Dr. Halsey was equal parts frustrated and relieved that she'd never truly known what went on inside Voelker's head. Frustrated because she would've given the world to know what Voelker knew from her work with smart AI's. Relieved, because Voelker was a kind of enigma in the way that suggested her mind ran the thin line between genius and insanity, frequently staggering back and forth across that line.

"She talked to them, you know." Tanaka spoke up, looking at Dr. Halsey with a careful expression.

"I know." Dr. Halsey said, almost curtly.

"Talked to who?" Palmer asked, her eyes darting back and forth between the two.

"The AI's." Dr. Halsey closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again to look at Palmer. "She was always talking to the AI's. She believed she could find a way to prevent or cure rampancy, and she believed the best way to do that was to talk to the AI's."

"Was it the best way?" Palmer asked, her gaze resting steadily on Dr. Halsey's

"I don't know." Dr. Halsey broke eye contact and her gaze wandered, her eyes focused on something in the distance that she wasn't actually seeing. "I was never able to find out."

XMXMXMXMXMXMXMXMXMX

Dr. Halsey threw open the door to her lab, storming inside, her heavy footsteps echoing the exasperation she was feeling.

She threw herself into the chair at her work desk and picked up the now cold cup of coffee she had gotten earlier. How much earlier? She didn't even know.

She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her hand, elbows propped up on the desk.

Someone set down another cup of coffee in front of her, hard, the sound loud enough to jolt Catherine out of her own head and into the present moment.

She stared at the cup. It was steaming. The coffee was hot.

"I wish you'd stop slamming things around on my desk like an ogre." She said, with a somewhat cranky disposition, picking up the cup and taking a small sip. The coffee was almost too hot to drink. Or maybe she was just so used to drinking cold coffee that anything hotter than lukewarm seemed nearly unconsumable. She swallowed the coffee and continued, "And I thought I told you I'm perfectly fine with drinking cold coffee."

She looked up to see the young, blonde woman lean up against the console next to the desk, a shade of bemusement in her steely eyes. "Stop leaning on my equipment. What are you even doing here?"

Voelker folded her arms in a gesture of someone making themselves comfortable rather than responding to a combative tone such as the one Catherine was using to speak to her.

Catherine almost felt bad. Leigh did nothing to warrant being spoken to in such a harsh manner other than existing in the same room as herself at a time when she was in such a bad mood.

"I was having a nice discussion on existential philosophy with Jarrod." Leigh said, angling her head back and looking up at the ceiling. "No, I take that back. It wasn't a nice discussion, as I'm always loathe to meditate on the particulars of my own existence."

Catherine saw one side of Leigh's mouth turn upward slightly. "But Jarrod seemed to enjoy forcing me to contemplate the Buddhaic plane of existence and how my existence is far, far from that plane. Isn't that right, Jarrod?" Leigh called out, glancing towards the console that housed Jarrod's data chip.

The small light flickered. "Quite right, Ms. Voelker. I did rather enjoy being the superior mind in our little discussion."

The upward flicker of the corner of Leigh's mouth seemed to add more life into her normally dull, impassive facial expression.

"You came here to talk to an AI? About existential philosophy? And that's all?" Catherine turned her chair so she was fully facing Leigh, unable to keep the shock and vague disgust out of her voice.

"You know, Doc, some people actually do have conversations for social interaction purposes." Leigh slowly unfolded her body from her position against the console, standing upright.

"But with an AI?" Catherine demaded, her eyes narrowing at Leigh in something akin to confusion, feeling a twinge of irritation. She was ONI's head scientist and Leigh constantly referring to her as "Doc" seemed to be the girl's casual, passive way of communicating to Catherine that the girl didn't give a damn about Catherine's rank within ONI.

"Why not? Jarrod's a great conversationalist." Leigh shrugged. "I also want to know what to expect when you end up making me your next personal smart AI."

Catherine stared at her, trying to discern what the look in Leigh's eyes meant as the girl studied her, waiting for her reaction.

"You say that like you intend to die before I do." Catherine scoffed.

"I don't intend to, no. But am I prepared for the possibility? Absolutely." Leigh said, taking a few steps in a way that Catherine thought seemed like a bit of a swagger.

"Voelker." Catherine was forced to turn her chair more in order to keep her eyes on the girl. "Why are you here? I know you didn't leave the Storm just to discuss existential philosophy with my AI."

"Do you? Maybe I did." Leigh said, her voice slightly muffled from having her back turned on Catherine.

"I was under the impression that Omicron was enough of an AI conversation partner for you." Catherine said, scoffing again.

"Hmm." Was all Leigh said as she stood for a moment, her back still turned to Catherine.

There was silence. Catherine was not going to give the girl the satisfaction of hearing her beg for an answer.

Leigh seemed to know that was the case, as she turned to face Catherine after a few seconds. "I originally came here to seek Jarrod's opinion on an idea. An idea that was sparked by an offhand remark by Omicron."

Catherine fought back a sigh. If she ever found the individual responsible for assigning Omicron as The Oncoming Storm's shipboard AI, she would have no qualms about burying them so deep that not even ONI could find them. That AI had given Leigh too many ideas about too many things. She couldn't even fathom spending as much time talking to an AI as Leigh did, let alone obtaining inspiration from one.

She gestured at Leigh. "Are you going to tell me what the idea was?"

"In due time." Leigh replied, leaning up against the console next to Jarrod. "But first I'll provide some background." She settled in more comfortably against the console, causing Catherine to fight back another sigh. She would prefer Leigh simply get to the point but that didn't appear to be where the course of events was headed.

"On one of my many sleepless nights, I was in the midst of having one of my usual conversations with Omicron when he remarked that the process of having an AI interface with the MJOLNIR armor seemed 'clunky', as he so memorably put it." The twitch on the corner of Leigh's mouth was back.

"If he had any revelations on how to solve that exact issue, the one I've been struggling with for months, I would dearly love to hear them." Catherine snapped impatiently.

Leigh was completely unaffected by the near vitriol in her tone. "He didn't have any revelations, no. But I did." She met Catherine's stony gaze with her own steely gaze. "Instead of having the AI interface with the suit...have it interface with the wearer."

Catherine stared at her in disbelief. "What, exactly, does that even mean?"

Leigh shrugged. "It could mean upgrading the existing standard neural interface with a more specialized neural lace to allow the advanced expert systems of a smart AI to augment the wearer's motor system. Maybe even bypass the wearer's motor system."

Catherine was still in disbelief. "You're suggesting that an AI should be able to take control of the motor system of the wearer of the MJOLNIR armor?"

Leigh shrugged again. "It's more efficient than having the AI interact with the armor alone."

"But how would that motor system augmentation, or bypass, even work?" Catherine asked, trying not to think about the ethical implications of Leigh's idea.

"High bandwidth interface. It's a concept already in motion from the early days of the MJOLNIR armor, according to the files I got my hands on with Omicron's assistance." Leigh tossed Catherine a full grin. "Outfit the suit with a layer of computer memory superconductor, pair it with a modified neural interface incorporating the high bandwidth to translate electrochemical signals into digital code, then route them into a connection with the neural interface."

Catherine leaned back into her chair. Her thoughts were starting to race. "With that kind of interface, the MJOLNIR itself would be controlled through the wearer's thoughts. Pairing that with the smart AI would allow the AI to feed the input from the already existing onboard sensors into the wearer's mind at a near instantaneous rate, allowing for far better reaction time and communication of information between the AI, the armor and the wearer." Catherine stared at Leigh again. "How long did it take you to come up with this idea?"

"As much as I'd like to say it all came to me in a flash of divine inspiration, it took a couple days. I had to figure out what kind of processes would be needed to allow the MJOLNIR armor to handle translating the electrochemical signals into digital code. Those research files and reports were the answer I needed." Leigh looked a bit too proud of herself.

Not from the brilliance of her idea, no. But for the near miraculous acquisition of MJOLNIR research and report files that should never have been accessible for a starship's Chief of Surgery. What Leigh was doing in that kind of position was a mystery in and of itself to Catherine, as someone with a PhD in biotechnology was far overqualified to be a goddamned head surgeon.

"Hmm." Catherine studied Leigh again. "In theory, it should work. In practice?" Catherine shook her head slightly. "That, I'm not so sure about."

"Jarrod seems to think it will work wonderfully." Leigh assured her. "But there's a way to find out."

Good god. Catherine wasn't sure she wanted to know what that way was, but she knew Leigh would tell her whether she wanted to know or not.

"Put it to the test on your favorite experimental subject and see what he can do with it."

Catherine jabbed a finger at her. "You're out of your mind if you think I'd have John be the one to test it."

Leigh pushed herself off the console. "Am I? He seems to not only succeed but to excel at everything he's ever done. Why not have him be the one to test it?"

Catherine shook her head. "No. It could harm him catastrophically."

"That didn't stop you the first time around." Lee said, walking towards the door. "See you later, Doc. Finish your damn coffee for once."

And then she was gone.

XMXMXMXMXMXMXMXMXMX

Dr. Halsey shook her head to clear it, then looked back at Palmer. "I never found out if her conversations with the AI's ever lead to an effective solution to rampancy. But those conversations with the AI's definitely sparked ideas leading to breakthroughs in other areas of biotechnology." Dr. Halsey closed her eyes again. "And the world will never know, because those ideas were credited to me. And thanks to Parangosky, I cannot correct that."

"I don't think she'd want the credit for those anyway." Buck offered. "She told me once that she liked knowing you had to live with the knowledge that what people thought was your genius was actually her genious."

Dr. Halsey stared at him. "Did she really?"

"She did, really." Buck gave her a half hearted smile.

"Somehow, I'm not surprised." Dr. Halsey said softly, staring back out into the distance.