“In three hundred and sixty feet, turn right.”
Lieutenant Hank Anderson muttered an absent thanks to the phone mounted on the dashboard. The cheerful little GPS was redundant at this point—the red-blue lights reflecting ominously in the darkened windows of the surrounding homes were a good enough indicator that he was in the right place. If not for the lights, the people gathered in little clusters on the sidewalks would have been a dead giveaway. Most wore pajamas beneath their heavy winter coats; not even Michigan winter or the ludicrously late hour were enough to stop rubberneckers.
He slowed further as he rounded the corner. A handful of state troopers stood along the glowing yellow cordon that stretched across the road, herding back an even denser crowd of spectators. Truly, nothing brought a community together quite like a murder. Two staccato wails of the siren dispersed the gathered vultures, and Hank nosed through the projected caution tape.
“In ten feet, your destination will be on the left,” the GPS supplied helpfully.
Several squad cars, every light flashing, were parked haphazardly in front of the little ranch house. An ambulance was backed into the driveway, the coroner’s van parked across the street. In the yard, a gaggle of uniformed DPD officers stood guard, talking amongst themselves. All the usual suspects. He rolled to a stop behind one of the vans.
An officer near the garage noticed Hank parking, and trotted down the drive as he stepped out of the car.
“Welcome back to Detroit, Lieutenant Anderson,” the officer said, her breath fogging in the chill night air. Human, then. “Captain Fowler told us to expect you.”
“Been back in the city for less than six hours, and I’m already at a murder scene,” Hank replied, starting for the house. “Sounds about right.”
The officer, nearly as tall as Hank was, with close-cropped dark hair under her hat, fell easily into step next to him. “A murder-suicide.”
He promptly stopped, turning to—he darted a quick look at the name sewn into her coat. J. Polanski. “Why the absolute fuck did Fowler roll me out of bed at two in the goddamn morning on a Saturday for a basic murder suicide? Why couldn’t someone on call handle this?”
“Probably because the suicide was an android,” Polanski replied simply.
Hank scrubbed a hand over his face. “Okay. Fair. Give me the rundown.”
“Female human victim,” Polanski began as they continued across the street. “Stabbed to death in her sleep, presumably by the android, an AK700 she lived with for at least the last four years.”
The rear ambulance doors were open, a loudly crying young woman seated just inside. An android EMT hovered nearby, monitoring her vitals, while a human cop attempted to interview her. Hank made an attempt to listen in as they passed, but the girl’s words were choked, lost in hitching full-body sobs.
Polanski frowned, mouth pressing into a thin, bitter line. “That’s the victim’s daughter. She discovered the body. Bodies.”
“Jesus, poor thing. How’d the android go?”
“Well, that…” Polanski clicked her tongue, tilted her head to the side. “Dis…Disassembly, I guess? And stabbing?”
It was Hank’s turn to frown, even more so than he did naturally. “How—”
“You should probably just see it for yourself,” she said. “It’s pretty grisly in there, sir.” They had arrived at the short set of stairs to the porch, and through the frosted glass he could see the indistinct shapes of several people moving around the front room.
And, around them, a lot of blue.
From his pocket, the tiny voice of the GPS chirped. “You have arrived at your destination. Have a pleasant evening.”
Connor didn’t know what to do with his hands. Before, it didn’t matter where his hands were—dangling at his sides, folded neatly behind his back, adjusting his tie. CyberLife had pre-programmed him with more than eleven hundred idle motions, and a random one of these motions cycled at equally random intervals when he wasn’t dedicated to a specific task. This, like simulated breathing, or blinking, served a single purpose—to put humans at ease. They liked it when androids fidgeted, and found it offputting when machines stood too still for too long. He himself had barely been aware of his hands, his eyelids, his artificial lungs, or anything beyond his mission.
Now, though, he was aware. Too aware, of everything, of his own comfort rather than that of the humans around him. Of his hands that didn’t feel quite right just hanging there, or resting on his hips, or crossed over his chest. What he wanted to do was pull the heavy coin from his jacket’s inner pocket and roll it across his knuckles; deftly flick it between his hands while pacing the scene, let the routine motions calibrate and sharpen his focus as he took in the gory living room.
If spinning the quarter could also divert a fraction of his processing power from the horror of the blood-soaked tableau before him, well... that was an untested potential benefit. One that would need to be beta’d at another time, as according to Lt. Anderson, coin tricks were inappropriate at a crime scene. Instead Connor settled on sticking his hands in his pockets, and pointedly ignoring the strange, unpleasant feeling hovering in his abdomen.
“Is he going to stand there posing all night, or you think he’s going to do something so we can get in there?”
Connor pulled his gaze away from the vivid blue smear on the floral wallpaper. A pair of human forensics specialists stood at the far wall, murmuring to one another and watching him.
“I am reconstructing the scene,” he said calmly. One of the two humans averted his gaze, and the other began to turn red. Too late, Connor realized he’d overheard something meant to be private. He lowered the sensitivity of his audio processors by 12%.
“My apologies,” he continued. “It should not take more than a few minutes.” Not a lie—less than an eighth of his processing power was dedicated to the quandary of his own limbs, the majority focused on the deactivated android seated on the sofa.
Perhaps “mutilated” would be a more fitting term than deactiated. Biocomponents—some partially destroyed, some intact—were strewn across the floor, marked by numbered yellow evidence tags. Blue blood coated the coffee table, soaked into the once-white couch cushions, left a messy trail on the hardwood floor. There were droplets of thirium on nearly every surface of the living room, and half the kitchen beyond.
A short gust of cold air as the front door opened, accompanied by a colorful selection of curse words, alerted Connor to the arrival of—
“Lieutenant Anderson,” he said, unable to suppress a grin, or the note of happiness in his voice. In two long, careful strides Connor crossed the short distance to the front door, and pulled a stunned Hank into a hug.
“Okay, yep,” Hank said quickly, patting his partner awkwardly on the back. He took Connor by the shoulders, gently pushed the over-eager android back. “It’s good to see you, too, kid, but maybe now isn’t the time.”
“Oh.” Connor smoothed his hands down the crisp front of his shirt, glancing quickly at the other people in the room. “Sorry, I… you are not scheduled to be back at the precinct until Monday afternoon.”
“I’m just as surprised as you are,” Hank replied, looking over Connor’s shoulder at the blue-soaked room. He followed an arc of it up the wall, only to find flecks of thirium on ceiling.
“Jesus fuck, you’re sure this is a suicide?” he asked, stepping around his partner to approach the center of the devastation.
“Positive,” Connor said, crossing and just as quickly uncrossing his arms as he positioned himself at Hank’s side.
The lieutenant blew out a long breath, heavy grey brows furrowing as he looked over the wreckage of the android perched on the sofa.
Both visual components had been removed—forcibly, judging by the ravaged synth-skin around the empty sockets, and the gouges in the white plastic endoskeleton beneath. Blood oozed from a near-perfectly circular wound on the victim’s right temple—where an LED had once been. Beneath the open, blue-stained fabric of the android’s shirt was a ragged hole where the thirium pump should have been. Based on the sheer amount of blood, other parts had most likely been torn away as well.
As if the dismemberment wouldn’t have been enough to ensure a shutdown, there was a long kitchen knife driven through the android’s skull. The victim’s own hands—with fingertips so damaged that white plastic protruded like bone—were still wrapped around the handle of the blade under his chin, joints locked in death.
Perhaps most disturbing of all was the android’s impeccable posture. Spine straight, both feet firmly on the floor, knees just slightly apart. Beneath rivulets of blood, the undamaged lower half of his face was arranged into a placid, almost serene expression. Every dark hair on his head was arranged perfectly, undisturbed but for a few dry globs of thirium.
Hank quickly scanned the rest of the room, searching for red blood among the blue, but saw no sign of a second body.
“The human victim is in her bedroom.” Connor nodded towards the kitchen. “Through there.”
They picked their way through the livingroom, careful not to kick over any evidence markers. The blue splatters stopped just inside the wide entrance, and Hank paused to survey the comparative calm of the kitchen.
The faucet was running, water pouring over dirty pans beneath the tap. Next to the sink, the dishwasher door stood open, the racks pulled out and half loaded. Two open Tupperware containers sat on the island, the congealed remains of a dinner that never made it to the refrigerator. A knife was missing from the wooden block next to the stove.
As Connor lead him down the short hallway, a familiar apprehension began to twist in Hank’s gut. The android in the front room had torn himself to shreds—what could he have done to a considerably less resilient human woman? At the door to the bedroom Connor paused, motioned Hank ahead of him. The lieutenant hesitated a moment, took a deep breath, and entered the room.
The coroner stood just inside, making notes on a dimly glowing tablet. An android medical examiner crouched on the opposite side of the bed, photographing the body.
“Anderson,” the coroner said in greeting, barely looking up as they entered the room. Hank grunted a short reply, moving to stand at the foot of the bed.
The mental preparation proved unnecessary. In sharp contrast to the bloodbath in the living room, the bedroom was all but untouched. Lying with her back to the door, covers pulled up to her chest, the dark-haired woman in the bed could have been sleeping. The only indication something terrible had happened was the surprisingly thin line of blood that ran from a single knife wound in her temple to leave a tiny red stain on the pillowcase beneath her cheek.
When Hank held out his hand, the coroner dutifully passed over the tablet. Flicking through the notes, he gathered a few key points—Florence Thompson, 67 years old, dead for five to seven hours.
He skimmed the rest of the preliminary report, handed it back to the coroner, and turned to the until-now silent android at his elbow.
“Alright, Connor. Tell me what you know.”
“The android’s name was Saul,” Connor said, and paused, LED briefly flickering yellow. That information wasn’t relevant to this, but it was the first thing to come to mind. When Connor had arrived on scene, Ms. Thompson’s daughter had been wailing the name, pleading with the dead android for answers that would never come. He tapped his fingers twice against his pant leg, and continued. “He was an AK700 home assistance unit.”
Something inscrutable narrowed Lt. Anderson’s eyes when Connor hesitated again. “Do you know why he did this?” the lieutenant prompted.
“I do not know why, yet. But I know how,” Connor replied. The rough shapes of his reconstruction protocol overlayed his vision, a transparent Saul-sized figure striding into the room as he replayed his completed analysis of the crime.
“Walk me through it,” Anderson said.
Turning on his heel, Connor returned to the kitchen, Lt. Anderson close behind. The reconstruction moved in stuttered reverse ahead of them, coming to a halt at the sink. “He was in the kitchen washing dishes while Ms. Thompson went to bed,” Connor said, flicking the reconstruction back into real time. A second figure, ostensibly Ms. Thompson, passed briefly through his vision and disappeared down the hallway. “Based on her time of death and his time of shutdown, at approximately 8:54pm Saul left the sink and took an eight inch chef’s knife from the block, there.” He nodded in the direction of the stove, and as if on cue the reconstruction set down the pan it was washing, turned, and with measured steps crossed the room. A red-orange outline of a knife appeared in its hand.
“He went to the bedroom where Ms. Thompson slept,” Connor continued, as the Saul figure walked down the hallway. An error message flickered at the corner of his vision when the reconstruction left his sightline. He dismissed it, not needing to see what came next—the android placing the knife at the sleeping woman’s temple, leaning all of his weight against the blade until it effortlessly pierced her skull. “He stabbed her once in the side of the head. Ms. Thompson most likely died instantly. Saul returned to the kitchen, dropped the knife there—” Connor pointed to a nearly invisible red-brown splatter on the floor next to the kitchen island—“and began to... to remove his LED.”
Hank held up a hand, halting Connor’s explanation. “Wait, he dropped the knife first?”
As the ghostly image of Saul stepped back into his field of view, Connor nodded once. “All of the victim’s missing biocomponents were forcibly removed by his own hand.”
“Christ,” Hank murmured, turning back to the blue-stained livingroom. Knowing this was done by hand made the copious amounts of blood seem even more vulgar, somehow.
“He started with his LED,” Connor continued, and just behind Lt. Anderson the reconstruction raised its right hand and began to methodically picking at the side of its head. After a futile moment the second hand came up, to claw frantically at the stubborn light.
“Then he removed his optical units.” The shadow-Saul began to scratch at its face, stumbling further into the livingroom, following the path of blood the real Saul had left behind. “He crushed the components after tearing them out, and threw them against the wall, here.” Gently he touched the wallpaper next to a viscous blue splatter. At his feet lay the destroyed eyes, half a brown iris visible amongst the wreckage.
Connor followed the path of the reconstruction as it tore itself apart. Serial numbers bloomed in Connor’s display, hovering morbidly over each discarded part in its own pool of thirium. Behind the sofa, #3957-adult male voicebox. At the edge of the coffee table, #6709k-right audio processor [DISCONTINUED]. Across the room, next to a softly bubbling fish tank, #0083-oral analysis receptor [tongue]. He listed each part as dispassionately as he could, while the reconstruction grew more and more erratic, wrenching components from Saul’s chassis with increasing brutality. With a violent spasm as it was gouged from the android’s chest, the final piece fell to the floor and rolled under the sofa. Biocomponent #2004.
The reconstruction halted, mid-tremor. He couldn’t bring himself to say it. Fingers tugged at each jacket cuff, then adjusted his already immaculate tie. Connor made a noise like he was clearing his throat—unnecessary, he was synthetic, he generated no fluids that would need to be cleared in such a manner. His LED glowed a brilliant, steady red. Again, vainly, he attempted to speak. “AK700, Saul, removed his own... he tore out—”
A heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder. Lt. Anderson, conern creasing his face, finished for him. “He ripped out his own heart,” Hank said quietly. “You ok, kid? Do you need a minute? This is... it must be a lot, for you.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant, but I’m fine,” Connor said tightly. Another error flashed red in his periphery—Warning: thirium regulator malfunction, arrythmic pump pattern detected. Secondary malfunction: excessive micro-oscillation of digital joints.
He stuffed shaking hands back into his pockets, made the throat-clearing sound again. “Less than sixty seconds remain when… after such extensive damage to this number biocomponents. Saul used this time to return to the kitchen and retrieve the knife.”
Connor restarted the reconstruction, and the ghost of Saul walked to the discarded knife, plucking it from the floor as though it were a dropped magazine. The image moved in an alarmingly tranquil manner for just having savagely dismembered. With the same unnerving serenity, the reconstruction crossed the front room, sat primly at the edge of the sofa, placed the blade at a precise angle beneath its jaw, and calmly, smoothly, drove it up into Saul’s skull. The reconstruction jerked once as its processes ground to an abrupt halt, and then settled back to align perfectly with the real android. Slowly the image faded away, and Connor’s vision returned to normal, the ruined body of Saul brought sharply into focus.
“Why the knife?” Hank asked, softly. “He was going to shut down no matter what he did at this point, so why bother with the extra step?”
“At that angle, the blade penetrated the maximum possible number of vital components he could reach with a single wound,” Connor said. “It’s extremely difficult to recover any information from an android in full shutdown—it’s basically impossible with this level of damage to the primary CPU and memory banks.”
“He must have had something in his memory he wanted to hide,” Lt. Anderson said, half to himself. “Compromising information, of some kind.”
“Or…” Connor murmured, but quickly stopped himself with a small shake of his head. Lt. Anderson was probably right, Saul had some manner of sensitive information stored in his head. Criminal activity, perhaps.
Hank wouldn’t let it go. “…Or?”
Connor was silent for a while, LED spinning yellow, yellow, yellow. Then, quietly, “Or he wanted to forget something. Something so awful he had to completely destroy himself to ensure he could never be made to remember it again.”
They stood for a long while in somber silence, Hank’s hand still on Connor’s shoulder. Other investigators moved around them, photographing, sampling, note-taking. After a time, Hank narrowed his eyes, rubbed a hand over his beard.
“Connor,” he said. The android made a small, noncommittal noise in reply, eyes locked on the dead android. So he repeated, a little more forcefully, “Connor.”
“Yes, Lieutenant?” he replied, without looking away from Saul’s body.
“Where’s the LED?”
At that, Connor’s own LED switched to an immediate, alert blue. He brought his full attention to his partner. “What?”
“Saul’s LED.” Hank gestured around the room with both hands. “Every other part of him is here. Smashed to shit, but they’re in the house. So where’d his LED go?”
Connor went still, instantly bringing up the relevant piece of the reconstruction. In the smooth way that only a machine could move, he scanned the bloody path from kitchen to living room and back. Then he scanned it again. After a third, redundant scan, Connor turned an unsettled gaze on Hank.
“It’s not here.”