Time: 2 months after Beside a Black Tarn
"Ms. Ivana, please could I have lights full in here?" Heckle stood in the larger of the Brimstone's storerooms, which housed the food stores and miscellaneous household items since the more cavernous hold was for cargo, when they had it, and Rosa's stall.
"Of course, cutie. Are you trying out your new tool?"
Heckle snickered since Ms. Ivana made it sound dirty. "I thought I'd try it. Captain said it should make inventory faster. Once I, you know, kinda learn the thing."
"I'm right here if you need me, you sexy little beast."
That was the point, of course. Ms. Ivana always helped him enter inventory and order requisitions since he'd never learned to read. This new thing would let him do it independently, Captain Shax said. But then, the captain had also hoped that certain educational programs would teach Heckle how to read. Those had been so fucking frustrating and Heckle was still ashamed that Mac had found him in tears over the first lesson.
"Gryphon, on," Heckle spoke to his handheld. He flicked his tail in pleased excitement at the little ping. The thing had responded to him, to his voice. "Open inventory file."
So far, so good. The list with all the boxes popped onto the screen. He didn't have to read to recognize the shape and patterns of his inventory and ordering list. He didn't need to read the inventory, either. That was all in his head, though for some reason being down here with the stores piled all around helped him keep the numbers in order.
"Gryphon, order and requisitions sheet," Heckle went on, standing straight so his voice would be clearer. "First entry, wheat flour, twelve cartons. Second entry, egg cases, seven. Third entry, coffee, ten cases. Gryphon, read back."
His wings rustling and a little glow of pride settled in his chest, he wanted to whoop in triumph as the computer voice, not nearly as interesting as Ms. Ivana's, read the entries back. That little moment of celebration deflated to confusion at what the program said.
"Wheat flourish, twelvefold. Eggplant cases, several. Jarred, tin cases."
"What? No! I didn't say those things! Jarred? Really?" Heckle grumbled and cleared his throat to try again. He must have been mumbling. "Gryphon, erase all. First entry, wheat flour, twelve cartons. Gryphon, read back."
"What floor, twelve cartoons."
"The hell you say. Stop that."
"Hell to pay. Stop gap."
Heckle banged his head against the nearest wall panel. "Gryphon, stop text! Erase all!"
"Is that nasty uppity program being mean to my favorite imp?" Ms. Ivana asked softly.
"It's just stupid!" Heckle wailed. "How can coffee sound like Jarred?"
"I know, sweetie. These programs have about all the sense of a pony in kitten heels. Why don't you plug your cute little tablet into my docking station, and I'll take a look? Seriously, it'll be the most action I've had in years."
Heckle managed a snicker and placed the tablet gently in the docking slot, though he really wanted to throw it across the room.
"Hmmm. Did someone go through the settings with you, sexy?"
"Um…no?" Settings? What are those? Heckle kept his attention on the display where Ms. Ivana flipped from one screen to another, far too quickly for him to understand any of what she did.
"Well, the language is set to 'human' for one thing."
"But…" Heckle squinted at the screen, as if it would help. "I speak their language. It's not like I'm a rock troll."
"Hardly, cutie. You're so much handsomer. But your voiceprint isn't human. Not something a biological person would pick up, but us AI's do. Even stupid ones like this awful bitchy thing. Let's change it to demon, since that's closest. Doesn't even have an imp setting." Ms. Ivana tsked, sounding affronted on Heckle's behalf. "There you go. Try it now. The more you use it, the more it'll start to get you. And don't let it bully you."
Heckle picked the tablet back up and cleared his throat, just in case. "Gryphon, order and requisitions sheet. First entry, wheat flour, twelve cartons. Repeat back."
The bland AI voice said, "Wet flour, twelve cartons."
"That was, um, better, I guess?" Heckle glanced up at the nearest speaker, habit when he talked to Ms. Ivana.
"Almost there, sweetie. Talk a little louder. A little slower. It'll get there."
"Thanks, Ms. Ivana. I wish I could hug you."
The AI almost sounded regretful as she said. "I'll take the wish as the hug."
Half an hour later, Heckle thought he was getting it. Or the program was getting it. It still screwed things up, but he was figuring out how to correct it without making himself want to scream in frustration. He must've lost track of time since Mac finally poked his head in.
"Hey, little bit. You taking a break for dinner?"
"Oh. Yes. Can I meet you up there? I'm almost done."
Mac leaned against the door seal, hair still gleaming wet from a real water shower. Yes, Heckle wanted to stop and wrap himself around all that glorious muscle, but he was almost…almost…there. "What've you been up to down here?"
Heckle let out a near-hysterical giggle. "Ordering tins of Jarreds, of course. And wheat flourishes."
Mac raised a bushy eyebrow. "That better come with an explanation later, or I'm telling Cap that you need a vacation. Yesterday."