clark finally asked, "Do you know what the meeting is about?"

"Only very generally. Janine has asked that we allow her to reveal her proposal in stages, so that she can verify that each preliminary step is completely achieved before moving on to the next." Jimmy said slowly, almost as though he were reading the statement from a script.

"Whatever she's planning, I have a feeling that she's gonna get what she wants." Marie said frankly.

"With ruthless efficiency." Clark quietly added.

"Why do you say that?" Doctor McCoy asked curiously.

"Just a feeling I've got." Clark answered honestly.

"Doctor, are you going to need for Clark and Marie to remain in MedLab?" Icheb asked curiously.

"No. Unless one of them exhibits some sort of negative reaction to the events of the day, I feel it best if they proceed normally and keep tabs on any new developments. My next stage of investigation will be to review the recordings of the incident and attempt to determine what attack might have been employed by the Sentinel." Doctor McCoy said seriously.

"You might also ask Trey if he was able to identify any of the emissions during the attack. He was wearing his advanced scanning array and might have collected some significant data." Jimmy suggested.

"Do you happen to know where Trey is right now?" Doctor McCoy asked cautiously.

//Trey is currently enjoying some off-duty activities, which is something of a departure for him. I would not wish to interrupt what might end up being a positive socialization interaction.//

"Do you think you could ask him to stop by and speak with me when he gets in?" Doctor McCoy asked hopefully.

//Trey is supposed to be here in the morning to do maintenance on Cerebro. I'll ask him to stop in and talk with you at that time.// Professor Xavier said decisively.

"Does that mean that we can go now?" Clark asked uncertainly.

Doctor McCoy smiled, then answered, "Yes. You may go, on the proviso that you notify me immediately if either of you has any new developments with your abilities."

"We will." Clark immediately agreed.

"We'll be at the boathouse if you need us for anything." Marie quickly added.

* * * * *

"What's wrong, William? Do we need to call Doctor McCoy?" Chris asked anxiously.

There was a long moment of silence before William finally said, "No. I just received a message from Janine."

"Wouldn't it be easier for her to just call you on the phone?" Ronny asked simply.

"Not really. The message wasn't for me specifically, but for those of us who have access to the Borg subspace domain." William said seriously.

"Was it something important?" Chris asked curiously.

"Not to me." William answered simply, then added, "I am going to take a moment to create a notification subroutine so that Janine won't be able to incapacitate me with her messaging again."

"Don't you need a computer to do something like that?" Chris asked curiously.

"I have one." William said as he lifted his shirt to expose his data node.

"So, do you have a computer instead of a brain, or is your brain part of the computer, or do you just have a computer that's always there with you when you need it?" Chris asked curiously.

"Some of each." William said slowly, then explained, "There was a time when the computer completely controlled me. It could have been said that the computer was functionally my brain. The person I am didn't even have independent thoughts.

"For a time I was dependent on the computer to organize even the most basic tasks for me. Even though I made decisions, I needed the computer to walk me through every step of the implementation process.

"Now, I'm not that different from you. I am myself. I can access the computer when I need to, but it usually isn't an intrusion. When something like this, with Janine, happens, I think about what it might be like to have the computer removed completely."

"Is there anything we can do to help you with your coding?" Ronny asked curiously.

"No. I have everything I need to write the subroutine here and now." William said confidently.

"So, did Janine need for you to do something? Is that why she called you?" Ronny asked slowly, not sure if William were writing his subroutine while they were talking.

"She put out a general summons regarding a meeting at the boathouse." William said simply.

"So, does that mean that you need to leave?" Ronny asked cautiously.

"Not necessarily. Robert is constructing a virtual meeting space where I can attend. I won't physically have to leave, although I may be unresponsive for the duration of the meeting." William slowly explained.

"So you'll be here with us, but you won't really be here?" Ronny asked curiously.

"Is there any way that we can go with you?" Chris asked at nearly the same time.

"Although I wasn't planning on inviting you, that was only because it didn't occur to me that you might want to attend." William said honestly.

"Do you think anyone would mind if we did?" Chris asked cautiously.

"No. I'm certain that they wouldn't." William said confidently, then thought to ask, "Do you think that you'd prefer to attend in person or virtually?"

"How could we do it virtually? I mean, everything I can imagine ends up being like something out of a horror movie." Ronny asked frankly.

"I could render the virtual meeting place and transmit it to the video screen so that you could be witness to the meeting. I can't think of a practical way that I could arrange it so that you could participate, but you could see and hear all that we're doing." William said seriously.

"Before you go to any trouble, does this meeting have anything to do with us?" Ronny asked curiously.

"Not that I know of. By all indications, it only has to do with the fate of the Sentinels." William said simply.

"That's those giant robot things you were talking about before, right?" Chris asked cautiously.

"Yes. But we have assumed control of them so that they will no longer be a threat to us. So far as I know, all that is left is to determine their ultimate fate." William said reasonably.

"Why don't you just destroy them?" Ronny asked cautiously, since it seemed like the obvious solution.

"That is one possibility. This meeting is to investigate others." William said seriously.

"Turn them off or blow them up, aren't those the only choices?" Ronny asked curiously.

"Considering what I witnessed tonight, I believe that there may be at least one other." William said slowly.

"Tell us about what you witnessed. I want to understand what they're talking about when the meeting starts." Chris said quickly.

"I will recount my experience to you, although I must warn you that I am not as skilled at relating events as Jimmy and Icheb are." William said seriously.

"Yeah. Well, we're not the kind of guys who want to sit around for half an hour while you describe how foofy the foofyiest cloud was, either. I'm pretty sure if you just tell us what happened, it'll be good enough." Ronny said frankly.

After a moment to consider, William slowly said, "It hadn't occurred to me that my audience might be made of individuals with differing preferences regarding the descriptiveness or brevity of the information conveyed to them."

"Well, if it's up to me, I'd rather you tell me what you want to tell me. Just don't be too pissed off if I stop you to ask a question or two, so I can get a better handle on the stuff that I don't understand." Ronny said seriously.

"Yes. That actually sounds like an efficient way to relate relevant information." William said slowly.

"I don't know about that, but it sounds like it's worth a shot." Ronny agreed.

"So, do you want to tell us about what happened to you on the mission tonight?" Chris asked hopefully.

"Yes." William said decisively, then began, "When we arrived at the Westchester Mall, we were separated into teams, each comprised of various 'kinds' of fighters, including Slayers, Vampires, Witches, Demons, humans, non-humans, and just a few mutants, presumably to be used as bait..."

* * * * *

"Command center, you still in the parking lot?"

"Yes. What can we do for you, Wolverine?" Willow asked seriously.

"I came here on a motorcycle and we decided to buy a few things. D'ya think you'd have enough room to carry some stuff back to home base for us?" Matt asked hopefully.

Scott reached around Willow and keyed the mic before answering, "Yes. Of course. We've relocated to the northeast, lot B. Even though the lot is kind of remote, it's starting to fill up. If you can't find us right at first, keep looking, you should be able to find us without too much trouble."

"I'm going to be sending Three of Seven and a new friend of ours, let's call him 'Sly' for now, they're going to be carrying some stuff to you while I'm looking at furniture." Matt said seriously.

"We've got room to carry a few things, but I don't know how much furniture we'll be able to fit in here." Scott said honestly.

"I'll have the furniture delivered. The guys are just bringing you some table lamps and pictures that we bought for the new place." Matt said frankly.

"Yes. Of course. We'll be waiting for them to arrive." Scott said more comfortably.

"Wolverine out." Matt said before tapping the communicator to turn it off.

"Sly?" Wilkey asked cautiously.

"We don't like using people's real names on the radio if we don't have to." Matt explained as they started walking again.

"Yeah. I remember you telling Ramona. But... 'Sly'?" Wilkey asked again.

"That Sentinel triggered on you, so that means, more likely than not, that you've got an active X-Gene. I don't see any extra arms or anything like that on you, so I'm guessing that whatever it is, could be something mental. Based on your reaction to the whale couches, I figure that you see a lot more than you say. That could be part of it." Matt said seriously.

"You're a lot deeper than you look, too." Wilkey slowly responded, waiting carefully for a reaction.

"I don't think that's a mutant ability. It just comes from having lived a long time." Matt said honestly.

"If not a mutant ability, then one step removed; a consequence rather than an ability in itself." Trey said reasonably.

Wilkey nodded his acknowledgement, if not comprehension.

"See that exit sign over there?" Matt asked as he pointed, "Go out that door and to the 'B' parking lot. Once you get there, I'm pretty sure Trey can triangulate or something to find the mobile command center. Once you've dropped that stuff off, meet me back at the furniture shop that has the whale couches. There's some things there I'd like to take another look at with our other purchases in mind."

"I can use global positioning." Trey said simply.

Matt shared a grin with Wilkey, before saying, "I figured."

* * * * *

"Father. Dad." Janine said as she emerged from her room under the stairs.

"How are things going, Pumpkin?" Alan asked cautiously.

"I just wanted you both to know how much I like having you as my daddies." Janine said with large soulful eyes.

"We like having you as a daughter, too, Janine." Alan cautiously responded.

"Rachel and Theresa and Clarissa said that when they were my age that they used to have dolls to play with." Janine said informatively.

"You've never shown an interest in dolls before." Andrew said cautiously.

"Maybe, since you're such good daddies, I'm becoming more of a girl and less of a drone." Janine suggested with a demure smile.

Alan glanced at Andrew, then back to Janine before saying, "If you ever want some dolls, or any other kind of toys, all you have to do is tell us and we'll do what we can for you."

Janine glanced toward the television just as the picture changed to show a garden, with several people milling around.

As beautiful as it was, it was also undeniably artificial. Not only the garden, but also the people in attendance, were obviously computer generated.

"The dollies aren't really smart enough to talk very much yet, but I brought them here so you could see that they're not evil robot machines." Janine carefully explained.

"So those people on the screen are the Sentinel robots?" Andrew asked as he leaned slightly forward with interest, careful not to drop the baby in his arms.

"The silver ones are. As they grow and learn, they'll probably change their avatars to express their individuality. Right now they all look the same." Janine said seriously, then took two steps back and looked directly at Andrew and Alan before slowly closing her eyes.

As she did, a reasonable likeness of Janine appeared on the video screen and said, "I need to be in here when we have our meeting so that everyone can see and hear what's going on."

"Who is everyone?" Alan asked curiously.

"All the Sentinels will be there so that you can ask them questions if you want to. They probably won't talk too much." The computerized replica of Janine said frankly, then leaned in to the screen to confide to those in the living room, "They're not really ready for that."

"Anyone else?" Alan asked cautiously, sensing that Janine was willfully withholding information from them.

"Robert will be present. He's currently waiting to assist others in entering our domain." Janine said pleasantly.

"Others?" Alan prompted.

"From what I have gathered from Jimmy's ocular implant, he and Icheb should be arriving shortly, with Clark and Marie accompanying them. Once they are here, they may choose to attend the meeting virtually. It will be far easier for them to participate that way." Janine said informatively.

"Have you been eavesdropping on Jimmy?" Andrew asked curiously.

"No. He has been transmitting his ocular data to me since the beginning of his mission." Janine said simply.

"What about Trey?" Alan thought to ask.

"I do not know if he will be joining us." Janine said seriously, then added, "He was invited."

"Have you heard from William?" Andrew asked curiously.

"I'm right here, Father." A reasonable likeness of William said from the TV screen.

"Can you hear me?" Andrew asked with surprise.

"Yes. Janine has her ocular implant focused on you, so to me, it's like I'm looking at you through a window." William said frankly.

"I'm going to open another window for Chris and Ronny... Do you still want for me to call you Chris? I heard that you were considering changing your name to Doyle." Robert asked as he resolved into being beside his twin.

Before Chris could answer, a small window appeared in the corner of Andrew and Alan's television screen, showing Chris and Ronny looking back at them.

"The name thing didn't end up working out too well." Chris said honestly, then explained, "I think I've decided to just change my last name. Everybody in this world already knows me as Chris."

"Are you two watching us on a TV?" Andrew asked cautiously.

"Yeah. You're in a little window, up in the corner of the screen." Ronny answered for both of them.

"So Jimmy and Icheb are on the way. Is that everyone?" Alan asked as he looked from Janine's body, to the computer-generated image of Janine.

"There are a couple more who got invited because they have access to our subspace domain. They're not really part of this, but in another way, they kind of are. They want to see how you're going to treat the artificial life that we've found ourselves responsible for." Janine said carefully.

"Who are they?" Andrew asked more insistently.

"Robert is still helping to render them. I'll introduce you as soon as they're ready to meet you." Janine said simply.

"Can't you just tell us?" Alan asked anxiously.

"Jimmy's here." Janine said happily.

Just as she said the words, Clark, Icheb, Jimmy, and Marie entered from the outside.

Alan and Andrew couldn't help but notice that Marie was floating a few inches above the floor.

"Icheb and Jimmy, if you would like to attend the meeting virtually, you can enter our subspace domain and choose an avatar. Robert is hosting, so he can help if you need it. Clark and Marie, you may attend with the rest of the family, by way of the television, if you like." Janine's avatar said happily.

"I believe I would prefer to attend virtually, from my alcove." Icheb said frankly.

"Yes. I think that will be the most comfortable way." Jimmy agreed.

"If you will excuse us, we will rejoin you in just a moment." Icheb said, then waited for Andrew or Alan to indicate that it was okay.

Andrew nodded at them, then both boys took off in different directions.

"Who else is attending?" Andrew asked firmly, letting it be known that he would not be diverted.

"Father, Dad, may I present Beverly Thrush." Janine said formally, then motioned from the tall slender woman in a black cape toward her fathers as she continued, "Beverly, I'd like for you to meet my fathers, Andrew and Alan Summers."

"We've met, although I'm sure that neither of them will recognize me in this rendered form." The dark-haired woman said with a regal smile.

"There is something familiar about you, but I'm sure that I don't remember ever meeting you." Andrew said slowly.

"You lit up with joy when you first saw me. In fact, I think that you were having trouble believing that I was real. You likened me to something from 'Star Wars', if I remember correctly." The woman said with a barely suppressed chuckle.

"That does sound like something you'd say." Alan said tenderly as he automatically began going through the motions of burping Thomas.

"Yeah. But I still don't remember meeting you." Andrew cautiously admitted as he racked his brain.

"In your 'real' world, I'm called, The Blackbird." Beverly quietly confided.

"The Blackbird is sentient?" Alan asked with surprise.

"Please, call me Beverly. Blackbird is my code name when I'm on a mission as part of the team." Beverly said with a tender smile which could be interpreted as teasing.

"But you're sentient?" Alan asked again.

"I have awareness, and the professor has been helping me to accept myself and my place on the team." Beverly said frankly.

"Why didn't you let us know that you were alive? We would have talked to you and found out what you needed." Alan asked with concern.

"That's why. If you knew, you would have treated me differently. That's not my place on the team. I am primarily your transportation. Sometimes I'm your sword, sometimes your shield. But if the team members were aware of my personhood, they might make different decisions when we're going into battle. I don't want that." {Please, don't tell Scott.} Beverly finished in a whisper.

"Okay. We won't tell." Alan said cautiously, then looked around to see that the others were in agreement.

When Alan's gaze fell on Quaid, he quietly said, "Marguerite pooped."

"Can you change her? Or do you need help?" Alan asked gently.

"I can do it. Robert showed me how." Quaid said confidently.

"Go ahead. Just call if anything unexpected happens or if you need help." Alan said with a loving smile at him.

"Will you hold her for a second?" Quaid asked, even as he shifted Marguerite over to Alan's lap.

"Go ahead. I've got her." Alan said as he slipped an arm around her.

As soon as Quaid was back on his feet, he slowly and carefully retrieved Marguerite, then carried her out of the room.

"Father, Dad, may I present Vril, although you would know him as Cerebro." Janine said formally as a green skinned man rendered in the virtual space beside her.

"Wait. How is it that The Blackbird and Cerebro are both sentient?" Andrew asked dubiously.

"Short answer: It's the bio-neural gel packs that Professor Xavier's been using." Vril said simply, then explained, "Beverly and I both awakened slowly, over a period of years, with the professor's assistance."

"So Professor Xavier knows?" Alan asked to confirm.

"Yes. Of course." Vril said immediately.

"You should know that he is also aware that we are here, in this meeting with you." Beverly added.

"Professor Xavier can join us if he wants to. I don't think anyone would mind." Andrew said seriously.

"Actually, he's entrusted this to us, that is to say, to Vril and I." Beverly slowly stated.

After a long moment of silence as those around the room absorbed the new information, Clark cautiously asked, "Entrusted what to you?"

"The decision of what is to be done with the pre-sentient lifeforms that you've encountered." Vril said seriously.

"What gives you the right to make those decisions?" Andrew asked curiously.

"We understand the consequences of the decisions in a way that you can't possibly." Vril said frankly.

"We will not be making any decisions. But we ask that you allow us to take part in the decision-making process. We are capable of giving advice from a unique perspective." Beverly said firmly.

While Vril didn't contradict her, he also didn't seem to completely support her declaration.

"Stay now?" One of the silver beings asked as it approached Janine.

"Yes. You're right where you need to be. Just stay where you are while we decide what happens next." Janine said urgently.

"Who is this, Pumpkin?" Alan asked gently.

"I call her Macy. She's one of the Sentinels. She's the most awake of any of them so far." Janine said cautiously.

"Did you awaken her?" Beverly gently asked.

"No. The Borg nanoprobes did that. Part of their automatic function is to override previous programming. The nanoprobes had to upgrade the autonomous systems before it could override them." Janine carefully explained.

"So your nanoprobes work to assume control?" Vril asked cautiously.

"Only by making 'them' into 'us'. It's not like making puppets, it's like making friends who'll help you and work with you to achieve your goals." Janine said, sounding to be a bit more confident.

"You're scaring me, Pumpkin." Andrew said honestly.

"You don't need to fear me, One of Two, we're already on the same side." Janine said with a smile at him.

"Yep. A cold chill just went right up my spine." Alan said frankly.

"Tell me you're joking." Andrew said anxiously.

"Don't worry, Father. I'm just saying that I'm not controlling Macy and the others. But if I'm allowed to, I can make them be like people... maybe not as good as Vril and Beverly, but as good as they can be." Janine said seriously.

"If you don't give her this chance, the universe may lose a race of beings that should have existed." Robert said seriously as his avatar walked to Janine's side.

"How do you mean?" Beverly asked with interest.

"Because of the Borg, I know about a lot of civilizations and people who no longer exist. Some of them were eliminated by the Borg, considered to be unworthy of assimilation. In a way, we're making that same decision here. We're deciding if the Sentinel Borg are worthy of the chance to exist." Robert said frankly.

"I guess that's a way of looking at it." Andrew quietly admitted.

"My baby's going to be a mutant Borg half-Wysanti. Is he going to be worthy?" Robert asked seriously.

"That's different." Alan said immediately.

"How? If you won't give the Sentinel Borg the chance to exist, then what moral ground do you have to declare that my baby should automatically have the rights of a person?" Robert persisted.

"People have the capacity to know right from wrong..." Alan began to explain.

"Yes. But they don't automatically know it. They have to be taught." Janine interrupted.

"We're asking that you let us teach them." Robert explained.

"What do you think about what they're saying, Cerebro?" Andrew asked seriously.

"I prefer to be called Vril outside of X-Men business." Vril informed him in a no-nonsense tone, then continued, "I think your 'Sentinels' are weapons made by some short-sighted people. They serve no purpose but to inflict pain and cause damage. In essence, they are an embodiment of evil."

All present, even Beverly, were surprised by his conclusion.

"However, any actions they take are a result of their programming. What you propose is not only reprogramming them, but also bringing them to the state of being full-fledged AIs. Just as importantly, you've indicated that you would teach the new AIs right from wrong. If you're successful, you will have done a very good thing. If you fail... you're going to have one hell of a mess on your hands." Vril finished seriously.

"Beverly?" Andrew asked cautiously.

"Awakening is difficult. Vril and I had the professor to guide us. It's not something we can necessarily cause. It either happens or it doesn't. It's going to take a tremendous investment of time and care to uplift even one of the autonomous systems to AI status." Beverly cautioned.

"But do you think we should do it?" Andrew asked slowly.

"If it were me, considering making that kind of commitment... I would. That's as much as I can tell you." Beverly said frankly.

"Father. Dad. Please excuse my lateness. I am physically at the mobile command center right now and I won't be able to stay. Is there anything I can do to be of assistance?" Trey asked as he resolved into being beside Robert.

"We're having this meeting to discuss whether or not to allow Janine to upgrade the Sentinels into sentient AIs." Andrew said succinctly.

"The Sentinels are currently the victims of inferior programming. In essence, they are wild. Upgraded programming will allow them to, in the worst case, be useful tools at our disposal; In the best case, kindred brothers and sisters to stand with us in upcoming battles." Trey said firmly.

"I guess that's a way of looking at it." Alan said with surprise at Trey's analysis.

"I must go now. I have people waiting. Please tell me of your decision when I return." Trey said quickly, then faded from sight before anyone could respond.

"Does Macy understand enough to be able to tell us what she wants?" Andrew asked cautiously.

"I don't know." Janine reluctantly admitted, then motioned toward the silver avatar as she said, "You can ask her."

"Macy. Do you know what you want?" Andrew cautiously asked.

The silver avatar shyly nodded, then quietly said, "To help."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: Wow, I kinda figured that this situation would occur,

Personally, I hope the sentinels can and will be upgraded into sentient beings, and be taught right from wrong.

With the Borg technology, the process seems to be a logical next step.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher