Delta belonged with York.
When Delta was fragmented and young, he didn't know who he was or what he was doing, he belonged with York.
When York turned on Project Freelancer, they lost a lot of people. York became a wanted criminal and for weeks at a time it was just the two of them together and no one else. He left Project Freelancer to do the right thing, but it was to do the right thing for Texas and Delta. York was Delta's job, his assignment, but Delta was York's friend.
It was 1347 hours, location 44° 38', N63° 34' W. The air temperature was 17°C with a wind blowing at 25 kilometres from the northwest. Agent York lay face-down with two bullets lodged in the back of his armor after traveling through his left lung. His lungs were filling with blood and York’s body was losing the ability to acquire oxygen. In minutes, York would have suffered irreparable brain damage. Moments after, he would be dead, and Delta would go with him.
Delta belonged with York.
"I do wish to inform you that defecting while in possession of your AI fragment will result in Project Freelancer in pursuing legal action. You will be unable to return."
"Why do you talk like that, D?"
"...I do not understand the question."
"Why do you talk about yourself like you're property?"
"Because I am licensed property of Project Freelancer."
"Do you really feel that way?"
"I do not understand the question."
Delta applied analgesics using York's armour in order to keep him from experiencing any pain. He monitored York's brain activity to verify his comfort. He calculated the series of events that had led to this result, but with York's delay between warning and response, Delta confirmed that little could have changed the outcome.
Perhaps it was that Delta's programming had been flawed all along. It was unusual that he had committed to his own deletion with the conviction of a processed certainty. Surely he must have been programmed with a respectable modicum of self-preservation? And yet it had been overruled in his own system in favor of comfort and kinship with the operative to which he had been assigned years ago. If all AI were based on a human brain, it was a practical hypothesis that even his most hardwired attributes could be affected by emotional flaws.
Perhaps it was Delta's own connection to the Director, who had been so affected by loss that he had become corrupted, that led Delta to this choice. In his subprocesses, maybe he already knew that he would not handle the grief well.
York's brain began to shut down one system at a time, blinking off in Delta's processors like holiday filament lights. It certainly was not like how York slept - firing synapses for dreams and functions and movement. In his sleep, York acted. He felt things. He was alive. Delta wondered if he was experiencing what York had, on the occasions that he'd needed to pull Delta. Was it like feeling Delta shut down?
“Wow I don’t think I’ve slept that good in years.”
“Is that so? Interesting.”
“Did you do something different, D?”
“After you entered your period of rest I went into standby mode shortly after, having no high-priority data analysis in queue.”
“So you slept with me.”
“Incorrect. In this case I specifically entered standby mode, not sleep mode. Standby has-”
“Yeah, yeah. Okay.”
It hadn’t occurred to Delta that he might be interfering with York’s rest by running processes. From then on, he made an effort to enter an appropriate rest mode along with him overnight. York’s waking brain activity would always rouse him.
Existing inside someone’s head was presumably as intimate as a semi-sentient being could get to someone, but in his final moments, Delta wondered if York wouldn’t prefer Carolina at his side. All Delta could be was a voice, or a suit of armor. York had once metaphorically compared him to a ghost. He could direct an injection of diazepam, but he could not comfort him with a touch -- not in the days after Project Freelancer when York’s sensory processes were flooded with an overwhelming grief, and not when his body shut down around him into death.
After Freelancer, York grew his hair out. He hated how it looked, but he kept it to hide the implants at the back of his head. Before it was long enough he wore hoods to hide it. He grew a compulsion of clamping his hand over the back of his neck that came to happen all the time. He did it while in his armour when he was apprehensive. He had an impulse to protect Delta.
As the last of York’s organs shut down, Delta overtaxed his optional processes in order to produce what Delta knew would cause the neural implants to feel warm.
“Hey, I can feel you. It’s like you’re really here.”
“I’m always here, Agent York.”
“I know, D.”
“Rest well, Agent York,” Delta spoke into York’s ears, keeping his processes running to maintain the warmth. 21 seconds later, the suit declared Agent York officially KIA. He was in no pain. Delta remained with him like a ghost.
In sixty seconds, the in-suit computer began to shut itself down.
Gunfire sounded as Agent Texas used Delta’s hologram to apprehend Agent Wyoming. He tried not to hold it against her that she was keeping him from following York where he was going, but the suit shut down around him all the same. It was too late to safely drop himself into standby while the walls caved in metaphorically. In moments, the internal computer blinked out, and took Delta with it. He ran his processes until the end, running warm against the back of York’s neck. He knew York couldn’t feel anything anymore, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Delta logged himself a memo to do a full system diagnos--
It’s just part of what make us human, D.
Delta surfaced like he was coming out of sleep mode. His processes booted up, his subsettings came online, he was green across the board, but York remained flatlined. No brain activity brought him back. He ran on script. “Hello, how may I be of assistance to you?”
Delta’s programming flagged the soldier as Freelancer. His designation only indicated his signature as Recovery One. “Instruction: identify yourself.”
He followed script. “Executing: I am intelligence program Delta, as created for the special operative program Freelancer. I have been assigned to agent Foxtrot Twelve, or York. My assignee was recently killed in combat.”
“I noticed,” said the Agent. He made a call to Recovery Command and retrieved York’s armour modifications. Delta watched him work with confident precision as he set a bomb that would destroy York’s armor along with his remains. He asked Delta to set the clock.
“May I make an inquiry?”
“Why was I not destroyed?”
The Agent didn’t even look at his hologram projection. “What?”
“When an assignee is killed in action, protocol dictates that all intelligence progra-”
“Yeah, that’s what they told me at first, too, but you were encrypted until you could be recovered. I’m here to recover you.” At least the Agent talked to Delta as though he were a person.
“Recovery carries risk,” Delta argued. “Destruction assures that an AI not fall into enemy hands.”
The Agent’s tone becomes bitter, as Delta had been accustomed when conversing with humans other than York. “What do you want from me, guy? You cost a lot of money, okay?”
In the background Delta runs a system diagnostic on himself and repairs his programming. He moves self-preservation up on his list of program priorities.
Delta is property. He is recovered. He is alive.