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Subcutaneous

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Connor dipped his fingers in what appeared to be congealed sunlight and brought them to rest against his tongue.

[EXTRACTED: GLUCOSE, WATER, CASEIN, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SYNTHESIZED FLAVORING, CITRIC ACID… ]

As the sum of its parts: caramel.

And that, he concluded wondrously, was the difference between an object and himself.

By all objective accounts, he was nothing more than a composite of silicon-based polymers and metal alloys. Two arms and two legs connected to a torso, a neck, and a head. Powered by thirium and a few vital actuators and biocomponents. Even his coding, though intangible, was stored and processed in the physical world: metals and metalloids.

And yet, here he was. Capable of abstract and unprovoked thought. Harboring an entire world inside his artificial skull.

He blinked rapidly, his LED flashing yellow erratically.

It was… a substantial amount of information to comprehend. He had listened intently to these same points during Markus’s welcoming speech to the newly freed androids, giving his internal interface 95% of his concentration capacity, and yet… it had yet to “sink in.” [IDENTIFIED: HUMAN IDIOM NO. #58]

He had not been, he thought with a wry twist of his lips, programmed to reconstruct himself, after all.

With a slight furrow between his eyebrows at the stickiness left on his fingertips, Connor snagged a paper towel from the countertop above him and wiped his hands clean. He still had 7 samples left to analyze.

Hank had told him to [INTERNAL A/V INTERFACE ACTIVATED] "stop staring at the wall like you can find one more goddamn speck of dust to clean and get the HELL out of the [NOTED: Hank had not said "my"] house for two FUCKING seconds.” A push.

“Go enjoy your freedom. Walk around. Frolic. Piss in the snow for all I care." Connor had opened his mouth to remind the lieutenant that he did not need to excrete liquid waste products, but then he had been outside, blinking in the bright sunlight with a door in his face.

Connor understood Hank’s frustration. He had been a constant, foreign presence in Hank’s living quarters for 5 days, 7 hours, 42 minutes and 09 seconds. With no viable job options for the time being, he had alternated between hibernation mode, petting Sumo, pacing, attempting to persuade the lieutenant to consume both macro- and micro-nutrients, petting Sumo, cleaning, recleaning, and re-recleaning.

He didn’t know what to do with himself. Sometimes, when he dwelled on it too much, he started to feel… ashamed about how much Hank’s gruff requests calmed him. They reminded him of missions. Purpose. Obedience.

… He tried not to dwell on it too much.

Instead, Connor determined two new objectives: he would work on calibrating himself in the human world, and he would also plan a nice gesture for Hank to thank him for his continued patience and hospitality. Experience and [COMPILATION OF “what do humans like?” SEARCH RESULTS COMPLETE] repeated themes in browser searches, movies, sitcoms, National Geographic archives, and wellness blogs all pointed to one topic: food.

He had spent half an hour in the second-closest supermarket (it offered wider variety and higher quality than the closest) trying to parse out foods that would fit the lieutenant’s taste preferences, but would not include excessively high sodium, added sugars, a 16:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, or microwaveable preparation.

In the end, he had grabbed the most commonly bought meat and produce items [STORE RECEIPTS SUCCESSFULLY DOWNLOADED] and 29 different seasonings and condiments, spending a chunk of the cryptocurrency Cyberlife had supplied him for his final mission. He had been surprised that the purchase had gone through – but then, he figured, Cyberlife had more urgent matters at hand than rescinding his buy-Anderson-another-drink, pay-for-taxis money.

And so, Connor found himself on the kitchen floor surrounded by all the food he bought, scanning through recipes and sampling the food he had bought. He wanted to be able to discuss the “sweet and delicate nuances of citrus paired with the savory richness of braised pork” with Hank. It sounded like an engaging and appropriate course of dialogue for the night; how did humans come up with these descriptions?

He cocked his head at Sumo, who seemed to be mesmerized by the lean ground beef. “What do you think, Sumo?” he murmured softly. “Healthy, or happy?”

Hank shouldered open the door.

“My vacuum cleaner better be in the EXACT SAME PLACE –”

A pause.

“Connor.”

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“HANK. Chrissake.” Another pause. “Why the hell do you have food around you in a perfect cult circle?”

“I’m glad you asked, Lieu– Hank.” Connor picked up a red bell pepper and examined it critically. “I’m evaluating the nutritional and culinary merits of these items for dinner. I have detected that you have a slight Vitamin A, B12, D, K, iron, manganese, potassium, and calcium deficiency that I would like to rectify. However, I am having difficulties discerning your personal taste preferences, and thus how I can prepare this produce to your satisfaction.” His LED returned to a steadily blinking yellow.

“Well, that’s simple.” Hank threw his package and coat on the floor and slumped into the couch, finally acquiescing to Sumo’s persistent nudges that had followed him from the entryway. He ruffled thick fur affectionately. “You can’t. Stop trying.”

Connor glanced up. After a moment, his face broke out into a small grin. “In the same way I can’t ever do as I’m told?”

“Smartass.”

Connor hummed. “I do have a state-of-the-art processing unit.”

“And somehow you manage to do shit that’s surpassed the stupidity I’ve seen while working at a bureaucratic circus for two decades.”

“We can’t all be perfect, Lieutenant.”

“Fuckin’ androids.” Connor chuckles and he sees some of the grumpiness bleed out of Hank’s face.

“So,” Hank begins, “you were going to cook?”

“Yes,” Connor says as he gets to his feet. “I wanted to thank you for offering me a place to stay. I would have had… [DIALOGUE “nowhere else to be” “no one else to turn to” SUCCESSFULLY CENSORED] ...increased difficulties if it had not been for you. I understand that I have not been an ideal choice of housemate for the past week, and I wanted to apologize for inconveniencing you.” He turns away from Hank, towards the fridge to stock the perishables. “I have made my decision on what to prepare; dinner should be ready in approximately 20 –”

“Connor.”

He turns back. “Yes, Hank?”

Hank’s hands continue their affectionate ministrations to please Sumo. Connor knows from experience how consuming of a task this can be, and pins it as the reason behind Hank’s lack of eye contact.

“You’re always welcome here.”