Lawrence was shouting at them.
They'd only just materialised, so Crake nor his brother knew the cause for the double's outburst.
The anger — No, Crake realised, the fear and confusion coming from the double was unexplained. Lawrence continued to yell, and Crake tried to process what had triggered this reaction. There was a broken coffee mug on the floor, and its contents had spilled all the way to the balcony. Had something startled the double? Was Handsome Jack on his way?
Crake reached for his weapon but kept the safety activated.
"The fuck is going on!" Lawrence yelled.
Nyx moved to linger behind Crake, leaving him to deal with the distraught double alone: a habit that was happening too frequently. Crake stepped forward, but the double was still not ready to listen. He was breathing heavily, with sweat glistening on his forehead. Crake checked Lawrence's vitals: his heart was racing.
"Perhaps if you calmed—" he started but was cut off by the volume of Lawrence's panic.
"Is this some kind of prank?!" The double widely pointed towards the desk in the corner of his loft.
Lawrence's office space had been unattended since his arrival at the Bunker, as Jack hadn't activated the double's clearance to access it, nor had Jack instructed Lawrence to perform his duties as security attendant, unless —
A tremendous surge of pressure, of which Crake couldn't explain, overcame him: a drop in his code, a frantic search, he felt something. Could it be akin to panic?
It had to be. As there was a message from Handsome Jack, and until now, Crake had not realised.
He immediately read the file and issued no regrets in ignoring the double in front of him. The message was for him and his brother, informing them that the double's security clearance had increased and that they were to include a weekly report on his duties. It perplexed Crake that he'd assigned his attention to the double and his panic, and not Handsome Jack.
Checking his notifications from Handsome Jack was always the priority on digistruction.
Handsome Jack always came first.
And yet, Crake had not sought to read his messages. How had he missed it? Had his brother also prioritised the double over checking his messages?
"Are you hearing me!? It just turned on. Did you two do that? Cause it ain't fucking funny," Lawrence shouted, and Crake reverted he attention back to him.
"What are you yelling about?" Crake asked, now somewhat annoyed that the double hadn't calmed down by himself.
"The fucking computer!" He snapped, as though the answer were so obvious.
Had Handsome Jack's paranoia finally caught up to the double? Was some computer issues all it took to make the man break? Crake remained silent and continued to observe. He should make a report to analyse later. If the double was this explosive over a computer — and Crake recalled: Handsome Jack's AI — then perhaps they could be next?
"No machine within Jack's home just does what it wants," Lawrence continued.
"Yeah, but we're not in Jack's home? So what's the problem" Nyx asked, and Crake realised his brother did not see what he saw. That the double, still, and likely always would, see himself as Jack. And if Handsome Jack forbade AI-operated machines in his home, then so would Lawrence.
"Just come over and look at it. Is it programmed to do that?" Lawrence marched over to the computer station. "Why the hell has Jack got software in here?"
Lawrence's work station sat in the dark corner of his loft, the screen being the only thing lighting up the room. It glowed a soft white, and though Lawrence may perceive the device as ominous, Crake felt beckoned to approach.
On the screen was a text window with a single delivered message.
'Hello, I'm the Guardian Angel: AI of the Bunker. It's nice to meet you!' - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence may have said something else, but Crake ignored the double and continued to stare at the message's author.
The Guardian Angel.
Handsome Jack may have limited their knowledge and even further limited what they could relay to Lawrence, but he knew enough that this was no AI.
Jack's Siren had made contact.
"It's for your work," Crake replied.
"Jack said nothin about an AI," Lawrence snapped. He began to rub his hand through his hair, and it took Crake a moment to realise that the double was trying to conceal the fact that he was covering the port at the back of his neck.
Lawrence looked as though he was completely unraveling.
"It took over the damn computer,” he said, with fear raising in his voice. “I was sipping my fucking coffee —"
Crake was sure it wasn't just coffee. One quick scan would confirm the high blood alcohol levels in the double. Still, the uncontrollable panic and almost delirious nature in the double's language was more than enough to support Crake's assessment.
"—and it just sprang open the messenger app box and wanted to have a chat! Fuck!"
"I'll explain —"
"No," Lawrence grounded. "I'm going to wait on Jack to tell me. I'm done with this. I’m sick of this concrete fucking hell-hole."
He abruptly turned away from both Crake and his brother, before heading towards the balcony, fumbling for a cigarette as he pushed open the doors to the 'outside'.
Crake stood idle beside the now-abandoned computer and soon found himself unsure on how to proceed. He crossed his arms and watched Lawrence from afar. The double's hand restlessly opened and closed, while the other impatiently flicked ash to the ground. Crake thought it better that he left and returned to the watch. What else was there for him to do? There, in the watch, his mind could go blank, and he would have no more burning questions or conflicting thoughts.
But Crake did not leave, and while watching Lawrence feverishly grasp his hand over his neck again, he realised that he might not want to go again. Lawrence was unprotected, increasingly paranoid, and entirely useless without him. If he returned to the watch, the double would be alone, so Crake opted for the alternative. He would readily stand and wait for him to calm down, or sober up, or survive whatever Handsome Jack dished out.
After all, it was still his primary function to protect the keeper of the watch.
"Whatcha thinking?" Nyx abruptly sprang into Crake's view, shielding Lawrence behind a mass of blue pixels. "You have that brooding look on, I mean, you always do, but more so now."
"It's nothing," Crake lied. "Go run along. Do... that thing where you try to touch water."
"And go hang out with Junkie Jimothy? Nah. Why do that when I can be with you? Cheer up my dear-old-brother-an-pal."
"I'm fine," Crake insisted.
"You're a terrible liar."
Crake paused for a moment before admitting defeat:
"I'll get better. You, on the other hand, can't keep your mouth shut."
Crake wasn't accustomed to lying, the exception being when Handsome Jack ordered him too. However, he now found himself regularly trying to mislead his twin; his brother saw too much in him, which annoyed Crake. After he altered Lawrence's condition report, it had vexed Crake for cycles, perhaps even frightened him. It went against everything in his original coding. He would have to get better, at lying, at hiding things, for both their sakes.
"You know," Nyx started, and Crake irritably waited for whatever nonsense his brother was going to spill.
"We should talk to him. Apparently, that's a thing."
Crake frowned and observed his twin carefully. He waited for the joke to follow or a tacky comment, but it appeared his brother was sincere.
"Fine," Crake growled.
His brother beamed, and unceremoniously slapped Crake on the back.
"That's the spirit, kiddo! I'll race ya."
Crake could not resist the challenge, and so they both digitised towards the balcony, but upon materialising, he glared at his twin, realising that Nyx was the faster one.
"What is it?" Lawrence asked, before kicking his
cigarette to the floor, and lighting a second.
"I'll explain who the AI is—"
"I told you, I'm waiting on Jack."
"He's not going to come," Crake lowered his voice, as though the man he spoke of could hear him.
Lawrence's brow lowered, and for a moment, anguish swept his gaze.
"Jack has passed orders to us. Additionally, he's directed us to digitise and reiterate them to you."
The last time Jack had ordered him and his brother to digitise without input from the keeper of the watch, was during Lawrence's withdrawals on Helios. It was an order he gave rarely, but one that meant he had no intention of seeing his double.
"If you're lucky he will call," Crake lied.
Crake swiftly realised his mistake. He shouldn't have lied; Lawrence's expression of doubt had become tinged with hope. Jack had no intention of calling, let alone visiting. Crake did know the precise reason why – Handsome Jack had no reason to explain himself to the AI's – but the mere fact that they were now to be his spokesperson was concrete evidence that Jack wanted to stay out of the picture.
Or rather, away from Lawrence and the Bunker.
"No," Lawrence shook his head, "He won't give orders unless it's in person. He'd want to see me."
"Sorry kiddo," Nyx shrugged, but the gesture of sympathy was a poor act. "He ain't got any interest in you."
Lawrence shook his head and continued to smoke his cigarette in silence. Crake's observations of others were not often the best, but it was clear that the double was having trouble accepting the situation; it was time to be more direct.
"You are a toy," Crake said, voice low and firm. "You broke, and so he sent you here. Not to get fixed, but to be placed on a high shelf, out of sight, and out of reach."
The double's expression paled, but Crake continued:
"Unless Jack purposely wants to find you, you won't be hearing from him."
"He told you this?" Lawrence's voice now matched his expression: brittle and about to fall apart.
"Yes. We are to watch you. Your duties at the Bunker are to commence. We also have weekly reports to make —"
"Ok!" Lawrence snapped, and his eyes were bright with pain and rage. "I got it, alright? He isn't coming." In his frustration, he'd squeezed the cigarette so hard the butt had twisted off. "You can be a real asshole sometimes. You know that?"
Crake did not understand. Had the double not wanted to free himself from Handsome Jack? Had he not released them from their AI laws to do just that?
"Ah, isn't this what you want?" Nyx asked, "Not to have him around?"
Lawrence remained silent and began to light another cigarette, and after a long silence, it was evident he was not going to answer. Crake would have to ask his brother what he read on Lawrence's face, as Crake could not get a read on his expression. Was it hurt? Or frustration?
"I'm done talking for the day. You can give me Jack's orders tomorrow."
Lawrence swiped at the watch, and before Crake could say another word, they were sent hurtling back into the watch.
The badass was right. Jack wasn't coming.
Lawrence had left several echo messages; each one was followed with a drink, and yet when the bottle was half empty, he'd still not received a reply.
'Answer your damn echo.'
Lawrence typed the message, and a moment later, deleted it. Perhaps rolling over and exposing his belly was a better approach.
'Jack... I need you. I —'
Lawrence's fingers hovered over his echo. He knew what he should write, what would make his lover turn toward him, but he couldn't do it.
He couldn't submit.
Lawrence deleted the message again and quickly wrote what he truly wanted to say:
'I'm done, Jack.'
He took a deep drink before hitting send. He did not expect a reply, but perhaps it would warrant a fraction of Jack's attention. He needed to remind Jack of his importance. He could not let himself become what Crake described: a broken toy.
Because then one day, Jack may see fit to replace him, and who was to say the project Tartarus couldn't be remade?
Lawrence removed his hand from his neck and took another drink. He hadn't noticed he'd placed it there. It was becoming too subconscious of a habit, and too obvious to the badass. Crake had caught him holding his neck more than once.
Jack said project Tartarus was gone, Lawrence reminded himself, but it would mean so much more if the confirmation came from another. Lawrence wished the badass had just lied to him. Told him the AI was gone, as he found no comfort through his own resolve. He considered summoning the digi-Jack's, their presence was now a welcoming glow in the darkness, but there were only so many times he could let them see him in this state.
Lawrence rubbed at his temple, and though his fingers, he stared at the computer across the room.
Was Jack using this Guardian AI to keep the Siren in check? Just as project Tartarus was to collar and shackle him?
Lawrence's leg restlessly bounced against the stool. He'd been avoiding looking at the computer, but now, he could not stop staring.
Could this AI see him? Did it know that he was a double? Had it seen him interact with the digi-Jacks? Were Nyx and Crake now in jeopardy?
Lawrence pushed a hand into his knee to stop the fidgeting and bit the inside of his lip. He was so much better than this, than to let his tells show so carelessly. He stood up and took his drink with him and moved towards his workstation. After years of cursing Jack for his paranoia of AI's, almost belittling him for not having software operated appliances, Lawrence now felt the lingering presence of another and the horrible awareness that came with it.
Being alone suddenly felt far more desirable.
Lawrence reached his workstation and sat down. The computer was still awake, and the cursor flashed in the textbox as if beckoning him to answer.
'Hello, I'm the Guardian Angel: AI of the Bunker. It's nice to meet you! - The Guardian Angel'
The message from before remained opened on the screen, but now another followed it:
'Hello? Is someone there? - The Guardian Angel.'
Lawrence sipped his drink and read the message until the words were seared into his mind, even after he closed his eyes. His hands hovered over the holo pad; there should have been a thousand burning questions wanting to type their way onto the screen, and yet all Lawrence could think of was Jack.
What would Jack expect of him?
Lawrence typed his answer:
'Why are you contacting me? - Anonymous'
There was almost no pause before another message appeared:
'Handsome Jack informed me that I should make contact with you. You can call me The Guardian Angel, what should I call you? - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence's previous message was signed off as anonymous: of course, Jack would have labelled it that way. He chewed his lip, albeit a little too hard; Lawrence took the pain away with another gulp of scotch.
'My name is,' Lawrence typed the message but did not hit the enter key.
The cursor continued to blink in the text window, while Lawrence's hands shook over the keys. He wanted to type his name. He wanted to be able to renounce everything he felt and had said to Jack but just revealing his identity to another, even if it were only another AI.
But he could not.
Lawrence deleted what he typed, and rewrote a new message.
'My name is not relevant. I am no one. - Anonymous'
There was a long pause before the AI replied. Lawrence frowned and watched the screen, waiting for whatever programmed reasoning it needed to sort before responding.
'No one? You can't be no one. - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence scoffed at the screen. The AI was wrong; he was a nobody.
'Are you not the security attendant at the Bunker? - The Guardian Angel'
'Yes. Handsome Jack has assigned me to watch over the Bunker. - Anonymous'
'Looks like we will be working together :). - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence sighed. Had Jack deliberately assigned him a bright and chummy AI to keep him company?
'Have you met Handsome Jack in person? - The Guardian Angel'
'Yes - Anonymous'
'And he trusted you to send you here? - The Guardian Angel'
'Yes - Anonymous'
'You must be very important. Handsome Jack doesn't send anyone to The Bunker. You're the first. - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence sat with this information: unsure whether to feel pride that Nisha had been left out of this little secret, or deeply concerned.
'Why would Jack do that? - Anonymous'
'To protect everyone he loves, of course. - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence's leg started to restlessly shake again. He squeezed his nails into the joint to still it, and as he waited for the tremors to calm, he stared at the word the AI had used:
Jack had never told him that he loved him: needed him? Yes.
This AI was full of shit, and he decided against encouraging any friendly conversation and got straight to the questions he needed.
'What is your role, specifically? - Anonymous'
'I am an AI, created by the Siren who resides at the Bunker. My role is to be the go-between her and Handsome Jack. - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence's hand dug into his knee harder, just as a second message through.
'And now you. - The Guardian Angel'
He almost knocked his drink to the side as he reached for the holo-board.
'So there is a Siren here?' he typed without thinking.
No, he can't ask that. Jack had told him so, and he needed to present himself more informed. He deleted what he'd typed and rewrote his message:
'I'm aware of the Siren. Jack explained my role. - Anonymous'
It was a lie; Jack had told him shit-all. His instructions for the Bunker were no more than a six-word briefing:
"You're to watch over a Siren," Jack had said, and with that, a dozen questions had sprung upon Lawrence, so many, that he'd nearly collapsed. That same feeling was back again, and Lawrence's hands shook as he typed a second message.
'Will you introduce me to the Siren? - Anonymous'
'I will if Handsome Jack deems that appropriate. - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence impatiently tapped his fingers on the desk, hoping for a follow-up message.
'But I don't think the Siren would like to meet someone who will not share their name. - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence scowled at the AI's message. It was prying or testing him. Either way, it was another one of Jack's games, Lawrence was sure of it.
'I'll offer my name when I meet the Siren in person. - Anonymous'
'I hope to arrange that for you :) - The Guardian Angel'
Lawrence blew out a deep exhale and leaned into his chair. He hadn't realised how hard his heart raced until he felt the beating in his chest push into the back of the seat.
The Siren was real.
He ran a hand down his face, tracing where the scar lay under the mask.
After all this time, she was really here.
He remembered the searing pain and the blinding agony of the brand. He remembered the vengeance he swore when Jack left him choking on his blood at his feet.
Jack hadn't lied to him. The Siren was real, and the idiot had led him right to her.
However, none of these revelations calmed the beating in his chest, and before his vision could blacken, he swiped at the watch. He could not allow himself to succumb to one of his old panic attacks, not now.
The brilliant glow of Nyx and Crake lit up the darkness of his loft.
He was now surrounded by three AI's, one magenta, one cyan, and the brightest of them all, the Guardian Angel coming from the white computer screen in front of him.
"Are you ok?" Crake asked immediately, and his gaze looked Lawrence up and down.
"Y-yeah," Lawrence said and quickly cleared his throat. "Just ah— getting acquainted with our new AI friend."
Crake's eyes narrowed, and he looked between Lawrence and the computer.
"Are you gonna be as rude to them as you are with us?" Nyx jeered, but his tone wasn't as playful as it often was.
Lawrence mumbled a sorry. He should not have earlier sent them away so abruptly, but Nyx merely snorted in response.
"It's fine," the blue-AI drawled, "we now know you're terrified of ones and zeros."
Lawrence scoffed, but he supposed the blue-AI was right. Jack had made sure of that.
'Are you still there? - The Guardian Angel'
The three of them silently turned to the screen as the new message popped up.
"Gonna answer?" Nyx asked.
Lawrence crossed his arms and stretched in the chair before yawning a reply:
"Nah, I'm all AI-ed out."
"Aww, did the computer get you all scared? Did you think it was our mean big older brother?"
A fierce jolt tore through Lawrence, and for a moment, he wanted to swipe the blue digi-Jack away, but he did not take the bait and merely shrugged. Crake, on the other hand, practically bared his teeth at his brother and closed in.
"Calm down. I'm kidding," Nyx said, "I don't want that digital-Jack psycho around any more than you. You're both so fricken jumpy."
"You would be too," Lawrence murmured before turning to look up at the blue-AI. "Do you know how long it took me to convince Jack to place a computer in our home?"
Nyx pouted, expression caught off guard, perhaps even annoyed that Lawrence hadn't responded to his previous taunt.
"Almost a Pandoran rotation," Lawrence continued. "I asked him if I could install a personality module into both of you."
"I recall," Crake said.
Lawrence clicked his tongue, as though trying to dislodge a bitter memory. At the time, it had been one of his fonder memories of Jack. He'd been rewarded with the tiniest bit of freedoms: a project. Now he realised just how pathetic the gesture was.
"There wasn't time in my working cycle to take on a project like this. I think Jack knew that when he said yes... But I was determined. I needed something, anything to focus on that wasn't being Jack. I needed time outside of the office. I needed space to work."
Lawrence almost winced from the mere recollection. It was so obvious now what Jack's intentions were. A ploy to bring him closer, make him spend more time at home, and lean on Jack. He wouldn't have been able to code shit without his help.
"I asked Jack if I could work on the project in our home office, and do you know what he did when I asked?"
The intense glare from Crake suggested the badass had a pretty good idea.
"He shattered the glass he was drinking from and embedded the shards into the eye of the next person who entered the office. He just left him there. Bleeding out for hours."
Nyx remained silent but shifted uncomfortably at Lawrence's side.
"I thought it was rage. I thought Jack was furious at me, 'How dare he ask?' 'How dare this double overstep his worth'." Lawrence sighed, "but it wasn't; it was fear."
He sat up straighter in his chair and turned to glance at both AI's one at a time.
"So, I'm going to ask you again. Why the fuck is there active software in my apartment? The more I think about it, the more insane it is. Jack would never —"
"That's not software," Nyx murmured.
Lawrence's expression stilled, and his heart skipped, and he knew the two digi-Jack's would have felt it.
"It's the Siren. Jack's Siren —"
"—She has the power to influence technology and software," Nyx continued. "She's lying to you. There is no Guardian Angel AI. It's just her."
Lawrence's jaw fell as confusion broke through him.
"She's her? I mean, they're the same? She's the AI?"
"Yes," Crake said. "Handsome Jack instructed the Siren to create a digital persona to fool and manipulate Jack's enemies, and I suppose he's using it now on you."
Lawrence tried to recall any mention of the AI but found nothing.
"So, Jack still doesn't trust me? He has to use some fake AI?"
"Hah," Crake made an absurd sound that Lawrence suspected was him scoffing. "I don't think he trusts anyone with his Siren."
"Yeah, we know nothing, except she's here, and she can control software," Nyx said.
"That's hell of a lot more than I knew. Why didn't you tell me before," Lawrence replied.
"Ah, cause your paranoid ass wouldn't let us? And you were pouting that Jack wasn't calling."
"And we don't just 'know' everything," Crake added, "Handsome Jack keeps us in the dark too. Everything we've told you had been forbidden from us until very recently."
It was so damn obvious now.
Why Jack feared software, why he refused to allow them in the places he was most vulnerable. This Siren could do anything. Hell, she could take down all of Hyperion if she wanted.
"So the safe rooms?" Lawrence ask, now finally realising its true purpose, "They were—"
"A place she could not reach."
Lawrence nodded and focused on the soft white glow of the screen in front of him. Now the most pressing question of all burned inside of him:
Was the Siren Jack's ally or prisoner?
He considered asking Crake but feared the answer. If anything the Siren was likely just like him, both ally and captive.
"But if she can do what you say," Lawrence said, now voicing his thoughts aloud," surely she could free herself?"
"Whos' to say she's a prisoner?" Nyx replied.
Lawrence thought on Nyx’s answer for a moment, before reaching for his drink and taking a sip despite the glass being empty.
"I was beginning to think there was no Siren," he said and twirled the tumbler in his hands. "That this whole place was a sham. A trap for the damn Jack-AI to get inside of me."
Lawrence turned to the badass, but if he had hoped to hear some confirmation that his fears were misplaced, then he was wrong. The badass merely stared at the last message from the Guardian Angel.
"Look at the message," he said.
'Hi there, would you like to chat some more? We could schedule a meeting in the morning? I could send some breakfast to your fridge. It appears to be the only device I can connect to in your quarters. - The Guardian Angel'
"Yeah, cause Jack doesn't have anything other tech," Lawrence grumbled.
"Yeah! Set up a chat, maybe she can explain what water feels like!" Nyx yelled into Lawrence's ear.
Crake replied to his brother with a cruel remark while Lawrence typed his reply.
'Breakfast sounds good. - Anonymous'
He hit send and closed the window.
"You know, I just realised something." Nyx's eyes widened as he spoke. "She's a siren! That means they're a girl. You hear that Crake, there's a woman on the base."
"I can't see why that knowledge is relevant."
"Don't get too attached to the idea," Lawrence said, without thinking.
"And why is that?" Crake asked while eying him carefully, and the sensation that Jack was watching him rose in Lawrence's throat.
He promptly ignored Crake and pretended to busy himself with closing down the computer.
It didn't matter who the Siren was: if she were a prisoner or ally. If she was as supposedly as important to Jack as he, then she had to go.
Lawrence ignored the uneasy feeling in his gut. It was for revenge, he told himself. It was for everything Jack did.
He had to focus on that.
It may have taken him years to find her, and months to build the courage to lash out, but he was ready once again to take what Jack cherished most.
He was going to kill the Siren, even if he couldn't accept what truly motivated him.