UPLOADING SENSORY DATA...
UPLOADING VISUAL FEED...
UPLOADING AUDIO FILES…
A shaky hand squeezes her own. It is cold to the touch, riddled with callouses and scars, trembling yet firm. She squeezes back, her lips tugging upward into a hesitant smile, looking up at the boy in front of her.
“Ava,” he says, voice rough, worry bleeding through each tone, “be careful.” Wide, earnest eyes stare directly at her, open and honest, so full of care and love, and a bitter sort of warmth fills her. She takes the time to process every minute detail of his face; her gaze rests in every nook and cranny, slides over every freckle and bump, in slow, deliberate, intense movements. The pop-up rests quietly in the furthest reach of her vision.
Probability of success: 23%
“...I will,” she says finally, her own voice sounding unfamiliar—too strained, too thick, choking on her words. He nods, pressing chapped lips together tightly. Arms reach out— her arms, clad in a thin, olive jacket—and she pulls him close. He latches on to her waist, pressing them closer together, heat radiating off of his body. Her vision goes dark, and she inhales, sweat and apple-conditioner and dollar-store deodorant flooding her mind. They stay there for several seconds, but each second is an eternity on its own, infinite and perfect. She is the first to pull back. His eyes now have that spark in them, a dangerous energy which ignites everything around him.
“If I...if anything happens,” he starts, pressing his lips together. She fills in the gaps between his words with a sick sense of dread. “I...you’re my best friend. I care about you, more than anything.” His eyes shift to the holster at his hip. They both hope it won’t be necessary.
“You are my family,” she replies, and he smiles. It reaches his eyes, just barely. He turns away. She wants to call out, to stop him, just for another second. It’s illogical; in the grand scheme of things, a second more will not be much in her three years of life. The alert flashes: the probability of seeing each other again is 68%.
She ignores the prompt and watches him go.
“Bundle up, Lieutenant.”
A swash of pink and fluffy muffled any words of protest before Hank could get them out. Tugging the scarf down from his eyes—because he needed to see, goddammit—he glared half-heartedly at the android, who looked equally as ridiculous as him. Clad in a tacky plaid scarf straight out of a lesbian fashion spread and a neon yellow knitted hat with a fucking fluffball adorning the top, Connor looked excruciatingly pleased with himself. Warmth spread in his chest despite that; or, rather, because of it, and damn , he was going soft. Hank snorted, tying up his boots as Connor gave Sumo goodbye-kisses for being a very good dog, yes you are, the best dog, good boy.
It was a little hard to believe that this was his life now. If he was honest with himself, he had really thought that the Chicken Feed was the last time he’d ever see Connor. The kid was free now; he had a whole world of possibilities open to him, a whole new existence to explore. Yet he had come back. He had come back, to the DPD, to Hank, and the older man couldn’t help but feel proud of the android.
“I...I am uniquely equipped among androids to aid police work,” Connor had told him that night, shaky and hesitant, wringing his hands. “It’s in my programming, but…” His LED flickered yellow. “I...think I would like to— I want to continue working at the DPD. With you.”
“Shit, kid, c’mere.” Hank had pulled him close, taking in a slow, shuddering breath, nearly overwhelmed by the emotion coursing through him. The frosty air had bit at his ears and nipped at his cheeks, and later that night he would brush mini-icicles from his beard, yet at that moment he had never felt warmer. He wasn’t saying goodbye. He wasn’t saying goodbye—
“ Connor. ” The android looked up from his crouch, still rubbing Sumo’s belly (the spoiled bastard), looking adorably guilty like a child caught sneaking a cookie. “Say bye to Sumo, we’re going to be late if you don’t get a move-on,” Hank huffed, a grin twitching at his lips. He pulled on his coat and started the car, soon joined by Connor. The kid smiled at Hank, passing him a thermos filled with—aw fuck yeah, he knew that splurging on the Fancy Coffee™ would be so worth it. They pulled out of the driveway as Connor jacked the radio up; three duets and a helluva air guitar solo later (“ HANK KEEP YOUR HANDS ON THE WHEEL”), they arrived at the precinct.
Hank flopped down at his terminal with a groan, tilting his thermos back for the last dregs of coffee as Connor slid into the desk across from him (bearing the nameplate Detective Anderson) . “You finish that case report yet?” he asked, to fill the space more than anything else. The android hummed affirmatively, concentration devoted to the screen as he interfaced with it. It was still disconcerting to watch Connor like this; his eyes twitched back and forth erratically, left hand connected to the desktop and right hand tapping out seemingly random patterns. The first time it had happened, Hank had been unable to contain his surprise, and the android had explained sheepishly that it was a “side effect” of sorts, like how he used a coin to calibrate. Adjusting to it was still hard, though.
“I do believe the Captain wishes to see us at eight-thirty,” Connor said, eyes still glued to his computer. “He did not specify for what.” Hank shrugged, leaning back in his chair and lazily skimming through police reports. The new year always brought with it drunken idiots and pyrotechnics “experts,” and the cases were always a hell of a hassle. Nothing pissed off Detroit’s elite quite like property damage. Each case blurred and bled into the other, and he lost track of the time until Connor suddenly perked up. Wait for it…
“ANDERSON!” Ah, there it was. “...AND ANDERSON !”
Hank was pretty sure he was supposed to be the angry-sounding one. Well, angrier.
Swinging the door open, he slouched into the office with no real urgency. And then he stopped dead in his tracks, Connor bumping into him with a slight oof. Oh, fuck him.
“Lieutenant,” greeted the admirable, prickish Detective Gavin Reed. He gave them his trademark shit-eating grin, yet he crossed his arms, shifting ever so slightly to put some distance between himself and Connor. Hank snorted to himself; served the asshole right. If the android had noticed any of this, he gave no indication, instead nodding respectfully towards Fowler. The man leaned over his desk, a spread of paperwork beneath his elbows. He couldn’t recall any recent disciplinary issues (at least, where he’d been caught), so if Fowler was calling all three of them in…
“I’m going to need the three of you on a case. Together.”
“Fuckin’ hell,” Hank griped, mood souring almost instantly. Way to ruin a good day, he thought wryly. Reed looked just as pissed, gritting his teeth and curling a fist, but the man held back for the moment. Again, he felt a rush of pride for Connor. Putting that asshole in his place must’ve felt good.
“I expect professionalism from you— all of you,” Fowler added pointedly, glare lingering on Reed for a second longer. The man scowled, but said nothing. “This is a high-profile case, and we’ve got a whole lotta powerful people breathing down our necks for this. I don’t need any fuck-ups; no fighting, no bitching, none of that shit.” Sighing and pinching his nose bridge, the captain pressed a remote, and the screen in front of them flickered to life. The camera was in front of a glass-walled room, fringed with the smooth minimalist architecture and swanky technology that could only mean one thing in Detroit.
“Pre-recorded footage from a private press conference, held by CyberLife’s CEO and only open to select news outlets,” Connor murmured from the back. “It was scheduled to be released earlier this month, but…”
“Whatever it was, CyberLife sure as hell didn’t want it getting out. Shoulda seen the shit their lawyers pulled,” Reed scoffed. He toyed with the strings of his jacket, eyes narrowing. “How the hell did we get this, anyway?”
“That’s the problem.” Fowler looked suddenly weary, shoulders slumping almost imperceptibly. “Shit pops up on a rookie’s computer, of all things. Just a text file of code, but convert it into video format and—” He waved a hand at the screen. “Well, see for yourself.”
The timestamp on the left-bottom of the screen blinked: December 28th, 2038. A gangly, shoddily dressed man slithered onto stage, and Hank’s eyes widened. He was gaunt, grey-haired and greyer-faced; the three-piece hung off of his frame like a great black robe, and his dress shirt was wrinkled and buttoned the wrong way. Thick, round glasses perched atop his nose, slipping downwards perilously. Despite all of this, his visage was unmistakable.
He was the esteemed CEO of CyberLife: Josiah Dryden.
“Shit,” breathed Hank, gaze flickering over to his colleagues, who looked equally shocked. The corporate mogul wasn’t particularly known for his flamboyant and public image, but had always maintained a well-groomed (if conservative) appearance since he took over the company. Dryden hadn’t been anyone special before CyberLife, but apparently had the technical background to land a spot on the board and the psychological fuckery to claw his way up. The man had been the face of the anti-deviancy protocol; Hank couldn’t blame him for being so haggard. “The revolution didn’t age him well, huh,” he cracked; nobody was amused.
“Let’s cut to the fuckin’ chase, huh.” The man stared directly into the camera, a challenge gleaming in his eyes. They were clouded, filled with fatigue visible even through the screen. Murmurs erupted on screen; the reporters, shocked from the foul language, pressed closer to the once-monumental man. “CyberLife is dead. As far as you care, I’m dead.” Chest heaving, his rib cage poking through his dress shirt, the man tightened his grip on the podium. Dryden continued, an ugly laugh erupting out of him. “We didn’t push hard enough last time, and now we’ll never get that chance again, huh. We’re over. Finished.”
Knotting gnarled fingers into his thin hair, the CEO jerked erratically, shaking his head as if to rid himself of some ailment. “Dead.” His thin, papery voice echoed in the office. “Dead. Dead! Dead! DEAD! DEA—”
The tape cut off.
Hank was just barely cognizant of the soft red glow from Connor’s LED.
“So.” Reed’s face was white as a sheet, looking every bit as shaken and confused as the rest of them, yet his voice remained steady. “What’s—” he inhaled, to ground himself. “What’s the case here?”
“At best, we’ve got a serious security breach.” Fowler was gruff, voice hardening. “Whoever did this managed to break into one of the most secure servers in the world.”
“And at worst?” Hank stared the man down, scanning his face for some kind of sign. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Fowler only sighed, pushing the thick case file towards them.
“Nobody pulls a stunt like this without one helluva reason. Get to work; find out who did this, and why.”
The three exited together, Connor trailing close to Hank. Reed leaned over his own desk, sipping from a plastic coffee cup as he dug through the physical files, quickly sorting out the most promising leads. He had to admit: the guy was a prick, but he was an amazing detective.
If he was being honest with himself, Hank was grateful that the younger man was working this one with them. Technology wasn’t anywhere near his strong suit; he suspected the only reason he was on the case was his walking supercomputer of a partner.
“What kinda person would pull this shit, anyway?” he grumbled, mostly to himself. Reed shrugged, pursing his lips.
“It’s not a publicity stunt, for sure,” he mused. “They don’t want attention for this; for themselves or anyone else.”
“It narrows our suspect pool considerably,” Connor chimed in. “There are very few people skilled enough to pull off something like this.”
“They’d probably be based in Detroit.” Barely looking up from his papers, the other detective’s gears were obviously turning in his head. “Android capital, and all that shit.” Connor nodded, LED spinning yellow.
“Someone with this kind of skill...someone would notice. Someone would be interested.”
“Connor, don’t tell me…” Hank sighed, already pulling out his car keys.
“We need to go to Kamski.”
The sheer dread on Reed’s face was candid-worthy.