Lab Adventures part I
“Adjust the camera. It’s skewed.”
His lab mate’s comment drew his attention, and as per her advice, he reached his hands to adjust Baymax’s head. “Ah, thanks.”
San was leaning against a desk at the far side of the room, holding his clipboard and checklist for him and tapping his pen in thought. The sun behind her back partially shadowed her face, but her eyes were as sharp as ever.
“Are you sure this is necessary? Logging all your tests? You know it’s probably gonna blow up in your face, right?” She hummed sceptically.
Tadashi smiled. As usual, she had no qualms about speaking her mind. Tadashi could appreciate her honesty. With her as a lab mate, he wouldn’t have to worry about slipping up. When Sanae Takagi speaks, you’d better damn well listen.
“Absolutely! Baymax, he’s gonna change the world. I can feel it. I’m his creator, after all.” He said as-a-matter-of-factly, which piqued San’s curiosity. She’s never heard him even remotely so filled with smugly pride and confidence before.
“You mean a penniless grad student in some dingy lab?” She tilted her head, chuckling audibly, although it wasn’t a sound of derision.
“Yes!!! No! I mean, maybe.” He answered, knowing that despite how pitiful that sounded, what she said was frankly true, except: “We’re sharing the same dingy lab, by the way.” He pointed out.
“...which is a big improvement since your totalitarian days. I can’t believe you had so many piles of paper trash.” She got up and passed him his clipboard. She put her hands in her coat pockets and strode away to her own corner in the lab. “Just do what you usually do and keep it down, please. I need my full concentration on this project and that means, no disturbances."
There has been some speculation on San’s background (it helped that she was a private person), and the most popular theory so far is that her parents were military. San had a rather fearsome reputation within the campus. Since her arrival, the IT and Robotics department, which has an age-old rivalry, has not fought even once.
′And how many times do I have to tell you, no disturbances!′
Rumor has it within their block, that some students had been ventured to call her the Queen of the Nerds. But anyone caught messing around with the Queen really did end up bloody, or at least black and blue. So the rumor goes.
Besides being dubbed one of the ‘Legendary Duo’, San had (somehow) risen to the fourth most popular (and terrifying) girl in SFIT according to the popular boy’s magazine. It certainly didn’t help that she was now the vice-captain of the Rifle and Archery club.
“You betcha.” He said, a little too compliantly. The fact was he (like all the other members of his department) had been conditioned to flinch whenever San said those particular two words. Apparently whenever she’s in her ‘no disturbance’ mode, any lapse in concentration resulted in a catastrophe of some kind. She doesn’t tell him what; he knew she was often royally pissed when it happened.
Regaining some of his composure, Tadashi stood eagerly in front of his Project: Baymax. He couldn’t deny the hint of nervousness in his stomach too. “Ahem, this is Tadashi Hamada...” He said. San, despite her complete non-intention, glanced over, and once she caught sight of those overly hopeful brown eyes, she sighed and went back to her project. “and this is the first test of my Robotics project.”
“Hello, I am Bayma-a-a-a-” The robot’s soothing voice quickly faded into an ear-splitting screech.
Tadashi briefly covered his ears before reaching frantically for the ‘off’ button.
“STOP STOP STOP STOP.”
Once the buzzing noise had quietened down, Tadashi sent an anxious look over at San. Yes, as expected, she shot him an annoyed look before turning around and scribbled viciously in her book. Whew, thank goodness. Tadashi thought, almost bewildered...Maybe she was taking pity on him because it was his first try.
Ito Ishioka Robotics Lab, early February, 6:03 PM
“...the seventh test of my robotics project.”
“Hello, I am Ba-...um um um u m...”
It was definitely an epic fai- surprise when Tadashi’s prized robot gave him a jarring right hook.
The right arm actually broke off and, to Tadashi’s dismay, flew around the room, knocking things over before whizzing up to the ceiling. There was no time to retrieve it, because Baymax started hitting him in the face with his left hand.
“W-Wait Wait WAIT! Stop! STOP SCAN! STOP!”
By Tadashi’s 5th trial, San had stopped complaining to him and was either completely occupied with her work regardless of the ruckus he made, or just stared at him in quiet amusement. In this, Tadashi considered himself lucky, because his 3rd and 4th trial had really grated her nerves. They were sharing a lab, after all. It was mutual courtesy to respect each other’s study space, and San had never done anything to disrupt his.
“Maybe you should do a boxing bot instead of a nanny bot. God knows the programming will be so much easier then.” She coolly suggested, her lips in a smile over her tea mug.
“Ha ha, very funny.”
“I heard it’s excellent business...” She remarked, continuing the onslaught of teasing.
“Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m not into the whole money-making thing.” He looked at her tiredly, yet his voice still held that upbeat note. Tadashi dragged over a chair and mounted himself on it to probe Baymax’s wirings.
“Your innocence astounds me.” To his surprise, San had crossed over the lab and walked up to him. “One would think that with your entire family running on your aunt’s cafe, you’d want to use that brilliant brain of yours to make a few extra bucks.” She said soberly, handing him the deflated arm that had landed on top of the room’s sole locker.
This made him stop what he was doing, and this time San found herself at the scrutinised end of his benevolent eyes.
Without actually climbing down, he inclined slightly so he could see her face. “Do you believe robots will become sentient?”
He saw no visible change in her exterior, barely managing to catch that fleeting unknowable and thoughtful look.
“...Maybe.” She replied elusively, as if he’d asked her about a possible career as a banjo musician. Yet her answer wasn’t exactly surprising; this was a sensitive area in their field after all.
“I do. It’s possible, and you know it. When that day comes, I just don’t want robots to be, you know, just violent machines.”
Tadashi shifted back to his work, gingerly removing Baymax’s chip and taking it apart, aware of the harmless, appraising gaze of his partner.
“You’re too kind for your own good.” She said softly, with an mute sigh.
She threw him a strange, albeit gentle look. “That wasn’t a compliment.”
Before Tadashi could get over his baffled daze, his lab mate shrugged and marched away, “Remember, you’ll be singing a different tune when you graduate.” She set down her mug and slipped back to her work station.
To this Tadashi smiled; he knew she was being ironic. “I’ll be fine. Once Baymax starts working, we’ll have enough to feed the entire family.”
After all, he thought as he turned back to his bot, something in him whispered that Baymax would one day be part of his family.
Two days later, at Ito Ishioka Robotics Lab...
Tadashi threw a sleep-deprived eye towards the clock.
“It’s 1AM already?” He said, staring at the faithful digital beeping. Aunt Cass would so kill me...
San approached him, looking too pristine for someone who should be in the same condition (he personally felt as stiff as a tree). “Care for a midnight snack?”
In her hand she offered him a pack of rice crackers and a hot cup of tea. He took them gratefully.
“Thanks, San.” He suppressed a long yawn and took a large, satisfying sip. In an instant, he felt refreshed by the drink (placebo effect be damned, he needed it right now).
They drank silently side-by-side, munching on the crackers now and then. Then, Tadashi reached out and asked timidly if he could have coffee next time. This gave him a clobbered head and a very indignant lab mate, who demanded to know what’s wrong with tea. Nothing, he replied, he was just more used to coffee, and it gave a stronger dose. When she seemed to seethe, he looked at her apologetically, to which she said nothing.
There was a long pause.
“We should go home.” He said as-a-matter-of-factly.
“We should.” San conceded.
Neither of them moved from their station. Exchanging a knowing side-glance, both of them nodded.
“Right after I do this test.” Tadashi set down his mug.
“I’m just gonna finish the code.” San shoved the last piece of cracker into her mouth.
Late February, 2 1/2 weeks later...
“You done?” His voice, not even that loud, echoed through the halls. All the other students had already left.
“I’m waiting the program to load. Might take a few minutes.” She was still staring at the screen.
“Let’s take a break.”
“Good idea.” After a few seconds, she stood stretching her arms and went to stand next to him. It had become tradition. Because being next to each other in a vast empty science building late at night offered a comfort neither of them could explain.
“What?” San asked, turning to find her partner looking like he was trying to stuff his laughter as he scrolled down his news feed. She raised a brow questioningly.
“What’s so funny?” She pressed.
Tadashi couldn’t resist it any longer. “Well, look at this article.” The 10 side effects of not getting enough sleep.
“Ha! I can list them off already.” San snorted. She passed him a box of blueberries.
“And this one.” The Insomniac’s Guide to Productivity.
“Definitely co-authored that one.” She plucked a blueberry and brought it to her mouth, a smile spreading across her face. Tadashi’s laughter exploded again.
“Man, I think I’ve forgotten what not being sleepy feels like...” He said, when it seemed he finally controlled his laughing fit.
The room was drawn in a familiar silence, and silence has a way of bringing out the loudest thoughts.
“I haven’t spent time with Hiro lately,” Tadashi said abstractedly. “We used to go to the park on Sundays to practice baseball.”
“So why don’t you?” San asked, as concise as ever.
Tadashi simply leaned back. “I’ve got my thesis coming. And Baymax... he sucks at cooperating right now.” He sent a withering glance towards his beloved robot.
San was stuck in a pensive silence at his reply, before softly uttering the words. “こういんひとをまたず, kouin hito o matazu.”
“Time waits for no man.” Tadashi supplied.
“So you aren’t rusty, after all.” She smiled, referring to his Japanese.
“Nothing, my mom was a fan of proverbs like these.”
“But you know what it really means right?” San said imploringly. “Robots always wait. Baymax will always be there when you come back. But people... people come and go. Nothing is forever. Unless you hold onto them, they’ll leave before you know it. Before you know it.”
At the end of her speech, San’s voice weighed with so much emotion that it didn’t take a Tadashi to notice. She was rarely this voluble, and when she did speak it was always with a rational and caustic air - Take it or leave it was her M.O. - that to hear her this urgent and sincere was both fascinating and surprising to Tadashi.
People don’t just say stuff like that, like this if there wasn’t story somewhere. He wondered if it would be too much to pry, if he’d asked about it then.
It would, he decided. Instead he kept the conversation close, and speaking of something else entirely different from what he wanted to ask. “Hiro’s pretty consumed with his computer lately. Doesn’t need me around to make him happy.”
“Don’t sell stuff you won’t buy, Hamada.” She shot him a dry look, but her smile seemed a little sadder. “You know he looks up to you. You’re his role model. Nothing makes him happier than being with you.”
“...Geez, you’re full of wisdom tonight.”
“Aren’t I filling in your lack thereof?” The trace of sadness on San’s face is gone, replaced with its usual gleam of mischief and amusement.
Tadashi sighed, recognising her point. “You’re right.”
“Good.” San nodded, pleased that he understood his role quickly.
Tadashi wondered how San had grown fond of his little brother in such a short time. There was that one day, which was dubbed the Mochi Incident, when she and Hiro worked together at the cafe. Could that be it? San seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the boy, and always showed a great deal of concern when Tadashi brought him up. Yet Hiro still seemed uncomfortable around her, and would much rather ignore his older brother when he mentioned his friend.
“San, do you have any siblings?” The question came out naturally. Being a younger sibling herself would easily explain the two’s connection.
This question seemed to catch her off-guard. There was a pause. And then...
Tadashi was slightly taken aback by this answer. “No?”
“No,” She faintly repeated, her eyes searching him questioningly.
Tadashi had grown to expect the simple truth from San. But in a fleeting moment, for some inexplicable reason, Tadashi thought she was lying. However, he set his suspicion aside. Why should San lie to him? They were honest to each other about everything. What was there to hide?
Unknown to him, his intuition had not been wrong. But it was only half-right. The truth, and yet also a lie.
After spending a month almost solely in another person’s company, you get pretty used to their habits.
“Can I borrow your chair?”
This may seem like an odd thing to ask your lab mate, especially since the borrowed items usually consisted of sophisticated tools and high-functioning robot parts.
But San’s chair was different. It had a design Tadashi had never seen before. But best of all, it can be reclined to make a semi-bed, and it was soft enough to be as comfortable as one.
“Sure. You’ll have to give me yours though.” She replied, standing up.
This happened, the unspoken law that after sharing labs with each other after a while, no belonging stays yours anymore. Instead, everything in the lab becomes informally shared property.
“Wake me up in five, okay?” Tadashi called over. He wanted to run one more test before calling it a day, but was too tired to stay awake while the programming was downloaded. As he slipped peacefully into his nap, his thoughts vaguely wandered. Tomorrow... Sunday...promised...Hiro...out...base...ball...
15 minutes later, Tadashi’s computer started singing. Download complete. Download complete, it buzzed. San stood and crossed over to Tadashi’s station. She tapped on a button, soundlessly turning off the notification. Then, she glanced at her co-lab mate, wanting to feel exasperated but not quite managing it. He was drooling on her chair, but otherwise looked too peaceful. She could see the worn-outness painted on his face. She didn’t even glance at the clock - whatever time it told was only too late.
She was more used to this lifestyle of tests, more readily devoted to this life of research, because she had been doing it since forever. But this guy, this heart-and-soul and brotherly guy that everyone loved, surely, surely wasn’t cut out for it. He had dedication, but he had other things too.
No more tests today, she thought, smiling lightly as she started packing up his things.