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The Metal of a Man, part 2

by: Matt51 (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 004 Word Count: 21420
Rating: ADULT
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo, Ensemble, Other Female Character, Other Male Character
Category(ies): Alternate Universe, Angst/Drama, Future, Hurt/Comfort
Pairing(s): Gibbs/DiNozzo, Tony/OFC, Tony/OMC
Summary: See first part for description.

Author Notes: See exrta warnings and notes in first part.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Next Chapter

Karel Capek must have been an alien.

Yeah, I know, someone once said the very same thing about Albert Einstein…on a television show or in some movie, way back when the Earth was a totally different place…but that absurdly comical declaration just doesn’t seem so, excuse the expression, ‘out there’ now as it once did, for either of those guys. In fact, it may just explain a hell of a lot to how they came up with some of the stuff they did back in their day.

Oh, sure, Einstein will most likely be remembered for his theory of relativity, his brilliant work in physics, and his genius intellect but he also grimly foretold the probable annihilation of mankind by our own hands, due to our single-minded quest to split the atom way back in the late 1930’s, and tried like hell to get world leaders to heed his warnings of the coming catastrophe. Did they listen? Nah…

But it’s Karel Capek who I keep thinking about these days, particularly his incredibly prophetic writings concerning artificial intelligence and the nature of robotics. Okay, it’s not actually me who’s doing all the thinking. It’s McGee. I didn’t even know who the hell Karel Capek was until he told me a couple of days ago but, now, he sure has managed to grab my interest...even though I act like it’s all nothing but a bunch of useless crap. McGee just can’t help himself, especially since we’ve got a real Triple A unit in our midst, and he never seems to tire on inundating the members of my team with quotes and facts and summaries he accumulates from sources I don’t even want to think about.

According to McGee, Capek is the person responsible for introducing the word robot to the public, way back in 1921, and not, as I so erroneously thought, noted science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov. Capek coined the word robot to describe a being characterized in one of his early plays, a creation used by humanity as nothing more than serf labor, destined only for servitude and drudgery, it’s only purpose to make life easier for those who owned it.

Hell, now that’s how I want and expect robots to be. Give me an enclosed area where a little, molded, disc-shaped, programmable vacuum can trudge silently across carpets and floors, sucking up tufts of lint and particles of grit and stray paper clips or rubber bands and I’m as happy as a dog with two dicks. Ecstatic even. Those are just mindless, automated, relatively cheap constructions that bump harmlessly into walls and furniture and, more importantly, don’t have the ability to walk or talk or look anything like a human being. And, if they accidentally get in the way of a passing person, a well-placed kick can get the offending mechanism right back on track…or scuttling over into some far, out-of-the-way corner.

Of course, that’s not a Roomba sitting at the desk directly across from Caitlin Todd right now, so I don’t suppose I’ll be utilizing that little maneuver anytime soon, no matter how tempted I may get to drive my foot into it‘s creepy, mechanical ass. No. It’s that damn, life-like Triple A unit I find myself staring at, watching it acquaint itself with it’s new surroundings, opening drawers and rifling through file cabinets, examining every, single stack of note pads, every box of pens and pencils, every container of paper clips, large and small, and, I swear, arranging items on the desk’s surface as though it’s planning on placing a picture of it’s family somewhere near the computer monitor.

If it does, I’m going to take out my weapon and just shoot it.

No, really. It may look like a duck and it my quack like a duck and, hell, it may even walk like a duck but it is not a duck, no matter how realistic the package is presented, and I refuse to treat it as anything other than what it is: a robot.

Back in 1942, Isaac Asimov referred to his creations as positronic robots, though I really don’t give a rat’s ass what he called them then. What I do care about are his Three Laws of Robotics which, theoretically, have been programmed into this unit’s subconscious mainframe, three specific rules that all robots in Asimov’s books were supposed to recognize, acknowledge, and follow, making them, essentially, decent tools for human beings. Tools…nothing more, nothing less. They never harmed or allowed a human to come to harm, they obeyed all rules except when it led to the harming of a human, and they protected humans and themselves, as long as no harm came from the protection. Looking at our new Triple A unit, I can clearly see it’s going to be more than just some simple tool and, frankly, may even prove to be a major pain in the butt.

Crap. I must have sighed or growled or made some other quiet, unexpected sound of displeasure because, now, it’s looking straight back at me, sitting perfectly still, hands poised somewhere near the desk lamp, and those damn green eyes focused intently my way. I don’t even want to think that it may actually be able to sense my feelings. God, no. We exchange silent, steady gazes for several long moments, and it looks as though neither one of us is willing to break eye contact. Well, if it thinks I’ll be the one to cave in, it’s going to get it’s first, real lesson in human stubbornness and, really, what better coach could it have? None. I can do stare-downs better than anyone in the building, hell, maybe even all of D.C. It won’t be me looking away, that’s for sure.

I sit back and get comfortable, ready to go the distance, when Todd suddenly clears her throat and the unit glances immediately her way, it’s focus on me broken by the soft sound of her own uneasiness. I’ve still got my eyes on it, so I’m slightly surprised when I see a small smile curve the solemn line of it’s lips, the mouth quirking up at one corner. I instantly look to find out what’s causing this change in expression and see that Cait is returning the smile and leaning forward on her desk…and, oh, look…she’s got her ‘game face’ on.

Huh. This should be interesting.

“So,” she says with an obviously forced nonchalance, “now that you’re a member of our team, just what are we supposed to call you? I don’t think Triple A is very appropriate, do you?”

The unit shifts a bit on the padded seat and calmly folds it’s hands together on the work surface but I see the quirky, little smile has vanished and the green eyes have dropped to study it’s clasped fingers. “The biochemist who gave me my final, human programming is Gianmarco Nozzo and he said I could be referred to as ‘DiNozzo’, if that was acceptable to my human counterparts.”

“Hey, I get it! Like those who originally came from certain areas in Italy.” McGee’s cheerful voice abruptly draws everyone’s attention and I have to wonder what in the hell he’s referring to now. He looks directly toward Todd and completely ignores me and…it. “You know, Cait, like Leonardo da Vinci came from the Vinci region in Italy.” At her continuing perplexed expression, he rises from his seat and takes a few steps in her general direction, stopping in that open, no-man‘s-land that floats between all of our desks. He shakes his head and smiles. “Joe DiMaggio’s ancestors probably came from the Maggio region and Brian DePalma’s from the Palma area.” I can see he really wants her to understand. “That’s how names used to be recorded. They used the ‘da’ or ‘di’ or ‘de’ to mean ‘from‘. ”

Todd frowns again but she eases slightly back in her chair, tapping a slim finger on a manila folder that I know holds her latest report. “So, Robert DiNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio’s ancestors came from Niro and Caprio?”

“I don’t know,” McGee shrugs honestly. “Probably.” He glances over at…it…and nervously shoves his hands into his pockets. “So, were you constructed in Italy?”

“No,” comes the quick reply, the green eyes now alert and directed at my youngest agent, “I was…”

Interesting. It actually is hesitating.

“…created and manufactured in Cambridge at MIT’s CSAIL. Doctor Nozzo works…”

“MIT?” McGee interrupts, stepping closer to it’s desk, his voice full of exuberance. I can easily imagine the glee on his youthful face, even without seeing it. “You were created in the MIT labs?”

“Yes. Partially.”

Well, crap. Now, they’re going to bond.

“What’s CSAIL?” Todd asks as she moves to join them, her interest piqued by McGee’s enthusiasm.

“It’s the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.”

McGee’s not even looking at her as he answers the query and it almost seems as though he can’t take his eyes off of the new unit now. New unit. Sounds like it should be an air conditioner or an entertainment center or something…less human looking. Wonder if I can shove a CD in it’s mouth and make it sing? I should rein them both in right now and remind them of the work we have to do before we can leave for the day but I’m hoping they might actually use some of their finely honed investigative skills and find out what it meant by that ‘partially’ response. If it wasn’t completely created at MIT, just where in the hell did the other parts come from?

“Do you know Professor Katz or, maybe, Doctor Clark?” McGee is actually asking it about some of the people he must have known when he attended MIT and I’m hard-pressed to keep my mouth shut. This type of questioning isn’t relevant right now. “Or how about Professor Arvind?”

“No, I’m sorry,” the Triple A is answering softly, “I never actually met those you’ve named, though I have heard of them. I’m very familiar with the Senior Research Scientists who I came into contact with after being activated. Perhaps you know Professors Knight, Poggio, and Katz?”

I’ve got to nip this direction of questions/answers in the bud before it gets totally out of hand or they’re just going to spend the rest of the afternoon comparing notes and not really getting to the heart of the matter. I quietly clear my throat and, as expected, Todd glances my way.

Come on, Cait, I know you can do this. I wordlessly send my message and hope she catches my drift.

She arches an eyebrow at me while we do the silently exchange thing and then she turns back to…it. See, there’s a reason she’s my senior field agent.

“So, DiNozzo,” she says the name haltingly and I can hear the wince in her voice. Good. I’m not the only one feeling a little uncomfortable about this thing having a human name. “If you weren’t put all together at MIT, then where did the other parts come from?”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t put together at MIT,” it corrects her gently, “I said I wasn’t completely created at MIT.”

Todd is nodding but she‘s got that bristle-up-her butt look brewing around the edges of her eyes. She crosses her arms and leans a hip against it’s desk, looking down her nose at the unit.

“Okay,” she almost sneers, “where else were some of your parts created?”

It tilts it’s head to one side and studies her posture before answering and I can clearly see all friendliness it may have exhibited earlier toward my agent is long gone. Hhmm…could it actually be touchy about the subject of it’s own creation? Sure seems that way to me.

“Some came from Japan, some from Germany. Many places actually.”

I can’t help myself because, frankly, after listening to McGee talk about Karel Capek and me thinking about Albert Einstein and Isaac Asimov, the question I need answered is too damn pressing. “Any alien technology floating around inside there, too?”

Both McGee and Todd seem a bit startled by my quiet question but, hey, even they recognize a good one when they hear it. The unit leans to one side, angling it’s head to gaze around McGee’s body so it has a clear view of my seated position, and I can see something different shift within those strange eyes, something that looks an awful lot like anger or displeasure before it evaporates into a polite blankness. But that can’t be right because this is just a machine. Granted, it’s supposedly a miracle of biochemistry and synthetic biology and semantic software but, if it also includes alien technology, it may also have something I don’t even want to think about.

“Yes.” It answers calmly.

Well, crap. There it is: alien technology on board. I’m going to have to find one of those damn, little, diamond-shaped signs I periodically see hanging in some new parent’s car window and stick it to it’s forehead. That’ll scare people away for sure.

I’m not surprised to see both Todd and McGee take a hesitant step away from it’s desk but it makes me grin nonetheless. They’re just as uncomfortable with the idea as I am.

Just as I get ready to ask for more specifics, my desk phone rings and I grudgingly answer it. It’s the Assistant Director and she wants me to escort the unit down to Ducky’s domain, so he and Abby can give it a thorough once-over and, knowing Abby, ask all kinds of interesting questions. I tune Shepard out as she continues to drone on in my ear, absently watching as Todd and McGee slowly retreat to their own desks, leaving the Triple A alone to continue it’s casual exploration through the office supplies. It’s sort like watching a big child who‘s been plopped into a new situation, the long, finely tapered fingers touching and examining the stapler, then the letter opener, and, finally, an opened package of chewing gum someone must have tossed inside a drawer while temporarily using the desk. The unit carefully turns the slim rectangle over and over, pausing once to read the label, and then places it as far to one edge of it’s desk as it can, the green eyes warily staying on the package for a few moments longer before finally rising to meet my gaze again.

I think this is where we left off just a little while ago but I’m in no mood to play staring games with it now. I’m dimly aware of the AD finally hanging up, so I do the same, placing the handset back in the cradle. Time to get this little traveling show on the road.

I push back and get to my feet, keeping my eyes on the Triple A unit, and I tip my head to one side, gesturing in the direction of the elevator with my chin. “You’re with me.”

I don’t wait for a reply or pause to see if it’ll follow. It’s a damn robot and that’s what it’s programmed to do: follow orders. Can’t get any more simple than that.

We enter the lift almost in step but it moves immediately toward the back, turning to stand silently just behind my right shoulder. I don’t like it there, out of my line of sight, but I’m sure as hell not going to tell it to move. I can stand the short trip down to autopsy but just barely.

Both Ducky and Abby are waiting and, like a trained pair of circus monkeys, they spring into action as we enter the cold, sterile room, bracketing the Triple A on both sides. I swear, they’re fairly salivating with unbridled expectation.

“Wow,” exclaims Abby, almost a bit breathless, her pale eyes wide with undisguised wonder and her fingers reaching to stroke boldly down one, hairless cheek. “Well, hello, handsome.”

The unit surprises me, though I guess I should have known it wouldn’t be offended or act inappropriately, and offers Abby a polite smile in return. The green eyes openly roam her animated face and shift quickly down her to neck, instantly focusing in on the tattoo not covered by her clothing. I’ll bet it never saw anyone like *this* at that fancy MIT laboratory.

“Hello,” it responds almost genially…and then raises a finger to lightly trace part of the inked design. I have to restrain myself from reaching out and snapping it’s wrist, wanting nothing more than to get this thing away from Abby’s skin, but it looks as though this is going to be a mutual admiration session…for all three of them.

Ducky’s smiling now, too, alert eyes scanning the unit from head to toe, his blue gaze all but sparkling behind the lenses of his glasses. “Welcome to NCIS.” Unbelievably, he’s offering his right hand and I have to fight down my urge to force the unit away from my old colleague. “I’m Doctor Mallard but you, my new friend, may call me Ducky.”

The Triple A instantly shifts his gaze to the extended hand and turns to accept the kind greeting, taking the aging flesh and bones into it’s gentle, careful embrace, the slightly reserved smile blossoming into a full-fledged grin, showing perfect teeth and all. “I’m honored, Doctor Mallard.” It lowers it’s head slightly and then looks back up from under a dual fan of thick lashes. “Ducky.”

And, like Abby and Ducky, I’m suddenly impressed….for about one, split second. I swiftly remember what it is and why it’s here and have to wrestle that traitorous feeling quickly back under control. I’m not going to fall under this thing’s artificial, programmed, charming spell.

Charming? The unsuitable word echoes around in my mind until I’m almost dizzy and I’m sucking in a deep breath to steady my momentarily rattled thoughts. Where in the hell did that come from?

I growl softly low in my throat, catching the attention of the nearby trio, and move to make my exit. “It’s all yours.” I call over one shoulder. “You know what Shepard wants, so send her the report when you’re finish.”

I almost make it to the door, when I hear the Triple A’s voice call out to me. “Agent Gibbs.”

Crap.

I halt at the doorway and turn, hoping the chill in my gaze can be felt across the distance. “What?”

The damn thing takes one step toward me and offers a small smile. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I won’t let you down.”

What? What the fuck is this shit?

Anger suddenly washes over me like a tidal wave swamping an ant colony. I speedily retrace the steps separating me from the unit, closing in on this new, unwanted intruder, and get right into it’s personal space…if it even has anything personal. I can feel my rage and resentment simmering right under the surface of my cracking façade and have to fight to reign it in. Ducky’s abruptly at my side and his tight hold on my right arm helps to ground and steady my erupting emotions.

“You listen to me, you glorified walking manikin, I did not ask for you to be a part of my team,” I want to clear the air of any misconception quickly…and, maybe, let it know I’ll never accept it as a member of my team. “The SecNav sent you to NCIS and the Director sent you to me. I didn’t ask for you, I don’t want you, and I sure as hell don’t plan to give you any ‘opportunities’.” I sneer the last word and can see it’s eyes grow wide and the smile slip off it’s face and, unbelievably, even it’s shoulders slump just a bit. I shake my head at the almost-human response to the rejection. “Just stay out of my way and do as you’re told. Understand?”

“Jethro,” Ducky’s soft voice holds a slight measure of reprimand…maybe even disappointment…but I know he’s only trying to calm me down.

“Understand?” I pointedly ask the Triple A again, ignoring Ducky and Abby and the spark of common sense trying, ineffectively, to douse the flame of anger in my mind.

The unit nods once, it’s face quickly blanking of all emotion. “Yes, Agent Gibbs. I understand.”

“Good.”

I pull my arm from Ducky’s grasp and whirl away, heading straight back toward the elevator. I’ve got to get away from that…thing…got to put some distance between it and my fist, as swiftly as I can. I can barely stand the short wait it takes for the compartment to arrive back on this floor and catch myself actually reaching out to try to pry the doors open faster when it appears, the need to get away burning a hole in the pit of my belly and churning up the juices.

I can’t seem get into the elevator quick enough and, when I finally do, I slam the palm of my hand over the button that will take me back to my work floor, only vaguely satisfied when it illuminates and the movement begins. Almost instantly, I activate the ‘stop’ control and have to bend over, bracing myself with hands on knees, taking several deep, calming breaths. I’ve got to get a hold of this aversion, got to get myself under control, and got to let go of the past…

…because that’s the root of what I’m feeling right now and, deep down, I know it.

Both Tom Morrow and Jen Shepard are aware of my past experiences with the Navy’s Warfare Human System Integration Lab, they both know how my unit of Marines was used as guinea pigs during the testing stages of it’s Military Operations in Urban Terrain missions, and they both know how only a handful of us survived because of a flaw in the artificial intelligence’s programming. Granted, it all boiled down to human error but when those around me were bleeding and dying and we were screaming for assistance, hoping to find some relief from the situation, there was no actual human being to hear our voices and come to our aid. Just some damn robot. What they both don’t know is how that experience scarred me.

I slowly straighten up and swipe a shaking hand across my brow, not surprised to feel a fine sheen of slick sweat. The shouts and cries of my injured and dying buddies will never be forgotten…nor will my inability to get them any help. I’d felt powerless and useless and completely frustrated. Worthless and impotent but, in the end, so much smarter. Those of us who survived that fated, failed mission vowed to never rely on anything but another flesh and blood Marine again. Ever.

And, now, I find myself saddled with another robot, expected to treat it as part of my team and integrate it into the workings of the agency’s directives. Work with it and teach it and, ultimately, trust it.

Not damn likely.

I may not have been able to stop the unnecessary deaths of those Marines all those years ago but I sure as hell can make certain nothing like that ever happens to my team because of this new…thing. I swallow down the bile that’s been working it’s way into the back of my throat, wince at the acidic taste, and reluctantly reaching out to slap the elevator’s restart button.

Damn Tom Morrow and damn Jen Shepard and, more importantly, damn that Agent Assistant Android unit. One of us is not going to survive this assignment.


TBC






























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