He’s being moved.
Someone is touching him.
Lifting his head.
Inspecting his bonds.
Unsure of their intentions, he starts up audio systems.
“He’s not reacting.”
“Maybe just conversing energy, he must be running low.”
“Can you get these off?”
“Working on it.”
“What the hell did they do to him?”
“Dorian, come on.”
He wants to answer, but all that comes out is a distorted sound that probably hurts human ears.
Maybe he rushed that.
He checks his status and reloads speech protocols.
“Hey. You alright?”
He takes on visual next.
That at least is going smoothly and he’s greeted by the sight of John’s boots as he opens his eyes.
“Good, you’re back. Can you move?”
He makes sure everything runs stably, then carefully executes the necessary commands.
“Rebooting motor control no--ow.”
But as soon as it’s online he’s bombarded by alerts.
Short-circuits, excess voltages, non-responsive units – He would have to compensate for all of those. He groans. Then scrunches up his face in something akin to pain as his arms instinctively move to shelter his body and that alone is enough to cause another crash.
There’s a hand on his shoulder, and someone is talking to him, but he isn’t listening, too busy ensuring nothing else goes down with it.
“Motor control is still offline. Along with 38 of my other syste--ems. I don’t have the power to keep i--it running.”
And even though he can’t move his face there’s a smile in his voice when he adds,
“You’re gonna have to carry me.”
It starts with an unauthorized access to his memory files.
They’re about to storm a hideout they spent days tracking down and he really doesn’t have time for this.
“It’s nothing,” he says. And that’s what he tells himself as he puts the memory back where it came from and initiates a diagnostic scan.
John hesitates for a second but trusts Dorians judgment. He motions for him to lead the way in and Dorian nods and takes off. It’s no more than a few corridors later, however, when his memory starts malfunctioning again.
He’s back in that room, his sensors showing nothing but the rough outline of the walls, a shockwave traveling through his body, interrupting various systems on its way up. He closes his eyes and internally gives them a kick the same way John will sometimes hit his tech when it’s acting up and, miraculously, it works in both cases. He’s relieved, but he also knows he might have lost more time than acceptable, and when he opens his eyes again, John has moved forward. The lights have dimmed, there’s bits of broken glass on the floor and shots are being fired.
He adjusts the grip on his gun and takes cover.
“There’s seven of them, coming from northeast, I’m coordinating with the other teams.”
“Why thank you.”
Dorian tries to ignore him.
Until the fire does down for a moment to give them a momentary chance. He looks up and finds John already in position. “Cover me!” he orders, and before Dorian can object he’s gone.
So he gets up, fires in the direction of the attackers, and it’s all going well until he wants to readjust his aim and notices his hand shaking, target acquisition failing subsequently. He sees John move up to their left, grips the gun tighter and tries again, but everything is happening terribly fast and he’s already hesitated too long.
John is falling with the next shot and he ducks down once more as his cover comes under fire.
He can’t get up. The diagnostic comes up empty and he starts another one. Because there’s a chance that it’s a virus, a short-circuit, a malfunction in his subroutines that’s causing this. That it’s anything but himself. Because he can’t get up . He wants to, to help John like he’s done many times before, because that’s his job, to protect his partner, no matter the threat, but he just can’t. Every biochemical muscle in his body is tense but he can’t get a single one of them to move . So he stays where he is, sitting on the ground, hiding, staring ahead, not making any progress until the noise ends, the immediate danger is past and he relaxes slightly.
He doesn’t know how much time has passed.
He’s vaguely aware of movement around him, but he can’t get face or even object recognition to run, so the visual feed remains unprocessed. It’s probably for the best, because he wouldn’t know what to do with the additional data anyway.
Something is definitely wrong.
And the fact that he can’t even figure out what only alarms him further. He’s never realized until now how much he’s mentally distanced himself from the idea of ‘going crazy’, but of course it’s never left the back of his mind either. What if-?
The second scan completes and with the deallocated RAM, another thing comes back to mind.
He scrambles to his feet and – after some difficulty – makes his way to the exit.
There’s lots of people still running around, but he’s only scanning for one face and when he finds the match, it’s in a nearby ambulance. He’s talking to another officer while his right arm is being bandaged, but as soon as he spots him, he shrugs them both off, stalks over to him and uses his good arm to shove him against the wall with an unexpected force.
“What the hell was that?!”
He can feel the pressure on his chest that seems like it would crush a human ribcage. It feels like John is putting his entire strength into it. Like he doesn’t even care if he hurts him.
And he wants to apologize, and explain himself, that he was not in full control, that he would never let this happen under normal circumstances, that there was a minor malfunction and that he should just drop him off at Rudy’s and he’ll be fine by tomorrow morning, but before he can form a coherent sentence, John interrupts him.
“You know what? Forget it. I don’t wanna hear it,” he hisses, then pulls him forward by his shirt and bangs him back against the wall fast enough that the vibrations throw him off balance for a moment.
Someone is next to him in an instant, helps him up and offers him a ride back to the precinct. But he declines absentmindedly and walks off in a random direction. He needs time to think. And maybe the cold night air will help clear his mind.
There’s no hardware problem to be found, meaning this has to be his programming. And now John is pissed off, so who knows if they will even bother trying to repair him instead of just shutting him down and reusing his parts to make a segway.
This has been his last chance, John has finally started to trust him and he goes and gives him one fantastically good reason not to. How could he have been so stupid? He should have gone to Rudy at the first sign of trouble. Now he’s already lost control and he feels like he’s spiraling further away from himself with every step. He turns a corner and barely avoids stumbling over his own feet.
His phone rings and he snatches it from the table before letting himself fall onto the couch.
“Is Dorian with you?”
He harrumphs and stretches his leg on the table. His whole body is still aching and the last person he wants to talk to right now is Rudy.
There’s a short pause on the other end, then: “Maybe you should… look for him? I- I heard what happened, and I’m worried. I’m not sure he should be alone right now.”
John stays silent.
“He deactivated his locator chip, and… well you two do stuff together all the time, I thought maybe you know where he’d go?”
Rudy sounds genuinely troubled, so he considers it and does actually come up with a few possibilities. He sighs.
“Fine,” he says, “I’ll go.”
When he finds him, he’s sitting on a bench not far from their usual noodle place, knees drawn up, eyes closed, and face looking like an intense multiplayer version of snake.
John calls his name and he jumps.
When Dorian looks up, John’s face says ‘what is going on’ as clear as any words could. On second thought, maybe there were words. He isn’t sure.
“I don’t know,” he answers anyway, and regrets it immediately. “It’s nothing.” He gets up, can’t seem to find his balance, stumbles backwards. “It’s nothing I’m sure I can get this sorted out, I’m fine I-” His side makes contact with a wall, and he’s vaguely grateful. “please just-… please.”
John follows him.
“Whoah, hey, you need to calm down, close some tabs or something. You’ll blow a fuse.”
So he knows. Of course he knows. He has probably been warned this would happen. Everyone has only been waiting for it. He’s a liability, as he’s just proved, and they will be happy to replace him with a trusty MX.
The experiment has failed again.
And now they send John to come collect him.
He lets himself slide down to the ground and shelters his head with his hands.
John groans as he realizes what is happening. “I meant that literally.”
He looks down on the hunched figure before him and shakes his head. He should call Rudy. Let him pick Dorian up himself and see what he can do for him.
And return to his couch.
Instead he curses his own sense of responsibility and consciously unclenches his jaw as he lets himself fall into a squat in front of his partner.
And there it is again. This sudden impalpable feeling that something is… off. Because he’s never seen Dorian seriously afraid of something, except-
“You won’t be decommissioned.”
It comes out more confident than he feels, but the lack of reaction is enough to let him know he’s onto something. It makes sense, with everything Dorian told him. About how much he wants to be a cop, and how he’s his only chance. His outburst earlier probably sent a clear message, and he almost regrets being that hard on him, but he did get him shot, and his anger will not fade before the pain does.
He takes a deep breath and sits down next to him, trying to remember what Rudy said about the DRNs. ‘Breaking Point’ is what he called it. Said that it was basically a human defect, not a technical one. So he runs his fingers through his hair and resolves to approach this as such.
“I’m still angry, I’m not gonna lie. And you fucked up big time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still prefer you to any of those MX.”
Dorian visibly tries to process the new information, but doesn’t seem to have the capacities left to arrive at any conclusions.
“I’m malfunctioning,” he finally manages.
“What’s wrong?” John presses, and Dorian shakes his head.
“I don’t know.”
He hears John sigh and there’s a definite pause before he says, “You’re the only one who can get close to knowing what it’s like inside your head. Tell me something you do know.”
And Dorian wants to make a joke, knows he normally would, like telling a random useless fact, or that he disapproves of Johns way to make pancakes, but he can’t.
So he agrees to let John lead this and searches for the first warning that comes up.
“CPU usage is at 98%.”
“That explains the lightshow. What’s taking up that much computation time?”
It’s a simple question and he makes the query before thinking about whether it’s a good idea to actually answer.
“Synthetic soul subroutines.”
“Alright,” John says, trying to think of a way to help, “Well can’t you just… end some processes and focus on the essentials?”
The response he gets is so close to the standard error sound he has to actively remind himself that he’s not remote diagnosing a stubborn PC.
He’s about to make another suggestion when Dorian interrupts him.
“My thoughts are… looping. Everything is. Everything usually is, but this is… worse. And I can’t break it and it’s only getting more, and you’re right I can’t keep this up, my core temperatures are already hitting critical levels, systems will start overheating and I can’t stop it, I can’t stop this, I- I don’t understand what’s happening!”
John instinctively shuffles closer to him and presses his hand against his back in an effort to ground him. He’s definitely warmer than usual, and he’s also started shivering subtly. This isn’t good.
“Focus. Try to focus on me, okay?”
He’s slightly out of his depth so he just keeps massaging circles into his back, hoping that he’s helping. And it seems to work, because Dorian leans into him and the shivers subside after a while. He runs his free hand down his face and looks around. There’s not many people still on the street, yet it’s not the most comfortable place to have this conversation. Dorian leaves him little choice however.
“I’m going crazy aren’t I.”
It’s not voiced like a question, even though it is, really. And John doesn’t know the answer, and says as much.
“I don’t know where they draw the line between human crazy and android crazy,” he adds, knowing fully well that a few months ago, he wouldn’t have cared.
“What do you mean?”
“Well. We all have our breaking points. Maybe this is just a very human reaction to everything that’s happened.”
He doesn’t seem convinced. Neither is John, but he doesn’t know how to continue his arguments without more information, so he plays another hunch.
“This is about the kidnapping, right?”
Dorian lifts his head.
“I’m a detective, remember?” John smiles, then explains, “That one time in the elevator. Interrogation rooms, narrow hallways- I saw you get uncomfortable. I should’ve said something. I’m sorry.”
He expects Dorian to object and is ready to explain that it’s as much his job to look after him as it is the other way around, but there’s only silence. He lets it sit for a while, before quietly asking.
“Tell me what happened. When we went in.”
“You can’t solve this on your own, apparently. So you need new input. That’s what we do when we have problems, we talk about it, get a second opinion, another perspective. Maybe we can figure out what’s going on together.”
Dorian looks at him for a long moment and John begins to question whether he’s still trying to process the information or just debating what to tell him. Eventually, he answers.
“My sensors went offline. Visual, sound,… everything except proximity sensors.”
“I ran a diagnostic, no malfunction,” he says while he waits for the appropriate files to load. “...Logs say I shut them down.”
There’s confusion in his eyes, but it slowly turns to panic and John knows he needs to get him back to simpler questions.
“Why not all?”
“You said almost all sensors went out.”
“So why not all?”
“I don’t -” He stops himself as he realizes that’s only technically true.
“When I was held in that room. Waiting for you. That’s how I… I shut down everything non-essential. I kept proximity online.”
“You’re seeing a connection.”
“The structure of the buildings is similar.”
John looks like that made perfect sense to him, but Dorian still struggles. And the more the thinks about how this could be affecting him this much, the more details of his captivity resurface.
“I was-… When I’m shut down I’m practically dead. I’m… gone.” He shakes his head. “I wasn’t, in that room. I was thinking. I was left to my own devices with no external input, that’s worse, I had to keep going, not knowing if-” He stops abruptly, his eyes clenching shut as several systems start to stutter again. “Shit!”
John looks up to see him jumping up and spinning around.
At least his colloquialism routine is definitely back online.
“Why is this happening?!”
He’s running his fingers though his hair and then his face goes blank as he focuses on getting things back to normal.
John uses the moment to get up himself and slowly approach him. He’s afraid that the last 15 minutes of sitting in the cold will be in vain if Dorian panics again now. But then he turns around and looks at him pleadingly.
He’s still scared, but John seems to at least have regained his trust. So he takes Dorians shoulder carefully with one hand and reaches for his phone with the other.
“Okay. Let me call Rudy first.”
But he immediately backpedals when he sees Dorian tense up at the mention.
“I’ll just let him know you’re with me. He’s been worried. Then we’ll get you somewhere quieter, you do some memory compression or whatever it is you do and we’ll let Rudy check you out tomorrow, alright? He’ll know how to help.”
He waits for Dorian to slowly nod his approval before he adds,
“Unless you rather want to see him now?”
Expectedly, he shakes his head and John nudges him in the direction of the car.
“Alright, you can stay at my place if you want to.”
John rolls his eyes. He’ll probably regret this later.