“I’m sorry,” George Mallins said, with the embarrassed tone of someone asking a question for the fifth time, “I still don’t see why this is such a big deal.”

Jack clenched his fists, but he relaxed when Mae put her hand on his shoulder. They were all protective when it came to Eileen, but Mae knew George was on their side. He did his best to shield them from the pencil pushers, but even he had limits.

“Okay,” she said, “the simplest way to put it is that once we turn her brain on, we can’t directly program her anymore. There’s a lot of stuff she’s going to have to learn the hard way. The walking algorithm, for starters.”

“Walking doesn’t seem that hard,” Mr. Pens sniffed. Pens was exactly the type of person they relied on George to deal with. Pens lived in a world of price tags. She could see him mentally calculating the costs of every piece of equipment they had bought on Matsu Inc’s dime. She had the disturbing impression that he had a dollar value attached to her and her partners, too.

Luke, who had even less patience than his younger brother opened his mouth to say something, but George cut him off.

“She’s quite beautiful,” he said, gesturing at the head that sat on the work table. “She looks a bit like you, Mae.”

Mae smiled. “She’s the theoretical child using the genes of all three of us.” She squeezed Jack’s hand as she said this. “We had a couple dozen composed, and this is the one that the boys liked the best.”

“A bit vain, isn’t it?” Pens said.

“It didn’t cost Matsu Inc. anything,” Luke snapped.

“This is just a mockup of the face,” Jack said, as if nothing happened. “Just plastic. The artists working on the real one sent it over so we could make sure all the measurements line up before they start work on the psuedoflesh. Five dollars of plastic will likely save us thousands in the long run.”

Pens didn’t smile so much as he frowned less, but he nodded in approval. Of course, Mae thought, that’s the exact opposite of what this demonstration was. This was going to delay the project by at least a month — putting them dangerously close to Prometheus Competition deadline — just to show that they weren’t sitting around wasting the company’s money. This proved that Luke was right; no one read the weekly reports they sent in.

“Well, let’s turn it on and be done with it,” Pens said.

“We have,” Luke said, trying (and failing) to keep the frustration out of his voice. “The initial bootup takes ninety-seven hours. We turned her on four days ago. She should be finished soon.” He didn’t add that while she was booting up, very little actual work could be done. In fact, one person had to be on watch at all times, in case something went wrong. Luke had just finished his last watch shortly before Pens came, and he was clearly tired. He insisted on being there when Eileen woke up for the first time, though, and Mae couldn’t blame him for that.

Seven different monitors surrounded Eileen’s head, different status reports flowing across each. The largest one, just off to one side switched to show the robotic face that lay underneath the plastic. That meant all the computers were done assisting the bootup. A few processes in Eileen’s brain needed to finish, but those would take a minute or two at most. She was about to wake up.

Jack whispered something to George, who nodded.

“While we’re waiting,” he said to Mr. Pens, “there’s a bit of paperwork I’d like to go over with you.” He drew the pudgy bureaucrat off to one side, out of Eileen’s line of vision.

The shutters in Eileen’s eyes dilated and contracted several times, adjusting to the light. Her eyes swept around the room, locking on to each of their faces for a brief moment before moving on.

“Hello world,” she said. Jack snickered at the joke he had programmed in.

“Hello,” Mae said, stepping forward. Eileen couldn’t turn her head, but her eyes focused on Mae. “Can you tell us who you are?”

“I am an artificial construct,” she responded, her voice emotionless, “built by Jack and Luke Ferris and Mae Kwong and funded by Matsu Incoporated for entry in the Prometheus Competition. My artificial intelligence is running an advanced version of the Ferris platform.” Then, quite suddenly, she smiled, and her voice filled with warmth. “My name is Eileen.”

“How do you feel?” Luke asked. There was a gentleness to his voice Mae had never heard there before.

“My primary systems are all running at peak performance, but…” She became worried. “Most of my auxiliary systems appear to be offline. Only my mouth and eyes’ motor systems are working, and ninety-eight percent of tactile sensors are failing to report.”

“Well,” Luke said, kneeling down so he could look her in the eyes, “You don’t have a body yet.” He reached out and brushed her cheek. “Can you feel that?”

She smiled at the touch. “Yes. The tactile sensors are not responding well, though.”

“They’ll be better once you have your real face on, I promise.”

“I think I will like that. Will it happen soon?”

Mae could see Luke’s face reflected in one of the monitors. There were tears in his eyes as he smiled at her. “Very soon. Go to sleep, Eileen. When you wake up again, you’ll be complete.”

“I’ll have my body, too? My motor systems, and tactile sensors?”

Luke nodded. “Yes.”

Eileen shutting down wasn’t very obvious. She didn’t close her eyes. She just stopped moving. The only way they could truly know that she was in sleep mode was the large monitor switched back to reading out status reports.

“I trust that’s enough for the shareholders?” Luke asked, his voice harsh again.

“It will do,” Mr. Pens said, clearly not overly impressed. Mae felt a little sorry for him. He didn’t even realize the significance of what he had just witnessed. Eileen had demonstrated desires. Even George knew what a big deal that was, but Mr. Pens just saw price tags.

As George showed Mr. Pens out of the lab, Mae turned to Jack. He hadn’t said anything since Eileen had been turned on. He just stared at her now still head in wonder.

“WOOHOO!” he suddenly yelled out. He grabbed Mae and kissed her, then went back to screaming in jubilation.