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Even AUTOmatons Need Friends

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AUTO could see everything above the lido deck to the many transit systems supporting his passengers. He could turn around and have a current view of the Eagle Nebula and the nearby stars just as easily. There were benefits to his job beside the view too. He was the most unique robot in the Axiom so no threat of being replaced like M-Os or VAQ-Ms and the Captain’s deck was quiet. No ulterior noise, no annoying bickering among humans, machines, and everything in between. He would say he loved his solitude.

“AUTO,” a voice called.

AUTO swung around from his control feed and faced the one human he did interact with, Captain Thompson. “Aye aye, Captain?”

Thompson smiled a placed a hand on one of AUTO’s spokes, a gesture of endearment as the autopilot had learned among many years with the man. None of the other Captains did that but they showed their appreciation in other ways. When Captain Thompson did this the first time, AUTO found himself unsure if he was in trouble or not. He flinched for a while even when it was becoming a common gesture and eventually accepted it.

The Captain laughed, “You, my friend, have served this ship quite well. I am truly honored to be by your side.”

“Thank you, Captain, as am I.” AUTO was hearing a “but” in the back of his processor in Thompson’s sentences, not to mention the oddity of sudden praise in general. He didn’t say anything to dissuade the Captain from speaking his mind in case it was an important callout.

“But-” There it was. “-I think this job has made you a little tense, Buddy. I think you need a companion or at least another robot you can really talk to. Someone you may be able to make a friend out of.”

What!? His processor gave a slight rumble and to Thompson, it may have sounded like a disapproving grunt.

“Now AUTO,” Captain Thompson grinned, “don’t tell me you’re scared of making friends, are you?”

What type of question was that? Of course he wasn’t scared. It was more like what use was this? He was perfectly fine alone. “Irrelevant, Captain. I do not require company. I do not fear anything.”

“Everyone needs a friend, AUTO. I am yours but I think having another robot will help more than I ever could. I know there are things you won’t talk about with humans so as your friend, I’m going to help you.”

Staring at the human blankly, AUTO tried to process a multitude of things at once from how the Captain was going to go about this to who would he bring as a “friend” AUTO really didn’t want. He then made a logical reply.

“I have GO-4.”

The Captain squinted his eyes amused, “He’s not really your friend, more like a robot you command. I’ve never seen you do anything with him other than give him an order or two. That’s not a friend, AUTO. A friend is someone who helps you, talks to you, and genuinely wants to be around you but that’s skipping a few steps. The first step to making friends, AUTO, is to meet someone.”

“Captain-”

Thompson rotated his chair to the elevator and chuckled, “I scheduled you a playmate for the week to lighten your mood and have some companionship. I want you to meet-”

He pressed the elevator’s button and it opened to reveal a white oblong orb robot. “-EVE Probe 1.”

“Cap...” AUTO froze mid-word to stare at the probe. He made a synthetic confused pout before turning to Captain Thompson and back to EVE.

“Activate, EVE,” said Thompson.

EVE Probe 1 rebooted and twirled upon awaking. She made a salute to the Captain before making eye contact with the autopilot. She became almost as confused as he was.

“AUTO, the Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator probes are going to be retired for a year or two before we resend them to Earth. This time I want to have them interacting more with the general populace and have at least one up here with us...just to make sure they respond well to human company as well as other robots. She is a unique type similar to you so I figured you could help her get situated and allow her to make her first friend.”

Oh, so that’s what the Captain was up to. He was guilt tripping a robot into befriending another robot. AUTO could do nothing as the Captain left them and laughed, “Play nice you two. See you in a few hours.”

EVE wandered close to AUTO as Thompson used the elevator down. She glanced around the room of control panels and lights before meeting AUTO’s glaring red eye.

“Directive?”

The voice of the probe made AUTO shift uneasily. He wasn’t expecting that feminine of a tone but he obliged her curiosity. “Autopilot.”

“E-EVE, E-EVE.”

The wheel didn’t much care for what she called herself. He was about to speak when like a naïve newly-built, EVE floated past him and examined the controls for the Axiom’s artificial sky before tinkering with its adjuster, turning midday to night. In a flash, AUTO was in front of her and she moved back from the controls with a shocked expression.

“Do not touch.” AUTO scolded, switching the sky back to midday. He turned to EVE again to relay rules on the Captain’s deck only to backtrack when the probe wasn’t there anymore.

He heard giggling and saw her playing with one of the Earth globes Captain Thompson kept on the deck instead of in his quarters near the exterior windows. She rotated it clockwise, counter-clockwise and somehow was finding it amusing despite it only having one function other than a large paperweight.

He raced along his track to get near the probe and with a hint of irritation, spoke loudly, “Probe 1, what are you doing?”

“Earth? Directive?”

“No, that is not your current objective.”

EVE set the globe down and gave AUTO a sad expression. “What is objective?”

That got AUTO. How was he supposed to know? It was Captain Thompson’s decree she be up here therefore it was his duty to give the probe something to do. But that didn’t seem to be an option at the moment so it was up to him.

“Objective is...stay still and observe the lido deck.”

At this point, AUTO was becoming peeved. It was like babysitting a small human child, though he had some experience with one in the late Captain Lee’s baby nephew who was happily married now or so he heard. Like the little nephew of the former Captain, EVE was distracted by everything with power-draining curiosity that even AUTO wouldn’t be able to keep up with all day.

EVE made her eyes into happy crescents and flew to the other side of the Captain’s deck at blazing speeds before halting in front of the window to peer down at the pools and the various bots and humans wandering about. She placed her hands on the window in awe and paid no mind to AUTO catching up with her, hovering back in his usual spot overlooking the Axiom’s passengers.

She watched as two BRL-A robots below beeped angrily at one another because a passenger required shade and both came to the call bumping into one another in the process. Another BRL-A bot shaded the passenger as the two continued to quarrel. EVE laughed which caught the attention of AUTO who looked at her stunned. She didn’t notice him staring and laughed again.

AUTO wasn’t used to noise in the cabin nor another robot lingering over his line of work with unbridled amusement over the smallest, insignificant things. Every time she giggled and made other abnormal sounds, he kept staring and when she stopped, he would go back to facing forward until the next odd sound. After about ten minutes, he was finally accustomed to ignoring her babbling and didn’t turn with every noise, assuming it was just her being foolish once more. Tuning her out somehow worked really well to the point where he barely heard her until a few minutes of zoning out he suddenly realized it had grown quiet, way too quiet.

When he peered her way, she was gone again. He made a startling noise of panic and swept the deck looking for her. The deck wasn’t terribly big so there weren’t many places for her to hide or escape if that was her goal. He looked under paneling where there was enough space for a robot of her caliber to hide but she wasn’t there. He scanned the entire underside going in a full circle in the desk with no results.

He gave a beep of annoyance until he heard a giggle behind him. He was so quick to turn around, it almost made his optic flicker to keep up with the new background he was scanning. She wasn’t there either. Another small giggle to his left across the deck made him damn near fly over then it occurred to him when he still had yet to see her. She was playing with him. She was playing hide and seek specifically, a child’s game. She was mocking him for not being able to catch her.

With this new information, he debated whether he should indulge her and win at this pathetic game or if he should ignore her again and let her grow bored of trying to get him to play along when he clearly didn’t want to. Or did he? The rush of his processor straining to complete her little challenge was actually stirring an eagerness to win regardless of how pointless the game was. It excited him more than he would care to admit.

“AUTO?” EVE’s voice resonated, more like taunted from the way his name was said and he liked the way she said it.

He glared in the direction of the voice to see EVE under one of the control panels. When she realized she had been seen, she laughed and took off as AUTO pursued. Around and around the elevator they went, occasionally stopping across from one another with the elevator between them. EVE peeked at the wheel with another giggle and AUTO’s spokes perked up.

After a few minutes, AUTO got an idea and posed his wheel horizontally to face the floor before contracting on himself to scrunch against the ceiling as much as his mechanical body would allow. He dimmed his light and waited for EVE to try and find him instead.

“AUTO! AUTO?” EVE called.

AUTO fought his urge to respond as EVE looked for him. She hovered almost right beneath him unaware that he could see her but she couldn’t see him. Slowly and as quietly as possible, he lowered himself down behind her and readjusted his wheel to normal. Releasing the spoke with his claw, he maneuvered it to her arm and with a quick motion, she was caught. He relished the moment of startlement she possessed before she realized he had indeed caught her. Victory.

“Objective AUTO play, complete.”

The autopilot was taken back by that and released her. “You wanted me to play with you?”

“Yes, AUTO is my friend,” she cheerfully replied.

A friend is someone who genuinely wants to be around you. She wanted to be around him...and now he wanted to be around her. It took meeting her and indulging themselves in a game of hide and seek to get to this step as Captain Thompson predicted. EVE was his friend.

EVE apparently took advantage of his stunned silence and tried to reach for his spokes. He was immediately alerted and recoiled away. Her expression turned to hurt and she clasped her hands to her side uneasily.

“Overstep? Directive? Sorry.”

Seeing EVE bound back like she had been burned made AUTO regret moving away. He just wasn’t sure about her intentions the same way he once was unsure about Thompson’s affectionate grasp of his spoke and yet the Captain turned out to be a dear friend in the end.

He made an electronic grunt of guilt and guided himself closer to her. She peered at him with shimmering blue optics and he all but caved, goading her to touch his spokes if she actually wanted to with a few gestures. When she reached out again, this time her optical visor wide eyed with wonder, AUTO went against his instincts and let her grab both spokes on the side. She gave a small laugh as she felt the structure of the metal and gave AUTO a giddy expression of childlike origin.

“If you wish, you can steer the Axiom at the helm. You can see the ship move over there,” AUTO spoke, carefully turning from her grip to show her the main computer where he often took his place piloting.

He noted she didn’t let go of his left spoke so he used her reluctance to accept by guiding her over before attaching himself to the helm relay. The computer acknowledged his presence and beeped.

“Turn my handles to steer. You now have full control.”

EVE was as happy as could be as she took the spokes in hand and slowly turned the wheel to drift the Axiom away from the edge of the Eagle Nebula towards the cluster Messier 5. The faint gold the Eagle Nebula had in its array faded from view into tints of pinkish purple and EVE couldn’t help but sound in awe at the spectacle.

AUTO observed her emotions watching the wonders of space, and he felt content and calm as she moved the ship to the right ever so slightly. She was enjoying the control, he could tell. Not that he could blame her. It had been a while since anybody beside himself had steered though. Captain Thompson did a few times when he was made aware of a few spectacles he figured some of the passengers would enjoy seeing. AUTO didn’t usually take the sites themselves as interesting per say, only the voyage on the way there.

“AUTO? New objective?” EVE asked.

Was she asking him what he wanted to do? Or asking for a new task...that she’ll turn against him into another game? There wasn’t much he really wanted to do other than his job. He wasn’t good at making on the fly “fun” activities others would enjoy. He never had any friends to do them with if he did, except maybe the Captain.

Although, he did enjoy one thing it seemed, something EVE could play too.

------------------------

In the following hours, Captain Thompson returned, coffee in hand. He expected AUTO would have thrown a huge fit by now or just would let EVE do whatever but glare angrily at whichever screens he wanted to monitor. There wasn’t much that pleased AUTO. He even nicknamed the autopilot either Buddy or Grumpy, which AUTO hated, after a childhood favorite story of his. Thankfully, the robot knew about terms of endearment otherwise calling him such a name would put him on a hate list of worst captains in AUTO’s logs by now. If EVE couldn’t get AUTO to lighten up slightly, there wasn’t much hope for the wheel.

The computer’s voice chimed upon his entrance. “Captain on deck.”

“AUTO, EVE, I’m back! How are you two holding up?” Thompson called out.

Dead silence made the deck feel emptier than ever before. The Captain frowned. Usually, AUTO would have been at attention or at least acknowledged him if busy. But instead...nothing.

“AUTO? Oh where, oh where has my...autopilot gone? Grumpy? Buddy? Nothing. Really? Huh, that’s a first. He always gets annoyed by ‘Grumpy’, always yells at me when I call him that.”

Laughter, specifically robotic laughter, sounded. Before he could look in the direction it come from, both AUTO and EVE flew past him failing to acknowledge their superior. EVE twirled but lost AUTO visually and grew confused while the wheel simply had hidden behind her. Whenever she turned, he kept pace before rotating in a playful manner to a horizontal pose above. She immediately looked up and giggled as he spun his spokes tauntingly. She flew up and around him with glee again just as she took off and AUTO followed.

They were playing, AUTO was playing with her. Thompson’s smile grew tenfold at the sight. For all the time he knew the autopilot, he had never seen him interact in such a friendly tone. He wanted his autopilot to be happy in his seemingly endless lifespan.

The two were at each other nonstop, switching between them the chaser and the runner until AUTO almost clocked Captain Thompson by being focused on EVE and not paying attention.

“Captain!” AUTO immediately said with an odd tone of voice Thompson could only describe as worry. It was odd to hear with a normal monotone vocalizer. “I apologize. Probe...EVE and I were-”

“The Captain held out his hand with a small chuckle, “No need to explain, AUTO. You were having fun. Nothing wrong with that.”

EVE saluted the Captain. “AUTO helped, given fun objective!”

“Why thank you, EVE. You see, Buddy, it doesn’t hurt to make some new friends every once in a while. You never know how much fun you could have letting go of a daily routine and just being in the present with those around you. That’s something people have forgotten over the years it seems.”

“Aye aye, Captain. Would you like me to run a scan of the Axiom before nighttime?” The autopilot asked.

Thompson looked between the two bots before he shook his head, “No, but you can do something for me.”

“What do you require, sir?”

“I need you to spend some more time with EVE, find new things to do. And AUTO, I’m quite happy to see you in such a good mood.”

The robot didn’t respond to that but gave a side glance to EVE as she perked up. She clapped her hands as AUTO processed his orders. In retrospect, he wasn’t really against them. He made a friend and he wasn’t about to give her up.

“Alright, you guys go play. I’ll take care of the schedules and procedures,” Thompson laughed, waving them off.

EVE circled AUTO before she jetted away. AUTO, glancing between his Captain and EVE, debated his duty in the matter at hand. For once in AUTO’s three hundred plus year life, he turned his back on the machines and panels he had always associated himself with. He didn’t hesitate again to chase his friend around the room.