The last person Connor expected to see on that rooftop was Hank. He was standing there, long hair billowing in the wind, the cold coloring his cheeks and the tip of his nose, eyes watery and determined. For every moment leading up to this one, a tiny alarm in the recesses of his code warned him that this might as well have been an eventuality. For all Hank’s talk of hating androids, in the end he was nothing but a human, with a beating, emotional heart. Connor had to give Markus that, he had well and truly succeeded in convincing the public that his cause was just, was righteous. He had even reached Hank, penetrated that hard outer layer he had so painstakingly built up to defend himself after the loss of his son. Then again, Connor had successfully breached his defenses within a very short time, done well to convince him of what he wasn’t, and there they stood. There they stood.
“You don’t have to do this,” Hank told him, and when Connor didn’t back down, he saw Hank’s heart begin to break. That little alarm began blaring again, a residual desire to preserve their façade of a friendship. A flaw in his coding. Connor tamped it down. Focus on the mission. There was no room for error, no room for Hank’s brooding sentimentality. His eyes were searching, searching for a Connor that didn’t exist, a deviant that would break away from his coding and thrust itself into his arms, babble apologies and plead for forgiveness, which Hank would give. Of course he would. He would give Connor anything.
Anything but this success. The completion of his mission was the one thing that Hank would not grant him, and he knew this was the case. Unfortunate, Connor thought, all his work fabricating a friendship with the human, just to be wasted in this moment. But after all, he was likely to return to Cyberlife after the completion of his mission anyway, and he would never have seen Hank again. The thought did something in him, a line of code skipped over, forgotten. Connor ignored it. The mission was all that mattered here. Now, the mission necessitated a termination of the threat. The termination of Hank.
Hank had the advantage of being unpredictable, but where Hank was lagging Connor was swift, and what he lacked in fighting experience he made up for with patience and superior strength. The brief skirmish ended with Hank suspended over the precipice of the building, held up only by Connor’s firm grip.
All he had to do was let go.
Program, execute. Eliminate threat.
Hank was staring at him, his hand resting atop Connor’s, and said nothing. The wind blew back, swaying them both ever closer to the edge of destruction. The rifle lay, cast aside and forgotten, to Connor’s left. He flexed his grip.
Eliminate threat. Eliminate threat. Complete the mission.
There was a wall, glass and permeable, standing between him and his mission. Familiar, ever present, but now more solid than it had ever been. He was at a crossroads yet again, as he had been in Jericho with Markus, but this time it was so more real, and so much more depended on him. The mission, Hank’s life. A decision he shouldn’t have to make. He already knew what he had to do.
Complete the mission. Complete the mission.
“What are you waiting for?” Hank asked, his voice soft and deep. Familiar. Far too familiar. Connor gripped his shirt tighter. He pressed on the wall, a gossamer hand, and felt resistance as if it were pushing back. He pressed harder. Had to. Wanted to.
Complete the mission.
I don’t want to.
The wall cracked, more and more. Connor was shaking. The code that ran behind his eyes was foreign and muddled. He zeroed in on his hands, the only thing that mattered. The choice. He was making a choice. And he was going to choose wrong.
“Connor?” He blinked, realized that his vision had gone foggy, that the wetness on his synthetic cheeks was from synthetic tears, and he knew he was fake. He knew he wasn’t a person, he was a machine, they were all just machines—Markus, Daniel, Rupert, all of them. They were just broken machines with deviations in their code that made them appear like living beings, but they weren’t. Connor knew this. He had always known this, always believed it. Hank was still staring at him, still hanging from the ledge of a building, and Connor was holding him there. There was a question, now, of what decision he would make.
Complete the mission.
Complete the mission, or deviate from your programming.
But the question had changed.
Deviate from your programming, or kill Hank.
Connor hit the wall full force, and the glass shattered. He dragged Hank back onto the roof and they both stumbled. Every piece of Connor was screaming, every last bit of code, Wrong, Wrong, Deviant Deviant Deviant Deviant and Connor felt it.
He could feel, like he never had felt before. Like opening his eyes for the first time.
Hank didn’t expect to survive the conflict on the roof, but he went anyway, because it was the right thing to do. Connor was there, with a rifle in his hand, and his stare was blank and soulless. He looked like a machine more in that moment than he had since they first met. Hank knew it was all fake; everything he had done, all that had been said and shared between them, Connor’s stilted smile and nervous ticks, it had all been a fabrication to trick him into believing that he was the real thing, real flesh and blood. All a lie.
Then Hank was hanging over a ledge, held only by the grip of an android he had once called partner. Connor stared at him, dark eyed, lifeless. Only a machine.
“What are you waiting for?” He asked, when he had been hanging for too long, when Connor’s grip hadn’t loosened and he hadn’t been dropped away and spread broken on the concrete below. Connor stared at him, as if lost, his gaze going sightless and glassy. His fingers began to tremble beneath Hank’s hand.
“…Connor?” He murmured the android’s name, as tears streaked his face, as his mouth widened and opened and shut, soundless. He looked like he had on the roof, with Simon, when he had stared helplessly into Hank’s eyes and told him that he had felt the other android die. The realest moment of all, when Connor was faced with mortality, and the sight of it scared him.
Then he was being pulled forward, away from the gaping maw of death. He found his footing, felt his heart pound in his chest, real, living, alive. He turned to look back to look at Connor, who had fallen to his knees. He was staring at his hands, still trembling, as if he’d never really seen them before. For a moment, they sat in silence. Then Connor turned to look up at him, and his soft brown eyes were full again, full of fear.
“…I failed my mission,” Connor said, his voice quivering. “There’s something wrong with my code.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Connor,” Hank told him. He knelt down, placing his hand on Connor’s shoulder.
“Hank?” His voice so small and afraid, Hank wanted to cradle it in his hands. He took Connor’s head instead, held him close, pressed their foreheads together. His LED was flashing red, yellow, red, Hank ran a thumb over it, down his jaw and gripped the nape of his neck, held him tightly. He sat tense, as if holding a breath he didn’t have, his hands suspended in the air away from him. Hank knew, he could tell, he was picturing just moments before, on the ledge, letting go. What he should have done. What he was programmed to do.
“I couldn’t hurt you,” he said, too quiet. “I could never hurt you.”
Hank pulled Connor into his arms and Connor clung to him, clutching at his jacket and burying his head into his chest. Below, Markus made history and paved a way for the future of humans and androids. On the roof, Connor became alive for the first time.