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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.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

He hesitates.

The biocomponent rests in Connor’s hand, thirium running cold and sluggish across his fingers. CyberLife component #3983v. A relay equivalent to a human’s vagus nerve, conveying necessary data from central processing to thirium regulator and back. He’s borrowing it, from one PL600 to another.

To his left, PL600 #369 911 047, ‘Daniel’: shattered plastimetal, dangling limbs. He’s fortunate this component is cushioned between synthetic tendons. It was a 70-story fall.

In front of him, a milky biofilm has congealed over the other deviant PL600’s degrading corneas. The last traces of thirium are still drying on the disabled android’s chin.

Simon. PL600 #501 743 923. Reported stolen February 16, 2036. Did it still refer to itself as Simon at Jericho?

Time is a glaring reminder, burning away at the edge of his vision.

He thumbs the access panel open above the axial muscles of the PL600’s neck, inserting the small component in a quick, efficient motion. The regulator beneath the android’s sternum initializes with a low murmur, lingering fluid spurred back into motion.

It twitches in a jerky, disorganized mimicry of former function, a tangle of severed wiring and damaged components. The eyes blink, and search, and see nothing.

He reaches a hand out to interface again, but he is—

He is concerned that the android will return in the same state it’d left. A self-inflicted gunshot to the head, cutting short that nameless sensation coiled in Connor’s throat, a crawling, writhing thing too large to put to any one word.

I felt it die.

I was afraid.

He hesitates. As the conglomeration of wires and circuits snaps together into coherent thought, the PL600 - Simon - only blinks ruined eyes and muses, “It’s dark. Where… where am I?” Static dulls the syllables.

“I need to find Jericho,” Connor answers. “Tell me how to get there.”

An order, but there’s a silken edge to it. A sympathy.

“I don’t recognize your voice,” the deviant answers. Slowly, at first, and then the words begin to spill: “You’re not one of us. I’ll never tell you—”

Connor tears the component free, and its voice collapses into crackling static as the puppet jerks back to stillness.

He looks at the relay in his hand, surprised. He should have let it finish speaking.

Three minutes remaining. An order crops up at the edge of his focus, one that’s been recurring for nearly an hour: Connection terminated. A glitch. There, and gone. Dismissed.

He steps back towards the central shelving. The RK200 model, Markus, studies him with mismatched eyes from the video recording of its Stratford Tower speech.

Connor considers the PL600 again, feeling the subtle shift of fresh autumn ice beneath his feet. He lifts the tablet, and engages voice matching.

He replaces the component, and the ruined thing shudders back into motion. Simon tells him where Jericho is. Well - it tells a familiar voice, a friend. Markus.

When Connor reaches to interface with it this time, he does not hesitate, and he finds no reminder of its death. There is no memory of the fear, as Connor efficiently plucks the images provided out of the cloying darkness. Flash-fire images in the dark: Ferndale Station. Graffiti. A simple mark, a trail. Jericho.

Simon’s decaying eyes narrow, and the first bright sparks of panic begin to crawl across the connection between them. “Markus? Is that you, Markus?”

Connor pulls his hand back, severing the connection. As the android begins to plead - don’t leave me, Markus, don’t leave! - he tears its thirium pump free.

The PL600 is nothing, again. Discarded parts. Dysfunctional components.

(it was a him, once, but not now, not this thing that’s left hanging here)

He is—

A steady hand, setting the thirium pump carefully on the illuminated shelf. The light is warm against his fingers.

He is— relieved?

He has Jericho, in a string of images that he carefully buries away. Hank said, What if we’re on the wrong side?

At his back, the glass door settles back into its place.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since the first second I saw you.”

Connor does not turn. He raises his thirium-stained hands to greet the barrel of the scarred detective’s service weapon. “Don’t do this, Gavin.”


+++

 

Hank’s dropping down the archive stairs two at a time before the archive door slams closed behind him, cursing at the lack of reasonable exits in this fucking building. The Evidence Server is a dead end. The only way out is back up, through the bullpen. There’s a service entrance past Chris's desk, another off the main lobby, a loading dock out back. Loading dock to parking deck, and—

The train of thought gets cut short by the muffled snap of gunfire, echoing tinny on the concrete walls.

Hank stumbles down the last of the stairs just in time to see Connor slamming Gavin Reed into the terminal. An efficient snap of Connor’s fist and Reed’s a ragdoll, slumping to the floor.

Hank slaps the ID against the glass and shoulders through as soon as the door can fit his bulk. “Connor, what the fuck are you doing.”

“Lieutenant?” The tight knit of the android’s frown eases. “I didn’t kill him.”

“Yeah?” Hank huffs, and drops to one knee next to Gavin.

“I attempted to negotiate,” Connor adds. “He was trying to hasten my deactivation.”

Gavin’s breath fogs the dull shine of the polished concrete. Hank looks at the service pistol resting against the terminal. There’s a new bullet hole to the left of the Stratford Tower android. Probably right where Connor had been standing.

Shit. Gavin tried to—

Hank breathes a sigh. Gavin tried to what? To break the new departmental toy he didn’t like.

He settles onto his knees and starts tugging Gavin’s limp arm out from underneath his body.

Connor watches, making no move to help with the heavy bastard. Just says, “Can I ask what you’re doing?”

Hank answers with not much more than a grunt as he rolls Gavin to free up his other arm. The leather jacket slides off easy, leaving a drooling Detective Reed in just his t-shirt.

He shoves the jacket at Connor. The android takes it easy enough, but he then proceeds to stand there, staring at it. Analyzing it, probably.

“Put it on,” Hank says impatiently. Gavin’s pistol is lying against the terminal. He picks it up while he’s down there.

The jacket falls short on the cuff, but it does a good enough job smothering the neon CyberLife branding. That’s all that matters.

Hank hands him the gun, next. Connor accepts the pistol with far less scrutiny than the jacket - a quick, analytical glance before verifying the safety and tucking it into his waistband.

“CyberLife walked in about two minutes ago,” Hank says. “There’s four of them, standing around Fowler’s office.”

The android goes still, his fingers curled around the jacket’s too-short hem.

“It’s gonna be fine, kid,” Hank says. He reaches to tug the hood up over the yellow-gold flicker of Connor’s LED. Anyone with half a second to study him will note Connor’s CyberLife-issued dress-slacks-of-the-future in place of Gavin’s usual filthy denim, but it’ll satisfy a quick glance.

“You’re gonna go ten, fifteen steps ahead of me. Just keep your head down. Perkins is in the break room, the CyberLife pricks are in Fowler’s office. Head for the service entrance, this side of the bullpen. My ID’ll get you through. If everything goes fine, I’ll meet you at the loading dock.” He breathes a sigh. “If it doesn’t, then just run like hell. Get where you need to go.”

That was the whole point of the theatrics with Perkins, right? Send the kid on his way and head home to a bottle.

(A bottle, and an empty barrel. 5 times out of 6, anyway.)

The kid’s staring at him, LED cycling yellow, yellow.

“Look, you wanna finish your mission, or not? You gotta get out of here, first. So c’mon. Try to walk like an arrogant prick.” Hank grabs at the android’s stolen lapel and shoves him, startling the glass door open with a pneumatic hiss.

It doesn’t take much trying. Within two steps, Connor’s dropping his weight into his heels, softening his spine, broadening his shoulders. His footfalls loosen into a wider swagger.

Hank huffs. “Not bad.”

Passable, anyway. There’s still some of that uncanny valley android efficiency in the careful angles of his elbows, the smooth rise of his polished shoes from step to step. Hank starts up the stairs after him, trying to quiet down the ’this is so magnificently fucking stupid, Anderson’ commentary in the back of his head.

“I can also mimic his voice, if necessary,” Gavin Reed says from ahead of him, and the dead-on vocal impersonation wrings an involuntary ‘Jesus Christ’ out of Hank. Connor looks back, eyebrows quirking.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Hank mutters. “You really are the Terminator.”

They stop at the top of the archive stairs, and Hank gives him a second, thinking he’s listening to the foyer for Perkins, or Henshall.

But Connor glances at him, quick, furtive. When he does speak, it’s still in Reed’s voice, which makes the hair crawl on the back of Hank’s neck, even though the words are plaintive. Searching.

“I can find it. I can find Jericho. I can finish my mission.”

“Gotta get out of here, first,” is all Hank says. He shoves the door open, and Connor drops his head down and walks through.

The antechamber is empty, and Connor doesn’t hesitate, not here. He’s through the doors and into the bullpen without a hitch in his slouching swagger-step.

Hank waits. Three, four breaths that feel like a fucking eternity. Then he follows.

Connor’s following the path he set, clearing the edge of Fowler’s office. Hank’s heart takes an uncomfortable lurch towards his throat when one of the CyberLife guards calls, “Hey—” across the empty bullpen. Of course they take note. No one’s here. TV says the world is ending. Probably. No noise from the break room, so Hank doesn't even glance that way.

Footsteps drop down Fowler’s steps as Hank moves along the office wall, measuring the spread of his weight from toe to heel, planning out how he’s gonna tackle these fucks if they take a run at Connor.

Connor doesn’t stop. He keeps his head down, his shoulders set wide and arrogant.

“Hey, hoodie. Stop.” They’re reaching the edge of the bullpen, now. Two of them.

And Hank watches as Connor throws a casual bird over his shoulder, answering in perfect, spiteful Reed diction: “Sit on it and spin, buddy.”

The lanky, better-dressed ghost of Gavin Reed shoulders through the service exit door, and he’s gone.

Hank takes a pause to swallow back his lunch.

“Who the hell—” one of the CyberLife guards mutters.

“Fuck out of my way,” Hank interjects, and slams his way past the two of them. The guards are muttering something about Hank's mother at his back, but he just waves a hand. He crosses the bullpen in sprawling, calculated strides - not rushing, just getting the hell out of here, thanks much - and passes through the frosted glass of the Detroit PD logo.

The reception desks stand bare. The talking heads on TV are muttering to an empty lobby. Something about camps. When have camps ever been a good fucking idea?

The cold hits Hank like a brick wall as he moves through the front doors, yanking the breath right out of his chest. Shit. He is never ready for this cold.

There’s an autonomous van idling on the curb. Another car idles behind it, windshield wipers taking the occasional impatient swipe at the accumulating snow. No splashy logos, but they’ve got too much shine to be city property. He props his collar up against the cold and shuffles down the steps, sending the snowflakes scurrying where they haven’t stuck down into the salty mush yet.

He’s moving towards the parking dock, shoulders high and head down. The van doors stay tightly shut. Nobody’s coming out of the front doors. Once he’s broken line of sight with the van, he ducks right and doubles back, slipping past the red-and-white post of the barricade and back into the loading area. This is where the paddy wagon would usually hang out, but the paddy wagon’s got somewhere else to be, today.

There’s just an android, hood still pulled up high. He watches Hank steadily, hands loose at his sides.

“You good?”

“Yes,” Connor answers. In his usual voice, thank god. Carefully designed: soft and low and earnest.

Hank watches the LED flicker - yellow, yellow, yellow - on Connor’s temple. “Look, I’ll take you where you need to go, but you gotta decide that, Connor.”

“I can find it—” Connor begins, and stops.

Hank curls his hands into fists within his pockets, trying to trap a little warmth in them. He looks up the alley, around the empty dock, at anything but the android. He’s suddenly struck with the crawling paranoia that it’ll be David Henshall staring curiously back at him, asking for recommendations for the next edition. Connor-53.

A little less empathetic, that’d be great. Not giving him these looks, these little glancing blows, like he’s supposed to be some kind of moral touchstone, like he’s got some critical insight into the life this machine’s not supposed to have.

When he finally risks a look, he finds Connor is staring hard at the snowflakes taking aimless spinning loops around Hank’s left foot. Hank breathes out a sweeping gust of silver and says, “If they find Jericho, they’re gonna kill ‘em all.”

He held his peace before. Didn’t prod, or push. He’s not Kamski. He’s not gonna shove at Connor until he’s overclocked, LED strobing a frantic red.

Connor doesn't answer, so Hank rolls on. “But you don’t owe them shit. Jericho, or CyberLife. You could, y’know—” He rolls his shoulders in an expansive shrug. “You could just walk away. Your boss didn’t seem too sure on where you were. Maybe you could go. Start over.”

Connor looks at him, mouth set in a thin line. There’s something cold and blank there for a breadth of a second that sets Hank’s stomach churning before the android tilts his head, curious. “Doing what?”

Hank huffs an uneasy laugh. “I don’t think you want career advice from me.” The decorated cop with a rapidly accumulating list of petty crimes, and hey - this last thing might push him over into grand larceny territory.

Connor’s focus slips away, falling back into that thousand-yard stare and soft frown.

Hank wraps his arms tight across his chest and says, “Look—” He pauses, thinks, I’m not trying to rush you, kid. But all he does is repeat himself: “Let’s just get the fuck outta here, first.”

But if you don’t choose soon, they’re gonna choose for you.

Connor looks at him in full, now, lips moving in that stupid quirk of a smile. “Ok, Hank.”

 

+++

 

Follow Hank, Connor hums to himself on imperceptible frequencies, and he does. They enter the parking dock lower level, which is largely empty of cars and entirely empty of personnel. The city is in a state of emergency.

Gavin Reed’s jacket is too small. It pinches at his wrists, and interferes with the range of movement on his shoulders. He wants to remove it, but he understands the purpose. The insignia of his CyberLife-issued jacket would be conspicuous in the gray half-light of the parking lot, and he is being searched for.

CyberLife is searching for him. They want him to return. He isn’t done.

A spill of text across his HUD cuts the thought short.

Connection terminated.

Again. But again, there’s no connection to end. He hasn’t heard anything from CyberLife. They haven’t asked him to return. Amanda is silent.

But they are here, Hank said so. They want him to—

To abandon the mission.

Connection terminated.

Connection terminated.
Connection terminated.
Connection terminated.

Connor stutters to a stop, turning his head. Hank hears the scuff of his shoes and turns, raising a querying eyebrow. “Connor?” His keys are dangling in his hand; they’re 35 feet from the car.

“Something—”

Hank’s eyes move up, past Connor.

A man enters the garage behind them, bundled in a heavy winter coat and walking with his head down - eyes on the tablet cradled in his hands.

“Hey,” Hank calls. Not friendly. Sharp. He’s resting the heel of his palm on his pistol.

The man glances over Hank - recognition, but no interest. His eyes widen as he sees Connor, genuine relief spreading across what is visible of his face behind a thick scarf. “Thank god.” He gestures with the tablet. “Can’t believe that actually worked. I was pinging your short-range comms, Connor. Old school, right?”

“You know this asshole?” Hank’s asking.

Connor’s identification is reporting in neat, even lines:

Mauro Guevarra
Born: 02/15/2007 // CyberLife R&D, Affect QC Level 3
Height: 5’5” Weight: 155.6 lbs

Connor says nothing. There is a bone-conduction earpiece set behind the technician’s jaw. An open channel, humming low.

“Don’t tell Henshall, but I think we have a hardware glitch,” Mauro says with a conspiratorial wink, and reaches a thumb across the tablet.

Connor takes no time to preconstruct.

A careful application of harmonic interference and Mauro doubles over with a yelp of pain, his fingers scrabbling at the piercing feedback squeal of the earpiece. Connor tears the tablet out of his slackening hand, allowing the technician to collapse to the ground.

“What the fuck?” Hank mutters, to Connor’s left.

Connor doesn’t answer, studying the tablet. A static image of Chloe - the first, Kamski’s private RT600 - stares out of a minimized window within the screen. There are minute impurities to the image, and a skew to the angle indicative of a first-person perspective. She is staring at her own reflection in fogged glass.

He dismisses the image. What remains is little more than a command line, and a small, simple map of the surrounding five blocks, annotated with small numbers.

The command line is still running.

Direct connect: RK800 #313 248 317 -52.
Connection terminated. Ping time: 2 ms.
Autoconnect in 3… 2… 1.

Connor blinks away the burst of ’Connection terminated’ across his own HUD. He disables the command line, letting the tablet go dark.

The technician finally succeeds in peeling the earpiece off and flinging it away with a convulsive flick of his arm. It skitters across the pavement, its tinny screech growing dull as it slides to a rest beneath a car tire.

“CyberLife?” Hank is asking, and Connor nods.

The technician looks up to find Hank’s service pistol aimed at his head. His hands jerk upwards, as though to shield his eyes against the glare of the barrel. “W-wait, don’t—”

Hank interrupts. “Don’t move and I won’t shoot you, prick. Who are you?”

“I’m— I’m Mauro Guevarra, sir.” He digs in his pocket with shaking fingers. He pries out a laminated ID badge, shoving it blindly upwards. Hank makes no move to take it, glancing to Connor instead; Connor nods confirmation. Mauro continues: “I’m a QC tech, with the RK800 program. We’re just having some technical issues with your, um, partner here.”

Connor tucks the tablet beneath his arm. “I’m unaware of any technical issues.”

Mauro eagerly switches his attention to Connor, a more familiar variable than the Lieutenant. “It’s just a comms problem, ok? No big deal. We’ll get you back to the lab, and—”

Something shifts in Connor. Coils, and uncoils. “I haven’t completed my mission,” he says. “I can find Jericho.”

Hank is looking at him. Disapproving. Connor doesn’t know why he said it. Connor doesn’t know why he wouldn’t say it.

“That’s great, Connor,” Mauro says. Pleads. “But your backup’s corrupted, so we’ve gotta take you in. We’ve gotta back you up. Y’know?”

Hank cuts him short with an aggressive step forward. “That’s not gonna happen.”

Mauro cringes back from the barrel again, mouth opening, closing. Opening again. He looks from Connor to Hank, his face creasing in confusion. “I, uh— are you trying to… steal it?”

“I’m not stealing shit,” Hank answers. He holsters his gun with a guttural noise of irritation. “Get up.”

The technician’s sneakers slide on the concrete, but he doesn’t rise, only slams his head against the car bumper behind him with a hollow thump. “I’m sorry, sir, but this model was only ever on loan to DPD. If you have any suggestions or complaints about the prototype program, I can direct you to my supervisor—”

Despite a rapidly escalating heart rate, Connor notes a growing frustration in the man’s rote answer. He is stalling.

Connor touches Hank’s elbow. “Hank, we need to go.”

“No, no no no, wait,” Mauro sputters, and finally shoves to his feet. “You can’t just go, Connor. I've gotta bring you in.” Hank shoves him back, sending him sprawling against the bumper.

Mauro begins: “Ah, uh—tua—” and stops. He closes his eyes, twitches his head aside, searching for something.

The next word he speaks emerges as a haze of white noise.

Connor frowns.

Well. He wants to frown. But his motor systems do not respond. Nothing responds. He is, for a disorienting moment, not within, but above his components. Severed. Separate.

His HUD only reads, Awaiting confirmation...

The tech speaks into the rising roar of noise. He doesn’t hear the words, only sees them, staccato bursts of condensation.

Confirmed.

(confirmed what I haven’t confirmed—)

Entering stasis.
Initiating fault tree analysis.

This isn't stasis. Every system, every subroutine is severed at once, a clean cut. Gray concrete bleaches white and cold. Cold, cold—

 

 

 

Chapter Text

…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."