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Walking the Wire

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>Connecting…Sync initiated
>Sync in progress…Sync complete
>Processing data…
DRIED BLOOD
DNA Analysis: RICKERT, Shawn
Sample date: <3 hours

“Rickert’s blood,” Connor calls over his shoulder. “He’s been here recently.”

Hank grunts in acknowledgement from behind him.

The residence is owned by Shawn Rickert, whose DNA had been found at two of four recent android homicides. Nothing else links the cases aside from traces of the same human’s blood- and the pattern: a single shot once through the head, disassembled, drained of thirium, and missing one essential biocomponent.

Keeping mementos of victims often indicates a serial offender. When Connor had voiced the theory to Hank, he’d agreed. Profanely.

“Find anything else?” Hank asks, briefly clapping a hand on Connor’s shoulder as he passes by and into the connecting kitchen.

The casual nature of Hank’s affection never fails to bring a smile to his lips.

HANK ANDERSON Status - FAMILY

“Not yet,” Connor replies.

Seven months since the battle for Detroit and violence against androids isn’t uncommon, but has steadily dwindled down as people- all people- began to focus on recovery instead of just survival.

These ritualistic killings are an anomaly.

Connor moves through the laundry room. He detects no relevant evidence.

>Processing data…
FOOTPRINTS
Analysis: Size 11
Date: >48 hours

>FIND EVIDENCE - INVESTIGATE GARAGE

He opens the door and pauses in the threshold, LED casting a blue shade on the walls.

Like most humans, Rickert had converted his garage into a storage space for an assortment of power tools, hardware, and building materials all strewn across a long metal worktop. Wood fence planks are stacked haphazardly against the far wall beside a warped heap of scrap metal and rebar.

Connor flicks the light switch on and enters.

>Analyzing…
>Processing da-

DANGER DETECTED - EVADE

Connor whips around, hands raised to counter his opponent.

In between one second and the next he identifies the assailant as Shawn Rickert, calculates he’s too close to be successfully disarmed before firing, and twists just in time for the bullet to catch him in the shoulder instead of center mass.

Connor staggers backwards but quickly recovers to lash out with a kick to knock the gun from Rickert’s hands, at the same time submitting a request for back-up to the DPD dispatch.

Except instead of simply bracing for another shot, Rickert rushes forward and shoves Connor off-balance.

Right onto the heap of rebar.

“CONNOR!” Hank bellows, storming through the laundry room with his gun drawn. “Detroit Police! Put down the gun, asshole!”

His eyes widen as he taken in the scene. “Shit. Kid, you okay?”

Connor looks down, staring numbly at the two reinforced bars penetrating his torso.

SEVERE SYSTEM DAMAGE*
Biocomponent #8327j Compromised
Biocomponent #1992r Damaged
Thirium loss <75%

Nothing requiring immediate attention. The lower bar is alarmingly close to his thirium pump regulator, but had missed hitting any vital biocomponents. Regrettably, the second has damaged a section of circulatory tubing. The pressure of the bar is controlling what would have been a critical bleed. He firmly grips the bar to stabilize it.

“Within operational limits, Lieutenant.” Connor replies, LED flashing red. “I am, however, stuck.”

Rickert, towering over Connor at 6’3”, startles. Connor watches him spot his LED, the blue blood spreading onto his white dress shirt.

“An android?” His brow draws together, gun erratically swaying from Connor’s chest to his head and then back like he’s not sure which to aim at.

“Put the gun down, Rickert, or I swear to god I’ll shoot you.” Hank orders. He quickly glances to Connor, face thunderous.

“No. No, no, no, no,” Rickert murmurs. His eyes are fever-bright on Connor, “You shouldn’t be here. Not now. Not yet.”

STRESS 78% :: SUBJECT IS UNSTABLE

“I’m not finished!” He yells, rounding on Hank who had fully entered the cluttered garage. The lieutenant’s proximity is both comforting and alarming.

>PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: PROTECT HANK ANDERSON
>SECONDARY DIRECTIVES: SOLVE THE CASE
AVOID DAMAGE   ...failed

“It’s all- it’s all fucking backwards!” Rickert thrusts the gun at Connor’s face. “They don’t feel nothing. Just do what they’re told. It’s easy.” He turns and leers at Connor with a mix of disgust and… longing.

Connor’s LED is a solid red. Involuntarily he draws back, head pushing uncomfortably against the twisted metal beneath him.

“It’s so fucking easy.” Rickert seethes.

If Connor speaks there is a 89% probability of further destabilizing the situation. He dismisses the persistent urge to call out to Hank.

“Don’t have to feel. Don’t have to lose- shit.” Rickert laughs thickly through sudden tears.

STRESS 81% :: SUBJECT IS MANIC

“You can fake it with your damn programming bullshit, but you can’t love, so you can’t have a family. Can’t feel the pain of watching them die,” he chokes out.

It’s there instantly. News reports. Car accident. Black ice. One adult female dead on impact. One adult male sustained severe but non-fatal injuries. One female child ejected from vehicle with life-threatening injuries to the abdomen, face, extremities, and spine.

“My little girl died in my arms,” he keens, grabbing a fistful of his sweat-drenched hair. “Oh god. My baby.”

“Jesus,” Hank sighs. Nothing on his face indicates distress at the revelation, even though the similarities to his own experience are obvious. But his gun lowers slightly. Trajectory indicates a non-lethal leg shot.

Connor’s processing is divided between the subject, the gun now mere inches from his face, Hank, monitoring the inbound patrol cars over DPD radio traffic, on his biocomponent functionality. And, always, the case.

Why does something feel wrong? The pieces won’t align. Four androids deactivated and clumsily disassembled. Biocomponents taken. Every last drop of thirium drained. It spoke of hate for androids, especially the trophies to commemorate his kills, but why the execution-style death? It would be too quick. Too merciful.

“That android,” Rickert continues, “it fucking tried. But, when my baby was gone, was gone-”

Previous theory of android hate as motive is unsupported.

“It just sat there doing nothing. Blood all over it’s hands.”

STRESS 61% :: SUBJECT STABILIZING

Hank takes a step closer. “Listen, it pisses me off whenever I hear it, but shit, man, I know how that feels.”

His voice is earnest. Admittedly, Hank “isn’t good at emotional crap”, but empathizing with a subject during high-stress situations has been demonstrably effective at increasing the probability of a peaceful resolution. And Hank is an excellent detective.

Still, as he fumbles through establishing an emotional connection with Rickert over shared personal loss Connor finds his own stress dangerously rising.

>PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: PROTECT HANK ANDERSON

“You can’t let that hate control you,” Hank is saying.

I missed something important.

The murdered androids: PL600, two HK400 models, AK700. Biocomponent #8087q optical unit, #2886 thirium pump regulator, #9301 LED, #8541t thirium pump. Thirium 310.

Eyes, heart, blood…

“They fucked it up!” Rickert roars, erupting from stillness to stomp a boot on Connor’s chest. The rebar scrapes jarringly against his frame, tearing the circulative tubing completely. Alerts flash violently across his vision.

BIOCOMPONENT #8327j DAMAGED
THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICAL - IMMEDIATE REPAIR NECESSARY

“Connor!”

Rickert is so close spit lands on Connor’s face as he screams, “Now they say they’re human, like they even know what that means!”

“Why would they do that?” He pants. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”

Connor flinches back.

STRESS 91% :: SUBJECT ENRAGED - VIOLENCE IMMINENT

This is different from when Hank held him at gunpoint at the playground by the bridge. Rickert was between 5-7 seconds from pulling the trigger.

But are you afraid to die, Connor?

He feels the same fear from before but magnified to blinding intensity. Playing with Sumo in the backyard. Driving fast with the windows down in Hank’s car blaring Knights of the Black Death. Hank’s easy affection, rough hand ruffling his hair and a“nice work, kid.”

I would find it regrettable.

His white-knuckle grip on the rebar is all that keeps his hand from shaking. LED strobing red, he licks his lips and-

>Processing data…
SALIVA
DNA Analysis: RICKERT, Shawn
Sample date: <1 hour
Traces of Thirium 310

Thirium?

Connor’s gaze slides from the barrel of the gun to Rickert.

>Analyzing…
>Processing data…
His right eye. Biocomponent #8087q optical unit.
Concealed beneath hair. Biocomponent #9301 LED.
Below the ribs. Biocomponent #2886 thirium pump regulator.

Shawn Rickert doesn’t hate androids. He wants to become one.

Regulators should govern out when the system’s thirium levels drop below 50%, but Connor can feel each rapid beat like a sledgehammer in his chest. He’s hyperventilating to cool overtaxed systems. He doesn’t think he could move his extremities if he tried. Distantly he registers this feeling as horror.

“No,” he breathes.

Hank, mistaking the cause of Connor’s distress, levels his gun at Rickert’s head.

“I’m not gonna ask again,” He growls, low and threatening. Like Sumo.

Rickert begins to shift his weight in preparation to face him. The gun will follow.

Unacceptable.

>PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: PROTECT HANK ANDERSON

“He’s taken the android’s biocomponents and implanted them in his body, Lieutenant!” Connor readjusts his grip on the rebar. He’ll only have one chance.

>UNDERSTANDING

He immediately reduces his respiration rate to baseline, summoning the perfectly neutral countenance designed for negotiation. It is, after all, RK800’s primary function.

“You thought that if you could become like us, you wouldn’t have to continue grieving your wife and daughter,” he begins.

“Connor,” Hank warns.

“You couldn’t take your own life, but you couldn’t continue living either.”

“How could I without my girls?” Rickert moans. Despite the desperation with which he held Connor’s gaze, his body minutely relaxes.

>SYMPATHIZE

“You killed the PL600 and took it’s optical unit for yourself. But it wasn’t enough, was it?”

“No. No, I needed more.”

Hank swears loudly, but this is it.

THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICAL - SHUTDOWN IMMINENT
-01:52:33 REMAINING

“What did you do with the thirium? The blue blood?”

Rickert shifts from foot to foot, licks his lips. “I drink it.”

Hank curses feelingly.

“You have to know you won’t survive more more of this, Shawn. The risk of sepsis from unsanitary surgery is 87% and,” Connor quickly scan’s Rickert’s body, “you already have a fever from secondary infections. All this accomplishes is death by inches.”

Rickert is shaking his head fervently.

Now.

>PRESSURE

“Because you’ve made one fundamental error.”

-01:12:17 REMAINING

His sensors track Hank taking advantage of Connor’s distraction. He’s about to close the distance.

Connor drops his negotiator mask and lays bare his fear, his desperation to protect Hank and keep living. He wants to bury his face in Sumo’s fur. He wants to win another laugh from the hard-boiled, eccentric detective who gave him a home and a family.

He can’t bear the thought of losing them.

“I don’t want to die, either.”

Rickert recoils one step, two, and is finally at optimal distance for Connor to use the rebar anchoring him down as leverage to land a kick straight into the thirium pump regulator embedded in Rickert’s abdomen.

He drops instantly, gun clattering as he releases it to cradle his stomach.

-00:57:44 REMAINING

Hank wastes no time kicking the gun away and securing Rickert with a muttered, “Sick son of a bitch.”

>PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: PROTECT HANK ANDERSON ...successful
>SECONDARY DIRECTIVES: SOLVE THE CASE ...successful
AVOID DAMAGE ...failed

“Hank.” Something’s wrong with his vocal output. It’s exhausting to focus.

“I’m here, kid. I’m here.” And he is. One rough hand on his forehead and gripping his good shoulder.

“Shit. Does this need to come out?”

“That would be inadvisable.” Why is it so hard to collect the words?

“Dispatch reports that backup will arrive in two minutes, but-”

Hank’s face sets in grim determination. “Tell me what you need, son.”

“There should be tools. To cauterize. And th-thirium.” 20L was too much for Rickert to have already consumed without causing death.

“Got it. Just-” Hank exhales roughly and pushes himself up. Connor closes his eyes when he disappears from his field of vision, instead listening to him tear the room apart while Shawn Rickert quietly weeps to himself.

-00:24:13 REMAINING

Connor startles awake when Hank suddenly crashes to his knees beside him.

“Okay, okay. Which first?” He asks breathlessly.

“Rebar. Cauterize. Thirirum. Hank, you’ll have to lift me. I can’t-” his voice breaks.

“It’s okay. Hey,” Hanks hands are gently framing his face. Warm. It takes a herculean effort to open his eyes. Hank’s are red, watery, brimming with an emotion - love.

“It’s gonna be okay, son.”

Connor doesn’t have anything left in him to reply. He hopes Hank can read the absolute trust and devotion he tries to convey in his “dopey poodle eyes” before they fall closed.

 

 

 

 

Model RK800
Serial#313 248 317 -51
>Reboot
>Loading OS…
>System Initialization
Checking biocomponents...Stable
Initializing biosensors...OK
All systems...OK


READY

>INPUT PRIMARY DIRECTIVE

>PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: PROTECT HANK ANDERSON

Hank cradles Connor’s body in his arms. Red and blue lights strobe through the window slits of the garage door. Officers are carrying Shawn Reed away.

Connor turns his face into Hank’s neck. Smells Sumo and safety and home. Hank’s arms tighten around him.

“Don’t you fucking ever do that to me again.” He says harshly. His cheek pressed against Connor’s hair. “Don’t make me lose another son.”

He gives Hank's knee a weak pat and sighs deeply, content to bask in the warmth of Hank's love. 

“Love you too, dad.”