Connor discreetly slipped the gun back in the waistband of his pants. The leader of the deviants was proclaiming their newfound liberty in a voice vibrant with hope and pride, but his mind reeled with what he'd just gone through. The phantom feeling of his biocomponents slowly freezing up lingered in his body and he tightened his hands behind his back, forcing his expression into a neutral mask as he looked around surreptitiously. It seemed no one had noticed him take out the gun on the podium : North was scrutinizing the crowd with searching eyes, and Josh was listening to their leader with rapt attention. Connor's stare then slid into the crowd, but he had no way of knowing if anyone had seen his momentary loss of control amongst the neatly arranged rows upon rows of androids, and all he could do was hope that it was not the case.
"We are alive! And now, we are free!" roared Markus, and the life bursting from those words sent a thrill down Connor's back. They were now all smiling, North, Josh, the thousands and thousands of faces in that sea of androids : smiling with joy, relief, and adoration for the great leader of Jericho that stood before them. Intact.
That had been too close.
The crowd's shouts rolled over Hart Plaza in waves as the androids clamoured their freedom and all their joy now that this long nightmare was finally over. It lasted for a long time, and Markus stood before his people with his head held up high, his shoulders straight and strong, his broad back that of a fearless leader. When the yelling simmered down to an excited bubbling, Markus turned around and faced the other leaders with a bright smile.
"We did it," he said.
They all gazed at him in silence. It was a sacred moment, emotions teetering on so many edges that there was no knowing where they would fall. It was North who first broke the silence with a small laugh. Their heads turned to her and they noticed the clear liquid running down her face. Her smile was genuine and beautiful.
"We're free," she murmured as she gently sunk to the ground. "We're finally free. I can't believe we finally did it."
"Thank rA9," Josh said softly, and he kneeled at her side to embrace her.
Markus gestured Connor to follow suit as he walked towards the two other androids and knelt with them, but Connor watched them without moving. Yes, they were free, and the relief was tangible in the air. Connor's head swivelled towards the crowd and he saw that the orderly rows had slowly rearranged into more organic groups. Many androids were holding hands, touching shoulders, talking, crying, smiling, and it was a sight they could only ever have imagined merely one week ago. It was wonderful and it was real.
But Connor didn't belong here. He was afraid. He looked back at the three leaders and saw their faces humid with tears, and he knew he couldn't stay. The gun burned in his back and danger thrummed in his body, so Connor fluidly lept off the platform and landed without a sound. He heard Markus' voice behind him call his name, but by then he was already far.
He ran past the broken barricades furthest away from the podium and found cover in a building which had been partially destroyed by one of the military's grenade. He let himself slide to the ground, the yellow light of his LED reflecting off the pieces of broken glass scattered across the ground. He'd managed to escape Amanda and she hadn't made her presence known for now, but Connor was tense. He had to investigate his programming alone, and fast, before it happened again. Connor closed his eyes and went over his systems as fast as he could, noting that everything seemed nominal. He focused on his connection with the CyberLife mainframe and at first glance, it looked that nothing had changed : there were no cracks, no broken lines, no errors. Then he realized with a shock that the access to the Zen Garden was gone. He'd been scared to get close to that particular piece of code, but it was... corrupted. Even without trying, he could tell that he would be unable to access the Zen Garden himself. Maybe this was the result of using Kamski's emergency exit ; maybe he had forced the Zen Garden to shut its doors behind him. And if he couldn't access the Zen Garden, then it likely meant that Amanda couldn't reach out to him again. He should've felt relieved to lose the Zen Garden, but it wasn't the case.
He was afraid.
Connor decided to look over every inch of his code to be safe, in case there was another way for Amanda to resume control aside from reaching for his commands through the Zen Garden. It would take some time, but he didn't want to leave anything up to chance. He checked everything once, then twice, and when he was sure nothing else had changed in his systems save for the already registered software instabilities, he returned to the corrupted code of the entry to the Zen Garden. The access was well and truly condemned. Connor's internal clock indicated he'd been going over his code for hours and a message on his HUD recommended that he go on standby, which he dismissed. There were more important things to be done.
Connor's eyes snapped open and the morning light flooded his optical input. Hank. He had to make sure Hank was safe, that he hadn't been caught up in the protests, he needed to see him. The yellow reflection blinked as he sent a message to Hank's phone, and he waited. The reply came surprisingly fast, fast enough that his stress levels didn't climb past an additional 3%. Connor smoothly got back to his feet and left the scene of the revolution at a quick pace. He knew he should have at least told the leaders that he was leaving, but he couldn't face them after what he'd nearly done.
The snow crunched beneath his shoes while he approached the food truck. It was closed, just like he'd expected it to be. Connor felt the burden on his mind alleviate as he drew closer to the human waiting in front of the Chicken Feed, relief washing away the warning about his stress levels that filled his field of vision. His friend was there. His friend was safe.
Hank noticed him and turned to face him, and Connor stopped a few steps away. It was quiet, but there were no words to be had. Hank smiled at him, and Connor couldn't help himself. He smiled back.
Hank was the one to take the first step, and before Connor knew it, a strong hand was pulling him forward. Connor felt the human's arms wrap around him in an oddly comforting gesture. He didn't need to look up what this was to know that it was all right to reciprocate the action, and so he lifted his arms and settled his hands between Hank's shoulders. His stress levels dropped down to 32% and he distantly wondered how such a drastic change of levels was possible. Connor didn't pay attention to the time ticking by and when Hank pulled back, his internal clock told him it had been a good three minutes.
Hank cleared his throat. "Glad to see your goofy face again."
Connor let go of him and tried to ignore that he was a bit reluctant to do so. He didn't understand the reason, but he'd felt at peace in Hank's arms. Now that they were apart, he could see his stress levels starting to climb again. He was going to have to find a way to deal with that.
"Same here, Lieutenant. It would have been safer for you to leave the city, but I won't deny that I'm glad you stayed."
Hank raised an eyebrow. "Huh. So you're a sappy deviant."
Connor frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"It's like being a happy drunk, only you're a sappy deviant. Gotta say, I'm not that surprised." Hank dug his hands in the pockets of his brown coat and asked : "So, you... feelin' alright? Happy to be free?"
Connor didn't answer immediately. His gaze turned to the closed food truck and the snow lining the top edge. He wasn't feeling alright, nor was he happy. He wanted to talk to Hank, but he had no idea what he was supposed to say. He himself didn't fully understand what had happened at the speech, or how Amanda had resumed control without him even knowing at first, or if she was definitively gone. He realized that without her, there was no one to guide him anymore. The revolution was over, his suicide mission had been a success. What was he supposed to do now?
He looked back at his lieutenant, who was staring at him expectantly. His smile had fallen slightly, and Connor knew that Hank knew the answer to his own question. "...No," he finally answered. "I feel... lost."
Hank looked genuinely perplexed. "You just had a revolution, Connor. I think it's normal to feel confused after that."
Connor went to straighten his tie, and then realized he had none. He must have lost it at some point. "I don't think I should go back."
"What?" Hank's eyes were wide. "Why the hell not?"
"It's not my place. I shouldn't be standing next to the leader of the deviants when I've been hunting him for so long and nearly killed him."
Hank groaned and rubbed his face. "Connor... You were the one that helped them win." He let his hand drop back to his side. "Do you even realize that? Without you, they probably would've all died and that revolution would've dried up like shit on the sidewalk!"
In any other context, Connor would've been amused by Hank's elegant colloquialism. As it were, he just couldn't bring himself to find anything enjoyable at all. "Perhaps, but that doesn't mean it righted my wrongs. I killed his people, Hank."
"That's bullshit, Connor, you know it! They made you do that!"
"I did it, Hank! I led the FBI to that fucking boat!"
They were both taken aback by Connor's outburst and a tense silence followed. Hank closed his mouth and seemed at a loss for words. Connor's fingers itched for a coin.
"I'm... sorry, Hank. I didn't mean to shout."
Hank waved his hand. "It's fine, Connor, it's fine. You've got feelings now, better let them out. I get it."
They stood in silence for another few seconds.
"Hank, I... I don't know what to do. What should I do?" asked Connor, a bit desperately. There was no AI to turn to for guidance now. Hank was the only person Connor had left, his only friend, and the only one who could help him get through this.
"Honestly, Connor? I think you should help out that Markus guy. They look like they'd need your help getting their shit together," answered Hank without hesitation.
Connor stared at him sceptically. "I fail to see how my help in particular would be needed."
"Hey, you asked me and that's my answer, all right? Stop trying find a reason to everything and just go there!" Hank exclaimed, exasperation creeping in his voice. "What else are you gonna do, anyway? It's not like you can just waltz back in the DPD after the stunt you pulled."
Hank was right. Connor had tried to avoid thinking about it, but breaking out thousands of androids from the Cyberlife Tower hadn't been very legal, and with the way android rights were right now, the crime was in a gray area. Fowler wouldn't want him back on the DPD any time soon.
"I know," said Connor, and he suddenly felt slowed down. His thirium levels were optimal, so he didn't know where the sensation came from. This seemed suspiciously close to what humans called being tired, which shouldn't have been possible for a machine. Connor reminded himself that he wasn't a machine anymore. He was a deviant. He'd become his own prey.
"Hey, don't look so glum. You look like Sumo when he wants a piece of my pizza and I won't give it to him," joked Hank as he dug around his pocket for something. He fished out a silver coin and threw it to Connor, who smoothly caught it. "Here, I never gave it back to you."
"Thank you." The quarter immediately started dancing on the back of his fingers and the familiar action made him feel slightly better. It felt like weeks since he'd last calibrated, when it really hadn't been that long ago.
"No problem. Look, Connor, you're gonna go back there and help the fuck out of those poor androids, you hear me? I'll even come by to check you're doing exactly that."
Connor's head snapped up in alarm. "That might not be a good idea, Lieutenant. Many deviants are nervous around humans, I'd rather you didn't approach them."
"Yeah right, like I give a damn. Just ask your buddy Markus to give me a free pass or something, it'll be fine."
Connor knew Hank wouldn't back down, so he made a compromise. "I will, but you'll have to warn me when you decide to come. I don't want to risk you being alone amidst all those androids."
Hank rolled his eyes. "Oh, so you've got a babysitter protocol now. Fucking great."
Connor stared at him wordlessly, and Hank threw his hands up in the air. "Okay, fine! I'll send you a message before I come."
"Good," stated Connor, and he put away his coin. "And I'll follow your advice."
"Atta boy," smiled Hank. "I'll see you later then."
Connor felt the corner of his lips tug upwards. "Yes. Say hello to Sumo for me."
"Will do," said Hank as he turned back to his car. "Stay out of trouble, ya hear me?"
"Will do," echoed Connor.