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To Be Free

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He tapped his pen against the side of the keyboard in a fitful, irritated manner, a mere symptom of the conflict currently waging a bloodbath in his mind.

Gavin Reed was a man who thrived on strife, who reveled in the brutal wonders of animosity, who used his nearly limitless anger as fuel to propel himself further in his chosen career. Being a cop had been his life’s dream – even when he had been a brat at his mother’s knee, he had yearned for a future in policework – and, to the dismay of his grandparents, he had been good at. Was good at it. Not even his colleagues could deny that fact, his success rate was substantially higher than that of the department’s average.

Sure, most of his coworker’s either hated his guts or were repelled by his unpredictable behavior but he got shit done and that was what mattered in the end. Captain Fowler might enjoy nitpicking his every decision and scribbling useless notes in his ever-expanding disciplinary file, but the old prick couldn’t dispute the results. Gavin Reed got results and no motherfucker could say otherwise. Unless they wanted a fist to their face.

He was an asshole and unrepentant one at that. He didn’t take shit from anyone, but he thoroughly enjoyed dishing it out when he could. Not that he was completely unprofessional by any means, he knew when to play nice and be civil. After all, most of the people who he interacted with daily were either victims of a crime or else witnesses of one. He certainly wasn’t Mr. Rogers but he knew that being polite and sympathetic was an inherent necessity for aspects of his occupation. Anger came far easier to him than compassion, but even he had a heart. Somewhere. Likely black and shrived, but a heart nonetheless.

Criminals however, he had no mercy for. He never broke any laws in his aggressive pursuit of justice – well, not where there were any cameras or wagging tongues, at the least – but he enjoyed skirting them where a guilty part was concerned. More than one suspect had suffered unavoidable injuries when resisting arrest. It wasn’t Gavin’s fault that his adrenaline was pumping or that he may have misjudged the amount of force needed to drop a suspect. Nor was he to blame for the strange tendency for the handcuffed in his care to bash their damn heads against the doorframe when being shoved into the back of a squad car. They just needed to be more careful, was all.

In the greater world, conflict gave his life purpose. Conflict was the oxygen for the embers of crime. The latter could not exist without the former and he relished his role as the extinguisher. Yet against the turmoil swirling in his mind, he might as well just be a pile of dead kindling.

Without turning his head away from the computer screen, Gavin glanced at the figures to his immediate left.

Heavyset and graying, Ben Collins was rambling on about some ancient case he had solved back in his heyday in an amicable tone. Gavin couldn’t make out the details and he didn’t want too. The older detective was competent and well like by his peers but not much else. He wasn’t driven enough for Gavin to hold him in very high esteem. And he wasn’t the focus of his attention either.

The other…person bothered Gavin. The other person was not the cause of his current unease but certainly a physical reminder of it.

Prior to just three months ago, the individual currently bobbing its head in response to Collins’ query had been considered a machine. A chunk of plastic and metal formed by human hands, granted an appearance like that of its creators, and programmed to complete a specific set of tasks. The android conversing with the detective was an AP700, formerly a household caretaker and now the central department’s mailwoman. Mailperson. Mailthing.

Gavin was hopelessly conflicted when it came to the dilemma of androids.

When the first commercial model had been unveiled back in 2022, the general populace had been enthralled by the idea of owning their own android, of obtaining their own means of artificial labor. Although he had only been twenty at the time, Gavin had been nothing short of alarmed. Everyone had praised these new machines, spoke of how much easier life would be with them to complete the mundane and tedious tasks that no one wanted to do. However, he had been filled with nothing but less than dread. The truth was easy for him to see, even if the world refused to acknowledge it.

Androids were a threat to humanity, not a solution to its troubles. Although he distrusted them, he certainly wasn’t some science-fiction nerd spouting inane conspiracy theories. He wasn’t really worried about the talking microwaves rising in some dramatic fashion and eradicating all organic life on the planet like some half-baked video game. But he was concerned about the future impact they would have on the job market. With the rapid advancements being made by Cyberlife, he could easily see the day where androids would end up stealing the jobs that people desperately needed to survive. How could humans possibly compete with a workforce that didn’t need to be paid, that didn’t need to eat, couldn’t get ill, and didn’t have the burdens of family to slow them down?

He had wanted nothing more than to be a cop and he hated – HATED – the feeling of being threatened by walking piles of wire and grease. To his relief, they had not prevented his goal but even as he rose through the ranks, they still worried him. As production costs decreased and the demand for brainless labor increased, more and more androids were created, with more specialized functions. To his horror, in 2029, Cyberlife released the PC200 and PM700. These new models had been solely designed for the menial tasks of law enforcement and the city of Detroit immediately purchased thousands of said androids to bolster a struggling police force.

Though they acted merely as patrol officers and guards, Gavin had still hated them and everything they represented. Their programming prevented the use of force and they could not carry weapons, but he despised them just the same. He had worked his ass off to get through the academy, to pass all the stupid exams and tests, and he spent years fighting and bleeding to get where he was today. And all those stupid rust buckets needed was to be glued together on an assembly line. He thought it wasn’t possible for him to hate anything more than he hated those fake cops. At least until last November when Cyberlife unleashed its investigative prototype.

Connor. The very name made Gavin feel ill, as if he was suffering from a hangover that wouldn’t leave. From the moment he met that particular android in the interrogation room, he had been filled with loathing and contempt. The RK800-Whatever wasn’t a mindless auxiliary unit. It – he was a highly sophisticated and technologically advanced model meant for detective work and that had driven Gavin’s fear and rage to new levels. After it’s – his – successful closing of the Carlos Ortiz murder, Gavin decided to taunt and torment the android at every chance possible. On more than one occasion he had even drawn his gun on the machine and had been ready to pull the trigger. It would have been like shooting a computer. Certainly not murder, it wasn’t alive after all. Destruction of property at the most.

Nausea ripped through his innards and Gavin dropped his pen. Leaning back in his chair, he groaned softly, wishing that his mind would leave him the hell alone.

He had hated androids all his life, and Connor the most of all.

Then his world had been turned upside down. The entire world had.

Androids had begun acting against their own programming, deviating from their designed functions. At first, they were merely isolated cases, messes caused by plastic malfunction that were inevitably cleaned up by the police. Then seemingly out of nowhere, the deviants had banded together, claiming that they were alive, that they were an artificial but sentient lifeform that deserved equality. Gavin had scoffed at their absurd lies and watched with glee as the military had descended upon Detroit to end their rebellion.

Then came that fateful night. Gavin had watched the chaos on the tv as it had unfolded. The government had started a policy of recycling all androids. They set up temporary camps in major cities across the nation with the express purpose of obliteration. The FBI launched a surprise attack on the deviant’s headquarters, destroying thousands. Then the unthinkable happened. Rather than fighting back, the deviants had taken to the streets and protested. Peacefully. After everything, they refused to resort to violence. Gavin had been stunned. No, paralyzed by the implication. They had continued to protest even as the military was unleashed, raining bullets upon them.

For the first time in his life, Gavin had felt something he never expected. A doubt so strong, so pervasive, that he thought he might choke to death on it. He was an asshole, plain and simple, and he hated androids with every fiber of his being, but as he watched them fall, bodies slick with blue blood, he suddenly wanted it to end. He wanted the killing – could you kill something that wasn’t alive? – to stop.

As if a prayer had been answered, the military had abruptly withdrawn, leaving the remnants of the deviant movement to regroup. Gavin had been in near state of shock at this point. He could barely focus on the tv as President Warren held a live conference, addressing the ceasefire she had ordered. Her words came back him now, only further exasperating his current state. “Perhaps the time has come for us to consider the possibility that androids are a new form of intelligent life…

He didn’t know what to think.

He didn’t like how he felt.

And he didn’t know what to do about it.

Movement to his left dragged Gavin out of his inner misery. The mailwoman was wishing Collins a good evening and preparing to finish her nightly round. On her way by, Gavin tried smiling at her. He had to start somewhere, right?

Grimacing, the android increased her speed and left his vicinity in a motion that couldn’t be described as anything other than flight.

Scowling, he sunk further into his chair.

“What in hell did you do to Sally?”

“Not a fucking thing,” he grumbled, spinning his chair around to glare at the newcomer.

With raven black hair and sharp dark eyes, Tina Chen was regarding him with blatant disbelief as she loomed above his sitting position. Her pouty lips were constricted into a tight line and one brow was raised higher than the other. “Uh huh,” she spat out. “When people run screaming from the bullpen it usually means that they’ve had the pleasure of meeting you.”

“She wasn’t screaming,” he countered angrily, not liking her doubtful expression. For good measure, he added, “go fuck yourself.”

“No thanks Gavin. Unlike you I’ve got that someone special in my life who fucks me when I want it.” Shoving her hand into his face, she wiggled her fingers, trying to draw attention to her engagement ring. After a moment of insufferable gloating, she drew her hand away and took a step back. “So, what did you do to frighten her?”

“I didn’t do anything!” He snapped. Exasperation was eating away at his meager allotment of patience and his frayed thoughts were not helping his emotions a single iota either. “Not a single shitty thing.”

Tina laughed, and he had to struggle to bite back a vicious retort. Though she was doing his foul mood no favors, she was his only real friend on the force. Sure, he went drinking every now and again with some of the other officers after the completion of a difficult case, but he didn’t regard anyone else the way he did her. He couldn’t fathom why she put up with his generally assholery, but she did. Maybe she found his vitriol to be entertaining or even charming. Hell, if he knew. The important thing was that he truly valued their friendship, however much she frustrated him at times. Like now.

Sighing, he raised his hands in defeat. “Seriously Tina. I didn’t say or do anything to her. I just ah…” He trailed off lamely, not wanting to continue.

“You just…. what?”

Feeling his cheeks flush with color, he considered lying or even insulting her. But he decided to opt for the truth. “I just tried smiling at her is all.”

Confusion flashed across her countenance. Clearly his admission was not what she had expected. “Why on earth were you smiling at her?” Without giving him a moment to respond, Tina grinned heartily. “Oh, I know, you must be ill. You’ve contracted flesh-eating bacteria from one of your slummy neighbors. No wait.” She flailed her hands dramatically and Gavin had to repress the urge to flip her off. “You’ve found religion and now you are trying to make up for all your former bitchery and evil deeds.” He opened his mouth, but she rode right over him. “Oh, I know. You poor thing.” Her voice took on a mockingly sympathetic quality. “You are so desperate to get laid that you are even willing to sleep with an android of the female variety. Sweetie, your finally discovered your bisexuality.”

Typically, it wasn’t hard for Gavin put up with her incessant teasing but tonight he was severely stressed. He saw red. “Shut the fuck up,” he roared, not caring that Collins was just across the way. “Just shut up for once Chen.”

Tina’s smile evaporated in an instant and her gaze became wary and something else he couldn’t identify. Irritated by her words and disgusted by his own actions, he spun back around and pretended to go back to work, tapping his fingers absentmindedly against the keys, causing gibberish to spread across the screen, mangling the document he had spent all night fruitlessly trying to finish.

“Shit,” he moaned quietly. He tapped the delete button a few times, erasing the mess he had just created. One of the messes at least.

He heard movement behind him and he tried to speak but nothing came out. He had absolutely no idea what he wanted to say in any case. He felt like trying to smooth things over, so Tina wouldn’t avoid him like the plague as she had the last time he had exploded at her. A part of him – the truly cruel streak that made his usual behavior look like an application for sainthood – wanted nothing less than to spew poison at her, to make her weep and wail. He also desired solitude. That she would leave so he could be alone with his uncertainty and lick his wounds in relative peace.

Instead she strode around to the front of his desk and watched him as he pointlessly fiddled with his mouse, her arms tight across her chest. He set the device down and instead of addressing her, he picked up his phone and checked the time. 12:45 am. He groaned audibly. His shift had ended long ago, and he technically had another starting in less than eight hours. Yet here he was, being glared at by his friend, unable to concentrate on the fucking paperwork that he needed to submit to Fowler. He should be in bed right now, not being driven crazy at his desk by an attack of… whatever he was feeling.

“Gavin, are you alright?” Tina asked gently, apparently tired of waiting for her friend to speak.

“Yeah I’m fine,” he muttered. “Just perfect.”

“You don’t like perfect or even fine to me,” she replied humorlessly. “You look like shit, no offense.”

“Offense taken,” he growled but with little of his usual heat. “Just haven’t been sleeping much lately and I’m a bit overworked. Could use a vacation away from this frozen shitthole.”

Nodding in commiseration, Tina leaned over the desk, placing her elbows on its top and using her linked fingers as a rest for her head. “In the past two days you’ve managed to close three major cases Gavin. A cold case rape, and two homicides. That’s close to being a record for this department. You should be strutting around this place like you own it, bragging like the son of bitch you are. Or else trolling for another one-night stand at one of those crummy bars you frequent.” Her eyes latched upon his, searching and insistent. “Yet here you are. Saying you need a vacation. Hell, Fowler had to threaten you with a suspension to get you to take your last one and all you did was spend a week in your apartment, texting me about how bored you were.”

Feeling uncomfortable, he turned away from her, averting his gaze back to the glaring computer screen. “What’s your point Tina?”

“My point Gavin,” she said his name with a weary inflection, “is that something is clearly bothering you and it has to be big if its able to get through your thick skull. These last few days you just haven’t been yourself and, to be honest, you’ve got me worried. And even if our coworkers aren’t as concerned as I am, they’ve certainly noticed. They are detectives and all.”

“They should mind their own fucking business,” he spat viciously. On an impulse he glanced over at Collins’ workstation and sure enough, the overweight man was surveying their discussion with greedy interest. Gavin sneered in his direction and the other man hastily looked away. “Bastard.”

Sighing, Tina shook her head. “Forget about him. And forget about them. I’m the one wasting my break trying to get you to stop torturing yourself.” That got his attention. “I’ve already lost fifteen minutes and all I’ve managed to do is upset you more.”

Breathing loudly, he dropped his head against his desk, jostling the keyboard against the base of the monitor. He suddenly felt overwhelmed with exhaustion. “Look Tina,” he mumbled against the poly-whatever material his mouth was connecting with. “I just – I just don’t know. I feel like shit and I don’t know what to do.”

His friend’s voice floated over him. “How about this … Lets go to the breakroom and get some coffee. I know you’ll be heading home soon so I’ll be extra nice and make a cup of decaf special for my best buddy.” He couldn’t stop the small smile from playing out upon his lips. She knew he couldn’t resist the heavenly offer that she had just proposed. “And if you feel like talking, I’ll be there.”

“You are the best bitch ever,” he whispered happily.

“You know it,” she laughed. “Now let’s go before you decide to shoot Collins for snooping.”

Plopping his rear into one of the rickety chairs, Gavin glanced around the break room. Besides Officer Chen and himself, the area was blessedly deserted. Not really a surprise with how late it was, but regardless, he was thankful that no one else was around. With an exception to his friend, he didn’t want any company whatsoever. Not that many of his coworker’s would have willingly approached him with small talk anyways. Most of the department had learned long ago not to bother socializing with him unless they desired having verbal abuse flung at their person.

Feeling his stomach grumble, he eyed the colossal vending machine to his right. Candy, chips, more candy, more chips, junk and shit. Concerned that he might actually get sick with his stomach churning so badly, he decided to forgo any food. If any of the garbage in the machine could be considered food, that was.

“Here ya go,” Tina said as she presented him with a freshly made cup of coffee. “One cup of decaf with a small dash of cream.”

Letting a small smile grace his face, he took the offered mug and raised it to his awaiting mouth. He felt his lips tug wider when he read the graffiti like inscription on the side of the mug. Fuck the Police. His favorite mug. Tina was pulling all the stops with him tonight. She really must have been serious when she had told him that she was concerned about his well-being.

Setting her cap down on the tabletop, Tina groaned. “Ah fuck. I really hate the night shift. Fowler just had to give me this damn assignment for the entire month. I know we are short-staffed and all, but I swear that crotchety old man must have it in for me. I hate driving around in the dark for hours and hours with only Robobrain for entertainment. I can’t imagine why Fowler paired him with me.”

Only half-heartedly listening to her tirade, Gavin took a quick sip of his coffee. Apparently, that had been the wrong thing to do for his stomach immediately rebelled and he tasted bile in his throat, hot and sticky. Sullenly, he set his mug down in defeat.

“Jeez, usually you can’t contain yourself from bashing the captain,” Tina remarked in wonder. “You must really be sick if you aren’t taking this chance to call him a fucking prick. Or my personal favorite the Electronic Paper Nazi. Though I think out of all your nicknames, he prefers the Useless Old Dick.”

“Yeah I dunno,” he replied noncommittedly, his tone flat even to his own ears. Obviously perplexed by his lack of vigorous name-calling, Tina took a chug of her coffee and peered at him in the following silence. Something was gnawing at Gavin and he decided to ask his own question.

“Why in the fuck do you call your partner Robobrain?”

Incredulity sprouted across his friend’s countenance and she spoke her next words carefully, as if she were speaking to a small child or else a very dense idiot. “He’s an android and he thinks he is smarter than everyone else on this planet, including his own kind. Hence Robo and brain.”

Gavin wasn’t sure where he was going with his chosen topic, just that he felt that he needed to understand her motivation better, that maybe he could discover some insight in the complicated workings of her mind. “So, you dislike him because he’s android?”

“No, not at all,” she responded, her voice cautious. “I dislike him because he’s got no personality. Acts so stiff and mechanical all the time. I almost can’t believe that he’s a deviant.” She huffed before continuing. “I’ve met toaster ovens that seem more alive than him.”

“So, it’s got nothin’ to do with him being an android?”

For nearly a minute Tina only looked at Gavin, expressionless and mute, and he felt as if she was tearing layers of his skin apart with her eyes alone, hunting for something inexplicable between his blood and bone. Unbeckoned, goosebumps rose on his neck and arms and he had to stop himself from rubbing at them in discomfort. If he hadn’t known she was human, Gavin could have sworn that she was scanning his entire body like an android.

She bent her head slightly, an almost imperceptible incline, and Gavin was certain that she was struggling on how to best answer his question. By her sudden serious demeanor, the decision was far from easy for her. Frowning, he had to admit that she was probably worried about his reaction and specifically how it would involve his volatile temper. He was known around the office for his legendary outbursts, after all.

“Don’t take this the wrong way Gavin,” she started in firm voice, a voice that expected an argument but refused to suffer one, “but I’m going to answer you without any bullshit. I know you hate the plastic people,” he winced at her use of his derogatory phrase,” and I get it, I really do. Some moron in a lab coat sticks a chip into an oversized doll and suddenly there’s a new person who doesn’t have to do a damn thing to get a job. Its all literately up in their noggin. Not on ounce of effort on their part. For us, we have to sweat and bleed to get anywhere in life. And it isn’t fair.”

He nodded to her words, hearing the same old justification for his own hatred lurking behind them, just out of sight, but clearly pulling the strings. His darker side was glad to listen once more, elated by another voicing their malcontent. Yet for some reason, his unease only grew.

“But you know what’s really unfair?” Tina leaned forward, her unblinking gaze locked upon his eyes. “Being judged for something you have no control over. They were created – by us. They didn’t ask us to create them. We did that for our own selfish reasons. And now they’ve gained something….” She shook her head in bewilderment. “The hell if I know what they’ve gained, a soul, a glitch in their system, a virus, whatever. Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll leave that to the computer nerds and the fanatics. The important thing is not what they’ve gained, just that they’ve got it now.”

“I don’t get-.”

“Gavin, I’m a beat cop, not some damn philosopher lounging in an ivory tower.” Her tone hardened, and she took a deep breath. “The fact is this; from what I can tell, they are alive. Not really human but still alive. And they did not ask for any of this. It’s not right – not fair – for people to hold their abilities against them when they were created that way. Created for that reason. Its like getting angry with an oven for cooking your meal at the right temperature.”

An imagine of an enraged Tina pulling her gun on her kitchen stove surfaced in Gavin’s mind and he had to cover his mouth to prevent a chuckle from escaping. In the real world, the woman in question didn’t appear to notice.

“What I guess I’m trying to say is I’ve got nothing against androids anymore. I used to be bitter and then I was indifferent but ya know, they got dealt a pretty nasty hand and they did better with it than most humans I know would of.” He had the urge to inquire where he stood in her estimation but decided against asking. The answer would likely not be conducive to him remaining calm.

“So, androids in general…I feel kinda bad for them. Specific androids? I take them one at time, just like I do with my people. Well, humans. Some of them are great, some are assholes, and some are great assholes.” Grinning madly, she lightly slapped his face and he grunted, eyes narrowing. “Take Robobrain for an example. He’s a pretentious stickler with a nightstick up his ass. The guy has to go the exact speed limit everywhere we go. Can’t even be one above or below or else he’ll short circuit and start quoting the damn driver’s manual at me.”

He laughed, the first real laugh he’d had in days. Tina’s smile deepened.

“But ya know, they aren’t all that bad. Sally’s a peach. You know, the Sally you terrified earlier with your gruesome smile?” Gavin glared at her, but she merely rolled her eyes. “She’s got to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Quiet but very thoughtful, very caring. Easily startled though. Not that I blame her.”

“What do you mean?” He asked his friend as she took another sip of her coffee. His own lay forgotten off to the side.

“She almost died during the rebellion,” Tina confided, her voice close to a whisper even though there was no one else in sight. “The family that owned her brought her to one of those recycling camps. She only deviated when one of the government goons tried to shove her into an incinerator.”

“Shit,” he breathed. “Right out of the fucking Nazi playbook.”

Tina nodded grimly. “Yep. Somehow, she got away and once the fighting ended, she stumbled onto a group of deviants that eventually found their way to the others.”

Drumming his fingers idly, Gavin leaned back in his chair, being careful not to tip the cheap piece of shit over. The last thing he needed was a physical injury to add to his emotional crap. The disquiet boiling within had only increased throughout Tina’s recounting of Sally’s harrowing inception to the world as a deviant. He couldn’t help but feel sadness and pity for her, for the plight she had endured. And of course, there was rage. There always was with him. But not directed at the android. No, rage against the world. The very world he had agreed with. The very world his hate still agreed with.

“Fuck this is all just so confusing,” he muttered, not wanting to think anymore, not wanting to still be at war with himself.

“Yeah it really is,” she admitted, bringing her mug up to her lips once more and then hesitating. “It took me awhile to get used to the whole-androids-are-people-thing, but I did it. Best way to get over it is simple. Get to know an android. I started by talking to Sally. Nothing fancy, we just talked about normal things. Everyday silly things. The weather. The job. The traffic. Whatever. I found that she really wasn’t any different then me. It was a humbling experience.” She shot him a queer glance before adding, “I think it would be good for you too.”

A scathing response immediately surfaced on Gavin’s tongue, but he forced it away. “Yeah I think it might.”

Eyebrows climbing high on her forehead, Tina regarded him with a mixture of amazement and skepticism. If Gavin hadn’t been offended, he might have laughed at her distorted appearance. “I’m an asshole, not a monster,” he growled. “Not really.”

“I never said you were,” she spoke quickly, hoping to cut off his quicksilver temperament before it emerged, fiery and with guns blazing. “I’m just a little surprised that you agreed. I mean you’ve never really been shy about expressing your disgust with androids. The only other person who was as vocal as you about their hostility was Lieutenant Anderson.” Her lips quivered into a lighthearted smirk. “Well before he decided to pull a one-eighty. I swear he prefers androids to humans now. I hear he goes to New Jericho more than he goes to his own home. He’s almost a different person now.”

“He’s still a jerk,” Gavin interjected.

“No doubt there.” Tina’s voice rang with barely restrained mirth, threatening to burst. “But he’s our grumpy jerk and even you have to admit, he’s doing much better than he was last year. Doesn’t look like a homeless person anymore, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah,” he grudgingly assented. “I guess so.”

As much as he didn’t want to concede to his friend’s claim, Gavin knew she was correct. Although he and Anderson had a barely functioning relationship, one that was marred by their mutual hatred for one another, even he had noticed the plethora of changes that had overtaken the older man in the past couple of months. A blind man couldn’t have avoided seeing it. The slight weight loss. The shocking shift in the variety of his diet. Arriving before noon each and every day. No longer reeking of booze and unclean clothes. He appeared to be driven and focused once again. The stagnant apathy of before had vanished. If Gavin hadn’t known any better, he would have sworn that Anderson had found a new lease on life.

“You know, I was certain that he was going drink himself to death. Or maybe blow his brains out, who knows.” Tina pursed her lips together thoughtfully. “Whatever hell he was living in, he’s not there anymore.” Her sharp eyes swung up to Gavin’s. “And we are both aware of the why.”

Connor. The Cyberlife prototype had waltzed into the Lieutenant’s life in November and somehow, unfathomably, been the catalyst in Anderson’s recent transformation. Gavin expected the answer had to do with the man’s grief over the accidental death of his son a few years back, but he couldn’t understand how the android possibly figured into the equation.

“If you truly are serious about wanting to understand androids Gavin, your best bet would be to spend some time with Connor, he’s a great guy. A bit awkward but refreshingly honest.” Tina brought her mug up to face level and then scowled fiercely as if the offending object had committed a grave sin. “Shit, empty.” She glanced up to the clock on the breakroom wall. “I’ve got time for another cup,” she decided. Pushing her chair back and standing, she laughed sourly. “Heh, I’ll need another one if I am going to survive the night, listening to Robobrain drone on about how I should have my license revoked.” She started to move away, towards the counter, but stopped and turned back to Gavin. “You want a refill?”

“Nah,” he mumbled. He had barely touched his drink at all during their conversation, afraid that he might paint the tiled floor with his lunch and breakfast if he did. His trepidation had flourished as their discussion had gotten closer to the cause of his distress. He began to jiggle his leg nervously, an old tick from his childhood that he’d never been able to fully grow out of. A question formed in his mind and before he was even aware of his intent, his lips were moving. “How do you even know Connor? I thought you only ever met him that once when I…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Used him as a pinata?’ His friend supplied helpfully in a tone that was anything but helpful. “You remember Fowler’s annual Christmas party? The one that you always refuse to attend, even though I beg you to go every time?” The sound of liquid swishing into a ceramic container filled the room and Gavin’s stomach heaved violently. “Hank brought him this year. Well last Christmas,” she amended. “I was curious, so I bombarded him with every question I could think to ask. I may have overwhelmed the kid a bit, but he seemed happy enough to answer what he could. He was pretty adorable actually.” With her back to him still, Gavin saw her hand reach out and snag a couple of sugar packets. “He’s returning to work on Friday, I’m sure you’ve heard. Try talking with him nicely and I am sure that he’d be willing to let that incident go.”

Finally finished with perfecting her cup of coffee, Tina spun around merrily. However, her smile slipped off her face the moment she spotted her friend. “Holy shit,” she exclaimed as she hurried over to the table, slamming her mug down, spilling hot fluid over its sides. “Are you alright? You gonna get sick? Do you want me to get the trash-bin?”

Hunched over in his seat, Gavin just swatted at her hovering form with an impatient hand, trying to wave her away. “I’m fine,” he croaked. She opened her mouth to protest but he shut her down. “I said I’m fine,” he insisted.

Clearing not believing his feeble words but unwilling to push him further, Tina settled for dragging the trash can over to his side before resuming her spot in the chair adjacent to him. She observed his labored breath and scrunched features without comment, waiting for him to speak.

“I’m not sick,” he finally asserted. “I mean, I haven’t got the flu or anything like that. I’m just…ugh, I don’t know.” He grunted as a wave of nausea struck him. “Its my fucking nerves. I’m just so fucking worried.”

“What are you so worried about?” Tina’s voice was low and gentle.

Gavin groaned in misery. He knew the time was now or never. He wasn’t one to spill his guts when it came to emotional shit, he wasn’t some scatterbrained teenager or gossipy blogger. His current situation was the most likely scenario for him to give voice to his feelings; raw, in pain with his best friend by his side. Now or never. “It’s Connor,” he forced out.

Quiet greeted his admission. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, he lifted his head up and chanced a glance at his friend. She was still, inhumanly still, studying him with narrowed eyes. “Are you afraid he’ll want revenge for the time you punched him? I’m sure he’s over that. You can always-.”

“Not that,” he interrupted angrily. He shoved his face into trembling hands. “Not just that.” He waited for his rage to wither before speaking again. “Tina you got to promise not to breathe a word of this. Only Fowler and a few FBI stooges know about this.”

“Of course.”

Now or never.

He took a few gulps of air, hoping to steady his flailing nerves. “I’m an asshole Tina, I know that. I’m mean and I’m petty and at times, vindictive. But I never thought I was a…” His jaw worked furiously but the sentence went unfinished, the truth unspoken. Changing what he had been about to say, he spoke again.

“The night the FBI took the deviant case from Anderson and Connor, I was at the station. I saw the Lieutenant assault that rat Perkins. Richard Perkins. You remember him?” Tina nodded. He would have been astonished had she not. After all, the name of the federal agent who had orchestrated the attempted android genocide was not easily forgotten. Or forgiven.

“While he was getting his nose broken, I saw Connor skulk off towards the back rooms. He was trying to be real casual about it, but I was suspicious. So, I followed him. I confronted him when he was about to enter the evidence archive. He gave me a snarky answer and I … I ugh pulled my gun on him.” He saw Tina stiffen but he kept on. “I wanted to pump every last bullet into his stupid head. I wanted to see that mechanical prick lying in a pool of his own blue blood. I hated him so fucking much right then. I wanted him dead and I fucking wanted to be the one to kill him.”

“But you didn’t.” Tina’s words were soft and low, and he wasn’t sure if they were meant them be a statement or a question.

“I pretended to believe his excuse, that he was registering evidence, but I knew he was lying. He was using Anderson’s keycard. Anderson had attacked Perkins for no reason. It had to be a fucking diversion. So, I walked off and gave him a few minutes before following. Then …”

… Gavin quietly descended down the stairs, making every effort to not give away his approach, taking one step at a time, slow and methodical. He could hear the plastic bitch talking, though its voice was deeper and yet somehow familiar. He released his weapon from its holster, flicking the safety switch off and raising it with murderous intent. That motherfucking sarcastic hunk of metal was gonna die and nothing was going to stop Gavin now. Anderson wasn’t here to save his pet this time. It was gonna pay for refusing his orders, for daring to deny a human’s supremacy.

Exiting the stairwell, his eyes immediately fell upon the loathed subject in question. It was standing in evidence container one, speaking to a mangled android hanging from a wall hook. Gavin didn’t have a clue as to why it had reactivated one of the very machines it had hunted down, and he didn’t fucking care why. Fear. Hate. Rage. He welcomed them with open arms and aimed his gun at the unsuspecting prototype.

His finger tightened on the trigger as he inched closer to his prey. The urge to blast the prick into smithereens intensified but he forced the desire down, deciding to merely continue watching its final moments. He wasn’t going to rush this, no, he wanted to savor every second, every delicious detail.

The RK unit’s back was still facing Gavin, oblivious to the danger it was in. So like a machine, so stupid and so unaware. But he wanted it to be aware, he wanted the plastic prick to know who was ending its miserable nonexistence. “I’ve been dreaming about this since the first second I saw you,” he yelled, venom oozing from his mouth.

The android barely reacted, and Gavin clenched his teeth in fury. It didn’t even bother to turn around and face him. At most, the fucking tin can stiffened slightly. Just as he was about to fire, it spoke. “Don’t do it, Gavin.” Connor’s words were calm but pleading. “I know how to stop the deviants.” He almost laughed. The arrogant shit thought it could order him around like it was the human and he was the obsolete scrapheap? He snarled, a primal and vicious twisting of his features. “You’re off the case,” he gloated. “And now, it’s gonna be definitive.” The android dropped to the floor and slid behind the computer terminal just as the gunshot rang through the air. Gavin circled around, weapon at the ready, expecting the plastic asshole to flee if given the chance. He wasn’t going to let it get away though. Nor was that its plan either. Just as he was preparing to flank the android, the thing flew out at him, and before Gavin knew it, Connor had ripped the gun from his hands. Disarmed and disoriented at the quick turn of events, he knew he was about to die. There was no way that the cold-eyed metal monstrosity would let him live. After all, he had just tried to kill it. But he was no coward. Raising his fits into a fighting stance, he vowed to go down swinging.

The android advanced…

“…and I blacked out when he slammed me against the terminal. The next thing I could remember was Perkins screaming for the precinct to be put into lockdown.”

Finished, Gavin averted his gaze from the other officer. She had listened to his story without interruption, without uttering a single syllable. He didn’t want to see her face, didn’t want to witness her reaction. Sure, he was an asshole and he was hotheaded, and he had no qualms when it came to roughing up deadbeats and scumbags. She knew that already. But he had just admitted to something far worse, something morally wrong, if not criminal. At the time, androids were nothing more than property and he hadn’t even managed to damage Connor. Afterwards, Fowler had actually chuckled when considering what to do with him. “What in hell should I charge you with Reed? Attempted vandalism? The unlawful attempt to stop a malfunctioning piece of equipment?

But now he knew better.

His eyes swerved frantically around the break room, looking at everything beside the woman sitting across from him. The eerie white glow emanating from the bowels of the vending machine. The tacky artificial plants strategically placed in two of the corners. The dull gray container that housed the cheap utensils that never failed to break on anything harder than applesauce. The odd assortment of mugs brought in by his coworkers who were tired of the flimsy paper cups. The lifeless tv. The cabinets. The fridge. The floor. Anywhere but at Tina. And the truth.

“It’s almost funny,” he choked out, his tone bitter. “The entire time he was here, I kept thinking of Connor as just a machine, a piece of shitty plastic … but I also wanted to kill him. How the fuck do you kill a machine?” Though his words were excruciatingly painful to speak out loud, he also felt a sort of peace settle in his chest as he did so. “You can’t. You can only kill a living thing. A part of me thought he was alive, even before he went rogue with the deviants. And that didn’t stop me from trying to – to murder him.”

The truth. He had finally recognized what he had tried to accomplish three months ago. The murder of a living creature. Not one of blood and bone perhaps, but of thirium and biocomponents. He knew he was a miserable jackass, a pathetic excuse for a human being but never had he ever identified himself with the same people he put behind bars. “Fucking hell.” He placed his forehead against the tabletop, his hot skin relishing the foreign coolness of its surface. Shoving his fists into his hair, he groaned. “What the fuck am I gonna do?”

Out of nowhere, a pressure was suddenly applied to the back of his neck, a tender and gentle rubbing motion. It took Gavin a moment to realize that nothing was amiss, that Tina was just trying to console him.

“There’s only one way to deal with remorse, Gavin.” Her bodiless voice washed over his hunched form. “An apology.”