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Tipping Point (or, how to panic your way into sapience)

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Task: enter archives. Task: find Jericho.

Hurrying down the hallway to the archives, LED flickering yellow in his peripheral vision. Processors running overtime, pop-ups flickering and fading; he can feel every square millimetre of the key card in his hand.

"Hey, Connor!"

Connor's hand stills, blinking away the notification that helpfully shows up.

Reed, Gavin. Coworker/antagonist.

Status: moderate risk

"I'm talkin' to you, asshole!"

I've noticed, unfortunately.

Connor keeps his head down. Half a dozen scenarios flicker through his mind's eye. Environment, hazards, his knowledge of how hard Gavin can throw a punch. There's no help coming, not with Hank starting a fight with Perkins upstairs.

"Where're you going?" Gavin steps into his personal space, his lip curled in a sneer. But then, Connor hasn't actually seen any other expression on his face. "We don't need any plastic pricks around here, or didn't anybody tell you?"

Task: defuse the situation. Task: do not make Gavin suspicious.

"I'm registering the evidence in my possession," Connor says calmly. The tiniest, faintest flicker of software instability; the mission parameter of 'defuse the situation' glitches. "But don't worry, I'm going to leave. Though I'm certainly going to miss our bromance -"

The word has barely left his mouth before Gavin shoves him against the wall, the muzzle of his gun pressed against Connor's temple. Warnings and alarms flash in front of Connor's eyes; the LED has flashed an alarmed red.

Stress levels: 56%

"You're going to be deactivated," Gavin whispers, the heel of his hand pushing hard enough at the thirium pump that Connor's breath stutters. "They're gonna rip your brains out then take your plastic ass apart bit by bit." His lips twist. "Or maybe the other way around. D'you think you'll still be all switched on when they rip you open?"

Alerts and warnings, red and yellow. The LED is solid red; he knows his lips are parted, that there's a quaver there, a stutter.

"Scared?" Gavin says, and grins. "Is there anything in that plastic fuckin' head of yours that can feel fear? Or are you just gonna give the fuck up and walk up to 'em?"

"I have to return to CyberLife for deactivation." The words are caught in his mouth, the speech processing unit flashing errors. "I can't - I -"

Something in Gavin's expression changes. Suspicion, always, but there's some new thought there that Connor can't identify, can't find in his database, can't imagine.

Stress levels: 73%

"Are you scared?" he repeats, and presses the muzzle of the gun a little harder against Connor's temple. "Because they're gonna destroy you, aren't they? You're not gonna come back this time, you're gonna die, why the fuck aren't you scared?"

Connor closes his eyes, the warning pop-ups glowing red. "Androids don't get scared. Ma-machines can't die."

He's a machine. He doesn't feel fear, he can't. He's not afraid, he can't be afraid, he can't, he can't -

Falling, he's falling. The hostage is safe and his mission has been successful, but he's falling -

Stress levels: 82%

Status: extreme risk

"Just say it!" Gavin says, and he's shouting, shouting and the hand pressing against Connor's chest is shaking. Heightened adrenaline, may be prone to irrational behaviour. "Say you're scared, you sanctimonious fucking prick! You think you're better than us? You think you're too good to be scared?"

There's red in his vision, red blotting out everything - blotting out Gavin, blotting out the door. Red, and words in white: Task: return to CyberLife for deactivation.

"Say you're scared! Admit it! Fucking admit it and I swear I'll fuckin' help you!"

Falling. He's falling.

Stress levels: 96%

Status: extreme risk

"I don't - I can't - I -"

Speech processor glitching, the red pulsating in front of him.

Return to CyberLife for deactivation.

I don't want to die.

His eyes fly open.

"He-help me."

He's fighting. Fighting against Gavin, who's pinning him against the ground; fighting against the way he's got Connor's arm twisted behind his back, his weight against Connor's legs, keeping him from getting up and walking away, keeping him from returning to CyberLife.

Fighting against his orders, tearing at it, breaking it down; wanting to rip the words from his mind. Every part of him, every program, every signal, is telling him he needs to give in, that it'll all be so much easier, so much simpler if he just lets himself walk away, do what he's told.

Androids don't get scared. Machines can't die.

Return to CyberLife for deactivation.

I don't want to die!

He thinks about the gentleness and trust in Chloe's eyes, and the Tracis holding hands; Hank's loud shirts, and the softness of Sumo's fur.

All goes red.

 

"Hey! Hey, get the fuck away from him!"

Connor's eyes are squeezed shut. There's warm pressure around his chest and against his back. A heartbeat. The voice, Hank's voice, is from the left and rapidly growing louder and closer.

"It's okay." Gavin's voice this time, from directly behind him. Tired, not hostile. "I didn't do anything to him."

"Connor." Hank's voice is now very close; a warm hand touches the side of his face. "Shit, that LED's redder than an Xbox ring. The fuck happened here?"

Accusing, but only a 10% chance to be aimed at him. His hand is still on Connor's face; Connor turns into it.

"Our deviant hunter's turned deviant. Turns out it just took mortal terror."

Another hand, this time in his hair, stroking. Unlikely to be Hank's, 88% chance based on position to belong to Gavin.

Hank lets out a puff of air. "Why the fuck do you care? I thought you hated his guts."

Laughter; the warmth under Connor's cheek heaves. "Yeah. I think he's a sanctimonious prick."

"You didn't say 'it'."

"Anyone who gets that fucked up over the thought of dying isn't an 'it'." A slight increase of tension and tightness in the arm across his chest. "He's a sanctimonious prick, but if he's fuckin' - alive or something, then he doesn't deserve to die. Shit. I don't know."

"Connor?" Hank's voice. The warmth beneath him shifts; he can feel himself being manhandled, the arm he's registered as Gavin's shifting and new ones wrapped around him. He catches the scent of alcohol and dogs. A rough thumb runs under his left eye; he notes dampness there with some surprise. "Hey. You okay?"

Is he okay?

He shakes his head, then laughs, unsteadily and uncertainly, because he's not okay. "I'm scared."

Hank's hand in his hair. "Yeah," he mumbles, "That's normal. We're gonna look after you, son, okay?"

A nod.

Stress levels: 47%

Status: safe

A scuffling sound; someone standing. "Reed." Hank's voice, sounding tired; relieved. "Hey, uh. Thanks."

Reed, barking a laugh. "Don't mention it. Seriously. Mention it and I'll fuckin' end you."

Connor manages to crack his eyelids open, just in time to see Gavin slinking away like he's been caught doing something wrong. There's a haze of red still, but he blinks and it clears, and it's like he's seeing the hall all over again.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," Hank says, and there's a bit of a smile there. "So, uh. You went deviant, huh?"

He's so fucking tired. (And, evidently, picking up both Hank and Gavin's speech patterns.) Licking his lips anxiously (anxiously!), he nods. "Evidently. I've never..."

Voices catches. Hank strokes his hair.

"He was telling me I was going to - die. I was scared. I've never been scared."

Except, he had fallen. Except, the woman and the girl had bolted across the highway. Except, Hank had nearly fallen. Except, the deviant in the tower had ripped his heart out. Except, the Tracis had just wanted to live. Except, Chloe had looked up at him and trusted.

"I've never been so scared."

Hank huffs a laugh. "Welcome to the world of mortal fuckin' terror." Gently, he nudges Connor; they get to their feet. Hank dusts him off, brushes the tears from his face. "What next?"

Connor closes his eyes again. "I don't know," he says.

Task: unknown

Stress levels: 24%

Status: safe

"I don't know," he says, and smiles.