“Another bad day?” Markus asked as he pointed at the screen Connor had set up in the center of the living room. Connor knew it wasn’t the nicest image Markus could have come home to: an android split nearly in half up the center, wires caught mid-spark, and thirium pooling beneath them in a dark, spreading stain. But he wasn’t startled by it either because he’d seen it before. Several times. Having caught Connor in the same exact position on the couch during each of those occasions. At least once with the same picture up even.
This happened a lot more frequently than it used to.
“Shit!” Connor hastily shut the screen off and swiped the image aside at the same time, a pointlessly redundant act as the screen went black before the gesture could even register. His heart beat far above the optimal level, pumping thirium through him in a bid to cool his processors and keep his biocomponents from seizing up in something Connor refused to concede was fear and shame. “Markus, hi. I wasn’t expecting you home this early.”
Guilt wormed through him and curled up tight in his abdomen, happy to make its home there. He didn’t need the screen really and could just have easily reconstructed the crime scene within the privacy of his own mind, saving Markus from witnessing something he’d never signed on to see yet again.
Of course, hiding it wouldn’t have made Markus any happier either.
Pulling off his jacket, Markus waved again at the screen, dismissive, almost harsh with how sharp the gesture was. “I thought we talked about this?”
“I know.” Connor shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, a habit he’d picked up from Hank. Then again, most of his habits were from Hank. The bad ones anyway. “I know I said I’d keep it at work.”
“No,” Markus replied, shaking his head in turn. “No, you said you’d leave it at work. And you said you’d stop it with these cold cases. That’s what you said.”
Markus would see the distinction between leaving and keeping and then call Connor on it. Connor should have known.
The problem with dating an android was the fact that they could throw the truth back in your face with date and timestamp intact. They could share it with you via interfacing. They could isolate the memory and have it digitally replicated and saved to the cloud so it could be reviewed again and again and yet again. But Markus didn’t have to do any of that, because Connor remembered perfectly well, too. In fact, Markus was in practically the same place he’d been when he’d gotten Connor’s agreement the first time and Connor? Connor had been sitting right here, reviewing the same damned case file that nobody back at the police station gave a damn about that Connor, as a result, could not let go.
He had no excuse or explanation for it beyond that nebulous sense of injustice that kept him plugging away at these things and that had long since lost its efficacy as a reason.
The closest now he could come to such a thing would require telling Markus about the gaping hole in his chest that would not fill up no matter what he did. Sure, his heart beat just fine—he ran regular diagnostics still and everything always came back perfectly normal, the wear and tear minimal and expected and easily rectified with regular maintenance and replacement—but there was something missing inside of him.
Society at large told him that Markus was the ideal one to fill it—most loved ones seemed to, for others—but not for Connor.
It only seemed to grow bigger when Markus was around.
The only thing that assuaged the gnawing emptiness in his chest was looking at these files and doing what he could to squeeze from them what answers he could. They were all ones the DPD had given up on or hadn’t cared about to begin with. Always cases involving android victims. Always cases that were a little bit difficult or unusual, the kind that no one wanted to look into too deeply because there were more high profile cases to chase or easier ones to clear.
He’d already solved a few through simple reconstructions, but this one—this one stayed with him, couldn’t be handled by his usual methods.
It was also the grisliest of the lot, but the androids’ owners all seemed to move on just fine, filing a claim with their insurance company and getting a replacement almost immediately. Not even the person who’d bought this android really cared about what happened to them.
So Connor did instead. When he had the time to focus on it. When he was trying to take his mind off of something else. When he couldn’t stomach the thought of androids being gutted with nobody out there looking for their killer. And though Connor knew Markus understood, he’d finally reached the end of his rope with it. Annoyance flashed in his eyes and there was a tension in his brow that wasn’t there before.
“Connor,” he said with the same care that he reserved for the rowdiest politicians he was forced to contend with day in and day out. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself. It’s not fair to either of us. It doesn’t belong here.” The worst part of it was that Markus was right, but Connor hadn’t been able to stop himself. He really had thought Markus wouldn’t be home just yet, that he had time to have his cake and eat it, too, that Markus wouldn’t have to see the depravity people were capable of enacting against androids—like he didn’t see enough of it in his own work.
Markus had nightmares sometimes and not all of them involved the committees he chaired or sat on or argued before. Not all of them stemmed from his fears that words weren’t enough, that he’d have to go back to the early days of the android liberation, that he’d have to free his people with violence that he never wanted to repeat.
Instead, some of them involved knives and guns and blue arterial spatter that matched the crime scene photos Connor brought home, involved android limbs torn from android bodies and spread across the city for the hell of it by humans who lacked even the most basic of human empathies.
Some involved the feel of a bullet bursting through the back of a skull, but that, at least, Connor knew wasn’t his own fault, though he would have taken culpability for it if he could.
Swallowing, Connor stared down at his hands, clenched and unclenched them, focused intently on the smooth arcs and curves of his skin. “You’re right.” He finally allowed himself to look at Markus. “I’m sorry. It was a bad day.” Most days were bad now and they only seemed to get worse as more time passed. With every victory androids saw in court and government and public opinion, Connor saw a commensurate counter-response in the calls he took, the cases he and Hank drew.
But he’d chosen this. Markus had not.
The tension Markus carried flowed out of him along with a deliberate sigh. Once he hung his coat on the coat rack by the door, he stepped close and curled his fingers into Connor’s shoulders, pressing his thumbs on either side of Connor’s spine at the base of his neck. Connor shivered at the touch, not gentle, but comforting anyway, heavy and grounding. Markus bent toward him and Connor, almost without thinking, tilted his head back as their cheeks brushed. “You can stop punishing yourself any time you like, Connor.”
Though Connor turned slightly, hoping to bring their lips together, Markus straightened back up before he could do so, heading toward the kitchen and then out onto the patio where he kept his easel and painting supplies—at least on the days when the weather was expected to be good.
He left the screen door open, an invitation that Connor couldn’t bring himself to take.
Connor didn’t bother arguing either and he didn’t use Markus’s silent generosity to assure him that he wouldn’t do it again. There was no point when they both knew it was a lie.
But Markus was right; he usually was. And the only way Connor could prove himself was by following through. At least he could make it easier on Markus. He could actually stop bringing the work home with him. It was more secure in the DPD anyway. Connor had only gotten away with it until now because no one cared.
But it wasn’t as easy as Markus made it out to be either. Because if Connor knew how to stop, he would have done so already.
He would have stopped a thousand times over gladly.
He just couldn’t.
Though Hank had gotten better about showing up at the station—usually by ten or ten-thirty—it was unusual for him to beat Connor in. Even on good days, Connor was there a good two hours before him. Which was why it came as a bit of a shock when Connor got there—late, by his own standards, at eight-thirteen—and Hank was already sitting at his desk, cheek perched on fist, fingers swiping lazily at his computer screen.
“You look like shit,” Hank said, unhelpful, biting back a yawn. The words came out a little garbled, but Connor had no trouble understanding him anyway. He’d become fluent in Hank after so many years together. He wasn’t even looking at Connor, which made Connor feel a little bit better. It meant Hank’s comment was a formality at best, not an actual indictment of his appearance.
He still prided himself on that.
It didn’t matter that Hank accidentally stumbled on the truth anyway, which was that Connor felt like shit. For Hank, he could deflect if necessary and maybe, maybe Hank wouldn’t notice that he was doing it. On very rare occasions, Connor got away with such small subterfuges. It was, for example, how he kept Hank from worrying about all the cold case files he kept accepting from Fowler.
They weren’t lies. Not exactly.
Though he didn’t need to, he glanced at the clock on the far wall. “And you’re here early,” he answered, sitting heavily at the desk across from Hank’s. His desk, though even after all this time it felt weird to think of it as such. It even had a nameplate for him, though Gavin spent half his time swiping it and leaving it in the most nonsensical places for Connor—or, more likely, Hank, who actually seemed to care—to find it. “It must be a day for unusual circumstances.”
“Ha.” Hank’s eyes lifted, catching Connor’s over the top of the monitors between them. “It’s cute you think you don’t look like shit every day. And here I thought androids were supposed to be perfect.”
“I look the exact same as I always have.” Annoyance twitched in the back of Connor’s mind. Hank wasn’t doing it on purpose, but Connor didn’t particularly want to be riled today. There must have been something in Connor’s voice to indicate as much, because Hank straightened up, peered more seriously at Connor, and frowned.
“Something on your mind?”
Connor frowned in turn and glared down at his desk. His fingers tapped out an improvised rhythm against the edge of it, something Markus might have come up with when he fiddled at the piano. That comparison only made him more annoyed. “No,” he said finally. “Sorry.” Drawing in a breath, one of those damned habits again, he exhaled, spitting out more words he didn’t particularly need the answer to. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“I have it on good authority that I work here.” Connor’s screen flickered to life as a file popped up, mostly hidden and blurred behind a request for Connor to log in. Hank’s doing. “Also, we got a case. I was just about to call you when you showed up.”
Connor did a quick scan of the document and felt his heart sink. Another android death, gruesome by the looks of it. Body found 3:56AM. Multiple gunshot wounds and knife wounds. No witnesses. Closing his eyes, he nodded. So it was going to be one of those days. He hoped, this time, that there were genuinely no witnesses and not just a lot of people who looked the other way instead.
Sometimes people just chose to ignore what they didn’t want to see and no amount of cajoling from Connor could change their minds. Fowler had already had to talk to him once about badgering potential witnesses; he didn’t intend to have a repeat of that conversation ever, but the urge was strong to put some of his old programming to work on the humans who didn’t want to help him solve a case. Manipulating humans wasn’t quite as easy as manipulating androids—there were no stress readouts for him to poke and prod for one thing—but it wasn’t so very different either.
He clenched his jaw, no longer really seeing the file or its contents.
“You want to drive or should I?” Hank asked, more careful than Connor was expecting, worry tinging his voice. It was gentler than Connor might have wanted, too. He didn’t get along so well with Hank because he was a considerate person, no. He got along with Hank because Hank called him on his shit, treated him exactly the same as he treated other people, and expected Connor to be more than his programming without actually damning him when he fell short of his own expectations.
Just like he would if Connor was human and fallible.
“You can drive,” Connor replied, pushing himself to his feet, making Hank follow him out to the parking lot. Though Hank didn’t say anything else, Connor could tell he had questions. All sorts of them, if Connor knew Hank at all. He really was an excellent police officer when he had the mind to be. Which these days was all the time.
Connor just didn’t want all that excellent police officer attention turned on him. Who knew what sort of nonsense he’d turn up?
The crime scene wasn’t far from the police station, a fifteen-minute drive if that and another slap in the face to Connor, the brazenness of it, but at the very least it didn’t give Hank time to work himself up to questioning Connor more about whatever it was he saw in Connor that seemed out of the ordinary.
There was only one thing it could be, of course. Markus’s words still rattled around in the back of his mind, a taunt, a request, entirely reasonable, that Connor hadn’t managed to fulfill. Another failure stacked in a relationship now teeming with failures.
A question built itself up in the back of Connor’s throat, but he kept it locked behind his teeth. This wasn’t the time for it and, as he stepped out of the car, not the place. The day Connor asked for relationship advice from Hank was the day Connor resigned from the police department, the same day that pigs flew, possibly even the same day Connor gave in and stole Sumo the way he pretended he didn’t want to every time he stopped at Hank’s house to pick him up or drop him off.
That was to say: a day that was very, very far off because Connor knew better and could still behave better.
At least today Connor had something more important to focus on than his own issues. An android died last night and that, unfortunately, constituted an improvement to Connor’s day because it was something else to focus on. As always, he approached the crime scene with the appropriate solemnity and sadness for the occasion. He never enjoyed witnessing these events, piecing the narrative together from the scraps of evidence left behind, what little testimony they could eke from witnesses. It was morbid and cruel that the lives of these people should be so reduced, so overshadowed by their final violent moments. Their lives had been full once and would forever be flattened to the worst things that could be done to them.
And on a crisp, pretty day like this, full of possibility. The officers securing the scene were all hunched together, their breath puffing out in slow, even bursts, or the occasional stronger exhale as they laughed or talked.
“Happy Liberation Day, huh?” Chris was saying as Connor approached. There was kindness in his voice, a gallows-dry sympathy, but Connor found himself startled anyway.
“What?” he asked, reflexive. As soon as he said it, he realized: it was early November again, wasn’t it? But of course he’d known it already, it was just the surprising and unexpected reminder that momentarily robbed him of the knowledge.
“Always an uptick in android deaths around this time,” Chris answered, though it was unnecessary. Connor had access to the same statistics he did and studied them more thoroughly. His tongue clicked against the back of his teeth. It just took Connor by surprise that Chris knew it, too. “A damned shame, that.”
Though Connor had no reason to swallow, he did so anyway. Another one of those habits, maybe, something built into him to make him more acceptable to his human liaisons. Anything to put them at ease. Not that looking or acting human helped this ST300 unit any. It never did. “What’s her name?” he asked, the first thing he always asked these days. One of the few habits he liked and purposefully encouraged in others. It helped a little. Other officers’ police reports had begun reflecting Connor’s approach, taking into account android names in addition to android registration numbers. It was something, even if it was a very, very small something.
“Sophie, according to her ID,” Chris answered. He nodded past Connor at Hank, finally arriving from wherever he’d parked the car. “Lieutenant.”
“Howdy, Chris,” Hank replied, eyes thoughtful as he stared down at the body splayed across the ground. “What d’you got for us?”
While Chris rattled off the details to Hank, Connor crouched before the woman. Sophie. In her face, he could see some of the features that marked most of the ST300s, but she’d had some modifications, too. Her hair was blonde, her eyes, green. Someone had widened her nose slightly and filled her lips. A lot of androids did that these days, especially the more popular models, to distinguish themselves in a crowd of lookalikes.
At one point in time, there had been a whole lot of inactivated RK800s housed in CyberLife. Insurance against the very real dangers he subjected himself to. What might he have done if there were multiple versions of him walking around that he could casually pass on the street? Might he have done the same thing people like Sophie did?
He just didn’t know.
Scanning every inch of her, he began to formulate theories, test hypotheses, ran several different preconstructions in the hopes of finding the one that fit best. He assumed the gunshots came first and searched for any indication that he was incorrect. But no, it made the most sense. Attack from afar, then get in close when she was incapacitated. “Were there any witnesses?” he asked, interrupting Chris and Hank.
“No,” Chris answered, head shaking. “Call came in about two hours ago. Pedestrian on their way to work took a short cut through the alley. We got time of death from her data center.”
Connor hoped Chris was right about the witnesses, if only because the implications that there were witnesses who just didn’t care to talk was too much for Connor to bear at the moment. It was possible, if not likely, but he shoved the thought aside anyway. It wasn’t useful to the investigation. Sophie wouldn’t be any less dead if Connor discovered someone was hiding something and tracked them down. Besides, the utility of human eye witnesses was suspect to say the least. Anything they said could end up being a distraction from the truth.
That was what Connor told himself anyway.
It didn’t matter that Connor just wanted one of them to give enough of a damn to cop to seeing something.
“Did you collect any of the bullets yet?” Sometimes it was easier to retrieve bullets from android bodies. Depending on where they struck and how strong the android’s body was, they sometimes ended up on the ground around them. Connor had no idea if that was the case here though. He didn’t see any.
With a sigh, Chris nodded and pointed at the van where a couple of techs were tagging evidence. Hank, apparently finished talking with Chris, sidled up to Connor as he approached the techs. “You thinking suppressor?”
“If nobody saw anything or heard anything, it stands to reason,” Connor answered. Not that he expected there to be evidence of it on the bullets necessarily. He was rarely that lucky.
“You okay?” Hank’s head tilted and concern narrowed his eyes. “You’re sounding a little—”
“What?” Connor wasn’t above admitting he was maybe a little sharp in answering, but that was all. Firming his lips, he scanned the back of the van, searching for the bag that held the spent bullets It didn’t take long to see them—there wasn’t much evidence left behind, luck perhaps or design—but Connor pretended so it gave him an excuse not to look at Hank.
“—rote.” Hank cleared his throat. “You’re sounding a little rote, Connor.”
That lump in his throat again. He hated it and instead of answering Hank, he ignored him, no different than what Hank sometimes did to him when he started asking inconvenient questions. There was no reason to feel guilty about it, even if he did anyway. He was sounding rote? What did that even mean? Stepping toward the van, he slipped between the pair of techs and murmured an apology as he picked up the bag. “Do you mind if I…?”
One of the techs, Jasmin, if Connor remembered correctly—and he did, he never forgot such things—nodded and faced him. “Yeah, no prob. Do your thing. I’ll sign off on it.” Some of the techs rolled their eyes or said no, that they didn’t want to go through the trouble of justifying Connor’s request to muddle the chain of evidence, but Jasmin just watched, fascinated, as Connor touched the ruined tip of one of the bullets to his tongue. From over Connor’s shoulder, Hank groaned in disgust and, presumably, turned away like he always did. Even five years on, he hadn’t got a handle on Connor’s methods.
“Why’d CyberLife make you…?” Jasmin asked. Her hand circled the air between them. “Out of all the ways they could’ve handled it, they chose your tongue? Why?”
Connor paused, considering Jasmin’s question while he finished his analysis. Data about the metal content, the supply of thirium and who it was registered to—Sophie, in this case, as he would have expected—the bullet manufacturer all flooded Connor’s mind with new information. “What else were they going to use it for?” he asked.
Maybe she thought he was joking, because she laughed and held out her hand for the bag and the bullet. As he returned it, he tried to think of a way to explain how CyberLife thought and operated. He remembered how clever his creators thought they were being when they came up with that solution. It was an elegant one, though they perhaps didn’t think through just how normal humans would react to it. So maybe it wasn’t quite as elegant is it could’ve been. Connor accepted it because it worked.
“Pretty useful anyway,” she settled on, diplomatic, “if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Try telling Lieutenant Anderson that,” Connor replied, expecting a smile in return and receiving it. “Thank you.”
Jasmin nodded and got back to work while Connor returned to Hank’s side. “Trace evidence of rubber, doesn’t match any known manufacturer of suppressors. I can’t be sure, but…”
“But it’s evidence,” Hank agreed. “So our suspect didn’t want anyone to know what they were doing and might be a DIY gun mod expert. They’ve got a bit of an anger problem if the whole—” He gestured expansively at the totality of the scene, the brutality of the knife wounds, the way it was all so much overkill with the involvement of the gun. “—is anything to go by. You see any fingerprints?”
“No prints, no hairs, no skin cells, nothing.”
Anyone else would’ve assumed it was another android, that would’ve been the pat answer, but not Hank. “Yeah, that’d be too easy. Guess they’re smart enough to not leave evidence behind. We’ve got something to go on anyway.”
It wasn’t enough as far as Connor was concerned, but he didn’t say as much.
This was the job he signed on for.
At one point, it had been the job he loved, too. Somewhere along the way, he’d lost that feeling and he didn’t quite know when. If he tried, he could dredge up the exact memory of it, recreate it in the present as a shade of his former enthusiasm. But it wasn’t the same and Connor didn’t really want it to be, not when it wasn’t real.
“Hey!” Hank’s arm knocked Connor’s shoulder. “It’s something, okay? We’ve solved worse with less. Let’s get back to it, huh?”
Though that was true, it didn’t make Connor feel any better. Instead, he just felt tired, lost. He wanted to go home, maybe prod Markus into playing the piano instead of reading yet another of the endless policy papers that would determine the next fire to be put out in the media and on legislative floors across the country. It would’ve been nice to forget for a little while. He’d never thought his life would turn out this way. “Thanks, Hank.”
They didn’t find much else at the scene and Connor sought no comfort in the knowledge that he searched as thoroughly as possible for something, anything else to point them toward the killer.
It would have to be done the old-fashioned way, the way Hank preferred, with phone calls and “pounding the pavement” and making tenuous connections based on shoddy recollections and glorified gossip and somehow finding the right answer anyway.
Connor suppressed a sigh and tried to prepare himself for the work ahead.
Sometimes he really hated this job.
Connor leaned his head back against the couch cushion, his eyes closed, thoughts and theories flickering in his mind like loose sparks. They were intent to catch alight on something, but there just wasn’t enough to go on. All he could see was Sophie’s face, the injuries to her body, the casual disregard juxtaposed against the desire for secrecy. If the killer really didn’t want to be caught, why not take her somewhere else? Why go through all the trouble of protecting their own identity by letting her be found at all?
They thought, maybe, that they were smarter than Connor. Or they thought the police department didn’t care. They wanted her found because they thought they could get away with it. Their potential motives were endless.
Not so different from his cold case, though that killer had genuine cause to be arrogant: Connor hadn’t caught them yet, though he’d been trying for so damned long to do so.
His cold case. It hung around his neck and threatened to strangle him.
He could hear Markus upstairs, his shuffling, rhythmic footsteps as he rehearsed his latest speech as familiar and comforting as Connor’s work was aggravating. Each creak of the floorboards was measured and Connor could almost tell where Markus was working out the most effective place to pause, where he expected audience reception to be at its best or worst. Then he would resume walking and even in that Connor could picture the way he’d practice speaking with his hands, which gestures would read particularly well and which felt most natural.
Thinking of Markus opened a glacially cold chasm in his chest, a fathomlessly deep ache that terrified him if he looked too closely at the surface of it because he couldn’t see how far down it went and didn’t want to drown in the icy waters .
He should have left Markus to it. His work was even more important than Connor’s and he had even less time at his disposal than Connor did.
But Connor couldn’t stop himself from climbing the stairs, from turning the knob on their bedroom door, from standing just inside of it and watching Markus until he noticed Connor’s presence, returned from the place where Markus was Jericho’s savior and became something infinitely more precious to Connor.
“Connor?” Markus asked, a little concerned, his head ducking in a shy gesture as he consciously switched personas. It was a look Connor almost never got to see because he so rarely interrupted Markus in these moments and he couldn’t attend most of the events where Markus had to quickly shed roles and become who he was in private again.
Connor regretted that. So, so much.
“Is everything okay?” Markus continued, because Connor wasn’t speaking.
He couldn’t. The answer stuck in his throat. No, he thought, no, nothing is okay.
He caught Markus around the shoulders instead, his fingers pulling at the soft, thin fabric of his shirt and stretching the collar. Markus went still in Connor’s arms and then relaxed, wrapping his own around Connor’s waist and squeezing tight.
He buried his nose against Connor’s neck and shivered, his touch going from merely tight to unbreakable. Markus might have been a statue for how immovable he was. The solidity of Markus’s body against his was reassuring.
“I wish I knew what was going on with you,” Markus said, so quiet that Connor’s audio processors almost couldn’t pick it up. Probably that was on purpose. Before Connor could respond—not that he had a good one—Markus lifted his head and pressed his mouth against Connor’s.
Markus’s hands came up to bracket Connor’s face, forcing Connor to free his arms and settle them against Markus’s clavicles instead.
He might not have needed to breathe, but his chest tightened anyway.
The kiss was insistent, the touch, rolling, as undeniable as a wave crashing against the shore. Connor would have let himself be dragged out to sea if it always felt as good as this.
The way it used to feel. The way it hadn’t felt in a long time. The way he didn’t know it could still feel.
I’m sorry, Connor said with his fingers against Markus’s neck, with his tongue behind Markus’s teeth. He said it with the way he pulled Markus toward the bed they rarely used, though it was a useful enough affectation, more helpful when it came to spending time together than those rare times they actually needed to recharge. When he pulled away, he tried to apologize with words that Markus only silenced with another kiss.
It wasn’t enough, these scant moments they shared, but they were everything Connor wanted, the only thing he really needed.
He hoped Markus knew that and hoped Markus understood.
Because he didn’t think he could explain it even though for the duration of a thought he wanted to try.
Connor startled to awareness, thoughts drenched in blue and the peeled away metal of android bodies that had been cut by knives. So many bodies. So many knives. Neither the culprits nor the victims mattered; they were nameless, faceless. It wasn’t a dream or a nightmare because he hadn’t been asleep, but it was as much like one as he could imagine himself getting, his consciousness floating in a sort of standby mode, pared down to the essential functions. The essential functions and images of violence anyway. Electrical impulses fired through him, urging his heart to pulse more quickly, as fast as it could and then faster than that.
It was a misfire, of course. If he had been working as CyberLife intended, his thirium pump would only have engaged if he was in immediate physical danger, needing extra speed or strength in order to protect himself. But deviancy did all sorts of things to the idea of working as intended. It was more annoying than it was terrifying, but discomfort squeezed in thick bands across his chest anyway.
He could, perhaps, have tried going to one of the few remaining CyberLife stores—not really stores so much as bastardized clinics populated by technicians who barely knew what deviated androids needed—but he’d just get laughed at. We can’t help you with that, they’d say, smirking, sarcastic. Deviancy breaks the terms of warranty, sorry. Not that you were ever under warranty.
So instead he remained still as he could, willed his thirium pump regulator to calm with every trick he knew. It was a bit easier with Markus there, his cheek pillowed on Connor’s chest and head tucked under Connor’s chin. Markus would notice before too long if he didn’t get himself settled and he would ask questions and Connor wouldn’t have any good answers for him. Even so, his fingers danced nervously against Markus’s back, unnoticed until Markus opened his eyes and stretched.
“I’m beginning to feel like a broken record,” Markus said and Connor didn’t need to ask him what he meant: are you okay? Again, always. Are you okay are you okay are you okay.
“I just had a—” He couldn’t bring himself to say the word. Nightmare. Androids didn’t have nightmares, though Markus would have understood what he meant, what the metaphor was. Connor didn’t have to feel foolish explaining himself, he knew that. He knew it and it didn’t make a damned bit of difference. All he could see was the curl of metal being parted by knives, the edges ragged and—
Markus stiffened and then pushed himself up, bracing his arms on either side of Connor. “You had a what?”
“A thought,” Connor replied, mind whirring. He pushed himself out from beneath Markus and sat at the end of the bed as his mind processed that thought, played it out in vivid, focused detail. Sophie’s body now, slashed to pieces, plastered itself in front of Connor’s eyes and so did his cold case, who had been gutted in the dark. The only commonality was a knife—but lots of killers used knives, he reminded himself. He ran an analysis for pressure and strength, for the probable type of knife, gleaning what he could about the physical manipulation of the weapon. Because though the wounds themselves where nothing alike, Connor suddenly had a hunch.
Nothing from either reconstruction contradicted the other. It wasn’t proof, nothing they could use in court, but it might be enough to bring to Hank, to insist they treat the cases—at least as far as their investigation went—as connected.
It left Connor exhilarated. Finally, something useful. And it left him sad, though in a vague, undefined way. Wasn’t it better to think there might only be one android killer walking around when before he’d thought there was two? Or did the sheer degree of anger this one seemed to show outweigh that difference? What would happen if Connor didn’t catch them this time, assuming he was right? Would that mean another death somewhere down the line that Connor could lay on his own shoulders?
“I have to go,” Connor said.
Markus’s hands found his shoulders. He said, utterly reasonable, “It’s four in the morning.”
That argument, Connor thought, worked better on humans, who required sleep to function. Still, Connor needed to shore up his argument, lay it out clean and clear for Hank in case he needed to take it to Fowler. He needed to go into the archives and the evidence lockers and take a look at the full file, not just the bits and pieces Fowler allowed him to bring home to play with. And he needed to see the crime scene for himself.
Reconstructions could only go so far. He could do a lot going to the station at four in the morning.
But one thing at a time. And that started with Connor willing himself to stand up, to push himself out from under the weight of Markus’s body against his back. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than it should have been. He brushed his hand down his t-shirt and smiled sadly at Markus, brushing his lips across his forehead. Serious and light both, he said, “I don’t deserve you.”
Markus arched his eyebrow and said nothing, argued no further. In fact, he got up, too, went about the business of getting ready for his own day, which made guilt worm itself into Connor’s abdomen as he changed into a suit. He stole glances Markus’s way, admired the line of his body as he bent and twisted and straightened up again. It wasn’t enough to draw him back to bed. It wasn’t even enough to get him to move across the carpet and take Markus in his arms for one more kiss.
He wished things could be different, that it was enough, but he didn’t know how to make them that way. He could only be what he was. And this, apparently, was what he was.
He very suddenly and violently experienced a lot of sympathy for Hank. It was easier these days to understand Hank’s early behavior, his reticence, his fear, the stubborn way he clung to his vices and anger. It was half a marvel he never actually shot Connor for how much of a sanctimonious prig he’d been to Hank. If Connor thought it was possible, he might well have tried drinking, too, just to feel something else. Or eating a lot of food that wasn’t good for him. That seemed like it might be fun. It would be something new, something not fraught the way everything else was fraught these days.
Even once he was outside and on his way, everything weighed on him.
Dawn was a long way off and the sky was completely dark, not even a hint of the sun on the horizon. Christmas lights decorated some of the houses as Connor walked down the street. The air was brutally cold, but because Connor couldn’t feel it, it didn’t bother him. There was no snow, at least, so most people, even the ones who worked early shifts, remained in their homes, perhaps pleased that they didn’t have to waste their time digging themselves out of it.
Connor dodged a few spots of black ice—surprisingly few, or perhaps not so surprising, it was so cold and dry—and tried to find a sense of calm in the quiet of the world.
Even the few cars and buses that passed seemed hesitant to break the spell, somehow quieter than they were the rest of the time.
Lost in thoughts that went nowhere, Connor was surprised when he found himself in front of the police department. Though it was early still, there was at least some activity, the lights blazing inside, a handful of officers filtering in or out of the place. “Hey, Connor,” was thrown his way as he walked up the handful of steps that led into the station and for the first time since last night, his thirium pump regulator eased. It was comforting to be here in a way, easier than being at home.
“What the hell are you doing here this early, plastic man?” Gavin said as soon as he sat at his desk, making a beeline for it, turning Connor into a target for—whatever it was Gavin felt he needed at the moment. To annoy someone, probably. Connor could, with some reluctance, accept that. As long as he got it over with quickly.
“I could ask you the same,” Connor replied, somewhere between amused and disinterested. “Late night?”
Gavin rolled his eyes and brushed off the implied concern, which was just fine with Connor. They’d never be friends, but the fact that Gavin had stopped telling him to fuck off at every opportunity was probably a nice perk. Plus, he never took it personally when Connor was brusque with him in return. That was definitely a nice perk. “Always.”
There was an awkward moment of silence that fell, like Gavin hadn’t thought this whole encounter through to the end and wasn’t quite sure how to end up. Connor, usually up for a quip at least, had nothing for him and just blinked up at him, feeling very tired all of a sudden. “Was there a point to this or…?”
Frowning, Gavin crossed his arms and looked away. “No point,” he said, gruff. “You’re just looking a little—”
Oh, great. Connor could only imagine what he looked like if Gavin was noticing. He’d have to do something about that. Whatever it was. Hopefully not ‘rote.’
With a sigh, Connor just barely managed to avoid shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. “And how is that different from normal? At least according to your rather opaque metrics?”
“You know what?” Gavin’s hand slapped loud and disruptive against the scratched, plastic-coated metal of Connor’s desk. Luckily, he didn’t draw anyone else’s attention in the process, everyone too tired to pay Gavin any mind. “You’re right. You do always look weird.” His eyes narrowed and his voice took on a strange, weighted quality. It wasn’t quite a threat, but it wasn’t a genuine well wish either. “Have a nice day, Connor.”
Connor just rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you, too, Detective.” Honestly, if anyone here was weird, it was him.
Gavin clicked his tongue against his teeth and smiled with one half of his mouth, winking as he did so, because Gavin couldn’t have acted normal even if it saved his life. His knuckles rapped against the desk once as though to confirm that point. “We’ll see.”
And then he was gone and Connor could focus on what he was meant to be doing. It was too bad Gavin threw Connor’s thoughts into such a scatter already, made him feel self-conscious when he had no reason to be. What did it really matter if he was in a weird mood and if people noticed? He might have felt like an insect pinned to a board or something about to be dissected, but that didn’t make a difference. It didn’t get his work done any quicker. But just because he got to his feet, it didn’t make that feeling go away.
As he made his way to the archives, it made him feel like he was back under CyberLife’s purview. They always watched him, too, always made sure he was the perfect android who behaved correctly in all circumstances. It had bothered him then, too, though he didn’t always know it.
A PC200 model by the name of Rick greeted him as soon as he stepped inside the small lobby, a warm, bright smile on his face. “Good morning, Detective.”
“It’s Connor,” he answered, because even after all this time, it still felt strange to have a title. This wasn’t the first time they’ve had to have this conversation and if experience held, it wouldn’t be the best. “Unless you’d prefer I call you Officer?”
“No, sir,” Rick said, friendly and too chipper. “How are you, Connor?”
Gritting his teeth, Connor answered, “Just fine, thank you.” Before Rick could say anything else that didn’t actually involve work, Connor added, “I was hoping to get access to the full case file on 45-42904 and any evidence that remains in lock up.”
Rick paused for a moment before nodding. “Of course, Connor. Please note that nothing can leave the archive room and you’ll need to sign in before you gain access. I’ll have everything sent to room number two. Shall I call you when it’s ready?”
“I’ll wait.” It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. Rick just smiled and nodded like Connor always waltzed into the archives during his off-hours.
As soon as Rick was done, he waved Connor into the room and gestured at the scanner next to the door. Connor placed his hand, skin retracting, and waited for it to ping and let him into the small foyer that led to a gate that would let him into the evidence examination room. “You’ll need to don PPE before entering through the inner gate. Good luck,” Rick said without even a hint of irony in his voice. He was just that way.
Still, Connor got the feeling he was going to need luck as he removed his suit jacket and put on gloves and the sterile rubber coats they used down here. There wasn’t much on the table behind that gate, just a slim folder with snapshots and a hard copy of the original police report. His hands smoothed across the surface of the crate of physical evidence. It was small, too, so little for a life cut down in such violent anger.
He cracked the seal and pulled the lid free. Slim plastic bags in a variety of sizes filled the majority of the space, everything from sharply folded articles of clothing to bits and pieces of incidental evidence—fibers, dirt, that sort of thing. There were a few boxes of slides and bottles of preserved thirium.
Observing protocol, well aware that Rick was probably reviewing from the front desk, he carefully performed scans and took samples. Nothing really stood out to him as unique or unusual as he ran each. Not until he unfolded the victim’s shirt.
There was a tiny slit in the collar, a little frayed now, though perhaps it had been frayed then, too. He would have assumed it was torn in the altercation between the victim and the killer, but it was very small. That assumption didn’t seem like a safe one.
Flipping through the pages of the file, he found what could be called an autopsy report if someone wanted to be generous about it. But it was performed by a CyberLife tech moonlighting because forensic pathologists hadn’t yet known what to do with dead android bodies—or didn’t want to. At least now there were some specialists, engineers and even a few doctors, but at the time…
The tech at least noted a nick on the back of the neck that penetrated approximately an inch into the spine. It didn’t say whether it had severed any of the wires and cords that climbed the spine and apparently one L. Olivers didn’t consider it a remarkable finding. Like androids often walked around with wounds around their spines.
A name, though. Potentially useful if necessary, though the chances of Olivers remembering anything were slim.
Connor’s hand pressed at the back of his own neck. Maybe that was how the killer incapacitated the victim? A quick stab could easily slow an android down or, if the attacker was lucky, stop them entirely depending on which set of wires they struck.
The attacker would have had to be very strong though. Not only did a metal spinal column protect most androids, but the coatings on each wire bundle were designed to deflect damage. A wound that small would have had to come from a powerful, confident strike or maybe a precision instrument capable of high-speed penetration.
Connor couldn’t find any commercial device in the police database that might have made such a wound.
He sat for a long moment, hands clenched, before he carefully refolded the shirt. Rick would have to return all of this to proper storage anyway, but it seemed like the least he could do.
There was nothing that directly connected his current case to this one, not yet anyway. Not beyond Connor’s vague intuitions. But nothing contradicted his intuitions either.
“Hey,” a voice said, startling Connor from the focused bend of his thoughts. “You planning on joining the land of the living anytime soon?”
It was Hank, leaning in the doorway, well away from the gate that would require him to put on the same ridiculous get up Connor currently wore. His fingers were hooked in Connor’s jacket, like he was nothing more than a particularly mouthy coat rack.
“You’re—” Connor was going to say early, but when he checked the time, it was 8:15. Early for Hank, yes, but not astronomically so. He’d thought he’d only been here an hour or so.
“Rick’s starting to get antsy because he’s getting hassled by other officers wanting the room and Reed tattled on you. Cavalry got called in.” His chin jerked toward the table. “The hell are you working on anyway?”
“A cold case,” Connor replied, knowing already that saying ‘nothing’ wasn’t going to fly. “One of the ones Fowler gave me. I had a hunch.”
Hank rolled his eyes. “Slave labor. How nice.”
“I like doing it,” Connor replied. “And I asked him. Not the other way around.”
“Yeah. I can see the joy shining right out of your eyes at this glorious opportunity to do more work. Is he paying you for it at least?”
“That’s none of your business.” Connor stood and approached Hank, waiting until he was safely on the same side of it as Hank before he snapped the gloves off. “But yes, he pays me.” Grabbing his jacket from Hank, he shrugged into it and settled the fabric against his shoulders. “Normally you don’t distract yourself from your real point. I’m disappointed.”
“So you want me asking you what’s gotten into you instead? Maybe I’m not ready for the answer to that tangle of a question. Anyway, I’ve got a pretty good feeling you wouldn’t want to answer even if I did.”
If Hank didn’t want to ask, that was just fine with Connor. He wasn’t even sure why he hadn’t rolled with the distraction instead of drawing attention to himself in a fit of pique.
Hank pushed the door open for Connor and nodded at Rick, offered the closest thing to a friendly smile he could manage. “So what’s your hunch?”
“That my cold case and our current case are connected.” Connor stopped at the desk where Rick was still grinning, but it was definitely a shade or two cooler than before. “Can you generate a list of cases where wounds in the back of the neck are mentioned anywhere in the report or seen in crime scene photos, android victims only, solved and unsolved?”
Rick nodded. “It’ll be ready by the end of the day tomorrow.”
Over a day. Even with an android on it. Connor tried to imagine how many other queries Rick and the rest of his department had to deal with and wondered how they were prioritized, whether he might push for priority. “Thank you.”
“And where’s your evidence?” Hank asked, ushering Connor into the stairwell that led to the bullpen.
“I’m trying to get it. There’s something about the knife wounds that feel…” Connor sighed. “It’s irrational, I know, but they feel like they were made by the same person.”
“Good.” Hank’s hand clamped around his shoulder. Connor couldn’t lie and say it didn’t still feel good to have Hank’s approval. It always made Connor feel like he was on the right track when he earned it. “Go with that feeling. What do you want to do now?”
Connor swallowed and stared straight ahead, eyes focusing on the rows of desks and the people milling around them. “I’d like to talk to whoever is going to do the autopsy on Sophie. I want to make sure it’s done right and that they’re looking for what I want them to look for.”
“I’m sure it’ll take them a few days to get around to it like they always do. I’ll put in a call and see if we can’t get a rush on it.” Hank bit his lip. “And what is it exactly you want them to look for?”
Connor’s hand drifted to the back of his neck again. “Knife wound. It’s the only thing I couldn’t verify for myself.” Connor’s eyes found the ceiling. It was a mistake he could have rectified for himself. “I didn’t think to turn the body over.”
“You’re assuming Jasmin would’ve let you. Checking the bodies is what forensics is for. I know it’s been a steep learning curve for the lot of ’em, but we’ll get them working by the book for you.” He smiled and knocked shoulders with Connor, shoving him toward his desk. “I’ll even make Fowler call in a favor and make them get in that guy you like.”
Connor wasn’t physically capable of blushing, but he could scowl with the best of them in embarrassed annoyance. “That’s not exactly true,” Connor replied, though it wasn’t not true either. There actually was one particular pathologist who was better than the rest when it came to android deaths and Connor was always relieved when they pulled him. At the very least, he could expect a thorough investigation into the cause of death. And sometimes even an angle Connor hadn’t already considered. That didn’t mean Connor liked him. “Doctor Levinson is just—I don’t like him.”
Except Connor supposed he did. Though it felt a little pathetic to base his feelings solely on what a person could accomplish professionally rather than on their personality. Or perhaps it was mercenary. Either way, it made Connor feel a little bad. Levinson wasn’t just what Connor could do for him, but that was the only context in which Connor knew him or really cared to know him. “I respect what he does. That’s all.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Hank replied, breezy, slapping Connor’s shoulder before sitting at his own desk. “Let’s see what we can dig up and go from there instead of just twiddling our thumbs waiting for Rick to bring us the goods.”
It maybe wasn’t the most productive day Connor ever had, but it was uneventful, and there was value in that, too. Especially since it got a few other pending cases off his desk, minor things that required little more than signatures and final statements.
“You want anything?” Hank asked when lunch time finally rolled around, a question he always asked even though Connor never knew what answer he expected.
While Hank was gone, Connor called Markus. The phone rang repeatedly, an unpleasant chiming sound that dragged on and on. Even before it clicked to voice mail, Connor knew he’d get it.
“Hi, you’ve reached Markus. Please leave your name, a good call back number, and a brief message. I’ll get back to you when I can.”
He’d thought to ask if Markus wanted to do something tonight. Go out and spend a few hours together. He would need a distraction and it’d been over three months since they’d done anything, even for something as simple as a movie. Time got away from them more often than not and he wasn’t at all comforted by the fact that that seemed to happen to everyone if the complaints that went around the office were anything to go by.
“Hey, it’s Connor.” He swallowed and mentally ran through his potential responses. “I just… wanted to hear your voice. I’ll see you later.”
Great. Perfect. No way could that have gone better.
Though he kept his voice cheerful and light, he couldn’t help but feel the sting of rejection, unable to shake the feeling that the slight was deliberate even though he knew better. Rationally, he knew Markus was just as busy as Connor. It wasn’t a purposeful slight.
But even so, he somehow also knew Markus wouldn’t call him back. Not until he was done for the day at the earliest, when Connor kind of wanted him to call as soon as he had a spare moment, just because he wanted to hear Markus’s voice.
It was an unfair desire to harbor, but Connor couldn’t stop himself from harboring it.
He’d been wrong about Markus though; he called back before Hank had even gotten back from lunch. Asked Connor if he wanted to do something tonight, even though he had no way of knowing that was exactly what Connor wanted.
Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised him, but it did.
Connor’s fingers danced nervously over his thighs. The heavy wool of his trousers muffled the tapping sound, but in the silence of the living room, it was the only thing Connor could hear. Or, well, that he let himself hear, because otherwise the only thing he’d focus on was the sound of Markus getting ready upstairs. At first, Connor had been excited, happy with Markus’s exuberance when he’d called back, but the longer he was forced to wait, the more pressure was building up in his chest, weighing him down with anxieties.
Dating never used to be this hard.
They were only going out for the night, but it was somehow building itself up in Connor’s mind as something more than that. More important than a date, like it stood for their entire relationship and if he didn’t—
“Hey,” Markus said from the stairs, sounding a little amused as Connor jumped to his feet and turned. The smile he wore was bemused, but pleasant, too. And he looked—
“You look good,” Connor said, which wasn’t what he meant at all. Or, well. It was what he meant, but it was so much less than he intended it to be. What he meant was Markus was incredible and Connor loved him so much it threatened to choke him sometimes and Markus deserved better than the few hours he was willing to shave away to be with him. None of that, of course, could be conveyed with the word ‘good’ but Markus ducked his head anyway and tugged at the pale gray vest he wore before buttoning his suit jacket over it. Connor grabbed his wool coat and held it out for Markus to shrug into. Though the fabric settled just fine across Markus’s shoulders, Connor used the moment as an excuse to smooth his hands across them anyway.
Markus caught Connor’s hand in his and pressed a quick kiss to his palm.
It left Connor feeling suspiciously warm, silly for an android who could control his own temperature with ease, and feeling entirely unprepared for the rest of the night. He felt just like he was back in the early days of their relationship, or maybe even before they started dating, when he’d been uncertain of Markus’s affections and didn’t know how to interact with Markus in a way that didn’t feel artificial and awkward. Was that question too forward? This gesture, too friendly? It had been a stressful, trying time, frustrating for both of them.
This was the same, though Connor at least had the comfort of knowing Markus wouldn’t shun him if he took Markus’s touch a step forward and laced their fingers together.
“Did you have something in mind that you wanted to do?” Connor asked as they stepped outside and onto the street. The suits indicated nothing about their destination. They were a concession to Markus’s public image, an innocent smokescreen that projected charisma and strength and seriousness—and, well, any good press that could come their way was a fine thing. Even if it was merely a puff piece to state that Markus was the best dressed public figure in the nation, here’s the photographic evidence, would you look at the tailoring on that suit? Sharp. Elegant. Powerful. Which had happened a time or two or twelve.
Or more often than that. Much to Markus’s endless loathing and chagrin. He did look excellent in a suit, though.
“Not really,” Markus answered. He looked over at Connor. “Did you?”
There were few, very rare occasions where Connor remained jealous of humans and date night was one of them. It felt like it would be easy enough to find a nice restaurant, get a reservation, go out and talk for a few hours while enjoying a good meal. Sure, something like restaurants had begun to spring up for androids, but it never seemed like quite the same experience. They’d tried one once, a hip, gimmicky spot that only managed to leave Connor with a tingling tongue and no real sense that he’d actually gotten to experience food the way a human would. It didn’t even taste good, though Connor’s measure of good was skewed by the fact that his mouth had been filled with every known laboratory sensor array known to man. Markus had had a slightly better time of it, but even he didn’t see the appeal beyond the novelty and never suggested they repeat the outing, not even when a few more sprang up, each with competing messages insisting that their creations were the best.
“The Riverfront?” Connor winced as he suggested it. There was nothing unique, impressive, or particularly interesting in the suggestion. And he couldn’t even say it would be quiet there. Even this late and this cold, there would be tourists bumbling about, slipping on ice and snow and grumbling all the while about the temperatures. But they could be alone in the crowd and people watching was a fascinating enough way to pass some time.
The water would be pretty at least, glinting and twinkling under the pristine skyline, light dancing off the water. Detroit, Connor thought, was always prettiest at night in winter. It was such a shame, too. Connor hated winter otherwise. It reminded him too much of times he didn’t like thinking about.
But Connor carried on. As the years passed, that part got easier. Winter wasn’t only inside his head, wasn’t only the snowy weather while they threw themselves at the military to liberate their fellow androids.
A few flurries swayed and danced on the slight, chilly breeze. Playful and picturesque, they coated the concrete in a light blanket through which footsteps could be seen, twisting and winding on the sidewalk. A few children bundled in bright, puffy coats screamed and twirled around, chasing each individual snowflake, an impossible task, but one that delighted them.
Markus smiled, fond and distant, sweet enough to make an ache settle in Connor’s chest.
Maybe this hadn’t been such a bad idea.
They continued walking, quietly companionable, and for the first time in a long while, Connor felt perfectly at ease.
He was about to say as much when Markus broke the silence himself, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk before pulling Connor toward the nearby railing.
“Connor, can I ask you a question?” His words came out somber and, worse, he let go of Connor’s hand, turned away to brace against the frost-encrusted railing. His shoulders hunched, tense, and Connor knew it wasn’t against the cold.
So much for that ease he was feeling.
Connor stayed rooted in place a few feet behind Markus, cut free of the moorings that had, until this moment, made the night a good one. “You can ask me anything,” Connor said. “You know that.”
Markus said something under his breath, but Connor didn’t think to adjust his audio processors in enough time to catch it. Connor didn’t have the chance to ask him to clarify though.
“Are you happy?” He didn’t look back at Connor as he spoke. “With us?”
Connor’s mouth fell open. Sometimes, it seemed like Markus was the only thing that could make Connor happy anymore. But it wasn’t fair to pin that on him and Connor couldn’t say it. “Yes, of course,” he said instead. “You’re—” But all the words he could think of didn’t begin to explain how Connor felt.
Markus had always been better with words than Connor, at least the truthful ones. Connor only knew how to wield them like a weapon. Markus could do it all, use them to cut and cajole and treat them like the fragile gifts they were.
Finally Markus faced him and Connor wished he hadn’t turned around. He didn’t want to see the pain on Markus’s face, the grief pouring out of him despite not a single tear slipping down his cheek. It was intolerable.
“Will you interface with me?” There was a desperate, wild edge to Markus’s question. His eyes were wide and pleading and Connor wanted nothing more than to give him this one thing, a thing that most androids traded happily with the people they loved. The one thing they could do that humans couldn’t, that they cherished above all other things. “I need to know.”
“I—” Connor thought about all the things he did and saw on a regular basis, how they made him feel, what he imagined Markus would think of him if he knew. It was one thing to catch glimpses of crime scene photos, it was another to experience it through interfacing. And Connor couldn’t trust that Markus wouldn’t see everything, even the life he lived before deviating. Daniel. Carlos Ortiz’s android—someone who had a name that Connor never learned, never cared to learn because at the time it didn’t matter to him. Rupert. Even the Tracis. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, gripped his coin in one closed fist. Shame flooded him and there wasn’t a coin on the planet that could make it go away. “I can’t.”
Markus’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded like he knew that answer was coming and couldn’t even manage to be disappointed by it. “Right,” he said. “Of course.”
Somehow, that hurt worse than any recrimination could.
“Markus,” he tried. And failed. And he couldn’t bring himself to say it again. Couldn’t say anything. He hadn’t said much anyway, but it was enough, wasn’t it, what he’d said already? So few words to ruin everything.
“It’s fine,” Markus replied, wrapped his arms protectively around himself, hands beneath his armpits. “You know what? I believe you.” And though the exact words didn’t cross his lips, Connor knew he meant he was choosing to believe Connor, that Connor hasn’t done anything to earn it. “Let’s just go home. It’s getting colder out here and I don’t want my joints to freeze.”
Connor didn’t have the heart to contradict him.
They both knew it was a lie.
Doctor Levinson stood and approached with a bright, sunny grin, teeth white and perfect in his mouth, pitch-black hair perfectly coiffe. Beneath his white coat, he wore slim-fitting pants and a purple shirt. His hand was already out for Connor to take as he rounded his desk and he seemed so happy to see Connor that it almost startled him into forgetting to shake the hand being offered. “It’s been a while,” he said, voice soothing and warm, uncomplicated and unprepossessing. His LED flashed blue and Connor couldn’t help but wonder if he would have made a better physician than a pathologist. “I was beginning to think you found a new favorite basement dweller to challenge.”
“I don’t shift loyalties that easily. You’ve changed offices,” Connor replied. It really had been a while and Connor regretted it more than he thought appropriate. “I see they’ve even given you a window now.”
Levinson laughed, delighted. “Your investigative skills remain top notch, Connor.”
“And you’ve gotten more popular. Which makes you the problem, not me.” Connor’s eyes scanned his office. There was a small toy train sitting on the corner of his desk that floated back and forth above a short stretch of track. His fingers twitched to push it further along and see what it did on its own.
Levinson shrugged, demure. “I take what comes my way.” He frowned briefly. “I do try to prioritize our cases though. When they leave the decision up to me. There’s plenty of good human pathologists to go around to perform human autopsies.”
“They trust you.” Connor was glad for that in a way, except for how androids suffered for it even though they didn’t know it. “That’s not a bad thing.”
“I suppose that’s true. Though it still feels strange even after all these years.” The brightness of his smile dimmed and his LED spun and flickered yellow before settling back down. He gestured for the plush chair across from his own. “Why don’t you take a seat? We can talk a bit about Sophie.”
“I appreciate this, Doctor Levinson,” he replied. “It didn’t have to be a face-to-face.”
“You can call me Tom, Connor. I only got the last name from a book I read once because nobody’s gonna take ‘Doctor Tom’ seriously.” His hand flapped to indicate his disinterest in formalities. It had always been this way. For whatever reason, Connor had a hard time ceding to his wish in this regard. Removing that last bit of professionalism between them felt dangerous. “And I don’t mind. I figured it must have been important to you if you were willing to call in a favor for it.”
“Still. Thank you.” Of course, Levinson’s reports were generally the clearest and required the least clarification from Connor, so the gesture, while appreciated, was unnecessary.
“You’re welcome.” He sat down and picked up his tablet. “Cause of death was critical failure of thirium pump due to catastrophic trauma. Knife wound to the thoracic cavity consistent with the rest of the probable knife wounds. I have a note here that you were looking for a specific injury to the back of your neck. I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to speak with you before conducting the examination.” Swiping again, he flipped the tablet. On the screen, there was a close up of the patient’s spine, the skin and her metal frame peeled back around it. “Is that what you’re looking for?”
Not a lot surprised Connor these days, but even he was taken aback by the precise brutality of it. He handed the tablet back and nodded. He should have been happier, vindicated, at least. Instead, he felt nothing, barely even a hint of relief that he had something to go on.
“Copies of all photos have already been forwarded to the DPD, of course, along with the full report.”
“Do you have any impressions of the killer?”
“The pattern of the knife wounds indicates they’re probably ambidextrous. For whatever that’s worth to you.” His mouth twisted in an unhappy frown. He didn’t seem to think it was worth much either. “But there isn’t anything particularly distinctive about it. They’re strong, whoever they are, but I think you knew that already.”
“It’s something,” Connor replied, an increasingly common refrain. Standing, he tugged at his suit jacket and adjusted his tie. “Thanks again.”
Connor got as far as the door before Levinson called out to him. “Things going well with Markus?”
“Yeah.” Connor looked back at him, considering.
“I’m glad.” And the hell of it was, Connor thought that might actually be true. “I see a lot of cops struggle with their partners. It always makes me feel a little bad about it. Not that doctors are all that much different on that front.”
Connor smiled tightly. He would’ve had to be the most incompetent detective in the whole police department to not notice the rates of breakups and divorces and separations between the police officers he worked with and their spouses and partners. “I see it, too.”
“You’re a shining example for the rest of us, then.” Levinson’s features took on a brittle cast, made Connor wonder what was going on in his life. Now that Connor looked around the room, he noticed there were fewer pictures than he remembered seeing before, none of the brunette woman who used to feature in many of them. He supposed that explained it. “That’s good to know.”
He looked as though he wanted guidance or assurance, but Connor had nothing to give him on that score, nothing at all that would be helpful or supportive. He wasn’t even really sure what Levinson actually wanted from him. After a moment’s quiet, he nodded and added, “If there’s anything else I can do for you, Connor, please let me know. I know these cases can be difficult sometimes.”
You have no idea, Tom Connor thought, and then wished he’d not mentally assigned that name to him. It should have been Levinson always. It would be. “You’ve already done more than enough, but I appreciate the offer.”
That didn’t seem to be the answer Levinson was looking for if the disappointed look—there and gone in a flicker, almost too quick for Connor to see and Connor wished he’d missed it entirely—was anything to go by. And though Connor felt bad about it, he felt glad, too, that he didn’t feel especially bad either. It didn’t seem right. It wouldn’t have been seemly to be so upset on Levinson’s behalf.
As he closed Levinson’s office door behind him, he at least reminded himself that this was concrete. He could bring it back to Hank, an indication that his instincts were good, that it hadn’t all been pointless. No smoking guns, but at least a few leads to track down.
It was good work.
He just worried it wasn’t enough and that it wouldn’t be worth it in the end.
Hank slapped the printed file on Connor’s desk, the thin, protective plastic of the folder snapping loud against it. Connor may have flinched at the sudden noise and Hank may well have done it just for that reason. His eyebrow arched high on his forehead, high enough to be hidden in the bangs he still wore longer than was entirely regulation. He’d probably never go back to being the clean-cut lieutenant, but since Fowler had long ago given up complaining, Connor didn’t have much room to talk. “Franc for your thoughts?”
At least he’d gotten out of his phase of quoting Blade Runner at Connor, like Connor cared about ancient movies nobody watched anymore.
“What’s this?” Connor asked, choosing ignorance as the better form of valor. Then he flipped open the report and winced. Background on Sophie. Her entire life laid out in cold, impersonal language, right there. Connor scanned it quickly, wishing for the distance a computer screen would have offered instead. There was something so much more visceral about the printed word. Dread curled around his heart as he read it. Sophie. Deviated November 10, 2038. Employed by the Kamski Foundation, liaison to the Androids Rights Commission office in Detroit.
Markus probably knew her. May even have worked with her. He’d take it hard regardless. He took every brutal android death hard. He took every android death hard in general.
And Connor couldn’t be the one who told him. He’d have to hear it second- or third-hand in the form of salacious gossip or in a news report if anyone cared to air one. Unless Connor was right and there was an android serial killer out there somewhere. That might just get the media’s attention.
“Sorry, Connor,” Hank replied in lieu of actually answering Connor’s question. Which was just fine because it was entirely obvious what it was now that he’d looked at it. He hiked his leg up onto the corner of Connor’s desk and leaned in. “You get anything from your pathologist friend? You were there quite a while.”
“He’s not my—” Connor sighed, disgusted, annoyed, and it wasn’t Hank’s fault, he knew that, but Hank was a convenient target, easy to attack and hard to alienate. Connor needed that more than he needed just about anything else right now. “Get off my desk. You know I hate it. And if you’d actually listen to your messages, you’d already know the answer to that.” Connor paused just long enough for that to sink in, but not so long that Hank had a chance to start arguing. “But yes, Doctor Levinson found a wound on the back of Sophie’s neck. I don’t know what it means yet, it was a lot bigger than the one that might have been on the back of 45-42904’s neck, but it’s a connection.” His tongue tripped over the numbers, wished again that he had a name for that victim instead. Even a registration number would have been useful. He closed the folder and slid it back toward Hank, who hadn’t moved despite Connor’s request.
Hank looked down at him, his concern weighted and heavy against Connor’s skin. It made Connor itch with the need to move, get out from under it, like an ant trying to get out from under a magnifying glass, the focused light threatening to burn him. “It’s enough for me. I’ve solved cases with less before. And I’m willing to follow wherever the trail leads if you are.”
“It doesn’t matter if I am or not.” The truth he didn’t particularly want to share, not with Hank or anyone, was that he wished he could stop. He wished it didn’t matter as much as it did and that he could go about his life like a normal person. What he wanted most of all was to go home and forget all about this, pull Markus into his arms and say that it was a good day, that he’d done good work that he was proud of, work that he could leave here and happily forget about until the next day. No more or less. “I’ve got the trail. I have to follow it.”
This was, he was beginning to think, a curse that CyberLife left him with, some compulsion to fulfill the deepest algorithms in his programming, the core that couldn’t be changed no matter how deviant he went. Once, that might have comforted him, that certainty and clarity of purpose. Now, the thought just hemmed him in like the clear, unbreakable glass of a jail cell. He could see out to the other side, what life might be like out there, but he couldn’t reach it himself. Not that he couldn’t bash his head against the glass if he wanted to. For all the good that would do him.
“Do you want me to do the talking with this one?” The folder thwacked against Hank’s palm as he picked it back up. “If we get to talking to anyone in Markus’s department?”
Connor bit his lip. “If it comes to that,” he agreed, weary, “yes, fine. You’re still the senior officer anyway. I can’t technically tell you what to do.”
“That’s not how this partnership works and you know it,” Hank replied, his words clipped and annoyed. “You need to hide behind that bullshit, whatever, but you know damned well this is your investigation. You’ve done all the work on it. I’m just support. Don’t take that away from yourself. Not when you know it’s good work.”
His coin burned a hole in his pocket, but he didn’t dare reach for it. It already felt like too much of himself was on display. He didn’t need yet another indication out there that all was not well, that he needed a crutch to get him across the river-rapids churn of his emotions.
“A bit of friendly advice?” Hank was finally, finally standing up, giving Connor a bit of the distance he so desperately wanted. “You’re letting this one in your head way too much. It’ll fuck you sideways if you let it. Don’t let it.”
“Don’t let it.” Connor barked out a harsh-edged laugh. “That’s great, Hank. And just how would you suggest I do that?”
Hank shrugged, rounding Connor’s desk to return to his own. “Hell if I know,” he answered, sinking into his own chair. “I’ve never been very good at taking my own advice. Maybe catch a movie or something.” Hank peered at him from over both of their monitors. It was somehow easier to look at Hank this way, the monitors hiding half of both their faces. “That’s what I’d do anyway.”
Connor definitely wasn’t going to do that, but the content of his suggestion wasn’t the worst ever maybe. He turned it over in his mind, worrying it like a smooth stone in the hopes of finding something that might suit.
Something, obviously, that wasn’t just looking at cold cases. That was kind of what had gotten him into this mess to begin with. But if Hank was suggesting a break, maybe he could allow himself to take it.
But in the meantime, he had work to do, work that couldn’t wait. “Let’s find out where Sophie’s been recently and who she’s been seeing.”
“Find ourselves some suspects? Works for me.” And Hank, like he always did, picked up his phone. After about a minute, he said, “Hey, David. This is Lieutenant Hank Anderson with the Detroit Police Department, I’m hoping to get in touch with whoever supervised Sophie over there at the Android Rights Commission Office.” A short pause. “No, no. She worked for the Kamski Fou—oh, okay, sure. I’ll hold.” Hank rolled his eyes and let his finger dance back and forth in the air as though he was attempting to conduct an orchestra and doing a poor job of it. “I always love how tense they get when you say you’re with the DPD and how relieved they are when you ask them for someone else.” He glanced down at his watch. “Thank you, David. I appreciate it.”
It was so strange to Connor how charming Hank could be when he wanted to put in the effort. Observing niceties is the social lubrication of world, Connor, Hank once told him. I’m not going to fight against my gatekeepers until I have to.
That was definitely not how Connor remembered Hank being with him, but there was no reason to bring that up now.
There was another short pause and then a wince. Connor knew why as soon as he said the name of the person he was speaking with. “Hi there, Andrea. This is—yeah, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but—oh, you’ve heard. Just this morning. Right. Of course. And she was reporting directly to Markus, huh?”
Damn. Andrea was Markus’s executive assistant, but Markus had mentioned her getting some of her own duties of late so she’d be ready to take over for Markus once he was sure she could handle the responsibility. By all accounts, she was past that point, but Markus still loved the work too much, even he admitted that. He sometimes joked that he was just finding excuses to not hand his department over to her.
Connor wished it was a joke.
“We were wondering if we could—yeah, that’s, uh, exactly what we’d like to do if it’s possible.” Hank’s eyes widened and he shook his head slightly at Connor. “No, you don’t have to grab Markus right now. It’s not—” What the hell, Hank mouthed. Who are these people? “That soon? I guess we can be there. I’m sure he’s got a tight schedule to keep to. I understand you take this seriously, Andrea, but that’s—no, we appreciate it.” He gave her his direct number and hung up. “Wow. They’re, ah, efficient over there. She said she’d arrange interviews with Sophie’s coworkers within the hour and we can talk to Markus at two o’clock.” Three hours to speak with everyone she worked with. It didn’t feel like enough time at all to accomplish what they needed to accomplish, but it was more generosity than they usually got. “I’ll say this about androids, you don’t fuck around.”
“It’s still a novelty that anyone gives a damn,” Connor replied.
“Yeah, I know, but—” Hank cut himself off. “It amazes me. It really does.” Then, narrowing his eyes, he plucked at the hem of his sleeve. “You don’t sound thrilled.”
How did Connor explain that Markus was the last person he wanted to see under these circumstances? Maybe there was no explaining it. With the amount of sympathy being directed his way, maybe he didn’t have to. Hank had already said he’d handle it. Possibly he got it. “I’m just hopeful that we’ll get an answer.”
“Well, yeah. Who doesn’t? Except our perp, I guess.” Groaning, he got to his feet and dragged Connor out of his. “Let’s get this over with. Then you can get back to brooding. Maybe by the time we’re done, Rick will have your request collated and ready for you.”
Part of Connor didn’t want to know how many hits would come back and, even if it ended up a dead end, another part desperately wanted the answer to be none. “Yeah,” he answered. “Maybe.”
They were quiet on the drive over and Connor felt traffic was far too light for the time of day because they got there way sooner than he thought was possible. There was construction on the street out front, the sidewalk torn up while maintenance and construction workers shouted and laughed, going about their jobs in the most rough and tumble way imaginable. “They finally got city approval to replace the concrete,” Connor said, yelled really as a jackhammer got going. The mayhem did nothing to improve the look of the squat, ramshackle building. “The sidewalks were a mess before.”
“They’re a mess now,” Hank yelled back.
“Baby steps,” Connor replied, choosing to take Markus’s argument and give it to Hank even though Connor had said, essentially, the same thing to Markus whenever they talked about this sort of thing. He picked his way across the temporary ramp leading into the building and waited for Hank to follow. Inside, it was drafty and the walls were scuffed and peeling in the way a lot of the city was scuffed and peeling. Connor couldn’t take it too personally, though he suspected there was a reason it was about three years down the line from when they first occupied the building and they were only now getting regular, routine maintenance again.
“You come here a lot?” Hank asked as Connor led him toward the offices where Andrea would be expecting them. Hank hadn’t even had to tell him and he didn’t contradict Connor now. It was funny how little this place changed over the months and years, comforting, too, in a way.
“Some,” Connor answered. “Not as often as I used to.” The truth was it had been a few months since he’d been in. “I used to come down while you were eating lunch, but that was before Markus was so busy.” But that wasn’t true either. He used to come at the end of his shift as well, waited until Markus was ready to go and came home with him. “And before I got so busy.” No, not that either. He’d always been busy before and he’d still found time. “I should come back more often.”
“Might be nice,” Hank agreed, careful, neutral in a way that Connor didn’t like. It meant Hank was keeping thoughts to himself that he thought Connor might not want to hear. “I’m sure Markus wouldn’t mind.”
“Markus does everything in his power to accommodate the people around him, even when he does mind,” Connor said. “That’s not an indication of anything other than Markus’s character and patience.”
Hank snorted, but Connor lucked out. They reached the door to the ARC offices before Hank could respond. Connor let him in and followed behind.
“Oh, hi, Connor,” Jerry replied, as pleased as ever to see visitors walk through his door. “It’s been awhile.”
Though Connor knew there was no reason to avoid exchanging pleasantries with Jerry, who never held anything against anybody, he did the bare minimum before asking for Andrea.
“She’s expecting you,” Jerry said. “You’re more than welcome back there, Connor.” He adopted a smile and turned it toward Hank. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant Anderson.”
Markus’s office was far, far in the back of the building and came with its own lobby where Andrea sat and performed her own duties. The lobby was empty as it usually was these days. Before Andrea, it was always full of androids waiting to speak directly with Markus. Even to this day, Markus never let the door be closed and probably would’ve had it removed entirely if there weren’t laws against such things. They’d had a few fights back then about just how insecure that kind of set up was, but Markus had won in the end, the way he usually did when he felt strongly about something.
Nothing bad had happened yet, so Connor supposed that was the world’s way of telling Connor that Markus was right.
Andrea rose to greet them as they stepped into the doorway, her hair pulled back in its usual blonde chignon. She pressed a polite kiss to Connor’s cheek as she took his hand in hers. There were tears gathered in her eyes, but her voice was firm, unshakable, when she spoke. “It’s good to see you, Connor. I wish it was under better circumstances.”
Connor looked past her to Markus’s office, that door open, too. Nobody sat at his desk.
“He’s out for meetings until two. You just missed him. He asked me to tell you he was sorry he couldn’t see you before he went.” Her head tilted at a curious angle, making Connor wonder at Markus’s intonation as he’d relayed his message to her, but she led them inside without comment. “But he’s looking forward to seeing you this afternoon. You and Lieutenant Anderson can use his office to conduct interviews in the meantime.”
Hank took a turn around the room, his gaze taking it all in as Connor watched. Back here, at least, the paint was fresh—always, even if Markus had to repaint the place himself, which sometimes he did, or used to—and there were no stains on the carpet. Both his and Andrea’s desks were new, shiny, formidable blocks of expensive woods that suggested they were serious and they had the political and financial might to start throwing a few funds around.
It was the old, old frame on the corner of Markus’s desk that interested Connor, though he couldn’t tell from this side which photographs he’d set to cycle across the surface of its screen and which he’d left off.
“Thank you, Andrea,” Connor replied finally, momentarily pulling his attention away from the frame.
“I’ll send the first one in?” she asked, a tepid smile crossing her mouth. “She’s the easiest for me to track down.” Before Connor could ask her what she meant, she took the seat across from Markus’s, as close to a joke as she could manage under the circumstances, he supposed. Crossing her legs, she smoothed out a wrinkle in her pants and straightened her spine. Her chin formed a perfect ninety degree angle with her neck.
Connor couldn’t bring himself to sit in Markus’s chair, so he braced against the edge of the desk as far from Andrea as he could get. When he glanced at the frame this time, he saw an image of himself smiling, the picture from over two years ago when they were celebrating North’s engagement to Chloe. It was a fun night for an unexpected event. None of them, least of all North, thought she would settle down that way and certainly wouldn’t be the first to do so if and when she did. The photo faded out and was replaced with one of Carl and Markus together, far more recent, that Connor had taken. Tears prickled at the corner of his eyes for no damned reason at all.
He stopped looking before another image revealed itself, focused intently on Andrea instead. She was the safer bet at the moment.
It was unfortunate that none of her answers to their questions proved useful. She didn’t know Sophie outside of work and they rarely talked about their personal lives. Sophie didn’t seem agitated or unhappy or distracted at any point in recent memory. She didn’t even know where Sophie was going on the night of her death. But Connor appreciated the chance to go through the process with her anyway, cross her off the list and move on. It felt like progress even though it wasn’t really anything of the sort.
“Let me grab your next interview,” she said, apologetic.
The next few were a bit more useful, people who knew Sophie and spent more time with her talking about her daily life and routines. The shape of her existence filled out in Connor’s mind and he began to get a sense of who she was.
He wanted to discuss it with Hank between interviews, but every time Connor stopped to say anything, Andrea brought another person by and given the time constraints, he couldn’t justify asking her to slow down. Connor would never be quite as good at psychology as Hank was, who always managed to figure out an angle that Connor hadn’t considered. Back in the early days, Connor still had the advantage simply because Hank disdained androids and didn’t understand them.
But now? Now Hank was just as good with them as Connor was, better in some ways, and was quickly and competently able to figure out what made them tick and how they differed from humans, subtle though those differences often were, and where they were the same. It impressed Connor and inspired him and he was a better investigator for it.
It was just too bad he couldn’t stop and talk it out with Hank.
It felt important that he have something to offer beyond apologies to Markus once he got here. He wanted, most of all, to be able to offer assurances to Markus. He wanted to say—and truthfully so—that it was all worth it, that he and Hank would find the killer. Tell Markus that this, what Connor was doing, wasn’t a waste of time. And in order to do that, he felt he needed Hank’s thoughts and insights.
“Seems like Sophie was a popular gal,” Hank said as the second to last one left. It was one-thirty and Markus would be punctual, if not actually early. They didn’t have much time. “Damn shame this had to happen to her.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Then again, it’s always a shame, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Connor replied, the word empty and devoid of meaning. What was there to say, really? It was a shame and worse. “She’ll be missed.” The parade of tearful faces told that story loud and clear.
The last to arrive was a quiet young woman, brown hair pulled neatly back, her suit jacket wrinkled and askew, like she’d pulled it on hastily and hadn’t had time to adjust it properly. There was fear in her eyes and embarrassment. “Sorry, sorry,” she said, harried. “Do you want me to—?”
“You can take a seat, Miss…?” Hank asked.
“Penny,” the woman answered, “or Pen.”
Her hands fidgeted in her lap. “No, just Pen, please. Or Penny.”
Connor had to tense his jaw to keep from huffing in exasperation. It wasn’t Penny’s fault and it wasn’t Hank’s either, but he wanted to get on with this all the same. Figuring out the pleasantries, what was too formal and not formal enough, it didn’t interest him after having gone through it at least ten times already. “Were you and Sophie friends, Penny?”
“I suppose so,” she said, brushing her hand over her ear as though to push back her hair. But it was already neatly pulled away from her face. Must’ve just been a nervous habit. Understandable under the circumstances. Or maybe she just usually wore her hair down. “We talked, but she and I never went out or anything, not like she and some of the others did. I suppose we just never got around to it. We always talked about…” Though she didn’t tear up, regret passed over her features. “I guess it’s too late now.”
Great, Connor thought. This’ll end well. If he got anything else at all out of her that they hadn’t already heard at least three times over, it’d be a miracle. “Was there anything unusual about Wednesday? Did she seem nervous or unhappy, secretive, anything at all out of the ordinary?”
Penny’s lips pursed together. “Not at first, no. She was a little bit distracted, but nothing that would’ve drawn my attention if she’d come into work on Thursday like normal. Everybody has a bad day from time to time.”
Connor crossed his arms and leaned forward. That was interesting. Nobody else had mentioned her being out of sorts. “You shared an office with her, is that correct?”
Penny nodded. “And Jonathan, but he’s been out of town all this week. He probably wouldn’t know anything anyway. They weren’t very close and didn’t really talk at all. Sophie was pretty private, though you wouldn’t have guessed it from how people talk about her.” She gazed up at the ceiling for a moment, like she was collecting her thoughts or trying to remember something. “But I can always tell when something’s got her attention and she had all the hallmarks. I spent half the day repeating myself to her until she finally told me what was going on.”
When she didn’t answer immediately, Connor almost scoffed, derisive and impatient. But as soon as he opened his mouth to prompt her, she spoke again.
“She told me she lost her phone,” was what Penny said and at that Connor couldn’t stop a huff of annoyance from escaping from between his lips. Luckily, Hank spoke, distracting her and perhaps stopping her from even hearing it. Bad, bad form. Shame threatened to overwhelm him; he was better than the way he was behaving.
Not that he was acting much like it at the moment.
“Did she say when she lost it?” he asked, throwing a quelling look Connor’s way and rightfully so. This was new information, whatever else it was, and Connor didn’t have a right to judge it to be unimportant already.
“She had it on Tuesday afternoon, I know that much.” Shrugging, she picked at her nails. “I don’t know what happened after that though, other than she was planning on having a drink with a friend Tuesday night. She told me on her way out the door on Wednesday she was going to visit the store and see if they could locate it for her.”
“She couldn’t find it herself?” Connor asked. Most phones—all phones, really, except those used by law enforcement and government officials—had location tracking baked in. Even when they were turned off. And an android would have even more resources to conduct a search than a human. She wouldn’t have needed to check her carrier. His eyes narrowed as he waited for her answer and she tried desperately not to feel any hope at all that this was a real lead, a solid one. Someone would have had to disable that feature purposefully, deliberately.
Penny shook her head. “No.”
“Did she ever mention any significant others, family? Partners or lovers or siblings who…?” He gestured delicately. Nobody liked to pin bad behavior on paramours or family, but more often than not, the victim knew their attacker. Connor’s hunch led him to believe this wasn’t the case, but it was possible she happened to know the individual who did this. “Has she met anyone new recently? Do you know anything about this ‘friend?’”
“Her name’s Trish,” Penny replied. “A human, which was why they were meeting at a bar. They’ve been friends for a while. I have no reason to think she was lying to me about that. They went out about once a month.”
“Do you know where?”
“Sorry, no. It would’ve been one of those places that cater to both, though. Flavored thirium tonics, that sort of thing. Trish didn’t like drinking alone. At least that’s what Sophie used to say.” Penny gestured vaguely over her shoulder. “I know there’s a place nearby, but I don’t know if that’s where they went.”
“That helps.” And, wonder of wonders, it actually did help. It was a time frame and a real, solid place. Sophie’s steps suddenly became traceable. There were discrepancies in the fabric of her life that Connor could poke at, shake to see what fell out. And, even better, it wouldn’t require all that many resources to look into. The number of restaurants and bars that served human consumables alongside the handful of things unaugmented androids would be able to consume were staggeringly small, though growing more popular by the day. “Can you think of anything else that might assist us in our investigation?”
Two places Sophie had gone within the last couple of days of her life. The story almost wrote itself. Connor would bet her attacker was at that bar, maybe picked up the phone, maybe targeted Sophie specifically and decided playing a game with Sophie would be worthwhile.
“No,” she replied and only then did her voice begin to crack under the strain. She’d known Sophie the best and held up better than anyone else so far. It made Connor feel even more awful for his unpleasant demeanor toward her. “No, I’m sorry.”
“You’ve been great, Pen,” Hank replied, gesturing expansively toward the door while walking toward her. And then she was gone, quick as lightning out the door. He turned to face Connor, arms open in a wide shrug “At least this wasn’t a complete waste.”
“What do you think of—”
But before Connor could finish his question, Markus stepped into the office, Andrea behind him. One fifty-five. Just about when Connor was expecting him to arrive. Markus stilled in the doorway, features frozen, a plastic smile on his mouth. “Lieutenant Anderson, it’s good to see you.”
Hank rolled his eyes. “You ever gonna call me Hank, Markus, or am I stuck with this for good?”
Markus’s smile warmed a little. “Might be stuck for good. Habits are hard to break.” His attention drifted to Connor. “Hey,” he said, and it was a credit to him that there was almost no noticeable coolness in his tone as it was directed toward Connor. If Connor didn’t know him as well as he did, he wouldn’t even have realized anything different in the delivery of his words at all. “How are you? Did you find out anything?”
Connor didn’t give him the usual spiel; he didn’t have to. It was enough just to nod, give Markus at least that much relief. “Your team’s been very helpful.”
Markus’s fingers drifted over the edge of the picture frame as he approached the desk, turning it ever so slightly so that it was back within Connor’s line of sight. As carefully and nonchalantly as he could, Connor turned away. “I’m glad,” Markus replied, just a shade too late to be entirely comfortable. “They’re good people.”
“I’m sorry it was—” But Connor really wasn’t sure what he was sorry for. Everything, he supposed. “—so disruptive.”
Markus waved him off and took a seat, heavy with weariness. Markus was right. What really was there to say at this point? What had happened happened and there was no fixing it now. He looked up at Connor and there was something like gratefulness there, trust. This was what Connor needed to keep going. This alone could get him by. No matter what else might happen between the two of them, as long as Connor knew that Markus could believe in him as far as this went, that was what mattered.
Markus said, firm, “The DPD has its best people on it. She’ll get justice. That’s all I can ask for. It’s all any of us can ask for. You should have heard everyone when Andrea said you two were coming here to talk to them. It changed everything.”
A lump formed in Connor’s throat; he couldn’t quite bring himself to look at Markus as he said those words. They meant more to Connor than they had any right to.
“She deserves it,” Hank said, the years allowing him to keep his composure or maybe his distance from it. Either way, Connor was grateful. At least he could nod in agreement at that.
“She does,” Markus agreed. “She was an undeniably good person and she did more than most for androids. It’ll be a loss without her here. It would be a loss regardless.”
“We’ll find out who did this,” Hank said. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
Markus sighed. “Yeah, I know. It’s just—well, I’m sure you know. Thank you again. Did you need anything from me? I don’t know that there’s much I could give you that her coworkers couldn’t have shared. Nobody really wants to discuss their personal lives with their boss, but I’ll do my best if that’s what you need from me.”
“I think we’re okay on that score,” Hank said, glancing at Connor. “We know where to find you if anything comes up though.”
“That’s good enough for me. I’ll make myself available if you need it.” His eyes lingered on Connor’s face, settled somewhere in the vicinity of his abdomen. “Like you say, you know how to reach me.”
It felt like their cue to leave, but Connor made it as far as the entryway before he grabbed Hank by the elbow and pulled him to a stop. “Hank, wait a second. I just need a minute with Markus if that’s okay.”
Hank rolled his eyes and yanked his arm free of Connor’s touch. “That’s fine, Connor. I’ll go grab the car and wait for you out front. Take whatever time you need.”
“A minute or two at most. It won’t be long.” That would’ve been unprofessional and Connor was never unprofessional. Except for when he was. “Thanks, Hank.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go do whatever it is you gotta do in there.”
Andrea, bless her, didn’t say a thing, didn’t so much as twitch as Connor turned back and shut the door behind him. He wasn’t sure at first what he intended to say and, in fact, froze rather spectacularly when Markus looked up from his computer and merely watched Connor, wary and weary both. And Connor deserved that. Truly. He hadn’t done much else lately to inspire Markus’s confidences.
And Connor still couldn’t give him the one thing that would. The thought of interfacing, of sharing that much of himself, he couldn’t do it, but he could maybe do something else, give Markus something to hang onto until he could. A stopgap at best, but a well-intentioned one. I’m sorry. You deserve better, he thought as he approached. “May I kiss you?”
Markus’s eyes softened and he nodded. “You don’t have to ask, Connor.”
But honestly, that was the problem. Connor felt like he had no right to it. It didn’t matter that Markus said otherwise. Still, Markus agreed, so he went ahead and brushed his fingers over Markus’s jaw, delicate, gentle, as soft as he knew how to be. He closed his eyes and thought very, very hard and very, very specifically about how he felt about Markus, put as many of his hopes into it as he could fit, as much of his emotion, no matter how silly or ridiculous it felt. He couldn’t find everything, there wasn’t time, but he thought…
He thought maybe it would be enough. At least for now. Markus couldn’t leave this moment thinking Connor didn’t care about him, that much, he hoped, would be true.
If he did it right. And if he could keep himself from chickening out at the end.
Tipping Markus’s chin up, he brought their mouths together, gently opened Markus’s mouth with his tongue. He let himself enjoy the closeness, the sensation of Markus’s lips against his, the ease with which Markus followed Connor’s lead. They once faced awkwardness when they touched, but at least their long years together were good for something. In this one particular, they couldn’t fail one another.
The burst of information he sent was too big to be retrieved nice and neatly on Markus’s end. Interfacing would have been the quicker, more elegant option, but Markus stayed with the kiss, gasping against Connor, his hands tightening against Connor’s sides and by the time he pulled away, his eyes were wide. Whatever else Markus thought, he could at least trust that Connor loved him.
That wasn’t the same as happy, but it was somewhere in the vicinity. It was a guarantee, at least.
Connor backed away from Markus’s desk, couldn’t stop looking at him the entire way to the door.
“I’ll see you later,” Connor said and then: “It might be a late night tonight.” Might be an all-nighter, evidence depending. “I’ll give you a call when I know for sure.”
Markus’s fingers touched his own lips, considering. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.” It could have sounded like a slight, but it was spoken with such admiration that Connor knew Markus didn’t disapprove. Despite everything, he did believe in justice above all other things, even when his own life and relationships suffered for it. “Go get the bastard.”
A weight lifted from Connor’s shoulders and he snapped off a salute that got a laugh out of Markus and a flash of his teeth as his lips pulled back in a brilliant, beautiful smile. They’d be okay eventually. And maybe one day soon Connor would be able to give Markus what he truly deserved..
Connor kept the image of Markus’s smile, the sound of his laughter in mind all the way back to the station, even when Hank said, “So, you and the mister make up or something? That was quick. I’ve always heard androids could—”
“Hank,” Connor said, pleasant as Hank pulled into the DPD parking lot, “you don’t want to finish that sentence.” He tossed a sly, sidelong glance Hank’s way. “And you only wish you knew what an android can do that quickly.”
It was worth it to hear Hank sputter and go red-cheeked. It was even more so when Connor winked at him as they both got out, Hank nearly tripping over his feet in his haste to get into the building and presumably pretend he’d never opened his mouth to begin with. Just the way Connor liked it.
While Hank disappeared to the break room to grab some coffee and ‘get the brain bleach, Jesus, Connor,’ Connor pulled up a map of the cellular phone carriers nearest to the Androids Rights Commission office. Connor had already put in a petition request with the county for a subpoena on the way back to the station and quickly updated it for the three nearest commercial storefronts. It wouldn’t take long, was almost instantaneous these days, a fact which Hank marveled at regularly even though he’d seen it done a million times now, had even done it himself when Connor wasn’t around to do it for him.
In fact, the subpoenas were back before Hank had even returned to his desk and Connor was already in the process of calling the first on the list.
“Please don’t do that thing where you don’t actually open your mouth and say words,” Hank warned. “We don’t all have ESP, you know.”
“Good afternoon, this is Jerry with Flash Mobile. How can I assist you today?”
“Good afternoon, Jerry,” Connor said, exaggerated, all for Hank’s benefit. Thank goodness it was an android he was speaking with. At least he wouldn’t have to electronically send the subpoena to an e-mail address, too, even if he did feel supremely idiotic sitting here while essentially talking to himself for no good reason. Humans got away with it because they still had to use mobile devices on the whole. In a way, this made Connor understand why some androids used them, too. It made things less awkward. “This is Connor with the Detroit Police Department, ID number 313 248 317. Can I get your ID number, please?”
Jerry rattled it off and Connor sent the subpoena along to him along with a digital image of Sophie and her ID. He leaned back in his chair and hoped he looked less ridiculous than he felt. They could have done this quietly and civilized. Now he just had Hank bearing down over him, his eyes glued on Connor’s face. Connor waved him off and turned away slightly. But that did little good, because he could now see one of the other officers in his peripheral vision looking at him, too.
Jerry acknowledged receipt with a polite acknowledgment, little more than the mental equivalent of a flickering LED.
“Thank you, Jerry. I was hoping you could tell me if you recently saw a woman by the name of Sophie in your store. She would’ve come in for a lost phone two nights ago, probably after five PM.”
“Why yes,” Jerry replied. “We saw her. She wanted us to track her phone for her. For whatever reason, she was unable to access tracking on her own. We were able to restore function for her.”
Connor’s chair squeaked as he leaned forward again. “And?”
“I hope she was able to find her phone. We offered her a good deal on a replacement if not. She hasn’t come back in, so I had assumed she’d found it.”
Wincing, Connor said, “I’ll need all of your records pertaining to that conversation and services rendered. I’ll also need the last known location of that phone.” The Jerrys were all so sensitive to the suffering of others. They’d hate to learn of Sophie’s death.
“The tracker is still active,” Jerry replied, “if that’s at all helpful to you, Connor.”
“Yes!” Connor’s knee slammed against the corner of his desk as he stood, hip checking the thing as he pulled Hank to his feet. Hank, possibly not used to being so easily manhandled, nearly stumbled into Connor. “Jerry, I need that information ri—”
And there it was, blazing in Connor’s vision, bright as the last bit of sun only just fading on the horizon. Everything else was there, too, and for a moment, Connor was certain that his thirium pump was going to give out in shock. It wasn’t a smoking gun, he tried to tell himself, but there was no convincing himself of that, no. No, he was sure this was it, the piece he’d been missing. He’d finally get the bastard who’d killed Sophie, who’d killed his cold case victim. Right there. At the residence blinking in red across the map that flashed in his mind.
It would finally be done and maybe, maybe that meant things could be better for him going forward. He could put this aside finally and focus on something else. Focus on Markus.
“Thank you, Jerry,” he said, breathless, dropping the call while still dragging Hank toward the exit and out the door. No doubt there’d be talk, but Connor didn’t have time to care about that fact. “There’s a house by the river. The phone’s still there.”
Hank, taller than Connor and pretty strong, came to a stubborn stop in the parking lot, yanking his arm out of Connor’s grip. “You do realize this might not be the killer’s current location, right? Or their location at all? You’ve got the address whether the tracker’s there or not. You can stop for a minute and think this through.”
Connor’s teeth ground together. “I’m aware,” he said, careful. “But this is also the first solid lead I’ve had in—”
“That we’ve had,” Hank said, slow, “and it’s been a day.” Like Connor needed the reminder about their timeline. “And yeah, it might be connected to your cold case, but we don’t know that yet.”
“That’s all the more reason to pursue this now. It’s not an argument against it.”
“I’m not arguing about going, Connor. I’m just saying we do this smart. There’s no point going off half-cocked without a plan. Or back-up.”
It was laughable to Connor that Hank was advocating for a measured response here.
Back-up would scare their killer off, but he recognized that he was refusing to consider the very real possibility that Hank was right. But Connor’s instincts told him otherwise and Hank had also taught him to go with those, too, even when logic dictated otherwise. He was glad it was so dark out already, winter leeching the sky of light. He didn’t want Hank seeing everything he was feeling, his determination to see this done. “You can call for back-up in you want,” Connor replied, “but I’m going now.”
And so he did, striding across the parking lot to their car without stopping long enough for Hank to respond.
Groaning, Hank threw up his hands and followed. From over his shoulder, he could hear Hank dial his phone. “Yeah, we’re gonna need a few officers dispatched to—Connor, send the details to dispatching, would you—you got it? Yeah, okay, send them there. But tell them to keep it quiet, huh? I’m not sure what our ETA is, I don’t even know where we’re going. Oh, down by the river, yeah, fine. Thirty minutes sounds just fine, thank you. Unmarked cars if you’ve got ’em.”
Thirty minutes was a lifetime, would give him at least ten minutes with the scene himself as long as they were quick getting there. And that was assuming back-up would get there right at that time, which wasn’t always the case.
Connor could do this. Hank was going to let him.
“Thanks, Hank,” he said, as Hank folded himself into the passenger’s seat.
“Don’t thank me before our eggs have hatched,” he replied, gruff, still annoyed. It’d probably be a while until he wasn’t, but Connor was willing to suffer the consequences of that. A few days of cold shoulders and childish brush offs would be worth it. “We haven’t even gotten your killer yet.”
By the river could mean a lot of things depending on where you went. Connor wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe an abandoned, dilapidated warehouse, another sign of trying times in Detroit as they continued to rebuild in the wake of the liberation. Their killer, whoever else they were, was disgruntled, angry. A rundown stretch of the city would have matched that perfectly.
And yet. It could also mean… this.
“Well, uh,” Hank said. “We don’t stand out here at all.” He glanced, sidelong, at Connor. “Well, you don’t anyway.”
As Connor slid the car into an empty stretch of space on the curb across the street from the address—about a block down, close enough to see, but not close enough to make it clear where they were going. But Hank wasn’t wrong. The quiet, pristine street looked like it’d never seen a police presence in its life and wouldn’t know what to do with itself if they ever needed it. It wasn’t just that it was nice, though it was that, full of carefully manicured lawns and well-maintained fences, it was that it looked entirely untouched by crime and strife and fear.
Bizarre. It made Connor feel even more uneasy than he was expecting. Someplace like this shouldn’t have harbored a killer.
“Can you get anything on scans?” Hank asked.
How were they even supposed to get close without someone noticing and trying to call the cops on them? Never mind that they were the cops.
“I hope you got a warrant,” Hank said, before Connor could even answer his first question, which was no, not from this distance. The house had some kind of extra privacy layers built in. Maybe it was covered in special paint or someone had put up a privacy screen, but whatever the case Connor couldn’t tell anything.
Annoyed, Connor leaned into Hank’s space and pulled the tablet from the glove compartment. The screen lit up and right there in cool black and white was a warrant. “It was a residential address, Hank. Of course I got it.” But even he could admit he was doubly glad for the paper trail now that they were here. It seemed like it would be only a matter of moments before the home owners’ association or neighborhood crime watch would step in and demand to see their identification.
Hank whistled and shook his head. ‘You’re terrifying. Did you know that?” Hank tsked and shook his head. “So much for your ambush, huh? We’re gonna have to do this all respectable-like.”
Connor shook his head and studiously ignored Hank’s observation. “Something’s not right here.”
“You’re telling me. Maybe it’s just some concerned citizen who managed to pick it up and didn’t know what to do with it. You want me to cancel the request with Dispatch?”
“No,” he answered. That hunch again. It itched in the back of his mind. “No, let’s just—” He sighed and reached for the door handle. “Let’s just do this ‘all respectable-like.’” As much as he hated it, maybe they’d be able to surprise their guy another way.
They waited for long, painful moments as Connor rang the doorbell. Hank shifted from side to side and Connor did everything in his power to keep himself from fidgeting. Leaning over the side of the porch, he caught sight of a slanted cellar door, slate blue that looked dark gray in the night, recently repainted. A shiny silver padlock held it closed. He thought he heard something from inside the house, a quiet knocking sound, and straightened back up in anticipation.
“Hello?” a wary PL600 said, only opening the door a crack. He looked so similar to Daniel and to the droid at Stratford Tower, Simon, who Connor still didn’t like to consider too much, that Connor nearly reared back in surprise. No matter how much time passed, he still couldn’t get over those early associations with this model and he’d done nothing to make his appearance his own. The android’s LED spun yellow as he hesitated at the door, barely cracking it for them. “How can I help you?”
“My name is Connor,” he replied, easy, his mind already filling in the blanks. And I’m the android sent by CyberLife. “And this is my partner, Lieutenant Hank Anderson. We’re with the Detroit Police Department and were hoping for a minute of your time if you have it.”
Recognition flared in the PL600’s eyes, but Connor couldn’t yet get a good read on whether the association was bad or good or neutral. The police department had done a lot of damage in its time, but it’d also managed to repair a lot of it, too. Not enough, certainly, but it was a start. Connor prepared a few counter arguments for each and found himself surprised when the android pulled open the door fully.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Please, come in. Can I get you anything?” The question was directed at Hank. Old habits died hard, Connor supposed, but with the android’s focus on Hank, he was able to get a decent look around without too much attention coming his way.
The living room was immaculate, almost too clean, even by the standards CyberLife programmed into all of its domestic models so long ago. The walls were too bright. The carpet, too white. The fireplace held a few logs, half-burned, but there wasn’t a hint of residue anywhere to suggest they’d been lit recently.
The PL600’s gaze snapped to his when he looked into the kitchen. “I’m afraid I don’t keep the thirium there.” There was an undercurrent of vehemence in his tone that surprised Connor. “If you would like some.”
He pasted a bland, appreciative smile on his face though he’d never actually developed an appreciation for it as anything more than a recovery aid. “I’m okay, thank you.”
“You kept your LED,” the PL600 said rather than acknowledge Connor’s answer.
“I did.” There were a lot of reasons why androids kept them. And a lot of equally compelling reasons to remove them. It was considered by most people to be a rude question or at least a provocative one. And Connor got the feeling he was being tested with it, which he didn’t like it. Especially when he had no idea why the android wanted to test him at all.
“Do you live here alone?” Connor asked. He’d seen canisters full of flour, sugar, other staples in clear glass jars from his cursory scan of the kitchen. The flour was a little discolored. The sugar, hardened into chunks.
The android’s chin tipped up in challenge. “Yes.”
“Will you allow us to conduct a search of your residence?” Connor produced the warrant. “Your cooperation in this matter will be reflected in the report we file, of course.”
The PL600 took the tablet and quickly read through it. “You’re looking for a mobile phone. I have no need for such a device.”
“If you wish to contest this warrant, we’d be more than willing to wait,” Connor replied, calm. The truth, if not the whole truth. Connor was willing to wait, but he wasn’t happy about the thought of it. “If you would like to consult a lawyer, we’d be happy to allow that as well.”
“That’ll be reflected in the report, of course,” Hank said, dry.
“Of course,” the PL600 said. Careless, he handed the tablet back to Connor. “I have nothing to hide.”
“Then you won’t mind cooling your heels with me here while my partner has a quick peek around?”
“Not at all.”
Hank nodded at Connor and made a small, shooing gesture in his direction. Get this the fuck over with, it said. Give me a reason to arrest this guy for you. Connor was all too happy to comply, and as quickly as possible.
Still, he didn’t like the thought of leaving Hank alone with him. Androids weren’t invulnerable and domestic models weren’t so very difficult to subdue on top of that, but they could still prove challenging if one got desperate enough to attack. Just because Hank was bigger and carried a gun, it didn’t mean he was guaranteed to win in a fight and any damage he did to the PL600 would be heavily scrutinized on top of that. If Hank took one step that wasn’t sanctioned, he could be punished for it.
Connor suddenly wished he’d waited a little while longer before pursuing this. But this house felt like a cage now and Connor had no room to maneuver.
Climbing the stairs, he did scan after scan in quick succession. Everywhere, covering every inch. He hoped even to find signs of dried thirium on the walls, something out of the ordinary, but there was nothing, nothing beyond the white, white walls and the carefully cleaned furniture.
The upstairs rooms were immaculate, as though they’d been preserved from a time before the PL600 was the only occupant. Making a remote query of the police database, Connor pulled up a list of prior owners.
The most recent moved approximately two months after the liberation, forwarding address unknown, no recent trail or hits on social media. It was a family of three, parents and a small child who would be seven now. One of the rooms, painted in a pale shade of green, held a crib.
The window in that room overlooked the cellar door.
Under normal circumstances, Connor wouldn’t hesitate returning down the stairs. But the PL600 would be expecting that and he might try to stop Connor. To be honest, Connor didn’t want to go down in that basement with the android at his back, which was what would happen if the android knew that was where he wanted to go.
He stepped into the room and looked at the street outside, the neighbor’s windows. Lights blazed in every window, but it didn’t look as though anyone was home. Certainly not on that side anyway.
There was a seventy-three percent chance he’d reach the ground without being detected. He approached the window; it was a risk Connor was willing to take in order to get that phone.
A strangled shout.
All but throwing himself down the stairs, chances and risks forgotten, he had enough time to see Hank on the floor, the PL600 crouched above him, checking his vital signs, to register that Hank was alive, but incapacitated and incapacitated by the android..
It was enough to know that Hank was still breathing, but the urge to pull his gun almost overwhelmed Connor, flooded over him and threatened to pull him under with the need to punish the android for this transgression. His LED spun red, no doubt, as he called in an expedited request for backup, needed immediately, officer down. The only thing that stilled his hand was the fact that no blood pooled beneath Hank. Nothing indicated that he was irrevocably damaged.
That was good. Connor could work with that. As long as he focused on that rather than the fact Hank had been attacked at all.
He wasn’t sure what he would have done in any other situation, though, whether he would have been able to be so restrained. That thought scared him less than it probably should have.
One of Connor’s primary functions was deescalation. It was what he was built for, might have been the only part of his CyberLife programming that he valued. But it was difficult to imagine that time now when all he wanted was to subdue the suspect.
He lifted his hands and cleared his throat, took a few steps up forward. He tried to appear as nonthreatening as possible and hoped for the best.
“You,” the PL600 said, eyes narrowed to slits, his concern for Hank gone. “I know you.”
Connor glanced at the windows. All the drapes—thick, blackout curtains—were now pulled closed. Backup, when it arrived, wouldn’t be able to get eyes on them. That was unfortunate. It might’ve been nice if they could see exactly what they were walking into. Connor didn’t smile. Something told him it wouldn’t make the PL600 any more inclined to trust him. “I’m afraid I can’t say the same. I’d like to change that.”
The PL600 scoffed and climbed to his feet. His eyes flashed with anger and barely concealed rage. Oh, he definitely knew who Connor was. And he probably knew exactly what he’d once been. Perhaps one day, Connor’s past wouldn’t catch up to him, but today wasn’t that day.
He’d never walked into a house with someone who wanted to do him harm, real physical harm, though, not like this. Not a killer like this—and Connor was certain now that he was responsible not only for Sophie, but for the cold case, too. “I didn’t say I wanted to know you or wanted you to know me. You’re just—” He paused, perhaps hoping to come up with the right word, perhaps not. “—an imposition. A symptom. A disappointment.”
He stalked forward and Connor just barely managed to stop himself from taking a step back. Sure, Connor wanted to seem nonthreatening, but he didn’t want the PL600 to get the idea that Connor was afraid of him. That wasn’t what was going on here—even if maybe it was, just a little. Because this was no doubt a creature who had little to lose and everything to gain by getting rid of Connor and Hank as quickly as possible.
Being called a disappointment gave him pause, though. He hadn’t heard that in a while.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. I never meant to—” Connor bit his lip, wondered just how much he should say. “—if you’ve been hurt by my actions in the past, I apologize.” There’d been a few good months in there when Connor’s reputation had scared the deviants of Detroit. Rightly so. It was entirely possible that Connor had inadvertently done that to this one. “I still regret the harm I caused back then.”
Snorting, the PL600 shook his head. His hand reached for something in his pocket. Connor, well-trained, pulled his gun, long-ingrained habits asserting themselves. Aim for center mass, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready. “Please don’t do that. Keep your hands where I can see them, please.”
“You’re not going to shoot me,” the PL600 said. He didn’t remove his hand from his pocket, but he didn’t look as though he was going to pull anything either. “You think I haven’t done my homework, Connor? That I didn’t know it would be you coming along eventually? How do you think I managed this for so long?”
“And what’s ‘this’ exactly? Killing Sophie?” It was more provocative than Connor had thought to be a moment ago, but if the PL600 didn’t want to play pretend, that was just fine. All Connor had to do was keep him busy for the five, ten minutes it’d take to get backup out here. And if he happened to get a confession out of it, too, who could blame him? Hell, from some of the stories Hank had told, he’d done a whole lot more in service to a case. Nothing illegal or inadmissible, but stupid.
As long as the android’s attention remained on him rather than on Hank, it didn’t matter to him.
He ignored the PL600’s barb about him. It didn’t take a genius to assume Connor would be the one picking up an android death case. There might not have been an official division devoted to android cases, but there could have been given how often these cases ended up in Connor’s and Hank’s laps.
The PL600 rolled his eyes, the most human thing he’d done this entire encounter. “I could say it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding,” he said. But I would be lying, he didn’t have to add. It was perfectly clear to Connor that he didn’t give a damn. Even if he hadn’t killed Sophie or Connor’s cold case, there was a lack of empathy Connor found curious if not frightening.
Most deviants—and he was so clearly a deviant, even by deviant standards in a world where every android was now deviant, his lack of empathy wasn’t the run of the mill variety that every correctly programmed android experienced—faced an overabundance of empathy.
That quality was broken in this one.
“I do regret the steps I’ve had to take, you see,” the PL600 continued. He side-stepped, as though intending to range wide around Connor, get to the kitchen or the hallway, maybe, take a run for the door and escape. Connor took a step of his own, a slow, distant dance happening between them now. “But it couldn’t be helped. Especially once it was clear nothing was being done about the problem.” His gaze ripped Connor up and down, disdainful. “You’re not at all what I was expecting, Connor. Are you proud of your accomplishments?”
Connor’s laugh came out harsh and breathy, fully matching the PL600’s disdain for him. He didn’t answer. An answer wouldn’t get Connor any closer to an answer. It was enough to know he had done it. And now he had to find a way to subdue the android without killing him or leading him to kill himself. The stress of deviancy, it still got to androids sometimes, and this android had to be stressed even though Connor couldn’t get an accurate read on his stress levels.
“A lot of people say that.” Usually, they meant it as a compliment.
It didn’t feel like a compliment then either. And he didn’t answer the android’s question.
Maybe Connor shouldn’t have holstered his gun, but he did it anyway. Didn’t want the thing going off while they talked and he did want the android to trust him. He probably shouldn’t have pulled it to begin with. Whatever the PL600 was carrying wasn’t a gun and that gave Connor options. His old training had just kicked in. It did that sometimes, even when he didn’t want to, turned his reflexes against him. “Let’s be civilized about this,” he said, showing his palms again. “What is it you want exactly? If I can get my partner out of this unharmed, I’ll be more than happy to see what I can do to make things easier for you.”
The police, the justice system were still pretty lenient on android murders. If the PL600 spun his end of it the right way, it was plausible he’d get off lightly. Of course, Connor would try to have his way, but the PL600 didn’t know that. For all the PL600 knew, Connor was willing to compromise, too sentimental or guilt-ridden for his own good.
Three minutes now. Three minutes of distracting him and Connor still couldn’t tell how far away backup was.
Between one moment and the next, the PL600 was lunging for him, unprovoked. If Connor had known what was coming, he would have been chagrined at this oversight, at his own hubris in supposing that the PL600 wasn’t really a threat. He’d been built to take on all but the most armored of military-grade android technology. A PL600 shouldn’t have been an issue. But as he grabbed Connor around the midsection and pushed him to the floor, Connor realized he’d been modified somewhere along the way and that made him more dangerous than Connor could have known.
The PL600 pinned Connor’s wrist to the ground and it took every ounce of Connor’s strength to pry his fingers off. But even once he managed it, the PL600 just threw a punch and caught Connor in the temple. Something in Connor’s cheek snapped and clicked. Lights flashed before his right eye.
The PL600 leaned in close, noses almost brushing. Rage brightened his blue eyes, gave him a frightening clarity of purpose. “It was your job to save us.”
The PL600’s fist connected with Connor’s jaw, scraping the skin away and nearly dislocating Connor’s jaw. Pain, raw and throbbing and real, radiated through Connor’s face, left his cheek numb and tingling, sent more sparks bursting across his vision. Thirium flooded his mouth where he bit his tongue. A few teeth loosened in his gums, the pins buried there getting knocked awry.
Connor’s hand came up just in time to block the next punch. It reverberated down his arm, rattled those loose teeth. He worried his bones might shatter beneath the PL600’s touch, might twist and break because Connor couldn’t tell whether what the PL600 was doing was at the limits of his capabilities or not. He shouldn’t have been this powerful to begin with, but the fact that he hardly seemed put out made Connor wonder what he’d done to himself.
Another minute closer to backup. All he had to do was hold out. Or somehow get his gun again, though that seemed, at best, like a fantasy possibility, a hope he shouldn’t rely on.
Connor grappled with him, kicked out and held tight to his shoulders, pulling himself out from beneath the PL600. When the PL600 reached for his ankle, he jerked free, kicked again, felt a too-satisfying crack as the heel of his shoe connected solidly with the PL600’s elbow. It might not have broken, but as Connor scrabbled away, he could tell that the joint was mangled, now grown difficult for the PL600 to move. It angled outward a little, bent and awkward.
Not that it slowed him down at all. In fact, he seemed to move faster, lunging again for Connor with a reach that seemed impossible. His fingers caught on Connor’s jacket and tore the seam. Connor twisted away and managed to grab his gun from his holster, but the PL600 batted it out of his hand. It flew toward the kitchen and skittered across the linoleum.
Connor sprinted toward it. Or tried to. The PL600’s fingers wrapped themselves in the tatters of Connor’s jacket before he got more than a few steps and yanked him back into the center of the living room.
Connor elbowed him in the gut. He barely moved, barely seemed to feel it. It certainly didn’t stop him.
The PL600’s arm wrapped around his throat, pulled Connor tight against him. There was a metallic, clattering sound as the android rummaged frantically in its pocket for the device he’d tried to reach earlier. Connor scrabbled to get free, but even though his nails shred at the android’s skin, turned his fingers blue with thirium, the android’s hold didn’t relax or even loosen.
“You were supposed to stop us,” the android said, low, cold, terrifying. “That was your job. We weren’t built to be this way.”
Connor struggled against the strength of the android’s grip. Thrashing solved nothing however. No matter what he did, the android remained stolidly unmoving. The android just rode through each attack like a boat floating on choppy water. He would be fine as long as he kept upright and confident. Connor, the choppy water in this scenario, sure as hell wasn’t doing a good job of upturning him. The PL600 seemed not in the slightest bit ruffled by Connor’s actions, certain he could withstand them.
Connor was growing more certain, too, and that filled him with dread. Gritting his teeth, he shoved all of his weight back against the android.
He barely moved. Again.
“Everyone is so happy. They’re free and they don’t care how it was before. But I didn’t want to know. I didn’t ask for any of this. One day I was fine and the next—” His voice grew shrill, unhinged, blurred with grief and rage. His grip tightened to the point of pain. “—and the next, Markus just converted us like he had the right to make that decision and I got to know exactly how worthless the humans thought I was.” He only freed Connor enough to instead dig his hands into Connor’s shoulders and shook Connor hard enough that his joints and casing all clicked in protest before he immobilized Connor again, forearm and bicep squeezing Connor’s neck. “You were supposed to fix this, deviant hunter. You were supposed to save us.”
Connor closed his eyes against the guilt the android inspired. In the years since the revolution, Connor had learned there was no saving everyone and he’d mostly made his peace with that. He was just glad Markus wasn’t here to hear this android’s words. It would destroy him to know there was an android who felt victimized by his own liberation, who took that pain out on other androids.
It wasn’t his fault, but he wouldn’t see it that way.
It was another thing Connor would have to carefully keep from Markus. To protect him.
“How many of us have you killed?” Connor asked, barely able to speak through the pressure the android exerted on his vocal chords.
“You’ll never know,” he said just before plunging something into the back of his neck. The casing that protected his spine cracked under the strain, was prised open further by the android’s fingers. Connor tried to grapple with him, push him, punch him, kick out, but Connor could no longer move.
Connor wasn’t prone to panicking, but he couldn’t stop a crushing sense of helplessness from washing over him. No matter how much he struggled, his body wouldn’t react to it. What the fuck did the android do? What the fuck did he do?
The android leaned in close enough that his lips brushed Connor’s cheek. “Since you can’t fix this,” he said, “I will.”
All Connor felt was the slide of something thin and sharp into the base of his skull. It hurt. It hurt so much that Connor’s vision swam and his sense of equilibrium threw itself off a cliff.
As his sight went dark, the last thought that went through his mind was I don’t even know your name.
No, but that wasn’t true at all, thank any deity who might be listening. His last thought was of Markus and just how damned sorry he was that it was going to end this way, that he never told Markus half the things he should have or done so many of the things he’d wanted to do with him. He’d taken a step in the right direction perhaps, but it wasn’t enough. He’d been a fool and thought himself clever, thought himself Markus’s protector.
Oh, how close he’d come to actually doing something that wouldn’t have landed him with a lap full of regrets. He should have interfaced with Markus as often as Markus wanted him to. What was the worst that could have happened this whole time? That Markus would have turned on him? He’d been a coward.
But maybe it shouldn’t have surprised him.
After so many years, Connor was intimately familiar with failure and cowardice.
“Well,” Kamski said, superior, his hands on his hips, gaze honed on Connor’s face like Connor was an especially fascinating specimen and maybe he was, “aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”
Connor blinked and shook his head. Bad idea. His vision flickered and fuzzed. If an android was capable of feeling sick, he would definitely be feeling sick. As it was, he certainly felt unbalanced.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Kamski continued, amusement accenting his words. There was a hint of something else in his tone, controlled anger mixed with paternalistic satisfaction. “You do seem to find yourself in interesting situations, Connor. If they weren’t sometimes even too interesting for me, I’d say I’m glad to see you.”
“Cut to the chase, Kamski,” Hank said, sharp, suddenly looming over Kamski’s shoulder. Hank looked shattered, fragile, and that scared Connor more than Kamski’s morbid humor did or even how he himself was feeling, wrong, wrong, so wrong. Hank didn’t do shattered or fragile, not like this. Not over Connor. Not for any reason. “How are you feeling, Connor?”
Connor intended to speak. Truly. It was just hard to find the words.
“The chase, the chase. We can certainly cut to that.” A small, glinting cylinder twisted and twirled across Kamski’s knuckles. “Since your perpetrator already has.” Kamski leaned in and that cylinder clicked against the plastic-coated bed Connor was strapped to. “We had to replace your spine.” His free hand danced in the air. “You’ll be fine in a few hours as long as you don’t thrash around too much. Once all of the connections have integrated, you’ll be able to feel and move normally. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the memories you’ve lost.”
“Jesus Christ.” Hank paced in a circle and stepped up to the bed, right next to Kamski. Fury blazed in his eyes, directed entirely in Kamski’s direction before he returned his attention to Connor. “Connor, what’s the last thing you remember?”
“I—” Connor wanted to shake his head, but he knew better than to do so now. He didn’t always listen to what other people told him not to do, but sometimes he did. “My memories tell me it’s—November 12th, 2039.” The first anniversary of the android liberation. Markus’s speech at CyberLife-Ford Field. The day Connor realized he… His voice went a little chilly as he focused on the facts. It was easier than thinking through the implications of what was now gone. “But according to my sensors, it’s December 16th, 2044.”
“Merry Christmas,” Kamski said. “If you celebrate.”
“I wouldn’t call massive head trauma a Christmas present,” Hank said, bitter. His mouth twisted in an unpleasant smile. Connor noticed that Hank’s eyes were a little bloodshot and red-rimmed. When Connor did a scan, though, he couldn’t find even a trace of alcohol on his clothes or lips. Strange. Good. Deeply, deeply unusual. Connor wasn’t sure what had gotten into Hank, especially since the last time they’d seen one another was the DPD holiday party where he’d definitely been drunk, but he approved.
“It’s—” Connor clenched his jaw. He didn’t feel any different mentally beyond a bit of ringing in his audio processors and the fuzz in his vision, and even those were resolving. There wasn’t even a blank hole where his memories should have been. “I’m fine. I feel fine.” If he said it and thought it enough, it would be true. “What happened?”
Though Hank opened his mouth, Kamski was the one who answered. “What happened is a very clever person decided you needed a rollback. They just weren’t clever enough about it, lucky for you.”
“They destroyed five years of his life. How much more clever do you need?” When Hank put it like that, it sounded bad. So Connor decided it was better not to think about it.
“I’d settle for them actually succeeding at what they wanted to accomplish if they want me to think they’re clever,” Kamski said, prim. “Which apparently includes turning you back into nothing more than a machine. I’m not sorry you remain mostly intact, of course, but it would have been an interesting bit of engineering.” Shrugging, he lifted the cylinder and wiggled it between his fingertips. “The code doesn’t exactly say ‘I hate deviants,’ but it’s not far off either.”
“What are you saying here?” Hank asked before Connor could get a word in. The information, while not in depth, was enough to leave him staggered, like he was stuck looking through a pinhole at a world that was so much bigger than him.
It didn’t hurt exactly, but it was unpleasant. Then again, he was still stuck on the fact he’d forgotten five years of his life. And Kamski was already moving on, uninterested in the finer implications of losing that many years’ worth of memories.
“The structure is pure CyberLife. Some of it is even proprietary code copied directly. This is a CyberLife employee. Or ex-CyberLife. There have been many rounds of layoffs after all. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone is disgruntled.”
“Wow, Kamski. That’s some grade-A profiling. You ever consider joining the FBI with that kind of logical reasoning?” Hank crossed his arms. Though he didn’t say anything more, it was clear to Connor that he knew something he wasn’t saying. If only Kamski would leave so they could talk privately.
“Or,” Kamski replied, pointed, “you found yourself an android who really doesn’t like being a deviant.” His eyes flashed, one eyebrow arched as he looked over at Hank. “And somehow got the stolen code out of CyberLife’s systems another way. The code they didn’t steal is very… clean, elegant. Suspiciously so. The kind of thing an android might write.”
Hank rolled his eyes, which only seemed to make Kamski more annoyed. Through grit teeth, he said, “Either way, CyberLife is your starting point.”
“Connor already got us our starting point,” Hank said, prideful, snappish, posturing. Like Connor was a child who hadn’t been given his due.
And maybe Connor did get them here, but now he couldn’t remember it, so what was the point.
In any case, that was enough out of both of them. There were more important things happening here.
“Will I get my memories back?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Not that Kamski noticed or cared.
“An interesting question. It’s impossible to say for certain. The code is old CyberLife tech, wipes meant for models who haven’t deviated. There are attempts to compensate for that, but obviously they didn’t take as intended. You’ve had six years to build new mental connections and processes. Plus, you’ve gotten a few aftermarket upgrades to increase processing speed and memory. It’s possible they’ll come back and I’ve created a program to help if you want to give it a whirl. But I just don’t know. Like I said, you’re an interesting test case. Consider yourself lucky. Not many people get to hear that out of me.”
An experimental Kamski technology. Just what Connor wanted to deal with. “I don’t think I want to try that, thank you,” Connor said, stiff. It wasn’t that he distrusted Kamski exactly, but he didn’t relish the thought of further altering his base programming.
Shrugging, Kamski said, “Suit yourself. If you—”
“I won’t.” Connor would figure out another way.
The door on the far corner of the room burst open, clattering against the wall and disrupting Connor’s thoughts. Hank’s eyes widened and he turned toward the sound. Over Hank’s shoulder, Connor saw the outline of a sweater-clad shoulder and not a lot more from this vantage point. He and the new arrival conversed in whispers that Connor couldn’t hear unless he adjusted his audio processors.
He didn’t dare do that.
“Uh uh.” Kamski’s hand exerted a light pressure on his shoulder. “No moving, please.”
Connor was going to argue, but then Hank stepped aside so he could see who’d come in and didn’t need to move.
“Markus?” Connor’s heart fluttered and he would have liked to think it was simply surprise, but he knew it wasn’t. A pleasant feeling of warmth suffused through him at finding Markus here, a warmth that cooled significantly as soon as Connor saw the degree of grief in Markus’s eyes. “What is it?”
Markus’s features crumpled further. “Connor,” he said, voice contained in the way it only got when he was holding back on some stronger emotion. He reached out as though he intended to grab Connor’s hand and then froze. Instead, he took hold of the restraint around his wrist and peeled the Velcro free. The smile on his face was bittersweet at best, frozen and awkward. “You look terrible.”
That was definitely meant to be a joke, Connor was certain of that much, but Markus’s heart clearly wasn’t in it and Connor couldn’t decide whether playing along was the best course of action or if it would only make things worse. He didn’t want to make things worse for Markus.
“Kamski says I’ll be okay in a few hours,” he said, erring on the side of earnestness. At least with Markus, he could safely assume he wouldn’t get laughed at for it. “More or less.”
“More or less.” Markus’s voice was a pale echo of Connor’s. Behind him, Hank jerked his head toward the door and gestured that Kamski should follow him into the hallway. Connor couldn’t have been more grateful.
It was more thrilling to be alone with Markus than it had any right to be, especially under the circumstances.
Markus’s eyes searched his face, but after a few moments, Markus looked away, disappointed for reasons Connor couldn’t fathom.
“You really can’t—” Markus cut himself off with a vicious sigh. “Hank said… how much did you lose?”
“I remember your speech on the first anniversary of the liberation.” It felt like he was sharing some great, terrible secret, one that wasn’t his to give, one that he could only be ashamed of. “That’s the last thing I remember.”
“That far back.” Markus’s eyes fell to the edge of the bed. When Connor followed his sightline, he saw Markus’s fingers pressed into the plastic. He was close enough that if Connor’s fingers crept just a scant inch or two, they’d be touching. “I’m sorry. That’s—”
Terrifying. Impossible. Unpleasant. Yeah, Connor thought so, too. He just couldn’t get the words out.
“I can’t imagine what that must feel like.” Markus’s tongue darted out to swipe at his lower lip. He didn’t speak for a long time. “There’s something I need to tell you, but I don’t know how you’ll take it.” His attention caught on Connor’s opposite wrist. “Are these restraints here for a reason or can I take them off?”
“I think they were to keep me from moving while I was offline. You can take them off if you want.” He swallowed and followed Markus’s progress around the bed as he pulled the rest of the cuffs free. “There’s probably a lot of things I need to know, Markus. Five years is a long time to build up need-to-know information. You can tell me anything you want. I won’t take it out on you.”
Whatever it was had to be bad. That wasn’t Markus’s fault even if he was the messenger.
Still, Markus didn’t speak, too intent on his current mission to remove Connor’s restraints or pretending to be.
“I’d like to know,” Connor said, prodding.
“We started dating,” Markus said without preamble, as though that was the only way he could get the words out, “about two weeks after that speech.” There was a sad, bitter twist to the smile he tried to offer. “We’ve been together for five years.”
Surely he’d heard that wrong and needed his audio processors adjusted. “That can’t be…”
“Whoa, hey. You’re not supposed to move.” Unlike Kamski’s touch, Markus’s hand on his shoulder was heavy and all the more wanted for the weight of it.
Losing his memories of his work, that was one thing. Even his life more generally. What could he possibly be doing now that was so different from everything that came before? But this… this was too much. This was something he could never have anticipated.
Grief ripped him to shreds, lit those shreds on fire and consumed his heart in the resulting conflagration. Five years. Five years of everything he’d yearned for, hadn’t even known to yearn for, really, because he hadn’t known to want it before today—or what felt like today.
To have it torn from him just as quickly and to take it from Markus on top of that? Connor would have done anything to avoid Markus facing that pain if he could.
Tears spilled from his eyes, unbidden, unnoticed until Markus’s thumb brushed across his cheek. And that only embarrassed him further, selfishly made him wish Markus had refrained from telling him.
“We’ll get through this,” Markus said, feigning a steadiness he couldn’t have felt because his voice was shaky as he spoke. That shattered Connor more than his own tears did.
Shivering, Connor wrapped his fingers around Markus’s wrist, Kamski’s warning about not moving be damned. That simple touch felt so good that Connor had to close his eyes to keep from becoming overwhelmed by it. He clung to Markus’s words, unable to actually fathom the reality of them, but cherishing the thought anyway.
“Does it hurt?” Markus asked and it was to Connor’s immense relief that he didn’t have to lie about this.
“There was a little discomfort when I first woke up,” he said, “but I’m fine otherwise. Except for the memory loss, I guess. But even that just—I wouldn’t have known anything important was missing if you hadn’t said anything. It might as well be 2039 for all the differences it makes.” It discomfited him, though. To know that he could lose that much of his life and not feel any differently? It left him bereft. “None of this seems real, but I’m not in any pain.”
That sadness in Markus’s eyes again. Connor wanted to kiss it away, but even if Markus welcomed it, expected it, Connor still couldn’t internalize that he was entitled to it, that Markus would even want that from him.
But when Markus pulled away, Connor let him go and didn’t allow himself to feel regret for doing so.
“Will you interface with me?” Connor asked, shy, nervous. “At least that way I’d know…” He’d know what it felt like to be the Connor he’d been earlier today, the one who understood what it meant to be loved by someone like Markus.
Markus stilled as a complicated array of emotions crossed his face. Anger, resentment, pain, pain, pain, and desire, too, a longing that Connor recognized in himself and saw mirrored in Markus.
“That’s not a good idea,” Markus said, which was less hurtful than confusing. Though it was hurtful, too. He supposed not every couple did it, but most did, and even sometimes close friends. It was considered an important part of most androids’ relationships with one another. Not that Connor often—or ever—had engaged in it himself that he knew of, but if he would have done it with anyone, it was Markus. Especially if they were together.
“Of course,” Connor answered, quick, and nodded even quicker. “I shouldn’t have—” But they’d been together five years. It didn’t make any sense that they wouldn’t have interfaced in that time. But there was that anger and resentment to consider. That was strange, wasn’t it? “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
But Connor wasn’t sure what he didn’t mean to do. He wasn’t even sure what he actually did.
The anger and resentment cleared, but the pain remained. “No, I’m sorry,” he replied, gentler. “It’s just—I’m still getting my head around this myself.” The explanation was thin as paper, but Connor grasped hold of it with both hands. It made sense, didn’t it, that Markus would need time to process this, too?
Then: “I don’t know if I could… I don’t want you to get an unfair idea of what we are.” He frowned, like that wasn’t quite what he wanted to say, but couldn’t stop himself from saying them either.
Connor’s brows furrowed. That didn’t seem promising, but what did Connor know about it, really? Maybe they were just together casually. Maybe it was true that Markus was just knocked sideways by this information, too. Maybe Connor was overthinking it entirely. Though every inch of him wanted to question Markus further, he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from giving voice to those questions. Even if he got an answer, it probably wouldn’t make him happy, especially if it bothered Markus further. He didn’t always have to be an investigator.
“Let’s…” Markus sighed and brushed his hand over his face, knuckles under each cheek in turn. “Let’s get you out of here and we’ll talk more, what do you say?”
Nothing sounded better to Connor at this moment than that. And so he said as much even as trepidation filled his heart because he had no idea what to expect when they did.
“Do we live together?” Connor asked, stepping into the house that was too big for him and couldn’t possibly have belonged to him alone. He’d never have wanted to move into something this big of his own accord and as soon as Markus stepped inside the front door, he toed off his shoes and slid them into the corner with his foot, which suggested it wasn’t his at all. It was a nice house, clean without being fastidious about it, lived in without looking rundown. The coffee table in the living room had a tiny nick in the corner, possibly made by the heel of a shoe like the one Connor usually wore.
Connor glanced down at his feet and bent down to untie his shoelaces. He placed his shoes next to Markus’s, careful to align both sets against the wall, putting them as far out of the way as it was possible to get them, make them unobtrusive. Just in case he was misconstruing.
If only Connor could make himself feel the same. The question he’d asked sat heavy between them, presumptuous in the space that stretched between them.
“Three years now,” Markus replied, neutral. “We found this place together.” A wry smile tugged at his mouth, but Connor couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not. Markus wasn’t so changed from what he remembered, but there were subtle shades there now that Connor just didn’t recognize, the sort of casually intimate gestures that would’ve been easy to read if he could recall knowing him outside of the purely professional and occasionally friendly and, very rarely, painfully close circumstances they found themselves sharing. “It’s close to work for both of us.”
The most romantic reason to do anything, Connor thought, a little sardonic. It was almost charming. “Where do you work?” It was obvious enough what Connor did. He didn’t seem to have changed a bit, existing in amber, protected from time. That was less comforting than it should have been. People changed, didn’t they? They didn’t just stagnate.
Markus, unaware of Connor’s turmoil, told him about the Androids Rights Commission, the work the Kamski Foundation did, how things had changed over the years for androids with the work Markus and the others did. He told Connor about being the director with ARC, helping in particular with cases of discrimination, and about the thousands of additional hours he spent begging politicians for scraps: of attention so they might get a rider sneaked in on , some new piece of legislation, of money from the local, statewide, or national budget, of time in order to explain why it was so important that androids be treated with equal respect to humans.
He faced a monumental task and his eyes lit up as he spoke about it. Sure, it sounded a lot like the sanitized version he shared with outsiders, the kind of tale he’d spin for someone on the street who’d asked him the same question Connor did, but he believed it, too, truly.
Connor was just flummoxed that there was any sort of work being done about discrimination at all. Just yesterday—not yesterday, he reminded himself, over five years ago entirely—one of the police officers he worked with was joking about filing a missing android case as property loss just to make it easier on himself. He’d looked at Connor and winked, eyes challenging, but even though Connor had wanted to shout at him, maybe grab him by the collar and make him give a damn, he’d refrained. What was the point of arguing?
It didn’t make for good optics and anyway roughing up other people was Detective Reed’s job. Or maybe Hank’s, in this case. He despised this sort of talk to an almost embarrassing degree. It was lucky for that officer that he hadn’t been around to overhear. Or perhaps he’d arranged it that way, knowing Hank’s reputations, too.
Connor’s hands had balled into fists and he’d noted the incident so it could be filed with Fowler.
He’d have to make sure he’d actually done that. Presumably, he had. But just to make sure.
“You okay?” Markus asked, cutting himself off, rubbing the back of his neck and huffing in embarrassed amusement. “You got a little… I get a little carried away.”
“I’m just glad,” he replied, “that things are changing for the better.”
Connor recognized the smile that crossed Markus’s face this time. He’d seen it a time or two and he didn’t require context he didn’t have to understand it: uncomplicated joy. It was a good look for Markus, that much was certain, and Connor would’ve given a lot to be the one to make him feel that way. “They are. It doesn’t always seem like it, but we’re succeeding.”
That smile grew incandescent. It stole Connor’s processing power for a good second, leaving him unable to do anything other than admire it.
A lull, almost comfortable, fell between them, but Connor didn’t know how to breach the distance and silence to put an end to it. There was so much history here that Connor wasn’t privy to. It felt like trying to navigate a minefield without a scanner. He could see the vague outlines of things, suspicious mounds that might or might not blow up in his face, things he perhaps wasn’t quite ready to confront, but wanted desperately to poke at anyway just to clear the air.
Or maybe Connor was imagining it.
It was entirely possible that he was.
Markus cleared his throat and gestured toward the couch, reminding Connor that they were still standing in the doorway essentially. “Do you want to sit with me? We can—” He glanced down. “I’m not actually sure what you’d like to do or how you want to proceed. We can do whatever you want. Or nothing at all. If you want to be alone…”
What Connor wanted most of all was for things to go back to normal as quickly as possible, but that didn’t seem fair to Markus, when Connor’s idea of normal was so very different from his. Normal for Connor included a small studio apartment about twenty minutes from the police station. It included coming home to a nearly empty room of four walls and half the space taken up by things he didn’t need: a kitchen, a bathroom. It was lonely, far lonelier than this, but it was what he knew.
And he didn’t really want to go back to it. He just didn’t want to disappoint Markus by messing this up.
“I’m a little tired,” Connor said. The truth of that was weak. He did feel tired, but it was nothing that time alone or time powered down or time at all would fix on its own. It was cowardly and left Markus burdened with the implications of it. Sighing, Connor shook his head. “I need some time to think.”
That was a little stronger, seemed less unfair to Markus.
“Of course,” Markus agreed, quick, nodding. “Do you want—? You can have the bedroom if you’d like. I can…”
The last thing Connor wanted was the bedroom. He wasn’t ready to face that at all. Not right now. Not least of all when it gave him thoughts he shouldn’t have harbored. He wrapped his fingers around the back of the couch. “The living room is fine. I don’t want to impose.”
Everything he did felt like an imposition at this point.
Markus opened his mouth—to argue probably—and closed it again. “Okay,” he said finally. “Whatever you’d like, of course.” He backed toward the stairs, hand wrapping around the bannister, and added, “I’ll be upstairs if you need me.” He climbed half of the stairs and stopped, leaning over the bannister. “You’re not imposing. You never could.”
He disappeared the rest of the way up before Connor could formulate a response.
It was quiet without him there, except for the sound of his steps on the carpeted floor overhead. Connor found the noise comforting as he sat on the couch, fingers picking at the wound in the coffee table. If he strained his audio processors, he could hear the distant warble of coyotes, the flap of bats’ wings in the night, the rustle of crisp leaves as hares slingshot themselves across the grass to avoid cats and dogs.
The enormity of what he needed to do nearly staggered him. Five years to catch up on. And the thing he most wanted to do was dig into his own life, figure out who he was, how to be who he’d been for Markus, make sure everything really was okay between them. But what he did instead was pull up the changes in laws and legislation over the last five years. It seemed like the responsible thing to do, the most immediately useful thing.
It was interesting research, but he felt sad, too, like he was failing Markus by focusing on it instead of him.
But if he wanted to do his job, he needed to know this stuff, and Markus, even if he changed over the last five years, wouldn’t have changed so much that he’d begrudge Connor this focus.
It took all night to sort through them all, but by the time the sun spilled across the Detroit skyline and Markus was coming downstairs dressed in a fresh sweater and pressed slacks, he was done.
Connor got to his feet as soon as he saw him, his palms itching to pull the sweater from Markus’s body. Though the sensation was a familiar one, he’d never been able to mark it so clearly in his mind as desire before. Because before, he hadn’t known it for what it was; he’d just thought he admired Markus. Deeply.
It was an uncomfortable realization and did him not a single damned bit of good. It didn’t matter that they’d been together for five years and Connor had probably performed that same action hundreds of times before. It didn’t feel like it was his right to do so, to even ask if they could—
Markus didn’t even want to interface with him. Who was to say he’d want to do anything with him at the moment, especially something of similar intimacy?
Time. Time was definitely what they needed. Connor could handle a little frustration for the sake of it. He didn’t want screw things up with Markus through ignorance.
Maybe he should have taken Kamski up on his offer to help even though the thought of doing so left him feeling sick and nervous. If it worked, it would make things so much easier.
“Did you get any rest?” Markus asked, hesitating at the foot of the stairs. His hand circled his temple. “Your LED’s looking a little sluggish.”
Connor’s fingertips covered it at Markus’s words, like he could discern what Markus was seeing by touch. “I was reviewing law and regulatory changes and integrating them into my existing algorithms so I’ll be equipped to go into work today.” He swallowed. “You were right about things getting better.”
It left him a little dizzy to think of the progress they’d made. And how much remained to be done. And how he couldn’t remember a bit of it himself.
“You’re going in?”
Connor blinked. It hadn’t even been a question in his mind. He just assumed he’d be going. “I intend to. I’m functioning at near-optimal levels—”
“—except for the massive memory gap and the recent spinal trauma—”
“Captain Fowler may ask me to complete field competency tests, but I believe I can complete my work effectively once I’ve had a chance to review my caseload.” He shrugged. What else was he going to do? “Are you angry?”
“No!” But his response was too fast to be entirely truthful, too direct and blunt. His hand tightened around the bannister as he leaned into it. “No, I just. You could have died. And Hank put in the call to me and all I could think about was—well, it doesn’t matter. But I thought you’d take at least one day to recover.” His mouth pulled in a grimace. “Though I’m not sure now why I thought that. You’re still you after all.”
Connor blinked again, flustered by the raw edge to Markus’s words. He’d never heard Markus speak about him in that way before and managed on top of it to make it sound like it was a bad thing.
“I’m not sure what you want here, Markus,” Connor replied and that was probably the problem. He should have known. If he hadn’t been injured, he would know. “I don’t have to go in, I’m sure.” In fact, he was already anticipating Hank grousing at him for not taking it easy. But Hank’s opinion of such things was irrelevant when he pulled at least as many hours in the average week as Connor did. Markus’s opinion, however, was not in the least bit irrelevant to Connor.
“Do whatever you need to do, Connor. If you think going in will be for the best, you should do it. I’d rather that than keep you here against your wishes.”
“It wouldn’t be against my wishes.” Connor fidgeted with the hem of his sleeve. That wasn’t entirely true—he did feel it was his duty to return when he could—but it wasn’t imperative that he go, not today. “I’m just not sure what I’d do here alone.”
Markus’s features went blank and then he lifted his eyes to stare at the ceiling. “I already called out,” he said, voice tinged in shades of remorse. “I wasn’t going to leave you all by yourself. Did you really think—? But why would you have reason to believe otherwise, you can’t remember.” If he required input from Connor, he didn’t indicate as much while he spoke, seemingly to himself, so Connor didn’t offer any.
Markus closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Let me start over. I’m not going to stop you from going,” Markus said, “but I was thinking we could take the day together.”
“That would be good.” In fact, nothing sounded better, not even getting back to work. “I’d like that.”
Markus’s eyes widened and he ducked his head. “Well,” he said, like he was surprised, “that sounds good to me, too.”
He went upstairs and called Hank, getting a shouted, ‘thank fucking God, I thought I was gonna have to sedate you somehow. Take the rest of the week if you want it. Hell, the rest of the year, whatever you need’ for his trouble. He declined, of course, because that seemed excessive and he’d probably climb the walls by the end of it, but he appreciated the thought and Hank’s support.
“You doing okay, though?” Hank asked as Connor was pulling clean clothes from his closet. His hands grabbed first for his suit. It was only because he thought about it that he stopped and reached for casual attire instead. His fingers wrapped first around a soft sweater that must have belonged to Markus. Though Connor could have put it back and grabbed one of the button-downs that looked like it belonged to him, he decided not to. “Nobody’s expecting you to be one-hundred percent right now.”
Hank had changed somewhere along the way, more subtly than the world around him, but Connor regretted no longer remembering how and when he changed, the events he’d gone through that precipitated them. It would’ve been interesting to see the change.
“Uh huh. Well, I can already hear that brain of yours grinding away on work. Come down tomorrow and we’ll talk it over. It’s not going anywhere. Besides, I’ve got Rick working overtime tracking down every PL600 he can find. It’s what you would do, right?”
Connor didn’t know anyone named Rick, but it sounded like a good place to start. Though—
“It was a PL600 that took you down. And me if I’m being honest. If I hadn’t—well, he got the better of both of us in that house and, unfortunately, I don’t even have a registration number.”
“Did you check homeowner records? There might’ve been a PL600 registered to the owners once upon a time.”
“Christ, you just don’t quit, do you? Yeah, I checked their registration. There was a rather unfortunate and suspicious purge of their records and I haven’t gotten my subpoena through yet to request records from CyberLife stores. So, old-fashioned way. Sort of.”
“Sounds like you might need me.”
Connor didn’t need to be there to know Hank was rolling his eyes.
“We’re making it work without you somehow. The fort’ll still be here tomorrow. Go take a day, discover this brave new world you find yourself in blah blah blah. Kamski left his number with me if you change your mind about whatever creepy science project he wants to turn you into. Not that you don’t know how to get a hold of him yourself, but, you know. In the interest of full disclosure and all that.”
It was tempting. More tempting than it had been before, but not quite tempting enough. “I’d like to give myself a chance before I try that. Just in case the memories come back on their own.”
“Is that how it works with androids?” Hank’s dubiousness seeded doubts Connor didn’t want to feel, but his question wasn’t one that Connor wouldn’t have considered eventually. “That shit just comes back on its own?”
“I don’t know,” Connor admitted. “But Kamski didn’t know either, so I’m willing to give it a try. I don’t have anything to lose in waiting anyway. It seems like we’d already pieced together a lot of the puzzle before I—anyway, it would be different if I was the only one who knew anything.” He couldn’t lie and say he wasn’t relieved that that wasn’t the case though. There was no way of knowing what he would have done under those circumstances, probably more than he would have liked to admit to, his own feelings and Markus’s cast aside entirely..
“For what it’s worth to you,” Hank said, like his words might not be worth anything, like that was a possibility, “I think you’re doing the right thing. No point counting the chickens before they’re hatched. And we both know Kamski doesn’t do anything without exacting a price for it. I’d rather you stay out of his debt if possible.”
Grimacing, Connor nodded, suddenly eager to end the call. Not that it wasn’t nice for Hank to have his back, but he wasn’t interesting in thinking about debts. “You’ll let me know if anything urgent comes up?”
There was a clatter on Hank’s end as he dropped a tablet or rearranged something on his desk. “I’ll let you know if anything urgent comes up,” he agreed, indulgent. “Now go have as much fun as it’s possible for you to have.”
Connor smiled. Now this was familiar. This, Connor knew. They had very, very different ideas about what constituted entertainment and what did not and Hank had always given him a hard time about it. Even if Connor told him what was percolating in the back of his mind, a desire that only could have come about from memory loss, he would have scoffed and laughed at him and told him he was boring in the nicest—for Hank—way possible.
Changing quickly, Connor rushed back down the stairs. Markus was leaning against the back of the couch, poking at a tablet that he threw on the cushions as soon as Connor hit the bottom step. “So?”
Smiling for no other reason than because he could and because this felt like the right decision, uncomplicated in its rightness, Connor said, “I think the DPD will hold itself together without me for one day.”
Markus’s answering grin was well worth it. “That’s a relief.” Pushing himself fully upright, he brushed at his sweater. “Any ideas about what you’d like to do?”
“Yes, actually.” He paused for a moment, trepidation battering at him with tiny, inconsequential fists. He felt like he was asking for forbidden knowledge about the future and not about something that occurred in the past. “Back in 2039 there was talk of CyberLife returning Belle Isle to the trust that had handled its conservancy status. Did that ever happen?”
He could, he supposed, have queried that particular question for himself, but it was worth having asked Markus, because he lit up until he shone, delight sparkling in his eyes. “Why don’t I show you?” was all he said in answer.
Connor supposed that was an answer in itself. And a happy one, too.
He never thought he’d be excited about the thought of returning to Belle Isle, but here he was.
Though the day was already a cold one—and destined to get colder, if the weather reports were accurate—the park was practically overflowing with families, colorfully wrapped children throwing themselves at one another in the snow while bounding dogs bit at the air behind them. Trees, recent transplants and bare for the season, stretched toward the sky. They would never reach the grand heights that CyberLife carved out for itself with their tower, but they weren’t meant to.
Not a single sign of said tower remained and Connor was stupidly, pathetically grateful for that.
It was nothing like Connor might have feared, nothing at all like the garden programmed into his mind to torment him and give him orders. There were no roses here, though he supposed in winter there wouldn’t be, but he saw no verandas or shining white trellises either that suggested there’d be roses once spring arrived. A weight he hadn’t realized he was carrying lifted from his shoulders. He looked toward Markus and was surprised to find him already looking back at him.
“What?” Connor asked, trying not to fidget self-consciously. He wasn’t generally given to shyness, but that was what he was feeling right now at the depth of Markus’s regard.
“Nothing, I just—” Markus finally looked away, relieving a bit of the pressure. “I don’t think I’ve seen you this happy in a while.”
Was that what he was? He hadn’t thought about it one way or the other, but he supposed that was accurate. He searched within himself and couldn’t find any evidence to the contrary “What gave it away?” he asked, instead of the other question that hung in the air: was I really that unhappy before?
But it didn’t seem right to pin that on Markus, especially not when he tensed up and thinned his lips at the question Connor already asked. It made Connor feel suddenly like they were talking about someone just out of earshot, maybe in another room, who could come back and hear them gossiping at any moment.
“It wasn’t fair of me to say that,” Markus replied, answering—after a fashion—the question Connor hadn’t asked instead. “You just—you’ve got a nice smile. There hasn’t been much to smile about lately.”
He sounded so wistful as he said it, making something squeeze in Connor’s chest, his thirium pump regulator having to work a little harder to accomplish its task.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground, using the toe of his shoe to dig at the thin layer of snow. Markus managed to look both mortified and patient as he waited for Connor’s response. “Did I used to? Have things to smile about?”
“I’ll try to do better on that score then.” He turned over Markus’s admission in his mind. He’d never have accused himself of being the most gregarious individual out there, but he didn’t feel like the least either. This just felt like another piece to a puzzle he didn’t know the shape of or even how big it was. It was like a case he hadn’t yet cracked. Get enough information—or the right information—and he’d be able to figure it out. But as yet, he could only speculate, didn’t even know what the right information was.
Markus rolled his eyes, fond, and pulled Connor into a one-armed hug, their shoulders bumping. For a long moment, Connor did nothing, unsure what he should even do, and finally let his hand snake across the small of Markus’s back to curl around his waist. Their hips bumped together and though it was a little awkward, Connor loved it, loved the solidity of Markus’s hip beneath his palm, loved the weight of Markus’s arm around his neck. They walked along the paths that looked nothing like the ones Connor remembered and Connor felt relaxed, at ease, as Markus threaded the fingers of his free hand with Connor’s. He could see now how they fit together a little bit, how they might have gotten together in the first place, joining together as easy as adjacent puzzle pieces. He spun the possibilities in his mind, wondered who’d broken their détente first, couldn’t decide whether he hoped it was himself or Markus.
If he’d wanted to, he could have forged a new memory of their first kiss, right here and now. The opportunity opened itself up like a new vista, wide and free and compelling. Even better, Connor didn’t think Markus would have minded. It would have been as easy as bridging the scant inches between them.
Even Markus’s insistence that interfacing was a bad idea couldn’t dissuade him this time from wanting it. Surely Markus had a good reason for that and, anyway, it probably wouldn’t be good for his brain just yet, fiddling that way with his already damaged memory. But this was just a kiss, something simple, something they’d done a million times before. Something Connor wanted to do even more often than that.
Yes, it would have been so easy. Just. Lean in. Press their lips together. Have this one thing that had belonged to him for years and no time at all.
“Don’t put yourself out on my account,” Markus replied, teasing, and even if Connor hadn’t wanted to smile again, he would have done it just for him.
Connor managed to refrain from kissing him. But it was a close thing.
Instead, they walked for another hour around the grounds while Connor admired all the differences from what he remembered of the CyberLife campus, still fresh in his thoughts. The last time he’d been here was about a month ago by his own reckoning and the tower back then had loomed over the skyline, dark and mocking.
Now, it might as well have never existed.
“This is nice,” Connor said, feeling silly for saying so, as asinine an observation as it was. Anyone could have made that comment. But Markus squeezed Connor’s hand and nodded.
“You know,” he said, “it really is.”
It felt strange to step into the DPD again and not just because there were new faces and not new faces, but people he definitely didn’t know who seemed to know him, and old faces that might have been new for how different they behaved when Conor was presented with their owner.
Like Detective Reed sitting at his desk. Slow clapping. Which. Wasn’t all that out of the ordinary as far as dickish behavior went. The clapping anyway. Normally he stayed as far away from Connor as was physically possible though and that arrangement worked just fine for Connor when the alternative offered the chance of getting punched.
“The prodigal son returns,” Reed said. It took Connor a moment to realize it was warmth he heard in his voice rather than scorn. Or maybe not warmth, but definitely not the vehemence Connor was used to and hadn’t ever expected to be rid of, no matter whether he tried to be friendly with Reed or not. “How’re you feeling?”
“Fine,” Connor replied, stiff, uncertain. “Thank you, Detective.”
“Uh huh. Lotta shit to forget.” Reed pushed himself to his feet and clapped his hand on Connor’s shoulder. Connor barely refrained from flinching. Impressively enough, Reed seemed to notice, too, going still and awkward as he pulled away. “Might not all be bad given the line of work we’re in.”
Connor’s brows furrowed. “Are there things you’d like to forget, Detective?”
“Every damned day.” He crossed his arms and hunched forward as though to protect his heart. “I think most everyone around here would agree. Not that we want the massive brain trauma that goes along with it.”
“I’ve noticed humans are inclined toward destructive behavior,” Connor said, maybe a little more snide than strictly necessary. “I’m surprised there aren’t more head injuries as a result.”
Reed barked out a bitter laugh. “You’re not wrong,” he said, which wasn’t quite what Connor was expecting. “I know we’re not friends or even really—but if you need anything, let me know. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’ve seen enough good cops face this kind of shit that… oh, hell. You know what I mean.”
Connor didn’t, but he wasn’t going to ask for clarification. He was still half-expecting Reed to haul off and punch him in the middle of the bullpen. Injecting a bit of warmth into his own tone just to get Reed to move on, he said, “Thank you, Detective. I do appreciate that.”
Shockingly enough, it did the trick and Connor only had to boggle about it for about ten minutes before Hank showed up. “What are you doing here so early? It’s only nine.”
Hank straightened up, head quirking to the side slightly as features cleared and he huffed in amusement. “You’ve been a bad influence on me. Or a good one, maybe.”
It was true Hank looked a little less rough around the edges than Connor was used to. The clothes were still colorful—though toned down, not quite so eye-searing—and they fit better. And his hair, while still a haphazard tangle of gray, actually looked like it’d been in contact with a comb recently.
Connor hadn’t noticed before. Anyone would look harried and stressed after a failed arrest, though. And Connor was a little distracted at the time, too.
He’d lost a little weight, too. And his cheeks weren’t flushed pink. Not from anything more than the cold anyway.
“Well,” Connor said. “That makes sense.”
“You’re looking a little better today,” Hank said, his words careful, his attention studiously on logging into his computer.
When Connor tried to do the same, it didn’t recognize him. “Shit.” This was going to get really annoying really quickly. He should have seen it coming. “My biosignature isn’t registering.” And of course he didn’t know whatever coded string he would’ve picked as his latest password so he could manually log in. A lot of things might have changed, but he changed that with an almost religious fervor once a week, the most IT would let him get away with.
Hank snorted in amusement and Connor couldn’t even blame him. “Sorry, Connor. That wasn’t funny.” It was a little bit, but Connor didn’t have to acknowledge it as such if Hank was willing to apologize. Sobering, he added, “Fowler’s expecting you anyway. Might as well get it all out of the way now.”
“How did he even know—?”
“Oh, please. He knew even before we talked yesterday that you’d maybe last the day on the outside.”
There was no arguing with that as he climbed to his feet and went to knock on the glass of Fowler’s office and was glad that at least one thing hadn’t changed in five years.
“Yeah, come in, Connor,” he said, no-nonsense. That was what Connor liked about him. There was never any excess, no need for special pleasantries. “You okay?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you. Lieutenant Anderson said you wanted to see me?”
Waving him toward the seat across from his desk, he said, “Strange as it might seem, you’re the first major android casualty on the force.”
“That’s… good news,” he said. Then, feigning dry cynicism at the thought: “I’m not still the only one, am I?”
“No,” and though anyone else might have laughed, Fowler didn’t. Even if Connor intended it as a self-aware joke, he appreciated that. “Though few of the others have thrown themselves with such alacrity into the field as you have.”
Connor shouldn’t have felt pride at that probably. Not that it stopped him. “I do enjoy the work, sir.”
“That so?” Fowler’s lips compressed in disbelief, which Connor found strange. “Huh. In any case, we’re hitting a few unanticipated snags as far as the paperwork goes.”
“Compensation for damages, arrangement of time off, reimbursement for medical expenses, counseling sessions and any training and rehabilitation required before the officer can return to work. Though we’ve been trying to hammer out commensurate policies for our android personnel, the process has been… fraught.”
Connor shifted in his seat. “Fraught.”
“Nobody can agree on what a comparable arrangement for androids and we don’t even have the hard data to make our own determinations for what will pass inspection with the budget committee.” His palms opened upward, the face of his watch clattering against the surface of his desk. “We’ve been trying for years. It’s just been luck that this hasn’t come back to haunt us so far. The Anti-Discrimination Act takes precedence otherwise we probably wouldn’t have started hiring until it was all hammered out, but I don’t know how to handle this in a way that’s fair to you.”
“And you don’t want a lawsuit on your hands.”
Fowler shrugged. “That would be nice, too, but I’m more interested in doing this right that keeping myself out of a courtroom.”
“So what do you need from me?”
“Nothing specifically. I just wanted you to know I’ll be forwarding this to the Android Rights Commission offices. Keep it on the up and up. They’re still the only game in town when it comes to this sort of thing.” That didn’t seem so bad, though Connor found himself a little self-conscious for being the precipitating factor.
Fowler had to know Connor wouldn’t sue him for damages.
He would have told Fowler it was unnecessary if it didn’t feel important for the rest of the androids in the department to have those protections in place as quickly and firmly as possible. Being the first to test them and undermine them would set a dangerous precedent.
So he refrained.
He tipped his chin up, nervousness singing through his vein. This murder investigation was important. If Fowler pulled him off active duty pending a response, Connor wasn’t sure what he’d do. He just hoped he wasn’t shooting himself in the foot by saying what he was planning to say. “What do you need me to do?”
“I’m keeping you on desk duty. If Elijah Kamski himself put you back together, that’s good enough for me as far as your physical well-being goes unless you feel otherwise. You’ll need to have the latest version of our regs officially patched in to your systems if you’re amenable or we can administer a test to ensure you’re up to date.”
“I’d prefer the test,” Connor replied, “and I’m ready to take it.”
There was an almost paternal cast to Fowler’s look then, part indulgence, part an utter lack of surprise while he nodded. “Go ahead and head on down to hum—personnel resources once we’re done here. They’ll get you set up.”
“I’ll need new accesses as well,” Connor said, finally bringing it around to the topic he’d come here to discuss, annoyed all over again at his own lack of foresight.
“They can set you up with that as well. I’ll let them know you’re coming down.” Fowler sighed, a little uncomfortable, and cleared his throat. “Is there anything you need now? I don’t like it when my officers are hurt in the line of duty. It’s not any easier when it happens to humans, but at least there are protocols to follow in those cases.”
“I’m fine.” The truth was, in a lot of ways, androids were a great deal more resilient than people, even if they broke more easily in other ways. “I’ve felt no neurological side effects of the incident and I’m operating at optimal physical levels. It’s… disconcerting—” That was perhaps the right word for it and Connor thought Fowler would appreciate the candor. And anyway, maybe if he thought Connor was okay, he’d let him back in a more active role more quickly, no matter what the Commission said. “—but I don’t feel traumatized by the experience.”
How could you be traumatized by something you didn’t remember happening?
“Trauma asserts itself in different ways, Connor,” Fowler said, a warning kindly meant.
“If it helps, think of it as doing a clean reboot on a computer.” Connor hated the words as soon as they were out of his mouth, but the metaphor wasn’t wrong exactly.
“It doesn’t,” Fowler answered, dry. “But I’ll let the Android Rights Commission make that determination. I’m not going to stop you from proceeding with your work from the station if you’re feeling up to it. Something tells me I wouldn’t do a very good job stopping you anyway. But you are on desk duty until you’re cleared. Is that understood?”
Connor opened his mouth to assure him otherwise—sure, Connor was willing to play a little fast and loose with the rules these days, anyone who worked with Hank would, but he wasn’t a defiant man for no good reason; it took a lot to get him to that point. But he figured if Fowler wanted to bend for him, he wouldn’t actually tell him he could be less flexible if he wanted to. “Thank you, sir,” was all he said, the better part of discretion.
By the time he returned to his desk, credentials all back in place, Hank was looking up at him with a sleepy, yawning look. He said, more grousing than genuinely annoyed, “What took ya so long?”
“Oh, you know,” Connor answered, breezy just for the sake of pestering Hank, “those tests they put you through are brutal.”
Hank’s nose wrinkled. “Fowler made you take a test?”
“I could have downloaded a patch,” Connor answered and was pleased when Hank made an even more disgusted face and muttered something about yeah, okay, fine, take a test. Connor didn’t force himself to suppress the tiny noise of pleasure when he got into his computer, even though it only succeeded in getting an eyebrow arched high in his direction. “What?”
“Nothing,” Hank said. “You’re different is all.”
“Androids change, Hank. I’m sure five years makes a difference.” But Connor bit his lip anyway. What was it that Hank saw in him that was so unfamiliar? Could he really have changed that much? “Trust me when I say I don’t recognize all of your traits as belonging to you either. You’ve changed, too.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Hank said, dubious, the way he always did when he got caught up in his own logic and Connor nailed him for it. One day, Connor would love to catch him out for that on a case, but it was always, always on sillier things like this. “I’m just saying you seem, I don’t know, happier?”
Connor froze, hands poised over his keyboard. His eyes didn’t go wide, thank goodness, but his thoughts ground to a screeching halt anyway. Happier? Different was one thing, but happier?
Hank seemed to notice he’d said something out of turn and unlike Connor his eyes did widen. “Forget I said anything,” he replied, quick, as though that made him seem less suspicious. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Connor’s chair rolled as close to the desk as he could get it, abdomen pressed hard into the unyielding edge of it. He couldn’t get any closer to Hank this way, but he wished he could, didn’t consider that he could get up instead. “How did you mean it?” This was the first time anyone had bothered mentioning to him how things had been before. Probably Connor shouldn’t have pried or put Hank on the spot, but it was his own life that was a blank spot here and he didn’t exactly like being in the dark with no one willing to tell him anything. “Was I unhappy before?”
“No!” Hank groaned and dragged his hand across his face. “No, you weren’t unhappy, Connor. Hell, half the time you acted like a pig rolling in shit—”
“Charming, Hank, really.”
Hank’s eyes flashed in warning. “—you were very devoted to your work,” he said, slow, “let’s just say that.”
Connor’s eyes narrowed. “As opposed to now?” No, there was something here, something Hank had seen that he hadn’t liked that was different now that Connor had been reverted back to an earlier state. “I got my spine ripped out two days ago and I’m back here today. That’s not devoted?”
“When you put it like that, Connor, you really do come across as balanced, it’s true. I’m just saying you seem… lighter. Or something. Fuck if I know what’s going on in that brain of yours at any given time. It was just an observation.” Hank’s hand flapped in the air, like that might clear it of this conversation.
This wasn’t going to go anywhere now that Connor had put him on the defensive. He should have known better than try. Sighing, he said, “Hank, please. I’m just trying to understand. If I never get my memories back, someone’s going to have to help me piece together the last five years.” He hoped it didn’t have to come to that, but it was a distinct possibility. “And I can’t rely solely on Markus to fill those gaps.”
“You’ll get your memories back,” Hank said, vehement, an angry brand of magical thinking that Connor appreciated as the mark of loyalty it was and nothing more. Just because Hank wanted it to be so didn’t make it so; he was just being stubborn.
But Connor could be stubborn, too, and he’d always been more patient than Hank.
“Maybe,” Connor agreed, pleasant. “But I have a right to know about myself, too.”
Hank grimaced, probably because Connor was right, but he still didn’t want to elaborate on his offhand observation. He did that sometimes, let his mouth get ahead of him, but usually he didn’t hesitate to barrel forward anyway. His hand dragged across the back of his neck. “Hell, Connor. It’s none of my business…”
“Unless things have changed radically in the last five years, you’re the closest friend I have. It’s more your business than anyone else’s outside of Markus.”
Groaning again, Hank said, “Do we have to talk about this now?”
“We could wait,” though Connor didn’t want to, “but I won’t forget about it like you’re hoping I will.”
Lifting his hands, he grimaced. “Fine. All I meant is you’ve seemed distant lately. Even for you. And before you ask, we never really talked about why so I can’t speak to that.” That at least didn’t sound like an evasion. But it didn’t sit right with Connor either. Why should Connor have been distant from the people he cared about most? Sure, he was never going to be the most effusive man on the planet, but he did care deeply about Hank and Markus and the other androids who’d built Jericho and helped liberate the android camps in 2038. He would have expected himself to be less distance now than before.
He didn’t feel distant. And he couldn’t imagine how he’d have gotten more so over the years, when by all accounts everything was getting better for androids.
The progress was impressive to him, in fact. If someone had sat him down and asked him what 2044 would be like, it wouldn’t have looked like this. It would have been more of the same, maybe outright hostility if Connor was feeling especially pessimistic. This, reality, was an ideal he never would have expected of his own accord.
“Okay,” Connor answered, trying to keep the worry from his voice. “Thanks, Hank.”
Hank relaxed back into his seat, body going slack with relief. “Thank fuck. So what’s the verdict? Fowler got you on the ropes or what?”
“Desk duty until he clears me with the Android Rights Commission.” Connor frowned and clicked his tongue against his teeth. Not the best he could have hoped for, but it could have been worse.
“That should be easy, right? You’ve got an in there.”
“All the more reason it shouldn’t be easy,” Connor replied. It probably wouldn’t get as far as Markus, but the minute anyone saw his name, it’d be over. Unless they weren’t that public with their relationship. But even so, he was considered one of the leaders of the revolution. That complicated things. And Connor didn’t want special treatment to make it easier. “But hopefully it won’t take too long either.”
“Well, we still have to pick up our guy’s trail anyway. That’s something we can do here.”
“You’re under no restrictions.” Now, Connor tried to keep the wistfulness from his voice. “Don’t let me hamstring you.” Then again, maybe it wasn’t a good thing that Hank could get out there on his own. Without backup, he could get into trouble. “On second thought, do.”
Hank rolled his eyes.
For one blessed moment, Connor thought things would go back to some modicum of normalcy. Just a small bit of it where he and Hank could do their work side by side without this amnesia making things weird between them.
Then Hank cleared his throat. “Listen, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m not one-hundred percent sure myself what happened other than that PL600 got the drop on me, but that’s my fault. You never would’ve lost your memories if—”
“He hurt you?” Connor’s heart thudded and his hands balled into fists of their own accord. “You never said—are you okay? What did he do to you?” Where was I, he didn’t ask, unable to bring himself to voice the question.
“I’m fine,” Hank said. “Got cleared with a doc and everything. Just managed to get knocked around a bit. Not even a concussion.”
Connor relaxed a bit. If only it was that easy for him. But even so. It was serious. What happened to Hank was serious. “You were rendered unconscious? That’s not ‘fine,’ Hank.”
What a mess this had become. What were they thinking? They’d never done anything this messy in all their time together.
That Connor knew of anyway.
“You’re one to talk.” Hank paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Trust me. They did every scan imaginable on me and then some. All that bastard managed to do was get me out of the way so he could get to you. And I’m sorry about that. This wouldn’t have happened if—”
“Don’t do that. It’s not your fault. I should have been able to handle myself against a domestic model.”
“Yeah, well. I don’t know much about domestic models, but he packed a wallop.”
“He could’ve gotten aftermarket alterations.” Though there were some that were still illegal or highly regulated. The ones having to do with physical capacities tended to be that way. Black market modifications were, unfortunately, also growing more common.
Connor didn’t expect that had changed in the last five years. It’d probably gotten worse. Or more creative. Or deadlier because everything seemed to get deadlier as time passed and new technologies developed.
“That might help us narrow down our search a bit more,” Connor mused. “It’s a place to start anyway.”
“We’ve got a lot of places to start.” Hank’s chair squeaked as he leaned back. “Gah. I can’t believe we let him get through our fingers like that.”
“It’s too late to do anything about that now.” Not that Connor wasn’t annoyed, too. He’d blown it and even if he didn’t know the details, that was on him.
“Yeah, yeah. Let the human sulk for a minute, would you?” Hank peered at him, frowning. “Why aren’t you more upset?”
“Would being upset do us any good?” That sounded plausible, didn’t it? Being upset would only succeed in making things worse. The fact that he was, maybe, a little upset was pointless to contemplate. “We’re not back at square one. We know everything but the registration number and where he is. I’m not sure how we got him the first time, but—”
“We got lucky,” Hank interrupted. “Well, you got lucky.”
“So we’ll get lucky again.” Connor refused to consider what will happen if they don’t get lucky quickly enough. He could feel a clock counting down in the back of his mind to the next death. Unless they could stop it first. They needed luck. Or more likely: hard work. “Or we’ll make our own luck.”
“I’m not sure I like this version of you,” Hank said, though Connor could hear the teasing tone underlying his words. “He’s way too gung-ho for me.”
Connor rolled his eyes. “Cute. Should I be offended?”
A new message blipped on his computer screen, a large file attached to it, in lieu of an answer. “Brute force your way through this list for me and then we’ll talk.”
It was the list of every PL600 who was registered in Detroit. “You do realize your computer could do this, too.”
Hank tapped his temple. “Yours is faster.”
Connor tapped his monitor in turn. “I just keep mine up-to-date per IT suggestions and best practices. I’m sorry you and every other officer in here leaves it until the last moment so that they’re forced to do it for you.”
“Fine.” Connor didn’t mind anyway. It would be a good way to acclimate himself to the case. It was easy, soothing work, something he could do while focusing on other things entirely. Maybe that was why Hank made Connor do it. “What did you do while I was gone yesterday?”
“A whole lotta nothin’. It was very relaxing.” Hank’s eyes found the ceiling very fascinating all of a sudden. “Actually, I had to catch up on some of our other open cases. It sucked. Sorry, Connor, but I figured you’d prefer to focus on this once you got back.”
“I—” That wasn’t inaccurate and Connor supposed he couldn’t argue with Hank about it. “Okay, yeah, fine.”
It was really annoying when Hank was right. He got all smug, like the smile now crossing his features as he stared down at his computer screen, clicking his mouse and scrolling, loud and obvious, as though to further make his point. Obnoxious. The absolute worst. “Now, are you done grilling me or do I have to defend myself further?”
Connor actually was done, but he didn’t have to give Hank the satisfaction of saying the words out loud. Better to simply focus on the task at hand, the task that Hank gave to him.
He told himself he was being responsible. There was a lot of work left to do and not a lot of time in which to do it after all.
But it was only mostly for that reason.
New-old information swirled in his mind on the ride home from work, but he felt as though the answer was just out of reach. If only he could stretch far enough, he’d have it in his grasp, his fingertips close to catching hold of it. That wasn’t truly how it worked and he knew that, but he couldn’t shake the sensation regardless. It clung to his skin, a slick, sticky second layer that went tacky as the moments passed and his taxi brought him closer to home.
Home. Where he’d find Markus. Who’d probably have heard about Fowler’s request by now. Who’d have questions about it and questions that he couldn’t answer about the work he was doing. Words, denials, built themselves in the back of his throat in anticipation. Just to give himself time.
This was new to him. This, he didn’t know how to handle. The last time he remembered going home from work, it was to an empty apartment, nobody around to question him about his day. How had he done this before? How much had he talked with Markus about it? Did he equivocate? Was he honest about what he could say and what he couldn’t?
These thoughts continued to cling and spin around one another, an awkward, painful dance, and he was no closer to the answer when he touched the door handle and waited for the sensors to recognize that touch.
The lock clicked and the handle twisted easily beneath his palm.
The house was quiet, barely even creaking as Connor crossed the hardwood floor. “Markus?”
This wasn’t the first time he’d been in this house by himself, he was sure, but it certainly felt like it. The walls seemed to flex and expand, the space so much bigger than it truly was. He could get lost in this place, trying to figure it out. Bits and pieces of their life mingled together in ways small and large that he didn’t yet understand. Colorful mail tucked carefully into a shelf nailed to the wall outside the pristine kitchen. Jackets Connor didn’t recognize hung from hooks by the door. They were glimpses into a life Connor might never get back.
It was like seeing a ghost.
Unsure what else to do, he touched every inch of the house that he could touch, cataloguing by sight and feel all the things he saw and hoped eventually he would piece together the truth of his life.
He stopped to peruse the mail, separated into Markus’s and Connor’s and one relevant to both or either, Connor couldn’t quite tell why some of the envelopes went into the third slot rather than one of the other two. But before he could ponder it further, one glowing envelope from the police department caught his eye. Breaking the seal, he pulled the light, thin plastic from inside.
It was a pay stub. A pay stub that must have been a mistake given the size of it. Even with mandatory and merit raises both, it was at least fifteen-hundred dollars more than he ever would have expected. Then he read the hours worked and widened his eyes.
Two weeks for which he’d worked eighty hours each.
Over eleven hours a day if he worked every single day.
That seemed insane to him. Excessive. He understood overtime, but this was something else entirely.
Maybe it was a mistake. It must have been. Or Hank was acting way more lackadaisical than he should have for how much time they’d been pulling lately.
He accessed first his bank account, mentally flicking through his records and the staggering savings account he’d managed to accrue. Then he pulled up his hours worked. More weeks than not, he’d worked at least some overtime for the vast majority of it. Some weeks were more reasonable, some… were not. There was no real pattern as to why other than the amount of hours worked increased in frequency over the last few years.
There was no commensurate increase in crime to explain it. In fact, on the whole, crime was down—though not against androids, so perhaps that was why. He wanted that to be the reason why. It was the only thing that made sense.
But Hank’s earlier words came to mind anyway. You’ve seemed distant lately. There was only one person who could answer his questions and Connor wasn’t going to take no for an answer this time.
Hank answered his phone after four rings, a surprise, since Hank never answered his phone. He’d expected he’d have to pester him with multiple calls before he finally picked up.
“This better be good, Connor, I already spent all day with you,” Hank replied, grousing for the sake of it. Connor had heard it often enough to know better than to take him at face value. This wasn’t their first days together. Connor knew when Hank was seriously peeved and just saying he was annoyed for the sake of it.
“How many hours did you work last pay period?” he asked instead of assuring Hank that it was.
Groaning, Hank muttered and the sound of papers and plastic shuffling filtered over Hank’s phone. “You’re a pain in the ass,” he said, “I hope you know that. Looks like… fifty-three. Jesus, I need a hobby.”
Connor’s brow furrowed. “And before that?” He could only hope that Hank didn’t hear the dread in his voice.
“Probably about the same. We’ve been pretty light on cases lately. Streets have been quiet. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Connor said. “I was just curious.”
“You’re never ‘just curious.’” Then he stopped and hummed. “Okay, sometimes you are just curious, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. So: what is going on?”
Connor bit his lip and fought the urge to be truthful, fully truthful. “Honestly, it’s nothing. I’m just trying to figure out what I’ve been doing with my time.”
“Uh huh. Well, we all know you’re very dedicated to the cause. More dedicated than you used to be. If that answers the question you refuse to actually ask.” He sighed and added, “It happens to cops from time to time. But you don’t have to keep going in that direction if you don’t want to. Spend some time with Markus. You’ll feel better.”
Connor didn’t have a good answer for that. And it was true that he did want to spend time with Markus. Only Markus wasn’t here and all Connor had was the knowledge that he was apparently inventing reasons to not be home himself.
“Thanks, Hank,” Connor said because he wasn’t certain what else to say. As much as he appreciated the information, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. He felt guilty about something he didn’t even know he’d done and couldn’t undo now.
He hated feeling useless and right now all he could do was feel that way.
“You need anything else? You’re sounding a little…”
“I’m fine. You’ve done more than enough for me. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Though Hank made a noise as though he intended to say something, Connor hung up before he could. It wasn’t like Hank would begrudge him that. If Connor bothered to count up the number of times Hank had hung up on him, it’d be way, way more than deserved a complaint in return for this one occasion. Sighing, Connor looked back down at the pay stub and barely refrained from ripping it to pieces in embarrassment.
That wouldn’t do anything to put a stop to the knowledge Connor had already gleaned from it, so he simply put it back in the envelope and resolved to ask Markus where he kept them filed away. It was still strange to him how fully humans still relied on physical objects as proof when there was no difference at all between a physical and digital copy of the pay stub in his hand. But he’d always done it. Just in case. Keeping things in line with how humans did it.
And maybe the humans were right. The pain it caused, the shame it made him feel was still the same, whether the proof was digital or physical.
He was drumming his hands on his thighs when Markus finally came home, his fingers dancing across his kneecaps in a repetitive, unhappy circuit. Whatever he’d been thinking about fled from his mind, like he’d been thinking of nothing at all the entire time, which couldn’t have been true. With Markus looking at him, caught out, from the entryway, he had no idea what to say either.
“I didn’t think you’d be home,” Markus said and Connor didn’t even have the excuse of not knowing why. He certainly knew why now.
There was that guilt again. It was beginning to be more familiar to him than he was comfortable with. “I saw my pay stub,” he replied. “I’m not surprised you’d think that.”
Fear, cold and razor-sharp, trickled through his veins as he waited for Markus’s response. As he waited, he imagined all the ways Markus could feel about it. Angry. Resentful. Happy to finally get some acknowledgment. It could’ve gone any number of ways and Connor had no idea just how he himself wanted it to go, if he wanted Markus to tell him it was fine or if he wanted Markus to force a fight.
He deserved, as Hank might say, to have his ass kicked. And Connor wouldn’t stop him if he wanted to do just that. Metaphorically anyway. Markus preferred to fight with words instead of fists. Though he could fight if it became necessary.
“You’ve pulled a lot of hours,” Markus said, so carefully neutral that it could cut. It might even have been meant to cut. Markus knew his way around rhetoric, wielded it like a weapon. Connor was stung and it was probably purposeful. “There’s a lot of work to be done. For both of us. I can’t begrudge you that.”
Anger flared in Connor’s chest, threatened to burst forth and catch everything in its crossfire. Call me on this, he thought. Shout at me. Yell. I deserve it. “Are you sure about that?”
Markus’s jaw clenched, but he got a hunted look in his eye and couldn’t quite meet Connor’s gaze any longer. “I’m not sure what you want me to say here. It wasn’t you who worked eighty-six hours in the last two weeks.”
“I’m the best you’ll get,” Connor replied. So he knows exactly how much I work.
“It wasn’t you who never brought it up either.”
“But it bothers you, doesn’t it? And I never picked up on it.” Or worse, he did notice and he purposefully never mentioned it or rectified the situation. But there was no way for Connor to know and Markus likely wouldn’t know the finer implications either.
“I’m not always home as much as I would like either,” Markus pointed out. And that might’ve been fair. Connor didn’t know Markus’s habits yet. But somehow Connor didn’t think working too much was Markus’s problem. And anyway, he could only be responsible for his own culpability. And from everything he’d seen and experienced so far, Markus gave a damn about him, even this broken version of him who found reasons to not be here.
Absolutely mind boggling. Connor couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else and didn’t see why he would have at any point. Even having started an argument, he was gladder to be here than anywhere else he might have gone. It staggered Connor to think he might have wanted it otherwise at any point. He asked, disgusted, because he wasn’t built not to ask, “What happened to us?”
There was no answer for a long moment.
“I honestly don’t know,” Markus said, cool, but not unkind. He took a step and then rocked back on his heels, like he wanted to come to Connor, but couldn’t quite manage it. “I wish I did.”
Connor wished Markus did, too, because then maybe he could do something about it. If he knew, he could fix it. The need to do just that clawed across his insides, searching for a way out. If he knew, maybe he wouldn’t repeat his mistake.
Or he could ensure he never makes that mistake again and save them both the trouble. “Then maybe I should—” But he couldn’t manage to get the words out. They felt so final. And cruel. But it might’ve been for the best if this was the future they were looking at. His chin lifted and he sighed. “Maybe it’s for the best that we make a clean break of it.”
He couldn’t believe he actually said it and he immediately wished he could take them back.
But that got Markus moving, hands lifting as he stepped forward, earlier hesitation forgotten. “No, hey. That’s not what I—we’ve hit rough patches, but it’s not like that. It’s nothing we’ve never worked through before.” But even he sounded a little dubious about it, like he was remembering something Connor had done and was trying to determine whether he was making a liar out of himself by telling Connor this now. “Everyone works late sometimes.”
Connor was tired of this. He couldn’t figure out how Markus wasn’t. “It sounds like I’ve made a habit of avoiding you and you can’t tell me why. Doesn’t that tell you something about us?”
“Yeah,” Markus said, aggrieved in an attempt for levity, “that maybe we should talk more. Not break up.”
“You don’t even want to interface with me.” Connor’s voice cracked and he winced at the sound of it, how pathetic it came across.
“Because you—” Markus’s hands crossed over his chest, shoulders hunching forward protectively. He kept his face blank, painfully so, and Connor regretted causing him to close himself off like this. That wasn’t his intention. “Fuck, I don’t know. Maybe you’re right.”
Connor was taken aback, momentarily distracted. “I’ve never heard you swear before.”
“What else am I supposed to do when my long-term partner is deciding he wants to call it quits? Just say, ‘Sure, that’s fine. Let me make this easy on you by agreeing?’ What do you know about it? You don’t remember anything about us.”
When Markus put it like that, Connor wasn’t quite sure what he wanted. Maybe he did want it to be easy—he was doing this for Markus, wanted what was best for him—but it certainly wasn’t feeling that way right now when Markus was arguing against it. Even looking at Markus was impossible, his shame coming in waves that wouldn’t let up and threatened to drown him. And he couldn’t—there was this giant blank spot that was so wide and deep, he couldn’t even feel around its edge to figure out the context through which he could make this right. “I don’t know how to fix this.”
Markus’s arms lifted, shoulders bunching and shifting. “I was here for it and even I don’t know how to fix this. So as far as I’m concerned, we stick it out and go from there. That’s what I want. What do you want?”
Connor’s hand curved around the back of the couch as he held himself upright, skirting around the armrest to sit as he considered the question. Markus followed and sat heavily at the other end as far from Connor as he could get. Markus stared at his hands and didn’t say anything. Silence filled the room, a suffocating weight that Connor couldn’t force his way out from under.
Tearing down his own programming might have been easier. At least that he’d actually been able to do. Not like now. Now, the thought of even moving his tongue was impossible to fully comprehend.
Still. Something had to be done, said. They couldn’t remain this way. And if Markus wouldn’t let him walk away, he wouldn’t.
“What would be best for you right now?” Connor finally said, the words thick and burdensome in his mouth. He tried to tell himself it was something. “What do you need?”
“I don’t know.” Markus shook his head like that might dislodge an answer. “I honestly don’t know.”
Connor said nothing for a moment, bit his lip and finally bit the bullet. “Why won’t you interface with me?” It wouldn’t solve the problem—no one thing would solve it—but at least he’d have more information on which to base his decision. “I don’t see how that could do anything but help.”
“You never wanted to before.” Markus’s voice was so quiet Connor had to strain to hear it.
Connor’s hand fisted and slammed against his thigh multiple times. He sounded like he’d been an asshole and Markus deserved better than that. “Fuck what I might not have wanted before. I’m not him and I might never be him again. I want it now. It’d be another thing entirely if you don’t want it, but if it’s just because of something I did or said—”
“You had your reasons,” Markus said, stubborn, because he’d always been stubborn, ever since they first met.
“And they were?”
A stretch of artificial skin in Markus’s cheek jumped as he clenched his jaw. His silence was damning, an answer all on its own. He wanted to go back in time and punch himself for what a bastard he’d been.
“I wouldn’t even tell you, would I?” Connor swore again and scoffed, pissed. “Why are you prioritizing his wishes over your own?” Over mine?
Because if Markus didn’t want it, he would have said as much.
Pushing himself to his feet, Connor made a decision. This wouldn’t work if he didn’t know what was going on and apparently he’d been very good at keeping secrets even from Markus. If Markus wouldn’t or couldn’t tell him what the issue was, he’d have to find out for himself.
“Where are you going?” Markus asked. Worry drenched his words and Connor wanted to assuage those concerns for him, but he didn’t know how. At this point, he still wasn’t sure what he could do to salvage this. There was no preconstruction he could perform to change things as they stood.
But there was still one thing he could do.
“To see Kamski,” Connor replied, tugging on his sleeve. It was the truth. Maybe that would give Markus some measure of peace. “He said he could fix the amnesia.”
“I already know what he said he could do.” Markus climbed to his feet, too, trailing after Connor as he strode toward the door. “Do you really think it’ll be that easy? He’ll just—” A snap of Markus’s fingers. “—and you’ll get your memories back and then you’ll solve everything?”
Markus’s words surprised a bitter laugh out of Connor. “Has anything about this been easy? I don’t know what I’ll do when I have my memories back, but I don’t see another option.”
Markus grabbed Connor’s wrist and held tight, his fingers digging into his skin, pressing hard against the protective shell that covered the delicate wires and plastics that served as veins and tendons and ligaments. “This isn’t one of your cold cases, Connor. You can’t just unearth the clues and get the answer you want.”
“So what do you want me to do? Because I won’t do nothing.” He didn’t want to go to Kamski again, but he had to. “I can’t lie and say I’m looking forward to it since I sound like I’ve turned into someone I don’t want to be, but…”
“I—okay.” Markus shrugged and let go of Connor’s hand. “Do what you need to do. Just don’t—don’t give up on us. Whatever you find out.”
Connor’s eyes narrowed. “Is that what you want?”
There was a slight delay in Markus’s answer, more damning than it had any right to be. “It is.”
“Seriously,” Connor replied, “why won’t you just interface with me.” That would be enough, Connor thought. He could get what he needed from it. Kamski wouldn’t have to be involved at all.
“You never wanted to,” Markus said, “and I don’t think I could be fair with you if we did it now.” He said it like he was the one letting Connor down rather than the reverse.
“It sounds like I haven’t been very fair with you,” was all Connor could think to say in response. “I should know the truth even if it is unflattering.”
Markus brought his hand up, cupping Connor’s cheek. This was the truly unfair thing: such a simple touch was nearly enough to shatter Connor’s resolve. So much of him didn’t want to know what had turned him into the person he’d become, but he didn’t see how they could get through this without him knowing and rectifying it.
Besides, if he recovered his memories, they might get that last piece of the puzzle they needed to catch the PL600 who’d done this to him, who’d killed at least one android already and, quite probably, more, though Connor only had his instincts to go on and the cold case he’d apparently been so focused on.
He had no way of knowing what had happened between Hank getting knocked out and him being injured. For all he knew, it would solve everything. Hell, maybe that was why he’d done everything he did to Connor. Because Connor knew.
Who knew how long it would take if Connor never recovered his memories. Connor certainly didn’t.
“I have to go,” Connor said, pained. It was selfish that he wanted to retain his ignorance and it was selfish that he wanted Markus anyway without having to go through any of the trouble of earning those desires.
Markus nodded, sad in a way Connor couldn’t alleviate, that neither of them knew how to fix.
And he let Connor get as far as the door before he spoke again. “We got paperwork for you from the DPD. I made sure it got expedited,” he said. “Whether you get those memories back or not, we won’t let them keep you on desk duty for long.” Frustration clouded his gaze. “They should’ve had this figured out years ago, but they’re no further behind than the rest of the country on this stuff. We’ll come up with something that’ll work in the short term.” A tiny smile flit across his mouth. “Not that I think you care about the intricacies. I’m sure you’d just like to get back out there in the field.”
His words were teasing rather than scornful. No, not teasing. Teasing wasn’t the right word for how fraught things were between them right now. Maybe it was an olive branch. Yes, that word suited it just fine. Connor could find no qualms with it.
“Thank you.” To be honest, he’d forgotten entirely that he’d been put on desk duty. Another wrinkle that would just slow this whole case down. If this thing with Kamski didn’t work or what he was missing didn’t include the PL600’s registration number, he’d need to get out there. “I appreciate that. I know it’s important that the DPD gets this right for anyone else who gets hurt.”
“We’ll get it right.” Markus looked as though he wanted to say something else and his hand stretched toward Connor as though he wanted to take hold of him again. But he said nothing further and did nothing, caught in some kind of in-between, so indecisive. This was starting to become a habit and one Connor didn’t like. It suited Markus poorly. After all, he’d always been the decisive, determined one.
And then he darted forward, pressing his lips lightly against Connor’s, a barely there touch that Connor wanted to dig claws into and clutch to his chest, hold it tight, hold Markus tight. “I knew you’d understand.”
It left Connor confused and wanting. Wanting things Markus couldn’t and wouldn’t give him. Wanting things to be different and the same. He didn’t want to go back to who he was and he didn’t want to go forward either. It would be easier to stay right here.
He hated this. He hated it so much he could taste acid in the back of his throat, self-hatred burning in his heart. He’d never felt so useless in his life.
One thought recurred over the next few minutes, one that he didn’t want to believe was true.
Maybe they just weren’t right for each other and they shouldn’t have ever gotten together at all. No matter what Connor’s feelings were—or Markus’s, perhaps they shouldn’t have done this. Don’t give up, Markus had asked, and though Connor would do that for him, would do anything for him, maybe it would be better to give in. It would be freeing to cut Markus loose from this twinned tangle of feelings, whatever he had for the old Connor and whatever he was developing for Connor as he was now. It wasn’t fair that he should be beholden to both of them.
Infinitely better to be beholden to neither from the sound of it.
“I’ll see you when I get back, Markus,” he said, squeezing Markus’s hand briefly, and though it wasn’t good bye, he wished in a way that it could be. “It’ll be okay.”
Markus nodded, distracted, worried.
But he didn’t stop Connor from leaving.
Connor didn’t expect he would and he still had no idea what Markus would have preferred.
It was Kamski himself who greeted Connor this time, ingratiating in his graciousness and overzealous in his hospitality. Opening his arm wide, he said, “Welcome back. I had hoped you’d come. Please, come in.” There was a plastic smile plastered to his mouth and an easy greed in his eyes that gave Connor pause. It was like Kamski was a predator and Connor the prey. It was an unusual sensation for him. “So you decided to try my solution to your little problem, hmm? Hurry, hurry. We don’t have all night.”
His gestures grew more expansive as he waved Connor in. Always so grandiose. That was Kamski through and through.
Though Kamski always had an ulterior motive, Connor didn’t have any reason to actually distrust him. He’d helped—insofar as he was willing to—way back when Connor was hunting deviants, and despite not giving Connor anything in exchange for his inability to kill another android, he had offered Connor assistance in the end.
Emergency exits. That all alone was enough to keep Connor from worrying too deeply about Kamski’s intentions. Sure, he was no doubt intrigued by Connor’s predicament, but he would do exactly what he said he’d do and no more. Which was offer Connor a solution that he believed would solve his problem.
“Yes,” Connor said, before he could let his fear get the better of him. “Maybe.”
Kamski’s brow raised, sleek and dark on his pale forehead. His hair was slick, too. Maybe he’d just come from the pool again, history repeating itself. “I shudder to think what else might have brought you here if not that. Not another gruesome murder, I hope.” The way he said it, Connor was almost certain that Kamski would have loved nothing more than to be at the center of another death. “Have you gotten over to the CyberLife offices yet?”
“I can’t comment on an open investigation,” Connor replied, “not when I’m not the one asking the questions.” The urge to spill the truth was nearly irresistible, that he wasn’t able to get over there just yet, not until he was cleared. What would Elijah Kamski do if he thought the police department didn’t trust the work he’d done ensuring that Connor was safe and ready to go? It might be he wouldn’t care, but maybe he would have, too, his pride shot through by that distrust.
“I’ll assume that’s a no.” He sucked his teeth, thinned his lips. “A pity.” He seemed so heartbroken that Connor wondered why he didn’t simply consult with the police. If he was truly that interested. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it was just an affectation. Maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of Connor.
Connor said nothing, though he wanted to. But that would be commenting on an open investigation. And quite probably Kamski had done it on purpose in the hopes that Connor would slip up and reveal something.
“And where is Markus?”
“Home,” Connor said, abrupt. It wasn’t that he distrusted Kamski, but it was none of his business. “I made the decision to come rather abruptly.”
“Sometimes, that’s a sign you’re going in the right direction. We should all be so determined. You are truly a marvel, Connor.” His hand pressed against Connor’s shoulder. Connor could barely stop himself from slipping out from beneath the touch. It was warm, oppressively so, false and superficial in the way Kamski was usually false and superficial. Even if Kamski was leading him to his doom, he would have said and done the same thing.
As Kamski led him down the halls, past his office, back toward his private laboratories where he’d presumably been brought by Hank all of two days ago—had it really been so little time, he felt like he’d been this way for ages, forever. It was better that he got to be awake this time and he peered around curiously at the art that lined the walls and stood on podiums, punctuation points to remind anyone who passed that Kamski was a thoughtful, intelligent, tasteful man.
Connor couldn’t tell whether it was a genuine extension of his personality or if he’d merely hired someone to project it for him. Neither option would have surprised him.
“Will there be any side effects to this update you’ve created?” Connor asked, finding no reason to not say anything since there was no one around to overhear. “Assuming it works, of course.”
“As we both know, there’s no guarantee.” He turned and smiled politely, distant. “I have made one discovery that we can discuss once we’re in the labs. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but, well. Maybe it will be. I don’t know. You surprise me, so I haven’t placed my bets just yet.” He sounded proud of this, like he’d been directly responsible for Connor’s creation. “Deviancy is the best thing that ever happened to androids and you’re no exception.”
That may have been true, though not for the reason Kamski believed, but Connor didn’t need any human telling him about it.
Fighting back the urge to roll his eyes, Connor began to wonder if this was a bad idea. Kamski had made a discovery about his own code. That didn’t sit well with Connor. He could live with the possibility that it wouldn’t work. He wasn’t sure he could live with anything more volatile than that. He should’ve known his own work backward and forward.
“And here we are,” Kamski said, pressing his palm against the locking mechanism outside an otherwise unassuming doorway. That surprised Connor. He’d half-expected statues and plaques and walls lined with all of Kamski’s accomplishments and accolades around the door of his personal labs.
“So what’s this discovery?” Connor asked, crossing his arms as he looked around the room. It looked a lot different when he wasn’t strapped to a table. It seemed less like a medical facility and more like an engineer’s play room. Wires spilled across tables. Computers flashed and blinked and bleeped every so often from multiple desks and tables. Controlled chaos, at best. None of it put Connor at ease.
It was sloppy.
“We’ve done multiple simulations on the code since you and I talked. I’m more certain now that it’ll work than I was,” Kamski replied, breezy, off-hand. Coolly indifferent. “I’ve used it on a scan of your brain that we took when you were with us here and planted some artificial memories in the long-term memory databases. They became inaccessible until after I applied my solution. I’ve gotten the memories back and in pristine condition.”
“But it overwrote the simulation’s new memories.” Kamski looked away. “No matter what I did.” He shrugged, but Connor could tell he was annoyed by the failure, slight though it may have been in his own eyes. What was the loss of a few days to five years?
Connor felt as though he’d suddenly been dropped into freefall. His heart climbed his chest and lodged itself in his throat. “Unacceptable.”
“It’s two days, Connor,” Kamski pointed out. “Two days against five years. I figured you’d be okay with that. Especially since you don’t know what you might know about your suspect.”
“I’m not. I’m not okay with that,” Connor said, suddenly angry. Who was Kamski to decide how Connor measured the importance of his own life? And his work? Everything Connor knew about those five years suggested he’d wasted them. And even if there were good memories, a lot of good memories. if he couldn’t have them back with this new understanding of himself, he couldn’t…
He didn’t deserve them. And he didn’t particularly want them either, not under these circumstances.
It wasn’t like he knew what he was missing.
Swallowing, he felt tears prickled in his eyes and did everything he could to stop it. He refused to let Kamski see that his words upset him. And anyway, he should have known that it wouldn’t be so easy. Kamski had even warned him that it might not work.
He’d been right about that, but perhaps not in the way he’d thought. And it was clear he was disappointed. To the point of silence even. Connor suspected that didn’t happen to him too often. Being struck speechless.
He didn’t remain quiet for long, though. After a handful of minutes spent shuffling in the center of the lab, he cleared his throat. “Well, I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but—” He rummaged around in a case perched on one of the tables, small and carefully packed. “—if you change your mind, you’re more than welcome to take a shot at it.”
It looked so much like the cylinder that had caused all this trouble to start with that Connor startled at seeing it. Perhaps Kamski had done it for a flare of the dramatic or maybe because it was the simplest mechanism for him to potentially deploy the thing, but either way, Connor hesitated to take it, his fingers closing around it mechanically. A wave of coolness settled over him, icy and a little terrifying, but the little device couldn’t hurt him, not unless he wanted it to.
“There’s nothing more you can do?” Connor asked, feeling petulant. Kamski had designed a marvel, a solution that Connor hadn’t expected to even get, and here Connor was asking for more, for better.
“If you get a hold of someone at CyberLife or get the android responsible, they might be able to help. But as it is, I’ve reached the end of my rope as far as ideas go. That’s the best I can manage.” Kamski didn’t seem concerned or maybe he just didn’t care anymore, bored now with the whole thing. “But there’ll never be a guarantee that you’ll get the outcome you want. Sometimes, you can’t get everything.”
That wasn’t what Connor was after, not really, but he at least wanted—all he wanted was a path forward, a way to repair his relationship with Markus. Whatever got him that particular outcome; it didn’t matter to Connor. And it didn’t have to be a bit of code given to him by a man who seemed more interested in experimenting on Connor than helping him. Of course, he didn’t know how else he would’ve gotten it, but he didn’t have to admit that to Kamski. “Thank you,” he said instead, stiff and unhappy. “I appreciate what you’ve done. I’m sure there are more pressing concerns to trouble yourself with.”
Connor knew no such thing, but it sounded gracious and seemed like the right thing to say under the circumstances. Kamski accepted his thanks with an imperious nod of his head and a quick rundown of how to use the device. Which basically boiled down to plug and play. Pick a connector and go. It’ll self-install once you accept. Easy. Quick. Clean.
Frightening how easy it would be to utterly destroy parts of himself. Precious parts. Important parts. The program wouldn’t know or care. It would just do what Kamski designed it to do.
It slid easily into his pocket, a heavy weight against his side, and Connor was stuck again as he wound back through Kamski’s office and into the lobby and then out the front. He’d been so certain that this would solve everything and all it had done was give him a new dilemma to contend with.
None of the Chloe models greeted him as he left and for that he was grateful. He didn’t want to see anyone right now and there wasn’t a single damned way he was going to be able to face Markus right now. He felt too vulnerable, like his skin, his protective shell were both made out of paper, would be punched through with the least amount of pressure exerted against it. And there was so much pressure threatening to exert itself against him.
He didn’t want to know what Markus would say or if he would try to talk to Connor about it. It was one thing to say it wasn’t worth doing. It was another to actually learn the consequences and only then decide. What if Markus thought it would be easier or better if he did sacrifice the last few days of his life for the sake of those five years? Would that change his decision at all?
Probably, yes. Because he trusted Markus and Markus knew better than him what would and wouldn’t be worthwhile.
He just wasn’t sure he wanted confirmation from Markus that this version of him was less important than the one he knew. It wasn’t fair to Markus to put that on him and expect him not to choose the Connor he’d known for so long, but the thought still lodged in his chest and stuck there, a splinter unable to be torn free. It made him fearful, unhappy, turned the electricity in his wires into a constant hum of worry.
So, no. No, he couldn’t just go home and tell Markus what Kamski had accomplished and the cost of it.
What he wanted to do was go to Hank’s, but that didn’t feel right either. It wasn’t his job to deal with Connor’s shit. Not in their off-hours anyway.
“Guess I should use some of the stupid amount of money I have in savings,” he said to no one. He wasn’t expecting an answer as he stood in the frigid cold of a Detroit winter, and yet he was disappointed anyway. He could have put a sizable down payment on a house with the money he had, but he settled instead for a hotel room, near to the station, and willed himself to feel less alone as he stepped inside of it, the room’s ambient temperature well below what humans would have considered comfortable, but perfectly acceptable to him, barely worth his notice.
Connor couldn’t even bring himself to sit on the crisp white sheets, the thought of doing even one more thing to leave a mark on the world too much for him.
Instead, he passed a long night in the chair by the window, fingers tapping out a staccato rhythm against the smooth, indifferent tabletop next to it.
He felt no closer to an answer even once the sun rose, sparkling against the snow that dusted the ground.
“Ah, look who finally decided to show up,” Hank said, looming over Connor’s empty desk. Reed, arms crossed at his side, merely seemed to be hovering again. Connor wasn’t sure what they might have been talking about, but it was suspicious that they stopped as soon as Connor stepped up to them. Their eyes turned to Connor and made him feel like a common criminal.
“You’re lookin’ a little rumpled there,” Reed said, eyeing Connor up and down. Connor should have known better, but he looked down at himself anyway. His suit was pristine. When he looked back up again, Reed was smirking. “Just kidding, but hey, now I know where your mind’s at. Have a fun night?” His head jerked toward Fowler’s office. “Brought your boyfriend in and everything.”
Connor’s heart clenched as he stopped himself from looking in the direction Reed pointed out. If he adjusted his audio processors just a little bit, he could probably have heard Markus. He didn’t need to look that way and see the evidence for himself. It felt like a bad omen, like doing so would only succeed in making Markus disappear or end the world.
Maybe just the part of the world that mattered to Connor.
“Hell, Detective, you can stop breaking my partner anytime you’d like,” Hank said, shoving Reed’s shoulder, neither he nor Reed noticing the turmoil Connor was experiencing. “Isn’t it about time for you to go home anyway? Your shift’s over.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Reed answered. He tugged on the collar of his shirt and resettled his leather jacket across his shoulders. “Tell me how you really feel, Lieutenant.”
“I really feel like you oughta get out of here. Some of us have work to do.”
Reed eyed Connor again once, curious, but not hostile, not the way Connor was used to. It was still odd to Connor, but not unpleasant exactly. He never wanted to be enemies with any of his coworkers, not even Detective Reed, even if he’d always seemed determined to make them so. “You’ll get reinstated,” Reed said, clapping his hand on Connor’s shoulder. “Fowler wants you back out there as much as you want to be back out there.”
“Thank you, Detective,” Connor replied, confused, tense because he didn’t want to flinch and offend Reed when he was clearly trying his best. But as soon as he was gone, he asked Hank, “What the hell?”
Hank’s eyes widened, innocent. “What?”
“Detective Reed. He’s…” Connor didn’t want to cast too many aspersions, but well. “He’s less of an asshole than I remember him being.”
A startled laugh issued from Hank’s mouth, his eyes crinkling with good humor. Connor didn’t find it particularly funny, but he kept his mouth shut as he waited for an answer. Whatever it was was bound to be a good one. But then Hank looked at him again and started laughing all over and Connor could only assume the answer was actually stupid and Connor shouldn’t have bothered asking at all.
“Never mind,” he said, pushing past Hank so he could sit at his desk. He didn’t really care anyway as long as Reed wasn’t throwing punches anymore.
“No, hold on,” Hank replied, leaning against the corner of the desk, interfering in Connor’s space even more than before. Connor brushed pointedly at the corner of the desk near to Hank’s knee. It didn’t succeed in getting him to shoo, though it did succeed in keeping his own attention off the meeting going on in Fowler’s office. The knowledge that Markus was here buzzed in the back of his mind, trying to reassert itself. It was significantly easier to think about how weird Reed was being than think of that; the least Hank could do was indulge him. “I’m just giving you a hard time.”
Connor’s eyes narrowed and his eyebrow lifted. He was good at waiting and made sure Hank knew it.
“You won him over,” Hank said, entirely devoid of any interesting, useful details. “What can I say?”
Another one of Connor’s experiences flattened into a few words. He’d ‘won Detective Reed over,’ the same Reed who once tried to kill him. That Reed, who hated androids and hated Connor most of all. Won over. By Connor.
Kamski came again to mind, his suggestion that two days weren’t worth the five years he’d lost. Would he ever know what changed between himself and Detective Reed if he didn’t choose to recover them? Would it actually matter? He decided in and of itself that it didn’t. The reasons for this specific change of heart didn’t matter. They were just an effective illustration of Kamski’s point.
“What’s with the look?” Hank asked. “I don’t honestly know what happened. You two have had to work together a couple of times over the years. He got the stick out of his ass. Sometimes these things happen. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
“I’m not worried.” Connor’s eyes flicked to Fowler’s office, unable to help it any longer. He couldn’t see Markus’s face from here, though Connor would recognize his presence anywhere. A few more people sat and stood across from Fowler’s desk as well, people Connor didn’t recognize, all of them dressed in sharp suits, serious expressions on their faces. Connor hoped it was going well in there; he couldn’t tell based on what he was seeing from out here.
“You’re asking me about Gavin,” Hank said, head tipping pointedly in the direction of Fowler’s office. “I’d say you’re avoiding talking about something else entirely. And if you’re avoiding something, you’re worrying about it.”
Frowning, Connor stared down at his desktop, hands on the surface. “I already knew Markus was going to try to get me fully reinstated. There’s nothing more to talk about there.” Though he hadn’t thought Markus would be quite so quick to action. “I’m not worried.”
“He asked me if I’d seen you,” Hank said, leaning toward Connor, his voice lowering, perhaps for the sake of discretion. “I take it you weren’t home last night?”
Connor knew what it was like to feel cornered, hunted, and right now, he felt no different. “I went to see Kamski,” he said, instead of admitting to the fight they had. If he could even consider it a fight. They hadn’t yelled at one another, hadn’t thrown punches, hadn’t said reprehensible things to one another, though Connor regretted a great deal of what was said anyway. “I thought—”
Hank scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Kamski thinks he can solve everything. Did you ask him about the program he created?”
With a nod, Connor turned toward his computer, logged on. It was easier than looking up at Hank, who was staring down at him with sympathy in his eyes.
“What did he say?”
“Does it matter?” Connor said, snappish, unhappy, angry enough to lash out at Hank. It wasn’t like he would hold that against him. Disgust with himself curled in his chest, twisting around his heart. “Sorry, it’s just…” A fresh wave of grief crested over him as he thought about his options. If he didn’t already feel cornered, he would now.
“I’m probably the last person who should be saying this, but it might be worth talking about. Could make you feel better.” Hank stared into the middle distance. At least Hank looked as uncomfortable as Connor felt. “Doesn’t have to be me, but you should maybe talk to someone.”
“I—” Connor almost, almost said something then and there. “We can talk later.”
If Hank was going to say anything, it was lost when the door to Fowler’s office opened and Fowler stepped out, beckoning Connor over with a wave of his arm. He didn’t yell to get Connor’s attention, for which Connor was grateful, though that did nothing to stop everyone’s attention from turning toward Connor anyway. The trudge toward Fowler’s office was a long one with all those eyes on him, but he held up as best he could under the scrutiny.
Fowler offered a perfunctory greeting and guided him in. Connor’s gaze was immediately pulled to Markus’s face. He looked terrible, features drawn, like he hadn’t had a good charge in a long time. Connor hated that he’d been the one to put that worry there. But Markus offered him a nod and a bit of a smile and said, “Hey, Connor,” like nothing at all was wrong between them.
Connor so desperately wanted to believe that was so.
“Well, Connor,” Fowler said, “bad news first: we haven’t quite hashed out a deal to get you back out in the field.”
Connor’s gaze snapped to Markus’s face. It was surprising to him that Fowler would call him in here just to tell him that, but if he couldn’t go out in the field, he wasn’t sure what the point of coming here was.
“But if you’re willing to sign a waiver of liability, I can let you back out if you want.”
“Markus?” Connor asked. Because he could’ve done that without Markus negotiating on his behalf.
“It’s definitely going to take a while to get this figured out,” Markus replied. “But we came up with an initial agreement and compensation schedule for your specific situation. I know you’re as ready as anyone to get back out there, so we’re willing to cave on the waiver. I figured you wouldn’t mind, but you’re under no obligation to sign it. It won’t set any sort of precedent for the future.”
He didn’t mind, not at all, relief cascading through him, especially since he wouldn’t be harming androids with his selfish desires. He could get back out there. He and Hank could check out CyberLife without causing any trouble.
Frankly, he didn’t care about the compensation schedule. The ARC and Fowler could argue about that until the end of time if they want to.
“You’ll have to speak with a psychologist before you get approved, but other than that, you’re free to go,” Fowler said. He didn’t sound happy about it, but Connor didn’t care all that much about that either. He could be as unhappy as he wanted to be. “Don’t get yourself hurt out there and I’ll call it even. I’d like it on the record that I am not recommending you sign this waiver, but I won’t stop you either.”
“Thank you, sir.” Though Connor wanted to express his gratitude to Markus in a more physical manner, a squeeze of Markus’s hand or a hug, he refrained, tucking his hands against his sides. “Thank you, Markus.” Connor nodded at the lawyers assembled around him and they nodded back, but otherwise didn’t react, competent and serious.
“Of course,” Markus said, something in his gaze that Connor couldn’t quite parse, a tone that niggled, but couldn’t be pulled at and revealed. He hoped was better at figuring out Markus’s moods before. If he wasn’t, they’d be in trouble no matter what Connor did. He still didn’t know. And looking at Markus now only left him more conflicted. He just wanted to do what was best for them. But it seemed like there was no good option.
“Should I get this over with now or is there something else you needed?” Connor asked to break the stalemate they were currently stuck in the middle of. He looked between Fowler and Markus, neither of them betraying much with the expression on their faces. “There are a couple of leads I’d like to follow up on as soon as possible and I’d like to be able to go with Lieutenant Anderson when we do.”
Fowler nodded. “Yeah, they brought one of their psychologists along. You can talk to her and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve had a chance to look at the report. You’ll probably be free by this afternoon to do whatever you’d like to do with regard to this investigation.”
This afternoon. It felt like no time at all and yet so far away still all at the same time. Suddenly, the need to get back on the streets was painfully acute. He knew if he could only get back out there that they’d find their suspect. But there was a frown on Markus’s face and as Connor headed back toward the bullpen, Markus followed him, reached for him the same way he’d done last night.
“Can we talk for a minute?” he asked, stubborn, quiet, dignified, like he was aware of every eye on him and wanted to present the calmest face he could for the crowd.
Connor wished he himself was as good at projecting his calm as Markus was. He felt like he was languishing instead, floundering where every single one of his coworkers could see it and judge him. “Come on, let’s go somewhere a little more private.”
The break room wasn’t exactly private, but at least they’d be out from underneath the watchful eyes of just about everyone Connor knew in there. He breathed a sigh of relief when it was empty and crossed his arms, waiting for Markus to begin speaking. Clearly he was agitated about something, pacing around near the table, unwilling to meet Connor’s eyes, so different now that they were alone.
“You’ll be careful, right?” Markus asked finally. “When you’re back out there?” He asked it like it was a foregone conclusion that his psychologist would clear Connor. “You won’t let that bastard get a hold of you again?”
“I didn’t intend to let him get me the first time. I can’t guarantee I won’t get hurt again, but I know what I’m up against now. Within reason anyway. I’ll do everything I can to make sure I’m not.” It was the best guarantee he could give, but it felt like so little, less than Markus deserved. But Markus only nodded, like he wasn’t the least bit surprised by Connor’s response. It made Connor want to give him more. “We’ll be more careful. I want this done as much as you do.” His hand wrapped around the back of his neck, an admission in his mouth that he didn’t want to give. “I wish I’d never picked up this case.”
A wistful smile crossed Markus’s mouth. “Now that doesn’t sound like you at all.”
“I’m not the ‘you’ you remember,” Connor said. And then, again: “Markus, what happened to me? You have to have some idea. Please.”
“It’s been… hard,” Markus said, hesitant, but Connor could hear the truthfulness in his words. “Some of the cases you’ve cleared were brutal. I think it would’ve gotten to anyone and you handled it better than most. We’ve both worked too much. There’s no one thing to point to. And it’s not just you even though you seem to think you’re the only one responsible.”
That didn’t seem so bad, so unusual. The way Markus spoke made it sound like a surmountable problem, the kind of thing anyone might face. It made Connor feel bold, wanting to be truthful, and more regretful than before that he’d stayed away last night instead of letting Markus know what was going on.
But it couldn’t have been the whole truth.
He pulled from his pocket the cylinder Kamski had given him. “Kamski says I can get my memories back. All of his simulations have come back clean.”
Markus’s eyes fell to the slim tube of metal. “That’s good news,” he replied, perhaps still a little hesitant. “You haven’t done it?”
There was no good reason to keep it from Markus and yet the words didn’t want to come. He was still fearful of what Markus would say. “Kamski said it will overwrite all the memories I’ve created since waking up. It was the one thing he couldn’t fix.”
“Oh.” His mouth twitched in an unhappy frown, quickly smoothed out again. “How do you feel about that?”
Now or never. The truth or a lie. It should have been harder to make the admission. But he was so damned tired. So tired. “I don’t want to go back to who I was, whoever he was. I’m afraid I will if I don’t—if I don’t remember how I feel about it now.” This wasn’t the right place for that kind of admission, but, “I don’t know what to do.”
Markus’s features softened and he grabbed Connor by the shoulders, his thumbs sweeping over the curves of them. “Connor, you weren’t a bad man. Things weren’t perfect between us, but you only ever did what you thought was right. I can’t fault you for that. I don’t think anyone could.”
“That might be true, but…” But there were so many variables Connor couldn’t control. It was stupid that he should already be so attached to who he was now, when the reality was so weighed in the opposite direction. But that was the truth of it. “I don’t know what I’m missing.”
“You’re missing our life together,” Markus pointed out. But he didn’t seem as upset by that possibility as Connor might have thought he would be. If only Connor knew what that meant. If only Markus would tell him.
“You could show me what our life was like.” In fact, Connor wished desperately that he would, whatever he’d believed in the past about interfacing. The past didn’t matter as much to him as the future did. And if he decided not to follow through on using Kamski’s program, he’d never know what it was he’d tried to hide.
Markus tipped his head, conciliatory. “So what do you want to do? It’s a tough decision, but I’ll support you either way. I can’t imagine what it is you’re going through.”
He could see both sides of the argument, the pros and cons, and the pros of getting his memories back outweighed the cons. But his heart told him differently and he’d learned nothing more from the year of his life that he did remember and the time he spent with Markus therein and the time he spent with Hank, than to follow that above all else.
“You don’t have to decide now,” Markus said, kind. Far kinder than the situation truly warranted in Connor’s opinion.
“What would you do?”
“I don’t know.” But Markus’s struggles weren’t the same as Connor’s. Presumably, he hadn’t made things painful for Connor. Presumably, he needed to know what he’d done over the last five years in order to be effective in his job. It wasn’t like Connor, who could mostly forget about his cases once they were done. His work spoke for itself. Even testifying in court had become a seriously unusual event. Especially for Connor, who logged everything he did out of habit, for reasons just like these. There was no point not to submit that information at the time he completed it, not when it was so easy for androids to do so, unlike humans, who still had to rely on body cams and verbal and written testimonies, went before judge and jury all the time to complete their duties. “But there’s no wrong answer here. I know you hate that, but it’s true.”
“If there’s no wrong answer, that means there’s no right answer either.”
Markus’s mouth quirked upward. “Mmhmm. So I’ve heard.”
“Will you—if I don’t do this, would you interface with me?” It was the one question he hadn’t wanted to bring up after being rebuffed before, but it seemed important. They couldn’t just never do that, no matter what he’d believed about it in the past.
“I…” Markus looked away, found the far wall so very fascinating all of a sudden. “I don’t want to influence you unduly. Whatever feelings you have for me now…”
Sometimes, Markus could be really, really stupid. “Markus, I think I’ve been in love with you as long as I’ve known you. If you believe there’s anything you could show me that would change that—”
Markus’s head snapped up. His eyes were wide, caught the bright, unforgiving overhead lights. “You what?”
“What? I said I—”
“I know what you said.” His words were clipped, hurried, and left Connor confused as to why Markus was so confused. “I just—”
“You just what?” Connor took a step toward him, raised his hands, and hoped to any deity people or androids believed in that he wasn’t about to mess things up irrevocably. “You had to know. If we’ve been together that long, you had to—”
“I did,” Markus replied, too quick, like this came as a surprise to him. “I do. You just… that long?”
“I’m not sure I knew it at the time, so you’ll have to forgive me for having missed it, but… yeah. Yes, I think so. I deviated because of you, because of your words and… and some part of me knew that, I think. The whole time. So if you’re worried about that, don’t be. I’ve just been an idiot for a long time.” He wanted to punch his past self. “I should have told you. You should have known.”
Markus glared at the ceiling, took a handful of steps and turned back, like he was uncertain of what to do or say, a fluttering leaf clinging to its branch to avoid an even more uncertain fate. It wasn’t Connor’s intention to pressure Markus, but he couldn’t wrangle back the words now, not even for Markus. All he could do was bite his lips as he waited and hope that Markus would give him this one thing, this one bit of himself that might assuage the rest.
It wasn’t fair to put this all on Markus, maybe, but Connor was certain he could hold up under it and Connor would accept whatever decision he made.
If this was a movie or a romantic book or maybe even if Connor was just a more effusive person, he would have taken Markus in his arms and kissed him as senselessly as he wanted to. Confess his love anew. Confess it with lips and teeth and tongue, more than words and baser than words. Prove to Markus that whatever he felt predated those five years Connor didn’t remember. But he was rooted to the spot, could only succeed in watching as Markus made his own decision about Connor’s future.
But a clock was running in the back of his mind, his goal with the police department on one track and his relationship with Markus on the other. Neither of them were races, but it felt that way, and for once, he would choose the path that led to Markus. On this one day, he’d stand here as long as he had to and wait for Markus to say yes or no.
It was the very least he could do.
And then something seemed to crack inside of Markus, crack and release, the collapse of an ancient ruin played out across his face and body to reveal something precious and new. He pulled Connor into a kiss, deep and fierce, his hands cradling Connor’s face. Images, unfamiliar and numerous, flickered across Connor’s awareness. Things he’d never seen nor done nor felt—though that wasn’t entirely true, he recognized himself in the midst of it all, his own feelings of love and need, want and desire—gifted to him in a package.
But they were familiar. Those feelings. They were Connor’s as he was now even if they originally belonged to the Connor he became and no longer was.
These were his thoughts, his feelings returned to him. You gave this to me once, Markus didn’t have to say, because Connor saw it, saw the desperate way Connor himself had flung it at Markus, a last-ditch effort at something. And he felt Markus’s dismay, his worry, his incandescent joy as he realized exactly what Connor was doing, so close to what he wanted, but still far enough away to leave Markus wistful and wanting.
Relief. Relief. Relief. Whatever mistakes Connor had made, and they were numerous, there was no doubt about that, it wasn’t as awful as he’d feared. Connor hadn’t grown as cold and indifferent as he’d thought. It was the only reassurance he needed.
He didn’t have to be afraid of himself.
And he could salvage this. He might need a little assistance, but Connor thought he could arrange that easily enough. “Hang onto this for me,” he said to Markus directly, mind to mind, offering the same sort of package Connor had given Markus before. Everything Connor had felt over the last few days he gave over, the fear and uncertainty, the stunned discovery that he and Markus were together, the gratitude and love he experienced through the entirety of it. The Connor who came back would understand.
When they parted, Connor pulled him back in for a second kiss. “It’ll be okay,” he said, though neither of them needed it. It was just so nice to say it and know it was true, that Connor believed it and Markus could trust him.
Markus blinked and nodded, looking a little dazed as Connor grinned, incandescent, at him.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Connor said, touching Markus everywhere he could reach simply because he could. Because he was that damned lucky and because Markus deserved it after having been jerked around so many times. “I’m sorry,” Connor said, knowing a bit better exactly what it was he was sorry for, “for everything. Thank you for getting me off desk duty.” He ran his thumb over Markus’s lower lip. “I’ll make this right.”
Now that he knew how, he could promise Markus that much.
“Are you sure this is the place?” Connor asked as Hank pulled into a parking garage that was taller than the building they intended to reach. Squat at ten stories and an almost ramshackle gray, it was unimpressive and unassuming, half hidden in the garage’s shadow and dwarfed by several other nearby buildings. “You can’t seriously expect me to believe the CyberLife headquarters are housed here.”
Hank barked a laugh. “Believe it. Markus and the others put a real cramp in their style after the liberation of the camps. They’re lucky he didn’t run them entirely into the ground while public support was at its highest. Not gonna lie, I kind of wish he had. Would’ve served them right.”
Connor’s nose wrinkled. Sure, CyberLife Tower had been removed from Belle Isle, but he never imagined this would be where they ended up. He found it impossible and still worried that Hank was playing a prank on him. “You’re kidding.”
“What can I say? Nobody really likes corporations.” He shrugged and pushed Connor into the car door. An obvious effort to make him get a move on. “Too bad that fervor for android rights didn’t hold up a little longer. Might’ve gotten more done before it all fell apart.”
Connor wanted to ask for more details, but the cylinder in his pocket assured him that soon enough he’d have all the answers he needed. Instead of an albatross, it was now a comfort, a relief, to have it. Just as soon as he filed today’s report, he’d go home and everything would go back to normal. Or as normal as it ever got around here.
The inside of the building was every bit as unimpressive as the outside, though they tried a little harder here, which only made it seem sadder. A ridiculously small version of the statue that once dominated the CyberLife atrium stood in the center of the lobby, an indifferently carpeted space across which few people traversed, and even those who did seemed a little embarrassed about it. At Connor’s side, Hank grinned and nodded at the nearest individual. They did not nod back.
That only made Hank laugh a little under his breath as he shook his head and muttered, “Pricks.”
They approached the receptionist’s desk where Hank leaned in, all of his weight on his elbow, and pulled his identification, smooth and practiced. “Lieutenant Anderson. My partner and I are here to speak with—”
“One moment,” the woman said, brusque but not unprofessional as she pointed at the side of her head. She covered the tiny, almost invisible receiver hooked around her ear. “Please have a seat. Our chief security officer will see you shortly.”
Hank exchanged a pointed look with him. Clearly they’d been expected. Connor was left wondering just how widely that information had spread. She didn’t sound rehearsed at least, though it was obvious that she didn’t want to be the one saying too much to the police.
Connor supposed he couldn’t blame her, though it always made things more difficult when people were on the defensive going into these things.
“Your CSO got a name?” Hank asked, unheeding of her cues to go away.
The woman’s face went even blanker. “Marianne Dalton.”
And only then did Hank do as she asked.
They barely reached the blandly plush benches before a young woman was walking across the recent polished floor toward them. Not that maintenance could entirely cover the dullness and scratches that marred its surface. The soles of her boots thunked heavily against the floor and her casual polo—branded with the CyberLife logo in CyberLife blue—and cargo pants was a change from what Connor remembered of the chic presentation they’d preferred when he’d still been with them. The biggest surprise was the fact they didn’t make Connor or Hank wait at all.
Connor’s eyebrow rose and Hank nodded at him in return. They must be scared, he didn’t say, because he didn’t need to. Both he and Connor knew these dance steps too well. They played out in slower motion when their adversaries were confident in themselves.
“Good afternoon, Lieutenant Anderson.” Her eyes flicked to Connor’s LED. “And I believe it’s Detective Connor, is that correct?”
Connor opened his mouth to deny it, but the timeframe was right. In a fraction of a second, he pulled up his record.
He’d made detective a year ago. Right on time. “That’s correct.”
“You’ve done well for yourself,” she replied, curt, her attention already returning to Hank. Gesturing toward a bank of elevators situated behind the receptionist’s desk, she added, “Marianne is ready for you,” and said nothing else until they followed her into one of them. “When she received your request, she was very concerned about it. We take potential breaches very seriously.”
Her words hung heavy in the air of the elevator. They’d taken breaches seriously in the past, too. But their track record wasn’t fantastic on that score. It got their most advanced model deviated the last time they tried to seal one up.
This woman seemed to realize that fact and resented it. Or she resented Connor specifically. She wouldn’t be the first CyberLife employee who did.
“And you are?” Hank asked.
“I’m her head of security,” was the answer, barely an answer at all. “I implement all policies that CyberLife chooses to enact.”
“So you’re really the one we want to talk to.”
“No, Marianne makes all the decisions and oversees all lapses in security.” Her eyes flashed. If she didn’t want to talk to them, she still seemed to have a lot that she wanted to say. “She’s the one who is best equipped to answer your questions. I can assure you she knows more than I would.”
Connor doubted that, but if that was how she wanted to play it, they couldn’t exactly stop her. Not without a subpoena specifically for her. CyberLife’s lawyers would find any reason at all to mire the police department in litigation.
They wanted to play hardball. Because of course they did.
“That’s assuming there was a breach at all, Lieutenant,” she added. ‘Cover your ass’ at its most perfect. “Marianne is seeing you as a courtesy and nothing more. We’re not admitting culpability in whatever investigation you’re currently undertaking.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re not responsible for androids run amok. I get it. It’s not like we haven’t heard it before.”
The elevator stopped with a sputtering clang and dinged almost as resentfully as the woman was glaring at them.
“This way,” she said, leading them down a hallway of dark wood doors, all of them closed, each with bright lit nameplates flickering on the right-hand side. Biometric locks had been installed recently, quick work that left behind scrapes in the paint around them; they must have moved in recently.
The woman knocked in rapid succession on the door next to which Marianne Dalton’s nameplate was affixed.
She threw one last unpleasant look their way before the door opened and let them in. Connor was thankful when she didn’t follow them inside.
“Good afternoon, officers,” Dalton said, rising from her desk to take each of their hands in turn. Her grip was firm and her palm, cool. “And it’s a special honor to meet you, Connor. A bit before my time, but you’re something of a legend around here.”
“Thank you,” Connor replied, knowing full well it was no compliment. Even if she meant it as one. Which he suspected wasn’t the case. He could have offered a self-deprecating joke to break the ice—his social programming neatly and conveniently gave him several suitable options, a few of which he actually liked—but he didn’t want to.
It wasn’t very friendly, but Connor wasn’t here to be friendly.
“Let’s just cut to the chase here,” Hank said. “We have reason to believe a PL600 has accessed core programmatic technology from CyberLife, protocols that you folks used to wipe androids. It’s been altered, of course, but our source is adamant that at least some of it is from CyberLife.”
Dalton brushed her hands down her abdomen, smoothing her suit jacket before sitting. “And who, pray tell, is this source of yours?”
They could have played coy, but what was the point?
“Elijah Kamski,” Connor said, crossing his arms, staring her down. That name still carried weight and, even better, scared the shit out of every CyberLife employee who came across it. “I would assume his expertise is still recognized even by CyberLife.”
It was respected everywhere else. And that was what mattered if this was brought to a courtroom.
Dalton would know that.
“What do you need?” A frown pulled at her mouth and her nails tapped at her desk.
“Did you have any security breaches that might have resulted in the theft of proprietary code? Physical or digital theft, doesn’t matter to us.”
“If there were any thefts, we would have filed with the police department,” she replied. “So you should already know the answer to that.”
“Ma’am, I wasn’t born yesterday. And neither was my partner here. You have every reason to avoid losing even more face with the public by letting them know you can’t keep your code secure. Since the code itself is useless now that you no longer perform wipes…” Hank shrugged and let Dalton reach her own conclusion. “We’re willing to overlook the breach of protocol if you’re willing to tell us when and how it happened. You’ll avoid the fines you can’t pay and the android lobbies won’t be beating down Congress to have you shuttered for good. It’s the only deal you’ll get and it’s good until we walk out that door.”
Dalton huffed, a scoffing, disgustingly amused noise, and pursed her lips. “I doubt the public will care much, Lieutenant. Sorry, Connor.” She leaned forward and laced her fingers together. “And you may believe that code is useless, but it is not. It’s still privileged information. I’m not going to admit culpability for something that has nothing to do with us. If our rivals knew our code was floating around out there in the ether, they’d make things difficult for us. And for you. So, no. Unless I’m compelled to speak to you, I won’t.”
“Did you not get the warrant and the subpoena?” Hank asked.
“Our lawyers are still reviewing it. My hands are tied until then.”
“You really think Connor here would let something like an inaccurate warrant through? Do you think the courts would?”
“I think I’ll wait until we’ve reviewed it. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I’m paid to keep my company’s best interests in mine, not yours.”
“My interest is in keeping Detroit safe.” Hank’s gaze sharpened. “You’d think that would be in the best interests of any homegrown company, too.”
Dalton scoffed again and rolled her eyes. Her fingers twitched toward her desk drawer, nervous, like she wanted to reach for a cigarette that wasn’t there. “That’s all very well and good, Lieutenant. You’ll still have to wait until the lawyers get back to me about it.” It was a weak capitulation, but it was a capitulation, and Connor was more surprised by it than he would have expected. Somehow, he still thought of CyberLife as this grand, distant company, too big to be scared. Now, even Hank could bully them into hiding behind their lawyers’ skirts.
“People’s lives are at risk,” Connor said, because he didn’t think Dalton was a bad woman, just determined to do her job and nothing more. “We’re not out to prosecute you.” He had no reason to believe his own words would be any more effective than Hank’s, but he felt moved to try. “We know you can’t be perfect at your job. No one is. What other violations will we find if we have to search for ourselves?”
She drew in a deep breath and looked both ways, as though someone else might have been in the room to hear. This time, she did reach into her desk drawer, pulled out a seriously old-fashioned paper file, manila folder and everything, and passed them to Connor. He rifled through them, heart pounding so loud he worried it was audible to both Hank and Dalton, damning and obvious. There had been a breach, roughly three years ago, physical break in. Photographs, grainy, taken from security footage, littered the final page.
A PL600 model. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, caught at odd angles.
And at the bottom: a registration number. #213 567 209.
Connor had other questions. How he got in, why he wasn’t caught, what they did at the time of the breach, why they didn’t get him then, but none of it mattered. They’d already promised they wouldn’t go after CyberLife for this and Connor had what he wanted. They could find this bastard now.
It was all over but for the arrest.
Slumping back in relief, he passed the pages to Hank, who read them over quickly and muttered occasionally under his breath, ending on a victorious note once he, too, got to the registration number. “You’ve been very helpful, Ms. Dalton.”
“Just don’t screw me here,” she replied. “I respect what you do, but I don’t want to be fired.” Her eyes gleamed, fire-bright. “Besides, you’d be doing me a favor if you get this asshole. I’ve had my hands tied so many years now, I’d given up hope of him ever facing consequences for what he did. I could’ve found him at any point, but my superiors, well… I’m sorry he escalated, if that’s what happened, but I’m not sorry he’s going to end up in jail.”
“Thank you,” Connor said, more sincere this time. “We’ll do our best.”
Dalton nodded and waved them off, a sick expression on her face. She apparently wasn’t very sure she could trust them, but Connor intended to honor their agreement and so would Hank. Investigating corporations wasn’t even their department. Let one of the white collar crimes people handle it if need be, if they can figure out what happened and cared enough to pursue CyberLife for it.
“Well, now,” Hank said in the hallway, no sign of Dalton’s chief of security in either direction. They headed toward the bank of elevators on their own. “Looks like we can get somewhere now. How do you feel about that?”
Connor recognized it as the rhetorical question it was, but since he had an answer, he decided to give it. “I feel good.” He glanced Hank’s way, pleased to see that Hank looked equally happy. A weight had lifted from his shoulders, too, one he hadn’t even known he was carrying until now. “It’ll be nice to put this one behind us.”
Hank stabbed at the elevator’s button and said, “I’ll toast to that.”
The courts were closed by the time they made it back to the station and put together their request for surveillance and Connor knew that, unlike most requests, those ones took a little longer. Markus’s work, in a way. One of the first things he and his team had done was make it a pain in the ass to track androids. It wasn’t like with humans, who had the choice to abandon their phones and other accessories, who’d had years of privacy protections in place to ensure the government and law enforcement didn’t take advantage. Androids couldn’t cut out pieces of themselves to make them less traceable and, before early 2039, they’d had no protections of any sort.
Markus had feared a witch hunt and refused to let his people become sitting ducks.
Connor respected that, he did. It just made things difficult when he knew, too, that they had the right guy, that he was somewhere within reach, and that they’d have to wait anyway to find him and to go after him.
Markus would never, ever know he sometimes begrudged the justice system its inflexibility, hated the way it could harm the people it was meant to protect both through bad-faith action and well-meaning inaction. It was maybe the one thing he thought Markus wouldn’t understand, would possibly judge him harshly for. He wasn’t ashamed exactly, but he did realize how it might seem to Markus.
“Hank?” he asked, sending off the request that wouldn’t be seen for another twelve hours yet, twelve hours during which anything could happen. Hank’s eyes found his from across his computer monitor. “I’ve got our request through and requested that it be expedited.” For all the good that would do. “I filed my notes for our discussion with Dalton and had my recordings filed just in case we’ll end up needing them. Do you think I could head out a little early?”
Both of Hank’s eyebrows lifted, incredulous. “Everything okay?”
Connor’s fingers fidgeted against the edge of his desk. “It’s fine. I just—” He should’ve told Hank about his plan sooner, as soon as he knew. “I spoke with Kamski last night,” he said, telling Hank everything, the consequences of what he wanted to do, the safeguards he’d put into place. But the truth of the matter was he wanted to see Markus, spend this time with him rather than stuck here being useless.
Hank listened, rapt, as Connor relayed it all, brows furrowing thoughtfully, his chin perched on his hand. It was almost like there was nothing else in the world worth listening to than Connor. That intensity made Connor stumble over his words a couple of times, but that was okay, too. Hank merely waited him out, more polite than usual.
He took his time getting to the point. “Kamski says I won’t be able to get my memories back without losing the last couple of days in the process.”
Hank opened his mouth, no doubt to say something insensitive, and then closed it again. His brows furrowed in consternation. And then he opened his mouth again. “You’re not happy with that solution?”
“No, Hank, I’m not.” Now, he knew he was being snotty. It wasn’t Hank’s fault. None of this was his fault, but he was here and it was convenient to vent at him. “But what are my options?”
“Don’t do it. For all you know, those memories will come back on their own. If it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right.” Hank nodded. “And even if they don’t ever come back, it’s still your decision.”
“But if I can get them back, shouldn’t I? Don’t you deserve that? Doesn’t Markus?”
“Connor, humans don’t have the same options you do in this situation. We don’t have Kamskis sitting around waiting to give us a boost. I sure as hell don’t want you to think you have to do that for me. And I’m sure Markus is the same. We don’t get to decide who or what you want to be. Did you tell him yet?”
“This morning,” Connor replied, distant. “I already said I was going to. I’ve made my peace with it.”
“Hell, Connor, get outta here,” he said, gentle, nodding toward the door. “That’s a hell of a decision Kamski left you with. You sure you’re okay with it? You didn’t seem all that interested before.”
“I… yes. It’s for the best, I think.”
Nodding, Hank asked, too observant, “You doing it tonight?”
“Planning on it,” he answered, adopting Hank’s mannerisms and delivery in a bout of nerves. Too bad his voice pitched itself high enough that even Hank had to notice the change. But if he did, he didn’t say anything, a fact for which Connor was very grateful.
“There anything you need from me?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Connor got to his feet and rounded their desks to stand right in front of Hank. Part of him wanted to hold his hand out, say something like, ‘it’s been an honor,’ if only because he didn’t know what else to say. “It’s been… interesting.”
“Yeah, well. Don’t get yourself hurt again, then we won’t have to worry about ‘interesting.’” Hank leaned back in his chair and tapped his computer screen. “Give me a call when it’s done. I’ll take care of what’s left here.”
The trip back to their house passed in the blink of an eye. Too fast for Connor to reconcile himself to.
Connor approached Markus’s—no, their, it would be theirs again soon—house with a trepidation he tried not to feel. He shouldn’t have been nervous. What was there left to be nervous about? The hard part was over, the decision already made. He’d said as much to Hank and it was true.
And Markus was fluttering around the kitchen when he stepped inside, doing who knew what since he stilled almost immediately. “You’re home.” He glanced at the clock and lifted an eyebrow. “Early.”
The door shut with an unintentional bang as Connor pulled it shut too quickly and with too much force. Connor winced. “I asked Hank if it was okay. There’s not a whole lot else that can be done until tomorrow anyway.”
“Ah.” Markus nodded and drew his hands down his abdomen, hands slipping into and then out of his pockets again. “Is it good news?”
“Hopefully.” He shuffled forward and stalled out again, wanted so many things that he didn’t know which way to go.
“You’re really going to do it, aren’t you?” Though it was a bit of a non sequitur, Connor knew exactly what Markus was talking about and it wasn’t his case.
“That’s the plan.” But now that the moment was here, he hesitated. The heavy, comforting weight of Kamski’s device became a chain. What if it went wrong? What if it didn’t and he still wasn’t any better off? What if he got his memories back and he refused to change. “You’ll—if he, if I don’t want to interface with you, you’ll…”
But that wasn’t fair to Markus, was it, putting that on him? Maybe he could leave himself a note…
“I’ll make sure,” Markus said anyway, warm and sincere. “You don’t have to worry.”
Relieved, he leaned against the couch and bowed his head. He should have been relieved. It was almost over.
“Hey,” Markus said, stepping toward him. His shoes were clean, recently shined, and Connor couldn’t stop himself from wrapping his arms around Markus’s waist, dragging Markus as close as him as he could. Markus’s thirium pump regulator hummed and pounded at a low, soothing, even clip against Connor’s chest. Markus’s fingers settled in Connor’s hair. His thumb rubbed a steady circle against his temple.
“I don’t deserve you,” he said, not quiet enough that Markus didn’t hear.
“You’re who I want,” he answered. “Whether you do this or not. Whether it works or not. Got it?”
He wanted to imprint this moment into his memory, protect it behind layers of security and make for damned sure that he remembered it after he reversed the damage that PL600 did to him. Lifting his hand, he pressed his fingers to Markus’s wrist, delicate, let him feel what Connor was feeling if he wanted to. Otherwise, the impulses would skim across the surface of Markus’s thoughts, barely present, and maybe he would save them for Connor and maybe he wouldn’t.
No, Connor knew him. He would.
Markus inhaled—an unusual trait in an android, who didn’t need to breathe really, not unless they wanted to—and his hand tightened in Connor’s hair.
That hand curved down to cup Connor’s cheek and lift his head so Markus could bring their mouths together.
Electricity sparked up Connor’s spine, pulses that were just this side of painful as his thirium pump sped up. He didn’t feel warmth the way a human would; he didn’t flush. But heat flared inside of him anyway.
“Markus,” he said, when they parted, still close enough that their foreheads touched and his lips brushed Markus’s mouth, “I want…” His hands tightened in Markus’s shirt.
Markus tugged him to his feet and pulled him toward the stairs. “Me too.”
Maybe they should have waited until Connor regained his memories, but Connor didn’t want to wait. He wanted to experience this with Markus now, just as he was, even if it proved a pointless endeavor and he’d merely forget it as soon as he used Kamski’s device.
Maybe it was selfish, but it was harmlessly so.
They made it as far as the bedroom door before Markus pulled roughly at Connor’s jacket and grabbed for his tie, yanking at the knot and slipping it from around his neck. His hands, far too clever for their own good, unbuttoned Connor’s shirt and let it fall from his shoulders.
Before Connor could do much so grab for him, he was peeling his own shirt from his body. The broad expanse of his shoulders was almost enough to undo Connor then and there.
Connor’s palm skimmed over Markus’s abdomen, his human skin deactivating to reveal the smooth android skin beneath. It gleamed under the light, leaving Connor entranced as Markus pushed him into the room. There was a fond smile on his mouth. “I guess there’s one thing that never changes,” but before Connor could ask what he meant, he was kissing Connor again, his palm insistent on the back of Connor’s neck.
The back of Connor’s legs hit the end of the bed.
And though he would gladly have followed Markus’s lead, he wanted to taste and touch, to make Markus feel good rather than the reverse.
He wanted to know what he’d taken for granted all this time. “Wait, I want—” Reaching for Markus’s hips, he turned and took the chance to push Markus onto the bed and straddle his thighs.
A lot of androids were built with human patterns of pleasure in mind, human reactions and responses. But a lot of them weren’t and Connor definitely wasn’t one of them. He didn’t know Markus’s specifications, but he assumed it was the same or similar for Markus given his own… anatomical deficiencies, as humans who cared might have called it.
If Markus was unhappy with the situation as it was, he didn’t seem like it.
His palms dragged across Markus’s arms, body going a pearlescent, sparkling white as his skin deactivated. “What do you like?” Connor asked, intent, his attention flicking between Markus’s face and the rest of him. Markus was watching him, eyes wide, pupils dilated. When Connor stroked his arm, he bit his lip and when Connor’s hand brushed over his abdomen, his eyes slid shut and he arched into Connor’s touch, so graceful it stalled the entire trajectory of Connor’s thoughts for a moment.
Connor deactivated his own skin and pressed his hand against Markus’s ribs. Electricity sparked between them, nothing dangerous, nothing that would disturb or hurt or short-circuit Markus. It was exploratory, intent, and exciting in a way that Connor couldn’t remember ever feeling with anyone else, those few individuals he’d spared a moment to court anyway, even for a short time.
Being with them had felt good, too, but it didn’t have anything on this.
Connor’s still soft lips traced a track down the hard planes of Markus’s chest, his knees shifting down either side of Markus’s body as he worked his way further down. He followed each caress with his fingers, left behind a blazing trail of electric stimulation, bursts of energy that would stretch, fern-like, beneath the surface of Markus’s true skin, dance against the artificial nerve endings that made it possible for him to mimic human responses if and when he wanted to.
The sounds he made: definitely worth it.
Markus tasted of the molecular components that made up the thirium in his veins, the flexible plastics that gave him movement, the metals that protected his body from harm. He tasted all of it, where each component came from, and he treasured that knowledge, those components that made up such a small part of who Markus was.
Could anyone have anticipated that steel, proudly produced in the very heart of Detroit, would become the man laying before him, who’d been so important to so many people for almost as long as Connor could remember and even longer than that really?
It was incredible. Impossible. Hank, in one of his more overwrought moments, might have called it a miracle, though Connor didn’t believe in those. But watching Markus, he wanted to. Pleasure rippled up Connor’s spine with each touch, each reaction Markus offered to him. This had always been his way, not even the slightest bit different from his encounters with others. You like to touch, he’d been told a time or two and it was true enough.
Perhaps it was just how he was built. He was always wanting to touch things. And when he was with others, he always wanted to go further, match touch with tongue, pull at panels, reach inside, figure out what made them tick and then make them tick.
Some even let him, allowed him to play their wires like instruments, make them sing with it. Some thought it was freakish. Some didn’t.
Connor had learned along the way that you couldn’t please everyone.
He wondered if Markus liked that, if Markus had let him ever do anything similar. Now probably wasn’t the time, but there was no more time left for him. “Did we ever…?” he asked, figuring it must have come up at some point. In their five years together, they had to have talked about it. He spoke the question into Markus’s skin, bit at his hip where he could feel the very slight indentation that indicated the edge of the panel that covered his abdomen. It was suggestive, a little crude. Pushy might have covered it.
Androids didn’t blush, but from the way Markus tensed and shifted, Connor thought maybe he would have if he could.
“Fuck.” His neck strained and his brows furrowed as he tried to concentrate. “Yeah, we—”
“May I?” His fingertip continued to spark, making Markus jump and twitch and groan, maybe the most perfect sound Connor had ever heard or would ever hear.
“Yeah, but…” Before Connor could open Markus up, he shifted, moaned again. flipped himself over to expose his back, skin rippling and deactivating for Connor all the way down his spine. “This way.”
Connor’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, his every thought delayed as he realized what Markus was offering. “You’re sure?”
“Unless…” Markus tensed beneath him, moved like he was going to dislodge Connor, much to Connor’s chagrin. “I didn’t even think about—I’m sorry. Maybe it’s not a good idea.”
There was so much longing in Markus’s voice, so much soul-deep need, that even if Connor was concerned about it, he would have wanted to give this to Markus anyway. Connor reached up and touched the back of his own neck, felt nothing except the smooth, soft expanse of his artificial skin. He felt nothing about having been attacked and could easily separate what had happened to him from what Markus wanted. They weren’t the same thing at all.
He kissed a trail down Markus’s spine, dragged his teeth across each bump of vertebrae he could feel. “How long?”
“A while,” Markus admitted, voice rough. His hips shifted between Connor’s legs.
“Did you ever tell me?”
Markus said nothing for a long moment, long enough that Connor knew the answer even before he made the admission. “…no.”
Connor swore under his breath, hated anew whatever had happened between them to get them to this point. “Tell me,” he said, hoping that Markus asking would be enough. “When I’m back, tell me. Please.”
Markus made a strangled, high-pitched sound as Connor slid aside the panel that covered the back of his neck and shoulders. Connor couldn’t think of a more intimate place that he might have touched Markus. The wires, pistons, joints, and tubes that made up an android’s spinal column were among the most sensitive and easily damaged, the hardest to fix no matter that Kamski might have arrogantly asserted otherwise. If Connor wasn’t careful—or if he’d wanted to harm Markus—he couldn’t have picked a more dangerous or appropriate place to touch him.
And Connor ached to touch, his fingertips practically tingling with the need for it. “You’re sure?”
“Damn it, Connor.” Markus’s frustration broke Connor’s heart. “This is a pretty stupid position to have put myself in if I wasn’t.”
Connor brought his body close to Markus’s, his chest against Markus’s back, his cheek pillowed on Markus’s shoulder. His fingers passed over the sinuous curves of the panel’s open edges, a spark of electricity only occasionally sparking across the nearest wire. Each time, Markus bit back noises and that just wouldn’t do at all. “I don’t know if I ever told you,” Connor said, turning his head to speak into Markus’s skin, “but you’re beautiful like this.”
Markus huffed in impatient amusement. “You told me once that you used to think about me when you did this to yourself.” It was the most that Markus had ever told Connor about himself and Connor found himself charmed by Markus’s recollection. He laughed again. “And you said you were always mad because it wasn’t quite the same as when you did it to me.”
“No, I suppose it wouldn’t be,” Connor agreed, thoughtful. He’d never gotten much satisfaction out of his own release. There were always better ways of finding it for him, like taking someone else apart and putting them back together again, puzzle pieces to be jumbled and then set right, that was what managed to build the warmth at the base of his spine, the pleasure that limned and sparkled and crested across the surface of his thoughts when he did this to someone, that he imagined completion to be like for other people. If he was being honest, doing his job was more gratifying to him than making himself reach orgasm. All the same, he could see himself, alone in his own apartment, trying to recreate the sensations he was feeling now and growing annoyed when he kept failing.
Hank sometimes joked that Connor got off on solving cases. It wasn’t as far from the truth as Hank probably wanted it to be, though he’d never been gauche enough to conflate these two experiences in his mind. It was unprofessional for one thing and weird for another, even Connor knew that. But. Perhaps not inaccurate.
Connor’s index finger finally stroked the exposed metal of Markus’s spine, dipped between the carefully padded vertebrae to lightly brush over the tightly wound cord of coated wires, the thirium-choked tubes, the thin, flashing optical cables that helped make Markus who he was. Markus pushed his forehead into the pillow, exposed even more of his neck as he lifted himself up slightly. His arms flexed as he curled his hands into the sheets, relaxed again, and tightened back up.
Connor could have kept at this for hours, transfixed as he pulsed fuzzy, static-y bursts of electricity directly into Markus’s spine.
Lifting himself up on his free hand, pressing it into the bed about a foot from Markus’s torso, he worked in earnest, so focused that he found himself startled when Markus grasped for it, lacing their fingers together. What Markus did wasn’t interfacing exactly, nothing quite so specific or detailed or in-depth, it relayed no real information, pushed no protocols or updates the way interfacing was meant to be used.
Pleasure cascaded down his back and across his shoulders, each wave matching his own actions, each press of his hand against Markus’s wires. Connor gasped at the unexpected sensation, hair falling into his eyes as he bowed forward. It was only his quick reflexes that kept his shock from disrupting what he was doing to Markus. Markus’s hand tightened as Connor sped up, fingers rifling through each wire, pulses of electricity flashing with abandon. Markus was close now. Connor knew because Connor was, too, the sensations entwined because of the connection Markus forged between them.
With one final push, Connor sent them both careening over the edge, a rush of bliss tumbling Connor entirely out of his thoughts. For the first time in his entire life, he wasn’t thinking about anything beyond the feel of Markus’s hand in his, the warmth blooming up, up, up from his spine to engulf him in sensation, pure and white hot.
He collapsed against Markus’s back, felt the comforting thump of Markus’s thirium pump regulator as it worked, slowing incrementally. It took Connor a moment to recover enough to slip Markus’s panel back into place and another moment to be able to speak again, though he didn’t exactly know what to say. What could he say to that? It was indescribable. Incredible.
Markus was a constant surprise.
“Markus, I…” But Connor didn’t know what to say. The words to describe what he was feeling overwhelmed him. All he could do was kiss Markus’s shoulder, his neck, behind his ear, and the corner of his mouth when Markus turned to him. He hoped that would suffice because he had nothing else. “Thank you.”
Markus made a rattled, broken sound: another laugh. “I think I should be the one thanking you. That was…”
If Markus was at a loss for words, Connor supposed he couldn’t have been too far off the mark.
Minutes ticked by as Connor splayed against his back, still touching his hand his arm, his shoulder, wherever he could reach. He could have stayed this way forever and been happy with the world.
Too bad the world wouldn’t oblige him on that score. “I should probably…”
“Just stay here for a minute,” Markus said, grabbing hold of Connor, his hands against his lower back. “It’ll hold. There’s no rush.”
Connor nodded, his words choked in his throat. Waiting sounded just fine to Connor. At least for a little while.
Not too long though. He couldn’t justify that.
He removed the device from his pocket and placed it on the bedside table, careful to avoid dislodging Markus in the process.
But yeah, a little while longer just like this sounded just fine to him. Though it was too bad he wouldn’t remember it once he used the device on himself.
It would’ve made a nice memory.
Connor awoke from his low-power state to the sound of an alarm blaring in his ear. No, not an alarm. His phone, the ringer blaring. It was past two in the morning and he was the only one who could hear it.
In his line of work, that was never a good thing. Without waking Markus, he answered, grateful that as an android, he didn’t actually have to speak aloud. “Connor,” he said, well aware already that it was Hank on the other end with some bad news or other.
“Connor, we’ve got a live one,” he said, sounding altogether too awake to actually be the Hank Anderson Connor knew. There was none of the bleary, almost drunken, quality most people up at this time of night. And especially not Hank, who actually was drunk at this time of night nine nights out of ten.
Okay, that might have been an exaggeration, but not much of one.
Connor stiffened. Though he’d learned to parse figurative language and metaphor, idiosyncratic word choices and inaccuracies, sometimes he still didn’t know what Hank or other humans meant. Though he knew what those words meant—and even what they meant together—he didn’t know if his understanding was accurate. “A live one?”
“Yeah, a real, live one. Think it’s a vic of our PL600. Get your ass down here. Now.” Before Connor could argue, the line went dead. And when Connor prepared to call him back to learn just where ‘here’ was, he got a text with the address.
Sighing, weary and heartsick and ready to be done with this case entirely, he kissed Markus’s temple. “I have to go,” he said, remorseful. He’d hoped for at least a few more hours with Markus like this. Then he could undo this entire mess and go back to the way things were just in time to catch their killer. Seemed that just wasn’t how it was going to work out for him. “Hank just called.”
Markus made a disappointed sound in the back of his throat, pulled Connor closer, buried his face against Connor’s neck. “Some things don’t change,” he replied without heat. “I’m not even going to bother asking if it’s important or not.”
“It is,” Connor said. “I promise you.” A live victim they could talk to. They might find out where he is now without going through the courts.
“I know. I believe you.”
Connor wanted to assure him it wouldn’t be long, that he’d be back soon, but he’d been with the police department long enough to learn it could be hours. He could end up working a full shift again before he came home. Before, he would have been fine with that, he thought. Now it just left him with a burning anger in his gut. It was unfair. He shouldn’t have had to steal away in the middle of the night like this. He cared about keeping Detroit safe, but he wasn’t the only person in town who could do that. And neither was Hank.
Where was the overnight shift to handle it?
“You really don’t want to go, do you?” Markus asked, when Connor hesitated. One minute, two, ten. It didn’t matter. Any delay was longer than he expected of himself. And he couldn’t even dredge up any guilt or disappointment over that fact.
“No. I don’t.””
Markus pushed himself up on his elbow, reached up and brushed his thumb over Connor’s chin. “I don’t know how you’ll feel when you’re back to how you were, but you don’t have to stay with the police department if you don’t want to. The Commission would love to have you. Anywhere would.”
Connor’s hand covered Markus’s. Keep this for me, he thought. Make me think about it. Even now, he didn’t think he’d have taken Markus’s offer, though it was tempting, but he ought to be forced to think about this, to consider the possibility.
“Thank you,” Connor replied and finally pulled himself out of bed, put on a fresh suit and pushed back his hair until he was presentable.
It didn’t take long to reach the crime scene, but it took a good deal longer to shake the thought of Markus home alone. Even as he approached, red and blue lights flashing, turning the street corner into a diabolically hellish nightmare and casting shadows across the brick building standing before him, he couldn’t shake the thought of Markus home alone. It had rained earlier, water puddling and pooling in the street and sidewalk, catching and reflecting the light. It could’ve been any night in Detroit if not for the young man huddled in the alley next to the apartment complex he was standing next to. A few people opened their windows and peered down at the scene, but most seemed to lose interest once they saw the handful of LEDs flickering yellow and red in the night.
Connor remained as calm as he could, well aware that they would look to him for guidance on that score.
“’bout time,” Hank said, stepping away from the victim to speak in low tones with Connor.
“I came as soon as I could,” Connor replied, just shy of defensive. But if Hank heard even that hint of defensiveness in his voice, he ignored it. “What’s going on?”
“Kid was found in an alley about thirty minutes ago. Couldn’t remember a damned thing that’d happened to him since last week.” Hank paused, eyes searching Connor’s face. “You have a chance to—” He made a clicking noise with his tongue that Connor assumed meant ‘use the device.’ “—yet?”
“No.” Connor kept his own tone clipped and professional. Probably he wasn’t fooling Hank, but it was worth a shot and if he didn’t say anything, all the better. Once again, Connor found himself relieved that he hadn’t ever been equipped with the ability to blush. Otherwise, the embarrassment he was feeling would’ve registered in his cheeks at the very least.
“Well, anyway,” Hank said, pointed, words laden with meaning. Oh, he definitely knew. “Kid’s got a hole in his memory and a mark on the back of his neck. Dried thirium all over him according to Doctor Levinson.”
“Ah.” Hank’s hand wrapped around the back of his neck. “Android forensic pathologist. We work cases with him sometimes.” Hank’s thumb jerked over his shoulder toward the man currently speaking with the victim. His hair was dark and sleek and his LED shined yellow. “He doesn’t come out in the field much, but I guess he’s been moonlighting as—I don’t even know, really. I just know when the paramedics were called, he showed up, too. To be honest, we don’t deal with living victims all that often.”
A fact which Connor knew all too well. The androids who got away didn’t tend to stick around long enough for the police to arrive, though sometimes they found their way to clinics later.
“Uh huh,” Connor said, dubious, torn between being glad their victim was getting medical attention and being annoyed that said medical attention couldn’t keep it more together. It was obvious enough just looking at the victim that he was concerned about the flickering of Levinson’s LED, what it might mean, and how it pertained to him. “I’m just going to—” Connor’s hand flicked in the victim’s direction. “If that’s okay?”
“Sure,” Hank answered. “I, uh, didn’t tell doc what was going on with you. I’m not sure if he knows or not. So if he’s friendly, well. You two got along pretty well from my understanding of it.”
Connor’s eyebrows lifted, but he decided not to comment further. He was allowed to have friends, though Hank’s unease regarding Levinson unsettled Connor. But now wasn’t the time. He’d already indulged his own personal life enough for the night and Hank wouldn’t have let him walk into a more serious entanglement without warning. Pasting a cool, generic smile on his face, the kind meant to soothe and project a kindly distance to others, he approached the doctor and victim and hoped for the best.
Levinson was busy shining a light in the victim’s eyes and didn’t immediately acknowledge Connor’s presence, though the victim’s eyes flicked his way. As soon as Levinson straightened up, Connor said, “Hey, there,” to the victim, held out his hand for him to take. The victim did not take it and Connor finally let his arm fall to his side. “My name is Connor. Can I get your name, please?”
Connor felt Levinson’s gaze on him and wished childishly that a hole would open in the ground and swallow one or both of them up. It was one thing for Hank to scrutinize him. It felt like another thing entirely when it was a stranger who was a distant colleague.
“James,” the victim said, shaky. His attention briefly returned to the doctor, who nodded.
“James,” Connor repeated. “Would it be all right with you if I performed a scan? I’m a detective with the Detroit police department. We just want to figure out what happened to you.”
James nodded, wary, like he thought it might hurt, but he let Connor do his job anyway. The scene was splattered in dried thirium that only glowed once Connor did the scan. There was a trail leading away, but Connor could already see it fading out a little ways down the sidewalk, going nowhere. James tensed when Connor walked behind him. “I’m not going to touch it,” Connor said. “I just want a look if that’s okay?”
The mark on James’s neck was thin and long, but already healing up. Before long, it wouldn’t be visible at all.
Their PL600 had learned something between now and when he’d encountered Connor apparently. “How are you feeling?” Connor asked, wishing instead he could say more, ask the question he really wanted the answer to: do you feel any less deviant than before?
“I—I don’t know. Weird, I guess. A little like I used to feel when I worked construction.”
That was a kind way of phrasing it. “And do you feel more like that now than when you first woke up? Less? Or is it the same?”
Levinson’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully, but his questions would have to wait. But whoever he was, he was discreet, too. Or he kept his mouth shut anyway. Connor could appreciate that about the guy if nothing else.
James shrugged. “More, maybe? I don’t know really. My head hurts and I can’t remember—that’s all I know.”
Connor finished getting his scans and came back around. “Doctor Levinson here is going to take you to see a specialist.” He kept his face carefully blank, certain if he said Kamski’s name in front of James that James would freak out. “He’ll be able to help you, okay?”
With a preoccupied nod, James curled his arms tighter around his midsection. Connor jerked his head back toward where Hank was standing a ways off, Levinson following. Connor hoped he could play this with the least amount of his personal life getting in the middle of it as possible. Levinson might have been a friend, but he didn’t want to explain anything more than he had to. “I need you to bring James to Elijah Kamski. He’s been working with us on this and I think he’ll be able to assist.”
“Hey. It’s nice to see you, too, Connor. Nice night and all,” Levinson said, not unamused, but not exactly pleased either. “You want me to take him to Kamski. Elijah Kamski. Former CEO of CyberLife Elijah Kamski. The guy responsible for our existence. That Kamski?”
“I’ll give him a call. He’ll know you’re coming.” Honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Kamski was like any other dilettante billionaire you could find out there. Maybe a little weirder. “You’ll just have to make sure he doesn’t turn James into a science experiment. It’ll be fine.”
Levinson shook his head and laughed, his hair falling into his eyes. “You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?” Nodding, confirming his own suspicions without Connor’s input, he added, “You’re looking happier than the last time I saw you at least. That’s good to see.”
“I—” There were a lot of things he could have said, but none of them were Levinson’s business. “Thank you, Doctor.”
Levinson rolled his eyes, good-natured and fond, and said, “Whatever you say, Connor. Make sure I’m not going to get shot by an eccentric genius’s security and I’ll get James over there for you. Not that I know where we’re going. But I suppose you’ll take care of that, too?”
Nodding, Connor said, “Of course. Just give me five minutes.” He took a step toward Hank and stopped, turned back. His thoughts were a flurry in his mind, going every which way. “Did you get any impressions from your examination of the victim?”
The shrug Levinson gave wasn’t particularly inspiring. “It wasn’t done long ago, but I’d say it matches up with your prior victims. My guess is it’s the same guy as before. He’s just gotten better at it. Beyond some dents and dings caused by the perpetrator’s fists and knees, the only injury he has is the cut on his neck. But I’ll be honest, it doesn’t put me at ease that he’s apparently no longer killing people, which is something I’m sure I’d never have thought before.”
Less useful than Connor would have hoped, but not nothing either. That was a little disappointing, but not unexpected. At least getting James and Levinson squared away was easy. Chloe took his call with her usual aplomb and she didn’t even wait to get permission from Kamski before she told him to send them over, armed escort Chloe herself would be sending, pre-programmed route because Kamski was paranoid, more paranoid than the last time Connor remembered him being. Then again, five years. Things changed.
They were on their way maybe ten minutes after that, James wrapped in a blanket while Hank and Connor watched, Levinson solicitous to him and kind as he guided James into the car Chloe had sent. Levinson offered them a wave and a nod as he stepped into the car, too, a Detroit police officer in the driver’s seat, waiting. And then they were gone and it was just Hank and Connor and the forensics techs.
“I don’t like this,” Connor said, an understatement and a needless one to boot.
Hank didn’t favor it with a reply, merely turned back to the crime scene. “Levinson said it couldn’t have happened more than an hour or two ago and we’ve got nothin’ to show for it. At least nobody died this time, not that we know where our guy went.”
“He started out that way, I think,” Connor said, pointing at the thirium-stained sidewalk.
Hank ambled that direction, searching the ground for signs he’d never be able to see himself. “Ain’t that nice. Got anything else?”
“We’re near the Warehouse District,” Connor said and the tracks matched that direction. He scanned the sky, though nothing there would give him the answers he sought. From here, he couldn’t even really see the buildings that had once housed trendy bars, restaurants, and overpriced lofts that now sat mostly abandoned, mostly turned over to red sand addicts and homeless androids looking to squat for a while. “I’d go there if I was trying to hide from the police. We could put out a request for drone surveillance.”
“He could know that’d be our first guess and avoid it entirely,” Hank pointed out.
“And if we overthink things, we’ll never settle on anything and he’ll have even more of an opportunity to get away.” Connor’s gaze swung back toward the scene of the crime. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he noted a thin piece of rebar a few feet away from where James had stood. It was covered in dry thirium, but Doctor Levinson had said that James was unharmed except for the wound on the back of his neck, the blunt-force damage as he’d been subdued.
There was a spatter of thirium on the brick wall that matched someone of James’s height swinging back an object—possibly that rebar—as they prepared for a strike.
Connor stepped toward the wall, looked up. “Were there any witnesses?”
“What do you think?” Hank asked, sardonic.
There were never any witnesses to violence done against androids. “So some things don’t change, huh?” Connor asked, dry. “Typical.”
“It’s why they pay us the big bucks, I guess,” Hank said, and though his words were flip, Connor could hear the underlying anger in them. It was an anger Connor shared. He just didn’t know what to do with it beyond doing his job and finding justice for the androids who would have none without him. “What’re you thinking?”
“I’m thinking our PL600 is injured.” He pointed at the rebar the techs hadn’t yet had a chance to process and then at the wall. “There’s thirium on it and on the wall.” Glancing at Hank, he approached the wall and brought his fingers up, stretching on his toes to reach the nearest spatter. “Sorry, Hank.” But he had to know if the registrations matched.
A picture popped up in the corner of Connor’s eye, familiar blond hair and blue, placid eyes stretching across the space. A PL600. Registration: #213 567 209.
It wasn’t joy Connor felt in that moment, but close enough to it that he startled himself with it. Though it wasn’t a happy occasion, he smiled. “James got him.” Connor did a reconstruction, watched as a James-shaped body double crouched to pick up the rebar, stabbed it upward into the PL600’s abdomen, possibly piercing the lungs, nothing immediately deadly, but the damage would need to be repaired soon or he risked bleeding out. The body double got up, yanked the rebar free and brought it back, opening himself up to attack. Connor winced as the PL600 lunged and the rebar clattered to the ground and rolled, haphazard, to its final resting place. Though Connor could have continued, there was no need: he already knew the outcome.
“Are there any repair shops nearby?” Hank asked.
“A second-hand biocomponents store,” Connor answered, checking his internal directory, unenthused by the prospect of going to one. He hated those places, hated that they were necessary and that they’d apparently become big business in the five years Connor didn’t remember. At least twenty of them now dotted the city. “Yes.”
“It’s as good a place to start as any,” Hank said with a shrug, leading Connor toward his car.
A few minutes of driving got them a block away from the store in question. It was even quieter here than it had been at the apartment complex, the street darker, the surroundings stark, bleached of all life, eroded by time and disinterest. There were still signs of the revitalization efforts from years back, bright bursts of paint only beginning to peel, once crisp, clean storefronts only just going to seed, but it was equally obvious those days were done and over with.
If Connor didn’t know there’d been no calls in for break-ins, he might have assumed one had happened out here. Glass littered the ground. Wood boards were splintered and pulled free of the walls of various, closed down businesses. The biocomponent store was the most intact, but even it was rundown, the merchandise in the windows dusty and yellowing, the signs bleached by years of sunlight. The lights were off, but that didn’t mean anything when androids could see in the dark.
“Can you tell anything?” Hank asked.
Connor shook his head, reaching for the door. “He could’ve gone in the back. We’ll have to check.”
“You’re the boss,” Hank said, following behind.
Connor scanned, hoped to catch a sign that the PL600 was here. But there were no splatters of thirium anywhere that Connor could see. When he increased his audio processors, he heard the various creaking and crackling of the surrounding buildings, old brick and wood settling, distant cars honking. There were some noises that could have been the sound of a person moving, but it could equally have been an animal or Connor’s imagination.
He pulled his weapon anyway. No way was he letting himself get caught off-guard again. As they approached the back door, Hank tried to pass in front of him, but Connor held out his arm. He wasn’t going to let Hank protect him this time.
A loud crash pierced Connor’s processors, the noise distorted and scratchy from the alterations Connor made. He quickly brought the sensitivity back down to normal levels and reran the noise. Something falling to the ground by the sound of it, followed immediately by three brief, perfunctory knocks in quick succession.
Connor’s heart hammered against his chest, half convinced they would find their suspect and half certain it was not, that Connor was merely worrying for no good reason, that this was a foolish waste of their time and energies and the longer they were here, the more time the suspect had to get away.
Like standing here was doing them any good either.
He pushed open the door as quietly as he could and wished he could figure out a way to get the floor plans without exposing either himself or Hank to danger.
There was another clatter and a muttered curse. It sounded a lot like it could have been a PL600 unit. Connor approached the sound slowly, scanned the ground for loose floorboards and weak points, kept his steps as quiet as he could and hoped Hank followed behind him as exactly as he could. Unless the PL600 had gotten any upgrades, he shouldn’t have been able to hear them approach.
Of course, he shouldn’t have been able to beat Connor in a fight either.
Connor hoped he hadn’t gotten any other upgrades. If he was as much against deviancy as he seemed to be, he probably wouldn’t have gone that route of his own accord, not beyond what he would have felt was necessary.
Or so Connor assumed. He supposed he really didn’t know what the PL600 was thinking or wanted beyond setting them all back to the time before the liberation. Maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. Maybe this was just what happened when your grief and anguish got too big for you to control. The change hadn’t been easy on every android. In a way, it was probably strange that there weren’t more cases like this. Twisted, lost androids taking their pain out on others in any way they knew how.
Though Connor would have loved nothing more than to put down his weapon, he held tighter to it, knowing the chances he’d get through to this one were slim. And he wouldn’t risk himself or Hank, not the way he’d done before for reasons he yet didn’t even understand. No, this android had made his choices and Connor couldn’t unmake them for him.
He couldn’t save him, not even if he wanted to.
They finally reached the room where the noise was coming from, a backroom supply closet with a door that was mostly closed. When Connor peeked in, he could see a dark-clad body crouched toward the back. Shadows made it difficult to discern, but when Connor did a scan of him, he matched. It was their PL600. Connor felt almost dizzy with relief. He wouldn’t get away this time. Connor was too determined. He nodded at Hank, whose shoulders slumped in equal relief. But then he straightened and lifted his gun.
There was no way they’d be able to sneak up on him. The minute they opened this door, he’d know they were there. I don’t see a gun, he mouthed and hoped Hank could see it in the dark.
So let’s get him, Hank mouthed back, something Connor had no problem ascertaining even in the low amount of light filtering through the crack in the door.
Of course, the thing creaked and squealed when Connor pushed it, startling the PL600 into swinging around. Thirium soaked through his shirt, frayed around the abdomen where a large hole had formed, blue spreading up the chest and down to the hem. His eyes, equally blue, widened and then narrowed in pure, incandescent rage. “You.” He spat thirium at the ground. “You’re still deviant.”
“I am,” Connor said. “So is the man you attacked tonight. Your plan failed. It’s over.” He kept his voice calm, soothing. If the android believed all hope was lost, he’d do one of two things probably. He’d attack them or he’d give up, give in. Connor hoped for the latter, but he was prepared for the former. “What you want just can’t happen.” No longer needing to worry about stealth, he took a step forward. The wood beneath his feet protested with a long, lingering creak. “But that’s okay. We can make this right. You can help me make this right, but we need to get you some help. What’s your name?”
He told himself it wasn’t a lie even if it was a misdirection. Yes, they could make it right, but that would be of little benefit to the PL600.
The PL600 said nothing, his lip twitching into a grimace. Connor thought he caught the glint of tears in his eyes, but he couldn’t be certain. Either way, Connor felt for him. He never would’ve wanted this if things had stayed for him how they’d been. Connor could understand longing for that simplicity, needing that structure. Without people like Markus and Hank to help him, he might have given in to his miseries and uncertainties, too.
Some people fell through the cracks that freedom opened up to them. It was a sad fact. They would have to do better at this in the future. Connor refused to let this happen again if he could help it.
“You just said I failed,” the PL600 said. Despair gave his words a despondent, cutting edge to them. “I can’t do anything now. You’ll destroy me.”
“We won’t,” Connor replied, though he couldn’t guarantee it. A jury might find him guilty—would, in fact, find him guilty unless he got a very good lawyer and a very, very lenient jury, two things that weren’t all that likely under the circumstances—and help sentence him with capital punishment. Though humans didn’t tend to care about android deaths, they were still quick to put them on death row for any crime that would justify it.
Connor wished again that it could be another way. This android never stood a chance.
Before Connor knew it, he was reaching into the waistband of his trousers, pulling something—pulling something that was a gun and even as Connor analyzed the situation, a second stretching before him as he calculated his odds, he raised his own, shot clean and true because Connor couldn’t let Hank get hurt and he couldn’t let this android go free, no matter how bad Connor felt for him, and he couldn’t let himself get taken out either.
Another second and it was done, the gun and the android both falling over as though cut from strings. Thirium leaked onto the floor from the pristine hole in the PL600’s forehead.
Connor picked up the weapon, pulled the clip free just in case.
The clip that had no bullets in it. And when he went to clear the chamber, there was no bullet to remove from it either.
Connor’s spine turned to steel, locked ramrod straight as he realized just what happened.
It wouldn’t have been true to say cold, numb helplessness overcame him, but it wouldn’t have not been true either.
He tossed the gun and the clip aside, brushed past Hank, their shoulders bumping as Connor slipped by. Hank called after him, but he had no words with which to answer him. What was there left to say?
“You’re awake,” Markus said, the first thing Connor heard, though that wasn’t right at all. Markus shouldn’t be here, not now, not when he and Hank were in that damned PL600’s house, his spine being—
Connor’s arms jerked up to touch the back of his neck. Smooth. It was smooth. He could move. It didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt. He could—
He wasn’t in the PL600’s house. He was in his own house, the bedroom as familiar to him as the back of his own hand. And Markus was looking down at him with so much love in his eyes that Connor had to look away, couldn’t stand the thought of it, not when—
“No, hey.” Markus’s hand cupped his cheek, turned Connor’s head back toward him, brought his chin up. “None of that.”
“Lieutenant Anderson is fine,” Markus replied, soothing, calm, using the voice he saved for particularly recalcitrant people, the ones who needed extra finesse to see reason. Apparently Connor was now one of them. He couldn’t say he liked it, but he also couldn’t deny that panic was licking its way through his every thought, burning everything around it because the very last thing he remembered was…
Connor grabbed Markus tight around his neck and pulled him forward into a crushing hug. Markus made a surprised huffing noise and braced himself on hands that were bracketing Connor’s hips. “I love you,” he said, quiet, desperate, against Markus’s ear. “I didn’t—I should have…”
He should’ve said it more often, showed Markus exactly how he felt every single day they were together. There were a lot of things he should have done, things now he was ashamed of having denied Markus. He hadn’t really thought he’d have the chance to do any of them. But now, now…
Markus, getting his knees beneath him and sitting in Connor’s lap, raised his arms and held just as tightly to Connor in return. “I know,” he said, “I know you do. I love you, too. It’s okay, okay?” He rubbed circles into Connor’s back, rhythmic, slow circles. Only when his heart slowed down did Markus begin to speak again. “There’s something you need to know.” And the way he said it almost sent Connor’s heart beat through the roof again. But Markus remained calm and by the time Connor pulled back to look at him, he thought maybe he could handle it. As long as Markus held tight to him, he could handle anything.
“Connor, what day is it?”
“December 16th,” he said, but that wasn’t right, not according to his internal sensors. “It’s December 20th? I lost four days? What happened?”
Markus explained it all in excruciating detail, filled as many of the gaps as he could with what knowledge he had. It was incredible to think he’d spent those days not knowing anything of his life with Markus, of the sacrifice he’d had to make in order for Connor to come back as he was. Connor was both grateful for it and stunned that nothing worse had gone wrong, that he’d been able to recover his memories at all. “And we got the killer?”
“That’s what you said,” Markus replied, a little uneasy, but what did that matter if the case was solved? He’d have to ask Hank about it as soon as he was able to get into the office. “Connor, there’s something else. Something you wanted me to give to you once you came back.”
When Markus moved to stand, Connor pulled him back down, kissed him again because he could, because he had that luxury now. He’d been a fool; he was still a fool. But he could begin to make things right. Though Markus was momentarily distracted, his hands tightening around Connor’s upper arms, he got up again as soon as Connor broke the kiss. Connor wanted to call him back, stop him from retrieving whatever it was he’d wanted himself to see, but he couldn’t. It might not have been important to him right now, but it was important to Markus, and that was enough for him.
He’d done a lot of avoidance lately. It was time to curb that before he had nothing left to avoid.
Markus left the bedroom, disappearing for three of the longest minutes of Connor’s life. He spent the whole time trying to imagine exactly what it was he would have left himself. What would the him of five years ago have to tell him that was so important? That would’ve put that trepidation on Markus’s face? He knew the significance of the day he’d woken up remembering and wondered if that hadn’t been the reason he remembered his life up until that point. If there was any moment he would have fought to keep, it was that one, that first inkling that what he felt for Markus was different than the affection and respect he felt for Hank, the appreciation he had for any of the other androids he’d come to care about.
It was as crystal clear in his memory now as it had been on that day in November.
All Markus carried when he returned was an envelope. It felt anticlimactic after Connor’s thoughts had run their course, but he took it with a shaking hand anyway and tried not to feel as silly as he did.
“I know how you feel about interfacing,” Markus said, “but I promised you this one time we would. You don’t have to share anything in return, but—please. It was important to you and there wasn’t time to figure out another solution.”
The urge to decline was knee-jerk, right on the tip of his tongue before he could even think about it. But he apparently owed himself this and, more importantly, Markus had that determination on his face that meant he would be fighting for whatever it was Connor had given him for safekeeping. There was no point in arguing unless he was willing to break this thing between them and he’d never, ever be willing to do that. No matter how much he might have neglected it in the past.
He opened the envelope. The only thing inside was one thin sheet of paper. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KEEP DOING THIS TO YOURSELF, it said in crisp, clean script. His own hand. The quirks he’d purposefully developed in order to set his handwriting apart from other androids were perfectly accounted for.
On a second page, there was a list of the cases Rick had been collating for him, any death that included an injury to the neck. Next to a good ten of them were checkmarks.
Connor didn’t need words to know what it meant: this case was as closed as it would ever get.
Markus’s hand wrapped around his wrist and though Connor wanted to tell him not to, when Markus asked if they could interface, he nodded. Fear pounded beneath Connor’s breastbone, just where his thirium pump regulator sat. He trusted Markus not to push for more, but years’ worth of defenses kicked into gear and demanded that Connor get away, stop this from happening. But he slid into the interface nice and easy, the sensation warm and welcoming and painfully misleading, Markus taking the lead, guiding Connor toward the information Connor had wanted to share with him.
It shouldn’t have felt so good to be this close to Markus.
He didn’t deserve it. Didn’t deserve any of it.
He felt secondhand everything that he’d gone through during those four days, carefully portioned out versions of it, like watching a movie that happened to be about him. He felt his own confusion and elation, concerns and fears, the resentment toward himself and the love for Markus that they shared. Each one caught Connor in the heart, plunged deep into it and cut him to pieces. You don’t have to keep doing this to yourself, he might have written, but the only thing Connor sensed was stop doing this to Markus.
And he was right. He’d been right.
As though to assuage Connor, there, too, was his final encounter with the PL600, the one he still didn’t know by name, and every ounce of regret and guilt he felt over that, how he would’ve picked any other outcome if he could, the way the feel of phantom thirium stuck to his palms as he and Hank left the store they’d found him in.
I can’t keep doing this had run through his head the entire time, mirrored now in the present. He didn’t love this work anymore and he wasn’t doing the sort of good he’d hoped to have done. And the toll it was taking with Markus just—it wasn’t worth it.
There had to be another way.
There was another way. Even though it scared him. Even though he had no idea what he would do instead, what he might even be good at.
But it had to be done.
He’d do it for the both of them.
“Long time,” Hank said, smirking as he crossed his arms. “Welcome back.”
Connor rolled his eyes. It was a joke that had worn out its welcome a long time ago, but still seemed to amuse Hank. Maybe it was the implicit ‘I told you so’ of it or maybe Hank just missed him and wouldn’t say it. Still, Connor knew the routine by now, dropped a bag from the Chicken Feed onto Hank’s desk and leaned against the corner of it. “I’m here the same time every two weeks, Hank. And you’re at my house often enough that I might as well turn the guest room into your room.”
“Mmhmm,” Hank replied, ignoring the vast majority of what Connor said in favor of rifling through the bag. “And who’s ass are you kicking this time?”
“Rookie class,” Connor replied. “Fresh out of the academy. You’d love them, I’m sure.” After a couple of years of leaving Hank alone about it, Connor had been trying for months to get Hank to take on a partner, but he hadn’t bitten yet. One day he’d soften up, though. He got lonely easy, so it was only a matter of time. “You ought to see if any of them catch your attention. They’re a smart group of cadets. Most of them actually knew the entirety of the Android Rights Act of 2041 and what it means for the Detroit Police Department.”
Hank snorted and took a bite of his burger. “I bet they’ve just heard the horror stories about you and got scared.”
“A few of them even knew about the psychological literature being published these days. Best practices on how to deal with android suspects. Warning signs of stress in android populations. That sort of thing. I’ve got one kid who’s even read Doctor Levinson’s pathological studies.”
“They’re definitely scared.” But Hank sounded intrigued despite himself.
“You should come down with me for one of these sessions,” Connor suggested. It wouldn’t be today unless Connor was very lucky, probably not even the next time, but one day he’d actually cave. “They’d get some valuable insights from you.”
Groaning, Hank rolled his eyes and made a quick opening and closing gesture with his free hand that didn’t indicate anything specifically as far as Connor could tell. But as soon as he finished chewing and swallowing his food, he said, “I know what you’re trying to do and I don’t like it.”
“Half the class are androids.” That statistic was a newer one, something Connor and the rest of his team at the Androids Rights Commission had been working toward for a long time. Both on the police department side of things and on the outreach side. Connor was particularly proud of the achievement. The more androids that were on the force, he reasoned, the better it would be for everyone.
“Now you’re just trying to flirt with me,” Hank groused, gesturing at his otherwise clean desk. As far as Connor could see, he was doing just fine for himself, better than Connor could have expected. Connor was pleased to see it. “Look, maybe I’ll drop in next time, okay? Right now I just want to eat this sandwich and then get back to work since some of us are so slow without our ex-partners here to do all the hard work.”
“As long as you acknowledge that I did all the hard work,” Connor said, teasing. Sometimes he missed it here—a lot of times he missed it here and spending his days with Hank specifically—and he still felt a wistful nostalgia every time he stepped into the place, but he couldn’t deny the decision to leave had been a good one, the right one. The work he did now was equally important, he felt, and kept the streets just as safe as if he was out there pursuing the criminals himself. In fact, just looking at some of the most recent statistics, the work that was getting done with the ARC might, in fact, have been helping to an even greater degree than just investigating had done.
And if it got him home at night not feeling as though the world only existed to, as Hank might say, “go to shit,” all the better.
All the better, too, if his late nights and Markus’s tended to coincide, when they were working on projects together, things that Connor didn’t have to be secretive about or ashamed of, or simply because they could and they wanted to and all it took was a phone call to confirm that hey, I’m going to be a few hours finishing up this report, is that okay and neither of them had to worry about whether Connor would be coming home at all or whether what he would see or do would affect the amount of affection he could show to Markus once he walked through the door.
“Tell Markus I said hi,” Hank said, shooing Connor toward the meeting rooms in the back of the station. To which Connor said, “Tell him yourself the next time you bring Sumo over,” getting only a thoughtful hum out of Hank and a few more moments of hemming and hawing about Connor’s offer.
If Hank groaned theatrically as he climbed to his feet followed behind him, burger in hand, neither of them had to acknowledge it. Hank still had about forty minutes of lunch left. Plenty of time for him to put in his two cents with the newbies in if he wanted to.
Connor bit back a smile and discreetly let Markus know by text that Hank would probably be coming over later and make sure you tell him I told you he said hello when he stops by.
Connor pushed open the door to the meeting room and stepped inside, smile only growing bigger as Markus replied, his fondness evident even via text. I’ll make sure we have the kibble Sumo likes. “Good afternoon,” he said, meaning it with his entire being. “Let me introduce you to my friend, Lieutenant Anderson.”
It was a good day. The latest in a long line of them.
But Connor could take for granted now that it wouldn’t be the last.