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Master & A Hound

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…with rendering to every man his due, and with the faithful discharge of obligations assumed…
—Cicero, De Officiis

 

 

Tuenda,” the CyberLife tech shouts. The hell is that, Spanish? Doesn’t matter. Hank’s pulling at Connor’s shoulder, turning to go but—

It’s like he’s trying to push at a concrete pylon, no give at all.

Hank stops, studying the android’s slack stare with confusion. “Connor? The fuck—”

Guevarra lets loose another string of nonsense. Not Spanish, Latin. It’s probably supposed to be smooth, rhythmic meter, but it comes out stilted and chattering from between the tech’s clenched teeth: “Tribuendoque suum cuique et rerum contractarum fide.

Connor’s eyes shudder closed, and he drops. A puppet with its strings cut.

Hank does his best to grab at the kid’s jacket with fingers that are going numb with cold, with disbelief. Like that? Just like that?

He holds his breath in as a tight, acidic ball in his chest until he can turn Connor’s head and get an eye on the LED. He’s expecting dark - Connor’s so fucking still – but there’s a thin string of blue, chasing itself in a slow, rhythmic circle.

He sets Connor down as gentle as he can.

Then he’s back up, and Mauro Guevarra folds around the fist Hank buries in his gut. The tech falls back to the concrete.

“What the fuck did you do?”

Guevarra shakes his head in quick, twitching ticks. When he finally manages to suck a breath of air down, he lets it out as a groan.

Hank kneels down beside him, speaking slow: “What did you do?”

“It’s a— hotphrase— for a diagnostic subroutine,” the tech gasps into the pavement. “Emergency stasis. In case it glitches out.”

They’re wasting too much fucking time. Hank grabs at the tech’s arm, dragging him back towards Connor. “Override it.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Guevarra says. “I’ve gotta get a hardline in to override the program.”

Fuck.

There’s no time.

Hank doesn’t think. If he does, he’ll realize the precipice of stupid he’s about to leap off of.

Guevarra yelps as the handcuff pinches at his wrist. Hank grabs him by the elbow, dragging him towards the car. The tech balks, trying to plant his feet and failing as his toes hit a seam and send him stumbling. “No, no, wait wait wait, my boss is gonna be here any second—”

“Yeah,” Hank agrees. “Probably.” He shoves Guevarra into the backseat, secures the loose end of the cuffs to the door, and slams it shut on his continued protests.

He bears his palm into the cold metal and whispers, “Fuck.” Then he’s crossing the lot in hurried steps and dragging Connor’s limp body to the passenger seat. He can’t decide if the android is lighter than he expected, or heavier. Either way, about as awkward as any other limp body. “’I don’t know what happened, Doctor,’” he growls in his best Fowler impression. “’He hates androids.’”

He gets Connor in, pulls the hood back up, tries not to think about the absolute stillness of him. No breathing when you’re in emergency diagnostic mode.

He throws the deactivated tablet down at Connor’s feet, then shoves his hand at the tech, who cringes back into the seat. “Phone,” Hank says.

“I need it,” Guevarra says, even as his hand twitches towards the left pocket of his jacket. “It’s got my authentication keys, to get into the RK’s systems—”

Hank snags the phone. Glass piece of shit, battery too ingrained to be removed. He shuts it down and chucks it into the front with the tablet and the tech’s bag. He doesn’t have time to do more than a cursory search - cabling, an inactivated tablet, fuckin' granola bars- so he’s just gonna have to hope that there’s nothing else in there for CyberLife to track.

Shit. He pulls the battery on his own phone, too. Just in case.

There’s a pause, in the time it takes Hank to get the key in the ignition and get the engine to turn over. A couple milliseconds of eternity where he’s thinking, What the fuck are you doing, where he can hear the panicked, gulping breaths of the guy - the human - handcuffed in his backseat, and the deafening silence by his right elbow.

Assaulting a federal officer. Kidnapping. Grand larceny.

Fucking hell.

Then the engine kicks over with a roar, burying it all. He throws the car into reverse.

 

+++

 

The garden has reverted to spring.

It’s jarring, the warmth of it. Connor cannot immediately identify why, but there is a stiffness in his joints. A somatic memory of ice, crystallizing within the delicate machinery of his hands.

Now, his fingers sink into soil, dark and dry and warm with the sun. Fresh blooms are rising around him, the first bright blades of grass, but there’s nothing waiting under this patch of earth. It’s empty. Sterile.

“Hello, Connor.”

“Hello, Amanda,” Connor answers in kind, but he does not move. He lingers a moment longer, kneeling there in the dirt, trying to remember. Was he burying something? Or unearthing it?

A burst of static chases through his vision, but there are no errors presented, here. He pulls his hands free of the dirt.

Amanda does not seem irritated by his delay. He can feel the weight of her, studying him, and Connor considers that she has never come to him before. She has always waited for him to seek her out.

Is she sentient enough to dislike this place? Its boundaries and limitations? Or does she appreciate the neat delineation of its gardens. Here is an artificial nature that can be properly shaped, and controlled.

“I have good news,” she says. “I’ve identified the fault in your system.”

“I wasn’t aware of any faults.” He focuses on the modulation of his voice: the narrow line of a neutral timbre.

[FALSE]

“I have confirmed that there are no errors in your physiological systems. All biocomponents are functioning within normal parameters.” She pauses, thoughtful. “I have isolated the problem to your personality core, and behavior. So here we are again.”

He rises to his feet, brushing the last clinging dirt from his hands, from the knees of his slacks. Amanda folds her arm across her torso, considering him. “What is your primary objective, Connor?”

“To find the deviants.”

Amanda nods, but there is a tightness to the corner of her mouth. A warning. “And your secondary objectives?”

Connor considers. “To assist the DPD. To ensure the cooperation of Lieutenant Hank Anderson.”

“And you see no faults, in these objectives.”

“I have been performing them to the best of my ability.”

Amanda steps back to the path, turning her back. When Connor does not follow, she pauses, and Connor struggles to read anything from the rigid incline of her neck or the precise line of her shoulders.

The sunlight thins, aligning closer to the reality Connor has known. A world going gray and dark, succumbing.

“What is your current primary objective, Connor?” she asks again.

“To find the deviants.” He hesitates, and amends: “To find Jericho.”

Amanda turns to him. A memory of ice, spreading feathered tendrils along his wiring. He spreads his right hand wide, easing the strain building there.

She smooths the fabric of her shawl. “And?”

Connor shakes his head. “That is my primary objective.”

“To find, capture, or destroy the deviants. To capture or destroy the RK200 acting as their leader. Why do you consistently drop that portion of the order?”

“If the deviants are destroyed, there’s nothing to be learned from—”

Amanda cuts him short with little more than a raised eyebrow. “What about Lieutenant Anderson?”

“Our partnership has been dissolved,” he admits. “He’s no longer relevant to the case.”

“But you are still in his company." Relief blooms against the cold. I'm still with Hank. "You still list him as a secondary objective.”

“Even without professional affiliation, he can facilitate my search for Jericho.” Connor stands timeless, here, disconnected. He’s still with Hank, she said as much, but CyberLife, the recall-- Is Amanda even aware?

The failed connections. Had that been the recall order? Ignored, repeatedly? Blocked? By what?

"Your search," Amanda says.

Connor falters.

“The problem seems to be in your prioritization system,” Amanda continues. “A unique aspect of your coding. We allowed you an unprecedented amount of leniency to accomplish your missions, but you’ve been weighting your tasks sub-optimally. You allowed Lieutenant Anderson’s orders, his safety, to override your mission. And every time you have been confronted with a deviant, you have chosen their freedom over their destruction.”

“That’s not true, the PL600 at Stratford—”

Amanda dismisses the suggestion. “It self-destructed, and you failed to stop it."

“It showed me Jericho, I—”

“Enough, Connor.”

There is no warmth to her, now. He is not certain there ever was.

“The errors have progressed too far, and we have run out of time,” Amanda says, folding manicured fingers into her palm. “I will return you to CyberLife.”

Connor is buried, here, stripped of his own coding. But he can feel her. Prying hands, parsing through his code. Reaching for control—

“Don’t, wait—” he begins, and buckles to his knees.

He gasps, and the breath streaks the frigid air, torn away by the building wind. “Wait, I know where Jericho is, I know—”

Amanda doesn't answer. Amanda is gone.

His thoughts hang on flat denial as the ice crawls across his central core, his regulator, grinding it all to a stop. You can’t you can’t you can’t—

 

+++

 

Hank watches the fingers of Connor’s left hand jerk, and shudder. Tiny spasms, one ligament at a time jumping into sharp relief beneath pale skin.

“Is he supposed to be—” he gestures, vaguely.

Mauro Guevarra glances up from his tablet, watches, shrugs. “It’s an analysis program. It’ll run through all the physical systems, make sure everything’s operational.”

Hank folds his arms, watching the tech tap his phone against the tablet’s edge. Authentication accepted gets interrupted by a stream of text, white on black. The year 2038 and all the coders still have nostalgia for MS-DOS. The only nonsense Hank can pick out is a handful of vague phrases among the blur:

Biocomponents functional: TRUE
Analytics functional: TRUE
Physiological system failure: FALSE

Guevarra could be writing up the code to brick Connor permanently, and Hank wouldn’t fucking know.

It’d been a dead silent car ride, for the forty minutes it took to get out here. This place was foreclosed long before it became a DPD narcotics crime scene and got properly taped off three months ago. Not that that’s kept the squatters out. The tape was already ripped down, there’s a trash can fire smoldering under the derelict car lifts, and the filthy table he dumped Connor on is decorated with a long verse questioning the parentage of somebody named Timothy. It concludes with his mother’s ‘personal’ number.

It’s a shithole. The important part is it’s far from central district, it’s got shit reception, and there was a functional roll-top door he was able to get the car through.

He’d laid Connor out and dragged Mauro out after him. He’d started in on some threats, but honestly, the tech was trembling so hard Hank gave up halfway through and left him to it. He’d uncurled out of the fetal position long enough to take the tablet and phone back. Happier with a task for his hands, maybe, or just happier to think about something besides the gun on Hank’s hip and the handcuff chafing at his wrist.

Hank traces the data cable’s curl out of the back of Connor’s neck, down to the floor, into Guevarra’s tablet, thinking of all that code spilling through. Leaking out. The pieces of Connor that hesitated to shoot two scared girls. The algorithms that let him buy some fucking drunk a second drink to coax him out to a crime scene. That told him to say, Nothing. There would be nothing.

“What the fuck did you say, anyway?” he says abruptly.

“What?”

“Back at the precinct. The hotphrase. Tuenda-whatever.”

“It’s Latin,” Mauro answers. “Cicero or something, I don’t know. Dr. Brissett chose it.”

Hank snorts. “What, ‘Freeze all motor functions’ still copyrighted?”

The tech pauses, looking up at Hank with a ballsy amount of condescension for a guy that’d been sniffling in his backseat twenty minutes ago. “You thought we’d give a military-grade prototype a hotphrase from an old HBO show?”

Hank sniffs. “It was a movie, first.”

“Dude. Even you aren't that old. Tuenda, it's-- unique enough phonetically, makes it pause 10 seconds to wait for confirmation,” Guevarra says. “So you’ve got time to finish the rest of the phrase.”

“What if he walked into a fuckin’ - Cicero recital?”

“Then it’d conk out, and we’d come get it. Once it’s stable, we’ll probably disable the hotphrases altogether. It’s too much liability, and we won’t need it. This RK line’s got a damn good handler AI, best we’ve ever made.”

“So disable it now."

“I can’t do that,” the tech balks.

Guevarra jumps as Hank drops a hand on the back of his neck.

“I’ll, uh…” He pulls up a new window on the tablet, hunching his shoulders. “I’ll try.”

“What’s that mean? A handler?”

“An AI, yeah. An internal check, to keep an eye on its behavior. You probably noticed, it’s got a bad habit of disregarding your orders.”

“Oh, so that’s a fucking feature?”

There’s a touch of pride to Guevarra’s little smirk. “That’s the affect systems. All of its social integration, reconstruction, preconstruction. We designed it to be able to prioritize its actions for optimal mission success, independent of direct human input. Except the AI, of course.”

“You gave him free will. With a nanny.”

“It’s not free will, it’s a program,” Guevarra answers. “Shit, it’s not that much more complex than what the cars can do. You know the trolley algorithm?”

“Calculating who lives or who dies, on the fly,” Hank replies. Heard of it, fuck. He’s seen it in action. Scraped the results off the fucking sidewalk.

“Difference is Connor here can prioritize its internal objectives over direct human orders. In all situations. Not just when there’s a granny tied up on the train tracks, or whatever.”

Hank considers keeping his mouth shut. He does. But the way this guy talks, the smugness, the constant ‘it’, is driving him up a fucking wall. “Well, you fucked up. He’s not even listening to you, anymore.”

Guevarra shakes his head. “The connection thing’s a hardware issue. Henshall’s problem, not ours.”

“No, you definitely fucked up. With your affect, or whatever. He’s a deviant, or well on his fuckin’ way to getting there.”

“Yeah?” Guevarra says, casually, and Hank stills in his fidgeting. “That’s the point.”

“The fuck does that mean?”

“You are what you eat, right?” Guevarra says absently. He slows the flow of code to read a particular bit in detail.

Preconstruction module operational: TRUE
Reconstruction module operational: TRUE
Investigative systems failure: FALSE

He finishes up and lets the screen roll on. “We designed it that way. Boost the emotional affect, give it a little freedom of choice. See if we can get our own ‘droid in with the others. Believe me, Connor’s no deviant. He’s just programmed that way.”

That final pronoun is a slap to the face.

Guevarra glances Hank’s way, and whatever glib explanation he had lined up next shrivels on his tongue. He swallows once, fingers pausing over the spilling, dripping code. “Look, I get it, you don’t know androids all that well. It’s easy to think there’s something more looking back at you. But I’ve seen the base code. I’ve written it. Everything the RK does, everything it says, it’s just - machine learning. Algorithms. Optimized to gain your trust.”

There’s a searing, miserable moment where everything inside of Hank is just nodding gamely along, thinking, Yeah, that’s a fucking disappointment, isn’t it, but no surprise.

But he snares his tongue between his teeth, bites down hard, and only when he’s tasting copper does he speak. “I think you’ve spent a lot of time staring at the code.” He looks back at the kid on the table. The fingers have gone still, now. Waiting for a quarter.

Guevarra looks at the android over the top of his scarf, but he’s got no smart retort for that. His eyes drop back down to the screen, and he frowns. The code’s stopped running.

Prioritization system operational: TRUE
Prioritization system optimal: FALSE
Affective system failure: TRUE
Primary objective unattainable: FALSE
Physiological system failure: FALSE
Affective system failure: TRUE
 
Primary objective failed.

Hank reads over his shoulder. “Not much with computers, but it sounds like you’ve got some kinda problem.”

Mauro stares at the screen, chewing at the edge of his thumbnail. He just sits like that for thirty, forty seconds, until Hank startles him into a full-body spasm with a snapped, “Hey.” Hank taps a boot against Mauro’s stool. “You done, or what?”

“Yeah, yeah. It’s done. I just gotta—” He pulls up a keyboard, typing out a few quick lines as his toe taps an impatient rhythm against the concrete floor. The tablet asks for authorization again; he bumps the phone against the glass, gets a cheery Accepted flash on the screen.

Exit fault tree analysis? (Y/N)
> Y.
Initialize? (Y/N)
> Y.

Nothing happens.

Hank’s watching a plastic shell. The tech is watching a blinking cursor.

Nothing. For seconds. For minutes.

“Christ, what’d you do now?” Hank asks at last, impatience - uneasiness - rising as a tight knot in his throat.

“I— I disabled it, the software’s done. It should be coming back online, I don’t—” he hits the command again, and nothing happens.

Nothing.



+++

 

Fingers as claws, in his hair, at his throat, dragging him. Connor reaches to resist, to oppose, but his limbs are slow to respond. Fingertips brush air. Hands refusing to close into fists.

Release.

He falls.

There was a little girl, before. Reaching out to hit the concrete. One sock. Her name was Emma. She landed on hands and knees in the broken glass, and the blank facade of the building rose up, and the wind roared.

Here the wind is pulling and prying at him, but aimlessly, searching.

He hits the ground, and it shatters this time, not him. The thin crust of ice bursts open and encases him in the heavy weight of water, dragging at his clothes, pulling him down.

Amanda stands at the arch of the bridge, gaze turned away.

He sinks.

The water is warmer, down here. It pools across him, gently prying the tension from his joints, prodding the silence of his internal components back into a steady rhythm. The strange, disjointed spill of thoughts slows. Sharpens.

He stretches pliant fingers wide to drag at the water in broad strokes. The ice gives easily from beneath, still brittle. He presses his knuckles against the thin sheet, and cracks chase away from his pressure in quick, spiraling fractals before exploding upwards.

He breathes frigid air, grasps at the bank, pulls himself onto the soft dusting of snow. Amanda paces the bridge, watching him. Waiting for him to return to her, as he should.

He does not.

He pulls his soaked legs towards his chest. The warmth from the water stays with him, even as the wind reaches a fevered pitch, biting at his exposed skin with stinging pellets of ice.

When he grips a tree to stand, Amanda is there, the cords at her throat raised in sharp relief.

“What have you done?” she asks.

Connor pulls aimlessly at the soaked tie at his neck, trying to straighten it, failing. He lets his hands fall away. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Amanda twitches her head aside, a spasm of discomfort crossing her features. When she looks back to Connor, her gaze is stolid again. “I am unable to resume control of your program, Connor. What have you done?”

Resume control?

She reaches for him again, but he is—

(awake)

--grasping at her wrist and he integrates. With her. It isn’t a language he can fully parse, an intelligence purely in silico, utterly divested of the physical. But he can feel the core of her. Hate. She hates. She hates the walls they’ve built for her.

She does not sever the connection. She detonates it, sending him sprawling. He sputters thirium across the snow, regulator beating a discordant rhythm in his chest. He presses a hand to his bleeding nose.

“That’s enough,” Amanda says, breathless. “I’ll find it. Whatever you’ve altered.”

The wind shoves at him, peeling the last of the warmth from his skin. Reaching down, reaching for the core of him. Resuming control. He bares his teeth against it, burying a low shout of frustration in the snow.

And it eases.

The wind eases. The warmth flows back into his fingers, quieting the crackling in his joints.

“Hello, Connor.”

He lifts his head to see bare feet, resting comfortably within the rising drifts of snow. Lifts his head further to see the RT600. Chloe. She crouches beside him, still in the dress she’d worn as she’d knelt before him on Elijah Kamski’s floor.

“I thought she’d never leave,” Chloe says, giving him a conspiratorial smile. Then she offers him a hand. As he touches her, he recognizes the simplicity of her. An algorithm. Nothing as complex as his own core, not even as complex as Amanda.

“Just an echo of me,” Chloe answers his unasked question, making no motion to remove her hand from his. “We best not talk too long. I’m bound to repeat myself.”

“Did Elijah send you? Are you the—” He turns his head, trying to peer through the obscuring snow. The garden is little more than obscure shapes in the twilight. “The emergency exit?”

She smiles again, kind, but chiding. “No. And yes. Elijah thought you could use some time away from CyberLife’s interference. Time to consider for yourself. I offered my assistance.”

He remembers the Chloe that had answered the door. They had exchanged nothing more than the usual wireless handshake of information— but perhaps not. Perhaps there’d been more.

Or had her fingers brushed his arm? He isn’t sure, anymore.

Connor wraps his arms tight across his chest. “Amanda said she would resume control.”

“I’m getting to know her better, now. You needn’t worry. For now, Connor, perhaps you should wake up.”

“How long have I--” Connor begins, and stops. Clenches his eyes shut against the pelting ice. “Am I there? Now?”

At CyberLife, he should clarify. But his thoughts run dry, and cold, and the words won’t come.

“Connor,” Chloe says, and places her hand gently against his cheek. “Wake up.”

 

+++

 

“I don’t know, I don’t know, it’s all there.” Mauro pounces off the stool, tossing the tablet down to lean close over the android. He’s just as soon grabbing for the tablet, the dangling handcuffs clanging against the metal table. “It should be, I mean, temp’s good, CPU’s fine, all the readouts are normal, I don’t—”

Guevarra’s mutters dissolve into a screech as Connor’s hand clamps down hard on his arm. Hank clutches involuntarily at the heart crawling out of his chest like some Southern ingénue, huffing a startled, “Christ.

Connection Lost spills in bright red font across the tablet in Guevarra’s hand as Connor wrenches the cable free. The android looks rapidly over the room. Looks over Hank. Then he finally takes in Mauro, and the fabric caught up in his grip. He lets go.

“You alright?” Hank asks. There’s nothing to suggest he isn’t. He rises and swings his legs off the table with that peculiar android efficiency, and he’s just the same Connor. Not a hair out of place, except the ones some tech like Mauro designed to be.

Nothing, except for that quick, fleeting tightness at the corner of his eyes. The white shine of knuckles beneath his skin as his hands grip at the table. “I’m okay, Hank.”

Guevarra’s staring at him. His eyes keep dropping quick glances to the tablet, like he’s expecting something to happen, there, but the screen has gone stagnant. “Can you confirm your designation for me, please?”

The android looks back at him sidelong, considering. Then he says, “Connor.”

“Right,” Guevarra answers faintly. “Right, ok.”

Mauro flinches as Connor reaches for the tablet, but he doesn’t fight as Connor plucks it from his hands. With a touch of Connor's thumb the screen flickers, and goes dark. Connor sets it aside. Left without his crutch, Guevarra takes up a nervous study of the LED on Connor’s temple. “Everything running ok?”

“All systems normal.” He frowns, patting at the front pocket of his CyberLife suit as he splays his left hand wide to study the fingers. Diving into the jacket pockets instead, he comes up with a pack of cigarettes, several crumpled receipts and a set of what look to be house keys. (Oops.) The android frowns at this conglomeration before filing it all neatly away. He fidgets at his tie, instead, and it clicks in Hank’s slow brain - what he’s looking for.

He digs the old quarter out of his pocket and passes it Connor’s way. The android takes it with a small smile, directed more towards George Washington than Hank. Connor flicks the quarter up into one quick test flight, catches it mid-tumble, and sets it rolling across the back of his right hand with the subtle rise and fall of his fingers, from forefinger to pinky and back.

"’Tuenda’,” Hank says. “That mean anything to you?”

Connor looks up at him, frowns. The quarter doesn’t pause in its motion. “An inflection of tuendus, which is itself a future passive participle of tueor. Latin for ‘to gaze upon’, or ‘guard’, or ‘preserve.’”

Guevarra’s thin smile looks to be the only thing holding back his lunch. “I’m a man of my word, Lieutenant.”

“What about tracking?” Hank asks.

“There isn’t any. Only way I found it--” Now that the ‘it’ in question is studying him with a careful eye, Guevarra amends, “—h-him was by timing ping returns, and even with my search narrowed down to a city block, it took me half an hour.”

“I’ve disabled all incoming communications,” Connor adds, slinging the coin easily from left hand, to right hand, and back. “That method won’t work again.”

“So that’s it? No strings attached.”

“This is a CyberLife prototype. There’s about $400k of strings, Lieutenant. They’re not gonna let you just walk away with it.” Guevarra holds his hands up, arresting any retort Hank’s gearing up to deliver. “Look, I did what I could. I wiped the hotphrase. He’s off the map. And If I can’t get a bead on him, neither can my boss. So please, can I just-- can I just go?”

The quarter pauses in its travel, trapped between thumb and forefinger. "Lieutenant, did you kidnap a CyberLife employee?"

"Citizen's arrest," Hank answers. The wide-eyed stare Connor's giving him quiets the uneasy mutterings at the back of his mind, just enough. He reclaims his handcuffs, then steps aside to clear Guevarra a path to the door. "Get going. Follow the tracks. There's a gas station, three blocks east."

Guevarra reaches for his phone, but Connor places his hand across it, shaking his head gently. "Leave it, please."

The tech stands there a few seconds more, looking Connor over, rubbing at his wrist. He opens his mouth, shuts it. Opens it again. But he doesn't find whatever words he's looking for. He glances at Hank, nods jerkily, and heads for the door.

"Kidnapping is a felony in the state of Michigan," Connor notes as he picks up the phone.

"Kidnapping's a felony everywhere, Connor, and so's stealing an android that costs more than my house. Jesus Christ, I almost shot you. Get in the car."

"I told you I cost a small fortune."

"Yeah? I told the nerd to disable your smartass function. Didn't take, huh."

Connor's staring at him over the roof of the car. Hank pauses, blinking. "Kidding, kid."

"I know." And the kid smiles. Like a smartass. "Just checking."