I spent the next several hours speaking out loud to myself, ignoring the fact that Nova was my own creation.
On the one hand, forgetting that rather significant fact made it much easier to have sessions such as these. If I let my mind wander, I could imagine I was having a conversation with a close friend.
On the other hand, pretending that Nova was human was a betrayal of facts, a potential roadblock interfering with my ability to see things as they truly were.
"We need to turn the tables, Nova," I said. The words were painfully slow even to my own ears. I allowed myself to sink deeper into the sofa, propping the heel of one foot onto the low table that sat a few inches away. The next several seconds were spent running my fingers through thin strands of graying hair and grinding the palms of my hands against my closed eyes.
I had long since lost track of how long I had been sitting in this same spot, pondering the same situation. My eyes ached thanks to how often I had screwed them shut, my brain worn due to the constant bombardment of racing thoughts.
I was tired.
"What do you mean by that, sir?" Nova's voice cut through the fog of my brain, the mechanical sound grating at my nerves and causing a chill to work its way down my spine.
"All this time, I've been approaching it wrong," I said, trying to ignore the way my shoulders had tensed. "Instead of focusing on proving myself, I should be targeting Cedric."
To my surprise, Nova didn't protest.
Once I knew I wouldn't be interrupted, the words flowed more freely. "In order to do that, we would have to find the point most susceptible to attack. Unfortunately, the man's forces are practically impenetrable. Now that his resources are damn near unlimited, anything else would be ridiculous.”
"I am still not quite sure what you are trying to achieve, sir."
"Are you taking notes, Nova?"
"That's all that matters." After taking a few moments to consider the words, I felt my face scrunch. "On second thought, perhaps you'll actually be useful for once. Cedric, for some reason beyond my comprehension, decided that his main goal in life should be to make my very existence a living hell. I don't know that I'll ever understand why - jealousy perhaps." I cut off my train of thought, turning to look at Nova once more. "Still taking notes?"
"Yes, sir, in addition to recording this conversation. There is no need to be alarmed. I am using the programming you designed. It is reliable."
The words soothed me – probably something to do with my ego – and I nodded sharply. “As I was saying. Perhaps it's jealousy, perhaps it's something else. But instead of simply shouting the truth at a bunch of morons that refuse to listen, maybe I need to show them instead.
"And if I can manage that,” I continued, ignoring the interruption, “then the tables will be turned in the direction they belong. He is definitively proven to be a liar and a thief and his career is scarred as mine soars to the heights it deserves." My voice rose in volume as I pushed myself to my feet. I couldn't tell if I was excited or angry. In reality, it was probably a bit of both.
The idea was far from revolutionary; it should have been common sense. However, I had been so caught up in my own self pity that the concept hadn't even crossed my mind. It was all so simple, like the most difficult things in life often are.
I let a sharp breath escape through my teeth.
"It doesn't change the fact that his security is still top notch.” As the words left my lips, my previous statements, which had once seemed so groundbreaking, dissolved before me. These were the dreams of a desperate man, clinging to hope that didn't exist. I scoffed.
The thoughts were like a physical weight on my back, and I sunk to the floor in an attempt to relieve some of the building tension.
"Would it be possible to plant cameras in Cedric's office? Any time slot in which the place is unattended?"
My heart rate increased as Nova processed the request, the beeps cutting into my chest and shaking things around even more.
"No sir," Nova finally responded, causing said heart to drop into my stomach, "it does not appear as though that would be possible. If at any point, the room is unattended, the security cameras contained within make up for it. There are no blind spots. There are no weak links in the infrastructure of his company; no one person has ever been so much as accused of leaking information. All are known for being incredibly loyal. Bribery will not work, so it cannot be an inside job."
A groan left my lips and I felt an increasing desire to pull out my own hair. "Of course," I mumbled. “He's just as insufferable as ever.” I closed my eyes tightly, my brain slowing as it attempted to sort through the new information.
I never felt bad about asserting my intelligence, but I had long since learned my weaknesses – not that I would ever admit them out loud. This was the most significant of those.
When Cedric had initially accused me of trying to steal his research, concepts I had dedicated years of my life to, I had been left speechless. This fault - my inability to defend myself when the need arose - led to the collapse of my credibility, allowing Mora to simply sit back and watch me struggle.
"Sir?" Nova pulled me back to reality, but something about their voice pissed me off.
"What is it, Nova?" I had intended for the words to bite, and judging by what reached my ears, I had succeeded.
Couldn't have the machine getting too arrogant on me.
"There is another option, sir."
Much to my dismay, I felt myself perk up. "For?"
"The cameras, sir. Though we cannot install new ones, we can attempt to hack into the ones that are currently installed."
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Nova, a machine, had been able to come up with a more logical solution than I had.
"And that's a viable option?" I asked, ignoring the jealousy that flared inside of me. "I didn't know you could do that."
"Sir, it was included in my design."
"I must have forgotten."
There was a pause. A series of beeps. A voice. "Would you like me to proceed, sir? Or would waiting be more in line with your interests?"
I pretended to consider it, simultaneously acknowledging the ridiculousness of trying to psych out a machine. After temporarily managing to get over myself, I spoke once more.
"You can proceed, Nova.” My eyebrows knit together as I took a moment to think. “They won't be able to see that you're accessing the feed, correct?”
"That should not be possible, sir, though there is nothing absolute about that statement. Statistically, the possibility still remains."
"Within the context of that statistical probability, would they able to, say, trace the leak back to us?"
"Again, it is impossible to speak in absolutes. There is potential, but nothing is certain. Would you still like me to proceed?"
I groaned, my hands instinctively moving to rub over my face. There was never any beating around the bush with Nova. They refused to let you down easy, and anything resembling a cushion for discomfort was quickly discarded.
That was one of Nova's strongest points. There was no uncertainty - none of the variables that came alongside humans with their own thoughts, desires and dreams.
At the same time however, it left me unable to continue lying to myself.
I let out a sharp breath, an attempt to clear my head. "Alright," I said, after a handful of seconds had passed. "Fine. Let's proceed."
"Are you sure, sir?"
"Yes Nova. I'm positive. Let's see what Mora is up to these days.”