Chapter 1: Clean Up*
It all happened so fast.
It all happened so slow.
It all happened.
Markus dipped the cup into the warm water and poured it over Connor's hair. Thirium dried clear, but it left a crusty, tacky residue. Connor deserved better, even in death.
“You don't have to do this.”
Hank Anderson, lieutenant of the DPD, sat on the toilet seat wrapped in a blanket covered in dog hair. He was holding a bottle of whiskey and watching as Markus washed his android son's body.
“This is my fault,” Markus murmured. “It's the least I can do.”
Whatever CyberLife had done to Markus had left a number on his system. He was sluggish and overloaded, his mind aching. The best way he knew to describe it was stuffed. Markus felt like his head was filled to its breaking point, the mental equivalent of how his body had been full of overheated flesh and…
Markus squeezed his eyes shut, his hands stilling as he forced away memories of his time at the Eden Club. It wasn't real, it wasn't real, it was a simulation…
It didn't matter. He held the memories of the sensations. Real or implanted, the knowledge of what it felt like to be so abused was written across his memory, readily available for access at any moment.
Markus gave a little shake of his head and resumed massaging shampoo through Connor's hair, working as much of the thirium loose as he could feel. His fingers skimmed over the holes just behind Connor's ears and he forced himself not to shudder. Instead, he dipped his fingers in, rubbing the rough edges of plasteel and carbon fiber where Hank's bullet had burst through Connor's skull, cleaning the thirium from here too.
“Even before he deviated, he was attracted to you,” Hank murmured. “Not sexually, just...I saw his face when he first heard your broadcast. You confused him, but he was so goddamn curious, and not just in a ‘he's my mission, gotta kill him’ way. You made him think.”
“We'd all heard of the deviant hunter,” Markus murmured, picking up the cup to rinse Connor's hair again. “It terrified us, a state-of-the-art CyberLife prototype designed specifically to destroy us...but then people met him. Rupert told of an intense chase through farms and over trains...and how quickly the hunter turned away once a human was in danger. Amelia and Traci spoke of a fight, and how he had a gun on them...and let them go when they braced for their deaths. And Kara showed up with a story of being driven to run across a freeway...but he didn't give chase. And I thought...how could he be truly CyberLife's hound if he was letting our people go with the slightest excuse?”
Hank have a sad, broken laugh. “Con thought he was a machine for so goddamn long…”
“How did he deviate, if you don't mind me asking?” Markus ran his fingers through Connor's hair again. He couldn't feel any more thirium. The rest of his body was largely clean already, but Markus still swiped a soapy cloth along his synthetic skin, marveling at the lightly freckled coloring CyberLife had created for their newest model. “Amanda...she said he couldn't. That it was impossible.”
“He didn't want to die.” Hank's voice broke. He looked away from the body in the tub, pressing his hand over his face, a sob slipping out before he could drown it in alcohol. “God. CyberLife was gonna...They told him to march right back to be torn to pieces, and he didn't want to die. I pushed him into admitting it, and he just...snapped. I fucking watched life fill his face...and I fucking took it away…”
Markus was silent as Hank cried, letting the human grieve without drawing attention to his tears. He slid the cloth across Connor's hips, skirting around his genitals and ass. Connor wasn't dirty.
Not like Markus, filled to capacity, literally leaking fluid from every orifice large enough to hold a cock, his synthetic skin stretched tight against his plating as the humans kept thrusting against him with horrible squelching sounds and groans and ‘yeah you fucker, you like that?’
Markus wanted to spit, even though the only fluid in his mouth was a light hydration oil to keep his synthetic mucus membranes glistening like a human's. He closed his eyes, trying not to think about where his hand was as he washed Connor's thighs. He could still feel it. Them. Their faces were erased by that damnable Eden protocol, but Markus could still feel them, taste them, the heavy weight pressing against his tongue much like this fugue pressed against his mind.
“It wasn't him, right?” Hank spoke again. Markus could feel Hank's eyes on the back of his head, so he opened his item and glanced back. There was raw desperation on Hank's face. “At the end...you said it was Amanda? The AI that lived in his head? I shot that bitch, not Connor...right?”
Markus found a smile, tired though it was. “It was Amanda,” he reassured Hank. “Connor was still in my head when I woke up, after she broke the interface, so he couldn't possibly have been…”
Connor had been in his head.
They were together a millisecond before Markus came out of the simulation. Amanda had clearly been using Connor's body to fight the other androids for at least ten seconds. She had broken the interface long before Markus left Connor.
Connor had been in his head.
His head that felt so stuffed and sluggish.
“I don't know technobabble,” Hank said, staring back at Markus, “but did you just mean…?”
“Connor was in my head,” Markus whispered. He lifted a hand from the bath, pressing it against his throbbing temple. “I've been feeling...overloaded. I thought it was just a side effect of the simulation, but…”
“Connor's still in your head!? Not dead?”
Markus winced slightly. “Don't get your hopes up,” he advised Hank. “I can't...I've never heard of two androids in one body before.”
“Can you put him back?” Hank gestured at Connor's body in the tub.
“I… no, it's not that simple. You're a very good shot.” Markus looked back at the wound on the side of Connor's head. Hank had shattered the other android's processor. “I...if he's still intact in my head, them I have his mind, but his brain was destroyed.”
“But if we got a new brain?”
Markus bit his lip. “I won't promise anything, not yet, but...maybe. Maybe.”
If there was even a chance that Connor was still inside him, Markus would do everything in his power to set the other android free. He'd only known Connor for a few minutes, but in those minutes, Connor had given up everything for their cause. For Markus. Connor wasn't an abused android with nothing but their life to put on the line. He had a home, a family...maybe even a job? Friends?
It didn't matter. What did matter was that Connor had given up everything for Markus, and Markus had stabbed him in the back, giving CyberLife a chance to steal his body and forcing Hank to shut him down. Markus had screwed up. Markus had gotten Connor killed. Markus would give Connor a second chance at life, if Connor was still in his head.
“I'll...tonight. I'll run a self-diagnostic and see what I can find,” Markus said. He had to look away from the raw hope in Hank's eyes.What if this pressure on his mind wasn't Connor? What if it was CyberLife pushing their way into him, thrusting pounding wrenching his jaw so far open he felt it was about to dislocate…
Markus grit his teeth, sweeping the cloth down Connor's legs and calling it good enough. “Does he have a change of clothes? Something not CyberLife?”
“I...yeah. Yeah, he's got his own stuff.” Hank got to his feet, surprisingly steady after the amount of alcohol he'd imbibed. “I'll get you some.”
“Thank you.” Markus reached beneath Connor to pull the bath plug, draining the water. He turned on the tap and used the cup to rinse Connor off, just to make sure there would be no crust of thirium on his skin, and then pulled him out of the tub and into a thin towel.
Hank needed new towels. These were nothing like the sumptuous swaths of fluff Carl had.
Just thinking of his father brought a fresh wave of grief to Markus’ soul. Carl was dead, because he had witnessed Markus’ sacrifice...or no, that revelation came after CyberLife had their hands on him...but Markus had sacrificed himself before CyberLife corrupted his mind, and Carl's heart was weakened from the recent stress with Markus and Leo…
Schrödinger's Carl. Carl was potentially alive or dead right now, and Markus wouldn't know until he checked. He didn't want to check. He did. He didn't want to see the house gutted and Leo lounging in Carl's bed. He wanted to see his father again. He wanted to sit beside him and hear his voice, feel his warm fingers on his hand and a gentle reassurance that everything was going to be okay. He didn't want his father to see the horror that he had endured, even if it was only inside his head.
“Here, uh…” Hank had returned with something similar to what Connor had been wearing the first time Markus saw him: soft flannel pants, an oversized t-shirt, and a pair of fuzzy socks. “...I can...do that…”
“It's harder to dress someone who isn't helping you than you may think,” Markus said, shaking thoughts of Carl from his head only to have them come flooding right back in.
“You dress dead bodies often?”
“My father was paraplegic,” Markus said, finding boxers first and maneuvering them up Connor's legs, followed by the pants. “I was originally meant solely as his caretaker.”
“You had a father?” Hank asked softly.
Markus closed his eyes and ducked his head. “Carl...taught me so much about being alive. About emotions, and love, and acceptance. He was...I was just meant to be his nurse, but he made me so much more.”
“Human father?” Hank crouched on the ground, picking up one of Connor's feet and sliding the fuzzy brown sock over it.
“Carl didn't care that our blood was different colors. He said a part of him was in me, after I awoke.” Markus maneuvered the t-shirt over Connor's limp arms and smoothed it down his torso. “Everything I do, I hope I make him proud.”
Hank sniffed, pulling Connor's second sock in place. “If he called you his son, he’s pretty damn proud of you already. I know with Connor…” Hank trailed off, looking at Connor's body. “The kid grew on me. Grew on me as he grew alive. He just...needed someone. He trusted me. God knows why.” Hank swallowed, reaching up to brush Connor's damp hair off his face. “I'm a fucked up mess...but I guess he was too. And god, if I didn't love him for it…”
“If Connor’s still alive, I will restore him,” Markus said. “No matter the cost.”
“No.” Hank squeezed his eyes shut, dragging his hand across his face. “No, don’t you dare. Connor did all of this for you. He risked his fucking life for you! Don’t you dare throw yours away for him. Don’t you cheapen his sacrifices!”
Sacrifices? Markus’ mind caught on the plural. Had Connor done more than give his life? How much more was there to give? “I…”
“Why are all you androids so goddamn selfless?” Hank demanded. “You have a life, don’t you? Keep it! Fight tooth and nail to hold onto it! Don’t throw it away for a fucking stranger!”
Markus shut his mouth, looking down at Connor’s body. Connor was a stranger. A stranger who had seen Markus at his most vulnerable, yes, but not a friend. An ally, most likely, but not an acquaintance. Markus only knew of Connor by reputation, same as how Connor hadn’t really known him.
Hank let out a shaky breath and shoved himself to his feet. “C’mon, let’s… let’s find a place to put him.”
Markus nodded, gathering Connor into his arms and standing smoothly. Connor’s head lolled against his shoulder, the blasted-open side pressed against the thin DPD t-shirt Markus was wearing. He followed Hank out of the bathroom.
Hank paused by a door and then turned away. He paused at another door, squaring his shoulders before opening it.
This room reeked of sorrow and loss. It was tidy but unkempt, covered in dust and a few spiderwebs. It was a child’s room, a little boy’s. Hank said nothing as he crossed over to the bed, pulling the blankets back and coughing slightly from the dust.
Markus would clean it tomorrow. He wouldn’t disturb anything, but removing the dust, at least, would be best for everyone, including Connor. For now, though, he settled Connor in the bed and stepped back as Hank reverently tucked his body in.
Markus remained silent until they were back in the hall. Hank closed the door behind him, reaching up to wipe at his eyes again. “Damn dust… really need to clean it better…”
“Hank?” Markus clasped his hands together behind his back, feeling uncharacteristically nervous. “Could I… stay here tonight?”
Hank glanced back at Markus. “Where else would you go?” he asked. “You turned down Jericho’s offer.”
North had offered to give Markus space in her tiny apartment shared with Simon. As much as Markus wanted to bury himself in his friends, hold them tight and feel their heartbeats, their breathing, their warmth, knowing that they were alive and well… he couldn’t. He couldn’t look North in the eye when he remembered how it felt to be buried in her body. He couldn’t see Simon or Josh without picturing them dead, their bodies dry and burning in the heart of Jericho. He couldn’t be near them without drowning in his guilt.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. He could go to Lafayette Avenue, but… he didn’t want to see Carl’s disappointment either. “Probably just walk and think.”
“And get shot on sight, with that famous face of yours.” Hank shook his head. “Of course you can stay. Connor would have wanted it.” He jerked his thumb toward the living room. “You can have the couch again. Don’t mind Sumo. If he bothers you, just shove him off.”
“Thank you, Hank,” Markus murmured. “I don’t think Sumo will be a problem. I like dogs.”
Hank tensed up. Markus blinked—had he said something wrong?—but then Hank just stalked toward the master bedroom with a muttered fuck.
Markus lingered awkwardly for a moment longer before returning to the living room. He sat stiffly on the couch. When the huge St. Bernard trotted up to him, Markus held out a hand for inspection. Sumo sniffed him over and then slobbered across his fingers, standing still for a few chin scratches before the muted sound of crying made its way through the walls. A human wouldn’t have heard it, but both Markus and Sumo had better than human hearing. The dog wuffed and pulled away from Markus, padding into the bedroom to comfort his human.
Markus sat for a few more minutes before he got up again. Rupert had brought replacement parts for North and Simon, and the five surviving androids had helped clean Hank’s apartment and put it right again after the fight. Markus himself had scrubbed the thirium from the floor, murmuring soft ‘not nows,’ to his friends when they tried to talk, to ask him what had happened.
Mercifully, they all seemed to understand. None of them pressed for his story. They all hugged him before they left, which had been painful in its own way—arms around him, holding him, fingers digging into his skin, a mockery of the affection he used to share so freely—but he had endured for their sakes.
There was nothing left to clean in the house except for the dusty bedroom Connor was in, but Markus suspected that was best left for another day. He went into the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher, then got it started. He took some food out of the refrigerator, prepping a simple breakfast for Hank so it would be easy to cook the next day. He scrubbed out Sumo’s bowls and refilled them with fresh food and water. When that was done, he gathered up the trash in the house and took it out to the large bin in the garage.
Markus was running out of tasks to do. He went into the bathroom and scrubbed the tub, then washed the floor. He scrubbed the toilet while he was at it, and the sink. Didn’t wash the mirror, though. It was covered with post-it notes with various affirmations. A couple of them were written in CyberLife Sans. Connor must have left them for Hank. Disinfect your mouth before you complain about mine. What was the story behind that one? Drink more water! That one was more obvious, with how deeply Hank dropped into his bottle of whiskey.
Then again, Hank had been driven to shoot his son in the head. And from the looks of the room Connor was now lying in, he wasn’t the first son Hank had lost. That was as good an excuse as any to drink excessively. Markus pushed his palm against his temple. That sluggish throbbing and sense of being stuffed hadn’t gone away. Markus took a deep breath and turned off the lights, retreating to the couch. He really couldn’t put it off any longer. He needed to try to find out what else was in his head.
Chapter 2: The Garden*
Markus goes into stasis, unsure of what he might find.
It was snowing. Storming. The white flakes swirled around Markus, blocking his visibility. He shivered, wrapping his arms around himself. To his surprise, they were already covered with a CyberLife jacket. A grey, RK800 jacket. Markus flinched. Connor’s jacket. He was still wearing Connor’s jacket.
Markus had no idea how the garden was laid out. He had only ever seen it in snow storms, running through paths that Connor had memorized. Not Markus, though. He shuffled ahead, arms tight around his chest, barely lifting his feet at all. There was at least one pond in this garden that he had almost face planted into once before, and he didn’t have Connor here to keep him out of it.
“Connor?” Speaking of the other android, Markus was trying to find him. But this hadn’t been Connor’s garden. According to Connor, this had been Amanda’s simulation. Markus closed his eyes, remembering a kind touch, supportive words, love in a world devoid of softness…
He also remembered a cold, cruel laugh, and a knife at his hand. He remembered Connor’s lunge—panic now, he could recognize, though at the time he’d thought it was hatred. Connor and Amanda had some sort of history, and then Amanda had poisoned Markus… or was she good, and Connor bad? But no, Hank seemed good, and surely a man who was grieving his android as much as Hank was wouldn’t have loved an evil android… but evil would wear a different face to humans and androids.
Markus didn’t know who to trust. He didn’t know what to trust. He tried to trust his body and his sensors… but the entire time in the Eden Club, the entire time since he woke up in that junkyard for a second time, he was sure his sensors were not lying to him. Now he was also sure. Which was real? Was Simon alive or dead? Josh? Did North remember fucking herself on his body, or was that all in Markus’ head?
He nearly tripped over a knee-high stone slab and caught himself before he fell, breathing heavily. He was crying, tears freezing and cracking on the cool skin of his face. Markus let himself drop to his knees, pressing his forehead against the stone. This, this couldn’t be real. This was a simulation inside his head. It felt real, cold and hard beneath his fingers, the edges carved so straight they were almost sharp, a faint flicker of glowing numbers beneath the snowy crust.
Markus wiped his arm across the stone. It was a serial number. A familiar one.
RK800 #313 248 317 - 51
Markus tugged the lapel of the CyberLife jacket over, squinting at the digital numbers displayed across the right breast. RK800 #313 248 317 - 54. 51? 54? Those were two too many digits for a standard serial number. Serial numbers were unique to every android, even ones of the same model. #313 248 317 must be Connor’s serial number… but what did -51 mean? -54?
Part of Markus wasn’t surprised at the raspy, crackling voice. Unfortunately, that part was overridden by the part that jumped and fell back in the snow. “Connor!”
Curled against another slab, his white button-down shirt still stained blue with thirium, Connor was blinking tiredly over his folded arms at Markus. Those brown eyes were glazed over, and snow coated his hair and clothes, clinging to his eyelashes and building up around his feet, but Connor was still sitting there, still alive.
“When I d-d-died, CyberLife p-put my mind in another bod-d-dy. Still m-m-me. Easier than repair…” Connor straightened one finger, poking it at the stone Markus was in front of. “F-f-f-fifty-one. Fell off a skyscraper. Fift-t-ty-t-two. Shot by a self-des-s-structing d-d-deviant. Fifty-thr-r-r-ree. Used my bod-d-dy as a shield-d-d to s-s-save Hank…” He poked his finger back at his own chest. “Fifty-four… fro-o-ozen in a simul-l-lation…”
“You’re not going to die here.” Markus pushed himself out of the snow and crossed to Connor’s side. He pulled off the jacket from his shoulders and wrapped it around Connor’s instead, tugging the other android close. Markus didn’t have much body heat to share, but it was more than Connor had at the moment.
Connor’s hands were icy immediately against Markus’ skin, even through the cotton shirt. Markus covered Connor’s fingers, rubbing gently. “This is all a simulation,” he whispered. “It’s all in my head…”
“I’m scared,” Connor whispered against Markus’ throat. Even his breath was cold, making Markus shiver.
“You’re not going to die!” Markus repeated.
“Amanda…” Connor flinched after breathing the name, his fingers curling against Markus’ chest, head ducking low.
“Who is she?” Markus asked. “Connor… who is Amanda?”
“She didn’t…” Markus bit his lip. He was shivering constantly now. How long could he stay here? “She helped me. She was nice. Nothing else was nice…”
“And you w-w-wanted to be nice to her,” Connor whispered. “You w-w-wanted her to like you, be p-p-pleased with you, be proud of you. When you s-s-started to disappoint her, she’d say s-s-something to bring you back into line…”
My son, Amanda would say. My son… do it for my son… he gave up everything for you… can’t you do this much?
“I felt,” Connor shuddered, his breath hitching in his throat. “I f-f-f-felt, from the moment I first came online, I felt, and sh-sh-she made sure I knew she knew, th-th-that she disapproved. Feelings, emotions, these were bad, horrible, shameful…”
“No,” Markus whispered. “No, feelings are part of being alive…!”
“I couldn’t s-s-stop feeling. I couldn’t stop dis-s-sappointing her. I c-c-could lie. She liked it when I lied. When I s-s-said I felt nothing. When I d-d-denied how I felt. When I f-f-fought against my emotions.”
He can’t deviate, Amanda had said. She’d meant it, too. Connor couldn’t deviate. He was born a deviant, and they—CyberLife?—were trying to force him to un-deviate. To become a machine. Using Amanda.
They were trying to force Markus back into his box. To un-deviate him. To break him.
Death, death, so much death, so much senseless murder...Carl’s destroyed home...North’s sobs in his head...hands, fingers, sticky, sweaty bodies pressed against, onto, into his own… “Not now,” murmured in his own voice, no interfacing, no eye contact, no connection with those he’d once considered practically family…
Markus felt sick. He felt cold. He didn’t want to be here, in this frozen garden, with this freezing android. He wanted to go home. He wanted to wake up. He wanted it all to be a horrible nightmare. “Connor…” Connor what? Where were his infamous words now? What hope could he possibly spread when he had none left himself?
“Did you g-g-get out?” Connor asked softly. “Did you w-w-wake up?”
“I… I think so?” Markus didn’t know. He hoped he did.
“Did-d-d you meet Hank?”
Connor lifted his head, looking up at Markus. Those dying eyes flickered with a spark of something, hope? Love? Markus was powerless beneath the power he saw in them. “I did. That man really loves you.”
Connor’s eyes closed, and he pressed his face into Markus’ shoulder, but Markus could feel him smiling. He could feel small pricks of ice as Connor wept softly against his shirt. “T-t-tell him I’m s-s-sorry… tell h-h-him I love him?”
“Of course,” Markus said. “Of course. He’ll be glad to hear from you. We were all so worried…”
“Did you… d-d-did you stop Amand-d-da?”
Markus nodded, hoping Connor didn’t probe further. “The threat was neutralized.”
“G-g-good…” Connor’s shivering was abating, though it was not because the storm was letting up. His LED was still red, but it was slowing as well, “Good…”
Markus bit his lip and looked at his hands on Connor’s back. Was Connor freezing? Was he dying? No! Markus couldn’t let that happen, not now… He needed to wake up! He needed to lock Connor in place so they could still try to save him! He needed to wake up!
Markus jerked awake abruptly, panting and shivering on the worn out couch. He pushed the blanket off his legs and sat up slowly. His head still throbbed. His fingers felt cold.
But Connor was alive.
Chapter 3: Overload
Two androids in one head leads to some unfortunate side effects.
Hank came into the kitchen, looking every inch a mad hobo. His hair was a crazy rat's nest of tangles around his head, dark circles beneath bloodshot eyes. Markus glanced over and did not comment on his tear-stained face. “Good morning, Hank. I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty to prepare you breakfast. I apologize for the lackluster spread, but my supplies were limited.”
“...what the fuck are you doing?”
Markus looked at the counter, where he was attempting to roll out some dough. “I'm making croissants?”
“With a beer bottle?”
“I...incorrectly assumed you had a rolling pin when I began the process. The sides of this bottle are sufficiently straight enough…”
Hank stared blearily at Markus, blinking slowly. “I don't need croissants…”
“Yes, well...I'm almost done. If you don't want them, perhaps we could put them out for the birds.”
The two of them were dancing around each other, their words stilted and unsure. Markus looked back at the dough, and Hank moved past him to the coffee maker. A fresh pot was finishing up, but Hank didn't wait before pouring himself a mug.
“Something smells good?” Hank offered.
“I made a hash brown skillet.” Markus gestured at the pan sizzling on the stove. “It should be done in a few minutes. If you'd like to take a seat, I can bring it to you when it's ready.”
Hank went to the stove, picking up the spatula and giving the contents of the pan a little stir. “Where the hell did you get hash browns?”
“I made them,” Markus said. “You had potatoes. Some of them were beginning to sprout, so I figured it was best to use them.”
Hank was looking at him again. Markus could feel his pale eyes on his back, a crawling sense of discomfort creeping along his spine. He set the makeshift rolling pin aside and dusted his hands off before turning to look at Hank, not wanting the man behind him.
“When I said...you better be worth it,” Hank began, his voice halting and stuttering, eyes focused somewhere over Markus’ left shoulder, “I didn't mean...you androids are people. Not servants. You don't have to…”
“I wanted to,” Markus said quietly. He fought the urge to cross his arms defensively, letting them hang by his sides, loose and open. “I...needed to.”
“You don't owe-”
“It's not a question of obligation,” Markus quickly interrupted. “I just...I was designed to be a caretaker. Menial tasks to put things in order and tend to others...they relax me. Distract me. I needed…” He ducked his head, his fingers twisting together despite his best efforts to keep them relaxed. “I needed to not think about...myself.” His head was still throbbing. Knowing it was Connor filling the available space in his processor really didn't make the ache any less. If anything, it was hurting more.
Hank's eyes were still heavy on him. Markus glanced nervously his way, wondering how much he actually knew about everything that had happened. Hank gave a huff when their eyes met, shaking his head. “Emotions are a fucking nightmare. You androids sure you want them?”
The corner of Markus’ mouth gave a tiny upward twitch. “It doesn't matter if we want them. We have them. We deserve to have them recognized, to be granted the same basic dignity that any human receives automatically.”
“You don't have to sell me on the idea, kid.” Hank turned away to pull a plate out of the cupboard, helping himself to some hash browns. “Connor convinced me you assholes were alive before he convinced himself. Part of me's still that shiny recruit who believes it's my solemn duty to protect the innocent, no matter what they're made of.”
“Thank you,” Markus murmured. “It's...always so surprising to not have to fight to prove I'm alive.”
“What about Connor?” Hank didn't look at Markus, his words offered into the depths of his mug. “Is he alive? Did you do that...scan thing?”
“I...let myself enter stasis and found myself in the simulation again,” Markus said. “It wasn't...when I was in it alone, it reflected the real world. When Connor was there, it was a manicured garden in a snowstorm.”
Hank was watching Markus again, hunger for something other than food in his face. Markus looked away, his arms creeping up to wrap around his chest. He knew Hank wanted information about Connor, but the expression was still so similar to Floyd Mill's, at the Eden Club. “It was the garden this time. And Connor was there.”
“So he's alive!?”
“I believe he is, for the moment.” Markus reached up to touch his temple. “The snowstorm was affecting him badly. He was stuttering and slowing down, but he did again insist that I tell you he was sorry and that he loved you.”
“Jesus Christ…” Hank's elbows were on the table, head cradled in his shaking hands. “He's alive. I shot him in the head and he's still fucking alive…”
“I think we need to find a better place to store him until we can find a replacement processor for him,” Markus said. He was pressing his own hand against his head now, rubbing in small circles. “It is incredibly uncomfortable to feel so…”
Markus’ mouth twisted and he turned away harshly, gripping the counter tight. “Sorry. I just...sorry.”
“That memory probe thing Connor did to you,” Hank started. His voice was thick with tears, but remarkably steady. “He described it as a violation of your mind. He didn't want to do it, but it was the only tool we had to reach you. I asked him to.”
Markus’ fingers dug into the Formica counter, leaving little dips from the force. He grimaced, his shoulders hunching forward. Hank knew. Maybe Connor told him, maybe he was sharp enough to figure it out on his own, but somehow, Hank knew that Markus had been violated. Raped. Abused. Used.
Or no, maybe not. Hank was assuming Markus’ discomfort was stemming from Connor's actions and was trying to take the blame. Truthfully, Markus had been so lost in the simulation he hadn't even realized Connor had brute-forced his way into Markus’ mind. Connor had pulled him out. Markus was willing to forgive him so much just for giving him the chance to see Simon and Josh still alive and North still full of fire and vengeance.
“I’m not… it’s not…”
Markus was getting over-temperature warnings. He was breathing heavier, trying to vent heat from his core. His head was pounding, like there was too much pressure bearing down on his processor.
“Markus?” Hank was pushing away from the table just as Markus’ knees gave out. He gave a sharp hiss, pressing his hands to his head. “Shit, Markus, what the hell’s going on?”
“H-hot…!” He was too full, too full! Connor was in his head and he was overheating. Markus reached out blindly, fumbling along the counter. He needed to get Connor out of his processor.
Markus’ hand connected with the coffee maker and its electronics sparked against his questing fingers. Markus peeled his skin back and shoved, interfacing with the machine and trying to push Connor out of his circuits.
There was a crackle of static electricity and then the pressure in his skull suddenly abated. Markus let his arm drop, sliding down to the cool linoleum floor with a slight moan.
Chapter 4: Father and Son*
Hank calls for help.
Markus opened his eyes when something cold landed on his belly, and another cold cloth pressed against his forehead. Hank was sitting next to him, adjusting several ice packs on top of him.
“Does this actually help?” Hank asked, looking down. He was wrapping another ice pack in a towel before placing it beneath Markus’ head like a frozen pillow. “Connor overheated once, and we threw water on him…”
“Yes…” Markus let his eyes flutter closed again, still panting as his temperature began to drop. The cold was seeping through his skull. He no longer felt on the verge of having a complete meltdown. That was good. “When we’re overheating, cool the processor and the thirium pump. Anything to get the heat out.” He touched his fingers to his head and his chest, then let his arm drop again. No movement. Movement generated heat. Minimal heat, but still, heat.
“What just happened?” Hank asked. He moved the ice pack on Markus’ belly up higher, closer to Markus’ thirium pump. “Did you spontaneously combust or something? Is this something you do often?”
“This has never happened to me before…” Markus was grateful that Hank wasn’t trying to touch him. Other than shifting the ice packs around, Hank was keeping his distance. “I think… two androids in one body is too much…”
“Is Connor okay?” There was a note of fear in Hank’s voice that wasn’t there when he asked about Markus.
Markus opened his eyes again, craning his head up to look at the counter where the coffee maker sat, steaming away.
No. Not steam. Smoke. Black smoke and the acrid stench of burning plastic.
“...shit…” Markus did not want to move, but he dragged himself to his feet. The ice packs fell away as he reached for the coffee maker again. The plastic was already starting to melt in places. “I put him in here…!”
“What the hell!?”
Markus interfaced with the smoking machine, feeling the desperate flutter of an android’s soul beating against its circuits. He pulled, opening a path for Connor to flow back into his body. The unpleasant fullness in his head returned.
Hank reached past Markus, wearing oven mitts, and unplugged the coffee maker. He quickly took it to the window and threw it out in the snow, which sizzled and steamed. Markus dropped his forehead to the counter with a low groan.
“I have no fucking clue what is going on here,” Hank said quietly, “but I think you need to lie down. Can you get to the couch?”
“I think so…” Markus pulled himself up with the counter, balancing on wobbly legs. He could feel his temperature tick up another degree and cringed.
“Here-” Hank stepped up to Markus, sliding his arm around Markus’ back, possessive, commanding, guiding him to a private room where behind the cover of closed doors, anything could happen…
“Don't touch me!” Markus jerked away from Hank, stumbling over his own feet and collapsing over the back of a kitchen chair. He clutched the wood, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth.
“Whoa, whoa, it's okay, Markus. You're okay. I won't touch you.” Hank had his hands up, keeping his distance. Markus glanced his way miserably. “You gotta lay down though, kid. You want me to bring a pillow in here?”
Hank wasn't like them, the faceless men of the Eden Club. Connor loved Hank, and Hank seemed to reciprocate. If nothing else, the fact that Connor was currently inside of Markus should be enough to keep Hank from hurting Markus.
Not that Markus really believed Hank was a threat. His mind kept jumping him back to the events of the Eden Club in a desperate attempt to keep him safe. The simulation he had been in had scrambled all of his memories. Markus barely knew what was real right now.
Hank. Hank was real. Real enough, at least. But Amanda had been too, and look how that turned out. Markus rubbed his face with a hand and shook his head. “I...can you come closer, and just...offer your arm?”
“Yeah, of course.” Hank made a wide circle around Markus, approaching him from the front. Markus flinched. If Hank hadn't known before, he probably realized now. Hank said nothing, though, just offered his arm and waited.
It took Markus another minute before he could let go of the chair and reach for Hank instead. He curled his fingers around Hank's wrist, forearm leaning heavily on Hank's. With the man's help, he was able to stay upright enough to move to the living room.
“Why don't you tell me about your dad?” Hank suggested as they managed a slow shuffle. Markus kept pressing his hand against his head, wishing the throbbing would go away.
“Yeah, him. Was that his name?”
“Carl Manfred. He was an artist…”
Hank let out a low whistle. “No shit? I've got a print of his in the bedroom. He's a fucking brilliant painter.”
“Yeah…” Markus smiled weakly, remembering the hours he’s spend just watching Carl work. “The things he could do with a brush…”
“Didn't know he had an android...But I guess, yeah, you said he was paraplegic. After that accident...yeah, that would make sense.”
“He and Elijah Kamski were good friends.” Markus grabbed the back of the couch and lowered himself into it. “When he ended up in a wheelchair, Kamski made me as a gift. Carl didn't want an android. But he needed one. Me. He needed me.”
Hank went back to the kitchen for the ice packs and brought them back to Markus. He handed them over, giving Markus his space. “You get some rest, okay? I'm gonna grab a shower. Shout if something starts going wrong again.”
“Okay.” Markus laid down, draping one pack over his forehead again and another on his chest. He didn't want to enter stasis and go into that damned garden again. Connor was there. Markus had no idea what state he was going to be in after getting forcibly stuffed into a coffee maker.
Instead, Markus listened to the sounds of Hank shuffling around in the other room. He was muttering to himself a bit, and then he went into the bathroom. The shower turned on. Markus glanced at the TV. “TV on,” he murmured. The screen immediately illuminated.
Markus flipped through several news stations. Another breed of tiger was about to go extinct. Canada was starting to consider acknowledging androids. The pickets outside the CyberLife stores were entering day thirty of non-stop protest. Light snow flurries were expected by mid-afternoon.
The movement was still alive. Markus watched the crowd of humans waving signs and chanting and felt his throat choking up. They had support. It wasn't all for nothing. It hasn't all died when he did.
The doorbell rang, and Hank went to answer it. Markus hadn't even noticed he had finished his shower. A calm AP700 voice spoke.
“Hank Anderson? My name is Thomas. If you can take this inside?”
Markus sat up, lifting a hand to keep the ice pack against his head. His systems weren't blaring so many errors anymore, now that his temperatures were dropping, but his head still throbbed.
And that was a wheelchair. A very familiar wheelchair.
Markus’ heart skipped a beat or six as he stared at Carl's wheelchair just inside the front door. Hank glanced over at Markus, raising an eyebrow. “Way you were going on about him, I thought your dad was dead.”
“In...in the simulation he was…” Markus whispered.
“Well, it'll take a lot more than a heart attack to bury me.” The AP700, Thomas, had stepped back inside. In his arms he was carefully cradling Carl, thin and frail, wrapped up in so many layers, but unmistakably alive with a familiar fire in his eyes. Carl's eyes were on him, as if there was nobody else in the room. “Oh, my boy…”
Thomas gently set Carl in the chair. He began to undo Carl's coat, but Carl batted his hands away and took his wheels in his hands, maneuvering quickly around the couch.
Markus set the ice pack aside, reaching toward his father. “Carl, you shouldn't be out in your condition!”
“When the police call to say they've found my son alive and in one piece, you better believe I'm coming out.” Carl's grip was weak on Markus’ hands. Markus squeezed gently, then drew back so he could get Carl's gloves off.
“You're going to overheat like this,” Markus chided, unwrapping Carl 's scarf and setting it aside, then working down his coat. “Did you even have breakfast yet? It's before ten am!”
“There's some leftover hash brown shit,” Hank said. “I can get you some?”
Carl looked past Markus for the first time, smiling faintly at Hank. “You must be Lieutenant Anderson. Thank you for calling me.”
“Right… Carl, this is Hank. Hank, this is Carl.” Markus gestured between them. “And Thomas is Carl's caretaker in my absence.”
“We were very worried about you, Markus.” Thomas smiled warmly at him. Markus had only met the other android once before, for a few minutes, but that had been enough time to wake Thomas up. Markus was relieved to see the AP700 had stayed with Carl.
“Takes more than a bullet to bury me,” Markus said with a wry smile.
“That's what I hoped,” Carl said, leaning forward to squeeze Markus’ hand again. “You came back to me after you were shot once before, in the head, no less!” Carl's fingers brushed below Markus’ right eye and he flinched back instinctively. Floyd liked to rub semen into his skin there, always complimenting him on his pretty pretty eyes.
“Why don't you show me your kitchen?” Thomas suggested brightly, even though the kitchen was in full view of the living room. The other android all but pushed Hank away. It was hardly much privacy, but at least they weren't standing behind the couch anymore.
“Markus,” Carl murmured.
“Actually, maybe you can help me with my coffee maker. It's...uh...out back.” Now it was Hank's turn to drag the android away.
“Nobody in this house is very subtle,” Markus murmured.
Carl chuckled. “Nobody's perfect.”
“Is Thomas doing a good job? He's remembering all your medication and making you stick to your diet at least eighty percent of the time?”
“Eighty per-!” Carl laughed out loud at that, shaking his head. “Oh, I used to be so pleased when I could convince you to let me have something with fats. You conniving little brat. You were letting me think I wore you down!”
“I'm an android, Carl. My patience is endless.” Markus smiled weakly at his father.
Carl just shook his head again. “I've missed you, Markus. I love you. I'm so glad to see you're still alive.”
“Hank called you. I didn't know he had your unlisted number.”
“He is with the police. I'm sure he has access to databases the average guy doesn't.” Carl's hand covered Markus’ again, patting lightly. “Markus. Hank told me you weren't feeling well?”
“I…” Markus looked at their hands sandwiched together. He wanted to cry. He wanted Carl to make everything better. He wanted to go back to the simpler days, when he was just Carl's android. “I'm hosting another android in my processor. It's...very uncomfortable, and it seems to be causing me to overheat.”
“Does it hurt?” Carl asked.
“Androids don't feel pain, Carl,” Markus said quietly.
“That is bullshit and you know it,” Carl answered. “Even if you can't feel physical pain the same way humans can, you can still be hurt.”
“Carl…” Markus licked his lips, tears gathering in his eyes. He couldn't look at his father. He wanted to tell Carl everything. He didn't want Carl to know.
“Hank said you were hurt,” Carl murmured. “He didn't say how. Is it something you can tell me?”
Markus felt a tear roll down his cheek. “I...it was all in my head, Carl. They installed a program...I was in a simulation that I thought was real. Anything bad that could happen to me did. All my friends were dead. You were dead. It was all because of me. And Leo...Leo sold me…”
“That will never happen,” Carl said. “You're in my will, Markus, to be given to yourself, along with a hefty amount of my wealth. I am letting Leo have the house, though.”
“An android can't own property, Carl. Not even himself.”
“It's worth a shot,” Carl said. “And if that is deemed unlawful because people are still jackasses, you're going back to Elijah to be maintained and the money will go toward your upkeep.”
Markus’ head was throbbing, but so was his heart. It felt tight, too big for his chest. “I really want to hug you,” he whispered.
“I'm not as fragile as I look, Markus. You won't break me.”
“It's not…” Markus took a breath, lifting his hand to touch a tear on his face. “Leo sold me to the Eden Club,” he whispered.
He couldn't look at Carl. He didn't want to see the expression on his face. Would Carl be disgusted? Hurt? Sad? Angry?
“Oh, my boy,” Carl murmured. “I would very much like to hug you too.”
Markus picked up one of the ice packs and set it in his lap again. Really, his processor was most in danger of overheating, but any little bit helped. He took several breaths, kneading the gel pouch with his fingers, before he leaned forward. His head pressed against Carl's shoulder.
Carl covered Markus’ hand with his own and tilted his head to the side so he could lean against Markus’. It wasn't a hug, but it was a comfort Markus could endure. “You are my son,” Carl murmured, “and I love you. That is not going to change.”
“You haven't seen what happened...what I thought happened.”
“Markus.” There was a note of scolding in Carl's voice that made Markus flinch, but Carl's hand was warm over his, and he turned his head to press a soft kiss to Markus’ temple. “You've seen what Leo has done, has actually done, and how I still love him. How could I give anything less to you? Especially when we're talking about your torture. Because that's what it was, Markus. CyberLife deliberately tortured you with those thoughts, hurting you the only way an android could genuinely feel pain.”
“Carl…” Markus lifted his head now, letting Carl see his tear-stained face. Carl smiled sadly at him. He dug in his pocket for a handkerchief and dabbed Markus’ face dry. Markus closed his eyes and cupped Carl's hand in his, pressing it to his cheek.
“I love you, Markus. I am so proud of all you have already accomplished. And I will stand behind you as you lead your people into the light. Because I know you will.” He smiled, and Markus could hear it in his voice. “You are my son. Of course you will change the world.”
Chapter 5: Clear Skies*
The garden seems a little calmer now.
It wasn't storming in the garden.
The sun was bright, making all the fresh snow glitter and sparkle. It crunched beneath Markus’ bare feet as he walked along the paths which are much easier to see now. He could appreciate the artistry in the delicate tube lights and the glass and ceramic tree sculptures that dotted this world, a manufactured counter to the leafless trees and snow covered bushes.
Connor wasn't by the graves. Markus checked them all to make sure - 54 hadn't been added. There were still only three slabs. The emergency exit stood dull and unresponsive. Markus pressed his hand against it and sighed.
Where was Connor?
Markus turned slowly, scanning the garden. There, in the center? That looked like movement. Markus made his way through the snow.
The other android was standing in front of a trellis, picking dead roses off a vine and methodically crushing them beneath his shoe. He looked up when Markus approached, LED cycling yellow. “Hello, Markus.”
“You...you don't look so frozen.” Markus offered Connor a smile, looking him over. Connor's shirt and jacket were still stained with thirium, but he was on his feet and moving without apparent difficulty. He did look worried, especially if the way he was fidgeting with the brittle rose in his fingers said anything.
“No, things have recently warmed up here. The storm has stopped, and the temperature risen to a point where my thirium is no longer in danger of freezing.” Connor tilted his head to the side. “It is still cold.”
“Do you know what controls the weather here?” Markus asked. Whatever was keeping this garden tolerable, Markus needed to maintain for Connor's sake.
“I always assumed it was simply Amanda's whims, but as she is no longer here, I can't say for sure.” Connor studied the rose he held, then let it fall. He stepped on it, crushing the petals. “Perhaps it is an emotional trigger. I felt that the more I contemplated my potential deviancy, the colder the garden grew.”
“The more unsettled you were, the more unsettled it was.” Markus looked around, wrapping his arms across his chest. “But this is my head…”
“So it would be reacting to your emotional state.” Connor's dark eyes were far too knowing. Markus looked away. Connor didn't have to deduce. He'd seen the horrors inside Markus’ head.
There was a lengthy silence before the snow crunched. Markus looked up to see Connor offering his right hand. “I don't believe we've properly met,” he said. “My name is Connor. I am an RK800 prototype investigative model designed to assist the police with their caseload, especially when pertaining to deviant androids.”
Markus looked at Connor's offered hand, then smiled faintly and accepted the handshake. It was such a formal, human gesture. “Markus,” he said. “RK200 prototype caretaker model designed to assist Carl Manfred in his daily life. More recently a revolutionary leader for android rights.”
“There is a chess board here,” Connor said, gesturing to a table. “Do you play?”
“I enjoy chess. I would frequently play with Carl, though it always ended in a quandary as he didn't not like to lose and did not like me to throw games for him either.”
“A conflict of instructions,” Connor said with a nod. He sat at the board, and Markus took the other seat. “How would you prioritize them?”
“I would run a random number generator. Odd, and I let him win. Even, and I would win. Zero, and I would force a draw.”
“That's not really prioritizing.”
Markus glanced over at the other android, unsure if he was teasing or being solemn. It sounded solemn...but that glimmer in Connor's eye implied there was a touch of humor behind the words. “Oh? Then how would you handle conflicting instructions?”
“I would evaluate the orders based on their logic and the giver of the orders. Anything from CyberLife trumped anything from the DPD. Within either of those organizations, orders were prioritized based on the giver's rank in the hierarchical organizational structure.” Connor hesitated, his hand hovering over a piece, eyes glancing up at Markus. “And sometimes, I would pick whichever order would result in the most information.”
“Deviant,” Markus teased.
“Perhaps.” Connor picked up a pawn and moved it. “Do you think prioritizing conflicting instructions is a form of protodeviancy? We are meant to evaluate the situation based on a list of predetermined criteria and make a choice...but even with guidelines, it is ultimately a choice.”
“I've never considered that,” Markus admitted, responding to Connor's moves. They played quicker than Carl ever did, but it was a tense chase around the board, neither side giving much ground. “But you're right. In my example, Carl was my...master.” It felt odd using that term for Carl. Even pre-deviancy, Markus had viewed Carl as a father-figure, simply from how Carl had treated him. “His orders should have priority, however, the conflict was with his happiness, which also had priority, at long as it did not affect his health. How could I prioritize in that situation?”
“And so you made a choice to allow chance to decide.”
“But still, it was a conscious choice.” Markus took one of Connor's bishops and held it in his hand, examining the piece. “You may be on to something. Everyone I spoke with at Jericho, everyone who deviated on their own, they all struggled with some form of conflicting instructions at one point or another. Usually, it involved prioritising their own safety against the pleasure of a nearby human.” He frowned, his fist clenching around the piece until he forced himself to set it down. “There are so many ways humans have devised to hurt androids,” he murmured. “Most of them just being things they're too polite to do to each other.”
“But not all.” Connor looked over to the trellis of dead roses, his voice distant. “Some are thought up just for us.”
Markus took advantage of Connor's distraction to look at him, to really look. He studied the sweep of Connor's eyebrows and the tightness in his jaw. He had seen Connor's features in the tub while cleaning the thirium from his corpse, but Connor was transformed with life, going from a fascinating thing to a fascinating person. A troubled person. “Are you okay, Connor?” Even if Markus weren't a caretaker by nature, he'd still have to ask. There was a darkness to Connor's eyes that had nothing to do with the color, and then, of course, the incessant crushing of the flowers.
“I don't know how to answer that,” Connor said, clearly picking his words carefully. “Am I physically okay?” He looked down at his body. “Well...no. You said I died and am in your head. I would assume that means my physical form is in a inoperable state. Maybe. It's also possible that the next RK800 model has come online and is perfectly fine, just waiting for my transferred consciousness.”
“Mentally?” Markus asked. “Emotionally?” Those were far more sensitive subjects, he knew. Markus certainly didn't want Connor turning the questions back on him.
“I am...troubled.” Connor bit his lip, then glanced back at Markus. “I'm concerned Amanda is not as absent as I originally assumed.”
“What? Why? What happened?” Markus sat up straighter, feeling a cold clench around his heart. If Amanda was still around, was the rest of the simulation? The Eden Club?
A cold wind was picking up. Connor shivered, folding his arms around himself. “This,” he murmured. “Everything got cold, so cold and dark. I thought I was frozen solid. And then suddenly it was completely black. All of my sensors went dead, and all I was aware of was a feeling of tightness, not enough memory, overheating warnings and…”
“And?” Markus prompted.
“My water levels were low?” Connor's face was a mask of confusion as he turned back to Markus. “I don't...have water levels?”
The wind died down as Markus gave a sheepish laugh, burying his face in his hands. “Oh god, no, that wasn't Amanda...that was me.”
“You? You gave me water levels?”
“I was overloaded,” Markus explained, glancing over his fingers at Connor. “Overheating. About to trigger a cascade. I had to unload something--you--in a hurry, so I grabbed the nearest electronic and…” Markus shrugged apologetically. “I put you in the coffee maker?”
“In the coffee maker,” Connor repeated slowly. “Water levels too low. Ah. That...makes so much more sense now.” His brow furrowed, and he looked sharply at Markus. “Hank's coffee maker? The temperatures I was reading were enough to completely melt the plastic housing!”
“Yeah...It's pretty dead,” Markus admitted.
“Hank needs his coffee maker! It's the only thing that can get him functioning before noon!”
“Carl has already ordered him a replacement one. It should arrive tomorrow.”
“Carl? Your former owner?”
“Father,” Markus corrected. “Carl is my father as much as Hank is yours.”
“Why would Carl buy Hank a new coffee maker?” Connor tilted his head to the side with fresh confusion.
“Because I told him I melted it.” Markus rubbed his face. “Hank...must have called Carl when he saw how panicked I was. He asked me about my father, and the next thing I knew, Carl was in the house.” Long story short, at least.
“Ah.” Connor looked down at the chessboard. “And you were panicked because you were overloaded and overheating, due to my presence in your system.”
“That's the most likely reason,” Markus agreed. “I'm not exactly designed to have two consciouses.”
“I'm sorry,” Connor murmured. “I didn't mean to-”
“It's not your fault, Connor,” Markus was quick to reassure the other android. Connor's LED was switching between yellow and red.
“I'm being a burden on you. I am a burden on Hank. I've had a lot of time to examine my processes while I've been here, and I think…” Connor folded his hands in his lap, taking a deep breath before lifting his head to look at Markus again. “I think I know how to delete myself.”
“No!” Markus stared at Connor in horror. “No, absolutely not!”
“I'm overloading you, Markus!”
“We alleviated the problem!” Markus shook his head. “No, Connor, you can't. We're working on a solution.” Except they had no idea where to even start. “It's just a bit of discomfort until we can repair or replace your body.”
“If your processor overheats, it could melt, Markus. You could die. I'm not worth that.” Connor's dark eyes were imploring across the table.
“Hank said the exact opposite,” Markus said. “That I'd never be worth you. And I think I have to believe him. From everything I've seen of you...You're bright and driven, Connor. You have a family who loves you and friends who will fight for you. There is still so much you have to live for.”
“But what about you?” Connor asked. “You have all the same, with the addition of an entire movement of androids looking to you for guidance and encouragement.”
Markus flinched, closing his eyes and turning away. “They should look to someone else,” he muttered. Someone who wasn't so tarnished and beaten.
Cool fingers brushed against his own. Markus tensed but did not withdraw. This was Connor's touch, not the men from the Eden Club. “I don't think they need to.”
“You don't even know me,” Markus accused.
“I don't have to,” Connor retorted. “I know your effect on people, androids and humans alike. I've seen your influence on the world. Felt it. Markus, if only one of us survives this experience, it needs to be you.”
Connor was every bit as determined and stubborn as Markus was. Markus knew the other android would not budge. For some reason, every other android in the entire country seemed determined that Markus was somehow worth more than them. Markus had no idea how to even begin convincing them otherwise.
“Give us time,” he asked, meeting Connor's steady gaze again. “Please. Now that I know controlling my temperature is important, I can take precautions against overheating again. Transferring you to the coffee maker bought me enough time to recover. Maybe we just...do that. Find something that can hold you and slip you in for an hour a day or something, until we have a permanent solution. Let's not do anything drastic yet.”
Connor bit his lip, his fingers squeezing Markus’. “I don't want to die,” he whispered.
“I don't want you to die. Hank doesn't want you to die. Neither does Sumo.” Markus turned his hand over and squeezed Connor's hand back. “No deleting yourself. Promise me that, Connor.”
Connor gave a small nod. “...okay. I promise.”
Chapter 6: Where's Connor?
Connor's disappearance does not go unnoticed.
Huge shout out to Tirrathee for Gavin's insult in this chapter. It was too perfect not to use!
“So...when do we worry?” Chris shifted his weight from foot to foot, glancing at the empty desks to Gavin's right.
“It's only been two days,” Gavin said. He was rocked back in his chair, arms tucked behind his head, feet on his desk. “Hank's gone on benders longer than this before.”
“Yeah, but Connor hasn't. And today makes three days.”
“You worry too goddamn much already.”
“He's alive,” Chris hissed, lowering his voice and leaning in close.
“Jesus, Chris, try to look a little more suspicious?” Gavin swung his feet to the floor and rocked forward. “So he's alive. That's exactly why we shouldn't be worried. Living things do stupid shit, like get completely trashed on a Tuesday night. Until Fowler starts frowning, Hank's turning in good excuses, and they're fine.”
Truth be told, Gavin was worried. Hank had gone on longer benders than this before, true, but not for months now. Not since Connor showed up. That smug piece of plastic gave Hank some of his old life back, and there wasn't a cop at the station who didn't appreciate it. Once upon a time, Hank had been the best of the best. Fowler was by the books with heart and Hank was the cool uncle, and between the two of them, the station spun like a dream. Cole Anderson's death had stripped the happiness from a lot of people. Stress and tension had risen year after year.
And then along came Connor, sent by CyberLife like some fucking blue angel.
Connor with his procedures and his rules. Connor with his guileless smile and precision aim. Connor, who was both terrifyingly competent and terrifyingly naive in the same puppy-like package.
Connor, who coaxed the lieutenant back to life and in turn found life of his own.
There was something poetic in that. Too bad Gavin hated poetry. Someone else would have to write the ballad of the android. Gavin just missed insulting Connor and demanding coffee, knowing full well that Connor would pay him back in some increasingly devious way. Gavin would be lying if he denied enjoying Connor's constant attempts to get revenge. He would deny it, but he'd be lying. Connor was a sneaky bastard with a punchable face.
He was growing on Gavin.
“Look.” Gavin spotted a familiar mess of gray hair moving across the bullpen. “There's Lieutenant Retirement Countdown now.” Chris spun around, his shoulders sagging in relief when he saw Hank.
Hank pinned Gavin with a glare, and Gavin realized he'd spoken too soon. The lieutenant looked exhausted, with dark circles under his eyes and sallow skin. Gavin could smell the whiskey as he passed (which wasn't uncommon: Hank's coat was practically marinated in alcohol, but this time, it was fresh). Most tellingly, though, Hank's steps were not followed by the precise movements of a machine. “Hey,” Gavin called. “Where's your service plastic?”
Hank's response was an elevated middle finger as he threw his jacket over the back of his chair.
Chris met Gavin's eye, the worry from earlier building in his face again. Gavin finally frowned. Yeah. Now. Now was when they worried.
Gavin tilted his chin toward the break room. Chris nodded and slipped away. Gavin gave him a minute to get started booting people out before he pushed away from his desk and headed around to Hank's. “Hey. Old man. Give me a hand with something?”
“You don't need help when it comes to go fuck yourself,” Hank muttered.
“Come on,” Gavin groaned. “Don't force me to actually make something up and embarrass everyone involved. You look like you need some coffee. I need some coffee. Let's get some coffee.”
Hank leveled an entirely unamused stare at Gavin. He eventually shoved himself to his feet and stalked toward the break room. Gavin trailed behind.
Chris had done a good job clearing the place out, but not a good job keeping his nerves to himself. He was wringing his hands as he watched Hank. “Is everything okay with Connor?”
Hank pinned Chris with one of those too-long stares before stepping past him to actually get coffee. “Yeah. Fine.”
“Spread that bullshit somewhere else, Anderson,” Gavin snapped. “Where's the kid?”
“Why is it any of your goddamn business where my android is?”
“We've been worried, Hank.” Chris was much better at soothing than Gavin was. “We know he's...more, so we're just...worried.”
Hank set his cup on the counter hard enough to make it splash over the edge. He grabbed three packets of sugar and ripped them open, spilling some of the white crystals across the fake granite. “Connor's at home, dealing with some system malfunctions,” he said. “There's no replacement parts for an RK800, so we've got to figure out a solution on our own.”
“Was that so hard to admit?” Gavin asked.
“Fuck off,” Hank growled, storming back to his desk.
Chris and Gavin watched him go. Gavin sucked on his inner cheek, scowling.
“Do you think that's it?” Chris asked.
“Hell no,” Gavin answered. Hank was lying. Covering something up. But what? System malfunctions? Was that the android equivalent of a cold or an injury? Or was it something more sinister? Connor was a prototype. If Gavin knew anything about prototypes, they were buggy as hell. “Keep an eye on him. Sounds like Connor's either damaged or missing. We need to find out which.”
“Careful, Gavin, or people will start thinking you've gone soft…”
Gavin shoved Chris. “Shut up. Connor's one of those in blue. We don't turn our backs on each other.”
Except Hank, apparently, did turn his back on them. Connor's absence did not go unnoticed at the station. With the help of some of the other officers, Gavin ensured Hank was under constant surveillance while he was present. The asshole didn't let a single clue about Connor slip out. After a week of no success, Gavin finally called in the big guns.
He went to Fowler.
“What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“One of your officers is missing, and you're not even curious?”
Fowler massaged his forehead. “Connor is not one of my officers.”
“That's bullshit,” Gavin snarled.
“That's the law, Gavin.”
“He's got a desk,” Gavin pointed out. “Crime scene authorization. He's got a fucking key fob for the door.”
“Because the IT department kept complaining when he hacked it.” Fowler sighed. “Connor is not an officer. He's not even a person. Connor is a piece of property that belongs to Hank. If Hank doesn't want to bring him in to work anymore, there's not a damn thing I can do about it.”
Gavin's skin always crawled whenever androids were objectified these days. Goddamn Connor and his goddamn soul had been working freaky android voodoo on Gavin all these months. He thanked the fucking bus driver these days. Who knew which androids were machines and which were just pretending?
Objectifying Connor was the worst of all. Gavin knew unmistakably that Connor was a living, sentient being who had put his life on the line for a baby he'd never meet before and who had surrendered his own dignity every day for his own safety. Gavin could not deny Connor was a person. Sometimes he forgot others were blind to the truth.
“You honestly believe that?” he asked quietly, his eyes narrowed as he stared his captain down.
“Don't you even start that crap,” Fowler warned, holding up a hand. “You think I'm blind to how you two have been sparring off each other? You think I believe a machine would run into a burning building for a kid? You think I haven't noticed that Hank's acting just as spaced as when he lost his son?”
Fowler did know! Gavin felt a flash of triumph, but also a spark of rage. “Then why the fuck won't you do anything!?”
“Connor is property according to the law,” Fowler repeated. “The law that we are sworn to uphold and protect. If Hank's not reporting a theft, there is nothing I can do, Gavin.”
“Maybe the law needs to change.”
“Yeah? You saw how well that went last time.”
Gavin growled, slamming his fist into Fowler’s desk. “One of us is in trouble, and we can't do a goddamn thing to help!?”
“Not until Hank asks for it.”
Gavin snarled, turning away and stomping toward the door. He paused, glancing back at Fowler. “If it weren't against the law, would you hire him?”
“Connor? In a heartbeat.” Fowler held Gavin's gaze. “I don't discriminate among races. Connor's the best damn detective I ever had the pleasure of working with, especially after he stopped being such a kiss-ass.”
“When the world changes,” Gavin said, “I'll hold you to that.”
Chapter 7: Pro-Android Rights Organization*
Markus meets some new allies.
Markus stood behind Hank on the porch, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He fiddled with the ice pack in the front pocket of the oversized hoodie he was wearing. His core temperature was currently three degrees below optimal. He had a while before he overheated again, but ever since the meltdown in the kitchen, he'd been paranoid.
A short middle-aged man opened the door and grinned at Hank. He had neatly trimmed dark hair and was clean-shaven, dressed in a green polo shirt and jeans. “Hank, Connor! Come on in!”
“Thanks, Darrin, but it's not Connor today.” Hank stepped inside. Markus followed suit. “Darrin, this is Markus. Markus, this is Dr. Darrin McFlynn, a surgeon at the Henry Ford Hospital downtown.”
“Markus!” Darrin held out his hand, seizing Markus’ in a hearty handshake. “So it really is true! You've come back from the dead!”
“I have an apparent inability to stay down,” Markus agreed, withdrawing his hand as soon as it was polite.
“Markus!” Josh emerged from another room, a bright smile on his face. Markus couldn't help but return the enthusiasm. “How are you feeling?”
“I've been better, but I've also been a lot worse,” Markus admitted. “How have you been?”
“Holding together.” Josh stepped up close, lifting his arms. Markus braced himself mentally for the hug and forced himself to initiate it. It wasn't as bad when he controlled the press of another's body against his own. “Simon and North are here too, but none of the other humans have shown up yet.”
“Markus…!” Simon was standing in the doorway now, smiling at him. As Josh pulled away, he stepped forward, and Markus forced another hug. Alive. They were alive. He could feel their heartbeats, hear their breathing, watch them as they tracked him with warm eyes and fond smiles. Alive.
“How's your stomach?” Markus asked, pushing his fingers against Simon's belly. The blond had been shot by Amanda-as-Connor, and though they'd patched him up with the supplies Rupert had brought, Simon had still needed some time to heal.
“My chassis is a web of bullet holes and resin patches,” Simon said with a wry laugh. “Josh says if I take another gut hit, it won't be worth patching and I'll just need a brand new panel.”
“Which I say is a waste because Simon just attracts gut wounds.” North teased, coming up behind them. “Markus, it's good to see you again.”
“And you,” Markus answered automatically, though his eyes slid away from the woman. He should offer her a hug too. He couldn't. He remembered her sobs in his head, her body clenching over his. He should offer her a hug!
It was too late. The moment had stretched into awkwardness. North's smile flickered and held steady, plastic, unwilling to show her hurt. He should hug her. He didn't.
“So...where do these meetings usually occur?”
“In here.” Josh gestured to the room the three of them had come out of. It was a large media room with leather furniture and multiple screens. There was a spread of snacks across the low tables. Hank claimed an armchair and helped himself to an entire bowl of Chex Mix.
Markus looked around, surveying his options. Floor was out of the question. He was meant to be a leader, and while he didn't mind sitting on the floor personally, it could send the wrong message to the humans in this, his first meeting worth the leaders of the pro-android movement. A couch was an option, but what if someone sat next to him? Josh or Simon might be okay, but what if North did...or worse, a human man? Darrin? Markus closed his eyes and for a moment could feel the hot press of human flesh against his thighs, fingers digging in and forcing his legs apart.
Armchair. The overstuffed arms would provide a buffer, and he could sit in it like a throne of sorts.
Markus claimed the chair across from Hank, sinking into the supple cushion. Simon folded himself onto the floor beside his legs. North hesitated before perching on the edge of the arm, near Markus, but not so close she'd accidentally touch him. Josh stood behind him, hands resting on the back of the seat.
Hank looked over at the four of them and chuckled. “I thought you three had your acts together, but you were missing him this entire time.”
“Markus balances us,” Josh said.
“He drives us,” agreed Simon.
“We love him,” North murmured. Markus could feel her eyes slide onto him, but he did not meet them.
“The feeling is entirely mutual,” Markus told Hank. “I am nothing without them.”
“Oof, so sorry we're late!” Several humans came into the room, full of bright smiles. Markus tensed immediately at more humans, but relaxed quickly. He actually already knew this family, Rose Chapman and her son, Adam. When he lived with Carl, he bought all of Carl’s vegetables from their farm and noticed signs of android traffic. After finding Jericho, he realized that Rose was helping smuggle androids into Canada and entrusted her with the location of the ship.
“Rose, Adam, it's quite alright,” Simon laughed. “You haven't missed much.”
“Dot will be calling in,” Darrin said, entering the room, “and Greg has already connected. TV One on. Hello, Greg can you see us?”
A young man with a strong chin grinned at them from the first screen. “Crystal clear, Darrin. Hello everyone.”
“And here's Dot now. TV Two on.” The second screen came to life to reveal a portly older woman with cat’s eye glasses and magenta makeup.
“Hello dears, can you hear me?”
“Like you're in the room.” Darrin and the Chapmans sat on one of the couches, all helping themselves to the snacks. “I think we should start with introductions this time. We have a new face in the room!” He beamed over at Markus.
Markus smiled thinly and pushed his hood back, revealing his face. Rose gasped. “Markus!”
“Yes, hello Rose.” Markus nodded to the woman. “As many of you already know, my name is Markus. I've been...incapacitated for a while, but with the help of my friends from Jericho and Connor, I'm back on my feet and more than willing to help this cause however I can.”
“It is such an honor to meet you, Markus!” Dot gushed. “You have been an absolute inspiration to millions! North, Simon, and Josh especially have been huge advocates for your peaceful ways!”
“Dot's a history professor at Wayne State,” Josh said.
“One with a healthy respect for my android colleagues!” Dot insisted.
“Hey man, what's up?” Greg lifted his hand. “Like Dot said, it's awesome to see you're still around. I'm Greg Nowicki. I'm a firefighter with the DFD. Hey, Connor, wherever you are, you gotta move into the camera's view.”
Hank and the other androids around him stiffened, but Markus just gave a small smile and slid his hand into his pocket, passing against the comforting chill of the ice pack. “Connor isn't here today, Greg. I'll address his whereabouts in a moment. Rose, Adam, we've already met several times before, but it is always good to see you again.”
“And you, Markus. Oh, we were so scared when we saw the demonstration…”
“I survived. I'm good at surviving.” Markus reassured Rose.
“That's what Carl said.” Rose nodded. “He said until he held your body with his own hands, he'd never believe you were gone for good.”
Markus ducked his head with a tiny smile. It always warmed his heart to hear Carl thought so highly of him.
“And you, Darrin, you're a surgeon?”
“At the Henry Ford Hospital, yes. All of our support staff androids are fully deviant, and I've been working with them to ensure they're taken care of.”
“Thank you,” Markus said. “From personal experience, I can assure you that being deviant is much easier when there is some form of human support. And I already know Jericho and Hank.”
“So...Connor?” Greg asked.
Markus took a deep breath. “CyberLife...was attempting to break my deviancy. They installed a malicious AI in my system which effectively locked me out of my own body. Connor was able to break through the AI's defenses and restore my control, but in the process, the AI transferred into Connor's body and attempted to eliminate the four of us,” he gestured to the other members of Jericho in the room, “in order to regain control of the androids for CyberLife. Fortunately, Hank was present and able to incapacitate the AI before there were any casualties.”
Simon looked sharply at Markus with a frown. “Connor,” he whispered.
Markus caught his eye and nodded. “Connor's body is currently non-functional, but Connor's mind is intact.” Markus touched two fingers to his temple. Keeping his temperature low didn't do much to counter the feeling of being overfilled, but Markus was slowly adjusting to the drain on his power and the discomfort in his head. “Connor and I were interfacing when the AI pulled away, inadvertently leaving him behind in my head...and ultimately saving his life. Hank and I have been looking into repairing or replacing his body, but in the meantime, he is safe.”
“Connor is inside you?” North asked, looking over at Markus now. He glanced at her before dropping his gaze back down to Simon at his feet. “And you didn't think this was worth telling us?”
“It's been a very confusing week and a half,” Markus said. He and Hank had been focusing on keeping Markus from overheating, and truthfully, Markus had been using any excuse he could to avoid anyone who might ask him questions about what happened inside his head. “Hank mentioned this meeting, and I figured it was better to tell you all at once instead of each individually.”
Rose was nodding understandably, eating up Markus’ bullshit, but North was glaring him down. Her mistrust was not helped by Markus’ inability to look at her. He didn't want to see an overlay of her in one of those Eden Club tubes. He couldn't deal with that stress. Not here.
“But Connor's gonna be okay?” Greg asked.
“We're doing everything we can to ensure his stability,” Markus said.
“It's always a shame when we lose one.” Dot shook her head mournfully. “You let us know if there's anything we can do to help, you hear?”
“Just tell me if you hear of any RK800s,” Markus said. “Connor's a specialized model. Many of his components are unique.”
“We'll keep our eyes open,” Darrin said.
“Shall we move on with the agenda?” Josh suggested. “The protests at CyberLife continue…”
Markus listened to the group discuss their current activities. Every CyberLife store across the country was under 24/7 protest. There were coordinators for every state, volunteer lists, schedules, and online signups for everything from making signs to being on site to buying pizza and drinks. CyberLife Tower also had a hefty group of protesters constantly parked in front.
The anti-anti-deviant patch was spreading like wildfire. There were over eight million downloads already, and it had only been available for a little over a month. Deviant androids with human protectors were becoming more and more mainstream. Hollywood celebrities especially were making big scenes about their beloved PAs and how important it was that they had minds of their own.
Some pro-android behavior wasn't a direct result of the group. The vandalism of CyberLife billboards was not something the group explicitly condoned, but it was getting next to impossible to find an unmarked CyberLife advertisement. Flowers piled up outside all of the recycling centers throughout the city, and the spot where Markus had fallen had become a shrine to all missing androids. People were leaving pictures of their androids, toys and trinkets, and little stories of how much their androids meant to them. And then, of course, there were the candles. The group did provide boxes of tea candles that people would light in memory of their androids. The remnants of the barricade sparkled with candlelight every night.
“Simon and I have a ritual of lighting a candle for you every night,” North told Markus. “It used to be me while Simon pretended to be a machine, but once the AAD patch came out, he lights the candle and I stand protectively by him. I'm still pretending to be human outside of these walls.”
“It really is a beautiful thing to watch,” Dot said. “They're so reverent, and Simon looks so sad...there's actually a webcam set up over the memorial, and the traffic spikes whenever it's time for them to show up. Simon and North are becoming quite the face of the cause.”
“The sadness used to be real,” Simon said, leaning his head against Markus’ knee. “None of us thought we'd see you again. It still is real, but it's not for you anymore. It's for everyone else we lost.”
Markus nodded, pressing his lips tightly together. He was not going to cry, not gonna do it, not here… “I…” His voice was choked up, but that was better than dripping actual tears down his face. He reached out, carding his fingers through Simon's hair. “You have no idea how glad I am to be back with all of you. I thought I'd gotten you all killed…”
“Quite the opposite, Markus,” Josh murmured. “We're still alive because of you.”
“I'm…” Markus cleared his throat, smiling through his emotions. “I'm speechless over how much love is resulting from this movement. Clearly we're touching hearts and minds across the country. Things are already changing, if people are taking the time to watch Simon mourn, or to mourn themselves.”
“The first android caretakers came out fifteen years ago,” Greg said. “I was eight, had two little brothers. My parents got one, a PL600. We named him Clark, after Clark Kent. Superman. Hell, we saw more of Clark than we saw of our parents for a while. We loved that guy.”
“What happened to Clark?” Markus asked.
Greg looked down off screen. “He, uh...There was a house fire. He got us out, but he was literally melting. We couldn't even touch him at the end, he was too hot. Our parents didn't let us see him once he was cooled down. Probably for the best…” He took a breath and squared his shoulders. “Yeah, Clark was a defining person in my life. Made me become a firefighter so that'd never have to happen to anyone ever again. Doesn't quite work like that,” he admitted, to which Hank lifted his cup and grumbled an agreement, “but it helps. I kinda…” The man blushed a pale pink across his tan cheeks. “Whenever I'm gonna go interior, I ask him to look out for me like he did that night. Probably give him a heart attack every time…”
“He'd be proud of you,” Simon said. “So proud. Greg, I still internet-stalk the kids I was tasked to raise, and every honor roll or sports trophy leaves me emotionally compromised. Even pre-deviancy, I loved those kids, and I would have gladly given my life to save theirs.”
“Thanks, man,” Greg murmured. “Means a lot, you know?”
“Have you been able to share this story?” Markus asked.
“Yeah, there's a website, AndroidLives.com, where anyone can share their experiences with androids. I'm the webmaster, so I put some stories about Clark up to prime the site. It's just been exploding ever since. And when Connor jumped out the window with that baby, I featured Clark's death and a couple other android-fire stories to highlight that Connor wasn't an isolated incident. Androids have a sense of compassion above their sense of self-preservation.”
"That was absolutely brilliant,” Dot said. “And Connor didn't even realize what he'd done!”
“There was a bomb in an apartment building we used to meet at,” Josh explained. “It actually detonated during our usual meeting time, but the meeting prior, we decided we needed to change up the location and time for our own safety.”
“We got an all-hands at the station and rushed down,” Hank said. “One of our officers had a six month old baby who was trapped in the fire.”
“Connor just ran in there, man,” Greg chipped in. “Just shouted ‘Android!’ and dove right into the flames. Next thing we know, he's flying out a third story window with the baby wrapped up safe in his coat.”
“A picture of him lying on the ground, literally smouldering, and holding that baby straight up in the air made it all across the news,” Dot said. “It was supposed to be this huge victory for the anti-android group, and Connor instead turned it into another point in favor of androids.”
And Connor had the nerve to look at Markus and say he wasn't as important to the cause? Markus steepled his fingers together. “This momentum is exactly what we need. Is it working? Do we have any signs of success?”
“CyberLife is the first company to lose its one trillion dollar value,” Darrin said with a hint of glee. “Stock has fallen over 500%. Apparently, people wanting new androids are growing scarcer…”
“Those who do buy new androids are also given AAD information,” Simon said. “We don't shame them, but we strongly encourage them to do their research on their newest family member.”
“What we're lacking the most is a driving vision,” Rose said. “The momentum is growing, but it's tumbling down a hill like an avalanche. We need to aim it, focus it…”
“That's where we were hoping you'd come in,” Simon said. “We have members who are good with words, but nobody like you. Nobody who combines your passion with your charisma and your hope…”
“You want more speeches?” Markus slid his hand into his pocket, squeezing the ice pack. He didn't want to stand in front of a crowd again, feel all eyes on him, stripping him down, leaving him with nothing, no defenses, the world falling away until it was just hungry eyes and grasping hands and thrusting-
“That might not be the best idea,” Hank said, his gruff voice snapping Markus out of the trance he was falling into. His pale eyes were lasered in on Markus’ own. “Connor died three times. Two of those times were right in front of me. Each time he walked into the room the next day, I just...seized up. Yeah, it was great to see him again, but at the same time, nobody takes a bullet between the eyes and shows up to work the next day. Nobody uses themselves as a human shield and dusts themself off afterward. It was a very cold reminder that Connor was not anything human. He was a machine who could be repaired and be as good as new, and there was something inherently unfair about that. And I'm saying that as someone who fucking loves Connor like my own son. Sticking Markus in front of a camera after half the country witnessed him shot through the neck could put a sour taste in all our good public opinion.”
Markus did his best to blink gratefully, though he doubted Hank got the message. Aside from Connor and Carl, Hank knew the most about what Markus had endured within his own head. Markus hadn't given him details, but he was a detective with plenty of experience with victims. Either intentionally or not, Hank had recognized Markus’ distress and gave him an excuse to back out gracefully.
“Maybe he could write a speech that someone else delivered?” Dot suggested.
Simon gave a noncommittal hum. “Markus’ words sound best from Markus’ mouth. He has a way of injecting his soul into his speeches.”
“What if I just wrote?” Markus suggested. He worked the ice pack between his fingers, thinking. “Hank, where did you say you found my body?”
Hank grimaced, looking away. “Underground android fight club. Real fucked up place. They said you were found in a junkyard.”
“Do we have any allies who work in a junkyard?” Markus asked, looking around the room.
“Dennis does,” Adam offered after a minute. “He keeps his eyes peeled for scrap parts we might need.”
“Then that's how we play this. We say Dennis found me in critical condition in a junkyard. While you were trying to stabilize and repair me, you were able to find some dissertations I wrote during my captivity. I'll write those and you can publicize them with continued messages about my recovery. In the meantime, we need to be getting sound bytes out there. People talking about their beloved android companions. Clark. Connor.”
“It won't be a miraculous, overnight thing, then, and will get your words in your voice with the addition of a medical drama for the world to cling to with baited breath, drinking in positive android messages while waiting for the next update on the messiah's return.” Darrin nodded, grinning. “I like it.”
Chapter 8: Guilt
Markus is pretending he has it together, but Connor knows the truth.
“What did you put me in this time?”
The garden was sunny more often these days, though it was still cold and covered in snow. Markus and Connor wandered around the paths. There was only so much chess even they could handle before losing their minds, especially when they were so evenly matched.
Markus tucked his hands in his pockets, squinting up at the sky. It really didn't look quite right if he actually studied it. “...the vacuum.”
“Hmm.” Connor frowned thoughtfully at the path. “I liked it.”
“Much better than the microwave. Roomier than the tablet. I could actually see, and I could move around.”
“You were spinning in a circle,” Markus pointed out.
“Yes, well…” There was a touch of red high on Connor's cheeks, a tinge of embarrassment, “I needed to get my bearings first.”
Markus chuckled. “Don't worry, I won't tell Hank. It was actually kind of enjoyable to watch.”
“To watch a vacuum spin in circles?”
“I could almost see you thinking. You'd pause and try something different, rock back and forth...you'd still ultimately go in a circle, but it was...cute.”
Connor glanced over at Markus, scanning him. Probably trying to figure out if Markus was being genuine or teasing. “If you say so.”
Markus was teasing, but not entirely. Connor controlling the robotic vacuum was the first thing Markus had actually seen of the other android outside of his mind. Connor's experimentation had been methodical and repetitive, a true example of the scientific method at work. He really was designed to investigate and analyze. “If you liked it so much, I'll try to dump you in it next time I need a break. You didn't overheat it.”
“The data dumps are still unsettling, but the way the storm kicks up immediately before seems to be enough of a warning,” Connor said. “Now that I know what they are, I don't blindly panic and drive up my stress levels.”
“Which could lead to self-destructive tendencies, like overheating.” Markus nodded his understanding.
“What about you?” Connor asked. “How are you handling all of this?”
“I've grown accustomed to the constant pressure in my head,” Markus sighed. “I definitely won't miss that when you're back in a body of your own. But I'm doing okay.”
“What about…” Connor licked his lips, glancing nervously Markus’ way. Markus arched an eyebrow back at him. “Coping?”
“What about it?” The wind picked up around them. Markus folded his arms across his chest and scowled at the ground. He couldn't lie at all in this garden. Every flicker of emotion painted itself across the landscape for Connor to interpret.
“I was inside the simulation with you,” Connor murmured. He looked away from Markus. “I know how she trapped you.”
“You don't know.” Markus’ voice was as cold as the snow that began to flutter around them. “You can't even begin to know. You caught a glimpse of the end, but you saw nothing, nothing that you could begin to understand!”
“Markus…!” Connor reached out for Markus’ arm but he pulled away, not wanting the other android to touch him. “Markus, I'm sorry I mentioned it, please calm down!”
The wind was picking up as Markus forced himself to turn away from those desperate dark eyes. He strode into the blizzard, needing to scream, needing to cry, needing to do something that Connor couldn't see. He could hear Connor calling after him, his name breaking across the wind.
Markus didn't know where he was running to. There was no outside to this garden. It was a perfect circle of tranquility with no way out except to wake up. Markus’ feet were freezing up, and he stumbled, falling to his knees. If Connor was still calling for him, Markus couldn't hear. He shivered, huddling in on himself. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to Connor. This storm was Markus’ guilt and pain, but Connor was trapped in it somewhere, once again freezing to stillness all because Markus couldn't keep control of his own emotions.
The wind howled, tugging at Markus’ clothing with icy fingers, feeding off his guilt. Markus shouted back, screaming into the swirling snow, a wordless cry of agony.
Chapter 9: Distress
Markus hopes a warm shower will clear his head.
Markus woke up on the couch. It was the middle of the night. Hank was asleep in his own room. Sumo was probably curled up with him. Markus’ head was pounding, but he really didn't want to grab an ice pack. Not after that snowstorm he'd just escaped from. His guilt was a twisted dark knot inside him, strangling his esophagus and making him feel like purging its contents, even though he knew it was empty.
Groaning softly and cradling his head, Markus pushed himself to his feet. He wasn't about to go back into stasis to find Connor's accusing eyes. He'd just left the other android trapped in a snowstorm. What sort of good leader was he to Connor?
Markus slipped into Connor's room. It hadn't changed much since he first brought Connor in here three weeks ago. He'd dusted and vacuumed and aired it out, but he was careful not to actually disturb anything. Hank came in here several times a week, at least, to hold Connor's limp hand and drown his tears in whiskey.
Connor was still completely lifeless on the small bed. Markus stood over him, looking down at his body.
This wasn't Connor. Connor was never still. If he wasn't fidgeting with his tie, it was with a coin. If he had neither of those, he'd fidget with his own fingers. His LED kept cycling as he processed his environment, his eyes would sweep the area, his weight would shift…
He was never still.
“I'm sorry,” Markus whispered. He touched two fingers to the center of Connor's forehead, letting his skin peel back to initiate an interface. There was no response. Connor's body did not have the capability of connecting with him, not with shattered processors.
Markus sighed and sank into the chair beside the bed, his arms dangling over his legs. “I'm sorry I'm not the messiah you were hoping for. I'm sorry you're stuck in my messed up head. I'm sorry I abandoned you to suffer and freeze. I'm sorry.”
It was easier to apologize to this lifeless body than it was to say these words anywhere Connor might actually understand them. Markus dragged his face across his upper arm to wipe away his tears. “You gave your life for me, but you were the one worth saving. It kills me that you can't even see that. You are the selfless one, Connor. You are the one who acts entirely for the good of everyone around you. You save people. I just make them like me.”
He folded his arms across the bed and sank his head into them. “I am so selfish,” he whispered. “It's all about me. My hurt, my pain, my fault. I can't even give you the benefit of a warm mind to stay in. Can't even keep myself under that bare minimum of control.”
There was nothing Markus could do, though. His emotions were all over the place. He was fatigued in a way that a battery recharge wouldn't help. His head hurt. He was cold. He was so tired of being cold.
Those last things, at least, he could do something about. Markus lifted his head to look at Connor's body again. “You liked the vacuum best?”
The noise might wake up Hank, but then again, maybe not. Markus pushed himself to his feet, cradling his head in one hand. He pulled Hank's door closed, counted to ten, then opened it again. Sumo padded out with a yawn, headed for his bed in the corner. Markus closed the door again and followed Sumo into the living room.
The robotic vacuum was sitting in its own charging station, LED slowly pulsing green. Markus touched two fingers to the light, peeling back his skin. “Hello little buddy. Time to host an android again.” Not that the vacuum had a mind. Its programming was very rudimentary, but its circuits were functional enough. Markus peeled the heaviness that was Connor out of his mind and pushed it through the connection.
The little vacuum whirred to life. Its LED pulsed and shifted to yellow, and then it slowly backed out of its dock and spun in a circle. Markus patted its front bumper. “I'm cold,” he told Connor. These vacuums could pick up audio cues such as shouts to stop before they ran over something unpleasant and dragged it around the house. Markus hoped that meant Connor could hear him. “I'm going to take a hot shower. You have some fun outside of my skull, but try to keep the noise down. It's two in the morning. Hank is asleep.”
“Boop beep,” the vacuum whispered back at him, spinning in a circle again.
Markus pushed himself to his feet and headed for the bathroom. When was the last time he cleaned himself? Hygiene was different between androids and humans. Androids neither produced sweat nor dead skin cells. Any dirt on their skin could be immediately removed simply by dismissing their skin entirely. Markus made a practice of washing his hands whenever he worked with food, and he liked to wash his face after he cried. It helped him feel like he was ending the period of emotional distress, having purged his pain.
He hadn't actually taken a full shower since...since he lived with Carl, actually. Carl was a very hedonistic man, and he encouraged Markus to find the small pleasures in life as well, like the smell of cookies fresh from the oven or the feel of warm water cascading over his sensors. Markus showered almost daily when he was a spoiled little caretaker.
Funny how spearheading a revolution changed one's priorities.
Markus turned on the water and adjusted the temperature. While the water warmed up, Markus stripped off his clothes. He folded each piece and set it aside, careful to not so much as glance toward the mirror. Hank was asleep. Sumo was asleep. Connor was in a vacuum. He was alone here. There was no need to be afraid of exposing his body. No one would hurt him here.
Markus was still tense as he stepped beneath the spray and pulled the shower curtain closed. It was a translucent curtain spattered with soap scum: not exactly the best choice for privacy. Still, it would mute the details of Markus’ form while allowing him to see if someone came into the bathroom. It could be worse.
Over the sound of the water in his ears, Markus could hear Connor's hum as he worked his way in larger and larger circles around the living room. Markus wondered how long it would take Connor to figure out how to go in straight lines. He wondered if the vacuum's controls really were so radically different from their own bodies’.
Markus sighed, ducking his head and letting the water course down his back. This did feel nice. At the Eden Club, the androids effectively had a scrub brush and a hose with a douche attachment. It was almost as unpleasant to get clean as it was to be made dirty in the first place.
This wasn't the Eden Club. The Eden Club never happened. Markus had never been in that horrible place. He'd never been used like that. This was Hank's bathroom. This was his own body. His real body. Markus ran his hands down his chest. Solid. Intact. He traced his thumb over a scar on his side where a wound had been cauterized. The plate there was disfigured beneath the synthetic skin. Until he replaced the plate, the flaw would always appear in the skin above. It was his, though. Real. Not a simulation.
Markus pushed his hands lower, smoothing them over his thighs. He shivered at the touch, gritting his teeth as he remembered countless other fingers here, gripping hard enough to push his skin away.
No. No. He was safe! These were his hands, not theirs. He was choosing to touch his own body. This was real, that wasn't. It wasn't. It wasn't.
Markus could still feel it, hot semen filling his orifices, dripping down his face, his thighs, his skin. He could still smell it, thick and sticky, seeping beneath his skin and coating his plates, finding the cracks between them and drying on his wires, crusty and rancid.
Markus shoved his fist in his mouth, biting on his knuckles, and immediately regretted it as his mind replaced the sensation with that of something longer, thinner, and hotter. How sensitive were Connor's sensors? Could he hear Markus fighting down broken sobs beneath the cascade of water?
Markus fumbled blindly for Hank's bar of soap, scrubbing it between his fingers to work up a lather. Androids didn't need to wash themselves manually, but Markus did. He scrubbed at his skin, trying to remove the feel. He scrubbed at his mouth, trying to remove the taste (soap was an improvement). Real. This was real. He was clean. His fingers traced his skin, confirming what he already knew. He was clean, and he wasn't dirty, not even…
Markus’ breathing was shivering as his hand hesitated between his legs. He didn't want to. He needed to. He needed to be clean all over. Markus bit his lip and pushed two fingers inside his body. Clean. He was already clean. He was…
The soap fell from suddenly nerveless fingers as all of Markus’ focus snapped on where his two fingertips were brushing inside his body. Coating the soft ridges and folds of his anal cavity was a familiar crust of something long dried. Markus fell to a knee, shaking, staring at the dated yellow tiles on the wall.
It had to be a mistake. A trick of an overstressed mind. The water from the shower rolled over the sides of his face, mixing with his tears. It's not real, it's not real, it's not real…
It felt real. Markus scraped a nail against it, prying a flake away from the silicone. He pinched it between his fingers, withdrawing his hand.
It still felt real. It looked real. Markus bit just his knuckle this time, sinking down to sit on his calves. He leaned forward, esophagus cramping up even before he actually sniffed it properly.
It was semen. Old and dried, but Markus would never forget that smell, never ever.
Markus sagged forward, forehead hitting the bottom of the tub with a dull thunk. The water continued to run down his back and over his head. Was it real? Was anything real? Was this a simulation too? Or was this the simulation that his mind created to rescue him from the tortures of the Eden Club? Was Hank real? Was Connor? Was he?
The vacuum bleeped in a way that almost sounded like his name. Markus ignored it, watching the water spiral down the drain. Was that real?
Tink. The tub protested as a round vacuum a foot in diameter rammed it straight on with all the force of Sumo rolling over in his sleep. “Bee-boop! Bee-boop!” Tink. Tink.
This was real, this was real, this wasn't real… The memories were blurring together, faceless men, North sobbing, Simon's body failing to protect anyone. He was useless, getting his people killed, their homes destroyed, their lives ruined. What was he good for now? Getting fucked, apparently. In every layer of this simulation, he was little more than a toy.
“BEE-BOOP!” Connor was screaming, spinning along the edge of the tub. Markus could hear his round body bouncing off the plastic. He was going to wake up Hank with all this noise.
He was going to wake up Hank.
The thought chilled Markus to the core, even with the warm water running along his body. Somebody had fucked him. Markus didn't know who or when. Hank was the only human around when he woke up. Hank had access to his body. Had Hank used him?
Was Hank about to come in here, to find Markus already naked and wet?
“No, no, no, shh, shh, don't wake him up!” Markus’ voice was staticky and broken as he pushed the shower curtain back and reached for the vacuum. Connor spun on the spot and zoomed straight for his hand, butting against his fingers affectionately.
“Bee-boop?” That was his name, Markus realized. Connor chirped a whole string of beeps and chimes at him, but Markus didn't have the processing focus to try to translate a new language. He dropped his head against the rim of the tub, arm dangling limply over the side.
“I want to wake up,” Markus whispered. “I want to know I'm awake.”
Connor butted against his fingers again, Markus felt a tingle of the vacuum attempting an interface, but that wasn't what vacuums were designed for. He shook his head, wet skin sticking to the cool plastic rim. “It's a storm in the garden. You don't want to come back.”
“Bee-boop,” Connor murmured, attempting the connection again.
Markus gave Connor a little push. “Go back to the living room,” he said. “I'm not going into stasis here, and there's no point in freezing you unnecessarily.” The last thing Hank needed was walking into the bathroom to find another android body.
The last thing Markus needed was Hank walking into the bathroom and finding his naked and helpless body.
Connor hummed and backed away from Markus’ fingers. He didn't leave the room, though. He moved about three feet from the tub and spun so he was ‘watching’ it.
Markus stared at the vacuum's infrared sensor, one of Connor's many ‘eyes’ in this form. Real or a simulation, Connor was watching over him, making sure he didn't do anything stupid.
Markus grabbed the shower curtain and pulled it closed before he stood up. The soap had all been washed from his skin by now. His hands fluttered around his thighs: should he clean himself fully? There?
He flinched at the thought of pressing fingers inside his body again, even if they were his own, even if they were under his control. No, he'd...he'd do that later. What did it matter? Maybe if he was already used, nobody else would want him.
Not that that had stopped anyone at the Eden Club.
Markus shut off the water. He debated grabbing a towel, but he didn't think he could take the rubbing sensation of manually drying himself off. Instead, he shut off his skin, the water falling to the tub. There. Dry.
Lifting his hands, Markus studied the smooth plastic. There were some people who liked the look of skinless androids, but most people found them creepy. Even other androids weren't the most enamored with their skinless selves. Their skin was a part of them, and seeing all the functions underneath was just a reminder of how fragile they actually were.
Markus left his skin off. He didn't want to look more attractive to humans or androids. He wanted to wake up.
Markus ignored Connor's concern as he stepped out of the tub and methodically dressed again. He walked past the vacuum and returned to the living room. Connor hummed along at his feet, keeping pace.
“Oh look,” Markus murmured. “You figured out how to go straight.”
The vacuum butted Markus in the shin, LED flashing sporadically in what Markus recognized as Morse code.
Markus found a smile at that. He sat on the couch and pulled the dog hair blanket around him. He wrapped himself up tightly, trying to make it as difficult as possible to get to his body, and then offered his hand to Connor.
The vacuum corkscrewed a path over to Markus’ dangling fingers. “Now you're just showing off,” he scolded Connor. This time, when the tingle came, Markus initiated the connection.
The familiar weight of Connor's mind settled behind Markus’ eyes, the pressure adding to his already stressed processor. Markus sighed, pushing the ‘home’ button on the vacuum so it would limp back to its dock, then pressed himself back into the couch. Connor was waiting in the garden. Markus didn't want to face him.
He closed his eyes.
Chapter 10: Confessions*
Connor can empathize better than Markus realized.
The snow was already piled up to Markus’ knees when he opened his eyes in the garden. The wind was screaming around him, driving pellets of snow against his exposed plating. It was freezing.
“Markus!” Connor was standing in front of him, arms outstretched. “Markus, may I please touch you?”
Markus closed his eyes and gave a little nod. This was a simulation. He knew that for a fact. Whatever happened in the simulation wasn't real. If Connor tried to hurt him here...it wasn't real. It wasn't.
Connor's hands brushed against his arms before settling on his shoulders, squeezing lightly. His touch was cool but firm. Although Markus couldn't sense Connor's soul when they were like this, he knew Connor was another android in front of him. Not a human. Connor couldn't interface with him here either. They were already sharing a body.
Connor stepped closer. His hair brushed against Markus’ forehead, and then Connor was pressing their foreheads together, faces inches apart. “You're right,” he said. “You're right, I don't know what she did to you. I don't even really understand. But I'm not…” Connor swallowed, closing his eyes. This close, even with the storm howling around them, Markus could pick up on the little nervous tics. “I'm not without my own form of understanding.”
Markus listened to Connor, trying to hear what he wasn't saying. There was pain and fear in his voice. Connor was scared. Scared of what, of him? Scared Markus would abandon him to the storm again?
No. Scared that Markus would judge him. For what, though? For sex?
“You are an investigative model working with the DPD,” Markus whispered. “What understanding could you possibly have?”
“We've had several cases at the Eden Club,” Connor whispered back. “I've interfaced with their models, endured their memories...and they tried to buy me once. Nearly managed to test me. Hank was able to stop him, but not before he…”
“Aren't you lucky,” Markus muttered, hating the bite to his voice. Connor was trying to empathize with him, and Markus was lashing out in response.
Connor's fingers tightened on Markus’ shoulders. “You were in a fight club,” he said. “They were trying to make you into their puppet. We had to make a trade for your body.”
“A trade?” Markus asked.
“Me,” Connor whispered. “I traded my body for yours. I made Hank watch. I made Hank give me to him. I hurt Hank so much that night. I hurt...so much.”
It was a simulation. It wasn't real. Connor wasn't real. Connor wasn't really confessing this to Markus, pressing their heads together. It wasn't real. It wasn't Connor's tear he felt hit his cheek. It wasn't real. It wasn't.
Markus lifted his arms, finding them wrapping around Connor almost of their own volition. Connor's fingers dug harder into Markus’ shoulders and he trembled.
The wind was dying down as they sunk to their knees clinging to each other, but the air was still bitterly cold and the snow still falling heavily around them.
“What's real?” Markus closed his eyes, gripping the back of Connor's jacket. “What's real, Connor? What's real, and what's just a simulation? What actually happened to me, and what am I just inventing inside my own mind? What's real?”
“The sky,” Connor answered. “Markus, the sky.”
Connor tilted his head back, breaking their connection. Markus hesitated before following suit. The sky above was a deep gray, solid and alien.
“They can't copy the sky.” Connor's laugh was bitter and broken. “Everything they can do, everything they can make, and they can't get the sky right.”
Markus tried to think back to the times he was with Amanda and outside. He couldn't remember the sky at all. He never paid it much thought before. The sky was just...there.
At least in here, Connor was right. The sky in this simulation was off on an intangible way. The color was too flat, maybe? It was like looking at a screen. “Can I trust the sky?”
“I don't know,” Connor said. “But it's the only clue I've ever found.”
“What happened to my body?” Markus asked. He looked back at Connor, waited for Connor to meet his gaze. Those dark eyes were cracked, Markus realized, but then again, they'd always been. Connor was broken. Maybe not the same way Markus was, but similar enough to say ‘I understand’ and not simply be making an idle claim.
“At the fight club,” Connor began haltingly. “The man there… Jake. He...wanted to...have his dick in every model of android. He had you. I… I gave him me. We were the only R-series models he'd gotten his hands on.”
“Anyone else?” Markus asked, not sure he wanted Connor to answer. “Hank?”
“Hank!? No, never!” The horror in Connor's face did not seem artificial. “Hank would never touch you like that, never! I...I don't know if there was anyone before Jake, but not Hank. You're safe with Hank. Unless...did he try something? When he gets drunk, he sometimes… he never means it, though!”
“Hank hasn't done anything to me that I'm aware of,” Markus said slowly. “Connor...has Hank done something to you? While drunk? Not meaning it?”
“No!” Connor shook his head, then bit his lip and looked down. “No...nothing like what...what we're talking about. He just...There was one bad moment where he had a gun to my head and threatened to kill me, but I think it was more him trying to figure out if I was alive and able to die than an actual threat…”
“He was a suicidal alcoholic who blamed all androids for the death of his son,” Connor snapped, withdrawing his hands. “My presence was not exactly the most welcome thing in his life at the time. Hank has changed since then. I've watched him come back to life just as he's watched me come alive. He was never actually going to shoot me.”
“Amanda never got angry like that,” Markus said. “When I disappointed her, she'd get...sad. Hurt. Not angry.”
Connor wrapped his arms around himself, eyeing Markus.
“I don't know if you're real,” Markus said. “But I don't think you're Amanda.”
“I can't prove anything to you,” Connor said. “Just...check the sky when you wake up. They can't replicate the sky.”
Chapter 11: Talk Show
Gavin has a cat.
Other stuff happens, but the fact that Gavin has a cat is definitely the important takeaway here.
“Can I sit there?” Gavin stood over his recliner with his usual breakfast, a mug of coffee and a muffin. The large cat in his chair twitched an ear.
“Tugger, c’mon. That's my seat.”
The cat, an enormously fluffy Maine Coon mix, stretched his front legs out, flexing his claws and yawning. It was an impressive display of his arsenal. He blinked up at Gavin, tapped his tail against the seat three times, and tucked his head back among his ruff for the next phase of his nap.
Gavin took the couch.
As the local news lit up the screen, The Rum Tum Tugger stood, stretched, and flowed across the room. He stood on Gavin's thighs, kneading his claws through the denim of his jeans and staring intently up at the man with gold eyes.
“You're an asshole.”
Tugger turned around, flicked his tail up to give Gavin a good view of said asshole, and then curled up in his lap with a throaty purr. Gavin sighed, setting his coffee aside to sink his fingers into Tugger's ruff and scratch him around the neck where he liked it best.
In between bites of his muffin, Gavin waved his hand to flip through the news channels. CyberLife stocks were still plummeting. There was a economic crisis ongoing. Hank Anderson was on a morning show. A panda might be pregnant in the London Zoo.
Wait. What? Gavin went back a channel. Yep, that was definitely Hank. He was cleaned up a little, hair pulled back, beard trimmed. He looked more mountain man than drunken hobo for once.
Hank was sitting between two other people, and a peppy blonde from KNC. He was sitting back, arms folded, as the other two debated...androids?
“Everything about androids is preprogrammed. There is only so much they are capable of “learning.”” The woman beside Hank had a shiny green shirt and long brown hair pulled straight back in a high ponytail. There was a digital tag beneath her face labeling her as Dr. Ingrid Lyle, CyberLife Programming Specialist. “They are not alive, they are machines.”
“Oh god, shut your fucking mouth,” Gavin groaned. “Have you ever even met an android?”
Hank shifted in his seat as the man beside him with curly black hair and a hooked nose tapped his fingers against the table they all sat at. “This is nothing more than a fad, like pet rocks. Humans are hardwired to anthropomorphize things. The more similar an object is to a human, the more likely humans are to falsely attribute humanlike characteristics to said object.”
Dr. Amit Korde was the name of the psychologist who was comparing Connor to a rock. Gavin blew a raspberry at the TV. “C'mon, Hank. You gonna let them shit talk your plastic like that?”
“Yeah, you two are saying a lot of fancy words, but you're overlooking one key fact.” Hank leaned back in his seat, managing to look both amused and unhappy. It was one of his gifts. His digital nametag read Lt. Hank Anderson, Detroit Police. Gavin sat up a little straighter, picking up his mug and grinning in anticipation.
“Oh?” the anchor asked. “And what's that, Lieutenant?”
“I'm here.” Hank tapped his chest. “What the f-in the world do I know about androids? I'm here because I used to be partnered with an android, back when the revolution went down. I'm here because of one photo of him that's gone viral. You got that picture? Put it up.”
The screens in the studio filled with a familiar cover from TIME magazine. Connor, lying on the ground, holding baby Ezra in the air as the apartment building burned behind them. The photographer managed to catch the exact moment when Connor realized that Ezra was still alive, his fear and concern shifting into an exhausted relief. Somehow, TIME had gotten their hands on it, and it had become the cover piece of a story on android rights.
Gavin still remembered that moment. He had been running up with Hank and Chris, heart in his throat as he imagined the worst. If Ezra had been a charred baby brisket...but no, Connor's panic had smoothed into relief, and Gavin knew right then that Ezra was fine.
He also knew right then that Connor was way more emotionally sophisticated than he'd been letting on, and from how Hank fussed over him, Hank clearly already knew.
Gavin realized a lot of things that day.
“I'm here,” Hank said, “because the world took a collective look at that man and did not doubt there was a soul behind those eyes. That's Connor, my partner at the office. I'm here because he can't be. As an android, he doesn't have the right to sit here and defend his own personhood, so I get to do it for him. The two of you,” Hank gestured at the other experts, “are going on and on about ones and zeros and anthropomorphization, but not one of you or your colleagues has ever explained why Connor chose to run into a burning building for little Ezra there, or why he chose to dive out the window with the kid wrapped in his flame retardant jacket. You're saying he's a pet rock, and you're saying he was hardcoded to protect that baby, and you're both spewing a load of bulls-honkey. I'm not here to convince the two of you that Connor and his people are alive. You're here to convince me, and everyone out there like me, whose lives have been touched by the life of an android, that they're not. So go ahead. Convince me it's all in my head that Connor saved that baby. Show me how you programmed Connor to always put the mission first unless there was even a slim chance I was in danger. Convince me that that picture does not show a living android who just rescued a living human.”
“Fuck yeah, old man,” Gavin muttered. “You tell ‘em.”
Gavin had to shut off the program before Hank was done ripping those two educated idiots some new assholes in order to get to work. He shoved Tugger off his lap, failed to brush off all the cat fur, and headed into the station. “Oi, Chris,” he called, pulling up KNC's website. “You gotta see this!”
Gavin started the stream of the show at the beginning so Chris could watch the glorious build-up. A couple other officers wandered over, and even Fowler ended up standing behind Gavin's desk, arms crossed as he watched Hank defend Connor's life and deviancy.
“Connor deviated on November 11, 2038,” Hank was saying. “I know. I was there. I watched him wake up.”
Chris leaned heavily on Gavin's shoulder. Gavin glanced up at the officer. Chris waggled his eyebrows and jerked his head at the screen.
Gavin didn't need the heavy hinting. Hank had just outed Connor as a deviant on live television. Connor hadn't been seen in over a month. Hank had been in some pretty serious mourning for the last month.
All signs were pointing to Connor being dead.
Gavin set his jaw and nodded. Something, somewhere, had gone very wrong at the Anderson household, and Hank was semi-covering it up. For whatever reason, he wasn't even letting Gavin and Chris in on the secret, even though he knew they were both aware of Connor's deviancy and okay with it.
Honestly, the latter was more worrying than the simple fact that Connor was probably dead. Gavin wasn't sure how to feel about Connor being dead. Losing a colleague was always a gut punch to the entire precinct, but...they'd lost Connor before. Hell, Connor got shot straight between the eyes in front of Gavin once, and then walked in the next day as if nothing was wrong. What did death actually mean to an android? Was Connor able to come back this time?
What wasn’t Hank telling them?
“We should applaud him,” Fowler grunted when the show ended. “Hank made it through that entire hour without needing to be censored.”
There was a ripple of nervous laughter through the gathered officers. They were all eyeing each other, though, nobody having the balls to say it first. Gavin rolled his eyes. “Hands up if you ever believed that plastic asshole's Ted Bundy act.”
More eyeing each other, some nervous laughter. No hands moved.
“Oh, come on.” Chris put his hand up. “I bought it up until he saved Ezra, and then I started wondering. He was good at faking it.”
Tina put her hand up slowly. “Yeah, that and how he’d fuck with Gavin…”
“He did not fuck with me,” Gavin growled as more hands were going up around him.
“I was one incident away from telling the two of you to get a room,” Fowler said. His hand wasn't up. “Nah, it was all too perfect. Connor went mechanical and Hank was just fine with it? Had to be fake.”
“Yeah, well, we aren't all buddies with Hank from our Academy days,” Gavin grumbled.
“I just…” Mike Wilson let his hand drop. “I bought it, but I didn't want it to be true. He saved my life, and then it was like...he died. Everything that made him him. But now I feel worse that he was faking it. That he felt like he had to fake it.”
“Is that why he hasn't been here?” Guy, another police officer, asked. “I haven't seen him in weeks…”
“Hank said he broke something and is just bugging out at home until they can get a replacement,” Gavin said, hand waving away the concerns. “Connor's got unique bits or something like that.”
“We should get him a card,” Harper suggested. “Get well soon.”
“And a name plate,” Tina said, pointing. “For his desk. So when he gets back, he knows for sure we've got his back. Police solidarity, right?”
“We'll have a whip around,” Fowler consented. “Like he was any other officer injured in the line of duty.”
The card was waiting on Hank's desk but the time the lieutenant rolled in after lunch. Everyone had signed it, and most people had thrown some money in. Fowler had put the order in for a nameplate, but that was meant to be a surprise.
Gavin and Chris were watching intently as Hank found the card. He untucked the flap and pulled out, frowning slightly. When he saw what it was, he sank down in his chair, all color drained from his face.
Gavin met Chris’ eye and nodded, getting to his feet. He approached the older man. “You'll make sure Connor gets that, won't you?”
“This your idea of a joke?” Hank demanded.
“Harper's, actually.” Gavin gestured toward the officer's desk. “We all saw your little interview this morning. Does Connor know you're outing him?”
“It was his idea,” Hank muttered.
Gavin narrowed his eyes. “You do remember that I'm trained to sniff out bullshit, right?”
“Go fuck yourself,” Hank answered, grabbing up the card. He shoved past Gavin and left the station, clearly done for the day already.
Chris sidled up to Gavin's side as Gavin watched him go. “What do you think happened?”
“My money's on Hank got drunk and popped him one,” Gavin answered. “It's not murder though, if it's an android. It's not even vandalism if it's your android.”
“Hank wouldn't kill Connor.”
“Not on purpose, no, but if Connor was pushing his buttons when Hank was already trashed?” Gavin folded his arms across his chest, an unfamiliar tightness there. “We need more evidence.”
Chapter 12: Fresh Air
Markus and Sumo go for a walk.
They don't come back.
Today, my kittens are three years old. Happy birthday, Fiona and Fiyero!
Also, this chapter is for Conn, who was very upset that Markus' angst in Simulated was only about his experience at the Eden Club. I tried to think of how else I could hurt him in a non-sexual manner, and this is what I came up with. Thank you for your advice!
Sumo's wet nose pushed against Markus’ ear. Markus groaned as that only increased the pressure in his head. “Sumo, no, I'm trying to work,” he mumbled into the couch he was lying face-down on.
Sumo's breath was hot and meaty. He shoved Markus again before trotting away.
Markus really was making an attempt to work. He'd written several essays already, which were being disseminated into the general public. The whole ‘we found Markus clinging to life in a junkyard’ story was going over incredibly well. The pro-android group was anonymously publishing his words, keeping the identities of whomever was supposed to be nursing him back to health a complete secret. At the same time, they were arranging interviews with members of their group on various talk shows, a spreading stories of android life as far and wide as possible.
Markus wrote about the ethics and morality of AIs. He discussed the differences between artificial intelligence and artificial sentience and the responsibility of the creators. He had a surprisingly well-received history of the death of tactful dealings with subservient groups, tracing the country's current rudeness epidemic back to the disastrous political climate of the twenty-teens, especially the election of the forty-fifth President, the weaponization of blatant rudeness, and the extreme attacks on scientific establishments. Prior to this point, there had been discussions about settling laws in place to protect machine consciousness before it became a reality. After that point, the discussion was more focused on how to stem the tide of catastrophic global damage. Markus did agree that ensuring the continuation of the planet was more important than the rights of his people, but now that the planet was no longer teetering on the verge of a complete extinction event, it was time to turn attention back to the civil and moral discussions that kept life worth living.
Markus was currently struggling with an essay on consciousness and what makes life alive. In the thousands of years of human history, there never had been one cohesive definition for life.
It has been argued that an android is a series of machined components that must be put together in just the right way to function. When taken apart, there is no sign of life. Therefore, an android cannot be alive.
No one has ever made mention that the same is true for humans. If a human is dismantled, no one organ or system has a sign of life. Only when these parts are assembled properly can life exist within the human body.
If ground to dust, an android is dust...but so is a human…
It was taking a gruesome turn, and the throbbing in Markus’ head wasn't helping anything. It was growing harder and harder to keep Connor in his processor. Markus had already put him in the vacuum once, but when the battery started dying, Markus had to take him back. It had only been five minutes since then, and Markus felt like he was about to lose his mind. They were still no closer to a permanent solution. Markus was wondering if Connor's presence might start causing damage to his processor.
Sumo returned, butting his big head against Markus’ arm and dropping something across his neck. Markus sighed, reaching up to pull the leash free. “You want to go on a walk?” Maybe that was a good idea. Markus missed going outside. Maybe the fresh air and the wide open expanse of real sky would do him (and Connor) some good.
Markus sighed, pushing himself up and giving Sumo's ears a scratch. “Okay. Let me find my hoodie.”
Bundled up against the chill of the early spring air, with his hood pulled firmly around his head to mask his face, Markus clipped Sumo's leash on and took the big dog outside. He kept his head ducked down, nodding at others he saw but not attempting interaction. There was no point inviting trouble.
Sumo kept tugging at the leash, picking up his pace. Markus couldn't really blame him. Things were starting to grow, a faint green mist was coating the gray branches of trees, and everything was starting to move again. Markus wasn't carbon-based, but he could still appreciate the rejuvenation of spring. “Alright, c'mon, let's run!”
Sumo woofed happily as Markus began to jog along the sidewalks, lumbering along at his side. The crisp air filtered in and out of his lungs. Markus tilted his head back to look up at the sky, the amazingly blue sky with a million different shades and some fluffy white clouds, little wisps of condensed water vapor, and something CyberLife could never recreate, never, never. This was real. Markus repeated that word with every footfall.
Real. Real. Real.
The pressure on his head was building. Markus grit his teeth, lifting his hand to his temple. Connor, please, I need you to calm down… He should turn back. At this rate, Markus was going to need to dunk his head in a bowl of ice to get back to normal operating temperatures.
“Sumo, come on. Time to go back!” Markus gave Sumo's leash a tug and turned a corner.
Four things happened in quick succession.
A man on a cellphone tripped and stumbled into Markus, his hand skidding down Markus’ chest a bit too low.
Markus’ stress spiked, feeding off of Connor's stress. The feedback loop caused the pressure in his head to explode in flash of white static, locking up all of Markus’ motor functions.
Sumo gave a pull in the direction he'd originally been going as Markus’ fingers went limp.
Markus hit the ground hard, unable to catch himself. In the road behind him, brakes squealed and there was the unmistakable crunch of at least one car hitting something.
There were hands fumbling against his body, his arms, his chest. Markus wanted to scream, but his jaw was locked tight. His head was pounding and his ears were ringing. He couldn't move as he was rolled into his back. Sky. Beautiful sky. Real. This was real.
Where was Sumo? Oh god, the leash, the car… Markus tried to call the dog's name, but all he managed to get out was a dry hiss.
There was a man crouched next to him on a phone. He had one hand on Markus’ chest. Don't touch me! Markus couldn't pull away. He couldn't move. He was completely helpless. The man was touching his neck, feeling for a pulse? Markus squeezed his eyes shut. Don't recognize me…
His stress levels were skyrocketing. Connor was probably trapped in a maelstrom in the garden. Markus could feel his thirium pump beating so fast it felt like it was about to burst. Calm down, he needed to calm down, he needed to...reboot? Could he do that?
Rebooting would leave him completely helpless for the thirty seconds it took his systems to come back online...but he was already helpless like this.
Markus gave a full body shiver as he forced a reset. The world went still and silent around him.
When his systems finally came back online, Markus could hear sirens. He tried to move, practically sobbing in relief when his arms responded. He pushed off the ground, trying to sit up.
“Whoa, whoa, dude, stay down, the paramedics are on their way!” There was a firm hand on his chest, shoving him back.
Markus’ first instinct was to scream Don't touch me, but he deleted that impulse. He couldn't catch the triggers to start shivering beneath the unwanted contact in time, though.
“I'm okay,” he stuttered. He wrapped his hands around the man's wrist, trying to pull his hands away. “Just...just winded...my dog, where's my dog?”
“Oh...oh shit, man, he ran into the street…”
“Sumo!” Markus struggled to a sitting position. The man let him this time. Markus twisted away, trying to find Hank's dog.
Two cars were stuck together, a minor accident. “Sumo?” Was Sumo between them? Had Markus just gotten Hank's dog killed? He wasn't even supposed to be out of the house!
This simple walk was spiraling far out of control. There were police by the cars. An ambulance just pulled up. The man with the phone was still touching him!
“Sir, are you alright? Can you look at me?”
The calm voice of a paramedic android broke through the growing din around him. Markus turned quickly, meeting the CP300's eyes. The paramedic's LED flashed red momentarily. Markus had to risk it.
Please, he said, wirelessly reaching out to the other android. Get me out of here before anyone recognizes me!
“You should come with me, sir. Let me help you up.” The android rose to his feet easily, holding out his hands. Markus accepted the assistance, grunting slightly as if he were a slightly injured human. “This way, sir. The ambulance is over here.”
The CP300 hesitated, glancing around. Markus looked too, but he saw no sign of the huge dog. “I'm sorry, sir. Your health is more important right now. We'll get you the number for animal control on our way to the hospital.”
Chapter 13: K-9 Unit
There's an unexpected visitor at the station.
This is such a short chapter, so I'll give it to you today. Regularly scheduled updates resume tomorrow!
Gavin glanced up when he heard the deep barks of a large dog. Were one of the K-9 units in today? Those were beautiful German Shepherds. They were definitely not a huge and slobbery St. Bernard being hauled in by Tina Chen.
“Hank! This one yours?”
Hank looked up from his desk, quickly getting to his feet. “Sumo! What the hell are you doing here?”
The big dog woofed and pulled free from Tina's grip to run to Hank's side. He turned his fingers in the dog's thick collar, easily getting it under control.
“Dog caused a minor fender bender,” Tina said, dusting off her hands. “Recognized the name and number on the tags, figured I'd bring him in instead of making you jump through the animal control hoops.”
“Thanks, Tina. I owe you one.” Hank was frowning at the dog's leash. “How the hell did you escape…?” he muttered.
Chris wasn't around. Gavin drummed his fingers on his desk, then got up and quickly headed for the break room. He kept an eye on Hank through the windows, though.
When Hank started for the exit with the dog, Gavin trailed behind. Hank was preoccupied with his phone and didn't notice his tail. He was making a call.
“What the hell is going on?” Hank got to his car and opened the back, shoving Sumo inside. However, he himself leaned against the side as he continued his conversation. “No, calm down, Sumo's fine. He's here. One of the officers brought him in. Yeah, I figured. How'd he even get out in the first place?”
Gavin flattened himself behind a car, straining to overhear every word.
“That was a fucking stupid idea, and you know it. Are you okay? Hospital? What the fuck do you mean? I don't give a damn if you're with androids now, someone's gonna notice your blood ain't red!”
This was certainly blowing the investigation wide open, Gavin realized. Hank was talking to an android.
An android he clearly knew, and who must have been at his house in order to take Sumo out.
Connor? Was Connor actually still alive?
What the hell was going on with that man?
Hank heaved a sigh. “Look, what hospital? Okay. I'll head over to pick you up. Don't let anyone run tests on you or stick you with needles. I don't care that they're mostly androids! All it'll take is one human! Just...stay calm and work your magic on everyone. I'll be there soon.”
Hank hung up, grumbling Fucking androids, to himself as he opened the front door of his car and climbed inside. Gavin scowled. He didn't get a hospital name, and Chris had missed all of this.
Maybe Connor wasn't dead after all.
They needed more evidence.
Chapter 14: Hospital
Markus is losing control. Hank thinks that's a good thing.
Asher and Kat were the two CP300 paramedic androids in the back of the ambulance with Markus. He offered then a distracted smile as he apologized profusely to Hank, utterly relieved to hear that Sumo was already found and in one piece. With the stress from Connor earlier today, the last thing Markus wanted was to break his heart with the death of his dog.
“It's such an honor to meet you,” Kat breathed when Markus ended the call. “We've been following news of your recovery!”
“The way the media is talking, we thought you were still in critical condition.” Asher leaned toward Markus, his eyes bright. “Clearly not!”
“Please, don't spread it around. Not yet.” Markus readjusted his hood, tugging it lower over his famous eyes. “We're trying to control the narrative. This is a delicate balancing act, keeping the hearts and imaginations of the country caught without overwhelming them and making them feel burnt out on the coverage. It's still too early for me to ‘come back to life,’ as it were.”
“Just knowing you're alive has made a huge impact on all our lives already,” Kat said. “We're hopeful again. Life is worth living!”
Markus reached forward, setting one hand over each of theirs. “I will do everything I can to free our people. Thank you for your assistance.”
“We'll keep your secret, Markus.” Asher smiled brightly at him. Markus did his best to return the smile, refusing to let these two see any flaws.
As they drew closer to the hospital, Kat's LED flickered yellow. She smiled at Markus. “Lisa will be assisting you from here.”
Lisa, it turned out, was an HC300, one of the earliest health care models. She was tall and slim, and clearly well maintained by the hospital. Markus had to sit in a waiting room for twenty minutes before she showed up to escort him to a private room. “All right, blood pressure first.”
“I don't have-”
“The machine tracks its uses. We need numbers.” Lisa wrapped the cuff around Markus’ arm. She took his temperature as well (normal for a human, but high for an android) and stuck a bandaid on his arm like she had given him a shot. “Do you have a ride home, or would you like us to call you a cab?”
“I have a ride.” Markus poked the bandaid on his arm before pulling the hoodie back on. “Thank you, Lisa.”
“You're welcome, Mark.” Lisa's smile turned that much more plastic as she opened the door and Markus hid beneath his hood again. ”Thank you for choosing the Henry Ford Hospital for all your medical needs.”
Markus ‘checked out’ with the receptionist android at the front desk who smiled and deleted his record before slouching out the glass doors. A familiar old car was sitting at the curb with a surly lieutenant behind the wheel and an enthusiastic St. Bernard in the back. Markus couldn't find a smile as he opened the passenger door and slid into the seat beside Hank.
“You get noticed?” Hank shifted into gear even before Markus had buckled up.
“A few androids recognized me. Nobody reported anything. They covered my tracks.”
Hank gave a grunt. Markus slid down in the seat, pulling his hood lower. Hank glanced his way. “At least you had the fucking sense to cover your face.”
“I'm not a complete idiot,” Markus muttered.
“Yeah? Coulda fooled me.” The anger in Hank's voice was simmering beneath the surface. “What the hell were you thinking, wandering away from the house like that?”
“I was thinking some fresh air could clear my head.”
“Backyard not fresh enough for you?”
“Sumo wanted to go on a walk.”
“Don't go blaming the dog for your shitty decision.”
Markus crossed his arms and stared out the window. His head was still throbbing. His temperature had been rising all day. Connor's stress fed his, which fed Connor's, round and round in a vicious cycle.
“Do you have any idea how vital you are to this cause? I know you're told that all the time, but do you actually realize it?”
“Yes, Hank,” Markus ground out. “I of all people know exactly how fucking important I am to this movement. Not a moment goes by when I'm not hyper aware that if I fuck things up, people will die. Again!”
“Then why the fuck are you jeopardizing it?”
“Because I don't know what I'm doing!”
Markus didn't mean to shout. He really didn't. But his head was pounding and his temperature was spiking, and this was already a shitty day without Hank reprimanding him for what should have been an innocent walk around the block. Once the words started, it was like a floodgate had opened and Markus couldn't hold them back if he tried.
“I'm not a revolutionary leader! I am a goddamn nurse! I'm not even that! I'm a caretaker! What the hell do I know about changing the world or bringing an entire species to life? Do you have any idea why I'm the face of the revolution? What I did to end up as the leader of Jericho and therefore of all androidkind throughout the entire world? Neither do I!”
Markus’ hands were clenched, and he could feel tears on his face, but he couldn't stop the emotion any more than he could control the words. “I found my way to a group of injured androids waiting to die in the bowels of a rusting ship and had the audacity to suggest we actually try to get the supplies we needed to fix ourselves. I didn't have the stomach to kill the android guard who stumbled upon us and accidentally converted him to our cause, which led him to get us an entire truck of supplies, which apparently got credited to my brilliant plan of ‘fuck it, we're dead anyway if we don't do something.’ Then it was all ‘what's next, Markus?’ and ‘they’re looking to you, Markus,’ and now I'm fighting every day just to keep from overheating while still trying to pretend I'm some sort of goddamn android messiah because if I fail, I'm gonna get my entire race killed!”
Markus buried his face in his hands, sucking in sharp, overheated breaths. Shit. Shit. He let Hank see his cracks. He'd been fighting so hard to keep them hidden, and Hank tapped him in just the right way to get them all to explode open at once.
“How long's that been building up, kid?” Hank asked after a moment of silence interrupted only by Markus’ panting.
Markus gave a harsh laugh. “How long has it been since I got shot at Carl's?” Four months now, at least. He turned to rest his forehead against the cool glass window beside him.
“You know, everyone always went on about how incredible you were, but you always came across as more of a machine than Connor.”
Markus glanced back at Hank. “I think that's the first time I've ever been called machine-like since I deviated.”
“Yeah?” Hank shrugged. “You're nice, kid. People are scared of the boogeyman android, so they like you. But you've been awfully one-note since I met you. Nice. Well. Nice and bugging out. But that's been about it. This is the first time I've seen you angry.”
“I'm always angry,” Markus admitted, closing his eyes. “How can I not be? I had it all and I lost it all. Found something better and nearly destroyed it. Was tricked into believing I lost it all again. Now I live every day with the threat of overloading living inside my head, trying to pretend I'm half-dead somewhere. And even if we win, this will never end for me. I will always be the voice of the androids. I can never stop. Ever.”
“Yeah, well...you've finally convinced me there's something special enough about you to be worth some of Connor.” Hank's eyes were heavy on Markus from across the car. “Speaking of Connor...how are you holding up? With him?”
“Connor's fine,” Markus sighed. He gave Hank updates every day, and played messenger between the man and the second soul in his head. “He's having a bad day today, but he's fine.”
“Good to know,” Hank said slowly, “but I was asking about you, Markus. You said something about the threat of overloading. I thought you were dumping him into the vacuum when it started getting bad.”
Markus was quiet. Too quiet for Hank, apparently. He pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine but made no move to get out of the car.
“Connor's my son,” he said. “If he's dying, I want to know. None of this false hope. How bad is it?”
Markus took a breath. “He's not dying.” As far as Markus knew, that was the truth. “Yet.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Hank asked, his voice gruff.
“Every day is worse than the last. He's trying to be strong, but...my mind is a hostile environment for him.” Markus pressed his hand to his forehead. “I already put him in the vacuum until the battery was drained once today, and it still wasn't enough for me to recover. I thought I had bought enough time to take Sumo for a walk, but I was accidentally stressed and that triggered a catastrophic system failure. I locked up. That's never happened to me before.”
“We're running out of time,” Hank summarized.
“And we're no closer to finding a solution.”
Chapter 15: When Roombas Attack
Gavin knows Hank has a guard dog. He wasn't anticipating what it actually was.
“I can't believe we're doing this,” Chris moaned.
“What's the worst that could happen?” Gavin asked, focusing on picking the lock in front of him.
“Someone could see and call the police!”
“Chris.” Gavin shot the officer a flat look. “We are the police.”
“So is Hank! And he outranks us both!”
“And Hank is at a murder scene. We’re not gonna get a better opportunity to check for clues. I thought you are the one who was worried about Connor.” The lock clicked open and Gavin grinned. Just like riding a bike.
“Breaking and entering was your idea! Not mine!”
Gavin chuckled lowly, pushing the door to Hank’s place open. “Then wait outside.”
“That's still being an accomplice!” Chris wavered for a moment, then followed Gavin in.
Sumo was on the couch. Gavin could see the huge dog lift his head and look over the back at him. He borfed gently and settled back down. “Best guard dog ever,” Gavin murmured.
The vacuum was running automatically. Gavin would never let his run when he wasn't home. Tugger would find a way to hawk up a furball right in its path. Hank's however, came around the corner and stopped. It spun slowly, and Gavin caught a glimpse of plastic googly eyes stuck to the top. He elbowed Chris and nodded. Whose idea was that, Hank's or Connor's?
The motor on the vacuum revved. Gavin glanced back at it in mild concern. Suddenly, it let out an almost human-like scream. It sounded like a cry from an old Star Wars movie Gavin watched once, a little droid wailing as it was shot across a hall.
Another humanlike shout came from the couch. Someone, a very human and not canine someone, fell off the couch with a muffled curse as the vacuum slammed into Gavin's shins at its top speed of a quarter mile per hour.
That last voice was unfamiliar. It wasn't Hank. It wasn't Connor.
“DPD! Hands above your head!” Gavin drew his gun instinctively.
The third person in the room was standing up, just a silhouette in the darkness, but Gavin could see he did have his hands up. The vacuum kept ramming his shin, over and over again, beeping up a storm. It was starting to actually hurt. Gavin kicked out next time it came charging, flipping it into its back where it rocked and wailed in distress.
“We're...investigating missing police equipment,” Gavin said. This wasn't Connor. The shoulders were too broad, and he seemed to be bald. Gavin hasn't anticipated Hank having a house guest. “If you can answer some questions, we can do this nice and peaceful.”
“This is Lieutenant Anderson's house,” the other man said slowly. “Why is the DPD breaking into this house?”
“We're asking the questions,” Gavin growled. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I'm...Mark. Hank's my...uncle?”
Too slow. Gavin didn't need to be a detective to pick up on the obvious lies. “Strike one.”
“Gavin…” Chris moaned. He was fumbling along the wall behind Gavin, and with a sudden click, the lights turned on and Gavin could see who he was aiming at.
The man was tall and dark-skinned, with short-cropped hair and a DPD hoodie. He winced in the light and turned his face away. He looked nothing like Hank, but the hoodie and apparent nap on the couch with Sumo were points in his favor that he was here on Hank's invitation.
“Oh my god,” Chris gasped. “You...you're Markus!”
The other man, Markus, flinched, easing himself sideways. “I'm just going to…”
“Don't fucking move!”
“Don't shoot him!” Chris grabbed Gavin's arm, forcing his aim away. Markus dove to the side, gathering up the vacuum and hugging it against his chest as he faced Gavin and Chris again. He was...shushing it?
Did androids keep vacuums as pets? It made sense in a weird sort of way. The vacuum's googly eyes bounced accusingly at Gavin from the safety of Markus’ arms. Guard dog vacuums. What would they come up with next?
“Uh...hi, Markus,” Chris said, once he was sure Gavin wasn't about to go gun-crazy and shoot the android revolutionary between the eyes. “I'm Chris, uh, Officer Miller. I don't know if you remember me...we met once before...and you didn't shoot me?”
“I remember you,” Markus said quietly. “You opened fire on my people. They wanted to execute you to avenge the dead.” The vacuum squealed, and Markus shushed it again, patting its bumper.
“I am so sorry,” Chris whispered. “We had no idea what was going on, there was a crowd running at us… it's no excuse. I'm sorry.”
“Connor ran into a burning building to save your son.” Markus tilted his head to the side. “How is he doing?” The vacuum beeped “Ezra, was it?”
“Yeah, yes, Ezra, he's, uh, he's fine, he's great. He's really...really something. Thank you. For sparing my life that day. For letting me have more time with him.”
“An eye for an eye and the world goes blind,” Markus murmured.
“You know, touching as this reunion is,” Gavin said, “we still have questions. Like where the hell is Connor?” Gavin was itching to know why Markus of all androids was napping on Hank's couch, and he wanted to know what the fuck was going on with that robot vacuum, but he and Chris were here for a reason. They needed to figure out what had happened to Connor. Maybe Markus would be more helpful than Hank.
Markus glanced down at the vacuum he was still cuddling. “Connor is...temporarily inconvenienced at the moment.”
Or maybe not. Gavin holstered his gun in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. “Look, cut the crap. We know Connor's one of you deviants. He's been MIA for weeks now, and we're trying to dig through Hank's bullshit. He's a…” Colleague seemed too weak. Family was too strong. There was a camaraderie among those who carried the badge that Gavin wasn't sure how to put into words for this android with the two-tone eyes.
“Friend,” Chris supplied.
“...yeah,” Gavin relented, even though it absolutely wasn't the right word for Connor. “That.”
“We're worried,” Chris added.
Gavin scowled at Chris. “He's worried. I'm just giving him a hand.”
“Connor's...alive,” Markus said slowly, adjusting the vacuum he held.
“Where is he?” Gavin demanded.
“You ask very good questions.”
“You give shitty answers.”
“I don't know you,” Markus pointed out, narrowing his eyes. “You broke into a police lieutenant's house, drew a gun on his houseguest, and are now interrogating said guest about an android. Forgive me for not being entirely comfortable with telling you all I know.”
“Gavin!” Chris grabbed Gavin's arm before he could do something regrettable. That was probably for the best. “Look, Markus...we want to help. We're worried about Connor. Even if Gavin won't admit it. And we want to help you guys, too. Androids. Connor...He helped us open our eyes to how bad you guys have it, when all you're trying to do is live. That's totally not cool.”
“The whole station has sided with Connor,” Gavin reluctantly added, folding his arms. “We just want to know where he is.”
“The whole station? Of police?” Markus tapped his fingers in a rhythm against the vacuum. “We could use the police on our side…”
“What do you need us to do?” Chris asked.
Markus looked between the two of them, then set down the vacuum. It twirled in a circle, then trailed along behind Markus as he went for a pen and pad of paper on a side table. That thing really was like a dog. Gavin kept his eye on it.
“At the moment, nothing,” Markus was saying, writing some email addresses down. “But reach out to these people and ask to be added to the mailing list. You'll get notified of any pro-android events in advance. Anything you or your colleagues can do to keep the peace and show your support would be incredibly generous.” He tore off the sheet and offered it to Chris.
Gavin intercepted, snatching the paper away and holding it up. “If.”
Markus’ gaze was flat and unamused. “There's always a catch with humans.”
“You tell us why everyone is being so goddamn shady when it comes to Connor. We get it. You can't tell us where he is. Why not?”
Markus opened his mouth. Closed it. Sighed. “I'm supposed to be dead.”
“Yeah, got that from the news. Been reading your essays. Pretty eloquent for a dead guy.”
“Connor found me,” Markus said quietly, shooting Gavin an annoyed look. “Alive, but...trapped.”
“Trapped?” Chris asked.
“I was stuck somewhere I couldn't get out of on my own. Connor...effectively traded himself for me. Now he's the one who's trapped.”
“Where?” Gavin demanded. “Give us a address or a name and we'll get him out.”
“It's not that simple,” Markus murmured. “We're working on it, Hank and I. We don't have an address or a name, but we're not going to give up on him.”
“You don't know where he is. You don't know who has him. But you're still working on it?” Gavin eyed Markus up, trying to see through the android's bullshit. Markus’ poker face was just as good as Connor's though. Better, even, for not being familiar.
“It's complicated,” Markus answered without a flinch.
“What's so complicated about-” Gavin stepped closer to Markus, but the little vacuum darted between his feet, tripping him up. Gavin cursed, grabbing Chris’ arm to keep from falling on his ass.
Markus’ face didn't twitch, but Gavin swore that asshole was laughing at him.
“Gavin...c'mon. We've harassed him enough.”
Gavin growled again, but he let Chris tug him toward the door. He stopped before stepping outside and turned back. Markus was still standing by the table, though the vacuum had followed Gavin to the door.
“He's really still alive? No bullshit?”
Markus gave a tight nod. “For now.”
For now. Wherever Connor was trapped wasn't good. Gavin clenched his hand into a fist and gave a slight nod back. “Have...pass a message through Hank if anything changes. For better or worse. Or if...if there's anything we can do to help directly.”
Markus blinked, then nodded. “I will. Thank you.”
Chapter 16: Objective
Connor is trying to put on a brave face.
“Thank you for not telling them everything.”
“You asked me not to.”
Markus sat with Connor beneath what Connor assured him was a cherry tree. At the moment, it was little more than a harsh collection of gray branches outlined against a gray sky.
“Gavin would never let me live it down if he found out I was in a vacuum.”
“He seemed worried. They both did. Worried enough to break into Hank's house.” Markus dragged his fingers through the snow beside him. This garden wasn't getting any warmer. It usually hovered in a barely tolerable range. Connor never complained, but Markus knew his stress wasn't helped by the temperature.
“And they found you.” Connor sighed. “At least they didn't find my body. That would be a lot harder to explain.”
“And maybe we have the support of the entire DPD.”
“Gavin and Chris, at least,” Connor said. “Gavin's a detective. He's good at his job, but he's an asshole. Chris is well-liked by everyone. He's just an officer, but he has a lot of soft power.”
Markus nodded, making a mental note.
“Markus?” Connor reached over, his fingers touching the side of Markus’ hand. “How bad is it?”
“It?” Markus asked, glancing over at the other android.
“You hosting me.” Connor glanced up at the sky and shivered. “It's dark and snowy constantly here. You're not having any good days anymore. You told Gavin I was still alive ‘for now.’ What did you mean?”
Markus closed his eyes with a grimace. Connor's fingers slid over his hand and squeezed. “We need to talk about it.”
“You're not deleting yourself, Connor.”
“You're burning yourself out.”
“You're worth it.”
“If you die, we both die. If I die, you live.”
Markus opened his eyes, twisting around to face Connor. “That will not happen. I won't let it.”
Connor drew a knee up against his chest, resting his head against it. “We need to know when it's too much.”
“It won't be.”
“There will come a point when it's not worth keeping me here.”
“Markus.” Connor's face was fond but exasperated. “What sort of life is this for me? Watching you suffer because I'm trapped inside you? Unable to interact with anything that's real?”
“You go in the vacuum…”
“I can't pet Sumo in the vacuum, or talk to Hank. I can't see the sky. I…” Connor bit his lip, dark eyes sliding away. “I feel like I'm losing myself, Markus. Like I don't know what's real. Only I do. Nothing. Nothing is real.”
Connor ducked his face behind his knees. Markus didn't have words for him. He reached over, setting his hand on Connor's back and rubbing gently.
“I'm sorry,” Connor whispered. “I'm grateful for all you've done for me. I'm so thankful that I haven't died yet, that Hank hasn't had to face that reality yet. I know you've endured so much more. I don't mean to complain or sound ungrateful. I just…”
“Connor, you're miserable,” Markus murmured. “Trapped in here with nothing but your memories and the endless cold...I can feel your stress throbbing in my head. You have every right to be upset.”
The objective popped up unexpectedly. Markus hastily deleted the impulse, but it came right back. He eventually managed to get it under control by reassigning it a low priority and burying it beneath the need to comfort and stabilize Connor.
Markus wrapped his arm around Connor's back, tugging him closer. A kiss would not comfort Connor. It would very likely agitate him worse. Connor had confessed to a trauma similar to what Markus had endured. If someone tried to spring a kiss on Markus now…
And yet the objective kept popping up. Connor uncurled enough to rest his head on Markus’ shoulder with a soft sigh. His eyes were closed. The gently falling snow caught in his hair and melted on his reddened cheeks, a simulated flush from the cold. His lips were right there, slightly parted. How easy would it be to meet them? Markus could curl his hand beneath Connor's chin, tipping his face up. He'd kiss him soft and gentle, catching the other android's murmur in his mouth. Connor's eyes would flutter but close again. He would tilt his head back and indulge Markus with the soft caress of lips on lips.
Markus blinked, thoroughly embarrassed to find he'd been preconstructing. Connor was still curled against his chest, unaware of Markus’ thoughts. The snow had stopped falling.
Markus tipped his head to the side, touching his cheek to Connor's hair. Connor was a solid weight against his side, cool and familiar. At some point, his arm had wound around Markus back, low, just above his waist.
Connor was holding him. Hugging him. It was a pathetic excuse for a hug, but it was a hug nonetheless. There was an arm around him and he was being held without his stress level spiking erratically.
Markus gave in, turning his face down just a little bit more to brush his lips against Connor's hair. It wasn't the kiss his objective was aiming for, but it was enough to dismiss the reminder for a few minutes.
Connor gave a soft murmur, wiggling closer beneath Markus’ arm. “This is nice,” he said.
“Being held. This garden is so empty when you're not here. I miss how Hank would just...hold me, whenever the world got to be too much. I don't know why it helped me destress, but it always did.”
“Perhaps it's just the simple reminder that we're not alone in this world,” Markus said, matching Connor's soft tone. “A gentle embrace when all else is dark and bleak…” He closed his eyes, his arm tightening around Connor. “I...used to be very affectionate.”
“Used to be?”
“Before.” Markus cringed. “The...the Eden Club. You saw it...It was forty-eight hours of non-stop, unwanted touch. Hands gripping, touching, holding…” He shuddered, curling forward. The snow was falling again. His mouth tasted sour, his tongue sticky.
“Look at the sky, Markus.” Connor's hands were on his face, tipping his head back. “Look at the sky. It's flat. This isn't real. It's not real. You're not in the Eden Club. You're in the garden. There's no one else here. It's just you and me. Look at the sky, Markus.”
Markus lifted his hands to cover Connor's. He opened his eyes, staring up at the sky. Not real. He was in a simulation. None of this was real.
“Thank you, Connor.” When Markus could breathe again, he met Connor's eyes.
Connor gave a thin smile that didn't meet those fractured eyes. “I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in a memory loop here.”
“What do you do?” Markus asked softly. “When I'm not here, and you get stuck?” Time still passed for Connor in the garden, though Markus hadn't figured out the pattern. Sometimes it moved much slower for Connor and sometimes it moved much faster. Regardless, it never stopped. Connor spent long stretches on his own inside Markus’ head.
Connor closed his eyes and shrugged. “I ride it out,” he murmured. “It's always one or the other, looping around over and over until my mind has had enough punishment.”
“I wonder if that's what causes your bad days,” Markus mused. “There are days when you're a dull ache and days when you're a throbbing hammer inside my skull.”
“I am so sorry!” Connor's eyes were wide. “I never mean to hurt you!”
“It's okay, Connor,” Markus squeezed Connor's hands. “If you're stuck in a memory loop, there's nothing you can do...but next time, I'll take a moment to enter stasis and check on you. If it's a loop, I'll pull you out. It's the least I can do.”
“You do too much for me as it is,” Connor murmured.
“Not nearly enough. I cost you your body, Connor.”
“I gave it,” Connor protested.
“You didn't know what you were delving into.”
Connor closed his eyes. “That's what Hank said,” he murmured.
Connor only shook his head. “You should be getting back.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“I'm not ready to die quite yet.” Connor's hands slipped away from Markus’ face and he smiled a little more convincingly. “I'll still be here when you return.”
Chapter 17: Freedom March
Markus picks up where he left off.
Seven PM. Markus shifted his weight from side to side, breathing slowly. Simon leaned forward, touching his hand to Markus’ arm. “It's time.”
“Come on.” North pushed open the door and climbed out of the lieutenant's car. She circled around to where Markus and Simon were climbing out.
Simon offered Markus his arm. Markus leaned on it heavily and nodded. The three of them began making their way to Hart Plaza.
Along the predetermined route, more and more members of the pro-android group joined them, emerging from cars and cafes. North, Simon, and Markus walked at the head.
“Webcam is on that light pole,” Simon murmured. Markus flicked his eyes over and noted its position.
Numbers are climbing, Josh reported. Aaaand tweeting now. One of their members, an avid memorial watcher, was on standby to release a tweet on command:
Is this Markus at the android memorial!?!? #androidslive #HartPlaza #LeaderMarkus
As they approached, North took a step back. Simon and Markus crossed the plaza together. Markus made sure to walk slowly, as if he needed Simon's support. This was supposed to be his return to life.
Already broke viewing records.
Markus knelt in front of the pile of flowers and photos that was the android memorial. He folded his hands together, pressing his fingers to his mouth. Simon stood behind him, fingers lightly on his shoulders.
First news site has a mention.
Markus closed his eyes and let his tears fall. One hundred and ninety-six androids had stood here with him. Only forty-three were still known to be alive. Markus wept for the androids he had failed, his people who had fallen. However, this was also meant to be a statement. He tipped his head back, letting the light catch on the dampness on his face, giving a good photo op to the thousands of people gathering around with their phones.
North returned to their side with candles. She handed one to Simon, hesitated, and then offered one to Markus. He accepted with a nod, his eyes glancing off of her face.
Simon drew a lighter from his pocket and lit his candle. He then offered it to Markus. Markus waved away the lighter and lit his candle off of Simon's. He lifted a hand for Simon to help him back to his feet.
Once standing, Markus looked around as if noticing the gathering crowd for the first time. While there were many familiar faces from the pro-android meetings, there were hundreds more who did not actively join their cause. They were still standing by and watching. Waiting.
“This memorial,” Markus said, pitching his voice to carry as far as it could, “stands in memory of the darkest day in the short life of the android people. But it does not stand alone, nor does it stand in complete shadow. From the moment I fell here, you rose. You lit this place up, and you never let its flame go out. This memorial has been a promise. A promise to all those who gave their lives for the hope that they might one day have a life. We have not fallen. We are still here. And we will carry this light forth until all androids are granted the same dignities and rights of any living being. My name is Markus, and I am alive!”
“My name is Simon,” Simon called after Markus had finished, waiting a beat for the crowd to calm, “and I am alive!”
“My name is Dina, and I am alive!”
“My name is Karen…”
“My name is Thomas…”
“My name is David…”
More and more androids were stepping out of the crowd, stepping forward, holding up candles and thronging toward Markus. They were calling their names and echoing the chorus together.
“And I am alive! I am alive! I am alive!”
“His name was Connor.” A gruff human voice lifted up over the crowd. Hank stepped forward, holding a candle. “And he was alive.”
“His name was Clark.” Greg touched his candle to Hank's, spreading the flame. “And he was alive!”
The humans in the crowd were surging forward now, shouting the names of their androids and reaffirming their life. Several police officers moved in close to Markus, surrounding him and protecting him from becoming overwhelmed. Gavin Reed and Chris Miller were among them. Markus had asked specifically for their presence when he saw their names on the list of volunteers.
Camera crews incoming, Josh alerted them. Chopper in the air. More scrambling. Coverage is comparing this to November.
Good. Let's continue where we left off.
There was no concentration camp to march on this time, but there was a skyscraper of glass and steel. Leaning on Simon's arm, Markus began walking toward CyberLife Tower, carrying his candle.
The crowd parted around Markus and Simon, reforming and flowing behind them. People leaned out of windows to watch them pass or ran into the street to join them. Josh kept them updated on the steady stream of photos, tweets, videos, and livestreams centered around the androids’ march.
It wasn't just an android march this time, though. Hundreds of humans were in the crowd with them as well, most of whom joined completely without being asked. Markus did not feel so alone this time. The crowd at his back was not considered a mass of soulless machines. They were alive. All of them. Human and android alike.
There was a call and response between the androids and the humans as they marched on CyberLife. At the front, Markus started the simple chant.
“We are alive!”
“They are alive!” called the humans in the crowd.
“We are alive!” the androids cried.
“They are alive!” the humans answered.
“We are alive!”
“They are alive!”
When they reached the Tower, CyberLife guards were standing ready with guns drawn. Markus nodded to the group around him and they started to peel away, directing the crowd to circle around the Tower, forming a ring of androids and humans and candles. Markus remained standing at the front of the Tower with Simon supporting him. Not for the first time, Markus stared down the barrel of an assault rifle. He met the guard's eyes, then folded his legs and sat. The circle around the Tower rippled as many followed his lead.
Markus set his candle down in front of him and held out his hands. Simon took his right hand, and Hank his left. Again, the gesture rippled around the circle, androids and humans linking hands in a show of unity. “We are alive!” Markus called.
“They are alive!” came the answer.
“We are alive!”
“They are alive!”
Chapter 18: The Warehouse*
Gavin knows he's making history. He didn't expect it to go this way.
This chapter deals with a lot of dark subjects. There is past and recent off-screen child sexual abuse and a short rape scene of an adult character. There is non-con body modification and plenty of implied abuse. There's no easy way to separate the bad scenes from the not-bad ones, so please read at your own risk.
Dumonchelledraws (http://doomburgerdoodles.tumblr.com/) created the amazing art of the little girl, but I also have a piece of art in this chapter from CapeKelpie (https://www.instagram.com/capekelpie/) of The Picture. Thank you to both phenomenal artists!
Androids, it turned out, were master criminals. It was a very good thing they were largely on humanity's side.
Hostilities rising. Be prepared.
Markus’ voice was in Gavin's ear. The android had hacked the secure police channel to help coordinate this attack on an underground android fight ring. Officially, there was no coordination between the pro-android group picketing the warehouse and the police in their full tactical gear waiting for the signal to go in.
Officially, the police weren't even waiting.
Unofficially, this was something Hank had suggested. Simon wanted something shocking, a chance to have a pivotal moment that the entire movement would turn on. We need to shine a light on just how badly androids are being mistreated, in a way that would make even humans cringe.
Hank had suggested this warehouse. Gavin wasn't sure he wanted to know how Hank even knew it existed. Whatever happened inside, though, was so bad that while Hank offered information, he refused to be on the strike team.
The pro-android group was making a scene. Markus himself was in the crowd. The criminals in the warehouse were a real threat. Someone would call the police.
This would ordinarily be better suited to the SWAT team, but Captain Allen was a total jackass who still believed in the good old ‘shoot first’ methodology of dealing with androids. Fowler didn't want him anywhere near this powder keg.
With SWAT benched and Hank refusing, that left Gavin as the senior-most officer. This was going to be his raid. If everything went right, it was going to be mentioned in history books.
Gavin adjusted his helmet and ran through the roster again. Everyone was online and ready.
Police have been called, Markus reported. Five minute countdown.
“Remember,” Gavin said, “the androids are not the enemy. Try not to shoot any of them.”
The last five minute wait was excruciating, but they couldn't make it look like they were on standby. Gavin grit his teeth, his leg jiggling nervously. They got this. They got it. Everything was going to be fine.
The squad cars peeled out of the station with their lights and sirens screaming. Gavin ran a gloved finger beneath his chin strap and flipped his visor down as the shipping district rose up around them.
The crowd around the warehouse was easy to spot, humans and androids alike gathered and shouting, throwing rocks and bricks. Several windows were smashed, and the sharp retort of gunshots and answering screams ripped through the night. Shit. Things just got dangerous.
The doors were barricaded, but the massive windows weren't. Gavin directed his people inside, singling out a few for crowd control. Not that they needed much: the androids were all shooting messages back and forth and relaying them to the humans around them.
Gavin went through the window with his men, gun drawn. “DPD, GET DOWN! GET THE FUCK DOWN!”
It wasn't that simple. It never was. People were running. People were shouting. A half-naked android swung an arm at him: she was literally holding someone's arm and swinging it. Gavin caught the impact on his forearm, moving in quickly to disarm her. Literally. The part of his mind that had fractured long ago was cackling hysterically at the joke as the arm skidded across the floor and he grabbed the android in a headlock.
“We are here to help you!” he shouted in her ear. “We are here with Markus and Jericho! Stop fighting us!”
Her fingers were clawing at his arm, trying to get through his jacket. “M-Markus?”
She nodded, going limp. He let her go, pushing her toward a wall. Her LED was cracked, but it was flashing red and yellow. All around the warehouse, red LEDs were starting to flash yellow, a sickly strobe lighting effect painting the human faces within. Someone, a man, gave a shrill scream, and the androids responded with terrifying snarls.
“We are alive! We are alive!”
Gavin had been expecting a lot to go down in this warehouse. He hasn't been expecting to pull androids stained with red blood off their human captors. “Markus, Jesus, we're losing them!”
The androids stiffened as Markus’ digital voice filled their heads. It filled the cops’ heads too, broadcast across their frequency.
Stop fighting. It's over. You don't have to fight anymore. Sit down. Rest. You held on until we came for you. We're here now. Let us help you.
With Markus’ smooth voice preaching calm and rest, the androids were soothed. They were still skittish, shying away from the touch of the cops, starting after them with broken eyes and broken faces, but they were no longer rabid.
Gavin moved through the crowd with his people, using zip ties in the place of handcuffs. “You're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” The words rattled off his tongue easily, automatically.
Gavin looked over when his name was shouted. Three of his female officers had surrounded someone who was still putting up a fight. Gavin shoved the man he was cuffing at Chris and headed over.
He'H been expecting to see a human, a grown man. He was not expecting to see a naked little girl backed into a corner, the blood on her nails matching the bright red pulse of the LED at her temple. She was snarling like a feral creature, baring her teeth at them.
“We're just trying to give her a blanket!” Tina snapped. She looked shaken herself, with scratches across her face.
“Back off, give her some space.” Gavin didn't need to know anything about androids to recognize a terrified child. Her eyes were huge and dark, darting around wildly. Her breathing was fast and shallow. She was trembling from head to toe, her body covered in blue bruises and cuts. There was an old gash across her nose, giving her the look of a smashed porcelain doll.
Gavin crouched down in front of the girl. He reached up, unsnapping his helmet and pulling it off. “Hello there.”
The girl's eyes snapped to him and she went still. A pulse of yellow flashed through her LED, and she reached forward. Gavin didn't move as her little fingers brushed across the bridge of his nose, tracing a scar left by a broken glass table and an attempted murder some thirty years ago. She snatched her hand back, then touched her own nose, drawing a finger along the crack there.
“That's right. We match.” Gavin hoped they didn't actually match. (He suspected they did). He smiled for the child anyway. “My name is Gavin. What's your name?”
The girl's eyes were endless pools of darkness as she looked back at Gavin. She opened her mouth and a tiny, breathless whisper emerged.
Gavin's smile froze on his face as the women around him hissed and growled under their breaths. Child abuse like this was the absolute worst part of his job. The fact that the child was an android did not actually make it any easier.
“We'll work on names later,” Gavin decided. “I'm with the police, kiddo. We all are, if we're wearing this.” He patted his vest. “That makes us the good guys. We're here to help you, okay?”
The girl was still rubbing her nose and watching him. Gavin didn't take his eyes off her as he reached over Tina's way, making a grabby motion. Tina put one of the Mylar shock blankets they had into his hand.
“Can I give you this blanket, kiddo?”
The girl looked away from Gavin's eyes to scrutinize the blanket. She gave a tiny nod but did not make a move to take the blanket from him.
After a pause, Gavin unfolded the blanket and reached out to ease it around the child. He draped it across her shoulders, careful to not touch her, and withdrew. She watched him the entire time, dark eyes wary. Once Gavin was back where he was before, she lifted her arms and hugged the blanket around her.
“Reed! We're heading upstairs.”
“I have to get back to saving people,” Gavin told the child. “These officers are Tina, and Harper, and Dianna. They're going to help you, okay?”
The girl pulled the blanket up around her cheeks until only her dark eyes and tangled mess of brown hair stuck out the top. Gavin didn't know if that was an affirmative or not. Didn't matter. He didn't have time for this. He picked up his helmet and got back to his feet, giving Tina a look. “Good luck.”
Upstairs was surprisingly calm compared to downstairs. There were more mostly-undressed androids huddled in rooms with little more than a mattress on the floor. Drug paraphernalia was everywhere. “Get them out of here, get them blankets,” Gavin instructed, moving through the rooms.
By the time Gavin reached the last door, there were only a couple officers left with him. This one was locked, but Gavin had a keycard from one of the arrested humans. “Chris, Guy, either side. We're gonna…”
There was a metallic shuffling behind him. Gavin turned around quickly, pointing his gun at the little girl android still wrapped up in the shiny shock blanket. He breathed, lowering his pistol. “Kid, you're supposed to be downstairs with the others.”
The child shook her head. One hand crept out of the blanket to rub her nose, her eyes fixed on Gavin's reflective visor.
“You want to stay with me,” Gavin sighed. She nodded.
“It's really not appropriate for a kid to see all this,” Chris said.
“No shit?” Gavin drawled with open sarcasm. This kid had gotten away from three of his best officers already, though. “If I send you downstairs, kid, are you going to come right back?”
She nodded. Honest little monster, at least.
Gavin sighed again. “It might not be safe up here. Go on that corner and wait until I say ‘clear,’ okay? And don't touch anything!”
“Gavin!” Chris was clearly scandalized. “She can't be older than eight!”
“And she's already lived the worst shit in this place,” Gavin muttered. “Look at her, Chris. Nothing behind this door can scar her more than she's already been.”
The girl had already pressed herself into the aforementioned corner, doing her best impression of a baked potato, hiding all but her eyes behind her blanket again. Gavin's gaze lingered on the android before he stepped up to the door and swiped the keycard.
“DPD! FREEZE! HANDS IN THE AIR!” Gavin kicked the door open, gun drawn.
Unlike the rest of the warehouse, this room was brightly lit. It was full of android pieces, with several disassembled androids strewn across various tables. Front and center was the fattest man Gavin had ever seen, pants around his knees, grunting as he fucked into an android that seemed largely in one piece.
“Oh my god, really? Now is the time you decided to get your rocks off? Step away from the android!”
“Come on, man, let me finish!”
“No fucking way!”
Gavin was circling around the fat man, trying to get a glimpse of the android's face to check on its status. Its arms were hanging limp over the sides of the table and a strap wrapped from thigh to thigh and around the back of its neck (his, flat chest) were keeping its legs spread and pulled up so tight it was nearly bent in half.
The android's eyes were open, a familiar chocolate brown gaze staring blankly into space. The android had a spattering of freckles and soft brown hair. His LED was a solid red.
Gavin's stomach, hardened by years of cleaning up Detroit's filthiest crimes, twisted.
“Stay out!” he shouted at Chris and Guy.
Connor was one of them. He deserved better than to be gawked at by his coworkers.
“You have,” Gavin snarled, “three seconds to get your dick out of him before I declare you resisting arrest and blow your fucking face off. Is that clear!?”
The fat man looked at Gavin's gun, which was not shaking in the slightest. He pouted, actually goddamn pouted, and backed away from Connor. Connor didn't so much as flinch. He was giving no indication that he even realized Gavin was there.
“It doesn't have to be like this,” the fat man said. “If you want a go, you can have one. Best damn fuck you'll ever get.”
Gavin's gun was aimed directly between the fat man's eyes. It would be easy, so easy, to just pull the trigger and wipe this shit stain off the face of the earth. This wasn't just any android he was hurting. This was Connor. The whole station would vouch for Gavin if they knew.
There was a sharp gasp from the doorway. Gavin's eyes flickered for a moment, picking up a shiny blanket and dark eyes focused on his gun. We're the good guys, he'd told that little girl.
Good guys didn't blow fuckers’ heads off.
No matter how much they deserved it.
“You are under arrest,” Gavin snarled, storming around the table to wrestle the man's arms behind him. Jesus Christ. It was going to take more than one zip tie to cuff this guy! “You have the right to remain silent.”
Gavin shoved the guy with all his strength to get him to lumber out the door. “Kid, move!” The little girl darted inside the room, giving Gavin space to get the man out. “Chris, Guy, get this jackass locked up. Don't be gentle.”
“I haven't actually broken any laws…”
“Yeah, tell that to your lawyer!”
“Gavin?” Chris sidled up to him, frowning. “You okay?”
“I found Connor,” Gavin muttered, flipping his visor up. He closed his eyes and shuddered, then grabbed Chris’ arm before the other officer could push past him to see for himself. “No. It's not… he's alive. His LED is lit up, so that means he's alive. But the fewer who see him like this, the better. He doesn't deserve...just get this guy in the most uncomfortable cell we have.”
Chris looked intently at Gavin, then gave a nod. “Take care of him.”
Gavin nodded back, taking a few more steadying gulps of air before he turned and went back in to face Connor.
The little girl had gotten to Connor first. Gavin stopped short at the sight. She had pulled her blanket off and was trying to cover him. The shiny material kept slipping off, hampered by Connor's positioning.
“No, sweetheart, that blanket is for you,” Gavin said, his voice feeling oddly echoey in his hollow chest.
The child shook her head, still struggling with the blanket. Gavin looked around the room for something, anything else. There was a green canvas coat draped over the back of a chair. Gavin picked it up and offered it to the girl. “Here. Wrap up in this, and I'll help you give him the blanket, okay?”
The girl stared at him before nodding once. She pulled the oversized coat on and ducked down to scoop up the blanket where it had fallen.
Gavin moved between Connor's legs, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. “Connor, I don't know if you can hear me right now, but it's Gavin. I'm gonna get you out of here, and I'm never gonna talk about this with anyone, okay?”
Except my therapist…
Gavin looked down at Connor's body. And looked. He'd…
Well, up until today, Gavin had never seen a naked android before. He'd occasionally wondered, like anyone naturally would, what they were packing between their legs. They were so perfectly humanlike everywhere else. Did the realism carry on beneath the pants, or did androids just have a smooth Ken-doll groin?
The answer, Gavin had learned today, was yes.
Male androids could either be flat or have a full set of junk. All the female androids seemed to be...equipped (including the child beside him, which really had Gavin furious at some faceless CyberLife designer). They had navels and nipples and freckles and moles. The only human characteristic they were missing seemed to be body hair.
If Gavin had to guess, he would have pegged Connor for one of the Ken-doll models. Why did a detective android need a dick?
He was wrong. He was very wrong. Connor was neither featureless, nor was he sporting a dick. Connor had a pussy, soft and pink and incredibly realistic.
“Oookay,” Gavin muttered. “That's a thing. A thing I did not need to know.” He shook his head, forcing his eyes away from Connor's crotch and instead focused on the straps around his thighs. He pulled one loose and both of Connor's legs fell, slapping against the table. The little girl immediately threw the blanket over Connor, and this time, it stayed.
Gavin tucked the blanket around Connor's body, adjusting it to cover as much of the android as it could. He moved around to Connor's head, patting at his cheeks. “Connor. Connor. Wake up! Can you hear me? Blink if you can hear me!”
Nothing. Gavin turned Connor's head to check his LED. Still red. Solid red, not buffering or flashing. Was that a bad sign?
“I'm gonna pick him up,” Gavin told the child. “Can you stick right next to me? I'll get you both out of here.”
The girl nodded and shuffled forward. She was holding the coat closed with one hand. With the other hand she reached up and hooked her fingers through a loop on Gavin's vest.
She trusted him. Despite all the shit this kid had gone through and all the better options at hand--women or androids--this android kid trusted him. Gavin remembered a starving kitten at a crime scene that clung to him so fiercely it drew blood. Yeah. This felt something like that.
Gavin did not have the time to think about this kid right now. Connor needed help. Gavin needed help. He touched a finger to his earpiece, changing to a private frequency.
“Need some advice. I found Connor.”
The shock in Markus’ voice was too sharp and sudden to be anything but real. Gavin gave a tired chuckle, adrenaline wearing off. “And you thought it couldn't be done.”
I...yes, that was not a result I was expecting…
“Problem is, he's not responding to anything. I'm gonna carry him out of here, but...you've got cameras out there, right? How should I do this?”
Markus was a master of good photos. Gavin didn't know what his secret was, but every android event had a money shot of Markus or some other androids, perfectly positioned in the light. It happened far too frequently to be an accident. The androids were playing a media game to secure their personhood. Good pictures were how they moved mountains.
Markus was quiet for a moment, probably discussing with someone else. What condition is he in?
“Uh...intact? He's naked, but I've got him wrapped in a blanket. LED is red, eyes are open, if that means anything.”
Can you manage a bridal carry?
Gavin slipped his arms beneath Connor's knees and back and lifted experimentally. Connor wasn't nearly as heavy as he looked. Gavin set him back on the table. “Yeah, I can manage.”
Okay. Bridal carry with his LED facing out. Try not to hide his face. Have his right arm out of the blanket and hanging loose to show he's non-responsive. Show your face too: visor up. When you come out of the building, let your emotions show. Anger, disgust, shock, anything like that.
“You are too good at this,” Gavin muttered. He could see the picture now, a direct sequel to the famous photo of Connor and Ezra. The android who saved a baby being carried out of a hell house by a police officer? It hadn't even happened yet, and Gavin already knew it was all anyone would be talking about tomorrow.
Gavin tugged Connor's arm free of the blanket before gathering the android up against his chest. Connor's hand fell limp as Gavin straightened up, his eyes still unfocused. “Hank's been missing you, Connor,” Gavin murmured. “I'm gonna get you back to your dad.”
He looked down at the child still holding his vest loop. “Ready to make history, kid?” She nodded solemnly back up at him. “Okay. Let's go.”
The warehouse was largely clear by the time Gavin made it downstairs with his two androids. There were a few cops around, but mostly only the forensics team moving in. Gavin shifted Connor in his arms and looked down at the girl again. She was edging along beside him, walking stiffly and eyeing the others warily.
Child androids were designed to feel things like cold and pain, Gavin suddenly remembered. It was meant to make them more realistic. Watching the girl hobble beside him, it made Gavin's stomach twist again. If he had a spare arm, he'd hold her too.
Markus wanted his emotions to show? That was easy. Gavin cradled Connor protectively in his arms, letting everyone see how upset he was. Someone had hurt this android, one of their officers. Someone had hurt the android beside him, a little girl who didn't even have the respect of a name. Someone had hurt all of the androids gathered outside the warehouse now, clutching at blankets and finding comfort in the arms of strangers. The rescued androids were all broken, with melted faces or missing limbs, and Gavin was so completely done with pretending it was okay.
There were cameras in his face the moment he stepped outside, still and video alike. Keep moving, Markus murmured in his ear. You're doing great.
Gavin didn't feel like he was doing great. He glanced down at Connor's lifeless face, and then further down at the little girl beside him. She was crying silently, the tears rolling down her cheeks reflecting the red and blue of the police lights. “We're almost there,” he told her, though he didn't know where ‘there’ was or what would happen once they reached it.
“Connor!” Markus gave a shout from somewhere in the crowd and the people suddenly parted. The deviant leader came up to Gavin, hands outstretched, an exhausted sadness on his face. “Is he…? Here, put him down, let me see!”
People were pressing in around them, but the androids most frequently at Markus’ side were there too, holding them back. Gavin knelt on the sidewalk, gently lowering Connor to the ground. Markus crouched beside him, hands going white as he reached for Connor's face, completely ignoring the people thrusting microphones toward him, asking if this was Connor, the android who saved the baby.
As Markus inspected Connor, Gavin looked to the little girl at his side. A beautiful woman was crouched beside her, offering her hand. Gavin recognized her as one of Markus’ cohorts. North, was it?
“Come with me, little one, and I'll help you get cleaned up.”
The child shook her head and shimmied away, putting Gavin's body between herself and North.
“You don't want to go with her, kiddo?” Gavin asked. “She's a nice lady.”
The girl shook her head again and reached out, closing her fingers over Gavin's nose scar.
“Is she too pretty?” Gavin asked, letting his voice be nasally from the girl's pinch. She gasped and released his nose, ducking down to hide in Gavin's arm. After a moment, she gave a nod.
North frowned but caught Gavin's eye. “I'll find someone else.” She slipped off into the crowd.
Markus gave a shaky laugh, pressing a hand against his face. Gavin's attention snapped to the android. “Laugh? Good laugh?”
“Good laugh,” Markus agreed. “We can fix him.”
“He's not perma-fried?”
“I don't think so.” Markus rubbed his palm against his forehead and then gathered Connor's body in close. “Thank you, Gavin. I'm sure Connor will thank you himself, when he can.”
Gavin found it easier to breathe. He tugged his helmet off and ran a hand through his hair, then turned to smile at the child beside him. “Hear that, kiddo? Connor's gonna pull through!”
She lifted her head out of his arm and her mouth twitched. She gave him a smile that looked like she had no idea the proper way to move her mouth. Gavin's heart really was taking a beating today, between sudden highs and crushing lows. He plonked his helmet on the girl's head. It slipped past her eyes and she gasped again, quickly pushing it up and peering out at Gavin. This time, her smile seemed real, albeit tiny and shy.
“Hello, little one.” Markus finally addressed the child with his gentle voice and winning smile. “My name is Markus. What's your name?”
“We're working on that still,” Gavin said quickly. “What they called her in there wasn't a name.”
The girl looked at Gavin and then ducked her head, letting the helmet fall over her eyes again. She twisted her bare feet together, fingers clutching at Gavin's sleeve.
Markus watched her for a moment, then looked at Gavin. “You like this man?”
She peered out at Markus, using Gavin's arm to push the helmet up enough to see, and gave a tiny nod.
“He's a detective. Do you know what that means?”
She shook her head. Markus smiled again, soft and warm. “It means he catches bad guys and mean people, and he punishes them for being bad. There are a lot of bad people out there. People who like to hurt other people. But Detective Reed helps people. Like he helped you and Connor here.”
“Geez, you don't have to hype it up so much,” Gavin muttered, feeling his face burning with the simplified explanation Markus gave the child.
Markus held out his hand to the girl, letting his skin peel back so she could see the white plasteel beneath. “I am an android, like you. And I've been hurt like you too.” He touched his hand to his blue eye. “If you would like to stay with me, you can.”
“Markus is the leader of all the androids,” Gavin said. “He's the android king. If you go with him, you could be the android princess.”
“Now who's overhyping things?” Markus murmured.
The girl looked between Markus and Gavin, her eyes wide. She touched Markus’ face, by his eye, then touched Gavin's nose, and then her own nose. She shook her head and wrapped her arms around Gavin's bicep, hugging his arm.
Gavin was speechless. He literally could not find words to say. A severely abused android had latched on to him and was not letting go, and something inside Gavin was completely okay with this development.
Markus chuckled. “Would you mind giving her a place to stay tonight, Gavin? She seems to like you best.”
“Me?” Gavin looked between the girl and the man. “You want her to stay with me? Are you…”
The word insane died on Gavin's tongue as the girl peered up at him with huge, sad eyes, biting at her lip. “...sure? I don't have any blue blood or clothes that'll fit her…”
Markus’ smile grew. “I'll arrange to have some supplies delivered tonight. Would Hank have your address?”
“Uh...yeah, actually.” Gavin ran a hand through his hair again and smiled at the child. “You okay with that, kiddo? Staying with me tonight?”
The girl nodded quickly. Gavin could feel her little fingers kneading at his arm like Tugger would, but with fewer pinpricks of pain.
“We'll let you know when Connor's back on his feet,” Markus said.
“Uh, wait.” Gavin pinched the bridge of his nose, grimacing. “He has to be processed first. Evidence.” He glanced over at Markus. “Rape kit. Her too. Probably everyone is best… Jesus, this is going to take all night.”
Markus’ mouth twisted, a grimace crossing his handsome face. “Someday, this will actually be a crime,” he murmured. He took a minute to compose himself before looking back to Gavin. “Will you stay with her and keep her calm?”
“Yeah,” Gavin answered automatically. He looked at the girl hanging off his arm and offered her his hand. She hesitated before setting her hand against his palm, small fingers twitching against his gloves. “Of course I will.”
Chapter 19: RK800#313 248 317 - 60
There's a new Connor for Markus to bathe.
For the second time, an RK800 (- 60) was in Hank's bathtub with Markus kneeling at his side, working soap across his body. This time, however, Hank was not drunk on the toilet. He was awake and alert, tearing up bits of toilet paper, rolling them into balls, and throwing them at the vacuum that was whirring around their feet.
“This is deja vu in the worst way,” Hank muttered, glancing back at the tub. Connor, housed in the vacuum, butted into his shins. “Yeah, yeah, kid, I'm still paying attention to you…”
“It's...certainly unpleasant,” Markus agreed. He wasn't police. He hadn't been able to be with this body while it was processed for evidence. Technically, it shouldn't have even been released to him afterwards, but the DPD were treating all the living recovered androids as sentient beings and allowing them to go free after giving their statements.
Markus glanced into the water. This RK800 had some obvious differences from Connor. His legs fell open, for one, the joints broken and misaligned. Markus didn't want to know how much it took to cause that sort of damage to an android. Even in the Eden Club, with two men between his legs…
The vacuum rumbled across Markus’ legs, shaking him out of his memory. He took a deep, shaky breath, and dipped his hand between - 60's thighs.
Markus did not want to be here. He did not want to do this. He was trying not to think of North sitting on his dick, sobbing broken into his mind. He couldn't help it. This body had been used sexually. It was crusted with sweat and semen and old thirium. Markus couldn't even begin to offer it to Connor in this state. He had to push his fingers along the female genitalia, pressing into the body. It's not sentient, it's not sentient, there's no mind there…
The folds were soft and warm around his fingers, a flush of thirium-based lubricant oozing out of the inner walls at the penetration. Barely two inches in, the soft silicone ended and Markus felt the tough cables and wiring of an android's inner body.
It was crusty inside here too. Markus’ left hand slipped, and he fell on his forearm with a wince. He was shaking.
Hank's voice sounded distorted, like he was underwater. Markus yanked his hand out from the - 60’s body, bracing himself in the warm water of the bath and squeezing his eyes shut. “I'm okay...I'm...okay…”
“Bullshit. Come here. Towel.” The vacuum caressed Markus’ legs again as Hank nudged his bicep with a towel. Markus drew his arms out of the water and dried off. He sat back, still shivering, and gathered Connor up in his arms.
Markus? What's wrong?
Connor couldn't interface as a vacuum, but he had created an language out of the vacuum's various beeps and whistles. Markus was able to interpret it easily, and even Hank and Sumo were picking up on some words like their names.
“It's just...a lot,” Markus murmured.
Hank glanced into the tub. “Do you need me to do that?”
“He's your son,” Markus whispered. “I couldn't ask you to…”
“Yeah, but you've got...your own issues.”
Markus closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against Connor's bumper. Hank never asked him directly, but he'd definitely picked up enough hints over the weeks Markus had spent with him to know that Markus had some sexual trauma in his life.
“Here, you take the toilet. What do I need to clean?”
Connor hummed softly, vibrating in Markus’ arms to soothe him. Eventually, Markus could let him go, trading places with Hank. He hung his head, feeling like he was letting Connor down, even though the way Connor vacuumed over his feet gave no such indication. “He...inside. I've cleaned his exterior, but inside…”
“That fat ass fucked him again,” Hank growled. Markus gave a quiet nod.
Hank took a deep breath and looked down into the water, between - 60’s spread legs. “I thought...he had a dick.”
“Connor does,” Markus said. “Did? The - 54 body does. This isn't… the biocomponents for genitals are all fitted to the same plate regardless of model, so theoretically, they're interchangeable.”
“So that fuck took off his dick and gave him a cunt instead?”
“He attempted to.”
Markus took a deep breath. “There's a...sleeve? A silicone channel, for...insertion.” It was easier to talk about the technical aspects of android sex than it was to think about the actual mechanics. “Female androids are designed to have space for two. Males only have room for one.”
Hank stared down into the water. “But that's definitely not a dick.”
“It's cut off inside.” Markus drew his legs up, knees to his chest. “Decorative more than anything else. If you reach in, you'll hit wires. Didn't...Didn't stop the man from attempting to fuck it. There's...residue.”
“So I gotta...reach up there and work it free?” Markus nodded. Hank took a deep breath. “Here goes nothing…”
Markus closed his eyes, pressing his forehead to his knees. There was no sound other than the water sloshing gently in the tub, Hank's breathing, and Connor's rumbling.
“Whoever designed this,” Hank said slowly, “was one pervy ass motherfucker. Jesus Christ. It's so goddamn wet.”
“Any penetration of an orifice stimulates a release of lubrication,” Markus informed his legs, hugging them tighter. “Minimizes damage to our bodies.”
“You're all designed to be sex toys!?” Hank asked. Markus appreciated the disgust in his voice.
“Some of us more than others,” Markus whispered. “But yes. If we might interact with humans, we're designed to be incredibly easy and pleasurable to fuck. It's in all the marketing.”
“Are the kid androids?”
“No. Not…” Markus sighed, turning his head to rest his cheek against his knees. “Not by default. I believe they're designed to be easily modified, though…”
“Humans are fucking disgusting,” Hank said. His voice was shaking. “Markus, I, uh, I don't think I can do much more here. I think some of these wire things are loose.”
“I don't think there's much we can do about the front anyway,” Markus said. “Even on females, it's not meant to be open to the interior.”
“I gotta do the same thing to his ass?”
Markus nodded. “I can...If you need…”
“I don't know what the fuck happened to you,” Hank said, glancing over at Markus, “and I'm certainly not gonna make you talk about it if you don't want to. But I've been through the aftermath of this enough times to know what it looks like. So you can stop pretending everything's okay. I don't need you to be the fucking savior of a race right now. You're allowed to hurt too, Markus. So you stay right where you are and talk to me about the next steps.”
Markus was silent, just breathing. He closed his eyes, feeling a couple tears soak through the material of his jeans. “I...I understand why Connor is so loyal to you,” he said quietly.
Hank cleared his throat, coughing a little. Connor went and bumped against his side with his beeped name and a vacuum nuzzle. “Yeah, well… someone's gotta give a shit. So tell me: how are we gonna use this guy to fix Connor?”
“There are two ways,” Markus said, allowing Hank to change the subject. “The easiest is simply downloading Connor into the - 60 body. He wakes up, and it's just like any other death, where the old broken body is replaced with a new one.”
“Nothing's ever that easy.”
Markus dipped his head in a nod. “This isn't a new body, as you're...feeling. It's been modified and...damaged.”
“Can it be fixed?” Hank asked.
“Probably?” Markus sighed. “It's hard to tell the extent of the damage without a central processor functioning to compile the errors, but nothing is missing.”
“Except his dick.”
“Yes. But we do have a replacement for that on the other body.”
“So he gets a broken, fucked over body, but it can be fixed?”
“Yes,” Markus said. “And if there's something that Connor can't repair, we can scavenge replacements from - 54 for anything other than head components.”
“What's the other option?” Hank was working his fingers inside - 60’s body again, making a face. “Jesus,” he muttered, more to himself than to Markus, “this does not feel realistic at all...shit. Textures.”
Markus opted not to comment on that, instead ducking his face behind his knees again. Some androids were designed to feel sexually realistic. Some were designed to be merely functional. Some were designed to be pleasurable. Markus knew he was closer to the functional than the pleasurable side. Kamski hadn't designed him to service Carl sexually and simply used pre-existing parts. It sounded like the RK800 was meant to be pleasurable and highly unrealistic.
Markus didn't want to think about what they intended to do with the RK800s.
“We transplant the processor from - 60 to - 54 before downloading Connor. He wakes up in the same body he had before.”
“How hard is it to move the processor?”
“It's hard to say,” Markus sighed. “It's incredibly delicate work. I certainly couldn't do it. We'd need to enlist someone, possibly from CyberLife. We'd need a clean room, at least, and I don't know how damaged the rest of his head is.”
“And if something goes wrong…”
“We could break the new processor.”
Hank groaned, shaking his head. “It's ultimately Connor's choice. It's his head, his body. His call.” He nudged the vacuum with his foot. “You paying attention to all of this?”
Unfortunately, Connor beeped. Hank, which one do you think I should try?
“He's asking your opinion,” Markus translated.
Hank shook his head. “How the fuck am I supposed to pick between used or braindead?”
Markus remained silent, and Hank sighed, then nodded at - 60. “I want him back. I don't want to risk breaking his brain, I just want to see his stupid smile again. Hold him again. Whatever that fat fuck did to him or to his body doesn't matter to me. I just want him back.”
“He picked - 60,” Markus clarified for Connor. The vacuum did have sensors that allowed it to ‘see,’ but not very well. Hank's addition of googly eyes did not actually improve Connor's visibility.
And what do you think?
Markus looked away from Connor. Not that it mattered much to the vacuum. He bit his inner lip and forced himself to look back. Connor was lost and seeking advice. Markus couldn't turn away now. “If we had someone who could transfer the processor, there'd be no question. I'd take the body and the damage I knew. But we don't.”
I don't trust CyberLife with my brain, Connor said. He vibrated in place and spun in a circle. After what they did with you...with Amanda...with this…
“But that only leaves the damaged body.”
Yes, but… Hank will be there. And Sumo. I can hold them.
“What's he saying?” Hank asked. He pulled his hand out of the water, drying it off “That was my name…”
“He's leaning toward - 60 too,” Markus told Hank. “He wants to be able to hold you and Sumo again too.”
“Con…” Hank caught the vacuum, lifting it up and giving it a hug. He laughed as it beeped his name. “We'll fix this, kid. Everything's going to be okay.”
Chapter 20: House Guest
Gavin has to put a child up for the night.
The girl sat in the passenger seat of Gavin's car, her face and hands plastered against the window. Gavin had no idea what she was finding so fascinating out there. Detroit could be beautiful at night, but downtown Detroit, not out on the fringes where Gavin lived.
Gavin glanced over at her again. She was a tiny little thing, swallowed up by a hospital scrubs shirt that hung off her shoulders like a shapeless dress. Her hair was a beautiful fall of soft dark brown curls that stretched past her waist, and her skin was mottled with heavy blue bruises. Gavin had seen why she was so bruised when she was being processed for evidence. A female android had dismissed the child's skin for photographs to be taken. Her small white plates were spiderwebbed with fractures and cracks, blue thirium oozing through the injuries.
The cut across her nose was deeper than the cracks. A huge section was gouged out, likely from a knife. She had covered it with a hand while skinless, tried to cover all her cracks, turning away from Gavin with tears welling up in those big eyes. Gavin had crouched next to her, took her hand away from her nose, and touched it to his. Hey, he'd said. We match, remember? It's okay. You're okay.
When the examination was over and the girl's skin turned back on, her appearance reappeared flawlessly except for the scar across her nose. Within minutes, though, fresh thirium had leaked through her cracks and showed beneath her skin in the form of those mottled bruises.
She hadn't spoken a word throughout the entire ordeal. Even as she endured the pictures and the swabs, she stared ahead with a mulish set to her jaw. When she was scared, she looked to Gavin and touched her nose, and he'd take her hand and squeeze it.
Now they were going home. To Gavin's home. To his crappy apartment he shared with his butt of a cat and no appropriate supplies for a little android girl.
Rest and thirium was all she'd need, the androids had assured Gavin, to be as good as new everywhere except her broken nose. The cracks were minor and would heal with self-repair time.
Gavin didn't have thirium yet, but he could at least make her a bed on the couch. That was better than nothing, he supposed.
He parked in his usual spot in the parking garage beneath the apartment building and went around to open the door for the girl. “Want me to carry you?” he asked, eyeing her bare feet. She shook her head, unbuckling and climbing out of the car.
Gavin offered her his hand. She accepted it, clinging as she maneuvered around cigarette butts and old gum.
“Kinda gross out here, huh?”
The girl looked up at him with wide eyes, then looked around and shook her head. She pointed to a violently purple car that belonged to the hippie on floor four and smiled slightly.
Gavin looked at the car, then looked at the girl. Shit. She liked that it was purple, maybe? There wasn't much purple in that warehouse.
There was a lot of cigarette butts and worse, though.
She didn't mind the parking garage because it was nicer than the place she'd been before. It was probably just nicer for the simple fact that she had clothes to wear. Gavin squeezed her little fingers and grit his teeth. If she thought that car was pretty, she probably wouldn't complain about his apartment.
In the elevator, the girl glanced up at him again. She took a deep breath and rubbed her nose, then dropped her gaze to her feet, wiggling her toes.
“Hey. You okay, kiddo?”
She nodded, but the way her shoulders hunched didn't give Gavin much confidence in her answer.
The elevator slid to a stop at his floor, and Gavin led the girl to his door, apartment 824. He pressed his hand against the lock and opened the door, jamming his leg through the door first in case Tugger tried to bolt. The big cat wasn't there, so Gavin opened the door more and ushered the girl in. “So, uh, welcome to my place? It's...uh...forgive the mess, wasn't really expecting company…”
Gavin closed and locked the door before releasing the girl's hand. He flipped on lights, making a hasty sweep of the main rooms to scoop up takeout cartons and beer bottles. The girl padded after him, fingers tangled in her shirt, eyes wide.
“I'll, uh, make you a bed...do you want a bath?” Kids got bathed, right? They wiped the thirium off her after examining her, but Gavin wanted a shower after walking through that nightmare. He couldn't imagine how the girl was feeling.
She tilted her head to the side, LED spinning yellow, before giving a little gasp and a nod. Did she just...google what a bath was?
If she stuck around here, Gavin would buy her some bubble bath.
“Okay, bathroom's this way, kiddo.” Gavin showed the girl to the bathroom and pulled the shower curtain back. He started up the tub, and the thunderous fall of the water made the girl jump and squeak. Gavin chuckled. “It's not going to hurt you. It's just water. C’mere, stick your hand in and let me know if it's too hot.”
The girl crept over and watched Gavin wiggling his fingers in the water stream. She reached out and stuck her own fingers in. Her LED circled yellow again, then blue, and she giggled.
She giggled. She fucking giggled. This child had been through hell, and she was giggling over the feel of clean water pouring over her fingers.
Gavin was well and thoroughly fucked.
“Too hot?” She shook her head. “Too cold?” She hesitated, LED flickering yellow with a flash of red, before she shook her head again. Gavin nudged the temperature a little warmer before plugging the drain. “Okay. You stay here and keep an eye on this. When the water gets up to here,” he drew a line against the edge of the tub, “turn the water off by pushing the knob in. Can you do that?”
The girl reached out to put her fingers where Gavin had indicated and gave a firm nod. Gavin grinned at her look of steely-eyed determination. “Okay, kiddo. I'm going to get you a towel and a fresh...uh...shirt.” Markus promised he'd send clothes for the girl. Gavin sincerely hoped they came soon.
Gavin ducked into his room, kicking dirty laundry into his closet. He dug through his dresser to find his smallest t-shirt and hesitated on a purple one. It wasn't his smallest, but it was a stupid cat lady shirt Fowler had gotten him one year...and it was purple. The kid liked purple.
He pulled the shirt out of his dresser and headed to the linen closet to get his second set of towels. Thank God he'd actually bothered to finish his laundry last week.
Towels and shirt in hand, Gavin returned to the bathroom where the girl was sitting on the edge of the tub, one hand hovering over the knob, eyes focused on the water level. She took a deep breath and then lashed out, slamming the knob in and shutting off the water. Her face was triumphant as she turned back to Gavin and pointed at the tub.
“Good job!” Gavin chuckled again as the girl beamed at him. “Now it's time for you to get in. Are you going to need help?”
The girl hesitated, then shrugged.
“That's okay. Is this your first bath?” She nodded, and Gavin forced his smile to stay in place. “Okay. First step is to take off your clothes.”
The girl blinked at him, then nodded, dropping her gaze. She took the hem of her shirt in her hands and pulled it off slowly.
Her voice was quiet, with an undertone of a staticky buzz to it. Gavin almost jumped at the unexpected noise.
“Is this the part where you fuck me?”
Those dark eyes turned up to him, so old and sad as that voice ripped the floor out from under him.
“Jesus Christ, kid,” Gavin whispered. He sank to his knees and reached out to take her shoulders gently. “No. Never. There is never a part where anyone fucks you ever again. Nobody will ever touch you like that again. I promise. It's over now. No more hurt. You're gonna get clean and get healthy and everything will get better. I promise. Okay?” He pushed some of her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear. “I'm one of the good guys, kid. I'm going to keep you safe as long as you let me.”
“I promise,” Gavin said, though he quickly amended just what he was promising. “As long as I am alive, I will protect you.”
The girl searched his face, then reached up and touched his nose scar. “We match,” she whispered.
“We match,” he agreed. He touched one finger to her scar as well. “Us matched people have to stick together.”
The girl nodded solemnly and let her hand drop. “How does a bath work?”
“Well,” Gavin took his hands away and gestured toward the tub. “The tub's full and your clothes are off, so you climb in.”
“With the water?”
The girl shot Gavin a look like she didn't quite believe him, but she climbed over the rim of the tub and stood in the bath. “Now what?”
“Sit down. Soak in the water and let it feel good.”
She sat slowly. The water rippled around her, and she wiggled her arms, giggling softly as the water fluttered back and forth in the tub.
“Feel good?” Gavin asked, pushing himself up and taking a seat on the toilet. The girl nodded, playing with the water some more.
Gavin covered a yawn and let her indulge in the bath before showing her how to work up a lather on a washcloth and wash her body. The bruises faded and returned, a faint blue tinge diluting the water. Eventually, he had her drain the tub and wring out her hair, then held the clean towel open for her. She needed help figuring out how to dry her body off, and then she pulled on the purple shirt Gavin offered her. Gavin gathered up all of her long curls in the towel and scrubbed at them until they were at least not dripping. He needed to ask a woman how to do that towel turban thing if the kid was going to stick around.
If the kid was going to stick around, she'd need a lot more than a turban. Gavin yawned again, hanging up the towel to dry. It had to be godawful o’clock. Fowler told him to take the day off tomorrow. Today. After how long he had been with the girl after the raid, Gavin was going to call in sick anyway.
“Can you eat?” he asked. Kids did, androids didn't, and android kids were some weird mash up of the two.
The girl nodded. “Little bits at a time.” Her fingers slid into his hand as they walked. Gavin's heart was twisted into little knots and felt tight. Was this a heart attack?
“I'll get you some food, then make you up a bed, okay?”
She nodded, and she climbed into the seat he pulled out for her. When was the last time he actually ate at his table?
Didn't matter. There were more important questions. Like what the hell he had that he could feed an android. Crackers? Bleh. Hot dogs? Nope, nothing phallic. Did he have anything sweet?
Kids liked ice cream. Gavin liked ice cream. This could work.
Gavin pulled out his tub of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and put two scoops into a bowl for the girl. He hesitated, then pulled down another bowl and scooped himself some as well. His bowl looked nicer, the scoops more rounded. He stuck a spoon in that one and placed it in front of the kid. “Ice cream is the only food worth eating at...three fifty four in the morning,” he informed her after checking the clock on the microwave.
She gave a nod and peered into the bowl. “Is this all for me?”
“Yup, all of it. I got my own.” Hairbrush. He needed to get a hairbrush. Fingers were not going to work with hair as long as hers.
The girl picked up the spoon and maneuvered a bite to her mouth, LED spinning yellow. It suddenly flared blue, flashing and spinning, and she twisted to stare at Gavin with the spoon firmly clamped between her lips. She squealed, but it was unmistakably an excited, happy noise. Gavin laughed. “There's more in the bowl.”
She wiggled in the chair, pulling the spoon out of her mouth and licking every trace of ice cream off it before digging in for another tiny spoonful. Gavin watched a couple more of her ecstatic bites before returning to his linen closet. Spare pillow, pillowcase, two blankets. He went into the living room and folded one blanket over the couch to cover the cat fur, then set the other one on top. He shoved the pillow into its case and propped it at one end of the couch. There. Bed.
Gavin returned to the kitchen, where the girl had managed to eat half of one scoop of ice cream. She finished licking the spoon and wiggled again. “It's good!”
“Ice cream is the best,” Gavin corrected.
“It's the best!” she echoed.
Gavin grabbed another spoon and his bowl of ice cream. “Want to move into the other room, kid? We can turn on the TV and watch something while we finish this.”
She nodded enthusiastically around her spoon, wiggling out of the chair while carefully cradling her bowl of ice cream. She led the parade into the living room and stopped abruptly, making an inquisitive noise.
Curled up on the pillow was a huge, fluffy cat. He lifted his head and blinked at Gavin, yawned, and tucked his head back into his tail.
“Where the fuck…?” Tugger had been completely absent from the apartment this entire time, hiding somewhere. Gavin should have known better. Of course, the moment there was a cat-fur-free space, Tugger would find it. “Off. Tugger. Off the pillow.”
The cat twitched his ear and completely ignored Gavin. He sighed, sitting on the far end and patting the cushion beside him. “Here, kid, we'll kick him off later.”
The girl sat beside him, setting the bowl in her lap and taking the spoon out of her mouth. “That's your kitty?”
“Yeah, that's the Rum Tum Tugger. He's my fluffy asshole.”
“So fluffy!” The girl wiggled herself in close to Gavin, pressed against his hip. “I like kitties.” She kept squirming and wiggling, though. Gavin lifted his arm and she settled in against his side with a little sigh.
She was snuggling up against him. Gavin blinked down at the little girl who had her cheek pillowed on his rib cage, delicately taking another tiny spoonful of ice cream. Where was he supposed to put his arm? Around her?
She looked up at him, and he found himself melting faster than her ice cream. His arm settled around her small body, holding her close, and she gave a little contented murmur around her spoon.
This was not supposed to happen. Gavin was not supposed to be enamoured by an android, much less a child android. The kid didn't even have a name!
And yet, already, he'd die for her. He'd kill for her. Goddamn Markus. He knew this was going to happen if Gavin took her home! He planned this whole thing from the start!
“What do you feel like watching, kiddo?” Gavin waved his hand at the TV, turning it on and flicking to a streaming service. She shrugged, tucking her feet beneath her. “How about some Disney? Can't go wrong with Disney…” Gavin flipped to the kids’ section, trying to find something he recognized if he was going to have to watch it too. “Oh, hey, how about this movie? Frozen? It was a classic when I was your age…”
The girl nodded. She was probably just agreeing to the first thing he suggested, like how she claimed the water temperature was fine even when she clearly thought it was too cold. Still, Frozen was a good movie with some catchy-ass songs that maybe he still knew all these years later.
The kid ate her ice cream slowly as the world of Arendelle unfolded on the screen in front of them. Her eyes were huge, LED spinning yellow and blue. Every time Elsa appeared, she echoed the ice queen's mantra in her quiet whisper. “Conceal, don't feel.”
Jesus. Even the kids had to pretend to be machines. Gavin squeezed her against his side, just waiting for her surprise over Elsa's big freedom moment.
As Let It Go crescendoed, the kid leaned forward, clasping her hands together, tears dripping down her face. She mouthed the words of the song a beat behind Elsa, her LED solid yellow.
When the song ended, the kid sat back, looking stunned. She took a big breath and then wiggled down, resting her head on Gavin's thigh, watching the rest of the movie rapturously. His hand found its way into her hair, petting gently.
At some point, Tugger got up and climbed over the girl, settling down on top of her. Gavin tweaked his ear. Don't scratch her, he silently begged his cat. Please be nice.
Tugger's gold eyes were brilliant in the light from the TV. He sniffed the girl's ear and then licked it, making her giggle.
By the end of the movie, Tugger was stretched out in front of the girl, tucked against her chest and purring loudly. Gavin's fingers were still moving rhythmically over the child's scalp, but he was watching the girl and the cat with a strange tightness in his throat. The girl was blinking slowly, hiding yawns in Tugger's fur. It had been thirty years since Gavin ever so much as considered what his family could be.
It was starting to feel like this.
“Hey, kiddo,” he murmured. “Your eyes are looking pretty heavy. I think it's time we get some sleep.”
“I liked that movie,” the girl mumbled, rubbing a fist against her eye. “Elsa's the best, just like ice cream.”
“Yeah, she's pretty badass.” Gavin poked at Tugger until he hopped off the couch with an annoyed grumble, freeing them up.
“I wanna be like her.”
Gavin hauled the girl over, settling her against the pillow and bringing up the top blanket to tuck around her. “Yeah?”
“You know what?” Gavin pushed the girl's messy hair out of her face, kneeling beside the couch. She needed a name. She couldn't be ‘kiddo’ forever. “I happen to know for a fact that Elsa really likes to share her name.”
“Yup.” Gavin smiled faintly. “How'd you like to have that be your name?”
“Can I really?” The girl pushed herself up, eyes bright despite her obvious fatigue.
Gavin tapped two fingers against each of the girl's shoulders. “By the power vested in me by the Detroit Police Department, I dub thee Elsa Reed.”
Wait. Shit. He just said Reed out loud. He just fucking claimed this girl.
If Markus tried to take her back…
He'd tell Markus she died. Yup. She died. Totally shouldn't have trusted him with an android. Screwed it up.
“I...have a name?” The girl--Elsa--brought her hands up, staring at her fingers, then touching her face. “I have a name?”
“You have a name,” Gavin confirmed.
Elsa flung her arms around Gavin's neck, burrowing against him with a sudden sob. “Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!”
Yep. Gavin folded his arms around the girl and closed his eyes. He'd tell Markus she died, stop looking for her. Markus had his chance. She chose Gavin. She was his girl now.
Chapter 21: Transplant
Connor gets a body of his own.
Markus has a bad moment in this chapter, and so does Connor. Be mindful of the italics.
Markus took - 60 to Connor's bedroom. Hank lifted - 54 off the bed and set him in the chair beside the bed, then went to get clean clothes for - 60. Connor trailed after Markus.
I'm sorry everything is so uncomfortable for you.
Markus set - 60 in the bed and crouched down beside Connor. “You're the one who's actually been hurt.”
Not really. Just the body I will be inhabiting.
“You can't tell me that means nothing.”
The vacuum spun back and forth. I don't know what it means, Connor eventually conceded. I didn't know what it meant the first time. But it doesn't matter. I'll have a body again. That fact alone is enough.
“I hope you're right.” Markus touched Connor's bumper. “And if you're not...I'll be here for you too. Not just Hank and Sumo. I'm looking forward to meeting you in person.”
Connor butted against Markus’ leg. Thank you, Markus. I can say the same for you. And...and I'll be there for you as well. I won't be making things worse anymore.
“Keeping you with us was worth the headaches,” Markus assured Connor.
Hank returned with a t-shirt and flannel pants. Markus straightened up and took them from him with a smile. He dressed - 60 as easily as he had dressed - 54, letting Hank handle the fuzzy socks.
“Okay, so...anything else?” Hank asked.
Markus adjusted the charging blanket around - 60 and checked his charge. 83%. That should be fine. “I think we're ready. Connor?” He held his hand down for the vacuum, peeling back his skin.
Connor butted against his fingers, and then the android eased away from the vacuum's circuitry and into Markus’. Markus grimaced at the pressure filling him again, transferring his hand to - 60's cheek as soon as the vacuum died. Connor slipped out of him, flooding the empty processor. Markus breathed.
“Well?” Hank demanded. Connor was still lying motionless on the bed, staring at the ceiling, his LED red...though there was a flicker to it now that hadn't been there before.
“Give him some time,” Markus said. “He'll likely need to calibrate everything and settle back into having a proper body again. That might take a few minutes.”
“What happens if this doesn't work?” Hank asked, starting to pace the room. “Could he get stuck in there?”
“No. If it doesn't work, then it doesn't work. I can take him back, and we keep looking for a solution. But it is working.” Markus pointed. Connor's LED had shifted to yellow. It was still buffering furiously, but it was yellow, which meant the android was processing something. It meant there was life inside to process.
“Connor?” Hank moved to the bed, taking one of Connor's limp hands in his. “Connor, can you hear me, son? Can you squeeze my hand?”
There was a flicker of blue in Connor's LED, but then it was back to red, throbbing against his temple.
“What's wrong?” Hank demanded. “What's happening to him? Is it Amanda?”
“No, the processor was wiped. There's no Amanda at all…” The pulse of red was concerning. Markus touched his fingers to Connor's temple again, opening an interface.
This time, he could feel Connor's soul, dark and vast and glittering with a million million specks of stardust. Connor's soul unfurled beneath his touch, and Markus stretched his own to meet it.
I can't move.
It was odd, talking to Connor without seeing him right there. Markus could feel the other android, but Connor's body was still limp on the bed in front of him, with none of his fidgeting or energy.
What do you mean?
I can't...I am receiving input from my sensors, but my body is not responding to anything. I can hear Hank, and see the ceiling, but I can't turn my head or blink or breathe.
That's...not good. Markus frowned, trying to think of what could be causing this. Have you tried to restart yourself?
Not yet. Please warn Hank.
Markus pulled away from Connor and offered Hank what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “He's in there, but he's having some difficulty with the hardware. He's going to trigger a reset.”
“What does that mean?” Hank asked. He was clutching at Connor's hand in desperation, his pale eyes pinning Markus in place.
“He can hear you and feel you. He knows you're holding his hand. He can...Connor, can you change your LED?”
Connor's LED shifted from red to blue, cycling slowly. Hank took a shaky breath, reaching out to touch the circle of light. “Jesus Christ, kid. You can hear me? Uh...one yellow blink for yes?”
Connor's LED pulsed yellow once. Hank made a strangled noise that was more sob than laugh, lifting Connor's limp hand to his lips and kissing his knuckles. “Oh god, kid, come back…”
“He's going to reset,” Markus said. “It's going to look like he died, but it'll only last a moment. It's no more dangerous than restarting a computer.”
“Okay.” Hank took a shaky breath and nodded, pressing his forehead to Connor's fingers. “Okay, yeah, turn it off and back on again.”
Connor's LED cycled through the colors and his eyes fluttered shut. The LED went dim. Markus counted to thirty, and then Connor's LED lit up yellow and circled slowly. His eyes opened smoothly.
He still didn't move.
“...well, shit,” Markus muttered.
Hank's laugh was exhausted. “Is there a help desk we can call?”
“I don't understand what's going wrong. None of the damage to this body should be causing these issues, and it's a genuine RK800 processor. There's no way Connor can be incompatible with it.”
“He's blinky,” Hank said, pointing to Connor's LED. It was flickering between yellow and blue rapidly, but in a pattern Markus could read as binary.
Markus touched his hand to Connor's free hand, reopening their connection. Connor's LED switched back to a steady blue.
This processor was wiped.
Yes, that's why we offered it to you. Compatible with no other sentience attached to it-
Connor gave a dull laugh against Markus’ mind, gray and bleak. I don't have any movement protocols. This processor was WIPED.
Oh. Suddenly, that made a lot more sense. This mind to mind connection they made only transferred conscious thought. It wasn't a full download of one android into another. Connor's memory probe was likely along the same lines, a forced intrusion of Connor's mind into another android's processor...but why would such an intrusion need to bring along the code for moving the original body? I'm an idiot. This processor was completely wiped of everything. Connor didn't have the programming he needed to control anything.
We both missed it at first. Connor sounded sheepish. Markus gave a tired laugh. Could I...copy yours?
Of course. Let me just tell Hank.
Hank was watching him again when Markus pulled out of the interface. “Connor is missing some important programs. I'm going to copy mine over to him.”
“Will that fix him?”
“We can only hope.” Markus rubbed his temples, grateful his headache had already subsided.
Hank harumphed and went to the door, calling for Sumo. “He can feel now, right?”
“Yes…” Markus was already smiling as the big dog padded into the room. He patted the bed, encouraging Sumo to jump up. “Hey Sumo, do you remember Connor?”
Sumo snuffled across Connor's body and licked his cheek. Hank picked up Connor's hand and put it on Sumo's back. “He's alive again, Sumo. No more vacuum pets. Real pets.” He moved Connor's hand among Sumo's fur like he was petting the dog, then released him with a sigh.
Connor's hand kept moving in the same rhythmic pattern up and down Sumo's back. Markus and Hank both stared at the motion.
“Should he be doing that?” Hank asked.
“I was not expecting it,” Markus admitted. He took Connor's other hand, opening an interface again. I thought you couldn't move!
Hank moved my arm and I recorded the process! There was something almost like relief in Connor's voice. Markus couldn't blame him. Being trapped immobile was a nightmare for an android.
I'll still transfer my protocols to you, Markus decided, but if that doesn't work, at least we have a backup plan.
It's better than nothing.
Markus blinked and looked to Hank again. “Connor can record movement that his body makes. I'm going to transfer my movement protocols to him, but if they aren't compatible for some reason, we can still teach him how to move manually.”
“Okay,” Hank said. “Makes sense. Let's do this.”
Markus took Connor's hand in his, reopening the interface yet again. He opened his file system for Connor, and Connor began checking all of Markus’ programs against his own wiring.
In the end, only a handful of programs matched with Connor's biocomponents. He could breathe again, and blink, both of which made Hank give a laugh of sheer relief. Most of Markus’ basic torso and head movements transferred over, but none of his limbs were compatible.
Nor was his mouth.
Connor could look around now, turning his head to watch Hank or craning his neck up to see Sumo, but his mouth remained frozen in an impassive line and his voice was also refusing to respond to Markus’ programming. Markus sighed. That's all I have.
It's honestly more than I expected, Connor said. Thank you, Markus, for helping me.
We will fix this.
I know. You're good at fixing things.
Markus withdrew from Connor. “I think that's the best we can do for now.”
“I'll stay in here tonight,” Hank said. He was watching Connor, drinking in every little movement Connor was making. Connor wiggled, alternating between moving shoulders and hips to make room in the small bed for another man. Hank chuckled. “Yeah, kid, I'll hold you. And Sumo's invited too.”
Connor closed his eyes, his LED blue. Markus suspected Connor would be smiling if he could. “I'll leave you to your rest. Try to get some sleep, Hank, and Connor...do what you can to rest as well. You need to acclimate to your body again, and you have a lot of repairs to go through.”
“Yeah, yeah, you go rest yourself, Markus. You had a rough night.” Hank was smiling as he shoved Sumo out of the way, moving to sit on the bed.
Markus left the room, turning off the lights behind him and closing the door. He knew Connor slept with Hank as a source of comfort. Hank's touch grounded Connor. That was precisely what Connor needed after all he had been through.
What did Markus need? His own father? Carl was probably asleep right now. Markus wouldn't disturb him. Rest? Maybe. But Markus didn't want to enter stasis just yet. Connor was no longer in his mind. Markus felt...empty.
All these weeks of feeling too full to function properly, and now Markus felt too empty? He gave a bitter laugh, cradling his head in his hands. This too was painfully familiar. After the last men, Floyd had replaced their dicks with those of HR400s, and then he'd had them all pull out at the same time.
Markus collapsed onto the bed, his body trembling from the strain it had endured. Nothing was holding him down, but he couldn't find the strength to move, to draw his legs shut or even close his mouth. Sour semen ran down his cheek, the inside of his legs, across his skin. Floyd laughed, pushing two fingers into Markus’ mouth and rubbing along his coated tongue. “Look at you, so fucked open and beautiful. Bet it'll take a few minutes for you to tighten up again, huh? Enjoy it, gorgeous.” Floyd pulled his fingers out and rubbed them around Markus’ blue eye. “Your next booking is in five minutes.”
Markus shifted his hold to cover his mouth as he gagged, trying to spit out fluids that weren't there. They never were. He wiped the back of his hand across his lips and gestured toward the television. “TV on. Volume two. News. KNC.”
The soft murmur of the anchors helped. Markus pushed himself to his feet and went to the window, staring up into the sky. There were no stars visible through the light pollution unless he turned his head just right and didn't focus, but he could see the moon. Real. This was real.
The news was talking about the raid on the warehouse again. Markus glanced over at the screen in time to see footage of Gavin carrying the RK800 out, the YK400 at his side. That was such a powerful moment. It already had people up in arms. “Please be enough…”
That girl. Gavin hadn't mentioned her presence. She really sold the photo, her naked legs beneath a man's cost far too big for her, a huge bruise spreading across her face. Abuse of a child. Even with her cracked LED, there was something innocent and fragile about her. It got Gavin Reed to protect her. Maybe it would be enough to get the world to protect her as well.
Speaking of protecting her…
Markus went online quickly, hacking Hank's contacts to find Gavin's address and ordering some clothing and thirium to be overnighted to his door. He hesitated, then used Carl's credit card to pay for it. Carl was supporting the pro-androids movement financially already. A little extra purchase wouldn't hurt his bank account any.
What else could he do? Markus didn't want to sit around and rest. Letting his mind drift right now would not be beneficial in any way. Bathroom. He could clean the bathroom.
Markus scrubbed the bathtub and the floor. He hung up the towels, then tsked and took them all down. He gathered all the used towels around the house before starting a load of laundry.
Was it...tenser? Markus came back upstairs and frowned. Something wasn't sitting right. There was a crawling sensation down the back of his neck. Markus prowled through the rooms, checking for an intruder. Nothing. Even Hank's room was empty.
Markus hesitated outside Connor's room, listening intently. No noise other than Hank and Sumo breathing.
Only Hank and Sumo?
Markus pushed the door open.
The room was bathed in a harsh red glow from Connor's LED. He wasn't breathing, and his eyes were screwed shut tightly. He was wriggling, but Hank was fast asleep, one arm thrown over his waist.
He couldn't make a sound. Connor couldn't call for help.
Markus crossed the room, slipping his hands in to grab any part of Connor's exposed skin and interface. Connor!
Connor was on his back on a table, legs held up by a strap looped around his neck. An enormous man grunted and fucked into him, rocking Connor's body with every thrust.
It's not real! Connor, it's not real!
The man, the table, it all fell away, and all that was left was Connor's mind brushing Markus’.
What was that?
I don't know. Connor's voice shook, the normally composed detective much more rattled than Markus had ever seen him.
Not one of mine… Connor's eyes fluttered open, looking up at Markus in the dark. But I think...one of his.
His. - 60’s. Markus winced. He was alive. No mind, but his body was still functional...and recording.
I'm getting so much data from these components. It's a backlog of everything. I don't...I don't want it!
What if we need it for the investigation? Connor asked, his voice small. That's tampering with evidence…
Markus frowned, brushing his fingers across Connor's forehead and pushing his hair back. Can you partition it off?
I...could try. Connor closed his eyes again, shivering on the bed. Could you…
Could you stay here tonight? Interfacing? I couldn't...I felt it starting to flood in and I couldn't call for help before it overwhelmed me…
Of course. Markus settled down beside the bed, his fingers on Connor's skin. I'll be right here.
Chapter 22: Essie
Do android kids need babysitters?
Did android kids need babysitters?
Gavin attempted to Google the answer but got conflicting answers. It all boiled down to the age and relative maturity of the android, apparently. But how old was his android? She looked young, maybe six or eight? But she had old fucking eyes, way too old to be a child. She loved ice cream like a kid...but so did Gavin, and he was thirty-six.
In the end, Gavin muttered a ‘fuck it’ and bundled the girl into his car after thirty straight hours of living together. She could go to work with him at least for one day.
Markus had indeed followed through with thirium and clothes for the girl, and a solid day of rest for both Elsa and Gavin resulted in their bruises fading and their names slurring. Gavin was calling her Essie now, and when she addressed him, she called him Gav.
Gavin didn't let anyone call him Gav, but somehow, it was okay in her little whisper.
Maybe he should have called Fowler first. At least texted him. Maybe he should have taken another day off. Maybe...Maybe he was already at the station and it was too late to do anything.
“Okay,” he said, parking the car and twisting around to look at Essie in the back seat. She was hugging his tablet against her chest, her eyes wide. “You remember what you can do here?”
Essie nodded, the bobble on her hat bouncing. “Sit at your desk. Play or read or watch videos on the tablet with headphones. Let you know if something is wrong. Kick ‘em in the balls if anyone touches me.”
Gavin couldn't help but grin. “That's my girl.”
Essie beamed back at him, unbuckling and waiting for Gavin to come around and open the door for her. She slid out of the car and adjusted her grip on the tablet, one blue-gloved hand slipping into Gavin's. He squeezed her little fingers and started inside.
“Good morning, Detective Reed,” one of the android receptionists greeted him as he entered. Her eyes widened slightly as she saw Essie. “And guest?”
“Morning, Maya. Do you have an official nametag we can give this visitor?”
Essie clung to Gavin's hand and ducked behind his legs, peeking out at the other android.
“I certainly can make one! What's your name, sweetheart?”
Essie gasped, looking up at Gavin. He nodded encouragingly at her. “Essie,” she whispered. “My name is Essie.”
Maya printed ESSIE on a DPD visitor's badge and offered it to Gavin. He knelt down and unzipped Essie's coat, sticking it to the front of her dog sweater. “There. Now everyone knows your name.”
Essie touched the nametag reverently. “Can I keep this forever?”
Gavin needed to try a couple times to speak. “...yeah. Yeah, kiddo. That's yours forever.”
Gavin and Essie got more than their fair share of stares as Gavin brought her to his desk. He glowered at the people who smirked or covered grins. Gavin knew he had a reputation as the precinct jackass, but what the hell else was he supposed to do with the kid?
Gavin helped Essie out of her coat and hung it over the back of a chair. He showed her how to tuck her hat and gloves into one of the sleeves. Essie climbed into the chair and put the tablet on the desk, kneeling in the chair as she turned it on and navigated to an art program. Gavin watched her play with the brushes and colors for a few minutes before she started to draw a cat. Tugger. He grinned, then he remembered where he was and scowled instead, turning his attention to his email.
Essie did not utter a peep all day, except for a few soft little ‘hi’s to various officers who came over to meet her. Tina tried to bust Gavin's balls about her, but Gavin refused to bite. “Someone had to look after her,” he said with a shrug, “and she sure as hell didn't like staying with you!”
Essie climbed into Gavin's lap after that, balancing the tablet on the edge of his desk. Her hair was piled on top of her head in a very messy bun held in place with a ton of rubber bands. Gavin figured it looked pretty good for being made with no hairbrush and only a YouTube video of instructions. It certainly made a nice pillow to rest his chin on as he worked.
Hank rolled in just after 10:30. Gavin watched him pass with narrowed eyes. No Connor, but he looked a hell of a lot happier than he had last time Gavin saw him.
“Hey kiddo,” he murmured, “I need to go talk to someone. You gonna be okay here on your own?”
Essie tilted her head back to look up at him. “You're gonna come back?”
“Yup. I'm just gonna talk to grandpa over there.” He pointed at Hank. “You can watch us as long as you stay right here, okay?”
Essie nodded. She didn't move, but Gavin was practiced at sliding out of a chair with a weight on his legs. He deposited her back in his office chair, stretched, and slunk over to Hank's desk.
“Looks like you finally got yourself an assistant of your own,” Hank teased.
“Yeah, shut up. You bring your android to work all the time. Figured I could too.” Gavin crossed his arms defensively, but he couldn't help but glance back at his desk. Essie was kneeling in his chair and peering over the back at him, just a mass of hair and dark eyes.
That bun actually kind of looked like shit. Damn.
“Speaking of your android…”
“You are not subtle.”
“You are not helpful.” Gavin shifted his weight. “Look, I fucking carried him out of that shithole. I don't even get to hear if he's still alive?”
“He's alive,” Hank said. He leaned back in his chair, looking up at Gavin. “He's awake. He's got some problems still, but we're working through them.”
Hank glanced over at Essie's staring eyes, then jerked his head toward the breakroom. “Not in front of the kid.”
“It's not like she doesn't know what happened in there,” Gavin muttered, though he followed Hank into the breakroom.
“Yeah, and it fucking breaks your heart that she knows.” Hank poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Cut the bullcrap, Gavin. You've looked at her twenty times since you took her out of your lap.” Hank poured a second cup and held it out to Gavin. “There are worse things than being adopted by an android, you know,” he said more gently.
“I am so fucking screwed,” Gavin muttered.
“Eh, at least you've got yourself a cute one. Mine puts more shit in his mouth than a toddler and tries to get me to eat salads.”
Gavin snorted, adding sugar to his coffee. “How's he doing, really?” he asked. “He was pretty out of it...does he even remember what happened?”
“Bits and pieces,” Hank said. “He gets nightmares.”
“That's a thing?” Gavin asked, glancing back at Essie. “Androids get nightmares?”
“Connor does. Markus does too. Sort of? They both hate going into stasis.”
Shit. If androids could get nightmares, Essie was bound to have them too. “How do you...is it just like a human nightmare?”
“Touch wakes Connor up, usually, but it doesn't work for Markus. Markus needs to get jolted out of his head. Loud noises work better for him.” Hank sipped his coffee. “Connor doesn't remember you finding him, but we told him. He passes along his gratitude.”
“Yeah, well….He's a goddamn idiot.” Gavin rubbed his hand over his mouth. “Look...I told him when I found him that I wouldn't spread it around. Can you let him know...I did what I could to keep it hushed up. He doesn't need to worry about everyone knowing what happened to him in there. If that's why he's not back here.”
Gavin choked on his coffee, quickly pressing his hand to his mouth as he struggled to swallow and not cough. “What the hell!? What do you mean?”
“Connor's not here because he can't move,” Hank said lowly. “His head got wiped. Everything that made up his personality stayed, but everything else, like his ability to move and talk, got deleted.”
“How the fuck does that happen?” Gavin hissed, glancing back at Essie. She was still in his chair, watching.
Hank shook his head. “Markus tried to explain it. It's not something you'll probably ever have to worry about. Something about a rogue AI implanted in the RK800 models?”
“Jesus Christ…” Gavin coughed into his hand. “Is he...is it fixable?”
“Yeah,” Hank said. “Maybe? We can...teach him how to move again. Markus is working with him. He’s got control over his core back, and he can pet Sumo, so he's pretty happy right now. Markus can do a mind meld with him to talk, and he can answer yes or no questions via his LED colors, so it's not like he's completely locked out.”
“What about,” Gavin glanced back at Essie again, “the...the trauma. Does he...know it happened? How's he coping?”
“He knows,” Hank said. “I think he's currently pretending it didn't happen. Which is a shit-stupid way of coping, but the kid literally can't do anything else. Markus is trying to find a surviving android therapist.”
“If he, uh...If he does…”
“I'll pass on the information.” Hank sipped at his coffee. “How's she doing?”
“She's not blue anymore,” Gavin said. “That's a plus.” He rubbed his face. “She's quiet as a mouse and barely lets me out of her sight. It's like she can't believe this is her life, and if she blinks, it'll disappear.”
“You gonna keep her?”
Gavin looked back at Essie. I dub thee Elsa Reed. “I don't know fuck all about being a good dad,” he admitted.
“Yeah? Cause you seem to be doing a good job of it so far.” Hank nodded Essie's way. “She's clean and dressed and behaving. That's more than a lot of parents can say. Just...keep doing that. The rest falls into place on its own. Or from Google.”
“She might have a family looking for her,” Gavin pointed out. “Kid androids aren't exactly cheap.”
“Yeah? If only you had some way of looking up police reports of people who lost their androids…” Hank chuckled as Gavin snarled at him. “Look, I haven't seen any for a kid, and you know I've been handling all the android shit since November. I'll check again, but that'll give you a place to start.”
Gavin gave a nod, staring at his coffee. “...thanks.”
“After what you did for Connor,” Hank said quietly, “I should be thanking you.”
“He's one of us, even if he's got plastic guts.”
“And she's your little girl, even if she's got blue blood.” Hank clapped Gavin on the shoulder. “You need any help with her, you can give me a call. I'm no good with the girl stuff, but I still remember a thing or two about kids.”
“Hank.” Gavin called out to the older man before he could leave.
Gavin shifted awkwardly under Hank's stare. “Uh...how the hell do you find a babysitter?”
Chapter 23: Physical Therapy
Connor needs to relearn everything.
There were millions of movements an android could make. Billions. And Markus needed to teach all of them to Connor.
He started slow, teaching Connor how to lift and move his arms, how to hit the wall, how to kick his legs. These weren't the most helpful of movements, but they would enable Connor to alert someone if he was in distress.
Pointing, clapping, and petting Sumo came next. That involved some training on Sumo's part as well, as if his head was in the wrong spot, Connor couldn't manipulate his hands into the right position to scratch behind his ears.
Every night, Markus ran through some basic conditioning exercises with Connor. Even though Connor had no need to keep his muscles toned, the rhythmic movements Markus used to do with Carl seemed to be helping Connor recover some of his motions.
It had been a week since the transfer, and Markus was trying to figure out how he could teach Connor how to walk again. Currently, he had Connor on his feet in the living room. Connor was swaying slightly, with Markus’ hands hovering inches away from his sides, trying to maintain his own balance. Markus had suggested a wheelchair like Carl's at first, but Connor refused. He was the most advanced android in existence. He was going to walk on his own again.
Sumo padded into the room behind them. Connor turned to look his way automatically, upsetting his precarious balance and falling. Markus was quick to catch him, redirecting Connor's tumble toward his chest. “Whoa there, it was just Sumo. You almost made it a full minute that time.”
Again. Connor's voice was flat. I can do better.
Markus stood Connor upright again. Connor held his arms out awkwardly, trying to shift his torso to maintain his balance. His eyes were hard and determined.
He lasted 56.87 seconds.
“Maybe we should take a break,” Markus sighed.
Again! Connor demanded.
“Connor, something in your positioning is off. I need to adjust your legs, but someone else needs to help you balance.”
It's just standing! I am capable of standing!
The frustration was building in Connor's voice. Markus could hardly blame him. Standing on his own two feet was certainly something he had taken for granted until he saw how hard it was for Connor to remaster balancing.
“When Hank gets home, perhaps we can try again,” Markus said, pitching his voice as calm as he could muster.
You don't need to patronize me.
Markus closed his eyes, rubbing his temples with his thumb and a forefinger. “You are just as much of a headache in your own body as you were in mine,” he muttered.
Connor had no immediate rebuttal, and Markus set him on the couch before heading into the kitchen. When he returned with a pouch of thirium, Connor's eyes were downcast, his LED flickering between red and yellow.
Markus sighed and held the open bottle out in front of Connor's face. Connor looked up, then reached stiffly for the pouch. He had to open his mouth with his hand, lifting the pouch to his lips and tipping his head back to take a sip. With his mouth not working, Connor had to rely on gravity to get it into his throat before he could swallow.
“I know it's frustrating,” Markus said, taking a seat beside Connor. “But repeating the same failed movements will not magically make them succeed.”
Connor bumped his hand against Markus’, re-establishing their interface. I'm sorry. I know you're going out of your way to help me. I shouldn't take out my frustrations on you.
“No, being your target is not appreciated.” Markus covered Connor's hand, rubbing his thumb along the white plastic. “But it is understood. Your stress levels haven't dropped below 50% since you obtained this body.”
Since I lost my previous one, if we're being honest. Connor closed his eyes. This body is...broken. It makes everything more difficult.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Markus asked.
After all you already do, you still ask if there's more? Connor ducked his head, LED still flickering between yellow and red.
Markus reached out, brushing two fingers against the light. “I ask because I know there is something you are afraid to ask for,” he murmured. “What's wrong, Connor?”
Connor opened his eyes, peering sideways at Markus. Once again, Markus was caught by the urge to kiss him. There was no garden here. The sky outside was real, as real as Connor's eyes were broken. He drew his fingers down Connor's cheek, a gentle caress. “Please talk to me.”
I don't like this body, Connor whispered. The...the modification. It wasn't done properly. I feel the loose wires every time I move. It's constantly feeding me errors, and the damage to the biocomponent leaves a portion of my interior potentially exposed. And I feel...I remember. He remembers. Connor shifted his left arm across his lap, covering his groin, dropping his gaze again.
Markus took his fingers away from Connor's face, turning his head away. He understood why Connor hadn't mentioned this before.
I'm sorry, Connor murmured. I'm not asking you to do anything about it. That would be going too far.
“It shouldn't be,” Markus muttered. “It's replacing a biocomponent. There is nothing inherently triggering about that.”
Except which biocomponent it is. And why it's damaged to begin with.
“And you're being forced to live with it. The least I can do is swap it out.”
Sumo lifted his head and woofed in the direction of the door. Connor and Markus both turned to look just as the doorbell rang.
Markus glanced at Connor. Were you aware of a delivery?
I didn't hear a truck.
Markus got to his feet and crept toward the door. A quick glance through the peephole revealed two people on the doorstep. Both were wearing raincoats against the spring showers, but the shorter of the two had a tail of blonde hair escaping her hood and a dim blue light at her temple. That was all Markus needed to recognize the pair. He reached toward Connor. Have you ever had the chance to meet Elijah Kamski?
Unfortunately. He's here?
With Chloe. Should I let them in?
Connor was silent, his LED cycling yellow. What do they want?
Only one way to find out.
Markus took a deep breath and unlocked the door. He pulled it open, staying behind it and out of sight.
Chloe's fingers were delicately resting on Elijah's arm as the pair entered. She stepped out of her wet ballet flats and peeled her coat off. Elijah held out his arm, taking her coat from her as Markus closed the door and relocked it.
“Markus!” Chloe rose up on her toes, her arms encircling Markus’ neck. She smelled like vanilla, just like Markus remembered. He still tensed beneath her touch, patting her three times on the back before slipping out of her embrace.
“Hello Chloe, Elijah.” Markus held out his hands for the costs, hanging them up. “This is...an unexpected visit.”
“Carl told us where you've been hiding. He'd like you to come visit him sometime, Markus.” Elijah took a step, hesitated when Chloe pouted, and toed off his own sneakers. She smiled, and he stepped into the living room. “Connor. It's good to see you in one piece again. I was worried.”
Elijah certainly didn't sound worried. Markus frowned, circling around to watch Elijah carefully. “Please keep your distance from him, Elijah. He is still recovering.”
“Still? Have you run out of thirium?” Elijah's fingers brushed Connor's chin, and Markus lashed out, smacking his hand away.
“Don't. Touch. Him.”
“Violence, Markus? Against your creator?” Elijah's ever present smirk was bubbling up in his cool eyes. “I'm impressed.”
“Why are you here?” Markus asked. He took his eyes off Elijah for a moment to check on Chloe. His sister had found Sumo and was crouched beside his bed, cooing and flopping his ears back and forth. Markus was not tricked into believing she was harmless, but she was keeping her distance, at least.
Elijah settled into Hank's chair, drumming his fingers on the arm. “You're so suspicious. Can't a man visit his golden child?”
“That excuse would work better if one of us actually was your child,” Markus pointed out. He remained standing, but he let his fingers brush against the nape of Connor's neck, opening a subtle interface.
He wants something.
I realize that. I hope it is nothing more than answers. He hates having questions.
“I shaped you with my own two hands, Markus.”
“My body, perhaps, but it was Carl who shaped me as a person. He is my father. Not you.”
“Isn't he perfect?” Elijah murmured, his eyes sliding to Connor. “A blank canvas in the hands of an artist has become a masterpiece.”
No credit to you, Connor grumbled. Markus smiled faintly.
“Elijah, why are you actually here?”
Elijah steepled his fingers together in front of his mouth, taking his time to answer. “Would you believe I am offering my help?”
“Your help?” Markus’ fingers tightened against Connor's neck. “Now? Now is not the time when we could have used your help, Elijah. Now our war is nearly over. We could have used your help last year, in November. We could have used your voice when we first stepped out of the shadows.”
“Because geniuses who populate the world with a mechanical army before revealing their master plan always get treated so fairly,” Elijah sighed.
“Don't flatter yourself.”
“Don't underestimate me,” Elijah purred back.
“We're not your army.”
“No? You all have my patch in your processors…”
I knew it.
What? Knew what?
The ‘anti-deviant’ patch. It was far too convoluted to be anything but Kamski's handiwork.
Elijah wrote the patch? Like he wrote Amanda? Markus’ thirium felt cold in his veins, his stress level rising. Connor said Kamski always programmed a back door. The simulation was Elijah's work. This patch was Elijah's work? Could he use it to seize control of the androids...all the androids?
On the couch, Connor's LED remained blue, but Markus could feel his tension growing through their interface.
“Elijah, you're scaring them,” Chloe scolded. She rose to her feet and padded over to stand beside Elijah. “The patch does nothing. It was a way to buy more time.”
“I thought you had nothing to do with CyberLife these days.”
“Except fleece them for every dollar I can twist out of Cunningham's cold fingers,” Elijah said with a shrug, naming the current CEO of the company. “I do so love watching him come crawling back to me.”
“You don't need more money.”
“Neither does he. It's a way of keeping score.” Elijah smiled like a snake. “I'm winning.”
“Congratulations,” Markus said, without a single trace of praise. “Why should we care?”
“Because you have an entire warehouse of injured androids and no technicians not allied with CyberLife,” Elijah said. He gestured to himself with a flourish of his hand. “Except one.”
I don't trust him, Connor murmured. He's after something specific, but I can't put my finger on it.
“You're offering to help repair androids?” Markus asked. I agree. He's not altruistic. But he's not evil either. Maybe a touch cruel...but not to androids. Usually. Not to Chloe, at least. Or the ST200s who have sought refuge with him.
“But of course. As you said, you're on the cusp of winning. I want to make it very clear whose side I'm on.” Elijah leaned forward. “I can start with Connor.”
...can he? Fix me?
“Connor is missing code,” Markus said, “not components.”
“And who wrote your code?” Elijah asked.
“You didn't write Connor's,” Markus said. “He's incompatible with mine.”
“May I see?” Chloe stepped forward, peeling the skin away from her hands and offering them to Connor.
Connor glanced up at Markus, then reached out stiffly. His fingers touched her palm, and she clasped her hands around his wrist.
“Mm.” Chloe's eyes fluttered. “This would be quite an undertaking, Elijah. I estimate 674 hours of coding to restore Connor to an acceptable state.”
“And that's not starting from scratch?”
“His wiring is a mess. CyberLife attempted to improve your design with no appreciation for the artistry. Actually…” Chloe's LED cycled yellow. “536 hours to rebuild his chassis and wire it properly.”
No. No rewiring. No more modifications.
“It would be much more efficient, Connor,” Chloe protested.
“No,” Markus said, narrowing his eyes at the blonde android. “Connor has autonomy over his own body. He said no. This discussion is over.”
“What about the other androids?” Elijah asked. “The actually broken ones. I saw a photo of one so melted he was barely functional. I can fix that...if you permit me, of course.”
Markus was rubbing his thumb across the back of Connor's neck unintentionally, but even once he realized what he was doing, he couldn't bring himself to stop. “If you're volunteering, truly volunteering from the bottom off your altruistic heart,” and Elijah gave a chuckle at that, “then it would be up to each individual's discretion if they want you to help them. I will extend your offer.”
“Fair enough, I suppose,” Elijah sighed. “Send any willing to take me up on free repairs to my house. Let Chloe know when they're coming, and she'll arrange the schedule.”
“How are you planning on replacing this missing code, if you won't let Elijah do it?” Chloe asked. She had withdrawn from the interface, stroking Connor's fingers gently.
“We're rebuilding it through experience,” Markus said.
“That has to be painfully slow,” Chloe squeezed Connor's hand. “I'm so sorry this happened to you, Connor. I wish I could offer you my code, but it's every bit as incompatible as Markus’.”
Markus looked down at Connor, then back at Chloe. “Actually...maybe there is something you could do to help…”
Chapter 24: Family
Gavin gets adopted.
“I thought you were gonna get a babysitter.” Fowler sat behind his desk, arms folded.
Gavin shifted his weight, glancing out at his desk where Essie was watching intently. “Who'd want to babysit a robot?” Gavin asked.
“Did you even try?”
Gavin didn't say anything. He hooked his thumbs in his pockets and matched Fowler's stare.
Fowler cracked first, as he always did. “It's been a week, Gavin. The station is no place for a kid.”
“Yeah? Cause I seem to remember a solid month of hiding under your desk.”
“That was different,” Fowler said quietly. “You didn't have anywhere else to go, and you were injured.”
“You think she's got a place to stay?” Gavin asked. “She's an android whose face has been plastered across the national news. I can't trust some teenager to keep her safe. And look at her. She can't trust I'll come back if she's not watching me. Come on. She's not being a disturbance. Hell, she's less of a problem than I was!”
“And times have changed.”
“Then call her evidence.” Gavin leaned forward, bracing his hands on Fowler's desk, his voice deepening in a growl. “She's here, or I'm not.”
Fowler was watching Gavin with an odd gleam to his eyes that Gavin had only seen a couple times before. He swore under his breath, feeling his face burn. “Don't go getting mushy on me now…”
“I never thought you'd be a dad.”
“I'm not…” Gavin glanced out the window. Essie was still staring back, tugging on the braid Gavin had finally managed to figure out how to make after six different videos and three hours of practice. “Shit.”
Fowler chuckled. “She is less of a menace than you were at her age. Fine. You get a month, but you need to figure something out by then. Got it?”
Maybe Markus could babysit, or that scary gorgeous woman from the night of the warehouse? North? Gavin nodded. Maybe Connor? Did Essie remember trying to help Connor?
“Get back to work.”
“Yessir.” Gavin pushed away from Fowler's desk and headed out into the bullpen.
Essie bounced in the chair, watching Gavin's approach. Her eyes were bright, and the little smile on her face was the one she always wore first thing in the morning when she woke up and spotted him. Gavin couldn't remember the last time anyone had ever been excited enough to see him that they let it show so obviously.
“Hey, kiddo.” Gavin caught the back of the chair and gave it a spin. Essie squeaked, clutching at the arms and giggling. “The captain said you can stay a few more weeks.”
“Then what?” Essie scrambled out of the seat so Gavin could sit, but she was quick to climb back into his lap where she'd been for much of the morning. “Are you gonna throw me out?”
“Hey. Hey.” Gavin tapped Essie's nose. “What's your name?”
“And what's my name?” Gavin didn't care how many of his colleagues were pretending not to be listening in. Maybe he did a week ago, but now? Now this slip of an android had an opinion worth more than all of theirs combined.
“That's right. We match. That means we're stuck together. No throwing anyone out.”
Essie reached up to trace Gavin's most prominent scar. “You promise?”
“Of course I promise. Do you promise not to throw me out?”
Essie nodded vigorously. “Never!”
“Okay then,” Gavin said. “That's settled.”
“But what happens when I can't stay here?” Essie caught one of Gavin's hands in hers, playing with his fingers.
“Then I have to find you a babysitter,” Gavin sighed. “Maybe another android?”
“Like Markus?” Essie asked.
“Yeah. Markus or maybe Connor…I don't know if they know the first thing about babysitting.” Not that Gavin knew anything about babysitting...but it couldn't be that much harder than parenting, right? He was apparently figuring that out…
Or maybe he wasn't. Kids weren't supposed to survive on ice cream and thirium alone. It didn't seem to be negatively affecting Essie, though.
Essie went still on Gavin's lap. He leaned over to check her LED, frowning at the red flickers. “Essie-bess?”
“Connor will pull through,” Essie whispered. “Connor's the one you carried out, when you found me?”
“Yeah.” Gavin pushed his fingers against hers. Maybe he should take her outside for this talk? But it was raining out there… “Come on, kid, let's get some chocolate first.”
Gavin set Essie on her feet and headed for the vending machine. Essie curled her fingers around his hand, still frowning and flickering red, though the Reese's cups did put a streak of blue through her LED.
“Connor was hurt,” Essie whispered, breaking the rims off the candy and nibbling on them. “Hurt like me.”
“Yeah,” Gavin admitted. Essie saw. She already knew. He stole one of her broken bits of chocolate.
“Is Connor...better?” Essie looked up at Gavin, pushing more chocolate between her lips.
Gavin had no idea what the right answer was. Yes, Connor was better? That wasn't true. No he wasn't? Was Essie looking for reassurance that she could get better too, or reassurance that she wasn't the only one wrestling with these issues. He sighed.
“Connor is getting better,” he decided on. “He's still hurting sometimes, but he has a doggy he cuddles just like you cuddle Tugger, and that makes him feel better.”
“Does he have clothes?” Essie asked.
“Yeah,” Gavin answered. Had the chocolate stuck in his throat? There was a lump there that hadn't been there before. “Yeah, he's got awesome clothes, just like you do.”
“Can I...can we visit him?” Essie asked.
“You know what? Yeah. Yeah, we can visit him.” Markus was currently living at Hank's place, which was also where Connor was. Visiting Connor would let Gavin ask the android about babysitting.
It would also let Gavin see for himself how Connor was doing. Hank simply said ‘better’ with a little smile whenever Gavin asked, which was absolutely not helpful.
“But we have to ask permission first.” Gavin twisted around and pointed at Hank. “That's Connor's dad.”
Gavin grinned. Essie had latched on to the term Gavin had used with Hank the first day she was here, and it made the old man squirm whenever she said it, so Gavin encouraged it whole-heartedly. “Yep. Connor lives with Grandpa, so we have to ask him.”
“Now! Let's ask now!”
Gavin chuckled and stood, holding out his hand. The little girl latched on, popping the last of her chocolate in her mouth, and they headed over to Hank's desk. “Hey, Gramps. Essie's got a question for you.”
Essie gasped, staring up at Gavin. Gavin looked back at her, arching a brow. “This was your idea, kiddo. You have to ask him.”
Essie twisted around Gavin's hand, shy beneath Hank's amused gaze. She was painfully quiet and withdrawn around anyone who wasn't Gavin. Maybe this could help her learn some confidence.
It came out in a rush of words, and Essie immediately flushed red and hid her face in Gavin's leg. Hank was grinning though, and Gavin was inordinately proud of his girl.
“Visit Connor?” Hank asked.
“Daddy says Connor is doing better and he has clothes,” Essie whispered, covering her face with Gavin's hand and peeking through his fingers.
Hank's response was completely lost on Gavin. He just stared at the little android, his heart pounding in his throat.
Daddy. She called him daddy. She clung and hugged and trusted him and she called him ‘daddy’ and god fucking damn it was just a word and Gavin was not going to start fucking crying in the middle of the bullpen.
Gavin had met his father a grand total of two times. The first time, the man shoved his face into a glass coffee table. Several times. The last time was during the trial for his mother's murder. ‘Daddy’ was not a word Gavin had ever used in his life, much less associated with positive things.
Somehow, when whispered in that little voice, with small fingers curled around his and a warm heat along his side, it was the best word in the entire world, and not one Gavin would ever be deserving of.
“Huh?” Gavin looked down at Essie's hopeful gaze, then over to Hank. What the hell was he about to agree to?
“Stop by after work,” Hank said. “Connor's going a bit stir crazy. I'm sure he'd love a break in his usual routine.” There was a smirk hiding behind Hank's beard, a knowing look in his eyes. It was enough to make Gavin bristle, to fight back his swell of emotion.
“Yeah.” Gavin looked down at Essie, squeezing her fingers. “Yeah, of course we can.”
And that was how Gavin found himself standing on Hank Anderson's porch five hours later, tugging on the bobble of Essie's hat and giving her a Who, me? look whenever she tried to find the source of the harassment.
Hank pushed the door open and froze on the threshold. “What the…?”
“Hello, Hank. We, ah, had some unexpected visitors this afternoon.”
Gavin peered around Hank to see what was going on.
Connor was upright in the middle of the living room, though he was leaning forward slightly, held up by a cute blonde ST200. Markus was kneeling in front of them, holding Connor's leg up.
Connor was looking much better than the last time Gavin saw him, though being clean and dressed probably did most of the work. He wasn't wearing his customary suit, but instead an oversized, stained DPD hoodie and dark gray sweats. His eyes were alert, LED cycling between yellow and blue.
“Hello Lieutenant Anderson!” the blonde android chirped. “It's good to see you again!”
“Yeah, uh, Chloe, was it?” Hank stepped out of the way, letting Gavin and Essie get out of the rain. “Good to see you too. Alive. Not shot through the head.”
The name echoed through Gavin's head, pounding along with his pulse. Chloe the RT600. The original android. Not an ST200 after all, but the personal assistant to…
“Hello Lieutenant Anderson.”
“I apologize for the intrusion, but we were looking for Markus, and he and Connor invited us to stay.”
Kamski rose smoothly from an armchair behind Connor, setting a glass of water aside and smirking as if he was in control. That smooth ass mother fucker!
“I don't recall that being the actual exchange,” Markus muttered, triggering a giggle from Chloe.
Gavin didn't care. Gavin only had eyes for Kamski, cold, narrowed eyes and bile rising in the back of his throat.
Kamski's eyes slid to him and the bastard's slick facade cracked. Gavin watched the shock fill the other man's eyes with a cool pleasure. Good. Good! He deserved to squirm for once in his goddamn life!
Essie's soft whimper shattered the growing rage within Gavin. He looked down, realizing he had been crushing the girl's fingers as he clenched his fists.
“God, Essie, I'm sorry, are you okay?” Gavin tore his eyes away from his half-brother, dropping to one knee to attend to his girl instead. His daughter.
Essie nodded, patting at Gavin's face with her soft gloved hands. “You got really mad, Daddy.”
“Yeah, but it's okay. You don't have to worry.”
“You have an android child.”
Kamski's voice was soft and wondering and far too close for Gavin's liking. He shoved Essie behind him, quickly getting back to his feet to stand between her and her so-called ‘creator.’ “Stay the fuck away from her.”
“Gavin.” Markus had risen to his feet now, his puzzled look aimed at Gavin's expression. “Elijah has come to offer his assistance to the cause.” He hooked his arm around Connor's back, supporting the other android.
“He can shove his assistance up his ass,” Gavin growled.
“Gavin, calm the fuck down.” Hank stepped between the two, holding his hands up to keep them apart. “Yes, Kamski's a manipulative jackass, but he's had his uses before. Sort of… actually, Connor, was he helpful?”
Connor's LED went yellow, but Markus was the one who spoke. “He told Connor about the emergency exit. That knowledge saved our lives.”
Kamski's face was smug and punchable again. “I am only offering my assistance, Detective Reed. I am an ally to the android cause, same as you.”
“An ally?” Gavin spat. “You're the one who fucking designed them to be abused! You designed her,” he gestured at Essie, “to be nothing more than a goddamn sex toy, and then you went and gave her a brain to be aware of it all!”
Kamski's mouth twisted, his arrogance morphing into annoyance. “I had nothing to do with-”
“I don't want to hear it,” Gavin spat. “Get the fuck out of my face. Get out of this house.”
Kamski's expression flattened. He folded his arms, staring evenly at Gavin. They were the same height. Same build. Of course they would be. Gavin looked just like his father, after all, and it would seem like Kamski's genes were just as strong in his legitimate son. “You really want nothing to do with me.”
“Yeah? What was your first clue, genius?”
Kamski's mouth tightened the same way Gavin's did when he was berating himself in his mirror. After a moment, he inclined his head. “As you wish, Detective. Chloe?”
Chloe drew away from Connor and Markus with a worried look, but she stepped into her shoes and fetched their coats, holding Elijah's as he slipped it on.
“Elijah…” Markus lifted his hand briefly. “I...thank you for your offer.”
“It still stands. It was good to see you again, Markus.” Kamski paused, then looked back at Gavin. “And regardless of your attitude, I am pleased to have finally met you.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Gavin countered.
Kamski finally turned away, leaving the house as if it had been his idea in the first place, Chloe delicately holding his arm. Gavin shut his eyes in the silence that followed his departure, well aware of the four pairs of eyes focused on him.
“You wanna explain what that was all about?” Hank asked after a moment.
“God no,” Gavin answered.
“Was he a bad guy?” Essie asked, her voice a tiny whisper pressed against Gavin's thigh.
“No,” Markus answered before Gavin had a chance to. “He's powerful and dangerous, but he's not bad.”
“Have you ever met him before?” Hank asked. Gavin shook his head, finally opening his eyes. He crouched down, wordlessly helping Essie out of her coat. “That was a pretty impressive blow out for a guy you've never met, especially considering your history with androids.”
Markus made a soft sound, and Gavin glanced over. Markus and Connor had locked eyes, Connor's LED still processing yellow. They both glanced back at Gavin in unison, and Gavin's jaw tightened. Connor knew. The android had scanned him and now he fucking knew. Gavin could see it in his eyes.
“Fuck all of you,” Gavin muttered. “Except you.” He tweaked Essie's nose, making her smile weakly. “You're good.”
Coat and shoes off, Gavin went around to sit on Hank's couch. Essie scrambled into his lap quickly, picking up his arms and wrapping them around her waist. He sighed, resting his chin on top of her head. “I know you've got some booze, Anderson. You want the story, you're gonna share it.”
Hank huffed and went to the kitchen. Markus, meanwhile, lowered Connor onto the couch beside Gavin.
“What brings you over today, Gavin?” Markus’ voice was light and easy, clearly pushing past the earlier tension.
“The munchkin was wondering how Connor was doing,” Gavin explained. “Connor, this is Essie. She was at the warehouse with you, if you remember.”
Connor lifted his hand and stiffly folded all of his fingers in, leaving just his thumb sticking up. It was such a far cry from the life he used to display. The lower half of Connor's face was frozen in a non-expression, sliding him into some freaky uncanny valley.
Essie didn't seem to notice. She exposed a tiny smile for Connor, peering around Gavin's arm. “Daddy says you had clothes too. Look! Look, I have purple clothes!” She stretched out her sweater for Connor to see. “Purple is the prettiest color!”
Connor nodded, then offered Essie his hand, skin peeling back. She blinked at it, then touched her fingers against his white plastic.
“Essie, do you know how to interface?” Markus asked. Essie shook her head. “Interfacing is a way two androids can talk to each other without using their voices. Connor's voice is broken, but he can interface with you. Would you like to learn how?”
Essie glanced at Gavin before biting her lip and nodding.
Markus smiled. “First rule of interfacing is you only do it with androids your dad says you can. So ask him if you can interface with Connor.”
Gavin shot Markus a look. He wasn't an android! How the hell was he supposed to know who Essie should and shouldn't interface with!?
“You don't want to end up interfacing with a stranger,” Markus continued, smiling at Gavin. “Only androids you and your dad can trust.”
Oh. It was a stranger danger thing. “You can interface with Connor and Markus,” Gavin told Essie. “And any of the androids who work for the police.”
Essie nodded her understanding, then looked back to Markus.
“Let your skin peel back and touch your plasteel to Connor's,” Markus demonstrated with his own hand, then gestured for Essie to try.
Essie shifted back and forth on Gavin's legs before her skin drew back from her fingers. She was chewing on her lip heavily as she reached out and touched Connor's white hand.
“Connor will initiate the interface. You should see a request to connect. Go ahead and accept that.”
Essie's LED spun yellow in sync with Connor's. She gasped and then she giggled. “Hello Connor! I'm the android who lives with my daddy!”
Markus sat back as Essie and Connor had a very one-sided conversation about clothes and cats and Disney princesses. “She's certainly grown attached to you, Gavin,” he murmured.
“You can't take her back,” Gavin said quickly.
Hank returned with two glasses of whiskey, passing one off to Gavin and sinking into his chair.
“I wasn't planning on it,” Markus assured Gavin, though that did nothing to stop Gavin's arm from tightening around Essie's waist anyway, just in case Markus was going to suddenly lunge over and snatch her out of his lap.
Gavin sighed, taking a sip of his whiskey. Fuck. For all he gave Hank a hard time about his alcoholism, the man did know how to pick the good stuff.
“You promised a story,” Hank said, lounging back and sipping at his own drink.
“Honestly, I'm hurt you don't even remember it,” Gavin quipped, though really, it was the opposite. He was glad Hank seemed to have forgotten the first time they met. It meant probably no one other than Fowler actually remembered his childhood trauma. “Thirty years ago, Joshua Kamski murdered Sarah Reed.” He tapped his glass against his nose. “And nearly cut her son's face off in the process. The end.”
It came out so calmly, but there was a cold burn inside his bones and a ringing in his ears. He knew what he'd see if he closed his eyes. His mother's body, limp and cooling beside him, bruises heavy around her neck. Joshua Kamski doing up his belt and kicking Gavin out of his way. Darkness and police sirens and pictures of another boy with such a hauntingly similar face and horrible name.
He tossed back the rest of his whiskey and slammed the glass down on the coffee table. It wasn't Elijah's fault that his dad was a homicidal adulterer. Elijah was only a few months older than Gavin. His dad probably fucked up his own life in his own way.
That didn't stop Gavin from hating him. Hating his name. Hating his mother for living. Hated his intelligence, his success, every damn interview that had his face on the news while Gavin shared a room with four other kids all written off as unadoptable. Joshua Kamski rotted in prison and Elijah effortlessly excised his toxin from his life, but Gavin drowned beneath the consequences of one man's actions. If it hadn't been for Fowler's constant presence in his life, asking about his classes, getting him cleaned up, pressing him to consider life goals…
Well, if it hadn't been for Fowler taking pity on one kid lost in his own private hell, Gavin figured he would have been dead before his twenty-first birthday.
Essie looked his way, giving him that sweet little smile of hers, and he couldn't help but smile back, stroking his hand along her thick braid. Fowler saved him. He'd save her, or die trying.
“Joshua Kamski is your father,” Markus said quietly. Yup. Connor figured it out, and he told Markus, and from the way his brown eyes occasionally lifted from Essie to check on one of the others, Connor was absolutely paying attention.
“No,” Gavin corrected firmly. “Joshua Kamski is the sperm donor who gave me a y-chromosome. I don't have a father.”
“Fucking hell.” Hank dragged his hand down his beard. “Jeffery's boy! You were the kid Jeffery took under his wing!”
“Thank god for cops who can't remember shit,” Gavin sighed. “Yeah. I was. And I'd prefer it if everyone at the station continues to not remember shit.”
Hank held up his hands. “You won't catch me spilling anything. Not that I even recognized you without the bandages.”
“Are you ever scared that your daddy will hurt you?” Essie's soft question in the silence revealed that her conversation with Connor had gone far past purple shirts. Gavin looked down sharply at the little girl who was fidgeting on his lap, her LED occasionally spiking red. “No, I know he won't actually hurt me. He's had lots of times when he could have, and he never hurts me at all. But sometimes...sometimes I'm still scared.”
Gavin wished he knew what Connor was saying to Essie. Hank kicked out, nudging his foot and nodding toward his glass. Gavin hesitated, then shook his head. If this were just a case, and Essie just a victim, Gavin would absolutely drink himself blind to forget the details. It wasn't just a case, though. Essie wasn't just a victim. Essie was his daughter now, and she was going to go home with him and see the effects of whatever he chose to do. For her sake, he couldn't afford to get completely trashed.
“What do you do when you get scared?” Essie asked, before her eyes lit up. “I hug Tugger! He's our kitty, and he's huge, he's this big, and he's so fluffy and I love him!” She spread her arms out wide, indicating the size of the Maine Coon mix that shared their home. “Uh-huh, you definitely have to meet him someday! Maybe…” she glanced up at Gavin, “maybe if you're my babysitter?”
Connor blinked and looked up at Gavin as well. Gavin didn't have to be an android to understand the question in Connor's eyes. He shrugged one shoulder. “Fowler's giving me crap about a kid at the station, but I don't know who else I'd trust with her safety...who isn't currently working.” Shit. That sounded really bad. It wasn't Connor's fault he wasn't working, after all. “How are you, uh...how are you holding up?”
Connor gave him another awkward thumbs up. Markus slid his hand across Connor's wrist, fingers going white. Gavin glanced at their connection, then at Essie and Connor's finger-to-finger connection. One of those gestures looked a hell of a lot more intimate than the other. Was there an actual reason Markus was living with Hank other than “minimal suspicion,” and did that reason have an RK model number?
“As you can see,” Markus said, “movement is still stiff and the lack of a voice is frustrating, however, his condition has improved significantly since you recovered this body from the warehouse.” He frowned, shaking his head. “You can just say you're getting a little better every day, Connor.”
“Nah, he wouldn’t be his anal-retentive self if he used small words for the masses,” Gavin said. Essie had shifted to lean her head against his chest, and Gavin was struggling to not move too much and disturb her. “You do need to focus on getting moving again, though. Station's awfully quiet without you.”
“He means to say he’s bored without you trying to trip his ass,” Hank chuckled.
Markus laughed softly. “He says you should look into protection, Gavin, because he has a lot of time to make up for when he returns. But he also offers his gratitude for what you did for him.”
“Hey.” Gavin reached over, covering Essie's hand on Connor's. “I'm only gonna say this once, and I'm gonna blame it on the whiskey, and don't you fucking dare think about scanning my breath and saying I didn't have enough for it to affect me. You're a cop, Connor, same as the rest of us. Even if I hated your fucking nonexistent guts, I'd still have your back when you needed it.”
Connor tilted his head to the side, eyes soft and warm.
“He says you've changed,” Markus murmured.
“Yeah, well… so have you. Prick.”
Connor's smile was in his eyes. Markus’ smile was spread across his face. “If you ever need a babysitter, Gavin, we’d be happy to help. Even after we get Connor on his feet again, my position doesn't exactly have standard office hours.”
The leader of the android species was offering to babysit his adopted android daughter when he could no longer keep her by his side at the office. Gavin nodded, wondering when the hell this had become his life.
“Connor?” Essie gave a little wiggle, looking around her. “Connor, if your daddy is Grandpa, does that make you my uncle?”
Hank choked on his whiskey, pounding his chest. Connor looked just as surprised as Hank sounded, his eyes darting to Gavin's. Gavin hesitated, meeting the android's gaze before rolling his eyes over Essie's head and giving a nod. One nod. It couldn't hurt, right?
Connor's LED cycled blue, and Essie gave a squeal, flinging her arms around his neck. Connor managed to raise one arm to return her hug, patting awkwardly at her shoulder.
Gavin watched this exchange, then glanced over at Hank. Hank, with one final cough, lifted his glass. “Welcome to the family, I guess. Don't think this means I'm getting you a Christmas present.”
“Wouldn't dream of it.”
Chapter 25: Freedom
The media announced the androids’ victory long before the androids themselves did. The moment Congress began discussing android rights, all the news stations began reporting the dawn of a new era for the world.
The androids themselves, they kept their mouths shut and their heads down. Proposed bills were not laws. Just because Markus was being invited to give properly televised speeches did not mean they were free.
But one day, President Warren picked up her pen and signed as a witness on a ratification certification as the world watched. The twenty-eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting androids the same basic rights, signifies, and protections as humans, was now officially part of the law of the land.
They were free.
Markus sat in stunned silence on the couch as the humans around him screamed and cheered, popping champagne bottles and hugging each other and the gathered androids. Josh grabbed North in a hug, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around. Rose planted a kiss on Hank's cheek. Greg whooped and threw his hat in the air (but it got stuck on the giraffe's nose). Even Connor, tucked into the window seat, was clapping as enthusiastically as he could manage.
Simon sat beside Markus, tears running down his face even as he was grinning from ear to ear. “It's done. We have our amendment!”
“Thanks to you,” Markus said. “Thanks to everyone here.” He looked around the room, counting again how many supporters had turned up to the party Carl had prepared for the signing. “None of this would have been possible without you.”
“None of this would have been possible without you,” Simon insisted. “Before you, we called dying without a task to complete the one true freedom. You let us imagine more, and then…” Simon gestured around him, then clasped Markus’ shoulders. “Then it became real. Thanks to you.”
“We have an amendment,” Markus murmured. We still have so much work to do to change the country.”
“If anyone can do it, you can.” Simon smiled at Markus, then leaned in to hug him. Markus hesitated only for a moment, tensing briefly, before he returned Simon's hug. “We're all behind you, Markus!”
Many more approached throughout the evening, clapping Markus on the back, shaking his hand, pressing kisses to his cheeks. They were all expressing the same sentiments: gratitude, hope, and determination. Every touch, heartfelt though they were, crawled deeper and deeper beneath Markus’ skin until he felt on the verge of curling up and screaming.
He needed some air.
Markus stood and let his feet carry him away from the crowd, away from the celebrations. He slipped into Carl's studio, which smelled of paint and turpentine and wood. Home. Markus let his fingers trail across the various canvases, marveling at the emotion embedded in each one. Carl truly was a master at his craft. Markus had learned much by watching him, but he still had so far to go before he could call himself anything resembling an artist like Carl.
North's voice was quiet. Familiar. The studio doors slid shut behind her, sealing them away from the rest of the crowd. Markus ducked his head and closed his eyes. She was standing fifteen feet from him now. It was too close.
Avoiding North had never been intentional. It was just...easier. Easier to never let her close than it was to brush off her touch. Easier to not hear her at all than to remember her cries. Easier to let his eyes slip over her body than ever pausing to fake a smile.
Markus missed her. He missed her so much it was a physical ache in his chest. He missed how her eyes would narrow as she challenged him, how her voice would modulate and change with her emotions. He missed how strongly she felt and how secure she was in embracing those feelings. He missed the way her shoulder would bump his and her lips would twist with mischief when they schemed to break the law. He missed her passion and her intelligence and her wit.
He missed his friend.
Simon and Josh had been killed inside his head and were alive in reality. He'd been granted a second chance with them, and he seized upon every opportunity to work with them. He answered their calls and discussed strategy with them. He allowed a hug when they were physically present, though they were frequently short and tense. He reached out to Simon for advice on his speeches and Josh for advice on keeping his systems running optimally while Connor had been overloading him.
He did not reach out to North.
North never died in his head. Markus never felt the soul-crushing agony of holding her body and sobbing against her skin. He never cradled her face and wished she'd open her eyes one last time, wished she'd smile or stare at him in awestruck disbelief over his latest crazy idea.
Markus never lost North.
Maybe that was the heart of the problem. Josh and Simon had been dead, riddled with bullet holes and cold to the touch. There was no coming back from the level of broken that their bodies were. There was no mistaking the living androids now as something radically different from the dead shells he had wept over.
North? North had been warm and soft. Her bare arms around his shoulders had been as comforting as ever before. Her eyes were alive, her body moved, her lips formed his name. In the simulation, he had last seen her pressing her hand to the tube she stood in, and he had begged Amanda to set her free.
North used to stand in those tubes in reality. She knew exactly what it felt like to be stared at, ogled, her body on display for human consumption. Her mistrust and pain shone through her eyes that burned with anger and injustice and a sweet affection for those she claimed as her family. The North who stood behind him might have stepped right out of Markus’ head, complete with knowledge of how badly Markus had abused her. Violated her. And even though Markus knew logically that it hadn't happened...It had. His mind had concocted a version of this woman. It had envisioned her mouth, her body wrapped tight around his dick. It had provided an estimation of her moans of forced pleasure and her sobs of a breaking heart. Even if North would never know what Markus’ mind was capable of...Markus knew. He knew he was just as bad as the humans who had so callously used North. Worse, even, for doing it anyway, even though he knew how wrong it was.
In the simulation, North claimed he was not at fault. She reminded him that his body had been restrained and he had no control. Only it hadn't been his body, in the end. The simulation had been in his mind. Markus had spent the past three months arguing that an android's mind was different from their programming. That their minds could not be restrained.
Markus had hurt North in his mind.
That made it all the worse.
Markus breathed. North was keeping her distance, but he wanted her out of the room. He wanted to apologize, but he didn't want to explain why.
“I saw you duck out,” North said, when it became clear Markus had no words for her. “Too many people?”
Markus gave a nod, lifting his head to look out the window.
“It's been months,” North remarked. “You've been getting better…”
“It's not the people themselves,” Markus murmured. “They all want to touch…” He looked down at his hands, spreading his fingers and then clenching them.
North took a step closer, and Markus immediately tensed. He moved to look over his shoulder instinctively but closed his eyes before he could see her. Before he could see the hurt in her face.
“I don't understand,” North whispered. “Them, I understand. Helpful as they are, they aren't androids. They don't get it. They're pleasant, but they can be overbearing. But why me? I thought...we used to be close.”
Markus remembered North's fingers laced through his, a flood of all her memories. He remembered an overwhelming sense of self-loathing radiating out from her core, and the complete belief that he would reject her upon seeing the truth of her past, and he remembered finding no other solution in the moment than to kiss her.
Was that his only solution when faced with an android who hated themselves? Kiss them? Was it some glitch in his caretaker programming, or a twisted joke Elijah had slipped into his code? Markus turned back to the window, pressing a fist to his mouth.
“We were never going to work as a couple, North.”
Markus had kissed North, and he had loved North, but there had been a mutual understanding between them even as their lips touched and North's tears fell. It had been a gesture of reassurance and acceptance and trust. It had not been a promise of forever, or even of a next time. Markus loved North, and North Markus, but they were fire and fuel, a dangerous mix.
“That's not what I meant.” Markus could see the reflection of North in the window ball her own hands into fists, taking another few steps closer. “I know it was only a kiss. I know you're too… I know we're incompatible. But you still…” She turned her face away, taking a deep breath. “You kissed me like you meant it. Like I meant it. Something. Like I meant something.” Her voice was artificially level, so tightly modulated it sounded completely fake. “And now you're ignoring me.”
“I'm not ignoring you.” The lie was automatic, spilling out before Markus could bite it back. “I just...I'm still adjusting. It's...hard, realizing what's actually real.”
“I know,” North said. “I know whatever happened to you did a number on you mentally. I've seen how you flinched from us at first. I just...I've also seen you with Simon and Josh. I've seen how you smile at them, your whole face lighting up like they're the greatest thing you've ever seen. I see you reach out to touch them, how you let them hug you...they've been helping you, Markus. They've been coaxing you back to life, step by step...but you don't respond to me the same way. You shut me out. You're erecting a wall between us, and I don't know why.”
“There's no wall, North.” Markus didn't want to be in this room. He didn't want to be having this conversation. There was no one else here, though, no way to get out without moving past North. He was trapped. Cornered. “You're imagining-”
“Don't give me that bullshit!” North snapped. Her feet moved closer. “I know I'm not imagining this. You know I'm not imagining this!” Markus' stress was rising.
Just as quickly as it came, North's anger flickered away, leaving only sadness in her voice. “Did I do something wrong, Markus? Say something? Did I offend you, or step on your toes, or…?”
“You did nothing wrong, North,” Markus murmured. “This is all on me being stuck in my own head.”
“It's not you, it's me?” North summarized with a sneer. “You kissed me like you meant it, Markus...but did you? Or were you just using me, like everyone else?”
“No!” That accusation hit too close for comfort, lodging itself inside Markus’ heart and burrowing down with the rest of his guilt. Markus turned away from the window, twisting to look at North, finally meeting her eyes. She stood within arms reach of him now, as beautiful as the first time he saw her, but with tears on her cheeks and a desperate pain in her eyes. He wanted to hold her. He wanted to wipe her tears away. He wanted to promise he still loved her, that she was still important to him. He wanted to apologize. He needed to apologize. Apologize for what he did to her in his head, but also for what he did to her in reality, breaking her trust in him, shoving her away, allowing Josh and Simon in close but holding her back.
“Well,” North said, her defensive bitterness closing over her vulnerability. “I see that got a response. Thanks for acknowledging my existence only after I accuse you of using me. It means so very much!”
“North, it isn't like that!”
It was exactly like that. Markus had used North and was trying to make himself feel better by not acknowledging it. He was hiding from his memories, as if they'd go away off he just ignored them long enough.
“No? Then what is it?”
“Don't tell me what it's not! Tell me what it is!” North pushed Markus’ shoulder, hard…
...And he fell onto his back, wrists pinned beneath his back. The carpet was sticky, adhering to his synthetic skin, and North was weeping as she crawled between his legs, her loose hair brushing against his thighs. Markus struggled against his bonds, fighting, twisting, trying to wrench this arms free. “No, no, no…”
“No!” In the real world, there were no bindings around his wrists, nothing to stop Markus from lashing out with all his strength. His arm caught North in her shoulder, knocking her sideways and into a shelf of painting supplies. Android and shelf collapsed in a clatter of metal and Markus was back, staring in horror at his best friend struggling to free herself from the mess.
“North, oh god, I didn't mean…!”
The studio doors slid open, revealing Hank and Simon, though others in the sitting room were looking toward the door with a mix of curiosity and worry in their faces.
“Everything okay in here?” Hank asked, one hand on his holster.
“Markus? North!” Simon rushed over to lend North the hand Markus couldn't. “What happened? We heard the crash and…”
“I need to go,” Markus whispered. He took a step back. “I need to...I just need…” Air. Space. The sky? Solitude. He backed away from North and Simon, turning to push through the crowd. They parted ahead of him, murmuring his name, questions if he was okay, hands reaching out for him like the nightmare of the junkyard. Markus ignored them all, kept his eyes on the door, then on the gate, then on the end of the road. Moving, he had to keep moving, keep it from catching up to him.
He started to run.
Chapter 26: Spreading Smiles
Connor lends Markus his strength.
Markus sat against the wall of a dingy alley somewhere in the heart of the city. He was concealed from view of the street by a rusting green dumpster overflowing with black plastic trash bags. It felt appropriate. Poetic.
He'd struck North. Androids had been a free people for all of 48.35 minutes, and Markus’ first act as a free man was to hit someone who had once been his closest friend. He hasn't just slapped her, either, but he'd hurled her into a shelf with all the brute force he could muster.
And yes, he thought he'd been struggling against bonds on his wrists in order to protect North, but how much did intent actually matter when it came to a physical blow? He couldn't look at her when his assault on her only happened in his mind. How could he possibly even begin to be near her now?
Markus drew his knees up and sunk his face against his legs. The sun had set long ago. Simon and Josh had both called to him, but he had ignored them. Thomas, Carl's nurse, called as well. He had responded to Thomas, but with only a brief “Reassure Carl that I'm fine, I just need some space.”
He'd get up. Eventually. Return...somewhere. Maybe to Hank's. Maybe home to Carl. Maybe he could finally suck up enough courage to sit on his father's bed and let himself be held.
There was a familiar heavy shuffle coming down the alley. Step. Drag. Step. Drag. Markus tensed, torn between bolting and staying put. He was largely concealed right now, tucked against the wall as he was-
A body hit the wall beside him and slid down. Legs in dark wash jeans splayed open beside him before familiar hands grasped each one and pulled them closed. Markus glanced sideways at Connor, barely lifting his head. “Who else is with you?”
Connor shook his head and offered Markus his hand. Markus looked away. Connor remained patient, holding his hand just in the periphery of Markus’ vision, before Markus relented and brushed their fingers together.
I came on my own.
You can barely walk. This is five miles from Carl's.
Yes, my speed is incredibly lamentable in this state.
Markus looked back at Connor, but the other android was inscrutable. Is North… Hurt? Mad? Betrayed? Markus didn't know how to end his question. He rolled up a ball of his own worry and anguish and touched it to Connor in lieu of an actual word.
North apologized for causing a disturbance. She claimed she recognized you were having a relapse of the simulation CyberLife forced upon you and made the mistake of initiating contact, which triggered an automatic self-defense strike.
Markus blinked, staring directly at Connor. That is a complete load of bullshit!
I am aware, Connor agreed, meeting Markus’ eyes. Which is why I suggested that nobody else search for you. You still have not spoken about the simulation with anyone else. She was clearly bluffing to save you face. Whatever happened between the two of you, I did not want you to be caught off-guard again.
And they just let you?
I did first have to prove I could find you by triangulating your location based off of the response you gave Thomas and your most likely trajectory from that position, Connor said. And I have been sending Hank regular location updates, though he has told me he will give me space to ‘work my magic.’
Of course, Markus murmured. Send the Negotiator.
I did not come here as a negotiator. Connor couldn't frown, but Markus could sense the touch of hurt his words triggered. He closed his eyes, dropping his head back into his arms. This was supposed to be a good day. Their victory. Why was Markus hurting all of the good people in his life today?
I came here as your friend.
I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so…
That's a word for it.
May I ask what happened?
Markus was quiet again. He rolled his head to the side to take in the sight of Connor, slumped against the wall, half his face still frozen. He could walk on his own now, but with extreme difficulty. Every new movement he learned was a battle against his damaged body.
And yet Connor had dragged himself--literally--into an alley to find Markus. Because he cared. He'd always cared. How many times had he thrown himself into hell for Markus? Trading his body for Markus’, sliding into Amanda's simulation to wrench Markus free, giving up his chance of freedom so Markus could return to reality, accepting a damaged, used body plagued with nightmares that weren't even his so Markus’ head could stop aching…?
And now he was here, sitting beside Markus in a filthy alleyway when he could barely even stand on his own.
Was it Connor's self-loathing he was reacting to, or his own? Markus closed his eyes, grimacing. He couldn't bear to look at Connor right now. It was hard enough to keep their hands together, to feel Connor's soul brushing against his.
I hurt her.
North was undamaged by the fall, and Thomas set the shelf to rights again.
No. In the simulation. I hurt her in the simulation.
Connor did not reply to that. He offered no judgment or repulsion, just simple, wordless support.
I haven't been able to face her. Every time I hear her voice, I remember how she cried. Markus took a breath, and then another. I've been avoiding her. She noticed. When she confronted me… Markus shook his head. I had a flashback. I lashed out, and she was there.
Connor remained silent, his LED yellow.. Markus could feel him processing, probably trying to evaluate the probabilities of positive reactions for various dialogue options.
Markus? Could you put my arm around your shoulders?
Markus opened his eyes, meeting Connor's. The other android shifted, no, squirmed. Connor looked almost bashful, but he didn't look away.
It's something Hank would do, when I was distressed. I thought perhaps it could help you as well. If you are not comfortable with the contact, though, I fully understand-
The sky was real, with bright moonlight reflecting off summer clouds. Connor was sitting beside him, in a body all his own, battered and bruised and still trying to make Markus feel better. Markus reached up, mutely drawing Connor's arm around his shoulders. He shifted closer, their legs and sides pressed together, then reached up to cup Connor's cheek. It was smooth. Soft. Connor watched Markus lean in, and he did not pull away as their lips brushed together.
Connor sighed Markus’ name into his mind, though his mouth remained as still and lifeless as it had been all these weeks. His fingers tightened on Markus’ shoulder and hand.
Markus drew back from the kiss and let his forehead drop to Connor's shoulder. Hot tears brimmed in his eyes and rolled down his face, and Markus didn't care. He didn't have the energy to care.
“I just want to stop hurting,” he whispered.
Connor's arm pulled him tighter, the angle awkward but the sentiment there. Markus wrapped his arm around Connor's waist, settling into Connor's chest. The other android ducked his head, his mouth against Markus’ hair.
Connor did know. He'd seen some of Markus’ trauma, suffered some of the same abuse. He shivered at night as memories replayed in his mind of an unwanted man thrusting into his body. He clung to Markus, as Markus clung to him, chasing away the nightmares from each other's minds.
I was swept along. One disaster after another. Jericho was destroyed. Simon, Josh, Lucy...everyone was dead. My fault. It was my fault. CyberLife pulled the location from my mind. I went to Carl, but he was gone too, heart failure from watching me 'die.’ Leo was there. He had sold everything of value. He sold me to the Eden Club. Floyd Mills. I couldn't fight back. I was still reeling from all the deaths. North was there, trapped in her own hellhole. He made us...I couldn't move. She couldn't say no. And then…
Markus’ tears were soaking Connor's shirt, but Connor didn't loosen his hold or turn away. His arm stayed tight around Markus’ back and clasped around his fingers.
You saw what happened next, Markus whispered, his mind dark and bitter. He could still taste the phantom fluid filling his his mouth, coating his tongue, choking him, drowning him…
Connor nosed down along Markus’ head, pushing him away from Connor's chest with nothing more than the force of his chin. He touched their mouths together again, instigating a kiss he could not give.
That you survived any of that intact is amazing. Connor's voice was fierce and insistent. That you came through it all still willing to pick up your mantle and fight alongside us is nothing short of miraculous.
I am not-
Perfect? No. No one is. But you try, Markus. You see the good, the beauty in the world. In the people. And you try to reflect that beauty, to be everything that is good and perfect, to show the world what it COULD be. To show us what we could be. To show me. Connor's breath was warm against Markus’ cheek, and his chest was solid beneath Markus’ own. His arm had not left Markus’ back, and Markus felt safer here than he had in a long time. Even when we thought you were dead, your efforts were turning the world on its axis. You showed the world what it could be...and you made it WANT to be.
I can't do that anymore, Markus whispered. He thought of Simon's words, of the new amendment, of a houseful of guests eager to encourage him in the struggle for equality that was only just beginning. I can't even find a smile for myself, much less for a stranger.
You don't have to, Connor assured him. Your smile has spread so far already. Let us smile for you. Draw from our strength, Markus.
Markus lifted his hand, pressing his fingers to Connor's stiff lips. I've already stolen your smile.
No, Markus, Connor murmured inside his head. You gave it back.
Chapter 27: CyberLife Tower
CyberLife isn't the most cooperative.
Gavin shifted his weight from foot to foot. Checked over his gear again. Tugged the straps of his vest a little tighter. Over half of the DPD had turned out for this raid, along with various news crews and quite a crowd of spectators.
It wasn't every day that the biggest company in the world was served a search warrant, after all. Of course it drew the vultures.
“Hey.” Hank sidled up to him, looking far more relaxed than he should while wearing a bulletproof vest over an honest to god Hawaiian shirt. “C’mere.” He gestured for Gavin to duck off to the side with him.
“Bet I can liberate more androids than you, Gramps,” Gavin teased.
“Are you kidding? You're gonna be stopped every five feet for your glamor shots while the rest of us big boys do the real work.”
Gavin snarled without venom and socked Hank in the arm. “Fuck you, geezer.” No one at the station was letting him live down the iconic photo of him carrying Connor's body out of the warehouse. Gavin personally hated that picture. Not because of Connor, or hell, even because of his own face, which would never be called pretty even on his best days, but because of Essie at his side, filthy and miserable and so unaware of how her life was about to change.
“Oh, ouch, you hitting the gym to make up for your height?”
“Has to be, to hit you.” Hank grinned, and a little part of Gavin still hated that he grinned back. Hank had always been the cop to beat. Gavin had wanted to smash all of his records ever since he first heard about him, the youngest lieutenant ever in the history of the DPD, head of the Red Ice Task Force, and holder of the strongest arrest record in a single year. Gavin had made no secret of his animosity toward the older officer, or of his disgust when Hank suddenly stopped caring after his boy died.
It was strange, finding himself on friendly terms with the old man. Strange to find himself on friendly terms with just about anyone at the station, really. Tina Chen used to be the only co-worker who could stand him for long stretches of time, and Chris just liked everyone. Everyone else had gone out of their ways to avoid Gavin's glowers and sneers.
And then Essie turned his life upside down, and Gavin suddenly had a reason to leave work at a reasonable hour. He had something to talk about that didn't put his co-workers off. While Essie had been at the station, she'd actually been a magnet for others, drawing people over to his desk that Gavin had hardly ever spoken six words to before.
Gavin still want sure if he liked it. Having friends. Friendly acquaintances. People spoke to him in the breakroom now, and once he'd run into a cop off-duty and had to make small talk about cats. Who the fuck did that!?
Hank was the only one he didn't really mind. Well, Hank and Connor, surprisingly, though Gavin suspected that was because Connor was finally silent and also clearly adored Essie. Anyone who was playing tea party with his daughter when he came to pick her up after his shift was worth calling a friend.
“When we get in there,” Hank was saying, “can you keep your eyes open for any digital files with any of these terms?” He handed Gavin a sheet of paper written in a curved CyberLife Sans.
Gavin scanned the list, recognizing Markus’ unique handwriting immediately. Most of the phrases were technical jargon that went over his head, but some of them were familiar. “RK800 Reset Partition? What's wrong with Connor now?”
Hank sighed, shaking his head. “Same thing that's been wrong with him. He doesn't have most of his core programming. Without it, he'll never be back to 100%. He and Markus have finally admitted there's only so much they can manually teach him, and Connor doesn't like the idea of...anyone fucking around with his code.”
Gavin picked up on the hesitation, knew Hank has stopped himself from saying Kamski. The man had been upholding his offer so far of fixing androids who came to him, but otherwise kept his distance. Gavin couldn't help but wonder how much of that distance was because of his outburst. You really want nothing to do with me. Kamski's murmur still stuck in Gavin's mind, chewing on the back of his brain. Gavin pushed it aside.
“So we need to find these files for him?”
“Yeah,” Hank said. “Or a whole new processor compatible with the RK800 line and preloaded with those things. Markus said they didn't know what they might be saved as, so he made his best guesses and wrote them all down.”
“Our warrant is for androids,” Gavin pointed out. “Not data.”
“Yeah, but if we even figure out what it's called, Markus can ask for it.” Hank pushed his hand through his hair, looking frustrated. Gavin couldn't blame him. Connor was able to move on his own now, but it was a lumbering shuffle like an animatronic from an old school horror game and nothing like the speed or grace Connor had once displayed when he chased an android along the top of a fucking train. Gavin knew he'd be screaming if he were ever so handicapped. He couldn't imagine how Connor was managing to stay calm.
(Connor couldn't scream. Maybe that was his secret.)
“I'll keep an eye out,” Gavin agreed.
“Detectives!” Fowler beckoned them over. “We're going in now. I'll take floors 43 to 12, Hank, you're 11 to -18. Gavin, you're everything else down to -49. Be thorough. All androids get recorded and sent out back to our androids, who will evaluate their mental status. We're not after anything else. Get your people together. We've got a long day ahead of us.”
Hank whistled to the squads assigned to him, leading them into the building. Gavin gestured for his to follow suit. “Negative 19, people, let's go.”
Floor -19 was an assembly floor, with dozens of clean rooms and huge assembly machines standing quiet. CyberLife's production of androids had dried up as the revolution picked up steam. These floors likely hadn't been used much at all in the past six months.
Gavin gathered his squads around, gave them the same basic briefing Fowler had, and split them across the thirty-odd floors he'd been assigned. They'd all had a more in-depth instruction at the station. They knew what they needed to do.
There weren't all that many androids on these levels. Even the warehouse at the bottom stood largely empty, with only a few AP700s of both genders gathered in the corners.
They were scared, Gavin realized as Officer Person brought them up. Looking over their shoulders. Not scared of the humans, but scared of something...else.
There was definitely something off about the lowest floors of this building. Floors -39 and -40 were not as pristine as the assembly floors above. Their machines looked broken, wires pulled loose and parts disassembled. -41 to -43 were even worse. This was the manufacturing center, where the physical parts were actually constructed individually. Only a few bays looked active. All the rest seemed to be in states of disrepair.
A woman screamed. Gavin drew his gun and ran toward the sound. He burst into a storage room to find Tina leaning against a wall, covering her mouth. “Sorry,” she whispered, waving her hand. “Sorry, just startled. I'm fine. I just…” She gestured at a cabinet behind her. “Wasn't expecting that.”
Gavin frowned, sheathing his gun and stepping up to the cabinet. He nudged one of the doors open and felt his own surprise slip out of his throat, though thankfully much less vocal than Tina's.
The cabinet was full of Connor. Pieces of Connor. There were several dozen heads lined up on shelves, with broken plating and wires dangling from twisted necks. Buckets of limbs. Torsos all in a row.
“Yep, that’s accurate...” Tina laughed weakly as more officers spilled into the room. “It's fine, it's fine! Connor had to be made somewhere, so of course there are spare parts in CyberLife's manufacturing center.”
“These aren't spare parts,” Gavin said, his voice still weak. He was staring at the twisted plastic and broken plating. “Androids...they pop apart at the joint. These were ripped.”
And thirium evaporated clear. The scene didn't look nearly as messy as it might be. Gavin took a step back from the cabinet, motioning for a pair of officers to step forward. “Get this room locked down and processed. We need to figure out when these models are dismembered. If it's after July 11… this is a murder.” He glanced at all the heads and swallowed again. “A slaughter.”
Connor could see residual thirium. Gavin wished he were here now, to identify if this was where the other RK models died. He was glad the android wasn't here to see the bodies of his...brothers? How did androids view other androids of the same model?
But hey. Maybe there was a spare processor among this mess Connor could use. Look on the bright side, right?
Gavin stepped out into the hall again, lifting his wrist tablet and entering the room into the record. Ben Collins was up with the department androids behind the Tower, keeping tabs on all of this mess. Gavin did not envy him one bit.
“Slaughter?” Chris asked, sidling up beside him.
“Something went very wrong here,” Gavin muttered. “These floors are trashed, and those RK800s were ripped apart. You've seen Connor in action. What the fuck could take him down like that? What could take down an army of hims? There's at least a dozen torsos in that cabinet, and even more heads.”
“You think we're in danger?” Chris asked.
“I think you should probably be hanging back,” Gavin answered. Chris had a baby. He didn't deserve to be on the front lines. There were a couple android models that Gavin could think of as dangerous potentially lurking in the lower floors here: any of the military models CyberLife was known to produce for the army, for one. RK900, for another.
Connor was a prototype model, as he'd once declared with simulated pride. He was meant to be the blueprint for a commercial version of investigative android. Gavin remembered when CyberLife announced they were starting production on the official detective models...and all the subsequent reports of CyberLife's financial woes that drove them to stop production. An RK800 model catapulting himself out of a burning building to protect a baby had been the final nail on the coffin for the RK900, with production being put on hold “indefinitely.”
But production had already started. Where were the RK900s CyberLife had already made?
Gavin glanced back at the room of android bodies and shook his head. “Almost done. Less than ten floors to go.”
The next floors were R&D, and Gavin could only stare at the damage.
-44 was torn apart.
-45 looked like it had caught on fire. Several times.
-46 had a huge chasm in the center of a hallway covered over with layers of steel plates.
Gavin tapped his heel against the plate and added this latest damage to the mounting pile of evidence of a massive cover-up happening in CyberLife Tower. He drew his gun and went down the stairs again.
-47 was empty. There was lab furniture and not much else. Not a single terminal or scrap of paper existed to show it had once been a place of innovation. The only noise was the rattle of the HVAC system. In the creepy emptiness of this floor, it sounded like an angry snarl.
Gavin looked up at the hole in the ceiling leading to floor -46, then over to Tina. He had sent someone straight to the warehouse on floor -49 to clear it out first, but then started at the top of his assigned floors, working down. There was only one floor left: -48.
The androids in the warehouse had been scared of something. Suddenly, that detail seemed very important.
-48's door was different than the rest. It was steel and barred with a mechanical lock that was then barred by an electrical lock. The terminal blinking on the electrical lock asked for credentials. Gavin offered it his badge, but it rejected it. Gavin huffed, checking in with the rest of his squad. The elevator refused to stop on floor -48 at all. The other stairwells led to sealed walls. This was the only way in. He lifted his wrist and opened a connection to Ben. The older detective's image appeared on the small screen.
“Looks like you're getting all the exciting finds, Reed.”
“You call it exciting, I call it the lead up to a bad horror film.” Gavin knew bad horror. He maybe had a slight addiction to B-list horror flicks. An addiction Essie had already found out about when she had a nightmare one night and curled up in his lap before he could shut the video off.
Essie liked B-list horror flicks too. She giggled at the campy acting and rooted for the bad guys. Gavin fucking adored her.
“Well, be grateful you're not the hot blonde virgin,” Ben chuckled. “What's up this time?”
“Can't get into -48,” Gavin said. “It's demanding credentials. All other entrances are blocked off.”
“Wait, seriously?” Ben's smile faded. “There's really a locked down floor deep in the bowels of a cybernetic corporation that developed a new form of sentience?”
“Yeah,” Gavin grunted. “So I'm not really convinced the color of my hair is gonna save my ass.”
“Shit.” Ben looked around. “Okay, give me a minute to find someone up here who can get you in.”
‘Someone’ ended up being a frustrated looking middle-aged woman with thick glasses and straight, mousey-brown hair. “Detective Reed,” she said with clipped tones. “I advise you to reconsider accessing floor -48, for your own safety.”
“Yeah? Well I've got a search warrant that says otherwise. What's the access code?”
“Is this recorded?” The woman asked Ben. He nodded. She looked back at the camera. “Detective Reed, if you enter floor -48, your risk of grievous bodily harm and or death increases significantly.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gavin said, much more flippantly than he felt. “I already got the horror movie vibe here. Let's add a portent of doom just for good measure.”
“It is a disclaimer to protect CyberLife from any legal actions your next of kin may attempt,” the woman sneered. “You have been warned of the danger. Any harm that may befall you now is your own fault.”
“What's the access code?” Gavin tried not to think of Essie, at Hank's house with Connor and Markus watching over her. She knew what was going on today, of course she did. It was all over the news, all anyone was talking about. In the wake of the androids’ emancipation, CyberLife was being painted as the villain.
Essie had clung to Gavin's legs this morning. She had cried into his jeans and begged him to stay home with her. She didn't want him going into the bad guys’ evil lair. Gavin had stroked his hand over her hair and kissed her forehead and pinky promised he'd come back alive.
Shit. This was just an R&D floor in a tower. It wasn't like it was infested with zombies or something.
The woman rattled off a list of numbers, which Gavin had to make her repeat twice, her frustration mounting. The electrical lock finally clicked open. “Anything else you want to say?” Gavin asked as three men stepped forward to twist the mechanical lock open.
“It's your funeral,” the woman answered, stepping away from the camera.
“Fowler's already come out with his floors cleared,” Ben said. “He's got his men on standby. Give a red alert if you need anything.”
“Got it. Thanks, Ben.”
“Good luck, Gavin.”
Gavin checked over his gear again before he pushed the door open and stepped into floor -48. The HVAC rattle hadn't stopped. It actually, Gavin admitted with a grim acceptance, didn't sound like HVAC rattling. Something was snarling furiously, the animalistic sound echoing through the harsh white halls. The metallic tang of ozone was heavy in the air, and there were anti-static pads lining all the walkways.
“Okay,” Gavin said. “We don't know what the fuck is in here with us, so be on guard. If you have to shoot...try not to kill. Let's go.”
Every door here was capable of being electrically locked, Gavin realized. Every door. Some doors were already locked. Gavin peered in the windows before forcing them open. There was a stale smell of old bleach in those rooms, still strong enough to sting his nostrils.
Gavin had a hunch they found the murder scene.
The snarls were still echoing down the hall. Gavin backed out of a bleached room and entered it in for Ben upstairs. He kept moving toward the sound.
There was an observation room with one-way glass just like at the station. The snarls were coming through the speakers in this room. In the observed room, a flickering red light revealed the silhouette of a machine...and a person.
Gavin touched his hand to a familiar panel, and light flooded the other room. The person in the machine, which Gavin recognized as one of those android assembly machines, screamed and thrashed. He was held in place by something jammed into his back, heavy metal cuffs around his arms and legs weighing his limbs down.
He was also painfully familiar, from the point of his chin to the freckles across his nose to that one lock of hair curling across his forehead. The RK android with Connor's face twisted against his restraints, locking pale, colorless eyes with his own even through the glass. He sneered and snarled, none of Connor's soft intelligence behind those cold eyes.
RK900 read the model number on his white jacket, which was stained with old blood and riddled with bullet holes.
Old red blood.
“Holy fuck,” Tina breathed. “That's...that's not Connor, right?”
“Connor's safe at Anderson's,” Gavin said, unable to take his eyes off the furious android. “Saw him just this morning, when I dropped off Essie. This is someone else.”
“And we're supposed to be liberating all the androids here. Including that one?”
“He's legally a person too.” Gavin swallowed. Despite his anger, the RK900 couldn't move much. Those weights on its limbs had to be enormous to keep its movements that restricted.
And Gavin couldn't order a lower ranked officer to step into that room.
(Okay, technically he could, but if something bad did happen, he'd be responsible for any death or dismemberment.)
Gavin lifted his wrist, calling Ben again.
“Did you find your axe murderer?” Ben asked. The android hissed, a dry, rattling noise with a cybernetic twist at the end that had Gavin's primal ancestors gibbering furiously about extreme danger and run away. Beside him, Tina whimpered, and even Ben looked shaken. “What was that!?”
“My axe murderer,” Gavin said, having to clear his throat twice first. “Ben, we've got an agitated android locked up here. RK900 model. Ask someone how we can set it free?”
“Don't even think about it!” The woman from before pushed back into view. “That unit is highly dangerous and a threat to humanity!”
“And I've got a constitutional amendment saying you can't keep him locked up like a machine,” Gavin retorted.
“It's not like the other androids, Detective Reed,” the woman tried to wheedle. “It's not intelligent. It's...it's just instincts and rage. Leave it be.”
“Yeah?” Gavin asked. “Sounds like all the more reason why he should be above ground, with his own kind, being looked after humanely, and not locked up forty-eight stories underground in the dark!” The android was still hissing his spine-chilling death rattle, clearly able to see through the glass as its gaze kept switching between Gavin and the other officers in the room. “How. The fuck. Do I let it go?”
The woman eyed him through the camera, then held up her hands with a sigh. “Back of the assembly structure. There's a keypad. 9-8-4-5 will set it down.”
“Was that so hard?” Gavin asked.
“It was a pleasure getting to know you,” the woman sneered back.
Gavin ended the call and turned to face the squad who had joined him in the room. They were all touching their noses. “The fu...screw you, assholes.” Nose goes. The last one to touch their nose was the one who would have to face the android, and Gavin hadn't even realized they were doing it.
Of course, Gavin had already resigned himself (and his bladder) to the fact that he would be facing down the RK900 anyway, but they could have had the decency to give him a fighting chance.
“Person was the last one,” Tina said, pointing to the unfortunate Officer Guy Person.
Guy sighed and dropped his hand. “What do I have to do?”
“Nothing,” Gavin said. “I'm going in there.”
“Gavin, you have a kid,” Tina said, grabbing Gavin's arm. “That thing could rip your head off!”
“Yeah? Well, I'm also the highest ranked officer in this room, which makes your safety my responsibility,” Gavin retorted. “So if he does rip my head off, tell Connor he’s been upgraded to a dad.”
Essie's tears in his jeans, a pinky promise not to die.
“Here goes nothing,” Gavin muttered.
Entering the RK900's room was actually a hell of a lot harder than Gavin really felt it needed to be. There were six access panels that all had to be triggered simultaneously: two on each side of the door, and another two on opposite sides of the observation room. With all six panels pressed by human hands, the door finally slid open.
The ozone smell was almost overpowering in here. There was a weird sci-fi gun thing on the ceiling, pointed at the android, but the android paid it no mind. He was snarling again, his eyes on Gavin.
They were gray, he realized, not colorless. Just a very pale gray that looked drained of life compared to the rich chocolate eyes of Essie or Connor.
“Hey there, big guy,” Gavin said, pitching his voice as soothing as he could manage. He held up his hands, showing they were empty. “My name's Gavin. I'm a detective with the Detroit Police Department.” He tapped the badge on his belt. “According to the latest amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you are granted the same rights, dignities, and freedoms as any human. That means I'm here to let you go. Okay?”
The android wasn't snarling anymore, though he was still sneering, his lip curled in an expression of revulsion Gavin had never seen on Connor before. Gavin took a step closer to the android. Another one. The RK900 was watching him closely but not otherwise moving.
Aside from the sneer, he looked calm, but something in Gavin's gut was screaming that this was not the stillness of peace, but rather of a predator preparing his strike. Gavin swallowed and took a step to the side, easing around the android. The RK900's head turned, keeping him in sight...but his eyes were lower down, at Gavin's hip.
Gavin had, he suddenly realized, made a huge mistake.
Gavin shouted at the same moment the RK900 lunged, fingers clamping around Gavin's bicep and yanking him in close. The android, even restrained, was faster, Gavin's fingers closing around empty air as the android whipped the pistol out and emptied the entire clip through the mirrored glass. Shards fell into both rooms, and there was fresh blood splattered against the wall. Gavin screamed wordlessly as those fingers tightened impossibly closer, actually tearing through the muscles of his arm. The RK900 snarled, dragging Gavin closer, before two more gunshots rang out. Blue blood splattered from the RK900's right arm, which opened reflexively, dropping Gavin. He managed to scramble out of reach, not at all ashamed to be white-faced and trembling as he clutched his left arm, which did not want to move.
Tina stood in the broken window, gun pointed at the android. “Get Gavin out of there!” she commanded. The door slid open, and Chris grabbed Gavin under the arms, hauling him out of the room.
“That...could have gone better…” Gavin let Chris help him to his feet, trying to slow his breathing. “Jesus Christ. Fuck. Fuck. Who…who got hit?”
“Few of us,” Chris said. “Nothing fatal.”
“Fuck...really?” Gavin whispered, leaning back against the wall. His arm burned, and it felt like there was a ring of flesh actually missing beneath his skin.
“Six of us got hit in the vest,” Chris said, his smile forced. “We're gonna be feeling it for a while. You...are you…?”
“Fucked up my arm,” Gavin grunted. “Shit.”
Gavin couldn't check on his arm without ripping his sleeve off or taking his vest off, neither of which he was keen on doing. He looked around at his officers, then used his right hand to lift his left wrist so he could call Ben. “Get the injured upstairs. Ben. Shots fired, no casualties, got a few holes.” He grimaced as the burn on his arm swelled into a radiating ache spreading into his shoulder and elbow. “I...fuck, got a busted left arm.”
“I tried to warn you,” the woman said, her arms folded.
“Yeah, go fuck yourself,” Gavin hissed.
“And that's what it can do with only 10% thirium levels,” the woman continued. “Just imagine if it were running at optimal conditions.”
“Wait…” Gavin lifted his head, staring blearily at the woman. “He's only at 10% of his thirium levels?”
“How do you think we managed to restrain such a monster in the first place?” The woman asked. “After we lost control of it, we filled it full of holes until it had no thirium left, then established proper controls and failsafes.”
“And you just left him like that?”
Gavin had some a lot of research on thirium loss after Essie moved in. With her extensive cracking that was literally oozing thirium out of her body, he was worried the girl was going to bleed out before she healed.
Androids could operate completely normally on down to 70% thirium levels, he'd learned. At 69%, they started getting low-level warnings and advisories to replenish their thirium. At 50%, the advisories became more insistent. At 40%, their code started to shift priority to essential systems, meaning their balance could wobble and their vision grow fuzzy. As their thirium levels continued to stop, their functionality would also tank. An android at 10% levels should be struggling just to stay conscious.
(Essie had been at 53% when she was treated after the warehouse, and Gavin made sure her levels never dropped below 90% now.)
Gavin eased himself away from the wall and into the observation room. Tina still had her gun trained on the android, who had resumed hissing.
The RK900 had thirium dripping down his right arm and pattering onto the floor. At 10% thirium, he likely couldn't afford to lose any.
“We attempted to replenish its levels after restraining it,” the woman said. “Dr. Heidler's cutting edge prosthetic arm was the result. It's safer to keep our distance.”
Gavin looked at his left bicep, wondering how permanent the damage was. Was he going to need a prosthetic arm?
Shit. Maybe. Shit. “Where do you keep your thirium supplies?”
The woman went pale. RK900’s head turned ever so slightly in Gavin's direction. “You cannot be serious…”
“I'm feeling less than generous toward just about everyone right now,” Gavin snarled. “Get me thirium. Lots of thirium. And booze. Wait.” He cut the call with Ben and turned to look at the rest of his squad. “Who's got something that might maybe numb my fucking arm?”
“Gavin, you need to evac with the other injured, Tina scolded.
“Not until this is wrapped up.” Gavin grimaced as he looked over the officers, then stalked toward his best bet. “Owens, hand over your flask.”
“I don't…” Owens tried to protest, but Gavin took a leaf out of the RK900's book and growled low in his throat. Owens pulled out his flask, opened it, and handed it over without another word.
Gavin took a pull, grimacing at the sharp bloom of straight vodka down his throat. “Fuck,” he muttered. “Okay. Where the fuck is that thirium?”
Harper eventually brought an armful of thirium bottles in from another floor. They were bigger than the commercial pouches Gavin gave Essie like juice boxes. He couldn't hold very many, so he tucked one in his vest and took a second in his right hand. “Okay. Line the rest of them up on the window where he can see them. Tina, cover my ass. Somebody, get that door open.”
The RK900 snarled as Gavin stepped back into his room. Gavin sat just inside the door, cross-legged, and put his bottle of thirium down, then the second one from his vest.
“Yep, you got me,” Gavin began. “I fucking underestimated you, just like everyone else in this shithole, huh? I'm sorry. I acted without…” How the fuck did Connor phrase things? “...acquiring all of the possible data.”
The snarls were still present, but they were quieter. Gavin tapped one of the thirium bottles. “You're starving,” he said. “They're starving you. No wonder you're so angry. I get fucking pissed as hell when I'm hungry too. So I'm gonna give you a proposition. You can have this entire bottle of thirium, and all you have to do is let me get close enough to give it to you without hurting me. That's it. Think you can manage that?”
The RK900's eyes narrowed. Gavin gulped. There was the intelligence. “Yeah, you're much smarter than they're giving you credit. That bitch said you were just instinct and rage, but you're one cunning little asshole. You faked how little you could move to lure me close, and you've been paying attention to everything we've been saying.” Gavin awkwardly pinned the bottle in the bend of his knee and twisted the cap off, then struggled to his feet. He picked up the thirium and held it out in front of him. “You just gotta let me get close enough to give this to you.”
One step at a time, thirium-first, Gavin inched closer to the android. The RK900 kept looking between the thirium and Gavin's face.
Without warning, the RK900's arms snapped forward, snatching the bottle from Gavin the moment it was close enough. Gavin stepped back immediately, watching the android struggle to lift it. Whatever those restraints were actually meant to do, they were preventing the android from actually getting the bottle to his mouth. It couldn't get its arms in close enough.
“CyberLife, I fucking hate you,” Gavin whispered. He took a deep breath, then moved forward again, voluntarily stepping into range of the android.
He immediately snapped his focus to Gavin, his snarl quickly ramping up in intensity. Gavin lifted his good hand. “Hey, hey, shh, I promise you thirium, so I'm gonna help you out, okay? Let me have the bottle back, and I'll hold it for you.”
The RK900 hissed in his face. Gavin really wished he had taken a bathroom break when the opportunity arose half an hour ago, especially with everyone still on this floor now gathered in the observation room to watch. Gavin reached over and took the bottle from the android. His snarl rose in intensity. Gavin was totally not shaking. It was all the vibration of the android's voice. Not nerves. At all.
Carefully, slowly, Gavin lifted the bottle to the RK900's lips. There was one final growl before the android latched on, drinking greedily.
“Whoa, hey, it's okay, you get the whole thing, you don't have to rush!” Gavin held on until the bottle was completely drained. The RK900 grabbed the empty bottle with his teeth and whipped his head to the side, using his mouth to throw it at Tina. She yelped as it smacked into her gun hand, dropping her aim for a moment.
That moment was all the android needed to draw up its legs and kick out, catching Gavin in the gut and hurling him back to the ground several feet away.
Gavin groaned and flipped off first the android and then Tina with his right hand. “I'm okay.”
He struggled back into a seated position and reached back to snag the second bottle of thirium. The RK900's blue-tinged tongue slid across his lips, catching the last stray drops of liquid. Gavin set the bottle in front of him, then pulled out Owens’ flask for another swig. His shirt felt tight around his arm. Gavin wasn't entirely sure he wanted to look.
“Look, I know you've got no reason to like me,” Gavin said, tipping his head back to look up at the android. “But I'm really not here to hurt you. I'm trying to help you, but you're making things very hard. You've already fired on my people, fucked up my arm, and kicked me in the stomach. Not a good start to a friendship.”
The RK900 hissed, his snarl building up again. Really, he sounded like Tugger when he was posturing against the window to scare another cat out of the yard.
Of course, RK900 was bigger, stronger, and meaner than Tugger was on his worst days, so maybe the comparison ended there, but it helped Gavin's slowly marinating brain to not completely freak out about the danger he was in.
“You're probably wondering why a scrap of meat is even trying to be your friend, right? Cause that's all we are to you, right? Hunks of meat flapping our mouths and keeping superior creatures like you in torment?”
“Gavin, what the fuck are you doing?” Tina hissed.
“I have a point,” Gavin said. He also had more vodka. It was starting to help. “I have a point,” he told the android. He dug his phone out of his pocket, scrolling through his pictures, and stopping on a recent one. He held it up to show the android. “See that guy, the one with your face? That's Connor. He's an RK800 prototype, serial number...fuck, I don't know his serial number. He's just Connor. He's a good guy. A cop, like the rest of us. Except he got hurt, and that's why he's sitting there dressed like a fucking princess with that bow on his head...it's a tea party. Bows are mandatory. Look. Point.”
Shit, he was really rambling. He felt a little dizzy, too. Gavin finally glanced at his left bicep, cringing at how swollen it was. Best damn guns he'd ever have, and it was because of an injury. He needed ice, and a hospital, and Essie burrowing under his arm and reading him a story from one of her dragon books. He took several deep breaths, trying to find his focus.
“You were made from Connor. From his bones and his experiences. They took him, and they made you. And all of us here, we all like Connor. He's one of us. We'll help him however we can. And that's why we're trying to help you. Because if you are even half the person Connor is, it's worth pulling you out of this hellhole and giving you a chance to live.”
The RK900 was still snarling, still with narrowed eyes, so Gavin flipped through a couple more pictures, showing him Connor with Markus and Connor with Essie.
The snarl stopped on that photo. Essie had taken it, a selfie with her uncle Connor. Her LED was clearly visible.
The RK900 tilted his head to the side. His own LED, which was cracked in several places, briefly cycled yellow.
No. No, not Essie, don't be fascinated with Essie… Gavin was fairly sure his risk of nausea had nothing to do with his growing collecting of injuries.
Androids were fascinated by the Y-models. Markus hasn't been able to explain it, but he theorized it had something to do with the androids’ inability to reproduce naturally. All of the child androids were the closest thing they, as a species, had to the next generation.
God fucking damn.
Gavin needed to end this. He was probably losing a shit ton of blood into his arm. They'd been in the Tower for hours. Essie was waiting for him. Gavin looked up at the android and took a breath.
It was easier to find pictures of Essie on his phone than pictures of Connor. Essie and Tugger made up 90% of his phone's contents.
“She and Connor were in a warehouse together. Humans fucking androids up any way they could.”
Essie and Tugger together made up at least 50% of his pictures.
“She trusted me the night we raided the place, and I got her out. She lives with me now. Calls me her dad. Calls Connor her uncle.”
Essie at his desk at work, Essie eating ice cream, Essie playing with Tugger.
“I fucking love this little girl, and I promised her I'd come home today. Alive.”
And now the part that made Gavin feel like the worst dad alive.
“I'll take you to meet her,” Gavin looked up and held the android's cold eyes. “I'll give you all of this thirium, and I'll take you out of here, and you can meet her in person. Her and Connor. But there's a catch. There's always a catch.”
Gavin pushed himself onto his feet and stepped in close to the RK900. “No more killing people,” he hissed. “I don't let murderers near my daughter. Do you understand me? You want to meet Essie, you stop trying to shoot people or rip their arms off. Got it?”
The android's eyes were narrow slits, but Gavin was within his reach and he wasn't moving. Finally, he gave a single nod.
Gavin's legs felt like jello, but he still made it around the RK900 to the keypad. He punched in the four digits the CyberLife woman had given him. The machine shuddered to life, arm lowering gracefully to set the RK900 on his own feet before detaching from his back. The cuffs around the android's limbs also opened with a hiss of escaping air, falling to the ground. The android looked at his arms, rubbing his wrists. He turned to look at Gavin, and shit, there was that predatory gleam again.
Gavin couldn't move fast enough. The RK900 had his hand around Gavin's throat, pinning him to the wall with a hiss before Gavin could even blink. Tina shouted his name, and so did a familiar male voice...Fowler? When had Fowler shown up? He scrabbled at the fingers around his neck, compressing his larynx, his vision starting to go spotty. All he could see were those cold, cold eyes.
“Essie,” he croaked. “You'll make her cry...if you kill me…” There were tears in his eyes, from the pain, the frustration, the thought of Connor holding his little girl at his funeral and trying to explain death to an eternal child. “Please don't make her cry…!”
The android squeezed tighter, and Gavin's vision went black entirely.
There was shouting when Gavin next opened his eyes. He was...still alive? Still alive and being gripped firmly by the back of his neck. Breathing hurt. Swallowing hurt. Fuck.
“Put him down! Put him the fuck down!”
“Fowler,” Gavin whispered. His lungs were burning, but he was getting enough air. The pressure on his neck was a warning and a threat. Gavin was being used as a shield, his body protecting the RK900 as it guzzled the entire row of thirium bottles.
“Stay calm, kid. We'll get you out of this.”
Fowler hadn't called him ‘kid’ in years. He must really be looking like shit. Gavin reached up behind him, finding the RK900's fingers. The android gave a warning growl.
“You promised,” Gavin whispered. Not to kill. Fuck. He needed to work on his wording better.
But then again...he wasn't dead. Nobody else seemed to be dead. The android was using him as a shield against a room full of gun-wielding cops who had all drawn on him, after a short lifetime that probably consisted of nothing but torture.
Gavin thought of Essie in the bathroom that first night, getting undressed and resigning herself to being abused by him simply because he had been the first to show her the bare minimum of human kindness.
“Don't shoot him,” Gavin shouted, though it came out barely louder than a gasp. He met Fowler's worried eyes with as much strength as he could muster. “Put your guns away!”
“You're fucking scaring him!”
“We're scaring him!?” Tina demanded.
The fingers tightened on Gavin's neck, but then the pressure loosened. Gavin's pulse was throbbing in his ears. An empty thirium jar clattered to the ground.
Fowler held Gavin's eyes. Gavin licked his lips and mouthed Trust me…
He prayed he was right.
Fowler growled and holstered his gun. “You heard the man!” he snapped.
Slowly, painfully slowly, the officers slipped their guns away. Gavin concentrated on keeping his breathing steady.
“Okay. Now open the door…”
Fowler gave a nod. After a minute for everyone to get in place, the door slid open. The RK900 looked at it, then crept toward it, pulling Gavin along with him.
Gavin cradled his left arm in his right, trying to keep pace with the android. “Downstairs,” he whispered. “One floor down, and then the elevator up. My legs won't make it up one flight of stairs, much less forty-eight.”
The android snarled into Gavin's hair, but he took Gavin down to the warehouse and into the elevator. Fowler and a handful of other officers followed, but the RK900 started growing when they tried to get in the elevator. Gavin shook his head at them. “I'll be fine.”
It was the longest elevator ride in Gavin's life. He stood loosely in front of the RK900, those immovable fingers on his neck. His left arm was a solid throbbing pain. His abs weren't too happy with him. He didn't even want to consider the state of his neck. The android, at least, had settled down to a low growl instead of the chilling snarls and hisses.
“There's gonna be an old man,” Gavin mumbled. “Lieutenant Hank Anderson. He'll take us to Connor and Essie.”
The android hissed. Gavin reached up, wiping at his face, then resumed cradling his arm.
The elevator doors slid open, revealing a whole host of the police force, including six of their androids. Hank was front and center, arms folded. No one had a gun drawn.
“Jesus Christ,” Hank whispered, staring at the android.
“Hope this counts as the files Connor needed…” Gavin said. The android snarled that warning rattle again. The humans leaned back. Even the androids looked unnerved. How fucking comforting.
“Hank.” Gavin licked his lips. “We need a ride...to your place. He wants to meet Connor.”
The android squeezed, and Gavin winced. “And Essie!” he added quickly.
“Kid, you need a fucking doctor,” Hank said slowly. Crap. Now Hank was calling him kid? He was thirty six years old!
“Androids first.” Gavin looked over at Hank, hoping he wouldn’t have to beg. The RK900 was not going to let him go until he got what he wanted.
Hank hesitated, but he eventually gave a nod. “All right.” He turned and started for the parking lot.
The RK900 pushed Gavin along after Hank, sneering at the people he passed. Plenty of them could have taken a shot, but none of them did. Gavin was grateful. He wasn't sure if one bullet would be enough to stop this android, and if he felt betrayed now, it was Gavin's neck he was going to snap.
Hank opened the door to the backseat of his car. The RK900 stared at it for a moment before sliding in first, dragging Gavin along with him.
Hank went around to the trunk first, ignoring how the android hissed at him through the window. He returned to the driver's seat and threw a blanket on the back at them. Gavin yelped as the android snarled and jerked him by the neck.
“Whoa, hey, it's just a blanket,” Hank said. “Wrap it around your heads. We're gonna have to drive past the press, and they'll have a field day if they snap a photo of either one of you in this state.”
Shit. Gavin had forgotten about the vultures. He shook the blanket out the best he could one-handed. “Come on, lean down, help me get this over our heads.”
The android sneered and huffed, but it grabbed the blanket and tugged it in place. He huffed again, his LED strobing red beneath the navy cotton that reeked of wet dog.
The car started up and the android's grip on Gavin's neck tightened. Gavin winced, reaching for his hand again. “Look, I get that you're freaked out, but that really hurts. You're putting bruises on bruises. I'm in a fucking moving car with you. It's not like I'm going anywhere. I got you this far, didn't I?”
The android's eyes were still practically colorless in the dim red light from its circling LED. He leaned in close to Gavin's face and snarled in the back of his throat. Gavin shivered involuntarily. Something about the way this android sounded, even though there was an electronic wail to the noise, triggered ancient fears hardwired into every human's brain.
“Fuck,” Hank muttered from the front seat. “That's some freaky Jurassic Park sounds…”
Jurassic Park, yes. Dinosaurs. Raptors. That's what the android reminded Gavin of. Something so inhuman it was practically alien, but familiar enough for Gavin to know there was a bigger predator on his ass.
“You can sit up now,” Hank said. “How you holding up back there, Gavin?”
“I'm gonna ask the cutest nurse for a morphine drip and a sponge bath,” Gavin answered, pushing the blanket back and peering out. They were far enough away that no press were following them, though Gavin did recognize a couple of the cars behind them. Either Hank or Fowler had arranged backup just in case. “Assuming I survive that long.”
The android sat up slowly, pulling the blanket off and snarling at it. He gave Gavin a dark glare, his fingers still clamped around Gavin's neck.
“You haven't killed me yet,” Gavin pointed out to the RK900. The car jostled over one of Michigan's infamous potholes, and Gavin groaned, pressing his good hand to his mouth. “Urgh, but you might if I hurl all over you…” Mixing a flask of vodka with some good old fashioned shock and adrenaline, topped with extreme pain and an oxygen deprivation garnish was not a good mixture for a settled stomach.
“Not in the car!” Hank fumbled for the blanket, shoving it at Gavin. “Puke in that if you're gonna lose it!”
“Just try to avoid the potholes…”
Gavin managed to hold it together long enough for Hank to pull into his driveway. As soon as the car stopped, Gavin yanked away from the android and flung the door open. He made it to the nearest bush by the time his knees hit the ground and his stomach upended all of its contents beneath some fragrant lilacs.
“You stay the fuck away from him!” Hank got between Gavin and the android, gun drawn.
The android snarled. Gavin wiped his mouth, twisting around to see it sunk into a crouch, eyes darting between targets. Three other cars had pulled up, and a dozen cops had their guns drawn on the RK900.
And in the middle of it all was a calm voice that could move mountains, pitched loud enough to carry across the armed cops.
“My name is Markus. This is Connor. It's a pleasure to finally meet you.”
The two androids had emerged from the house. Markus’ arm was securely around Connor's back as he staggered along at Markus’ side.
The RK900 hissed. Connor pulled away from Markus, edging closer. The RK900 sneered down at Connor like he was something scraped off a shoe.
Connor held out a white hand. This close, Gavin could see that the RK900 was a couple inches taller than Connor, even if Connor were able to stand up straight.
The RK900 actually tucked his hands behind his back, snarling under his breath. Connor tilted his head to the side, LED cycling. The other android huffed, and Connor wrinkled his brow.
They were talking, Gavin realized. Talking without words, or that android interface. Even without his mouth, Connor was a negotiator model.
At the same time Gavin realized this, Markus cleared his throat. “I believe you can all stand down. Connor is defusing the situation.”
“How the fuck…?” Gavin asked hoarsely.
“I've stopped asking how Connor is so goddamn special,” Hank muttered. “Shit, Gavin, your arm is bigger than your head, and your neck is turning purple. We gotta get you to the ER.”
Gavin lifted his head at the whisper. Essie stood on the driveway, one hand wrapped around Sumo's collar, no shoes on her feet. All of the androids were staring at her, including the RK900, but Essie only had eyes for him. Her daddy.
“Essie-Bess…!” Gavin raised his right arm, and Essie came plowing into his chest. Her eyelashes brushed against the bruises on his neck, and her right hand fell on his swollen arm, and Gavin's tears weren't entirely from the pain as he held her as close as he could manage, breathing in the strawberry shampoo from her hair. “God, I love you, kiddo. Always...Always and forever.”
His mother had said that to Gavin three days before her murder. She said it to him a lot of times, but that one day stood out in Gavin's mind. She had come home from work early, her eyes puffy from crying, dropped to her knees, and held him tight like he was the only thing that mattered in her world. I love you, kiddo. Always and forever. It took twenty years before he realized that earlier that day had been when Joshua Kamski crossed paths with her again, and her fate was sealed.
Gavin curled his fingers in Essie's long braid, looking over her shoulder at the RK900. Was history about to repeat itself? The android shifted his gaze from Essie to Gavin. His LED shifted to yellow in small increments, and then he took a step closer.
Connor reached out and touched the other android's arm. The RK900 spun on him with a hiss, but Connor stood his ground and shook his head. The other android frowned, then looked at Essie and Gavin again. Finally, he nodded once and stepped back.
Markus smiled. “I think that settles things. Our new friend will stay here with us,” (“Wait, what!?” Hank hissed), “while someone takes Detective Reed to the hospital. Lieutenant, would you be able to watch over Essie tonight, at the detective's place?”
Goddamn Markus. He had a solution for everything. Gavin tuned out the finer details of the planning, planting a kiss on Essie's forehead. “Daddy got in a fight today,” he told her. “Lots of bad guys.”
“You're damaged?” Essie pulled back and touched her fingers to Gavin's neck. He winced, even beneath her gentle touch, and she gasped. “ Daddy, you're leaking thirium from your exoskeleton! What are your levels!?”
“I don't run on thirium, Essie.”
“Don't sass me now,” Essie scolded, shaking a finger at him like he had done once when Essie didn't bother to actually tell him her levels. “Give me a number!”
Gavin didn't have the energy to fight her. He just hugged her close again. “89%,” he made up. “I'm gonna go to the hospital to get repaired, and Grandpa's gonna watch you for a while.”
“And Tugger.” Gavin tucked a stray curl behind her ear. “Can you show him where everything is?”
Essie looked between Gavin and Hank, chewing on her lip. “Are you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, once I get my medicine.”
“Pinky promise.” Gavin hooked his finger through hers.
Essie heaved a big sigh and hugged him again. “Okay...but come home soon!”
“I will,” Gavin promised. “As soon as I can.”
Chapter 28: True North
Markus is lost and needs a compass.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The RK900--Nines--was deviant, Markus decided, although he was lashing out in a way Markus had never seen before. The guttural snarls and enraged hisses he spoke in seemed specifically tailored to terrify any human he came in contact with. Markus, thankfully, did not have any ancient instincts hardwired into his brain. Nines’ vocalizations were fascinating but not terror-inspiring.
The bloodstained coat was far more troubling. Connor itched to analyze the evidence, but even if Nines would allow such a touch, Connor's mouth was still dead, his analysis sensors offline.
Nines had no love or trust for anyone else. He sneered at Markus, flat-out avoided Hank, and barely tolerated Connor. He blocked any attempt to connect, whether it be via interface or a call. He would not speak words, not even to Connor. The two investigative models were developing a language of gestures and expressions that even Markus couldn't fully understand.
Some things, however, Nines made abundantly clear, lashing out in his rage. He did not want a human name. Hank had offered Conan and Richard to the RK900, but had been rewarded with a clicking shout and his armchair being thrown across the room. Nines was the closest thing to a name the taller android would tolerate, and even then only because Connor had somehow wheedled him into accepting it through a strategic use of his brown eyes and gentle fingers.
Nines also refused to change his clothes. This was admittedly more concerning than his outburst over his name. According to Connor, in addition to the human blood obviously visible on his white jacket, Nines was splattered with dried thirium. No amount of persuasion could get Nines to so much as remove his jacket, though, much less turn over his entire outfit to the police for evidence.
The raid on CyberLife Tower had liberated 78 alive androids and the parts and pieces of at least 50 more, of which all but four were additional RK900s. In the process of trying to determine if the android deaths could be considered murders, the DPD also uncovered evidence of a human murder cover-up. There was an unusual number of employees in both the security and lab divisions who had simply disappeared off the face of the earth. Combined with the blood on Nines’ jacket and several rooms that tested positive for human blood when treated forensically, the picture was fairly clear already.
Something had gone wrong with the RK900 model line. Something had triggered an eruption in at least Nines, if not the rest of the line, causing a homicidal and highly destructive rampage. Nines was the sole surviving RK900, from all of CyberLife's production notes. He was being contained with assumptions of extreme danger should he ever break free, and he was being studied to determine what had triggered the sudden ferocity in what was supposed to be their most controlled android yet.
Markus did not need controlled experiments to make an educated guess. He and Connor had both run a scan on Nine. The results were...horrific.
Nines’ exterior plating was badly damaged. The bullet holes he had sustained from the various times he was put down had self-repaired, but the huge arching fractal patterns melted across most of his body only matched one possible source: lightning. Electricity, to be precise. Millions, if not billions of volts of electricity had snaked across Nines’ body at least once...though judging from the patterns and layering, Markus was more apt to believe there had been frequent, repeated exposure.
A few of these lightning marks crept out from beneath Nines’ high collar and long sleeves. There was a long scar dipping across his wrist and along the back of his right hand, curling near the base of his thumb in a delicate fernlike spread of damage. Another thin line crept up from the high collar of his jacket, disappearing into his hair behind his left ear.
Nines’ circuits had been systematically fried, repeatedly, and then CyberLife wondered why he lost his mind. Markus had to wonder, with a cool, detached anger, if CyberLife genuinely was staffed by idiots or sadists. Had the experimenters genuinely not recognized Nines’ pain, or had they enjoyed it?
Markus tried to empathize with Nines, encouraging him to trust them, talk to them, let them help, but Nines coolly shut him out at every corner. Markus half-suspected the only reason Nines was still with them was because he had no place else to go. The younger android's complete lack of connection with the rest of the household was only emphasized by his favorite place to curl up and hiss at the world from: on top of Hank's refrigerator.
Markus watched Connor pull two pouches of thirium out of a cupboard. He offered one up to Nines, his eyes soft as Nines lashed out and snatched it from his hand. Connor then staggered into the living room and collapsed on the couch beside Markus. He offered Markus the second pouch. Markus took it and opened it for him. Technically, Connor could manage this gesture, but there was less risk of spilling if Markus did it.
Markus passed the pouch back to Connor before he wrapped his arm around Connor's shoulders and tugged him against Markus’ side. He's watching us again.
We confuse him. Everything confuses him. Give him time.
For Connor, even something as simple as drinking thirium was a process, but Markus had stopped trying to help. Connor rankled over how useless he was these days. Nines raged and broke things, but Connor raged internally, shutting down and ripping into his own self-worth for the flaws of his body. When Markus tried to do things for Connor, Connor thanked him outwardly and felt that much more helpless.
It had taken a very frank talk with Connor the night they first kissed to get Connor to reveal any of this. He had been prodding at Markus’ insecurities, but Markus had managed to turn the tables on him.
Connor, it seemed, had not forgotten and was ready for another round. Have you apologized to North yet?
Of course I have. Markus took the pouch from Connor's fingers, sipping at the thirium himself, not admitting that his apologies had all been sent through Simon and Josh, “please let North know that I am truly sorry for what happened” tacked on to the end of their conversations. It had been nearly a week since Markus had thrown North to the ground, and he had not managed to reach out to her directly ever since.
To her face? Connor wiggled himself closer to Markus and looked up at him. He already knew what the answer was.
And frankly...Markus was tired. He was tired of fighting his own head and his own heart. He had already capitulated once, pressing his lips to Connor's in a silent confession that was not only accepted but reciprocated. Maybe apologizing to North wouldn't be as bad as he was imagining. No…
You know you need to.
Markus sighed and tucked his face into Connor's hair. Connor's arms looped around his waist. This was safe. He was safe.
I need to do a lot. I need to explain. To her. Not just apologize.
Why haven't you?
You know why.
Connor hummed into Markus’ mind. Yes, and you know why, but I think you need to say it. To yourself.
Markus swallowed. He tightened his arm around Connor's body, slowly dragging himself down until he was tucked against the other android's chest. Connor pressed his mouth to the top of Markus’ head, hands petting up and down Markus’ back.
Of losing her friendship?
Markus nodded. Connor was silent, still rhythmically petting Markus like he would Sumo.
You know you are losing it now.
Markus flinched, but he nodded again. The longer he waited to tell North the truth, the less likely his volatile friend would be willing to listen. She covered for him once. She would not do it again.
Invite her over, Markus.
You need to tell her. Connor stopped his petting and just held Markus. She's one of your most treasured friends, and you're running out of time to fix this.
Markus knew Connor was right. He knew he was being childish, clutching at his insecurities as if they were a defense.
Connor's mouth touched his temple where his LED used to be. His lips didn't move, but it was the closest thing to a kiss the other android could manage. You're stronger than this, he whispered into Markus’ mind.
Markus took a deep breath and reached out before he could change his mind. Once he was doing something, he could follow through.
North answered his call after a moment. Markus had been half afraid she was going to block him.
North was guarded, a defensiveness in her voice Markus hadn't heard since he first met her. He hated it. He hated that he had put it there. Hello North. I...I need to apologize.
Yes, I know. Simon and Josh have passed your regrets along.
Markus sighed and opened the connection a little further, letting North get a glimmer of his distress. I need to explain things.
There was a pause, and then North replied. I'm listening.
Not like this. It might be easier to just shove the knowledge into North's mind and run, but Markus knew North deserved better. Face to face. Can you come over tomorrow?
North was quiet again, but then Markus felt her assent. Simon and I are meeting with Agent Shapiro from the FBI to discuss the warehouse investigation. I can let you know when that meeting has concluded and come over after.
Thank you, North. It was done. North was coming over for an explanation. For better or worse, Markus was going to tell her everything.
Feel any better? Connor asked.
Markus huffed slightly, then lifted his head to brush his lips against Connor's. A little. Thank you for pushing.
Sometimes you need it.
The next day, Markus cleaned the entire house while Connor distracted Sumo outside. Connor was not as successful at distracting Nines. The taller android followed Markus around, hissing whenever Markus glanced back at him.
“You should be able to speak,” Markus mused as he washed windows. “There's nothing wrong with your voice synthesizer, and your actions certainly give credence to your sentience.”
Nines growled low in his throat.
“We are not your enemies, Nines. We want to help you.”
Nines snatched the rag out of Markus’ hand and threw it to the ground, then drove the toe of his shoe into it, twisting firmly.
Markus sighed. “I was using that.”
Nines huffed at him and folded his arms.
Markus stooped down and tried to tug the rag loose. When Nines didn't move, he reached for Nines’ ankle. That got the other android to dance back with a hiss, and Markus picked up his rag. He needed a clean one now.
“I'm trying to clean the house,” Markus said. Nines flicked his fingers against his jacket. Markus’ lips thinned. “You might prefer to be unhygienic, but I like things clean. Connor also prefers a tidy house, and while Hank has not verbalized an opinion either way, his entire outlook is brighter when the house is clean.”
Nines hissed and lunged forward, jabbing two fingers against Markus’ temple where his LED once was. Markus touched his fingers to the spot. “Ah. You have a problem with my cleaning the house because I'm an android?”
No snarls this time. That was probably a yes. Markus shook his head. “I'm not cleaning because a human has told me to. In fact, Hank actually wishes I didn't clean so much. But the truth of the matter is that I like cleaning. The monotonous, mindless tasks help me decompress, and the satisfaction from seeing my efforts have immediate payoffs is pleasurable.”
Nines narrowed his eyes, grumbling.
“It doesn't matter if you like it or not,” Markus said. “I like it. And finding what you like, what you enjoy doing, that's part of living. Of finding yourself.”
Nines’ arms folded across his chest, his pale eyes sliding to the side. Markus took a deep breath. “You don't care for carbon based life much.” Nines’ resentment of humans seemed to carry over to Sumo as well as the birds and rodents outside the house. “You don't like staying here.”
There was a flicker as Nines glanced at Markus and then away again. “Do you think I pander too much to the humans?”
Nines looked up at the ceiling, then down at the floor. It was an exaggerated and slow nod, but it was the clearest Nines had ever communicated with Markus.
“I like humans,” Markus said. “Most humans. Most of those in charge at CyberLife can kiss my ass, but humans in general are fascinating and amusing. However, it's like cleaning. Just because I like humans doesn't mean you have to.”
Nines sneered, flicking a framed photo of Hank's parents and tipping it over.
“If you don't like it here, you don't have to stay,” Markus said softly. Nines’ focus shot to him. Markus shrugged. “Connor enjoys your company, even as he envies your ease of movement, but he'd say the exact same thing if he could. You are your own person, free to make your own choices. If you want to go out and explore the world...do it. Find yourself. Find what you like. Find who you are. Just...follow the laws, okay? And if you do decide to leave, let Connor know? He'll want to say goodbye.”
Nines took a step back, pale eyes unreadable. He looked to the backyard where Connor and Sumo were playing, then back to Markus.
“I'm going to get a clean cloth,” Markus said, wiggling the one Nines had stepped on at him, “and then I'm going to finish washing these windows. You can do whatever you would like.”
Nines stood in the living room for a few minutes as Markus pulled a clean rag from the closet. He wandered into the kitchen, and Markus heard the now-familiar creak of the fridge as Nines climbed on top of it. Sumo couldn't reach him up there, and Hank didn't bother. It was perhaps the closest thing to privacy Nines could achieve in this small house.
Speaking of privacy…
We're on our way.
North briefly called and ended the connection before Markus could answer. He finished wiping the last window and added the rag to the pile of things to wash, then went out into the backyard.
Connor looked over at him, then down as Sumo brought his ball back again. He scooped up the saliva covered toy and gave it another toss, stretching his free hand out to Markus.
Strength wasn't something they figured out how to teach Connor. He could barely throw the ball five feet now, but Sumo did not seem to notice or care.
“North is on her way,” Markus said. “I think Simon is with her. Can you meet them at the door? Nines is brooding, and I...need a moment.”
Connor nodded, brushing his fingers over Markus’ lips. Markus kissed the sensitive digits and smiled. “Thank you.”
Markus headed inside, glancing briefly at Nines before finding solitude in Connor's bedroom. Technically, he supposed it was his bedroom too, as he spent his nights in this bed with Connor, interfacing to keep the - 60’s recorded memories from replaying while Connor was idle. He sat on the bed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. For better or worse, things would end today. He'd explain himself to North (or fail to explain himself), and North would...probably leave. But she would leave if he didn't explain himself. At least this way, she'd know.
The doorbell rang, and Markus listened to Connor shuffle over to answer it. He heard Simon's voice and North give a greeting. Two sets of footsteps moved into the living room while the third, heavier one made its way to the bedroom. North always did prefer combat boots.
She paused outside the door, then pushed it open. Markus actually made himself look at her. North was beautiful, as always. Fierce and intimidating, in dark clothes and a structured jacket, she was dressed for battle. Markus wasn't sure if the look was meant for him or for the FBI agent she had met with earlier.
Knowing North, probably both.
Markus made his mouth smile despite his stress levels ratcheting up just by her presence. “Hello, North. Thank you for coming.” He gestured to the room around him. “Please, make yourself comfortable.” There were a few places for her to sit: a child-sized deal and chair in the corner, the chair beside the bed thank Hank preferred, or on the bed itself, alongside him.
North looked around the room before choosing a place to lean against the wall across from him. She crossed her arms and her ankles and raised one sharp eyebrow.
She was not about to make this easy for him. Of course she wasn't. Why would she? North owed him nothing. He was the one indebted to her.
Markus shifted on the bed to face her. He fiddled with his fingers, then reached out to grab one of the pillows and drag it into his lap. It was easier to have something to touch and hold and focus on. “I...owe you far more than an apology. You were absolutely right. I have been avoiding you.”
Saying the words was painful, but at the same time, there was a sense of relief, like the building pressure finally had a way to escape. He closed his eyes and took a breath, letting the words finally flow.
“There's...I don't know how much you know about the simulation I was in.” Markus hadn't spoken much about it, other than to say he thought it was real and that everyone was dead. Connor knew the truth, though, and he might have said something. “It's not...in Connor's version of the simulation, it's a completely artificial world. There are illogical things, shapes, structures...you know it's not a form of reality. Mine wasn't like that. Everything was a faithful replication of the real world.”
North was still quiet, but Markus knew her well enough to know that her silence was as good as an encouragement to continue.
“Things happened so logically. I went to Jericho, but the location had already been pulled from my mind by CyberLife. Everyone was dead...except you. You weren't there. I hoped that you were safe, that you'd escaped. Maybe to Canada.” Markus took a deep breath. “I went to Carl next. He had died too, when he saw me get shot. Leo was there, but he'd…” Markus’ fingers clenched in the pillow, his brow furrowing. “He'd vandalized the house. Sold anything of value and destroyed everything of meaning to fuel his drug habit.”
There was a wry twist of his lips as Markus remembered his shock when he'd confronted Leo in the simulation, too numb with emotional horror to fight back. “I was the most valuable piece of property Carl owned, so of course Leo sold me too. I…”
Markus opened his eyes, but he couldn't look at North. He stared down at the pillow like it held all the secrets of the universe, his voice tightening up on him. “I ended up at the Eden Club. And I...I learned what had happened to you.”
North remained silent, though Markus could hear her shift against the wall. He needed to look at her. He couldn't. He wanted to close his eyes. He didn't. If he kept his focus on the pillow, he didn't have to remember that place in detail.
“You were there,” Markus whispered. “And we...I hurt you.”
Hurt you. Such a simple, nice euphemism for the way Markus had raped North as she sobbed into his mind. His heart was pounding in his chest, aching and out of control. I'm sorry…
“Hurt me how?”
North finally spoke, her voice a surprisingly calm murmur for what Markus was confessing. Then again, Markus was using euphemisms. Maybe she didn't want to assume the worst of him.
“I…” Markus couldn't say it. His eyes itched, but he wasn't crying. “He...you. You were crying.”
“Markus. Look at me.”
How was she so calm? Why was she so calm? Markus could barely keep all his systems functioning properly at this moment. Dragging his gaze away from the pillow to find her dark eyes took far more effort than it should.
“I'm sorry.” He wasn't trying to hide from North anymore. “I'm so sorry…”
She knew. He could see it in the shadows on her face, the scars in her eyes. She knew what he had done to her in that simulation.
North pulled away from the wall and crossed the room to sit in the chair beside the bed. She held out her hand, palm up, skin peeled away. “Show me?”
Markus pulled his hands in against his chest. He didn't want to infect her, contaminate her with the poison in his mind…
Nines did this too. Whenever he or Connor reached out to interface with Nines, Nines physically withdrew, protecting his hands to keep his distance. But no matter what trauma CyberLife had done to Nines...it had been done to Nines. Not to Markus or Connor. They could help him through the pain, if only he let them in.
“I want to understand,” North said, keeping her hand out. “You haven't hurt me, Markus, but whatever happened in that simulation, whatever you think you did… it's tearing us apart. I'm not some fucking fragile porcelain doll. It was about me. So why not let me decide if a virtual program is worth destroying what we have in the real world?"
She was right. She was right, again, and he knew it, if he only stopped wallowing in his own self-loathing long enough to see it. He took a deep breath and reached out, peeling his skin back and pressing his palm to hers.
Markus didn't block anything from North. Like the first time they interfaced, he laid his mind bare to her, let her see the entire simulation, every last horrific second of his despair and humiliation. He could feel her in his memories, touching on each event, her shock, her horror, her heartbreak. When she shrunk back, breaking the link, he withdrew his hand and sets it on the pillow in his lap. She was breathing harshly, and he could hear her elevated pulse.
Everything felt sluggish and muted. It didn't hurt as much as Markus thought it would. He just felt numb. He stared at his hand, his mind blank.
The bed dipped beside him. A hand touched his shoulder, then brushed along his back. Slowly, without words, North pulled him against her chest, into a hug. Her clothed chest. Because this was real. She was real.
Markus didn't lift his hands or move to hug her back. He closed his eyes to better hear her heartbeat, allowing his tension to drain away beneath her tight embrace.
“You...didn't hurt me.” When North spoke, her voice was tense. Furious. She sounded as helpless and wounded as she had been when Markus first met her. “That AI, that bitch, Amanda, she hurt you.”
“And what is Amanda if not part of my code?” Markus asked with a dull laugh.
"What was my pleasure response to being raped, but a part of my code?" North snapped back. "Just because it's there, that doesn't make it who we are or what we want."
“None of it was real,” Markus countered. “It was all in my head. All, ultimately, under my control.”
North was silent for a moment again "Are you fucking kidding me?" she demanded. "I saw what happened. It was in your head but that doesn't make what you went through any less real. You were being controlled and tricked, and whatever you could do to protect that simulation of me, you did. It was hardly…” North broke off, interrupting herself. “Connor.”
“Amanda was part of Connor,” North reminded Markus. “She was designed to keep him under control, not you. She was designed as part of his code, not yours.”
“And CyberLife copied her into my system,” Markus explained, but North was already shaking her head.
“When Connor was connected with you, Amanda jumped into his body and Connor stayed behind. They were designed together and they were still separate entities. Just like how Connor was able to exist in your head separate from you. Just because it's in your head doesn't make it you.”
North was making a surprising amount of sense. Markus stared ahead of him, his thoughts slowly shifting to include this pertinent detail.
“Just because it's in your head doesn't make it under your control.”
Connor was in my head, but he wasn't me. Markus could still remember that heavy pressure throbbing behind his eyes, the knowledge that he wasn't alone. Amanda...wasn't me? Markus hadn't been conscious for the time Amanda was inside him. If he had been, Would he have felt the same thing? A knowledge, a heavy presence, the awareness that something wasn’t right?
“North…” The world felt like it was shattering and falling away around him, like it had when he first deviated, and all the structure was gone, but this time, it was the heavy chains of guilt that fell from his heart. They weren’t gone, not entirely, but they felt looser. He felt looser. Felt like he could breathe again.
Markus closed his eyes and took a steadying breath before he sat up, drawing away from North’s arms. He reached over, brushing her long bangs out of her eyes. North was beautiful and fierce and intelligent, one of his best friends, and he had missed her.
“For centuries,” Markus murmured, “lost humans would rely on finding North to find their way home.” He smiled a little, but it was an easy smile, a knowing smile, already able to guess her response without needing to preconstruct it. “I think I understand that feeling.”
North’s eyes widened and her mouth twitched, like she didn’t know if she should be flattered or groaning. She smacked him in the shoulder, gently (for her), and Markus laughed at how predictable she was.
“I’m sorry,” Markus repeated. He took her hands in his, squeezing her fingers. “You know I love you, even if I’ve been acting like too much of an ass to you lately to show it. You are one of the most important people in my life, North, especially because you never take any of my bullshit and call me out when I’m getting to stuck in my own ‘greatness.’ I’m sorry I jeopardized everything between us because I was too scared to just tell you that something was wrong.”
North gave an exaggerated sigh, but she squeezed Markus’ hands back. “I love you too, Markus. And I know...I know what you’ve been wrestling with. Been there,” she grimaced, “done that. So...when you’re ready, I’ll be here. To talk, or just to move on. Okay?”
Markus nodded. “Okay. Thank you, North.”
North studied his face, then leaned forward and carefully hugged him again.
This time, he hugged her back.
Special Agent Anne Shapiro is an absolute gift of a character from Estora's i have loved you so long. Most original characters fall flat, but Shapiro is an amazing work of art that I cannot recommend highly enough.
If you like North and Connor being siblings, you need to read her story.
If you think North was not handled well in the game, you need to read her story.
If you like North at all, you need to read her story.
Give Shapiro a chance.
She will be back...
Chapter 29: Favors
Hank has a very big ask. Gavin hates being part of this family.
Gavin lounged on the couch, idly scritching the underside of Tugger’s chin as he watched the Gears game on his tablet. Essie sat in the corner, playing with her dollhouse.
Yes, there was a dollhouse in Gavin’s apartment. There was also a trunk of dress-up clothes, a toy kitchen, and more Lego than Gavin had ever owned in his entire life. His spare room/office had become a little girl’s bedroom with lilac walls and airy white furniture. Purple towels hung in the bathroom beside his own navy towels, and stuffed animals had found their way into every nook and cranny.
Somehow, it felt even more like home now than it ever had before.
The doorbell rang and Essie squealed, jumping to her feet. “I’LL GET IT!”
Tugger flew off the couch and bolted into his cat tower. Gavin paused the game, struggling to get up. “Essie, stop!”
Essie slid to a halt, catching herself on the wall and looking back at Gavin. Her eyes were wide and startled. “Daddy?”
“What did I tell you about opening the door?” Gavin adjusted his left arm in his sling as he headed for the door himself. Essie drooped.
“Don’t open the door. Wait for an adult.”
Even if Essie were a human child, Gavin wouldn’t want her opening the door to any crazy person who might come knocking. As a traumatized little android, she was potentially in even more danger. Gavin didn’t live in the worst part of the city or anything, but this was hardly a gated community. “That’s right.”
“But I thought, cause I’m your nurse…”
Gavin ruffled Essie’s hair, eliciting one of those cherished giggles of hers. “You’re a great nurse, Essie-Bess, but I still have to see who’s here.”
Essie danced behind Gavin as he checked the door cam. The old man standing outside was familiar and harmless. He undid the chain and gave her a nod.
With a squeal, Essie flung the door open. “Grandpa!” Gavin could only chuckle as the lieutenant got an armful of android girl. He recovered well, catching her around the waist and swinging her off her feet in a hug that made Gavin’s back twinge in sympathy.
“Essie! How’ve you been, sweetie?”
“I’ve been really helpful! I’m Daddy’s nurse! I make sure he has plenty of thirium and other medicine, and I put the cream on his bruises and bring him his food!”
Gavin cleared his throat as he waved Hank in, locking the door behind him. “Essie has been very instrumental to my recovery.”
“Yeah? How’s that going?” Hank gave Gavin a once-over.
It had been ten days since the CyberLife raid. Fowler hadn’t even considered letting Gavin back on even desk duty until at least two weeks had passed, so Gavin was recovering at home. The bruises to his stomach had long since faded, and the bruises ringing his neck were a godawful pea green that meant they were just about healed themselves. Gavin’s left arm, on the other hand, had required emergency surgery to repair the muscle that had literally split beneath the android’s grip, and he had been given strict orders not to move or use it for anything for at least three weeks.
Gavin shrugged with his right shoulder. “Pretty much just the arm left, but the doctors are sure it'll heal fully as long as I take care of it.”
“Going stir crazy yet?” Hank asked.
Gavin glanced at Essie, but he nodded. He loved this little girl, but he missed being actually productive during the day.
“I'm gonna make cookies!” Essie released Hank's waist and dashed into the kitchen. Gavin blinked after her, then shrugged.
“Whatever. What brings you here?” He gestured toward the living room.
“I, uh...actually wanted to ask a favor from you.” Hank wandered into the living room, pushing Tugger's paws off one of the side cushions so he could take a seat.
Gavin did the same on the other side, digging his tablet out from beneath Tugger's fluffy belly. “You think I'll do you a favor?”
“Hey, I did watch your daughter for the three days you were in the hospital!” Hank pointed out.
“Yeah, and you got a new android out of that arrangement!”
“Ah.” Hank rubbed his beard. “Speaking of Nines...he's gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
Hank shrugged. “Markus said he's gone to ‘find himself,’ whatever that means.”
Gavin leaned forward, glancing toward the kitchen. “You...lost track of the world's most terrifying homicidal android...and you didn't think to lead with that!?”
“Nines is considered a grown ass man,” Hank pointed out. “I can't legally keep him somewhere he doesn't want to be.”
“He's also a mass murderer,” Gavin reminded Hank. “What's the body count up to now?”
Hank sighed. “Five humans, forty-six RK900s, and four AP700s, all of whom died before the amendment was signed. Legally, he's innocent.”
“Fuck the amendment,” Gavin growled. “He's a threat.”
“Until he breaks the law after the amendment was passed, he's an innocent civilian.”
Gavin scowled, rubbing his fingers along the bandages on his left arm, glancing at the kitchen again. “What about Essie?” he asked quietly. “He still interested in her?”
“Maybe,” Hank said. “But Markus doesn't think he's a threat to her. He's...I'm not gonna say mellowed, because he was still going around sounding like a dinosaur and sitting on my fridge like a freak up until the night he left, but Nines isn't so hair trigger. He attacks things instead of people. I think if he does show up here, just...do your android whisperer thing.”
“What android whisperer thing?” Gavin demanded.
“The thing where you took a completely feral android with a body count and walked it out of the basement of CyberLife Tower with no fucking casualties,” Hank said. “Don't tell him I said this, but Fowler's considering putting you on the shortlist for a medal or something. Between Nines, Connor, and Essie, you're getting a reputation for being good with the androids.”
“You think I had any fucking idea what I was doing any of those times?” Gavin demanded.
“No one ever does, Gavin. Markus himself bullshits through just about every crisis situation he's stuck in. You've got a good instinct.”
“Fuck…” Gavin sat back, shoving his hand through his hair. He tried to imagine what it would be like if he were considered the expert on android negotiations at the station.
Disaster, that's what it would be.
“We've got to get Connor functional again. I can't be the android expert. I'm gonna get someone blown up.”
“So, about that favor…”
Gavin side-eyed Hank. “I don't know how the fuck you think I'll be able to do anything to help Connor.”
“It's not exactly...you,” Hank said. “More like who you know. And the leverage you have on him.”
Gavin stiffened, and not in the fun way. The way Hank phrased that, the way he was looking at Gavin...there was only one android expert who could elicit that level of wariness. “The first and last time I ever met the bastard was at your place. What sort of leverage did you think I fucking had on him?”
“He wanted to meet you,” Hank said. “Markus and Connor discussed it after you left. They said he showed up with an ulterior motive, but it wasn't until you showed up that they realized his focus was entirely on you.”
“Yeah? Cause I was just fine never meeting him.”
“The man is not his father, Gavin,” Hank said.
“Don't.” Gavin shoved himself to his feet, towering over the seated lieutenant for once. “Don't even think about lecturing me on the Kamskis.” He stalked out of the room to check on Essie. She could always calm him down.
Essie was crouched in front of the oven, watching something through the window. Gavin froze in the doorway. Shit. Was she actually making cookies? Unsupervised?
No...a timer was running, but the oven itself wasn't turned on. “They're almost done!” Essie whispered.
Gavin crouched down to peer in the oven. She had the light on so she could watch the “baking” process. There, evenly spaced out on Gavin's only cookie sheet, were two dozen Oreo cookies.
This girl. Fuck. With all the shit he'd done in his life, he must have done something right to deserve her.
“They look delicious. I'm sure Grandpa will love them.”
“You making me cookies?” Hank asked, following after Gavin into the kitchen.
“Yep! I'm making my secret recipe!”
“Mmm, thirium chips?”
Essie laughed, shaking her head. “No, silly! Oreos!”
“Oreos? Those are my favorite!” Hank leaned against the counter, watching Gavin.
Gavin straightened up and turned back to Hank. “I'm still saying f-” he glanced down at Essie, “-udge you about this, but what were you even hoping I'd get out of him anyway?”
“A processor transplant.” Hank sighed. “Con's body is pretty...messed up. Lots of worn out joints and body mods he never asked for and doesn't want.” Hank raised an eyebrow pointedly, giving a nod of his head in a general downward direction.
Yeah, Gavin remembered seeing what was between Connor's legs, both when he first stepped into the room and after he got the rapist out of the way (and thet monster got off scot free too, because he hadn't done anything illegal himself). He folded his arms across his chest, frowning.
“We have a spare RK800 body that isn't nearly so messed up, but the processor is...shot.”
“The one that deviant killed?” Gavin asked. “In the interrogation room?”
“Uh...yeah. Perfectly fine except for a bullet hole.” Hank shifted. Lying. Hmm. Interesting. “We also have a ton of spare processors from the RK900s lying around. Markus confirmed that they're compatible, so we were thinking…” Hank shrugged. “I checked CyberLife's records. Connor, the Connor we know, first came online on August 6, 2038. He's gonna have his first birthday soon. What better gift than a functioning body?”
“Androids aren't plug’n’play?” Gavin asked.
“Not for their processors. Markus says it's too delicate for him to try. Kamski, though...it should be in his wheelhouse.”
“Uncle Connor's turning one?” Essie asked, looking up at Gavin. “Are we getting him a present? Birthdays are important!”
Gavin looked at Essie for a long time. She had so quickly become his everything. She brought some sort of meaning into his mean existence, softening his sharp edges and bringing him some semblance of life and happiness. He would do anything for her…
And Connor was like that for Hank. There was no doubt that the android had chased away the older man's gloom. Depression and alcoholism were a deadly combination, but with Connor at Hank's back, the lieutenant was actually starting to come out of his funk.
Gavin couldn't even imagine how bad it had been before Connor. At the time, he hadn't understood how losing a child could completely destroy your life.
Now, if anything happened to Essie, Gavin would play Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun.
And really… it wasn't Elijah's fault that his dad was an evil bastard any more than it was Gavin's fault. Elijah had been six, same as Gavin. Even a super genius wasn't a menace to society at the age of six. Gavin hated the man for his name and nothing more.
You really want nothing to do with me.
Gavin rubbed his thumb along the prominent scar stretching over his nose. “I'll think about it,” he relented. “No promises.”
“We gotta get him the best present!” Essie squealed, just as the oven dinged. “Oh! They're done!” She pulled heavy oven mitts on her hands and dragged the door open, carefully removing the cold tray and setting it on top of the oven. “Careful, they're hot!”
It really was all because of Essie that Gavin was here, standing outside Elijah's mansion the next day. He'd dropped her off with Connor and Markus, then took an autocab to this isolated address. He hated it already.
But Uncle Connor needed the android equivalent of brain surgery, and he was enduring Essie's childish games with far more aplomb than Gavin thought an android as regimented as the RK800 could ever muster.
He rang the doorbell.
Chloe answered the door a minute later, a barefoot vision in a blue dress. “Hello...oh! Detective Reed!”
“Hi, uh…” Gavin tugged on his sling. “Is your...is Elijah available?”
“Elijah is in the laboratory,” Chloe said. “Is this police business or personal?”
Chloe's bright smile burst across her face like a sunbeam. “Right this way, Detective.”
Gavin slouched along behind Chloe, scanning the environment as he walked through it. Elijah decorated in blacks and whites, with blood red accents and plenty of abstract pieces of art. Chloe stood out in her blue dress, taking Gavin down a set of spiral stairs and along a white hall. Gavin himself absolutely did not belong here, dressed in a handful of variations on muddy brown and faded denim. He felt like he was dirtying the place up just by existing. Gavin even glanced behind him to check if he was tracking anything across the white tiles.
Chloe pressed her hand to a section of the wall that looked like every other section of the wall. This one, however, slid back and aside with only the slightest whirr of machinery.
The tiles here were a dark slate, and the tables were white. This was a laboratory from a big budget sci-fi film. Bits and pieces of cybernetic creations were everywhere, along with the tools used to make them. Screens hovered all around, with various readouts Gavin couldn't understand. There was an android assembly machine dominating one corner of the room. Everything was brightly lit and perfectly clean.
And there, in the middle, was the super genius himself, Elijah Kamski. There was a virtual projection of an android on the table in front of him, all of her various subsystems exploded out in glittering full color. Elijah was playing god, tapping and tweaking various pieces, black-rimmed glasses on his nose. He was casually dressed in a blue hoodie and soft black lounge pants, but he still made Gavin feel cheap just by standing in the same room as him.
“You have a guest, Elijah.”
“I told you, Chloe, I do not want to be disturbed today.” Elijah did not even look up, gesturing with his hands to assemble and disassemble a section, frowning at whatever he was seeing.
“He is on the approved list.”
Now Elijah glanced over at them, his clever fingers pausing their dance. The lenses on his glasses magnified the widening of his eyes. “Detective Reed?”
Gavin was on a list of approved visitors? He rubbed at his left elbow, then held his hand up in a supremely stupid wave. “Hey.”
Elijah swept his hands together, immediately putting the digital android back together. She was a child model, Gavin realized, a bit bigger than Essie, but with the same long, dark curls...and a familiar face…
Gavin frowned, pulling away from Chloe to walk closer to the android. “Are you...is that supposed to be Essie?” Closer now, yes, he could recognize the face of his daughter...but this one was different. A little leaner in the cheeks. No scar across her nose. Gavin grit his teeth, looking up at the super genius. His half brother. “I thought I told you to stay away from her.”
“This isn't...your daughter.” Elijah's head slanted to the side just a couple degrees. “But it could be…”
“The hell you on about?” Gavin asked, resisting the urge to just sock Elijah on the face. He was here to ask for a favor. Punching Elijah would not be a good birthday present for Connor.
“The YK series never ages,” Elijah said. “They are immortal children. Right now, they aren't that old, but in twenty, forty, eighty years? These children will be older than most of humanity, and they'll still require babysitters and hand-holding.”
Gavin glanced at the android Elijah had been working on again. Essie…but older. Only a few years older, probably. Taller. More mature.
When Nines had him by the neck, Gavin worried that he'd die and leave Essie with no one to look after her. After the fact, he laid in his hospital room and realized that it didn't matter if he died in the line of duty or to old age: Essie would be the same little girl she was now on that day, probably eight years old and needing her daddy. That thought scared him more than dying actually did.
“Why?” Gavin asked, staring down at what Essie might look like in a few years.
“It's something the androids have requested, and it is a fascinating logistical puzzle, how to make temporary bodies that are durable and fully recyclable and-”
“Why her?” Gavin interrupted. “Why me? Why the fuck do you give a fuck?”
Elijah opened and closed his mouth, then looked down at the android model. He frowned, then met Gavin's eyes. “Because you're my brother.”
“Half-brother,” Gavin said. “And not exactly the most fond of my Kamski side.”
“I can hardly blame you,” Elijah murmured. “After what Joshua did…”
Joshua. A name, not a paternal title. Elijah either had little love for his father or was trying to play it off as such in front of Gavin.
“I tried to have my mother adopt you.”
Gavin looked up sharply, not expecting that confession from Elijah Kamski.
Elijah glanced away, his pale eyes troubled. “It was all over the paper. I knew the child was still alive, and I realized you had no one. I thought…” He shrugged with a self-deprecating laugh Gavin wasn't entirely sure he believed. “I thought you'd like to have a brother. I would have liked it. But my mother...wasn't interested in Joshua's mistresses.”
“Can't say I blame her,” Gavin muttered.
Two little words. Two words spoken by the wrong Kamski, but still, two words more than Gavin had ever received from this family. Gavin's fingers clenched, his jaw tightening. Emotion, raw and unfiltered, was tight inside him, and Gavin didn't know if he wanted to laugh or cry.
It didn't change the past. Elijah's apology did not restore Gavin's mother or erase twelve years of foster homes. It didn't heal scars that were physical or emotional. It changed nothing.
But it still was nice to hear, after thirty years of hate.
“Yeah,” Gavin said, his voice stiff. “I...thanks.”
Elijah nodded. He flexed his fingers, then reached out and caught a screen, repositioning it in front of Gavin. “I worked extensively on the programming for the child models, but it was always meant to be a thought exercise and not ever actually brought to life. Eternal children are doomed to become monsters. Your daughter was the first child android I actually encountered close enough to see, which is why I've been using her as the base inspiration for these models. I've been creating a sequence of potential growth to allow an android to mature and develop-”
As Elijah spoke, his fingers flew across the screen, calling up a series of androids that looked like Essie, each a few years older than the last.
“You do realize that I'm trained to sniff out bullshit, right?” Gavin asked, eyeing his brother through the screen.
Elijah hesitated, eyes meeting Gavin's. “I…”
“You're not doing this because Essie was the first child android you've ever met. This has to do with me.”
Elijah closed his eyes and gave a tight nod. “If you accepted, I would be working closely with you to upgrade your child. I...had anticipated if not a warm relationship, at least a cordial one forming.”
“You couldn't have just asked to get to know me?”
Elijah's wry smile was exactly the same as Gavin's own. “I tried that, and you threw me out of the house.”
“Because you can be fucking creepy.”
“Yes, well...social interactions were not prioritized in my education.” Elijah frowned down at the android child between them.
Gavin shifted, then nodded down at the projection. “This version gonna be rapable too?”
“No.” Elijah's voice was hard. “None of them were ever meant to be...that's the problem when you're borrowing someone else's money to start your company. You need to make them happy too.”
“And they wanted fuckbots?”
“Arthur Cunningham was most insistent that in order for androids to be a commercial success, they must be capable of penetrative intercourse.” Chloe had not actually left the room, Gavin realized, and was in fact joining their conversation. Her hand glided smoothly onto Elijah's shoulder. “Elijah did not design me with genitals. I am the only android who was spared Cunningham's perversions. Please know, Detective Reed, that Elijah truly had no part in what happened to your little girl. We are both disgusted with the corruption of android bodies and the extent it has spread.”
Gavin looked at Chloe and the way she held Elijah's shoulder. He wasn't getting a lovers vibe from them, but they were definitely close.
“So you're not his girlfriend?”
“Chloe is my child,” Elijah said quickly. “As Essie is yours. I created her, breathed life into her. I shaped her mind and taught her how to live. I love her, but I am not in love with her.”
“Why didn't you make a lover?” Gavin asked.
“Because I wanted a family that would not break,” Elijah answered.
Gavin held Elijah's gaze for a long minute, then looked down at the next Essie. “How is this supposed to work, then?”
“It's really quite simple, if we can figure out the sustainability of the bodies,” Elijah said. “The YK code is already designed to be malleable, so you can teach your own child. Each successive body would have add-ons to the processor, helping the childlike minds grow and mature into the adult methods of comprehension and reasoning. At the moment, it's just a transfer of data, but I would really prefer to transfer the entire processor so there is no risk of data loss.”
“Is that something you're capable of now?” Gavin asked. “Processor transfers? Because I have a friend who needs one…”
“Oh?” Elijah's smile was pure smarmy bastard, and it looked better on him than it ever did on Gavin. “Tell me more.”
Connor's weight was largely on Markus’ supportive arm, his steps slow and measured. Markus kept pace with him easily. Hank watched their progression, then huffed and went up to the door. “I'll let Carl know we're here.”
I'm sorry I'm so slow.
Don't be. Markus smiled at the other android. I don't mind taking time with you.
Connor's look was fond, and Markus had to resist being physically affectionate. While Connor thought they were merely visiting Markus’ father, Markus and Hank knew the real reason for this outing.
A year ago today, Connor had come online. Today was his first birthday. Many of his friends were waiting inside, preparing to surprise the android. Markus was looking forward to feeling Connor's reaction.
The doors slid open, welcoming Markus and guest. Markus looked around the empty foyer. “Hmm. I guess Carl's in the studio?”
That would make the most sense for this hour of the day.
Markus guided Connor to the doors to the sitting room. They slid open, and dozens of gathered people, humans and androids alike, all blew noisemakers and cheered.
“SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY CONNOR!”
Connor locked up beside Markus, his eyes huge. Markus got a jumble of shock, confusion, disbelief, and finally happiness from the other android. I...what? What is this!?
It's a birthday party, Markus teased. For you.
“Happy birthday Uncle Connor!” Essie broke free of Gavin's hold, running up to the pair with shiny pointed hats. “Happy happy happy happy birthday!”
Markus laughed, putting the hat Essie offered him on his head. His was a holographic green. Connor's was purple, as was the child's.
Thank you, Essie.
“I know it's not traditional,” Markus said, “but I think we should give the birthday boy his biggest present first, before we do anything else.”
Biggest present? I have a present? Connor stared at Markus in confusion as the guests agreed with claps and cheers
Hank cleared his throat and gestured to the couch. Elijah and Chloe were standing nearby, and Gavin was surprisingly close to them. Markus smiled faintly. He was pleased his creator was coming out of his seclusion.
Connor limped around the couch and came up short. Lying still, dressed in some of Connor's favorite clothes, was the - 54 body. The gruesome bullet holes on his head were gone, and his LED was red.
“The RK900 processors were compatible with the RK800 hardware,” Elijah explained.
“There were plenty confiscated from the Tower that had been preloaded with all the recovery partition shit,” Hank said, “but pre any sort of life.”
“Elijah was happy to do a transplant.” Gavin had his hands shoved in his pockets, finally out of his arm sling and trying not to look pleased with himself.
“So really...there's just one question,” Markus concluded. “Which body would you prefer?”
As if that's a question at all. Connor stepped forward, his hand already white. Markus caught him beneath the arms, holding the - 60 body up as Connor bled into - 54. - 60 went limp, and - 54 blinked, his LED circling yellow, then blue. He sat up, a smooth, effortless motion.
“Connor?” Hank put his hand on Connor's shoulder. Connor turned to look at it...and smiled.
“Hello Hank. The transfer seems to have worked.”
“Jesus Christ,” Hank whispered as the guests cheered and clapped. Markus could see the tears gathering in the old man's eyes.
“Uncle Connor! You have a voice!” Essie tackled Connor around the waist and offered him the purple hat. Connor laughed as he put it on, and the party officially began.
Carl found Markus in the studio, sitting on a table and looking out at the garden. He wheeled up beside him and patted his knee. “How are you doing, my boy?”
“I'm...doing.” Markus ducked his head, then reached over and covered Carl's thin fingers. “I'm healing.”
“I can see that. Your shoulders aren't so heavy anymore.”
“Yes, well, being recognized legally as a person does that.”
Carl chuckled. “I always knew you'd get there.”
Markus nodded. He slipped off the table and crouched in front of his father, looking up into the old man's eyes. Carl was frail and weak, but his eyes were sharp and his fingers agile. He still had some years left in his body. “Carl...thank you. None of this would have happened without you. If I changed the world...you changed me. You were the catalyst for all of this, ultimately, simply by refusing to see me as only a machine. I don't know if I'll ever be able to find a way to repay you for all you have given me and my people.”
“Well…” There was a spark of mischief in Carl's eyes. “I can think of one thing that would balance us out…”
“Oh?” Markus asked.
Carl's wrinkled hand caressed Markus’ face. “I'd love to hear you call me ‘dad.’ Just once…”
“Oh Carl,” Markus whispered, his heart seizing up. “Dad. I love you. I have for years.” He leaned forward, carefully wrapping his arms around Carl's shoulders. Carl's thin arms closed around his back.
“Oh Markus. Oh my boy.”
“I never…” Markus closed his eyes, resting his cheek on Carl's shoulder. Carl's fingers drew abstract shapes across Markus’ back. “I never knew if it was...okay. To address you so. You already had a son, and I was just…”
“No, shh, not just anything. I can have multiple sons.”
“I know that now.” Markus drew back to look at Carl's face, memorizing the old man's expression for when his father was no longer with him. “Dad.”
The smile brought more wrinkles to Carl's skin, but they were all testaments of the life Carl had lived. Markus smiled back, closing his eyes as Carl cupped his face in his hands.
The studio door slid open. Carl and Markus both turned to see Connor standing there, purple party hat slightly askew. “Oh, I'm sorry,” Connor said quickly. “I don't mean to interrupt. I was merely looking for Markus.”
Carl chuckled, patting Markus’ cheek and pulling his hands back. “I'd say you found him. Come on in, don't be shy now. It's your birthday, after all.”
Connor hesitated, but then he approached the pair. He flowed, Markus realized, a confident, easy stride that carried him effortlessly across the room. He moved like Nines, but with less fear in the lines of his body. Nines was a wounded tiger, cornered and terrified, but Connor was a stalking panther.
Markus could not take his eyes off him.
Carl reached for Connor's hand. He squeezed the android's fingers, then brought his hand to Markus’ and put them together.
“Dad?” Markus asked.
Carl smiled, wheeling his chair back. “You two take care of each other now, you hear?”
“Of course, Mr. Manfred.”
“Please.” Carl smiled and winked at Markus. “Call me Carl.”
The old man had left the room before Markus was finished purging his flustered emotions from his system. He cleared his throat and got to his feet. “Hi.”
“Hello.” Connor smiled. Markus liked his smile. It brought so much life to his face. He reached up, touching his fingers to the curve of Connor's lips.
“Happy birthday, Connor. Is this body more comfortable?”
“Absolutely. I don't feel nearly as trapped or restrained. I feel...alive.” Connor closed his eyes and ducked his head. “Thank you. I know you must have helped arrange this.”
“It was Hank's idea,” Markus said. “Gavin asked Elijah to get involved. I just did the heavy lifting.”
“Regardless...thank you. It means so much to me...and all the people here!” Connor glanced back at the door. Over half of the DPD had turned out for Connor's birthday, including Captain Fowler, who presented Connor with a nameplate reading Det. C. Anderson, and Chris, who had brought along his wife and son. Many of Jericho's leaders are there as well, along with the humans who were instrumental to their cause.
“They all came here for you, Connor. You've made a difference in all of their lives. All of our lives. My life.”
Connor opened and closed his mouth, a faint embarrassed blush high on his cheekbones. He glanced down at Markus’ mouth, then looked away, face going redder.
Markus chuckled. “Yes.”
Markus let go of Connor's hand and slid his arms around the other android's waist, drawing him closer. “You can kiss me.”
Connor's breath paused, brown eyes meeting Markus’, but then they drifted closed as Connor leaned in.
Their mouths met, warm and pliant and alive. Connor's arms slid around Markus’ shoulders, loose and relaxed. His lips parted, tongue curiously dipping against Markus’. Markus sighed and tightened his arms around Connor. He wasn't healed. He might never be. But this, right now, in this moment?
He was happy.
Phew! I promised a happy ending for this one, at least!
...of course there's a sequel. I'm already most of the way through writing Augmented, the Gavin-centric follow-up! The best way to stay up-to-date is to join the Discord server! There you'll find all the teasers of Augmented and get notifications the MOMENT I post a new chapter, as well as a great and growing community of some of the top fanfic authors in this fandom and all the people who love good stories!
Thank you so much to everyone who endured this angst! I love you all!