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Master & A Hound

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Androids are our creation. A creation in our own image - selfish, ruthless and brutal.

 

 

 

 

Mauro makes it as far as the Cave’s door before his feet drag to a stop. He drops his gaze to his sneakers, where he can measure the thin patch of scuffed linoleum between his toes and this godforsaken room. Then he slams his head into the metal door. Just a quick, simple rhythm, one, two, and three-four-five. The future migraine lurking somewhere behind his eyesockets answers in kind, a resonant thrum.

What’s that old diddy? Shave and a haircut, two bits.

He palms the biosecurity sensor and the darkness opens wide, ready to swallow him up again.

Joan’s perched like a gremlin in the console chair, her arms snaking around her knees to type out her last annotations on the terminal. The AR rig leans crooked on its cradle. A full shift of diving in and out of the headset has her hair sticking out at every potential angle, a study in quantum positioning.

On a girl with a sweeter personality, it’d almost be cute.

He reaches past her for the AR headset, and her bony elbow catches him right in the ribs. She spits a low mutter of “Merde” at the keyboard as he knocks her fingers off a row, spilling a jumble of nonsense syllables across her shorthand annotation.

Mauro smiles a little to himself and sets to adjusting the sweat-damp pads and straps. “Anything good?”

“I don’t know what’s worse, the inside of this room or the inside of that ‘bot’s head,” Joan answers. “Left off at 11:17. It’s sitting in the car.” She gestures towards the screen, where her last notes are laid out in flat CyberLife Sans. Stationary. Car. Kamski Residence. Lt. Phone call. Intercept: Chris Miller. DPD.

“Kamski,” Mauro says with a happy little hum. “You left me the good stuff. Thanks, sweetie.”

“Screw you, Mauro.” Joan keeps her voice low, as if Dr. Brissett really has the time to listen to them bitch. “This shift has been six self-diagnostics, four hours of recharging, thirty minutes watching that neanderthal eat, and then sitting. That dashboard. That music. That stupid sticker.” She jabs a finger at the frozen video feed. Remember when sex was safe & driving was risky?, Hank Anderson’s dashboard asks.

“You wanna go back to QC’ing mopping strategies on the HK line, go right ahead. But this is RK, babe.”

She throws a murderous stare his way. He ducks his head into the AR rig before she can catch him grinning.

“11:17, playing,” she drawls.

There’s no haptics or sensory input on the AR rig, just a ticking readout on the diagnostics side of his HUD - ambient temperature 28°F, core temperature optimal. Still, the morning light he didn’t get to see in person hangs bright with falling snow, and the detail of the image is more than enough to trick his brain into supplying a bite of chill against the bare skin of his ankles when he hears the crunch of snow under the RK’s feet.

Kamski’s house sprawls outward in low, black angles under the snow as the prototype rises to his full height. Hank Anderson paces in front, phone against his ear, mouth set firmly closed. Mauro will give Joan this: he is a neanderthal-looking dude. As the RK closes the car’s door, Anderson pulls the phone away from his ear and comes to a stop, leaving that reggae old man hair twitching in the breeze. His hair’s almost as bad as his clothes. Or his car.

The RK completes a cursory scan on the environment before narrowing in on Anderson: the frayed edge of his collar, the way his hands are folded tightly in front of him. “Is everything okay, Lieutenant?”

Honest intonation, a concerned lilt at the end. Anderson’s mouth quirks as he skates a glance Connor’s way. Then he answers: “Chris was on patrol last night-”

First names, personal. Markus feels a touch of pride. Their awkward baby boy’s all grown up, befriending flesh-and-blood detectives. He marks the timestamp for annotation with a tap of his left thumb.

The dialogue protocol will catch the rest of the verbatim. He taps his forefinger against his palm to increase the speed to 2x.

Connor moves to Kamski’s front door in double-time, the shadow on Anderson’s heels. Chloe, the Chloe - holy shit - answers the massive door with a flat, tight-mouthed stare that spills into a rounded smile as the Cro-Magnon detective bumbles his way through.

RK800 steps forward, over the threshold—

And Mauro makes an involuntary spasm back.

He’s inches from the RK800’s face, floating pale and stern on a gray canvas. White noise rolls over him, a mindless drone that grows and grows until it’s vibrating in his teeth. He grimaces and mutes the audio.

It’s glass. The RK is studying its reflection within a pane of glass.

Wait.

His stomach lurches with the disorientation. He’d seen a room past the Chloe RT600, a foyer, not a glass wall. He stops the replay, reverses back to RK800-52 crossing the threshold - and the feed skips. He’s jerked back into the car and back into surround-sound audio. He can hear the RK’s fingers tapping an idle rhythm in time to the thrash metal spilling low and frenetic out of the radio.

He pushes the replay forward, and as soon as the android steps across the threshold - 11:19 AM - he’s back at the reflection, and the heavy drone of white noise. He pushes the speed to 4x, 8x, 12x, until the timestamp ticks by in a blur at the edge of his vision, but the reflection doesn’t change. Doesn’t even loop. It’s a static image.

“Hey hey hey—” He peels the AR rig back, slamming his sneaker into the back of Joan’s chair. “What the hell did you do? This file’s corrupted.”

Joan stares at him, then flicks a wrist at the top left screen. File: 20381109-02. Data integrity: 100%. “It’s the right size, right compression. Passed the file integrity check.” She grabs for the AR. “Let me see.”

Mauro pulls the rig back, out of reach. “No, pull it up on the main screen. Go to 11:19. And run the integrity again.”

As the algorithms clock through, the techs hunch forward and tab past the corruption, frame-by-frame. 11:19:02. 11:19:03. 11:19:04. Dead on at 11:19:03, the sudden jerk from Kamski’s foyer to the RK’s flat, glassy-eyed reflection. It looks all the more surreal in 2D, like a bad film cut.

Audio feed integrity, 100%. Video feed integrity, 100%, the report kicks back. Elapsed time: 4:00:00.

“That’s wrong,” Mauro says. “Pull the file again.”

Joan wipes the local file, pulling down the mainframe original again. But it’s the same - at 11:19:03 AM, everything flattens to a glass reflection and white noise.

“I don't get it. The algorithms should’ve flagged it.” There’s quality checks for everything in this system. For hang-ups, decryption errors, dropped frames, looping images. The corrupted upload should’ve been flagged in seconds, triggering a self-diagnostic and a new upload direct from the source.

“Yeah, well. It didn’t.” She gestures at the timestamp as it ticks merrily on by. “The time kept rolling but the audio and video feed froze up.”

“Fuck. Fuck!” He has to report this to Dr. Brissett. They have to request a fresh backup off the prototype. They might even have to go into the field and shove a hardline into the damn thing, if it’s a problem somewhere in the remote uplink. And if it gets deactivated between then and now - they don’t have a backup. Their continuity is gonna go to shit.

She’s gonna be so pissed.

He sits down hard on the floor, dropping the AR rig into his lap. “Open up a direct connect with the prototype.”

“Like hell,” Joan hisses, and shoves away from the console. “We can’t do that. It’s 3 in the afternoon, it’s against protocol.”

“We’ve just gotta pull a fresh backup—”

Joan gives him a panicked, pinched look. For all her talk of ‘when I was in HK QC,’ she shuts down at the first mention of bending protocol. Just a little. A quick, five-second interrupt. Blink and you’ll miss it.

“My shift’s over,” she announces flatly, disables her login with a punch of her thumb, and walks out the door.

Mauro throws a singular finger her way as the door slides shut.

He levers himself up off the floor and into the chair, going through the motions of scanning himself in and staring with a growing nausea at the blank reflection of RK800 -52.

With his usual impulsive aplomb, he pinches his tongue between his teeth and starts typing.

Direct Connect: RK800 #313 248 317 -52.
Cybradmin initiate override backup 20381109-02.
Confirm request? (Y/N)

An override backup request is two, three seconds. Not much more. But it’ll pull RK800 to a dead stop, middle of whatever he’s doing. They don’t have a live systems feed on this model - too much processing power already running, with the precog and everything else. It’s meant to be autonomous. This whole thing is meant to be hands-off.

He sits there with his finger over the ‘Y’, and all he can think of is the first field test, RK800-51: the girl sprawling across concrete, that rising wall of glass and metal, and the quiet. Right before the roar of the wind started kicking up.

He hits ‘Y’.

Request confirmed.
Connecting . . .
Connecting . . .

He’s imagining a little hitch in the android’s step. GPS they’ve got, a little Current Status screen off to Mauro’s left, and it’s got his last ping as DPD headquarters, 3 minutes ago. All systems OK.

But the terminal says, Connection timed out.

After a moment’s thought, the terminal adds, Host unavailable.

Try again? (Y/N)

Mauro spits a muffled “Fuck” into his sleeve, and slaps ‘Y’ again.

He runs through it three more times, before he reaches for the phone buried in his coat pocket.

And then he tries it twice more while he’s got the phone in his hand.

Finally, he taps Send. Dr. Brissett answers with a brisk, “Yes?”

“I’ve, uh—” he stares at the last result, wincing as Host unavailable spills across the screen a fifth time. “I’ve got a problem. I can’t reach the RK, and we’re out a backup.”

 

+++ 

 

“Perkins, you fuckin’ cocksucker—” Hank crows, and he gets a surge of genuine pleasure out of the brief, puzzled look the little fed gives him before Hank’s knuckles slam into the soft cartilage of his nose.

The polite thing to do would be to give Perkins a chance for a return salvo. But Hank’s two days out of drinking and three years past giving a shit. Plus, the sudden siren song of adrenaline is damn good. He grabs Perkins’ jacket up in his fists and hefts the little bastard against the wall just as the blood starts to spill from his nose.

Two uniforms are grabbing at Hank by then, trying to shove between. “Fuck off, leave me alone—” Hank says, dragging out his syllables as one of the beat cops swings him back. It gives him time to look over the bullpen. Connor’s out of sight. Good.

Fowler’s at the edge of his office, looking down at Perkins with a constipated expression as the beat cops are helping him to his feet. Probably composing an appropriate apology for his soon-to-be-former lieutenant’s behavior.

“Give me another shot at that little prick,” Hank snarls, leaning his full weight into the cop that’s grabbing at him.

“He’s totally lost it,” the guy mutters. Hank only vaguely recognizes him. Wilson, maybe? No- Warren?

Hey.” Perkins glares at him with watering eyes, jabbing two bloodied fingers his way. “That’s gonna cost you your badge, you lunatic.”

There’s a bar-room brawler in Hank, not buried all that deep. He shoves forward again without hesitation. “You know where you can stick my fucking badge!”

The brawler in him particularly delights in the little spasm of apprehension that skitters across Perkins’ face before Hank throws him to the floor.

“Come on, that’s enough, Lieutenant—” Warren gets him in a proper restraint, this time, elbows up in his armpits, hands laced behind Hank’s head. “Sit down, Hank.”

Hank drops like a weight, tearing out of the guy’s grip before he presses back to his feet with a lurch. A low grumble of “I’m outta here” has the beat cops disregarding him in favor of the brass on the floor. Perkins mumbles something about a broken nose to the waxy shine.

Fuck yeah, it’s broken. Halfway-to-sober Hank’s got some aim. Sometimes.

It’ll take a solid five, ten minutes for the bleeding to settle down. Hope that’s good enough, kid. He tucks back a bitter smile. ‘Course setting the shitheap that is his career on fire is the only thing to bring a little joy into his life.

He’s a couple swaying steps away from cold November air, with a bottle of Black Lamb waiting at home. He’ll have a drink to his retirement, a drink to this fucked up case, and maybe - if he’s feeling magnanimous, which he is - he’ll pour one out for the pseudo-deviant’s mission, whatever it ends up being.

Save Jericho. Burn Jericho.

Find something all his own.

He’s interrupted by the spit and hiss of the glass doors parting ahead of him. Hank lags to a stop, his shoulder bumping into the glass of Fowler’s office wall.

There’s four of them filing through the turnstiles. The first is a leggy, borderline-emaciated marathon runner type, standing there with a briefcase tucked up under his arm and surprise scripted on his face.

Three big fellas arrange themselves neatly behind him, and at first glance Hank thinks they’re CyberLife plastic, but then he realizes it’s the uniforms: precise geometric angles of black and white, running from head to toe. There’s a little too much human imperfection among them to be CyberLife’s brand of perfect, yeah, but they’re definitely security. They’re unarmed. Still, ready enough to flex.

“Sorry to interrupt,” the first man says. The little amused twitch of a smile at the irony of his statement gives Hank a quick, uneasy twinge of uncanny valley. It’s something he’s seen Connor do.

“Lieutenant Anderson, right?” the man says, and extends a hand. “David Henshall. I believe you’ve been working with my prototype?”

Fear constricts in Hank’s stomach. It’s been what, two minutes?

Fuck, Connor. You had less time than you thought.

“Fuck away from me,” Hank slurs, swatting the hand away. The hired muscle twitches, but they relax as Hank sways back into the wall, dropping his head back in his best imitation of a hangover.

“Dr. Henshall, wasn’t expecting to see you,” Fowler interrupts, a sudden too-loud voice in Hank’s ear. He drops a heavy hand on his shoulder, a silent warning. Deck the feds, fine, but not CyberLife PR. Check.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve seen the news.” Henshall smiles wanly. “I’m sorry to hear the prototype wasn’t able to conclude its work here, but we’re eager to learn what we can from it.” He glances at Hank. “Is it still here?”

Fowler frowns. “Returning to CyberLife, as far as I know. When did it leave, Lieutenant?”

Hank rolls his shoulders in a slack shrug. He offers a vague, unspecified: “Ten?”

“Five, ten minutes ago,” Fowler elaborates. “You must’ve walked right past him.”

“Oh.” Henshall flips a tablet out of his briefcase, tapping through a few screens. “Hm.”

“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” Perkins chimes in from behind them, voice low and - to Hank’s amusement - increasingly nasal. “You lost it?”

Henshall looks up and smiles, polite and cold. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

Perkins shrugs off the condescension, pulling a bloodied tissue down from his nose. “Yeah, you do. Richard Perkins. And I know you. You’re one of Esme Brissett’s, with R&D. The deviant hunter project.”

His smile stays polite, edged in bright, imperfect teeth. “Connor was designed as an integrative police prototype. While his current assignment was to isolate aberrant behavior in androids, that’s far from his sole intended use.”

“That aberrant behavior has a growing body count, you prick.”

Henshall blinks. “I’m sorry, Agent Perkins, I’m not authorized to comment on the deviancy case. Are you aware that your nose is, um—” He points at the spreading dribble of blood tracing its way down Perkins’ tie.

“Get him fixed up,” Fowler interjects, gesturing to the beat cops.

“Fuck,” Perkins mutters to himself as he stuffs the tissue back against his nose. He hesitates on the ball of one foot, looking like he’s gonna lever himself up onto his toes to meet Henshall eye to eye - or eye to chin, more like - but he’s just as soon turning on his heel and stalking off.

Henshall’s attention twists back to Hank. “Lieutenant Anderson, I hope you found your trial with the RK800 informative. Did you have any field notes I should add? A full written report would, of course, be appreciated. We’ve already supplied a questionnaire template to your terminal.”

Not planning on spending much more time at that terminal, pal, Hank thinks. All he says is, “You could teach the thing when to shut the fuck up.”

Not that it would help much. Usually it was the quiet between words that Connor was kicking his ass with.

(Okay. …I’m okay.)

Henshall laughs. “I’ll pass that on to the Affect team. How were his precognition routines?”

Hank draws out his dumbest stare as long as he can. “His what?

“Combat responses, that sort of thing. I designed most of that myself.”

“Well he did a lot of stupid shit, and he didn’t die. So that’s pretty good, I guess.”

“Yes, this version’s had remarkable longevity,” Henshall answers, looking pretty goddamned pleased with himself. “You’re not easy to keep up with, Lieutenant.”

Hank takes a step forward, and one of the meatheads’ palms slaps hard against his collarbone. “The fuck does that mean?” He’s thinking of the -52 stitched neatly onto Connor’s lapel. He’s thinking of Connor holding a gun to Kamski’s android’s head. “Have you been using that thing as some kind of fuckin’ nanny cam?”

He’s looking at Henshall hard, now. Looking for anything saying, We know. That they know what Kamski knew, what Hank knows, even if Connor doesn’t seem to get it himself - not yet.

Henshall rocks back a step. “Oh. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply - CyberLife maintains strict confidentiality.” Not cowering, really. Distancing himself. “We’ll cover it all in the debriefing, Lieutenant.”

“Well, you better go catch your damn android, first,” Hank answers. “Didn’t know he needed a fuckin’ escort home.”

“He’ll turn up,” David answers with another of those half-smiles. He wonders how many mannerisms this prick plucked out of a mirror as he was laying out Connor’s code, pulling at the plastic bone-and-sinew strings on version 1. Or 21. Or 34.

Fucking androids.

“Hank, I think you’d better take the day,” Fowler interrupts. There’s an implied: Or the week, or the year.

Hank ducks his head in a swaying nod.

“Nice speaking with you, Lieutenant,” Henshall says. “Thank you for your participation in our pilot program. We have a lot to learn.”

Maybe they’ll buy the ‘Woops, just missed him’ excuse. Maybe they’ll leave. But there’s a clenching fear in Hank’s belly that says, You kidding me, you think they don’t have fucking GPS on that thing?

But Henshall seemed puzzled. Like he didn’t quite have a lock, anymore.

And didn’t Connor say deviants had a tendency to go offline?

Still, if Connor tries to come back out the main entrance—

They won’t let the kid walk away.

He drops a hand into his pocket, dragging his thumb across the quarter sitting there. 1994 vintage. Almost older than his decrepit ass.

Hank eyes the CyberLife security guards up sourly, considering how easily Connor could run circles around these assholes. Right up until Henshall pulls up that little tablet of his and switches him off with a few efficient taps.

“Can we speak in your office, Captain?” Henshall’s asking, all politeness and calm.

Hank drops the quarter back into the pocket-lint depths of his coat and turns towards the bullpen.

“Hank—” Fowler begins, warning.

“Dropped my fuckin’ ID,” he drawls, shouldering past.

Hank’s dragging steps get him as far as Ben Collins’ desk before he drops onto it in a slump, rubbing his bleeding knuckles against his temple.

With his free hand, he thumbs open Ben’s top drawer. Collins keeps his key card in there, and he’s almost as bad as Hank about locking up.

Perkins is lounging in the break room, head tilted back and eyes pinched shut with pain, now that it’s just two lowlife beat cops watching him. Fowler asks if the good doctor needs a cup of coffee as his office door swings shut.

Hank drags an eye across the empty bullpen, throws a sarcastic salute at the no-neck security arrayed neatly outside Fowler’s office, and takes a moseying path towards the evidence lock-up, ticking the time off in his head.

Kid, you better be long gone.