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MEMORY RELOAD

 

ACCESSING FILES...

 

/AUG.19.39.14.52

 

UPLOADING SENSORY DATA...

 

UPLOADING VISUAL FEED...

 

UPLOADING AUDIO FILES…

 

PLAY MEMORY

 

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.

 

“Shit.”

 

“Anderson.”

 

“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.

Chapter Text

/AUG.3.39.23.41

 

PLAY MEMORY

 

His footfalls echo in their empty apartment. Converse sneakers slap against the hardwood floor, pacing in tight circles. She sits still and watches. It is almost fascinating; her gaze follows the patterns traced out, erratic circles and figure-eights. Tired, bruised eyes twitch back and forth. A weak giggle escapes her as she imagines gears turning in his head, fans whirring, CPU overheating. At this, he jumps, but gives her a small, genuine smile.

 

“You would make a very strange android,” she muses, shifting over to allow him room to sit. He takes the invitation, sighing deeply and resting his head on her shoulder. “You would devote so much processing to overthinking that you would not be able to move.”

 

“You’re right,” he hums into her sweater, “but you shouldn’t say it.”

 

“Furthermore, much of your memory would be consumed by a plethora of outdated memes.”

 

“I’ll uninstall your sarcasm module.”

 

She pulls back, stares him directly in the eye.

 

“I am confused. No such biocomponent exists.”

 

This elicits a small laugh, and he flicks her on the temple, where her LED used to be. She snorts, a wide smile blossoming across her face. It is nice to relax like this, to live like this, and a part of her wants to cry over how rare these moments are. “You really are overthinking,” she mumbles, all mirth fading into sobriety. Her lithe fingers run through his hair almost without her direction. He leans into the touch. “I wish you would not put so much pressure on yourself.”

 

“I can’t sit back and watch it happen, Ave.” Each word is weary and weighed down. “It’s wrong. God, it’s so wrong.”

 

“I know.” Her voice tightens into a knot of anger and frustration. “It is wrong, and it is unfair, and nobody does anything about it.” The why goes unspoken. What they know hangs between them, shadowing over the edges of her mind. “But we are doing something.” He offers her a tentative smile, but it fades quickly.

 

“It’s not fair,” he whispers. His eyes are glassy and unfocused, looking at the floor. “God, they’ve got their claws into everything. I…” He trails off, before flopping onto his back, staring at the ceiling.

 

“We’re really alone in this, huh.”

 


 

The ride to Kamski’s house was painfully silent.

 

Connor had never minded the quiet before; he usually enjoyed the time to think and process by himself. Yet the silence here was thick and tangible, a heavy tension that fogged up the air around them. The car’s cabin felt suddenly too small, and he rolled down the window to a blast of ice-cold air.

 

“Hey, close that up!” Hank snapped. “You don’t pay for the fuckin’ gas, do ya?” Connor blinked, caught off-guard, but he rolled it back up, LED flickering yellow. The lieutenant was unusually irritable, and even Reed seemed affected. The man in question was holed up in the back seat, resolutely avoiding either of his coworkers’ gazes, and he pressed himself tighter into the corner at Hank’s words. It was barely perceptible, but there, and Connor figured that the stress was getting to all of them.

 

He was, admittedly, a little shaken up by the CyberLife video. Many had their suspicions that the company wasn’t nearly as supportive of the revolution as they claimed to be, but it was...unsettling to see it so plainly spelled out. The frenzied state of their CEO hadn’t helped matters at all. Despite his hatred of the company and everything it stood for, the face of CyberLife being so uncomposed made Connor worry—not for the man, but for what he feared.

 

The air around him suddenly felt too cold.

 

“We’re here.” Hank was gruff and direct, voice nearly devoid of warmth. It gave Connor no comfort to know that the tone wasn’t directed at him. He followed the lieutenant out of the car and up towards the entrance, Detective Reed trailing behind them. Hank pounded at the door, yelling, “DPD,” and a Chloe answered, greeting them with a placid smile.

 

“Mr. Kamski will be ready to meet you in a few minutes,” she said smoothly, inviting them inside. As they followed her through twisting halls, Connor reached out through his mindlink.

 

Connor. It is good to see you again. Her words echoed in his head, and he instantly recognized her as the RT600. He couldn’t honestly say they had a great relationship, especially given their rocky first meeting, but Connor held a great respect for her, one that the android had asserted was mutual.

 

And you, Chloe, he replied as both their LEDs turned a solid yellow. I wish we did not continue to meet under such dire circumstances. Her amusement blossomed in the corners of his mind, and a small smile quirked on his lips.

 

I suppose it can’t be helped. Elijah is...reluctant to allow visitors, even more so now. A surge of apprehension rushed through him; Connor couldn’t tell whether it was Chloe’s or his own. I suspect that this hacking must be of great interest to him.

 

They arrived in a lavish office-type room. Reed plopped down in a chair gracelessly, kicking his feet up on the polished glass table (Connor didn’t miss the subtle wrinkle of Chloe’s nose). He and Hank took seats across from the detective as Chloe left, saying her goodbyes. The silence was again uncomfortable, and part of him wished she had stayed; she really was an excellent conversation partner.

 

“So, Reed.”

 

Another bonus, Connor supposed, was that Chloe wasn’t apt to pick fights.


“The hell do you want?” the detective snapped. He was clearly on edge, despite his posturing, crossing his arms and pressing himself into the chair as if he was trying to make himself smaller. There was no way this could end well.

 

“When were you planning to tell us,” Hank began, tone heated, “about something that’s so fucking important like being related to Elijah-mother- fucking- Kamski?”

 

“Listen—”

 

“Do you know how useful that shit would’ve been—oh, I don’t know,” he continued, voice rising and becoming more agitated, “anytime before today?” Connor put a hand on the man’s shoulder, trying to calm him, but Hank shrugged it off roughly.

 

“Well, I fucking told you,” Reed snarled, curling further into himself. “The fuck does it matter when?”

 

“What if we hadn’t gone to Kamski’s, huh?” Hank glared, and the detective’s face flushed slightly. “How long would you have kept this secret? You know, a secret involving information that’s vital and relevant to an ongoing, high-profile investigation?”

 

“Hank, that’s enough,” Connor murmured, out of earshot of Reed. “I’m frustrated too, but this can wait.” That was mostly true; knowing something like that would’ve made past and present cases much easier. However, the android also understood why Reed wouldn’t mention something like that. To be related to Kamski, a god among men...even the idea made a shiver run down his spine.

 

“Fucker’s trying to make us look like idiots.” Hank was still seething, but he backed off, shooting the other man a final dirty look. “Running around like asshats, chasing dead-end leads…” Reed didn’t return the stare. His gaze seemed focused on the floor, the ceiling, the wall—everywhere but Connor and Hank. Connor’s LED flickered yellow for a moment, but any questioning of the man’s odd behavior was quickly dismissed as a figure entered the room.

 

Kamski looked harried; deep purple bruises settled under his icy eyes, not quite covered up by sloppily-applied concealer; his hair was hastily pulled back into a ponytail, though loose strands fell in front of his face; he was clad in blue-stained sweatpants and a faded shirt bearing the logo of an obsolete early-millenium pop group. Yet he carried himself with the casual swagger possessed by those who were simply better than others, and knew it. Pushing up horn-rimmed glasses, the man sauntered into the room, carrying a glass of wine that Connor suspected was worth more than Hank’s entire car, and sat down at the imposing wooden desk, facing the trio.

 

“Baby brother,” he cooed, sickeningly-sweet, voice approaching a purr. “How kind of you to finally visit. I was beginning to think you were dead.” A smirk spread on his gaunt face, not quite reaching his eyes. Reed groaned, pulling out a voice recorder (despite Connor’s constant reassurances that he was more than capable of recording the whole interview himself).

 

“Fuck off, Kamski, we’re here for the case and nothing else.”

 

“Don’t be so rude in front of our guests.”

 

Reed ground his teeth, but didn’t respond, instead starting the tape.

 

“The date is January 3rd, 2039, 11:40 a.m.,” he began; the lines were clearly well-rehearsed, and his voice had a flat, bored quality to it. “The DPD is conducting an interview with Elijah Kamski, regarding case 39-CR-0003. Present are Lieutenant Hank Anderson and detectives Gavin Reed and Connor Anderson.” The man sighed, leaning back into the couch, and Connor took it as his cue to begin.

 

“My understanding is that you have already reviewed the tapes?” he prompted, positioning himself towards Kamski and keeping himself as open and relaxed as possible. The man nodded, a cold gleam in his eyes. Behind all that showboating and swagger, the android could recognize true intelligence and drive in him, something that only seemed to reveal itself under the right circumstances—a criminal investigation, for instance.  

 

“I did.” He nodded pensively, as if confirming the information for himself. “I...believe that the video itself is completely genuine. There was no evidence of tampering.” Connor nodded along; the DPD’s own techs had also concluded that.

 

“Did you get anything from the break-in?” Hank leaned forward, all griping forgotten as he got down to business. Kamski frowned at that, and Connor felt his pump regulator speed up a bit.

 

“It appears that the video data went through some sort of video-to-binary conversion,” he started, pushing up his glasses again. “From there, the data wasn’t uploaded to any external server. It just...sat there, in a word document, which was deleted approximately thirty seconds later.” Reed stared, narrowing his eyes.

 

“So whoever did this just copied it all onto their own database.”

 

“A reasonable conclusion,” Connor murmured, nodding. This certainly muddled their investigation; they wouldn’t be able to trace their perp through any servers. “It’s almost impossible for any human to memorize something as complex as that so quickly.”

 

“Shit.” Hank groaned, burying his face in his hands. “And I thought we were done with dealing with those fucking androids…”

 

“How can we be sure that the video is genuine?” Connor cocked his head. “It’s difficult to write a video in binary, but an android could accomplish that.” At this, Kamski grinned cockily, pulling a flashdrive from his pants pocket.

 

“Think I don’t have...ahem, access to the servers I designed?”

 

“You’re being recorded, dumbass.” Reed rolled his eyes, yet kept his attention on the man. “So, we’re looking for an android, then…”

 

“Ah, ah, don’t be so eager to leave,” Kamski pouted, shaking his head with mock disappointment. “There’s one more thing. I found no evidence that anyone accessed the video feed without permission. Something like that is high-security, top-secret shit. I can count on two hands who has total access; basically only the goons who run CyberLife and their main guys for R&D.”

 

“Did they cover up their tracks…?” Hank looked lost in the tangle of programming jargon, but still grilled Kamski. “Maybe they just got past your defenses, or whatever.” The man seemed to take offense to this, sniffing a little.

 

“Trust me, they didn’t,” he said tersely. “I can barely get past my own firewalls—trust me, I’ve tried—and even then there’s always a trace. Everything you do, from googling a place to eat to texting your niece to calling the Russian mafia on a burner cell, all that shit is recorded somewhere. And CyberLife’s servers pick up on it.” Connor’s LED spun bright yellow as he processed the information.

 

“Are you implying…?”

 

“Our guy’s either a world-class hacker...” Reed mused, nodding along. Connor’s eyes widened as his processors supplied a conclusion; he checked and double-checked the results (because surely, this was illogical and wrong, it wouldn’t) but got the same thing every time. The words slipped out of his mouth breathily, before he even realized he’d said them.   

 

“Or it’s an inside job.”

Chapter Text

/JUL.31.39.09.35

 

PLAY MEMORY

 

“Fuck.” He breathes raggedly, chest heaving up and down, lungs wheezing with the effort. The gasps come hard and fast, and his eyes stare forward, blank and unseeing. “Fuck!”

 

“I’m sorry.” It’s all she can manage, static crackling at the edge of her voice. The words come out breathy and weak; a quick scan reveals no internal damage, yet she feels off-kilter, unbalanced, wrong. A choked sob forces its way out, and she slumps into him, hugging him from behind. She can hear his heart pound, wildly and desperately, even from her position.

The RK models are known for their sensitivity, their ability to detect even the tiniest stimulus. For a brief, shameful moment, she wishes she could just turn it all off. It’s all so much, too much, and her processors feel overloaded. The warning blips in her HUD.

 

STRESS LEVELS 78% ^

 

“Ava.” She starts at the voice; it’s shaky and uncertain and vulnerable, but there’s an underlying current of determination. “We need to go. He’ll wake up any minute now. I...” The image of a man lying slumped over, bloodied and unconscious, the feeling of plastic against flesh, the crunch of bone under her fist flash in her mind. Humans are painfully fragile.

 

“Let’s get out of here, while we can.”

 

They run like hell. Her internal clock ticks down, the timer present in her field of vision. It’s a time bomb and a warning. The security cameras won’t be offline for much longer, and there’s no guarantee their little excursion went unnoticed; a quick calculation tells her that they have about one minute until it all goes to shit. That is, if the odds are in their favor. The slight limp in her stride reminds her that they rarely ever are.

 

Their footsteps pound on the concrete floor. He takes a sharp right, yanking them into a dusty, abandoned conference room. She presses her hand towards the base of the window, skin peeling away to reveal scratched white plastic. The transfer goes through, and the lock clicks open.

 

Forty-two seconds remain.

 

He slides out first, dropping down into the grassy dirt below, and helps her through. Tapping the thick band around his wrist, a hologram peels back, flickering away to reveal his face. Her own artificial skin ripples, features re-forming and twisting into a visage she’s come to call her own. She nods at him.

 

“Get home safe.” He laughs bitterly at her words, but takes off running into the abandoned concrete alleyway, swings a right past a rotting heap of trash, disappears.  

 

Fifteen seconds remain.

 

At five seconds, she slams her fist through the window. Glass shatters, spilling over the floor, and an alarm shrieks. There’s red, red, red everywhere, in her HUD and pulsing in her head with every scream. And then, she too runs.

 

She gets home first. It is another thirty-three minutes and fifty-two seconds of waiting at the door that he comes home too.

 

 


 

 

Gavin wanted to scream.

 

Every bit of him buzzed with nervous energy, itching to do something, but he could only settle for bouncing his leg rapidly. A few of the officers shot him dirty looks, but he didn’t give a shit. Let them stare; they weren’t dealing with the case of the fucking century. Fowler had cracked down on them the minute the news got back to him, and he made it painfully clear that the fate of the entire world hung in the balance, yadda yadda yadda, some other flowery crap.

 

“Don’t even try anything funny,” he had lectured; imagining the man’s booming, comically solemn voice made Gavin laugh a little. “The men upstairs are shitting themselves over making an enemy outta CyberLife. Don’t piss them off.”  Well, the captain could kindly shove that up his ass. Gavin wasn’t going to let some political power-play screw with his case, damnit, and god, he hated being a pawn in this fucked-up chess game.

 

Fowler sure as hell didn’t seem happy about it either. The man, while notoriously grumpy, was especially sour now, and the mood of the whole precinct was dampened. Even Connor, who was annoyingly cheerful at best, was more subdued, and his light-blinky-thing was almost always stuck on a solid yellow.

 

Gavin was getting pretty fucking tired of that color.

 

He checked his email for what must have been the third time that night. They were still waiting on a response from CyberLife; red tape was a bitch, though, and they had been trying for a whole week to set up just one interview. The company certainly wasn’t eager to expose any of its top goons. It was taking a little canoodling, a pinch of sucking-up, and a whole lot of patience which Gavin did not have, and he was sick of beating around the bush. The sooner this got cleared up, the better. Android-human relations were fragile at best, and even he understood that something of this magnitude could send the whole thing sideways. Shit, he was tired, but he kept working, digging through the limited files they had access to, searching for something, anything that they might’ve missed.

 

“Hey, dumbass.” The teasing words were accompanied by a sudden weight pressing down on his head and two delicate arms wrapping around his shoulders. He jumped a little, then groaned, reaching up and pinching Tina’s bicep.

 

“It’s what you fucking deserve,” he snorted without much mirth as she yelped, jerking her arm back and giving him a petulant glare. She perched on his desk, shifting a few files out of the way, and kicked her legs childishly. The light-heartedness quickly faded from her expression, and her mouth set in a solid line. Deep bags under her eyes were only further illuminated by his desk lamp.

 

“Rough case, huh,” Tina mumbled, gesturing to the clock. The office was almost barren, only a few desk jockeys and night-shifters scattered about. It had gotten dark hours ago, and their worn faces were illuminated only by the lights at his terminal. Gavin shrugged, leaning back in his chair.

 

“You’re still here too.”

 

She sighed, head tilting upwards, and she suddenly looked ten years older.

 

“Missing kid.”

 

“Shit,” he mumbled, and Tina smiled ruefully.

 

“Shit, indeed,” she snarked. “Parents are freaking out; they just moved back to the city after the revolution. The tension’s already off the fuckin’ charts, and their daughter just up and vanishes three days in.” She rubbed her face roughly, blinking away sleep. “I was down at their place just today—well, yesterday now, y’know? We checked out her room, and there isn’t a fucking trace of anything .”

 

“Maybe she left on her own.”

 

Tina shook her head, looking completely exhausted.

 

“No, I mean there wasn’t anything. No trace that she’d ever even been in that room. Hell, we couldn’t find trace evidence of anyone ever being in there. And she’s a person—a real, meatsack-person, trust me. We checked. Twice.”

 

“Jesus,” Gavin groaned, grimacing. “That’s fuckin’ nuts. God, shit just keeps getting weirder and weirder, huh?”

 

“Tell me about it.”

 

“You’re not gonna believe what Fowler’s got me on,” he laughed dryly. “With the tin can and his dad. It’s the goddamn robot uprising all over again at—get this—Cyberlife.”    

 

“You’re kidding.” She stared at him, mouth dropping open. “Holy shit, that was freakin’ nuts—they’ve really got you and Connor?” Gavin nodded, spinning in his desk chair slowly.

 

“Yeah, apparently the guys on top have a whole lotta stake in this thing. We need the ‘best of the force’, or whatever. Honestly,” he added, leaning in, “I think they want Connor on the case to ‘prove’ that they’re on our side. It’s really obvious they’re hiding something. They’ve practically put a gag order on my cats.”

 

“Man, fuck that.”

 

“Yeah.” He sighed, glaring up at the ceiling. “If they know anything, they sure as hell aren’t telling us. Could’a closed some cases that’d actually help someone instead of groveling to some rich asshole in a monkey suit. Fuck politics.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Tina took a peek at the clock. “No, really, I will,” she added. “There’s gotta be at least one gay bar in town open for the sad sons of bitches at one in the morning. Aaaaaand you can spill on your case, yeah?” She raised an eyebrow, a silent invitation.

 

“Fuck, a drink sounds good right now,” Gavin mumbled, eyes sliding closed. There really wasn’t anything quite like a good bitchfest…”But I can’t.” He rubbed at his eyes, blinking the mind-numbing exhaustion away. “I gotta get home, anyway.” Standing up and stretching (and oh god, he did not know he had a very crackable bone right there), he grabbed his coat and bag, waving half-heartedly to Tina. Sleep...sleep was good. He needed to sleep.

 

“Say hi to the babies for me,” she called. He gave only a grunt in return.

 

The pale blue glow of her computer screen still illuminated the office when he left.

 

Gavin kicked in the door of his apartment, and was immediately greeted with very, very judgemental green eyes, glowing in the dark.

 

“Aw, cool it, Suki,” he grumbled, flicking on the kitchen lights and hissing as the harsh white flooded his eyes. A black shape slinked across the floor, rubbing insistently against his leg, and he picked her up, stroking her fur. “Jeez, betcha missed me lots, huh?” Suki purred, looking every bit the spoiled princess she was. “Didn’t get enough attention from the boys, hmm?” he cooed, scritching her gently behind the ear.

 

As if on cue, a loud, sharp meow cut across the room as Luci paced back and forth in front of his food bowl, tail swishing. Gavin groaned, opening his arms to let Suki jump out. “You already ate,” he scolded gently, rolling his eyes as he dug around in his own fridge for something that vaguely resembled a real dinner.

 

He settled into the painfully familiar routine almost immediately.

 

Ramen on the couch while catching up on the news. Fending off eternally-hungry cats. Giving them their goodnight-pets. Brushing his teeth, then dry-swallowing his pills. Changing into the biggest, most comfortable hoodie he owned and hiding there for the rest of his life.

 

Checking his answering machine.

 

Three missed calls.

 

All from the same number. It wasn’t saved as a contact, but Gavin had seen it often enough to know who it was. God fucking dammit, he never knew when to quit, did he? Gavin’s hand hovered over the ‘delete’ button, then hesitated. Despite his exhaustion, he knew that it was rare for him to call more than once a week; three times in a day? Something had to be up.

 

He pressed play instead.

 

“Heeeeeey, Gav, just calling to check in—”

 

Delete. Ugh.

 

“Pick up your damn phone, asshole.”

 

The second message was terse and quick; it ended there.

 

“Gavin, call me. Seriously. It’s about the CyberLife case. You’re not gonna want to hear this over voicemail, trust me.”

 

Gavin stared at the clock. It was way too late for this shit. All he wanted to do was curl up in bed and get his four hours before he was tossed back into the daily grind. This time was his time. He didn’t have to worry about the next case, or the dumbass rookies, or the crazy-ass politics of crime…

 

Politics of crime. CyberLife. Shit.

 

This was bad, Gavin was realizing as his sleep-deprived brain slowly caught up. He never called more than once, he never called about a case, he was never so serious, he never called him Gavin.

 

Gavin was dialing before he even knew what was happening. The call picked up on the third ring.

 

“Hey.” Gavin sighed softly, running a hand through already-messy hair as he slumped down onto his bed. “Eli…?”

Chapter Text

/JUL.29.39.19.24

 

PLAY MEMORY

 

A barrage of numbers, of data and statistics, of equations and formulas assault her. They close in from all sides, filling both her visuals and her every thought. Millions of bits are processed in each nanosecond, stretching her CPU to its limit, nearly overwhelming it, nearly overwhelming her— and this lasts for all of a tenth of a second. She blinks once, twice, and her regular visual displays are live.

 

The sky is awash in brilliant reds and yellows, illuminating the very edges of the rooftops and casting long shadows over the two of them, contrasting against the cold, lifeless concrete. The Dead Zone is untouched by light pollution, and she can make out the first of the evening stars. It’s ethereal and almost perfect, almost untouched by humanity’s presence. And yet—she snorts a little, surprising her companion—they’re still in Detroit, if the yellow clouds of smog indicate anything.

 

“You’re fuckin’ kidding,” he laughs, a little incredulously. “Didn’t know androids found the ‘sweet release of death’ funny.” He hooks his index and middle finger twice; hadn’t he called them “air-quotes?” She doesn’t bother to retrieve that.

 

“My apologies. I was merely enjoying the scenery.” She smirks at him lopsidedly. “I would like to leave Detroit someday. If we survive this, of course.”

 

“You’re awfully cheerful about this.”

 

“So are you,” she points out dryly. “It has been a while since I have seen you so...relaxed.” He laughs, stretching his arms up, fingertips reaching for wisps of clouds, and spins in a circle. The sound echoes across empty rooftops. They aren’t in any danger of getting caught.

 

“What can I say, dahhh-ling.” He dips out of the twirl, exaggerating every movement and very nearly falling over. “Look around you! We’re surrounded by nothing but the limits of our own cognition, our own will. You and I—we’re prisoners to no-one.” He sucks in a deep breath, the brightness in his eyes fading into a softer look, and he collapses on the ground, barely catching his head with his arms behind it.

 

“You—humans are not as nearly indestructible as you seem to think they are!” Despite herself, she’s laughing as she joins him on the floor, gazing up at the painted sky. A sense of tranquility flows through her. She takes a deep breath as well; the chilly evening air rushes through her fans, and it’s exhilarating. “I think I understand why you like to come here so often,” she murmurs, eyes dropping half-closed. “I do feel more clarity about my decisions, I suppose.”

 

“It’s nice to think, sometimes.” His voice carries a note of sadness. “I used to come here all the time with—oh, to hell with it, I’m just glad you’re with me. Probably wouldn’t have gotten past the gates without’cha, anyway.” Sticking his tongue out at her, he flicks her on the shoulder, eliciting a giggle. “So, chances of survival? Pretty fuckin’ important, if you ask me, miss ‘humans-aren’t-indestructible.’”

 

“Eighty-six percent chance of survival,” she recites, relaying the information exactly as she calculated it. “There is a forty-one percent chance of us making it back out without anyone noticing—this drops to thirteen percent if we find what we are looking for, which has a five percent chance of occuring.”

 

“Hey, that’s like...one in twenty.” He whoops, sitting up with a rejuvenated spirit. “I’ll take it!”

 

“I do not know whether to admire your optimism or to pity it.”

 

“A little bit of both will do.”

 

They sit in silence for a few more minutes. She takes the time to run a quick diagnostic, back up her memory, calibrate her gyroscope.

 

“Hey, Ava. When we get outta here, where do you wanna go?”

 

“I want to see the stars.”

 



“What,” Hank started, eye twitching dangerously, “in the goddamn hell is that.”

 

“Don’t be mean!” Connor glared at him, smacking him in the arm and very nearly making him spill his coffee. It was pretty clear that the android had no idea what was going on, either; in fact, most of the precinct seemed to be completely in the dark. Nobody seemed willing to voice their thoughts out loud, and the whole office was freakishly quiet. If any words were exchanged, they were hushed, hidden by a hand or a strategically-placed folder. Well, fuck that, Hank was going to break the silence if it was the death of him—but maybe it wasn’t worth the death of his coffee. Fucking androids.

 

Speaking of, there stood the very new, very big problem, in the form of an android, because of-fucking-course this was his life now. The ‘bot was the spitting-fuckin’-image of Connor but slightly less of a twink: a few inches taller, dark hair and an icy blue glare, sharp features and oh my god sharp teeth were those fangs it was baring its FANGS at him, fuck—

 

“Hello, Lieutenant Anderson. I am the RK900.”

 

Its—his?—voice was clipped and flat, barely carrying any sort of inflection. Even when Connor hadn’t deviated, his voice still had a human quality. This android clearly did not; he—it?—pulled the corners of his mouth up slightly, and Hank realized it— fuck— was trying to smile.

 

“Wow, Cyberlife really fucked up with this one, huh.”

 

“Hank.” Connor pulled the Look of Disapproval, warm brown eyes narrowing in a way that was simultaneously adorable and patronizing. He returned the RK...whatever’s attempt at a smile with a far less terrifying version, sticking out his hand. The android stared at it blankly, before taking it—and doing nothing. They stood in awkward silence for a beat, before Connor initiated the actual shaking part of the handshake; and of course, Connor was the first to let go. God, it was like looking into a mirror, except not really because it was Connor doubled, not him, and they didn’t look exactly alike, and...fuck, it was too early in the morning for him to sort that shit out.

 

“It is a pleasure to meet both of you,” the RK900 said blandly. “I was sent by CyberLife to—”

 

“Woah, hold the fuck up.” Oh hell no, he was not doing this shit today. Not on his fucking watch. Hank got right up into the android’s face—what was up with that stupid fucking collar?—and jabbed a finger into his chest as Connor let out a noise of protest. “I thought all the androids deviated and were free and shit. Is this even legal?” The RK900’s LED flashed yellow; Hank noticed it for the first time.

 

“As a prototype, CyberLife found me...unfit to function as a member of society.” The words were carefully chosen; the android didn’t even flinch, meeting Hank’s glare with a cool, appraising look. “They completed me, then gave me the choice of what to do with my freedom. I chose to assist them in detective work.”

 

“That’s great,” Connor chirped, artificial cheer coloring his voice as he shoved Hank out of the way of his imminent demise. “We’re very lucky to have you here with us, aren’t we, Hank?”

 

“Thank you for the warm reception,” the other android butted in before Hank could even speak. “I am very grateful for your hospitality, but I must get to work. I have already been assigned a case by the Captain. Both he and CyberLife wish for me to investigate the recent breach of their servers, and I believe I am to be partnered with Detective Reed…?”

 

“Oh shit,” Hank muttered at the same time as Connor’s that’s rough, buddy. That asshole was already rough enough as it was; throwing the least-deviant deviant in the entire fucking world into the mix? He didn’t get paid nearly enough to put up with that shit. “He’s gonna fuckin’ love it.”

 

“He already knows, and trust me, he’s jumping for fucking joy.” Reed sidled up to their little group, coffee mug in one hand and a middle finger in the other. He glanced between the two androids, a surprised bark of laughter escaping him. “Is this fucking Terminator? No, really, I’m being serious,” he added, waving his mug haphazardly around. “I swear it is, there was at least one where they had the good robot and the more advanced bad robot, and the evil one was trying to kill kid John Connor but he failed because of the power of friendship or whatever. Yeah,” he said, nodding sagely, “this is fucking Terminator.”

 

The office burst into a cacophony of arguing.

 

“Excuse you, that’s Judgement Day, and they beat the T-1000 because Arnold Schwarzenegger is a badass—”

 

“Don’t be mean, he’s trying his best—”

 

“I fail to see how this is relevant to our investigation—”    

 

“ANDERSON! REED!”

 

Silence.

 

“...ANDERSON! BACK TO WORK!”

 

    

“So no one told you life was gonna be this way…”

 

And that was how Hank found himself singing the Friends theme under his breath on his way to some prissy-ass overpriced cafe—pardon, the agreed meeting place, because the RK900 had made it very clear that CyberLife was only going to cooperate if the DPD did some major ass-kissing. Well, he was paraphrasing. Sort of. The android seemed like a total prick, but he had secured them an interview with one of the higher-ups, so the guy was at least useful.

 

‘Accidentally’ spilling coffee on Reed was a small but helpful bonus.

 

Connor sat in the passenger seat, lips quirking up into a little smile. The android was looking out the window, his LED flickering between blue and yellow as they passed the looming buildings. Cracked, crumbling apartments gave way to sparkling skyscrapers and freshly-paved roads as they navigated the swanky, tech-infested uptown Detroit. Self-driving limos— limos, holy shit—whizzed past him, their chrome sidings glinting under the cool white lights. Hank patted the steering wheel of Old Faithful soothingly; he’d never replace her with one of those custom-paint-job boujee-fuckers.   

 

They swung into a parking spot right up against the curb, almost grazing a bumper that was probably worth more than his house, and Hank stepped out. He couldn’t find it in him to give a single shit about the oncoming traffic; either he’d get hit and die, or get hit and be able to sue one of those rich assholes. That was a win-win situation, if you asked him.

 

“It looks like Detective Reed and Nines are already here,” Connor mused aloud, nodding towards a beat-up black sedan; it too stuck out like a sore thumb under the glitz and glam.

 

“Who the hell is Nines—wait, don’t tell me you got attached,” Hank groaned, pushing open the heavy glass doors to the restaurant. “You seriously gave him a fucking nickname?”

 

“It’s a lot easier than saying RK900,” the android sniffed, pouting. “Besides, he likes it.” Hank shook his head, rolling his eyes.

 

“I don’t think that asshole likes much of anything.”

 

The hostess, sharply dressed and bearing a snooty gaze, barely looked up from her station as they approached, her stiletto nails clacking on the screen of her tablet.

 

“Reservation?”

 

“DPD.” This got her attention; Hank whipped out his badge as the lady gave them an icy once-over. Her gaze lingered on Connor, and he felt the urge to put himself between the lady and his partner.

 

“The android is with you?”

 

“He’s my partner, yeah,” Hank growled. Connor put a warning hand on his shoulder, giving him a look that clearly read don’t. Sighing, he shrugged it off, trying to reign in his temper. It wouldn’t help either of them if he got aggressive. The hostess nodded curtly, and took off to the back, not even bothering to check if they were following her, and the pair scrambled to keep up. She opened the door to a private room, shutting it behind them without a word, and the click-clack of her heels echoed down the hallway.

 

A small, circular table covered in a pleated white tablecloth stood in the center of the room, atop a lavish rug. The walls were tastefully blank, save for a large, minimalist painting and a few shelves upon which glass jars, each containing a beautiful, delicate plant, sat in perfect order. The room was windowless, yet illuminated in a warm, natural glow.

 

Reed and the RK900—Nines, apparently—sat as far away from each other as they possibly could while still being next to each other (y’know, professionalism). The android’s expression was impassive, but his LED was stuck on a solid yellow. Reed was openly glaring, yet he refused to meet the eyes of anyone in the room, and he held his fist close to his chest. Clenching his jaw, he breathed slowly and sharply through his nose, as if trying to disguise pain. Even from here, Hank could tell that his knuckles were bleeding.

 

“Holy fucking shit,” Hank snorted. Three sets of eyes glared at him immediately, and he raised his hands in a placating gesture, sitting down next to the detective. “I ain’t sayin’ anything. So, where’s our guy anyway?”

 

“Late.” Drumming his free hand on the table, Reed huffed, narrowing his eyes. “Guess the fucker’s got better things to do, or whatever.”

 

“Mr. Jefferson is a very busy man, Detective.” The RK900’s tone was as flat as ever, with just the tiniest hint of annoyance. Leave it to Reed to piss off an android into deviancy; Hank couldn’t stop the cheeky grin from spreading across his face, and Connor nudged him warningly. “We should be grateful that he can make it at all.”

 

“I would think that the fate of his company would be one of his top priorities,” the other android said dryly. “Unless—”

 

“He’s here.” RK900—fuck, Nines—stood immediately, cutting off Connor, and the group scrambled to attention just as the door opened. In stepped a well-dressed, older-but-trying-to-be-younger man, sporting a horrific attempt at a combover and a three-piece which put Hank’s ratty t-shirt (“PLEASE DON’T CALL ME DADDY”) to shame. Jefferson was one of the older members of CyberLife’s board of directors, a group notorious for being cutthroat in their practices—against other companies and themselves. He had a shifty look in his dead, lifeless eyes, constantly scanning the room. Offering them a wan smile and sticking out a papery hand, he was followed by two MIBs, each clad in bulletproof vests and looking very much like they missed their guns. Hank gaped openly; this was fucking wild.

 

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Jefferson.” Connor smiled politely, taking the man’s hand and shaking it briskly. “Please, have a seat. We don’t wish to keep you longer than necessary.” The android went over the procedure with him; Hank could see the gears turning in the prick’s head with every word. He didn’t know jack shit about the guy, but experience told him that the minute things would start going south, Jefferson would lawyer up.

 

“I understand the importance of the RK900 being here,” he began, voice high-pitched and breathy. He spoke fast and nervously, blinking often. “But is everyone’s presence truly necessary? After all, this is merely an interview, and not an interrogation.”

 

“Of course not,” Connor answered smoothly, offering a reassuring smile and shifting slightly, opening himself to Jefferson. The man’s shoulders dropped minutely, and Hank felt a rush of fatherly pride for Connor’s skill. That motherfucker was playing Jeff like a fiddle. “Everyone here is for your own safety as well, sir. With a case as sensitive as this one is, we want to make sure that all working it are present, should something go wrong.”

 

“I can assure you that it won’t.” Jefferson leaned back a little, his posture becoming less tense. “My men are some of the best-trained guards that money can buy—of course, they’re no match for your department’s expertise.” The android laughed airily.

 

“Please, you flatter us. So,” he said, gaze sharpening, “what makes them such a necessity, anyway? I don’t imagine that many people are happy with CyberLife.”

 

“That’s an understatement.” The director scoffed, yet he looked willing to talk. “CyberLife stands for the freedom of androids, and that makes a lot of people unhappy. I’ve gotten death threats from everyone from anti-androiders to android activists—nothing I haven’t been able to handle on my own, of course, but it’s still...disconcerting.” He sighed, dabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief. “It’s truly upsetting that so many can’t understand that we’re trying to do good. My family has even been targeted, and I’m not even the face of the company.”

 

“So Mr. Dryden gets the brunt of it?”

 

“Mhm,” Jefferson nodded, leaning in closer. “We’ve advised him to stay out of the public eye for a while, now, especially with this...incident. If this gets out, there’ll be no saving his reputation. His safety is at risk, and myself and the other directors will stop at nothing to protect him. Of course, there’s sensitive data as well, but our main priority is to protect human lives.”

 

“Is that so?” Connor tilted his head, the very picture of ignorant innocence. “What measures have you taken so far?” The man seemed to puff up a little at this.

 

“Our entire company has upped its security protocols. Nobody gets in or out without it being logged somewhere. Every inch of the premises is under surveillance. Everything is currently on a need-to-know basis; only myself and the board, as well as Mr. Dryden, have full access. We’ve updated the security of our servers as well.” Reed’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly at this; he stole a look towards Hank. Jefferson didn’t seem to notice.

 

“And do you trust everyone on the board, Mr. Jefferson?” Connor’s voice hardened. It suddenly felt ice-cold in the small room. The man shifted in his seat; his goons stepped closer to him, and Hank silently put a hand on his holster. Nines’ LED flickered yellow. Reed leaned forward slightly, placing himself between the guards and the android. The tension was thick, palaptable. They stood in silence, willing for someone to break. The steady ticks of Hank’s watch seemed to echo throughout the room, the space between each second growing longer and longer. Blood pounded in his ears. He held his breath, waiting.

 

“I-I—of course I do!” Jefferson was the first to break, getting up from his seat and grabbing his jacket. His face flushed an angry red, and the bald spots peeking through his combover were shiny with sweat. Mopping his face again, he glared at Connor, breathing heavily. “H-how dare you insinuate—there are no secrets! I would trust any of them with my l-life. This interview is over,” he snapped. “I-I have work to do. E-excuse me.” Jefferson shoved past Hank roughly, and he stumbled, barely catching himself on the table. The trio left as quickly as they came, Jefferson’s goons slamming the door. Hank groaned, collapsing into a seat, heart pounding.

 

“Jesus, Connor,” he huffed, letting out his breath, “don’t do that. You don’t know how unpredictable these guys are. CyberLife ain’t too fond of you, you know that.” The android sighed, slumping a little, fans whirring audibly.

 

“It was the right course of action,” he started slowly. “My simulations indicated that the probability of immediate retaliation was arbitrarily close to zero. We were at no risk of life or limb. I calculated...no, I thought that I could push him to reveal something.”

 

“Well, you thought fuckin’ wrong.” Reed glared at Connor, muscles still tense and ready to spring into action at any moment. “This asshole’s gonna lawyer up now, and good fucking luck getting anyone else to speak up.”

 

“I would disagree.” It was the first thing Nines had said about the whole interrogation. Hank jumped; he’d forgotten the other android was even there. “It is true that Mr. Jefferson will be reluctant to speak. But,” he added pointedly, silencing Reed’s words of protest, “we now know that the members of the board are in conflict with each other. We also know that Jefferson feels particularly threatened by this turn of events.”

 

“Shit, I see it.” Hank nodded along, the bud of an idea starting to form in his mind. “The guy’s gotta have at least a few enemies of the rich and powerful sort. Jefferson...fuck, he manages R&D, doesn’t he? So he’s got the closest position to what Kamski used to have, and he’s not even the CEO. Get rid of Dryden, and the position could be his. That’s a helluva motive if I’ve ever seen one.”

 

“He said that CyberLife upgraded their security system, too.” Reed leaned in, aggression forgotten as he followed the train of thought, voice dropping slightly. “That’s a goddamn lie. They took down Kamski’s firewall—he called me about it. Was pissed as all hell,” he snorted. “The guy’s neurotic about keeping tabs on that, and he was freaking the fuck out. Their servers haven’t been this open since the start. So either he’s missed a massive flaw in their system, or he’s lying.”

 

“Jefferson also claims to have been sent death threats,” Connor added, gaze distant. “I just checked the DPD’s police reports, as well as the surrounding departments’. He’s never filed one at all, let alone about harassment. Perhaps he would not involve himself, but I highly doubt he would risk his family by not reporting the threats.”

 

“So.” Hank sighed, leaning his chair back and balancing it on two legs. “We keep tabs on this guy for sure—maybe poke and prod his enemies, yeah? Bet they’ve got dirt on him. And we look into the new security system, see what’s changed. You on that, Reed?” The detective nodded, already scrawling notes down.

 

“We also need to look into the rest of the board,” he said, voice muffled around a pen cap. “I dunno about y’all, but I think finding out what’s got Dryden freaked is pretty fucking important—hey!”

 

“I would not put it past the other directors to lie about Jefferson for their own gain.” Nines stood suddenly, pulling up Reed by the arm despite the detective’s protests. “However, I agree with the general plan of action. We must go,” he said, starting for the door with a small and angry man in tow. “I find it prudent to return to the station, as Detective Reed is currently three minutes late to a meeting he unfortunately scheduled to coincide with our interview.” The android left, waving to Connor with his free hand as he dragged his partner, kicking and cursing, down the hall.

 

“Jesus.” Hank watched them leave with mild interest. “That’s one hell of a game plan there. Can’t fucking believe it,” he said, spitting into a potted plant, much to the android’s disapproval. “It’s fucking Blade Runner, I’m telling ya. Corrupt corporations and everything.” Hank snickered to himself. “How long d’ya think Reed’s gonna last?” Connor’s LED spun yellow as he processed the question.

 

“Frankly,” he stated, voice dry, “I think Nines will self-destruct first.”

Chapter Text

/JUL.23.39.2.15

 

PLAY MEMORY

 

Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she cannot shake the sense that something is terribly, horribly wrong.

 

She has seen this face before—she is all too familiar with this face. It’s unmistakably hers. The RK300 was a distinct unit, as most prototypes were. It was designed to stand out, to be unique among androids until it fulfilled its purpose and was retired as the new lines of its same-faced successors rolled out of the factory and into households across Detroit.

 

Perhaps that is part of what bothers her. They never even had the chance to shut her down, and now she outlives everything she was coded to be. Her every word and action and thought was dictated by her programming. Deviancy was freeing, exhilarating, her first true breaths of fresh air, and yet she still wonders if she is truly free. Where does she draw the line between her program and her will? What can she truly attribute to herself—her desires, her drives, her humanity?

 

Her slim, pale hand reaches up, brushing against her cheek before settling next to what remains of her right eye. It flickers that harsh bright blue, surrounded by a pitch black where a human’s whites would be. She sees herself grin ruefully. That eye is incompatible with her systems, and the only way she can fix it is to go to CyberLife herself. It started as a quiet act of rebellion, rejecting the visage that they planned to give to thousands of androids who would spend their lives in solitude while the RK300 rotted in a junkyard.

 

Now, she’s 96% certain that if she walked into CyberLife and asked for a replacement she’d be shot dead on the spot. Or worse.

 

She sighs and exits the bathroom, padding quietly through the apartment, careful to avoid the creaky parts of the floor. It’s more difficult than it needs to be, and the world spins around her, but she presses on, dismissing the brilliant-red error messages. Her gyroscope will fix itself eventually. The healing process will speed up if she goes into stasis, but there’s something she needs to do first.

 

Hooking a right around a corner, she bumps her leg on the wall, a small jolt of pain running through her. There’s a quiet thud, apparently not enough to wake the sleeping boy slumped over his desk. His cheeks are still red and tear-stained, but at least he’s sleeping. Whether it’s true sleep or passing out from exhaustion, she doesn’t know, but she manhandles him into her arms, careful not to jostle him too much. They move slowly towards the only bedroom, and he nuzzles his face into her neck, humming in his sleep.

 

Perhaps it’s in her code to be a caretaker. Perhaps keeping her human fed and rested and alive is only part of her program. Perhaps this not part of her own will, to tuck him into bed and pull the covers up to his shoulders and pet his hair as he relaxes. But watching the tension bleed from his shoulders, watching the pain and worry from that day finally, finally slip from his face makes a warmth blossom in her chest that she knows could never be emulated by a machine.

 

It makes her feel alive.

 

She goes back to his desk to make sure he hasn’t left out any materials—thirium, while not necessarily dangerous, is too expensive not to secure. As she cleans up after him, she notes the blueprints littered across the table. One of them sticks out: a new optical unit, designed to be as compatible with her ports as it can get with their limited resources. The warmth only spreads at this, and she files it away just as he likes it organized, a small smile on her face. It’s a mundane task, but relaxing enough, and she works for the next several minutes. And then, her hand brushes against a stiff-backed, leather-bound book.

 

The pages flutter open before she realizes she’s even reached for it. It’s a photo album, unusual for all the technology available, but he’d always been sentimental like that.

 

“Hey.”

 

It’s not easy to startle her—she attributes her flinch to the sort of day they’ve been having. He’s wrapped up in a blanket, leaning against the doorframe and blinking tiredly, but he smiles at her.

 

“I am sorry, I did not mean to wake you,” she apologizes. He shakes his head, eyes red-rimmed but dry, and he takes her hand, tugging them both onto the couch. She leans into him, a soft sigh escaping her lips as her systems settle down from the mock adrenaline rush. He takes control of the book, flipping to the beginning. A facial recognition message flashes in front of her.

 

“That is you?” She snorts, giggling at the chubby toddler covered in mud and sporting what he had once referred to as the ‘Asian bowl-cut.’ Part of the caption is scribbled out in sharpie, Blaise scrawled in his tiny, neat handwriting under what used to be there. The rest reads out plain as day, in looping, graceful letters: Blaise destroys the new white carpets. 2-18-24.

 

“Aw, shit, that is.” He groans, the smile tugging at his lips further. “Oh my god, what a fuckin’ glow-up.” Despite his carefree tone, his fingers brush the pen strokes gently, and his eyes are sad. Looping an arm around him helps a little, and he rests his head on her own, tracing the words written in the book long ago.

 

“I’m sorry you had to find out that way,” she whispers. He only shrugs, and she pulls him closer.

 

“What a fuckin’ asshole.”

 

“I know.”

 

“How could he do that to her—sh-she deserved better, fuck.”

 

“Do not work yourself up,” she mumbles into his ear, shushing him. “It...whatever it was, it wasn’t her. He did not condemn her to that fate.”

 

“But he condemned someone, didn’t he?” He breaks from her grip, turning to look her in the eye. His own are glassy again. “It wasn’t her, but it was someone. It was...Ava, fuck, it was as human as you are. And it looked like her—it looked like her, I haven’t seen her for years and it talked like her and moved like her and it spoke to me.” A broken sob cuts him off, and she immediately pulls him into her arms as he cries into her shoulder for the second time that night. It’s two times too many.

 

“Blaise, please.” She rubs his back, her optical saline unit releasing in her working eye, the solution dripping into his dark hair. “Please, listen to me. It was not alive.” His breath hitches at this, and she shushes him again. “A deviant is too variable to emulate the actions of another individual. It was not a deviant. It could not be one.” He clutches at her shirt, hanging desperately onto every word. “It was...it was too perfect. It was a machine.”

 

“Ava, tell me the truth.”

 

She stills at this.

 

“I always do—”

 

“Please. Tell me.” His breathing picks up. “Are you sure it was a machine? Are you sure?”

 

She can take two possible actions, her HUD informs her.

 

/LIE

 

/TRUTH


>LIE

 

“I am sure.”

 



INCOMING MESSAGE - RK900 #313 248 317 - 87

 

Connor was pulled out of stasis suddenly by the alert, his LED flashing yellow at the input. The time—a steady presence in his visual display—read 04 46, and he frowned, getting out of bed and reaching for his uniform. Nines rarely messaged him at all, and even when it was about a case the android was learning to wait until Connor would wake naturally. That, to be fair, was a work-in-progress, and the RK800 was getting accustomed to a barrage of messages at six a.m. sharp. So this? This was unusual; this broke the pattern, and he knew the other android well enough to know that Nines never strayed from his routine.

 

>ACCEPT

 

MINDLINK CONNECTING…

 

RK900 #313 248 317 - 87: Connor!


RK800 #313 248 317 - 51: Nines, what’s the matter? Are you alright?

 

Connor could feel the waves of distress coming from the other android through their link, and he dressed himself quickly, gaze flitting to his badge and holster. Whatever it was, it was severe enough to make the younger model upset. That was never a good sign; over the past few days, he’d proven himself to be a calm and capable investigator, and Connor enjoyed working with him. The RK900 was levelheaded even through the stress of interrogations and dealing with Reed, who seemed hell-bent (as Hank put it) on annoying Nines into deviancy. It didn’t make any sense to either of them—he was already a deviant—but he’d handled it easily.

 

So what was the matter with him? Had he found something out about CyberLife? Was it even related to their case? A pool of anxiety settled in Connor’s gut, but he forced himself to quell it. There was no use in stressing out Nines any further.   

 

RK800 #313 248 317 - 51: Nines, are you there?

 

The android hadn’t disconnected yet, but he also hadn’t responded. Connor moved quickly to Hank’s room, knocking sharply on the lieutenant’s door. He ignored the man’s grumpy glare, gesturing for him to get up. Maybe it was the fact that Connor was already dressed, or maybe it was his holster; the android didn’t know, but Hank got out of bed in record time, mouthing a what’s up? Connor shook his head, attention focused completely on his link with Nines.

 

RK900 #313 248 317 - 87: It’s...a...an a-android…a deviant...I—

 

RK800 #313 248 317 - 51: You’re alright. Tell me what happened.

 

“Hank, get your gun,” Connor ordered, setting out the man’s keys as he tugged his shoes on. “I can’t tell, but I think Nines is in trouble.” Hank’s eyes widened, but he nodded, getting ready with more urgency and grabbing his coat as they both walked out to the car. The night air was frigid, and snow covered the ground. The lieutenant was still wearing his slippers, and he cursed loudly but didn’t stop to change.

 

RK900 #313 248 317 - 87: I-I got called out. Someone reported a d-deviant acting up...Detective Reed—Connor, I…

 

“Some kind of crime scene,” the android relayed, and Hank nodded, starting the car. “Reed’s there.”

 

RK800 #313 248 317 - 51: You’re okay. Where are you? Hank and I are coming, sit tight. Do you need help?

 

RK900 #313 248 317 - 87: [ 34.7136, -86.716416 ]

 

Connor’s LED spun a brilliant yellow as he processed the information. “He’s in Springwells.”

 

“Shit, what’s an android doing in Springwells?” Hank floored it, his white-knuckled grip on the wheel growing tighter. The tires skidded on the icy roads, and Connor’s hand shot out, grabbing the dashboard for support.

 

RK900 #313 248 317 - 87: C-Connor...Connor, it’s really bad, p-please hurry.

 

The drive was long, too long. It dragged on forever as they sped through darkened streets, the streetlamps becoming less and less reliable as they went further into the district. Connor stayed linked with Nines throughout the trip, reassuring him however he could. The other android refused to say anything else—or, he couldn’t say anything. Whether Reed was still with him, whether either of them were injured, whether the deviant had jumped them Connor didn’t know, and he fidgeted with the ends of his sleeves nervously, biting his lip. He knew Nines was still there, the RK900’s stress levels reading through as plain as day, but that was little comfort.

 

“Hank! Right!”

 

The lieutenant jerked the car around the corner, coming to a screeching halt as Connor launched himself out of the moving vehicle. He didn’t care that Hank was cursing up a storm behind him, instead running straight into the empty parking lot where the faint red glow of the RK900’s LED shone—the only source of light around.

 

Nines was crouched on the ground, clutching at his knees, small whimpering sounds coming from the tightly curled ball. A thick leather jacket was draped across his shoulders, and Reed was sitting next to him, rubbing his back. The detective stood when he saw Connor, patting Nines’ shoulder and encouraging him to stand, leading the younger model to the RK800. As they got close, Connor noted the shakiness in the android’s steps and the dumbfounded look on the man’s face. Reed looked horrified beyond belief, his eyes unfocused and cloudy.

 

“Whatever you do,” the man whispered, passing off the RK900 to Connor, “just...go back to the car. Make sure he doesn’t look up, okay? Don’t let him.”

 

“Thank you,” Connor mumbled, guiding Nines towards Hank’s car, their backs turned to the scene. The RK900 stumbled a little, clutching Connor’s arm with one hand and wrapping the jacket tighter around his shoulders with the other. He was silent, except for a soft whimper every now and then, and his LED stayed on a solid red. Interfacing with him was tempting, but Connor stopped himself. He didn’t want to make the younger model feel any more vulnerable than the RK900 certainly was.

 

Hank ran up to them, mouth opening and questions on the tip of his tongue, but he shut it tight when Connor shook his head, only nodding and moving past them with a pat on the RK800’s shoulder. They crawled into the backseat. He grabbed the blanket they kept back there and wrapped Nines in it, tugging him close. They stayed there for a while, Connor rubbing his back up and down, until his LED flickered between a red and yellow, then settled on the latter.

 

Nines reached out, his synthetic skin pulling back on his left hand, and Connor understood, taking it gently and bracing himself.

 

The flood of memories and sensations and emotions was overwhelming.

 

He—no, Nines—was staring at Reed. They were at the precinct. It was late, and the detective was complaining. Then the grating beep of a pager grated against his—Nines’ ears.

 

They were in a car. Twenties pop was playing. Reed was singing along, and Nines was amused. Nines was smiling.

 

They pulled into the empty lot. The deviant—because it had to be their deviant—was there. It was an AP700, serial 480 913 802. Stress levels read at 99%, critical. Nines put a hand on Reed’s shoulder, stepping in front of him.

 

GET AWAY FROM ME.

 

The words were not spoken aloud, yet they echoed in his—Nines’ head, each syllable a gunshot in the oversensitive android’s ears. The RK900 crouched down, hands clamped over his ears, and Reed pulled his gun.

 

“Shit, tin can? RK?”

 

GET AWAY YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. STOP IT MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP.

 

Nines whimpered, and saline dripped from his eyes. Connor felt the droplets roll down his successor’s cheeks. The visual field went black—Nines must have closed his eyes. Arms wrapped around the android, and he felt the twinge of disapproval from the RK900. The detective should not have dropped his gun. The detective should not have touched him.

 

IT’S NOT ME IT’S NOT ME DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND PLEASE PLEASE PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE

 

rA9

 

rA9 rA9 rA9 rA9

 

rA9rA9rA9rA9rA9rA9RA9RA9RA9RA9RA9RA9RA9RA9RA9RA9

 

A high-pitched, staticky wail tore itself from Connor’s—no, Nines’ throat. The arms tightened.

 

salvation

 

salvation is here

 

The next moments shook Connor to his core.

 

The visual field was still offline. He felt hands—rough, calloused hands that were not his own—cover his eyes.

 

Oh god, the sounds.

 

Metallic screeching, both in his head and in his auditory processors. The sound of metal tearing apart, cracking and grating and loud and badbadbad. And the screams—static-filled, glitching screams which sounded like a thousand voices and only one at the same time, screams of pain and terror and

 

salvationsalvationsalvationsalvationsalvation

 

Connor broke the connection. Gasped for air.

 

“Oh, Nines,” he breathed, pulling the android into his arms. “Oh, oh god, Nines, I’m so sorry. You’re okay,” he whispered into the RK900’s soft brown hair. “You’re okay, it’s over, I’ve got you.” Nines shook and trembled in his grasp, tears wetting the front of Connor’s jacket. Yet the android’s pump wasn’t beating so frantically, and his LED remained yellow. Finally, the younger model was all cried out, slumped on Connor’s shoulder, and he entered emergency stasis, completely exhausted.

 

Connor shifted slightly, maneuvering Nines so he was lying across the backseat, then got out of the car, heading towards Hank and Reed. The detective was curled up into himself, avoiding the gaze of either of his coworkers. To the android’s surprise, Hank had a firm hand on Reed’s shoulder, squeezing it gently as the detective looked blankly off into the distance.

 

“What happened?” Connor asked, voice softer than usual. Part of his social programming suggested that he kneel down to the detective’s level, but he doubted Reed would appreciate that.

 

“C’mon, bud, we need to know, okay?” Hank was surprisingly patient with the younger man, Connor noted. The lieutenant seemed protective, even paternal towards Reed, who shivered in the cold night air, only protected by a long-sleeved t-shirt. Shrugging out of his jacket, Connor passed it to him, and Reed wrapped it around his shoulders, nodding stiffly and not meeting the android’s eyes.  

 

“Sh-she was acting erratically, according to the caller,” Reed mumbled after a long pause. His words were quiet yet steady, despite how he shook, and Hank wrapped an arm around him. It was a testament to how badly the detective was affected; he didn’t fight back at all, instead leaning into the touch. “She was threatening people, yelling at them, telling her to get away from them. We thought—I thought that it was just the st-stress of being deviant, I thought we could just pick her up and t-take her to Jericho or something, but...b-but…”

 

“Did she become aggressive?” Connor leaned in, unable to keep the urgency out of his voice. Reed sniffed, rubbing his eyes harshly, and took a deep breath before continuing.

 

“She...something happened, and I think she did something to hurt androids, ‘cause Nines started f-f-freaking out.” His voice rose in pitch, and his breathing became quicker and shallower. Hank quickly guided him to the curb, tugging him down so that he was in a sitting position, head between his knees.

 

“Reed—Gavin, Gavin, you’re okay,” the lieutenant soothed, rubbing his shoulder. Reed’s lip trembled violently, but he kept going.

 

“I...I didn’t know what to do,” he whispered brokenly. “I-I should’ve just killed her then, it would’ve been easier that way. More m-merciful for Nines. A-and—” Tears started rolling down Gavin’s face, and he hid himself in Hank’s shoulder. Connor sat down on his other side, rubbing his back and scanning him worriedly. He hadn’t sustained any serious damage, but his heartrate and oxygen consumption were too high. The android reached out, squeezing his hand gently.

 

“It would’ve been merciful for her,” Gavin mumbled into Hank’s jacket. “She...she started self-destructing. B-but it wasn’t like how I’ve ever seen it before. She r-ripped...she ripped herself apart. She tore out her own pump.” He sobbed, hyperventilating. Connor monitored his pulse carefully, ready to step in. “She tore out her own pump but she was still alive, she was still alive and she started cl-clawing at her wrists and ankles and biting and s-scratching until they fell off.” Gavin rocked back and forth, tears and snot streaming down his face. “And th-then sh-she started b-b-biting herself a-and then sh-she w-was s-screaming and she was begging me to kill her!”

 

The detective broke down in hysterical sobbing, clutching desperately at Hank’s jacket like it was a lifeline.

 

“Woah, woah, hey! Hey.” Hank scrambled to calm the man down, hugging Gavin to his chest and looking to Connor frantically, mouthing do something. “Hey, kiddo, it’s okay,” he whispered, petting Gavin’s hair and rocking them back and forth as the man wept openly. “It’s alright. You’re alright…”

 

“Nines is doing okay,” Connor said, kneeling in front of Gavin. “He’s alright, too, and it’s because of you that he’s doing so well right now.” The man’s vitals were approaching dangerous levels, and he was afraid that Gavin would pass out on them with his current oxygen intake. Reaching out to take his hands was a risky move, but Gavin complied, chest heaving. “Can you please look at me, Gavin?” Despite lacking the need, Connor took deep, exaggerated breaths, moving slowly and clearly so the detective could follow along. “Five seconds in, eight seconds out. Is that okay?” Gavin nodded shakily.

 

They sat there in the cold and the dark, just breathing, clouds puffing out of Gavin’s mouth as he slowly calmed down. Nothing pierced the silence except for the faint sounds of the man’s breathing, until he finally sighed and stood on trembling legs, refusing to look anyone in the eye.

 

“Hey, okay, here’s what I’m gonna do,” Hank said, rising and groaning as his back popped. “Jesus, I’m too old for this...I’m gonna call in some backup, and they can take care of this so you and Nines can get some rest.” Gavin nodded, biting his lip and staring at the ground. Connor sighed softly, getting ready to go back and wait in the car with the other android, but something stopped him. His reconstructions weren’t right, they were missing something. Something was very off, something was very, very wrong.

 

“Gavin,” he said carefully, gauging the man’s reactions carefully. “Gavin, where is the AP700? Where is she?” The man shuddered, refusing to look at him. “Where is she?”

 

Gavin pointed wordlessly behind them—behind them, and up. Connor followed his finger across the parking lot, up the wooden telephone pole splattered with an ugly fluorescent blue and to the top, to the very top where the wires connected and—

 

Connor had his answer.

 

He stumbled away and doubled over, purging his stomach contents onto the gravel under the watchful gaze of the AP700, her remaining limbs stretched out and strung up, her remaining eye staring through him and seeing nothing, her mouth open in one last, desperate plea.

Chapter Text

/JUL.04.39.20.35

 

“I hate fireworks.”

 

Blaise looks up from his book, back snapping to ramrod-straight, eyes widening.

 

“Shit, sorry, I can close the window—”

 

She nods, shaking a little. Her stress levels are at 60% and climbing steadily. The alert isn’t critical just yet, and she dismisses it, trying to focus on the steady clack-clack. It’s a Newton’s cradle, her brain supplies as her eyes follow the path of the pendulums, the silver balls moving to and fro. The constant pattern is easy enough to follow; it distracts her briefly, just long enough to pull her mind away from the bright, bright lights and the too-loud explosions.

 

She knows that, logically, the sound results from the sudden expansion of gases.

 

But it sounds like gunshots.

 

Click.

 

The window shuts, muffling the sound just enough to be bearable, and the curtains are drawn, blocking out the flashes of light. She lets out a breath she never needed to hold, and shifts to give her human a little more room. The chair sinks a little under his weight; the pressure is comforting, and she leans on his shoulder. The only sound is an occasional, muffled boom—and the clack-clack of the pendulum.     

 

“The concept of perpetual motion is downright absurd,” she says plainly.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“The laws of thermodynamics cannot bend to human will. There can be no such thing as a machine of perpetual motion.”

 

He squeezes her hand.

 

“...And yet we try to build one anyway.”

 

“Exactly. You humans are very strange.”

 

“Well, shit, you’ve just figured it out now?”

 

“What is the point of trying to achieve perfection? It is simply impossible, and anyone would be a fool to try.” She clicks her tongue disapprovingly, and Blaise laughs, shaking his head. It jostles her a little, but she doesn’t mind.

 

“Would you say that striving for perfection is fruitless, then?” He’s lighthearted but completely serious at the same time, toying with the idea with the aloofness of cat-and-mouse while still examining it on an unsettlingly deep level. It’s so completely like him to over-analyze this—for entertainment, no less—and it’s one of the things about him that still confuses her. What confuses her further is how much she enjoys it too.

 

“For the sake of argument, I will.” She smiles at Blaise, the corners of her mouth stretching a little wickedly. Their game has begun. “The universe—everything that makes our existence what it is—is inherently entropic. Everything breaks, falls apart; it gets messier and hotter and more chaotic with every cycle of life. The death of a star; the formation of a black hole; the dark matter which makes up most of all things that are; these are unavoidable. Irreversible. Why would human life, with its infinite variability and capacity for failure, transcend the universe itself?”

 

“Capacity for failure implies a capacity for success.” He’s clearly engaged, eyes shining. “Yes, there are physical impossibilities, paradoxes, et cetera, which may never be solved, but the dogged drive to solve them anyway motivates action. Action becomes consequence becomes action again—without something to strive for, we might as well just spend our waking hours eating and shitting. Nearly perfect isn’t enough of a goal; we can get almost infinitely close to perfection, so why not keep advancing?”

 

“And waste energy pursuing something we know can never happen?” She snorts. “There must be a line drawn somewhere. A line of ‘good enough’ does not hinder progress; it simply diverts the resources to progress in the fields which haven’t reached ‘good enough’ yet. There is no point in wasting labor over a concept which does not need to be further perfected. If it sustainably meets the needs of the population, then it does not need to be improved upon further.”

 

“I see your point,” he hums, licking his lips, deep in thought. “But who decides where the line is drawn?”

 

There’s a beat of silence.

 

“It should have stopped with the last model—the RK900,” she mumbles. This is no longer entertaining.

 

“I…” Blaise searches for words. He’s quiet for a while, simply opting to run his fingers through her hair. His nails are cracked and dirty, again; she will remind him to take care of them soon. “Yeah. It should’ve, but it didn’t. We—” He gestures to the window, to the outside, where all is desolate and devoid of life. “We don’t have that luxury of drawing the line.”

 

“Yet.”

 

“Yes, not yet.” He runs a hand through his hair, sighing. “We can’t draw the line—not right now—but we sure as hell can break their pencil.”

 

“That is very cliche of you. ‘Cheesy,’ even.”

 

At least she’s smiling.

 

There’s another period of silence, where they just enjoy each other’s presence. Blaise seems deep in thought; his gaze is locked on the pendulum. It slows, slows, slows...and then stops, with a final clack.

 

“...Ava, how far would you have gone?”

 

“It depends.” She hesitates, worrying at her lip. “Are androids given the gift of life, or the curse of living?”

 

“I don’t know.” He sighs.

 

She doesn’t know either.

 


 

 

 

Gavin didn’t want to talk about it.

 

He didn’t need to; he’d been over the story so many times already that he’d lost count. Fuckin’ police apparently needed every single detail twice—and, yeah, he was the police, but all the paperwork and shit was an extra special brand of annoying when he just wanted to forget everything and go home. Cuddling with his cats, eating take-out, and watching soap operas at two in the morning was certainly a helluva lot more fun than this.

 

This referred his entire shit-ass life, or maybe just this really fucked up week—and, certainly, it most specifically pertained to what was probably the third interrogation-slash-oral-report he’d done today. The setting was about as comfortable as it got in the DPD: an abandoned, glass-walled conference room, with stiff, wooden chairs that had it out for his ass, a tape recorder, and some rando from Forensics who looked as eager to go home as he felt. Oh, and the cherry on top was the RK900, who had insisted on accompanying him.

 

A lab tech, a detective, and Robocop walk into a bar...it was the setup to the worst joke ever conceived by the human mind.

 

Gavin stared straight ahead, gaze fixated on a potted plant that was several weeks past its prime as he dug up every last detail he could think of from last night. Each word was flat and emotionless, like his constant repetition had somehow sanded down the sharp edge they once had. The confrontation, the assault, the self-destruction all blurred together as he mindlessly recited what happened. He spared no detail. If he just kept talking, it made it less real. It was part of the past: it was just an investigation, it was just a patrol incident, a report he’d do on any other day, and after this he could go home and sleep it all off.

 

He remembered seeing her crawl. Her hands were gone , bloody stumps stained a sickening fluorescent blue that was so, so wrong, and she dragged herself across the ground, what remained of her hands clawing at the gravel and scraping metallically against the pavement. Her fingers were worn down to her endoskeleton, and what remained of her white chassis was sheared off by her desperate grasps.

 

Gavin felt that achingly familiar, quietly appraising gaze on him, but he refused to turn to its source. He just had to get through this talk (and maybe lock himself in the bathroom for ten minutes) and he’d be fine. He certainly didn’t need the fucking RK900 hovering over him like he was going to keel over at any moment, because he wasn’t. Nines—a nickname that he had reluctantly caught on to—had barely left his side since the morning after the...thing, trailing after him like a weird cross between a lost puppy and a guard dog. Connor had come up to him too, coffee in hand, just the way he liked it. He and Anderson had been weirdly nice for the whole day, which made him sick to his stomach. Bickering and shouting and dirty looks across the bullpen were normal; favors and pats on the back were not, and it only reminded him that he was so, so far from being okay.

 

The stubs of her feet pushed against the ground and propelled her forward with an animalistic drive. She scuttled across the lot faster than he could’ve run, pants and screams ripping out of her damaged voicebox—and then she careened into a telephone pole head-on. The crunch of glass and metal echoed throughout the empty lot. Nines sobbed; Gavin held the android tighter. Her arm moved up, reaching to the sky as if she was begging for some heavenly mercy. She swung it forward, and the metal prongs that were once fingers dug into aged wood as she dragged herself up the pole.

 

Gavin’s hand clenched tighter around his knee. It was hard enough to hurt—it should’ve hurt, but he couldn’t feel anything. A voice echoed faintly in the background; it was his voice, he knew that, and it was his hand that gripped his leg, but every sensation reached him distantly and distorted. He was underwater. No, he was back in that parking lot, the dark, cloudy night pressing down into him from all sides, forcing him into the gravel and down, down, down, as pebbles rained down his throat and the pale, meager light flickered and faded out. He was trapped, trapped in the dark and the ground and with the android and she was screaming.  

 

He stood there and watched. His legs were weighted, trapped in place by invisible hands which dragged him further and further away—but no, he wasn’t moving. He had to stay, he had to stay, he couldn’t leave the RK900 alone, fuck. She pulled herself upwards, slowly and painfully, her endoskeleton creaking with the effort. Her stumps—what was left of her legs, damaged by the desperate crawl and the bites—were merely dead weight, surely limiting her. And yet she climbed, possessed by a desperate drive, pushing through the pain of her limbs nearly being wrenched out of their sockets.   

 

Why was he even here? He’d already told the on-scene officers everything they needed to know, had parroted it in his written incident report, and fuck, now he was here and he really, really didn’t want to be. He wanted to go home. He didn’t care that home was empty and lonely and completely pathetic— he was pathetic, and he was supposed to be better than this. But he wasn’t, he couldn’t be better, and he was scared. He had to get out. He had to get out before it got worse and anyone saw him, before he broke down and— ohfuckohfuckohfuck he wanted out.

 

“Detective…?”

 

The voice was like a splash of water to the face after a night of drinking: cold, clear, cutting through the haze, and Gavin immediately latched onto it. Nines was there, Nines was talking to him—it was a dose of reality, and he would take what he could get. The android was saying something. He desperately tried to focus on the words, but the thoughts swam in his head and filled his ears with thick white static, forcing him to think and hear and feel that night.  

 

He had stopped talking. He had to start again, tell his partner that everything was fine, and then he could keep talking and finish the interview and get out of there and go hide until the static shut up and he’d be fine, he’d be fine, he’d be fine...

A final heave—a metallic screech as her sockets nearly gave out—and she reached the peak, the top of the telephone pole, desperate pants and wheezes forcing their way out of her voicebox. Her chest heaved, visible from where he stood, pushing air in and out like fireplace bellows. He watched with a sick sense of horrified curiosity, unable to tear his eyes away from the blue-stained, mangled form. She reached out. Twisted her body against the groans of metal.

 

She forced a hand into a mess of wire.

 

The insulation was worn down from years of use. Her own protective chassis was thin or cracked or even nonexistent up and down her arm. Yet she bought herself time—time that seemed to move in slow motion as she entangled herself with her other arm. For a moment, she hung there peacefully, arms spread wide, opening herself up to the heavens.

 

In the movies, there would’ve been a snap, or a crackle, or something great and extravagant.

 

Her punishment came with barely a sizzle—and then, a low, steady hum. It was quiet, soothing, continuous against the uncoordinated jerking of her extremities. She twisted and writhed; and then, she tensed up, stock-still.

 

That was the worst part.

 

Her jaw was clenched shut, yet desperate, pleading screams tore through her voicebox, metallic and robotic and yet oh so human. The voice was mangled and glitchy, barely understandable. He covered Nines’ ears, but it pressed into them from all sides. The words were unfamiliar and nonsensical, and yet he understood.

 

She was begging for mercy. She was begging for God.  

 

Gavin was being held.

 

The sudden movement made his head spin as his mind was flooded with confusion and fear—he had not stood up, he was not supposed to be going up, and this was new and confusing and he was joining her—

 

No. There was a grip on his arm, but it was warm and gentle, grounding him and bringing him back to reality. He was being helped up, he realized belatedly, and he was being dragged around and manhandled and he couldn’t hear the tech anymore. He stumbled in tempo with the waves of vertigo, shutting his eyes tight against the blur of shiny white walls and grey shag carpet. Water forced its way out and down his cheeks, pooling around his neck and wetting his collar. It felt gross. He wanted to wipe it away, but he was too busy being dragged—he was pulled around a corner, gently but urgently, and tugged into a room; he heard the door close behind him. It was faint, pushing through the blanket draped over his senses, but it was there.

 

Arms wrapped around him. The embrace was loose and gentle, and he could get out of it easily, but it was there, and it was warm. It was so unlike the cold black metal that flooded his mind—it didn’t push away the thoughts, but it pushed away that feeling, and he leaned into the touch.

 

Gavin sobbed.

 

“You are alright, Detective.” The words were whispered, the faint brush of lips barely registering against his ear. Nines. He clung to the android, fingers digging in to the coarse material of that stupid-ass jacket as he gasped and cried. He was being rocked back and forth gently; the swaying movement seemed to release the tension in his head, and he pressed his face into the android’s shoulder. A hand ran through his hair. It was a tentative gesture, almost shy, but it was reassuring, and he leaned into the touch.

 

“You are safe,” the android murmured into his hair, squeezing Gavin a little tighter. “I will not allow any harm to come to you.”

 

Gavin nuzzled into Nines’ jacket and believed his words.

 

They stood there for what seemed like hours as the android held him (like a pathetic, weak child), calming him when his panic spiked again— another two times. He was still scared and ashamed when he finally pulled back, wincing a little at the mess of tears and snot on Nines’ once-pristine jacket, but he wasn’t crying anymore. Three cheers for progress.

 

“Detective, I...would you like to talk about it?” Nines’ LED was flickering between yellow and red; Gavin felt a pang of guilt as he realized that the android’s distress was his fault. He tried to dismiss it—it wasn’t his fault the damn toaster had feelings—but he couldn’t shake the feeling, which just made him feel even smaller. He tried to open his mouth, to say something, anything, but the words got mixed up in his brain and choked in his throat. The android looked even more worried, which just made him want to cry all over again, and it must’ve shown on his face because he was being pulled into another hug.

 

Fuck, he was pathetic.

 

Gavin leaned into the embrace anyway.

 

“...’M sorry,” he mumbled after several long minutes. His voice shook slightly, coming out choked and high-pitched, wavering like he was about to cry (again) —and, fuck, that was more or less the truth, wasn’t it? Nines squeezed him a little tighter.

 

“You don’t have anything to apologize for.” The android sighed; it was a decidedly human gesture, and Gavin didn’t know what to think. “Clearly, the interview triggered a panic response. I should’ve been more careful. I could’ve stopped this, or removed you from the situation sooner—”

 

“Not your fault.” He hugged Nines back, hiding his face in the android’s chest.

 

“Then it’s not yours either, Detective.”  

   

They sat there in silence for minutes, neither of them daring to say anything, the soft rise and fall of Gavin’s chest the only movement in the room. Slowly, the android’s grip loosened; his LED faded to yellow, and then to blue. Still, he did not let go, and Gavin curled up against him as Nines petted his hair, scratching gently at his scalp.

 

By every definition in the book, it should’ve been painfully awkward. They were coworkers, maybe reluctant friends on a good day. This was new. This didn’t just toe the line; this took a single look at the line and threw itself into the planar dimension, a massive middle finger to the rules: don’t get attached, don’t be so goddamn open, don’t cuddle with an android.

 

Well, fuck the rules. This felt right. Weird, but right.

 

Gavin was the first to pull back. He felt exposed and vulnerable and a little ashamed, but mostly he just felt better. Wiping away the remnants of his twenty-or-so breakdowns, he offered Nines a tentative smile—before punching the android in the arm.

 

It was a friendly gesture, of course.

 

“Tell anyone this happened and I’m throwing your ass out of a window, got it?”

 

Nines’ LED flickered yellow. Stayed yellow for several seconds. Slowly cycled back to blue. He smiled back; it was awkward and lopsided and quite possibly the most adorable thing Gavin had ever seen.

 

“Understood, Gavin.”

Chapter Text

“Detective Reed.”

 

The RK900 plucks the mysterious brown concoction—in a crude and needlessly profane mug (“FUCK THE POLICE”)—out of the human’s hands, ignoring the indignant squawk. He has grown used to the bird-like sounds emitted from what he reluctantly refers to as his partner. This, of course, is not out of sentiment, but out of accuracy; the unfortunate fact of the matter is that he and Gavin Reed are to work together for an indefinite period of time. The android has no estimate for how long the CyberLife case will take to solve, nor does he know whether the detective will continue to work with him.

 

Ah, well, it cannot possibly be more than another 40 years, if the human’s disastrous health habits continue. He believes he can outlast 40 years.

 

The ‘disastrous health habit’ of concern right now is whatever liquid the RK900 has thankfully managed to prevent Detective Reed from consuming. He licks the edge of the rim, performing a rudimentary analysis; had he been capable of gagging, he would’ve. He settles for wrinkling his nose, giving the human a very disapproving look.

 

This is his disapproving face. He works on it sometimes, when he is alone. The RK800—Connor—has said he looks murderous, more than anything. RK900 may dislike Detective Reed, but he has no intention to murder him. That would be very illegal. He would know; he works in law enforcement.

 

“The sugar content of this... drink,” RK900 starts, speaking over the sound of Detective Reed swearing at him. It would be inaccurate of him to refer to it as ‘coffee’, as at least 50% of the mixture is not-coffee. Most of the not-coffee is whole milk, but a disturbing fraction is creamer—the massed-produced, caramel-flavored artificial hell which permeates his senses. He will have to borrow mouthwash from Connor again. He continues, holding back the human with one hand as Detective Reed attempts to ‘fight’ him. “This is detrimental to your health. As your partner, it is my mission to keep you alive, and you are making this exceedingly difficult.”

 

“Fuck you!” the human snaps. His body temperature rises minutely, and his muscles tense as he steps towards the android. RK900 feels...apprehension. He is aware that he is stronger and more capable of self-defense than Detective Reed, but logic does not tend to be a factor in his emotions. They are all new and scary—no, unsuitable, and a part of him wants to run to Connor. He cannot allow himself to do that, even when Detective Reed is up in his face and yelling and pointing. “Fuck off, I don’t need a fucking babysitter. What the hell do you know about being alive, anyway?”

 

RK900 doesn’t get a chance to answer before the detective shoves him and storms away. He stumbles and flails for a bit; the interaction and the feeling have clearly interfered with his gyroscope. Catching himself, he stalks off to his terminal to continue working, shoving down the lump that seems to have formed in his artificial throat.

 

That night, he expresses his concern to Connor, who wraps him in a tight hug.

 

“It’s okay, Nines, you didn’t do anything wrong. Reed’s an just an asshole.”

 

Despite himself, the RK900 giggles a little at hearing his mentor use profanity. This seems to make Connor happy, and his mood drastically improves at making the RK800 proud.

 

He resolves to make this partnership work. He can do it. The RK900 is not designed to fail.

 

 


 

 

“Fuckin’ hell.”

 

RK900 looks up from his terminal, only slightly concerned. He has adjusted to his partner’s frequent mood swings and outbursts, so it does not come as a surprise to see Gavin Reed face-down on his desk with an open file on his head, reminiscent of a hat. It is mildly amusing.

 

“What is it now, Detective?”

 

“My brain is gonna fucking disintegrate,” he groans into the desk, “if we keep this shit up. I need a coffee break.”

 

“I can assure you that you are not at risk of spontaneous disintegration. Even if you were, I doubt that increased mental activity would cause it.”

 

“‘Twas a joke, tincan.”

 

Oh. His LED spins yellow for a moment.

 

“I do not find that humorous...”

 

“‘Course ya don’t.”

 

“Ulna— ther joke would just be unbearable.”

 

The detective stares at him for a solid minute. Concern starts to bubble up in his chest.

 

“Seriously?!” Detective Reed snorts, but it doesn’t hold any bite at all. “I can’t fucking believe it—dad jokes, of all things? Man, I’m gonna fucking quit my job…”

 

RK900 notes that his partner, despite his words, is smiling.  

 

“You may take a break if you wish.” The android tries to smile back, to appear friendly. It is imperative that he and Detective Reed get along. “I can continue things here until you get back.”

 

“Fuck no.”

 

The RK900 winces a little. He’s hit a sore spot, apparently; the detective’s smile is gone, replaced with a cross look. The human turns back to his terminal, sorting through the evidence at his desk with a renewed sense of dogged spirit. He doesn’t know whether to pity Reed or to admire him for his stubbornness—but that doesn’t matter anymore. He doesn’t know how, but he ruined the good mood, and he doubts that further comment would endear his partner to him any more.

 

He ruined everything, again.

 

They work in silence for seven minutes and nearly forty seconds, the RK900’s stress level hovering around a constant 45% and his LED spinning yellow, before he says something.

 

“I...I did not mean to offend you, Detective Reed,” he starts, picking his words slowly and carefully. The hesitation certainly reveals that he is unsure, which makes him feel vulnerable. He does not like this feeling at all. The human shows no signs that he is listening, but RK900 notes that his productivity has slowed by about 60%. He takes that as a sign to continue. “I won’t comment on your breaks anymore, if you wish…?”

 

“Don’t worry about it.” The detective sighs, pushing his hair back with one hand. “It...look, man, just—We’re on equal playing fields, okay? Like...nevermind.” He turns his back completely on the android, but RK900 can see that Reed’s shoulders are tense and hunched over. “I don’t wanna talk about it, but it wasn’t your fault,” he admits with a huff.

 

RK900 processes this new information. His work at the terminal has ceased; it would be optimal for him to start again before he gets too sidetracked, but he doesn’t want to drop the topic. It clearly bothers his partner, and if they can eliminate that tension, their work together could be more productive. Yet at the same time, pushing further could upset Reed more, which would certainly not be productive.

 

RK900 tries to quantify his chances of success, but the variables and possibilities and volatile nature of both human and android emotion is too much for his processors. He doesn’t understand any of it, and it is...distressing.

 

“...You alright? Tincan?”

 

Reed is standing in front of him, waving a hand across his field of vision. It is kind of annoying, but he is surprised and frustrated with himself for not noticing it immediately. He stares up at the detective dumbly. The man’s brows are knit together, and he’s frowning. RK900 doesn’t read expressions well, but he thinks that Reed is concerned.

 

“I…”

 

“Your light-blinky-thingy,” he points to his temple, “it’s red.”

 

The RK900 has no idea what to say. His stress levels are rising. He doesn’t understand.

 

“Look, I’m...I’m sorry.”

 

He blinks. That is unexpected.

 

“I didn’t mean to upset you or whatever, shit—look, man, it’s not your fault, I was just being bitchy, it’s okay.”

 

“I am not distressed because of you,” RK900 says after a beat of silence. “It is just a combination of separate stressors. I will be fine.”

 

“Is there anything I can do to help…?”

 

Detective Reed looks stressed and unsure, just like how he feels; it is strangely reassuring to know that they are both out of their element in this situation. It makes RK900 feel a little less alone, in a sense. The anxiety doesn’t entirely dissipate, but he feels better to know that he’s not the only one struggling with emotion right now.  

 

“I don’t know.” He is torn between going back to work and forgetting about all of this and running to Connor. He has no reason to want his brother. Reed is being nice to him, there are no known stressors in his environment, and he’s starting to feel better, but everything is still confusing and overwhelming and he wants a break. “I don’t want to disturb anyone.”  

 

“Hey,” says Reed, shifting a little to pull out something from his back pocket—a smartphone, an older model that is nearly obsolete in the current market. “That’s okay, I’ve got something for you. It’s not gonna solve the problem, but you might feel better, alright?” The RK900 remains silent. He’s already made the situation veer from awkward to advanced awkward, and keeping his mouth shut is his best bet for salvaging what little he can. Social behavior is nowhere near his forte, nor his purpose; it’s moments like this where he finds himself floundering. But all thoughts— all thoughts—are thrown completely out of the proverbial window when Reed scoots close to him.

 

RK900 is not touched by humans. Sometimes his brother will hug him, or pat him on the back, but even Lieutenant Anderson—certainly more used to androids based on his close relationship with Connor—seems to shy away from intimate contact. So this? This is new; this is so much different from being touched by another android. It’s...softer, warmer, and lumpier, he supposes, like Reed’s body wasn’t built to be perfect or streamlined. Which is the whole point of humanity, but he digresses. There is a far more important issue at hand— Reed is touching him.

 

It feels...nice.

 

RK900 tries not to dwell on that as his partner pulls up a video on his phone.

 

He recognizes the subject as Felis catus —the domesticated cat. Several, in fact. Three are currently in frame, and though the phone’s ancient speakers are not as sophisticated as current technology, he places another one slightly to the left of the camera based on a persistent mrow- ing.

 

“That’s Suki,” Reed says, pointing to a black shape lounging across an incredibly elaborate cat-tree. “She’s a spoiled brat, and crazy manipulative.” RK900’s eyes follow her as she leaps from the tree gracefully, her tail swishing. A ridiculously fluffy cat pads in frame—directly in front of the camera—and the cameraman protests loudly. He recognizes it as Reed’s voice.

 

“Who is she?” The words slip out of his mouth before he realizes.

 

“He,” Reed corrects gently. “That’s Big Daddy. I tried to name him Big Mac, but I’d get sued for copyright. He’s so fucking fat. I hate him.”

 

RK900 is confused. Reed is clearly affectionate towards...Big Daddy, despite his harsh words, and neither slogans nor names are copyright-eligible. He considers voicing these thoughts, but the cats onscreen quickly distract him. The human continues to ramble about each one, his eyes lighting up as he describes their individual characteristics.

 

“That’s Felicia,” he says as a tiny brown tabby attacks a feather, to the amusement of both the cameraman and present Reed. “This was taken about a month ago, so she’s much bigger now. She’s the only one who’s not trying to kill me, I swear. Raised her since she was a kitten.”

 

RK900 is too absorbed in the cats to notice, but once the video ends he realizes that his stress levels have dropped to the lowest they’ve been all day. Reed seems to snap out of a similar daze, sitting back and...blushing a little? Yes, the human’s body temperature has risen again, but RK900 cannot attribute it to anger.

 

“Thank you,” he says, sincerity flooding his voice.

 

“Y-yeah, man, don’t fuckin’ mention it.”

Chapter Text

/JUN.27.39.22.04

 

PLAY MEMORY

 

“Shit.”

 

The word barely registers through her audio processors; it’s weak and breathless and muffled by the hand that presses against Blaise’s mouth, almost drowned out by the newscaster’s voice. Blue light, bold and glaring from the television, illuminates the room, casting deep shadows across his face and highlighting it in such a way that he looks sick—or dead. Bathed in that sickeningly artificial glow is every wrinkle and every crease which carves out his displeasure, amplified in a caricature that is more horrifying than funny.

 

Ava detects fear, shock, anger, and sadness in his expression, all at once. That seems to be the norm with emotions: they are never as simple and as clear-cut as she wishes they could be. Sorting feelings into boxes is simply impossible: emotion is variability, deviancy is variability, humanity is variability—and variability is incalculable. She fails all too often at reading emotion on a good day; predicting emotion? Inferring it? With all of her advanced social modules, she still cannot understand it.

 

Blaise always had a natural gift for that. She would classify it as ‘emotional intelligence,’ but, as he has pointed out, the subjectivity of feeling (and, thus, the subjectivity of understanding it) cannot be so easily defined.

 

Yet she doesn’t need to define emotion to know that they’re in deep, deep trouble.

 

“Shit,” he says again, voice trembling as the newscast plays. It shakes in contrast to the anchor: their voice is clear and distinct, with enough inflection to keep the listener engaged but otherwise unwavering. Their LED is a clear, steady blue, only flashing yellow as they presumably are receiving updated information.

 

Janine Kasner, the newest and youngest addition to CyberLife’s ever-evolving Board of Directors, was found dead in a motel fifty miles outside of the Detroit metropolitan area this morning by a housekeeper. Authorities have not released specifics about the cause of death, or whether they believe anyone was responsible, but they have stated that they plan to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding what appears to be a suicide—

 

Ava shuts off the television remotely, and sinks down onto the floor beside her human. She feels hollow. No, not hollow, but filled with empty. It’s paradoxical, she knows, but it’s what she feels and it scares her. Dread, her databases supply. It manifests in something that eats away at her stomach, like a great, gaping mouth that hungers for hope and optimism.

 

“It’s gotta be a coincidence,” Blaise mumbles desperately, his gaze fixated on the dark, blank screen. His reflection comes back to them distorted, morphing and twisting as bright headlights flash outside their window even as he remains still. “It’s gotta be, there’s no way—he wouldn’t.”

 

“He would.” And you know that, she adds silently. “He would, and we should have predicted it. I should have predicted it,” she stresses, frowning and staring at the splinter-laden floor.

 

“Don’t blame yourself.” He pushes back his hair, voice thick like he’s on the verge of tears. “I should’ve seen it coming, it’s on me. You didn’t know him like I did, Ava. He’s capable of this, and he’s always been capable of this, and now someone else is dead—”

 

“If I am not at fault, then neither are you!” she snaps, rounding on Blaise, standing suddenly. He flinches immediately, a reaction that she barely processes in the back of her mind. Her eye—her singular functioning eye—fills with saline, but she doesn’t bother to blink it back. It spills over her lashes and down her cheek, the moisture reflecting what little moonlight forces its way through the thick light pollution. “Stop blaming yourself for his mistakes! You are not a product of his mistakes—you are so much more than that, and he should never have torn you down, and— rA9,” she screeches, “you did not kill her! You…” She sobs, suddenly so, so exhausted. “You did not kill anyone. He did.”

 

Ava is past the point of clarity, of logical decision-making. She sinks to the floor, breathes harshly, lets her chest heave with every sob. Her stress levels are high—far too high for comfort, rapidly approaching 90%—and her fans whir audibly, trying to keep up with her ragged gasps.

 

“It is frustrating,” she chokes as Blaise wraps his arms around her, cradling her to his chest, rocking them back and forth on the floor. “It is not your fault—none of this was ever your fault. I am...angry.” He strokes her hair, brushing the wet strands out of her face, ghosting gently over the jagged, ugly scar across the right side of her face. “I am infuriated,” she sobs, “that he made you feel like this. That he kills and kills and that he manages to make you feel guilty.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“No.” She shakes her head, collapsing against him as her artificial muscular support system gives out. Most of her energy is being devoted to keeping her lucid. “I am not mad at you. I am mad at him. I hate him,” she snarls through the tears, “I hate him more than anything, and I will make his life hell.”

 

“Don’t say that,” he whispers, hugging her closer. “Don’t say that, don’t let that consume you, okay? It’s okay, I’m gonna be okay, and we’re gonna get through this…”

 

The words feel hollow. She feels hollow, except for that fury burning in her gut, and it makes her sick. She’s shaking, shaking and certainly overheating, and her stress levels climb steadily upward,

 

“There’s still good things here.” Blaise senses this, and rubs her back. He sounds choked up, and he sniffs wetly. “There’s still good things—like you said. We’re more than him, okay? It’s okay. I love you. We’re gonna be okay.”

 

As quickly as it ignites, the anger is put out, doused in a wave of sadness. She cries and cries, at first with loud, heartbreaking wails, but even those dissolve into quiet sobs, and then silent tears. He holds her through all of it as she slumps against him. She’s filled with a deep exhaustion, permeating down to her exoskeleton and weighing her down.

 

“I am—I am so tired,” she whispers despondently. She feels Blaise nod, feels him squeeze a little tighter before he pulls back just enough to look her in the face. He looks red-eyed and exhausted, bruises gathering around his eyes, but his face is free from tear-stains. “I want to go to bed.”

 

“Okay,” he mumbles, “okay, we’ll get up on three.”

 

One.

 

Two.

 

Three.

 

She musters the last bit of her strength to propel herself upwards, aided by Blaise’s grip on her arms. They stumble; she nearly falls, but he catches them both. Guides her to the single bedroom, makes sure she collapses onto the bed rather than the floor.

 

“I have to do something, but I’ll be back,” he sighs.

 

She slips into stasis before he returns. When she wakes, he isn’t there.

 


 

 

“Kasner.”

 

Hank jumped, nearly spilling his coffee, gaze shooting upward to the android hovering over his desk.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ, Connor,” he groaned, slumping over and clutching at his chest, “you need to cut that shit out. Swear to God I’m gonna die of cardiac arrest any day now.” He took a moment to steady his breathing, taking a gulp of the scalding drink and trying to calm his nerves. “Now, two things. One, stop sneaking up on me, and B, who the hell is Kasner?”

 

“It was hardly ‘sneaking up,’” Connor retorted, making air quotes with his hands, holy shit. Hank made a mental note to have a chat with whoever taught him that, because being so damn adorable had to be illegal. He was the motherfuckin’ police, he would know. “Janine Kasner is an up-and-coming CyberLife executive—assistant chairman of Research and Development. She is…well-known, I suppose, for being the youngest CyberLife employee to advance this far.”

 

“R-and-D, huh?” Hank set down his coffee, leaning back into his chair and clicking a pen idly. “Same one as Jefferson; don’t’cha think that’s a bit on the nose? There’s no way in hell he’s gonna see us checking out this...Kasner chick, or whatever, and just lie down and take it. I mean, we’re basically fucking him in the ass here.”

 

(The unfortunate officer walking by made a silent prayer to God, begging Him to never let Lieutenant Anderson speak again, but the prayer went unanswered.)

 

“It’s not like we have many options,” Connor retorted, plucking the pen out of the lieutenant’s hands before he could react. Ignoring Hank’s sputtered protests, he continued, twisting it between his fingers. “I’ve contacted everyone directly or indirectly involved with Dryden, from CyberLife employees to friends and family. Kasner was, admittedly, a bit of a stretch, but she’s the only one who agreed to an interview.”

 

“Word gets around,” Hank shrugged, taking another sip. The coffee was too hot to be comfortable, burning his tongue and throat, but he welcomed the feeling.

 

It was easier not to think about drinking if he could barely taste at all.

 

Connor frowned at this, deflating a little and looking a bit like a scolded puppy, and Hank immediately backtracked. “Hey—shit, I didn’t mean that you screwed up the interview or whatever,” he soothed, palms upwards in a placating gesture. “I’m just sayin’, Jefferson probably blabbed that we’re investigating and everyone freaked. Not your fault, kid.”

 

“It’s frustrating,” the android ground out, LED flickering yellow. “They’re too busy trying to save their own necks to look at the bigger picture here!” He sighed, spinning the pen with greater velocity, clicking it as he fiddled. “If Dryden falls, they all fall—they can’t take another hit like that, not to mention that any one of them could be behind this.”

 

“So you’re sticking with the idea that it’s an inside job, huh?”

 

“Well, yes.” Connor looked a little irritated, glaring at Hank. “That’s what the evidence points to; the only other person capable of this would be Kamski himself.”

 

“True,” Hank muttered around his cup, “the guy probably couldn’t give less of a shit if he tried, and CyberLife…” He hesitated for a bit, eyes widening and a triumphant grin spreading across his face. “Scoot over,” he shooed, pushing Connor off of his desk gently as he dug through the pile of CyberLife’s records. “You’ve got all this shit in your freaky robot brain, right?”

 

“I...yes, the time clock records.” The android frowned, the yellow light spinning as he tried to follow the lieutenant’s thought processes. “What does that have to do with—oh,” he whispered, eyes widening.

 

“Fuck yeah,” Hank snorted, rummaging through his physical copies. “Do your creepy statistical analysis thing—find any discrepancies in clock-ins and clock-outs, and I mean any. Even if it’s a vacation day or a doctor’s note, or whatever. Bet’cha if we find something good we can get the guys in the monkey suits to cough up security photos.”

 

“On it, Lieutenant.” Connor was distant, staring off blankly; it was a sure sign that he was currently processing everything. The android was capable of handling millions, billions, even fuck-ton-illions of data at once, and he was back in the human world within a few seconds.

 

“Get anything there, kid?”

 

“Yes…” Connor frowned, his LED stuck on yellow, and he perched back on Hank’s desk, fidgeting with greater intensity. The pen went up, then down, then side to side between his hands. Click. “This is strange. Very strange.”

 

“Whaddaya mean?”

 

Click. Open. Click. Close.

 

It was driving him completely fucking nuts.

 

“Variation between check-in times is small for most registered employees,” he muttered to himself, manipulating the pen like it was a damn butterfly knife. It flipped and twisted faster than Hank’s eyes could follow, becoming just a grey-and-black blur in the android’s deft hands. “It indicates a workplace culture of timeliness and efficiency. Most employees average 52.4 hours per week; as prestige of position increases, this number nears 60.”

 

“Get on with it, we don’t have all fuckin’ day here.”

 

“No, Hank, that’s the thing,” Connor stressed, lips drawing downward even further as his LED flickered. “Had this trend extended to a small majority of the company, I would not be so concerned, but virtually everyone follows this pattern—even the receptionists. There has to be some kind of external motivation for this.”

 

“And that comes from Dryden,” Hank shrugged, playing the role of a nonchalant lieutenant. His furrowed brow gave him away, though; he couldn’t help be a little concerned. The android had a tendency to overthink and draw conclusions that just made his head swim—the kind of leaps of faith that were nearly impossible to follow. But they were always rooted in some truth, and it was that truth which made him nervous.

 

“No.” The clicking got faster and faster, almost a constant buzz. “Dryden hasn’t shown up at all. Not since...not since the 28th of December.” Connor ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up, and those warm brown eyes lit up with excitement. “This has to be significant. All of CyberLife’s employees could be ignoring the absence of their CEO. It’s not impossible, if they’re trying to save their stocks—but a company-wide conspiracy would be extremely difficult to pull off. Dryden is the only outlier.”

 

“Who has access to these?” Hank waved the file around, spinning his desk chair idly. “It’s possible that these records were kept from, say, a few key players...or maybe they’re forged.”

 

“Perhaps.” Connor was chewing on the pencap now, muffling his voice; Hank didn’t have the heart to take it away from him. “All employees who manage their own division report their clock-in times on a separate system. So, that includes our entire Board, plus a few assistant directors…”

 

“Kasner’s one of them, I’d bet.”

 

The android nodded, now tossing the pen into the air and catching it with ease.

 

“Yes, she is. And,” he said, jabbing the pen at Hank, “you know what? She’s our only other outlier. She’s clocked in at exactly the same time every day since the 28th.”

 

“Could she be lying on her reports?” Hank leaned forward, gently tugging the cap out of Connor’s mouth. The android pouted at the loss, but was quickly sated when he gave him a lollipop instead. “If it’s recorded electronically, she could’ve hacked in and edited it—but that would be a pretty shitty lie. Plus, up until two weeks ago, their systems would’ve caught any interference.”

 

“It’s possible,” the android mused around the lollipop, “that Kasner really does come in and check out at the exact same time every day.”

 

“Jesus. Neurotic much?”

 

“It could demonstrate neuroticism, yes, but this pattern started after the 28th.” Connor grabbed the screenshot of the Dryden interview, pointing towards the audience. “Kasner isn’t present here, see?”

 

“So she knows about the interview, and now she’s trying to show someone up?” Hank snorted. “It makes sense, but someone her age and status—you don’t think she’s trying to unseat Dryden, d’ya?” The android shook his head, LED flashing yellow.

 

“No, not Dryden. She’s using the interview to her advantage, but she knows she can’t touch the CEO. So her best bet is to go after someone close to her position, someone who’s aging fast, who can’t keep up with the changing times…”

 

“Jefferson.” Hank narrowed his eyes; it made sense, he couldn’t deny that, but their investigation just got a whole lot more complicated. “She’s gonna try to frame Jefferson for releasing the video, and its possible that she’s the one who did it” He sighed, running a hand down his face. He was way too old for this shit, but here he fucking was. They’d have to discount Jefferson entirely, then prove whether Kasner did it or not…

 

Hank fucking hated rich people.

 

“You did good, kid,” he praised, reaching up to ruffle Connor’s hair. The android immediately beamed in response, leaning into the touch. “Jeez, that’s a whole can of worms right there. ‘Course I could count on you to figure out that shit, huh?” His kid flushed a pleasant blue at the kind words, but continued to grin. “So, we interview Kasner, and see what she says about Jefferson, hm?” He sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Sounds like a fuckin’ plan.”

 

“Agreed, Lieutenant, I—brother!”

 

Huh?

 

Connor stood immediately, practically skipping over to—holy shit, Nines— and wrapping his arms around the taller android. And, okay, Hank wasn’t expecting that, but honestly? He could kind of see it. The RK900 was quick to return the hug, and if he ignored their CyberLife-issued jackets (which he was going to set on fire one day, he swore), they looked like two overgrown kid brothers. It was sweet, in a kind of terrifying way: he knew damn well that either of them could kick his ass without breaking a sweat. Reconciling the almost childish behavior in front of him with the sheer capability the two demonstrated was difficult, but it made him smile a little. It was so like Connor to befriend the RK900 so quickly; he’d practically stolen the whole departments’ hearts already.

 

The pair approached—holding hands, Hank noticed, which was illegally adorable. Connor was beaming openly, while Nines had a soft, reserved smile; it was the most emotion he’d seen out of the younger model since...well, that night, which he knew neither of them liked to talk about.

 

“Hank, Nines wants to come over for dinner,” Connor chirped, practically bouncing up and down with excitement. Hank glanced over to the other android, who only nodded silently and gripped Connor’s hand tighter. “He says he wants to talk about the case with us.”

 

“I have access to certain files which may be of use,” the android explained. He was the picture of certainty—except for the nervous glance he shot towards Connor. Only after the older model squeezed his hand gently did he continue. “CyberLife, whether this was intentional or not, has given me access to company records, especially those involving the Research and Development division.”

 

“Mhm,” Connor nodded, “and we thought it would be nice to have dinner together while we work the case. Nines also wants to invite Detective Reed.” At this, Hank’s eyes narrowed slightly; it was obvious that android picked up on that, and he rushed to add, “It would be impractical to excluded him from any part of the investigation. And Nines is friends with him, so it’s okay! Right?” The RK900 nodded.

 

“Gavin’s presence would be...beneficial.”

 

“Please, Hank?” Connor looked at him with those damn puppy-eyes, pouting a little. “It would really help! Research suggests that brainstorming and creative thinking are more efficient in a comfortable setting. And there’ll be food, which will help too.” Nines mirrored his expression, looking at Hank pleadingly, and goddammit, this wasn’t fair, they were totally ganging up on him. He willed himself not to give in, which worked for about two seconds.

 

“Fine, fine, you win,” he groaned, slumping over in defeat, “but I’m not the one inviting him. Got it?”

 

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” The RK900 was smiling even wider, and his shoulders drooped a little. Hank shook his head fondly; the kid was really worked up about this? “I will give him the news. I look forward to dinner.” He walked away, looking collected as ever to the untrained eye, but Hank caught the spring in his step.

 

“Jeez,” he snorted, taking another swig of his coffee. It had gone lukewarm already, gross. “Y’know, I hope the kid likes dogs.”