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Aporia

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Aporia

Prologue

When Markus opened the door to his quarters in New Jericho, he was less than surprised to find it already occupied. The others often let themselves in, either to have a quiet moment alone or to await his return to speak with him in a more casual setting. Negotiations with the humans were still ongoing, and it wasn't unusual for North to come vent, or for Josh to drop by with any good news he could muster, however small. Even Connor would drop by occasionally. His visits were usually short and stilted, but the detective had made it a point to keep in touch with Markus directly.

So, opening the door to see the lean lines of Connor shouldn't be cause for alarm.

Except Connor was disheveled, almost frantic in a way Markus had never seen. He was pacing the length of the room, wringing his hands and his LED cycling constantly between yellow and a bright glaring red.

LEVEL OF STRESS: 75%

If that wasn't concerning enough, Connor seemed completely unaware that Markus had entered the room, eyes distant and glassy. His lips were moving as well, as if he were speaking to himself.

"Connor?" Markus called softly, trying to get his attention without startling him. "Connor, what's wrong?"

Brown eyes flicked to Markus, and then Connor paused. "We didn't know who else to talk to. We need your help, but I don't know if you can."

Alarms rang through his processor, but he stomped on it, trying to remain calm until he gathered more information. His thoughts immediately flew to Connor's friend, Hank Anderson, who's suspension from the DPD was only recently lifted. Did something happen?

"Is Lieutenant Anderson alright?"

"Hank's fine, he's at home." Connor's answer was immediate and mildly distracted. Honest, as far as Markus could tell. "He doesn't know I'm here yet. Or why. I- I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to worry him."

Now Markus was worried, and took slow steps until he was standing in front of him, close but not crowding. "Connor, I can't help if you don't actually tell me what's wrong. I need you to trust me that whatever you say won't leave this room if you don't want it to."

That earned him one of Connor's rare smiles, small and subtle, his LED settling on yellow.

LEVEL OF STRESS: 67%

Well. That was a start at least.

"I do trust you, Markus. We trust you. But it's difficult to explain properly, given the unique nature of the circumstances."

"Just try."

"We need your help." Connor's hand ran through his hair, fingers then dropping to trace his LED as it cycled red once before returning to a steady yellow. "I . . . it's getting increasingly more difficult to separate on an individual level. It used to be so easy to tell the difference. Our emotions have overlapped for a while, but now they're starting to bleed. Sometimes it's hard to find the divide. As advanced as my systems are, they were not designed to sustain us like this. I'm worried that his files are being corrupted, and I'm scared that . . ." Connor's mouth hung open slightly as he trailed off, clearly trying to find the words.

The words I'm scared rattled Markus to his core. It was a word he had never heard Connor use regarding himself. Then there was the concerning switch from singular to plural. Markus wondered if Connor was even aware he was doing it. Coupled with that explanation that explained nothing, Markus felt his own stress levels begin to rise. But he held his tongue, hoping Connor would finish his sentence, hoping it would give him something to work with.

And, eventually, he did.

Those big brown eyes lifted to dart about the room, brimming with determination even as tears began to spill down his cheeks. When he spoke, his voice was precise and steady as stone. "I can't lose him now, Markus. I've felt it before, but I didn't understand then, I didn't know. I can't lose him. I won't."

Markus was officially scared now, especially when the younger prototype didn't offer up anything else. "Connor. Connor. Who is 'he'?"

The last thing Markus expected was for Connor to look at him, eyes earnest and wet, and say "Simon".

Markus swore he felt his thirium pump stutter in his chest.

Simon, the first friend he made upon his arrival at Jericho. Back when Markus was still reeling from having his whole world ripped out from under him, Simon had been a steadfast presence.

Simon, who had been unfailingly practical to balance the extremes that were North and Josh.

Simon, who took his own life with the very gun Markus had left him with on the roof of Stratford tower.

When the Detroit Police Department released the deceased androids in their possession to New Jericho, Markus had made the trip himself. It hadn't taken long to realize that reactivating Simon would be impossible.

Markus had been crushed.

But Connor knew this. He had been the one standing by his side when he had personally loaded the body carefully into the crate transporting it back to New Jericho. He had assisted with the assessment later, taking over when his hands shook too much to be useful. He had listened to Markus as he explained why this particular android was so important.

There had been moments during that explanation where Connor looked like he had wanted to say something, but he never did. Markus had never pushed the issue.

Now Markus didn't know what to think.

"Connor, if this is your idea of a joke, I gotta say, it's not funny."

Connor's face scrunched slightly in confusion, then smoothed back out. "Oh," he said softly. "There was a high probability that you wouldn't believe me, not at first, but I would never play such a cruel joke. I thought you knew that, so I dismissed that possibility. I swear, this isn't a joke."

"Then start talking sense."

Connor's eyes darted to the side, expression distant. He was still crying, but he was calmer now, regaining some composure before he began talking. "When we transported his body back here, we had hoped right along with you that he could be repaired. That I could transfer all his data back where it belonged and he could have his life back. His freedom."

"What are you trying to say?"

Connor's LED cycled yellow one final time before glowing a bright and steady blue. He turned and offered a hand towards Markus, skin retreating to expose the pristine white plastic below. "I think it's better if we show you."

Markus stared. Connor had always shied away from interfacing, even for the exchange of information. He had never offered an excuse or an explanation, and Markus had never pushed, even when others had voiced concern and suspicion.

Markus closed the gap between them and took the offered hand.

There was one disorienting moment before Markus realized he was not connected to just one mind, but two.

And then they began to share their memories.