Actions

Work Header

Chrome & Petrichor

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 30th

3:20am

Connor

 

Sumo sleeps on his lap, paws twitching as he dreams.

A few days into their new living arrangement, Hank had nudged him and suggested that Connor stop looking up the answer to every question he encountered in that “ big old Google search engine you’ve got for a brain .” The man had mused that sometimes it was fine to not know something, to let the question peter off into the void and to move on with life. That sometimes being in the dark was good for the soul. So Connor had asked what Sumo might’ve dreamed about when he sleeps, without consulting official studies or popular opinion. Just to try it out.

“Hell if I know,” Hank shrugged. “Chasing rabbits, maybe, or humping some nice lady dog.”

“You aren’t curious?”

“Sure.”

“Then I could search for professional -”

“What’d I just say, Connor?” Hank snorted, picked at the condensation-soaked label banded around his beer bottle. “Look, I don’t need every single impulse or question in my life answered. Some shit just isn’t necessary to know - like what my fucking dog is dreaming about at night. Gotta save that brain space for something that matters.”

“That’s not how human brains work, Hank.”

“It’s how mine works,” a long sip, where Connor watched his throat bob as he considered Hank’s words. Deviancy, he was learning, was a strange state where human quirks of character became less like obstacles and more like guidelines.

Hank had many of them, most of which were vague and difficult. Frustrating. Charming. Baffling.   

He pets Sumo’s back, gentle so as not to wake him, adjusting the sensors in his hand so he can feel it. He’s coming to understand why humans keep animals like this, if they feel as soothed from the sensation of their fur as he does.

As he considers possible things to do on this night, he receives a request for communications, blinking at the corner of his vision. Checking for its sender tells him it’s from Markus, and curious, he accepts.

Settling back onto the couch with a hand buried in Sumo’s fur, Connor closes his eyes and opens them to the blooming orange and red dusk of the zen garden.

Since he became deviant, the appearance and structural direction of the place has fallen under his control. If he wanted, he could overturn the entire garden into something else entirely. Despite that, he’s left everything mostly alone. He’s spent some of his free time ruminating on why: it might be a genuine affiliation with the aesthetic. An innate resistance to change, freshly formed from his newly autonomous and deviant personality. A lack of any other ideas or concepts to emulate, such was the current state of his creativity.  

Or nostalgia, perhaps - if he’s old enough to be capable of such a thing.

No answer is any clearer or more certain than the ones that came before, so he takes Hank’s advice to heart and leaves it be. He has yet to decide if living in the ambiguity is as “good for the soul” as Hank suggested.    

Every night, he retreats to the garden during stasis, because Hank expressed his discomfort with Connor wandering the house at night. Often, he sits on the boat and goes over files from work, if there are any. Otherwise, he peruses the internet or runs simulations. Sometimes, he does nothing at all.

He misses the calming presence of Amanda - the central point he could look to amidst the confusion of the world and find ready answers. Directives. With her gone, he’s left to find or make his own, and it’s a lot of responsibility.  

He’s added more fish since she disappeared. Five dwarf gouramis, to be precise.

As he walks to the central structure in the garden, he spies them swimming alongside the koi in tangles of orange and blue.   

Markus stands near the edge of the bridge, looking down at the water. He chooses an interesting visual representation of himself, Connor thinks, noting the coat he’d worn at Jericho’s demonstration outside of the camp. It can’t possibly be what he’s actually wearing now, wherever he is. With his hands clasped behind his back like that, his profile looks like something off a motivational poster, or a recruitment ad.

Little wonder that their people had followed him so, had sacrificed their newborn personhood and freedom to keep him safe from harm, when just the look of him felt so inspiring.

Connor recalls watching him speak, lit by dusty stripes of moonlight in a crumbling church, and had - for the first time in his short life - felt awe.   

“Hello Markus,” he greets and comes to a stop next to him. He glances down and sees a couple of the fish branching from the group to chase insects skipping on the surface of the water. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Are you busy with something?” the other android asks, polite.

“No.”

Markus nods, “Working through the night makes some of the humans here uncomfortable. I’m taking a break for their benefit.”

“It’s the same for me,” Connor says. A small smile forms, unbidden, on his mouth at the memory of Hank gruffly shoving a pillow into his arms and demanding that he “ go to sleep or fucking fake it for all I care, I can’t have you creeping ‘round the house like a psycho .”

“The police lieutenant?”

“Yes.”

“You’re still living with him then,” he raises a brow. He and Markus had last seen each other in person a week after the demonstration, and had interfaced in greeting: For Markus, a gesture of gratitude for his role in their victory, and for Connor, a chance to broaden his horizons. To indulge his curiosity because he wanted to, not because he had to. Part of what Markus had gleaned from Connor’s memories was Hank’s offer of a place stay, in the empty streets right outside of the Chicken Feed.

He still remembers the expression of bafflement on Markus’ face.  

Connor raises a brow in turn, “Is that so surprising?”

“He seems very…” the other android pauses, thinking for the right word. “Gruff.”

“Very,” Connor nods. “Our relationship is complicated, but he’s a good man.”

From what he’d seen of Carl Manfred in Markus’ memories, the two humans couldn’t be more different. Connor found Hank’s prickliness to be part of his charm, but Markus was used to a different standard, it seems.

“I saw,” says Markus. “He helped our cause, and was one of the few humans to do so...”

He seems to consider something, and adds, “I didn’t get the chance to thank him for it. I should, if I ever see him in person.”

Connor imagines that conversation, visualizes the awkward set of Hank’s shoulders and the tight line of his mouth when he’s feeling cornered, and quips, “I don’t think the lieutenant sees it that way, but I agree,” he feels the need add, for Markus’ sake, “Should you ever meet, though, I’ll warn you that he’s very unsociable and often quite rude. Don’t take it personally.”

Markus nods, face grave as he responds, “I won’t.”

Connor quietly considers that perhaps he should be more obvious about making jokes to Markus, who seems to take everything very seriously.   

“Is there a reason you called for me tonight?” he asks, steering the conversation back to relevant topics.

Markus shifts where he stands, and takes a breath.

“I’ve been given access to CyberLife’s databases,” says Markus. “So, I’ve spent the last three days going over shipping manifests, R&D schematics, production schedules, storage logs, prototype designs, preliminary tests. Everything.”

“A rather surprising gesture of trust,” Connor responds, watching the other android’s face. That isn’t the issue, he surmises, only a lead-in to his point. So Connor waits patiently for him to continue.

“It is,” Markus nods, eyes trailing the path of one of the fish. “And then yesterday...I met with Elijah Kamski.”

Ah.

“Was this in an official capacity?” Connor asks. “Or a personal one?”

Markus sighs, through his nose. “I had issued the request as an official one...but by the time I was on his doorstep, something about it became personal. More than I wanted, I think…”

Connor says nothing, allowing him a moment to collect his thoughts. He hadn’t anticipated this turn, at all.

“...I’m the only one of my model, Connor,” Markus says, finally. It’s difficult to discern from his tone what he thinks of that just yet. “The only RK200 in the world.”

He looks over, then away again. Uncomfortable. Conflicted. It radiates off him like it would a human, and Connor is stunned silent.

“I asked him if all this was what he intended for me,” Markus crosses his arms. “...He didn’t give me an answer.”

“...And you were disappointed,” Connor finishes. That, he understands.

Markus sighs again. Nods with a pinch of his mouth and brows.

So serious, this one; Connor wonders where he’d gotten it from.  

Connor shifts where he stands, eyes sweeping over the expanse of the garden. He wonders about the choices that went into making this place, what Kamski’s thought processes were: had he simply wanted to house Amanda’s image in someplace beautiful? Or had it simply been motivated by aesthetics, distant and clinical? He imagines asking the man himself, where he’d be no less forthcoming about this as he was about the location of Jericho.

Maybe Kamski himself didn’t know; perpetual unknowing seems to be a prerequisite for humanity, he’s coming to learn.

And androids, too , he thinks as he glances at Markus.

“What were you hoping to hear?” Connor asks. It’s strange to hear fraught existential concern from someone as sure and steady as Markus seems to be.  

“I was hoping to hear ‘yes’,” he responds. “Because that would have been simple. Easy. None of this has been simple, and I think I wanted that to be...if nothing else.”

Markus is easy to speak with because he is honest and straightforward - much more than Connor himself. His programming equipped him with the necessary skills for obfuscation and manipulation should he have need of either of them in the field. He’d been made to integrate by any means necessary, and that much room for vagaries and deceit was an exhausting, heavy dimension to his social relations protocols. Even before deviancy, he hadn’t enjoyed it. As a deviant, he enjoys it even less.

Idly, he thinks about his relationship with Hank, and wonders at the degree to which he was programmed for hypocrisy. Perhaps he’ll investigate, on another day.   

The other android looks down at his own hands, murmuring, “I spoke with Simon about it, after. He thinks that it’s the part of me that probably still looks for directives from humans. A part of us that waking up can’t erase.”

His LED spins slow and yellow, chasing something. It keeps chasing as Markus continues.

“You know...I didn’t imagine making it to the other side,” Markus says and the gentle, soothing quality of his voice makes the honesty heavy and somber. “I could’ve died at any time during our fight for freedom. And now I’m here, and I’m not sure what to do. This is the first time I’ve had since waking up to think about it.”

Connor had seen in Markus’ memories the slow crawl out of the junkyard, the struggle to climb the muddy slope after peeling the parts off of other androids no more or less deserving of them than he. After that, there had been one urgent path after another: finding Jericho, leading them out of destitution and hopelessness, marching and sending his message. With his task done, whatever had driven him now has no direction.

Markus transcended the banal duties that drove his programming and now he stood so tall, on a peak so high, that he couldn’t see the small steps anymore.

It’s listless and frustrating, and Connor feels it very deeply.

There’s a part of him, quiet and perplexing, that finds that the easy answer to that problem is to focus on Hank. If he thinks about Hank, he doesn’t have to think about anything else.

It feels like absolution - so freeing that if he were human he might be dizzy from the taste of it.  

But Markus does not have that, and his relationship with North doesn’t seem to carry that dimension.

It strikes Connor then, in a moment of instantaneous clarity, that this is what Markus had called him for: not to exchange data nor to keep each other updated on the political situation post-uprising.

But just to talk.

To “vent”, like Hank vents sometimes. Only it’s easier here, less likely to stop Connor in his tracks with how badly he wants to get it right.

“Have you spoken to any of the others about your concerns?” he asks. Based on his few interactions with the three in Markus’ inner circle, he presumes that Josh at the very least would be amenable to hearing them.

“I...no,” Markus murmurs, eyes flitting away. “I haven’t. I’m not sure why, either.”

Connor does: “You don’t want to disrupt their perception of you.”

The other android hums. Contemplating.

“That,” Connor continues, and his voice comes out drier than he intends. Maybe. “And you value my opinion far less than theirs.”

Markus frowns, opens - then closes - his mouth on a response. It seems Markus is unwilling to lie.  

“I understand,” he soothes. “And I’m not offended.”

It’s the truth. They don’t know each other well enough yet for that - Markus does not owe Connor his regard. Not with the mistakes he’s made while under the heel of CyberLife.

“...Thank you.”

“For what it’s worth,” he offers. “I feel it too. As do humans. I’d like to think that we’re all in this together.”

Hank had asked him once, how he managed to stay so relentlessly positive all the time, if it was a part of his programming. Connor had responded that the world seemed to be a bleak and lonely place, so there was no way he could justify being anything else. That, and he had to counteract Hank somehow .

The man had snorted, turning back to the television. But the grin he’d worn the rest of the evening had been indulgent and fond, and Connor had been so pleased by it he’d gone into stasis that night with a smile.  

Connor realises he’d gotten distracted thinking about Hank because Markus gives him a searching look, and he releases the smile that had formed on his face during his lapse.

“Your lieutenant,” Markus starts, turning bodily to face him; his gaze is curious. “When we last interfaced, I saw the confrontation at the warehouse. You were prepared to fail the mission to save his life.”

He doesn’t look angry, and so Connor nods, “Yes. I was.”

“Why?”

“I…” he shifts, feeling awkward. No amount of contemplative boat rides in the pond have given him hard answers as to the nature of his regard for Hank, no matter how hard he’s searched for the answer. It feels, at the moment, limitless. Unquantifiable to a terrifying degree. “I have yet to reach that answer myself,” he settles for some measure of the truth. “But I suppose all I can say is that I care about him very much.”

“Hm, I guess that was part of the goal, wasn’t it?” murmurs his guest, eyes drifting away to look back at the fish. “Harmony between androids and humans. Friendship…”

Friendship isn’t entirely accurate - not these days, not with how their relationship is gaining more dimensions than Connor is equipped to deal with - but Connor doesn’t know how to broach that kind of topic with someone like Markus. So he doesn’t.

“If it had been you in my place,” begins Connor, gently. “And Carl Manfred - would you have done same?”

That stills him, his LED stops spinning and stays on solid yellow. Dilemma. “I can’t say,” he answers, honest as always. Though this time it sounds like it pains him to be. “Because I don’t know.”

“Wasn’t he like a father to you?” asks Connor. Something about the hesitation makes him uncomfortable, and if they weren’t conversing he’d take the boat out onto the water and spend the rest of the night trying to figure out why.  

Markus nods, “Yes. But every android in the country was depending on me - they still do.”

One man versus the future of a people.

Connor thinks back to his choice in the warehouse and finds himself perturbed at how easy it’d been for him to decide. The sight of Hank slouching and wilted under the looming presence of the gun. The imposter, who dared to suggest killing Hank while wearing Connor’s face, who spoke with Connor’s voice as though it could possibly understand the depth of Hank’s worth.

And then he remembers the sight of Hank’s eyes, sorrowful and ready to die; not for the revolution, but because he wanted to.   

Unnecessarily, he clenches his jaw. Grinds together the artificial enamel of his teeth, and imagines that his LED is blazing red and hot at his temple.  

He looks at Markus, at the face that’s been printed in countless newspapers since the formal end of the uprising, as well as sprayed as graffiti onto the walls of alleyways all over Detroit. The face of a leader - who would hesitate at such a choice because not doing so would compromise the future of his people - and doesn’t share his feelings on this, because it might incur his judgement and Connor refuses to feel shame.

He thinks of Hank sleeping soundly in his bedroom a few paces away, alive and able to trudge through another day. If losing that had been the price for android emancipation, then Connor was never going to have paid it.

“You’re a good leader, Markus,” he says instead, gentle and trying to calm himself from the roar of his thoughts. A platitude to guide the conversation away from something immeasurably fraught. Dangerous. “And your choices led us here. I’m sorry I asked such a disturbing question.”

“You were programmed to be curious,” Markus actually smiles, and the strangeness of the sight reminds him that he’s not seen it before - hints of the person that the growing legend is threatening to outstrip. “I understand.”