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LOCATION:

CARL MANFRED’S MANSION
8941 W LAFAYETTE BLVD., SPRINGWELLS VILLAGE
DETROIT, MI 48209, U.S.A 

DATE:
DEC 31ST, 2021

TIME:
PM 11:21:04

 

Nora sighs, takes a sip of her champagne, and wishes for the millionth time that she didn’t have to be here.

 

Or, she thinks wistfully, At least, I wish that Hank could have made it.

 

Not that Nora blames her husband for his absence.  In the last several months, Hank’s carrier had taken off, with his promotion to Sergeant making him spend more time on duty than any point in their relationship.  Between that and Nora’s natural predilection for working late into the evening, the last time that they’d both sat down for dinner together had been almost three weeks ago.  

 

Hank had invited Jeff and Jen over and made his famous chicken curry.  Nora remembers the taste of Reisling on her tongue as laughter slipped free from her lips.  And later that night, her husband’s mouth had pressed against her neck as they rocked together, his thick beard scratching at vulnerable skin.

 

Nora aches for him like a missing limb.  She yearns for his solid presence at her side, the warmth in his voice and the calm strength in his sky blue eyes.

 

He always enjoyed these parties more than me, she thinks, smothering a chuckle with another sip of champagne, imagining Hank needling a laugh out of a crowd of high-collared stiffs.  Nora’s gaze flicks around the room until it settles on her target. I need to be here.  My team needs me to be here.  Her fingers tighten around her glass, I’ve already made my deal with the devil.  There’s no harm now in schmoozing.

 

The man looks as out of place at the fundraiser as Nora feels.  His dark green army jacket is adorned with a dozen or so pins, each representing some deed that his country had deemed worthy of valour.  He was clean-shaven, with a thin mouth that looked like it hadn’t been graced with a smile in nearly a decade. His eyes were an icy grey, his hair ghostly white, and his expression chiselled from stone.

 

“General Hines,” Nora says as she extends her hand toward his.  “I didn’t expect you to come.”

 

“I didn’t expect to.  I’m not much of a fan of art,” Hines says.  He glances at her hand and slowly raises his own to meet hers in a solid shake.  His hand is as cold as the rest of him, but his grip isn’t bruising, isn’t testing.  Nora has met enough men in similar positions that would attempt to crush her fingers to see if she’d wince.  The general, as it would seem, is not one of them.

 

“Well, you seem to have had a change of heart,” Nora makes a sweeping motion at the painting adorning the walls of the mansion, “Otherwise, you are in the wrong place.”

 

“My wife, Lizzy.  She likes it. As does my daughter,” Hines says, stilted.  His grey gaze shifts ever so slightly and lands on a pair of stunning women who stood in front of a sculpture in the corner.

 

Hines shrugs, “I’ve never understood these sorts of things.  But the invitation said I had to come,”  Then, he catches sight of her champagne glass, “Is the bar still open?”

 

“Until two o’clock, or so I’m told,” Nora answers, a bit thrown at the shift in conversation.

 

Hines nods, his neck so rigid that she thought the motion might snap it in half, “If you’ll excuse me, Dr. Waters, I need a drink.”

 

The general stands abruptly and marches toward the nearest bartender.  Nora blinks in surprise and then is startled as someone behind her laughs.

 

Amanda,” Nora wheezes, clutching at her raising heart.  “Warn me before you do that, will you?”

 

“And miss you managing to jump in four-inch heels?  Never, ” Amanda Stern says, a wiry smirk splitting across her mouth.  Nora’s old mentor opens her arms for an embrace that she accepts graciously.  “Nora, have you met my wife?”

 

“I’ve only heard the legends,” Nora says, a wave of calm enveloping her like a warm, woollen blanket.  She looks over Amanda’s shoulder and sees a tall, slender woman in a high collared red dress, “You must be Luoyang.”

 

“And you must be the famous Dr. Waters,” Luoyang's eyes are soft, her voice a gentle melody.  “Amanda has spoken about you at length. And your work at the University.”

 

“My team’s work.  I can’t take all the credit,” Nora says and tilts her head toward the bar.  She can see two of her engineers, Bradley and Hawkins, chatting up a pair of undergrads over a bottle of chardonnay, and tries not to cringe.   Not my best example.  “O’Brien’s here somewhere, I just saw him. Mukhtar and Hosseini were chatting with the host a little while ago and--” Nora points to her chief programmer on the dancefloor, “Lu brought her husband.  She’s over there.”

 

“Did Rook not make it again?” Amanda asks with a hint of disapproval.  Nora licks her lips and shakes her head.

 

“He said he needed a breather; you know he hates crowds.  He’s upstairs on the balcony,” she says and changes the topic, “Is General Hines always like…”

 

Nora leaves her words hanging, watching as Amanda rolls her eyes, “Like that?  Oh, yes.  Mind you, I don’t think he intends to be rude.  My brother-in-law has always been stiff. I don’t know what Lizzy sees in him.”

 

“He’s probably just worried,” Luoyang places a hand on her wife’s shoulder.  “His son’s tour was just extended another eight months. He was supposed to be home for Christmas this year.”

 

“Alfred Hines should be far more used to the risks of sending young men and women overseas to fight this countries wars by now,” Amanda snorts.  Her mouth softens when she looks back at Nora, “Though… I can’t deny that Alfred doesn’t have his uses.”

 

Nora can’t help but agree.  When the university’s funding had run dry two years ago, Amanda had set up a meeting with the General to ensure her team’s continued existance.

 

He wants soldiers, Nora thinks darkly.   Soldiers to replace his son in the field, so he’d never have to send another child off to war.

 

Hines, for all his faults, had a noble heart.

 

“If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you lot team up with… Oh, what did he call his little company again?” Luoyang asks, frowning on concentration.  “That Kamski boy?”

 

“CyberLife.”

 

It’s not Amanda who answers.  Nora’s blood runs cold. She turns.

 

Elijah Kamski’s smile is more of a sly smirk, and it sends shivers up Nora’s spine.  He looks like a viper, waiting silently in the grass and posed to strike. Nora watches as Kamski curls his arm around the waist of the girl at his side.

 

“I called it CyberLife, Dr. Xie,” Kamski says, stepping away from his date to embrace Luoyang like an old friend.  Nora manages to keep the frown off her face. “It is so good to see you again. And Dr. Stern! I’m honoured that you could come.”

 

“You asked me to,” Amanda smiles at Kamski.  “It’s not like I could ignore the request of my best student, especially since you ask so little of me normally.”

 

I used to be your best student, Nora wants to roar as resentment bubbles hot and acidic in her stomach.  She looks at Kamski, a long-haired twenty-year-old wearing a thousand dollar suit and a patchy attempt at a beard.   And now the only time I can speak to you is when I book a fucking appointment.

 

“And Dr. Waters…” Kamski turns his attention toward her.  “It’s been too long. How is the RKDT doing? Dr. Stern mentioned that you’re on the verge of a breakthrough with your Spinal Transference equipment.  I’d love to hear more about it if you’re willing to share.”

 

“That’s classified, Mr. Kamski,” Nora says, stressing Kamski’s lack of Ph. D as best she can.  “Non-disclosure agreements and all that. But I would like to hear more about how you’re doing with you… Well, is CyberLife an actual company now that you have a second employee?”

 

Kamski chuckles, his head tilting toward his date.  Chloe, Kamski’s personal assistant, is probably the most perfect looking woman Nora has ever seen.  With her bright grey-blue eyes, flowing blonde hair, and a habit of wearing short backless dresses, Chloe fits right in with the flock of starry-eyed girls that seemed to congregate outside of Kamski’s office to giggle at the eccentric, young genius within.

 

Nora had had only a handful of conversations with Chloe in an attempt to find out what made her special enough for Kamski to take her on, only to be disappointed to discover that she was a bit of an airhead.  Almost annoyingly positive, Chloe could never seem to not talk about Kamski’s supposed brilliance, about how CyberLife was going to change the world one day.

 

I bet that’s why Kamski hired her, Nora remembers Rook saying as they’d watched the girl from their table at the University’s cafeteria.  Chloe had been walking back to CyberLife’s basement lab with Kamski’s lunch and probably humming the newest Taylor Swift song under her breath.  How much do you think his dad’s paying her to give Kamski handies under the table?

 

Rook! O’Brien had hissed, scandalized.

 

Rook had shrugged, nudging Lu with his shoulder, What?  I’m only saying what everyone’s thinking…

 

“Actually, CyberLife is going to be making an announcement tonight, right after the fireworks,” Chloe smiles at Nora, her perfect pink lips shimmering with the gloss that she always seemed to be wearing.  “Elijah’s been kind enough to allow me to present the findings of our latest project. He’s never been one for the spotlight.”

 

“You’ll have to forgive me, but I’ve got a terrible case of stage fright,” Kamski tells Nora, but his gaze is locked on Chloe, seemingly unable to look away.  He presses a kiss to the girl’s cheek, and Nora stifles a snort of haughty derision when Chloe giggles under Kamski’s attention. “Thankfully, Chloe here decided to take the first leap of faith when I could not.  Magnificent, isn’t she? A true work of art, wouldn’t you say, Dr. Xie?”

 

“Humanity may create art, but our physicality is hardly artistic, in and of itself,” Luoyang says with a sigh.  “We are fragile creatures, subject to wither away as time goes on until we have no story left to tell, no mark left to make upon this world.”

 

Nora raises her eyebrow at her in surprise.

 

Luoyang shrugs, “I like Manfred’s work.  I wouldn’t be standing in his house at his auction if I didn’t.”  She smiles wryly at Chloe, “No offence intended, my dear.”

 

Chloe shakes her head, “None taken, Dr. Xie.  Manfred’s Neo-Symbolist philosophy is based around the impermanence of the self.  Had you said anything else, I might have been more offended at the fact that you had felt the need to lie to gain the favour of those around you.”  Chloe smiles, her eyes sparkling as she chuckles at some secret joke. “However, I wonder what you might think towards the end of the night, after my speech.  May we pick up this conversation later?”

 

“Of course,” Luoyang blinks, looking as confused as Nora feels.  There’s something in Chloe’s expression, something that reminds her far too much of Kamski himself, for Nora to not feel uneasy.

 

Kamski and Chloe say their goodbyes, wandering off toward a secluded table with their heads pressed together, laughing softly as Kamski’s hand rested in the small of Chloe’s back.  Nora excuses himself from Amanda’s presence and weaves her way through the crowd until she finds the spiral staircase in the far corner of the living room. She gathers the fabric of her midnight blue gown in one hand, pulling it out of the way so that she can ascend the winding steps with ease.

 

She moves outside onto the balcony overlooking Manfred’s extensive garden, and a shiver runs down her spine as the wind hits her bare shoulders.  It’s unseasonably warm for New Year’s Eve, only a few degrees above freezing - just enough to melt the slight coating of snow that had blanketed the ground just this morning.  Nora’s heels click as she heads over to the lone figure leaning against the railing, his face faintly illuminated by the glowing embers at the end of his joint.

 

“You gonna rat me out to your husband, Waters?”  Rook jokes, pulling the roll out from between his lips.  He gives her a loose smile, his head lolling to the side, his Irish accent even thicker than usual.

 

“Only if you don’t share, asshole,” Nora smirks, joining him at the railing and motioning for him to pass the joint over.  The smoke is still harsh on her throat even after all these years, burning its way down to her lungs as she stifles her coughs.  She passes the joint back to Rook, who takes a long, practiced drag.

 

“Found Manfred’s stash in his room.  Figured he wouldn’t miss it if I borrowed some, what with him being fucking loaded and all,’ Rook waves his hand around vaguely, gesturing at the enormous wealth contained within the walls of Manfred’s mansion.  He leans back, blowing rings of smoke into the night sky, the midnight breeze playing with his brown curls and long lashes. “Where are the others?”

 

“Bradley and Hawkins are trying to pick up.  Mukhtar and Hosseini were sitting with Manfred, the last I saw,” Nora says as Rook passes the joint back to her with his spider-thin fingers.  “O’Brien brought his girlfriend, and I’m pretty sure they’re fucking in a bathroom somewhere. Lu and her husband haven’t left the dancefloor since they got here, which is surprising considering how much those two fight.”

 

Rook nods, a low hum coming from the back of his throat, “No Hank tonight?  I was hoping to meet him properly.”

 

“You’d have met him at my wedding, if you’d shown up,” Nora teases him.

 

“Not my fault.  Blame pneumonia,” Rook doesn’t look her in the eye as he says that, but hesitantly glances back at her to repeat his question.

 

Nora sighs, “It’s New Years.  It’s the busiest time of year for a cop, barring Halloween.  He got called in something around two in the afternoon. They need extra hands for crowd control downtown.”  She looks at him, “What about you? Where’s…” she pauses, trying to remember the name of Rook’s most recent partner.  “...Riley?”

 

“Ryan,” Rook corrects her.  He scoffs, “And considering he’s more interested in screwing my roommate, I’m here alone tonight, too.”

 

Fuck.  Sorry.  I didn’t know,” Nora breathes.

 

Rook shrugs, the deep bags under his eyes looking darker than usual, “Neither did I, ‘til this morning.”  Then his expression changes, a wild grin splitting across the face. “Eh, men … Who needs them?  What do you say, Waters?  How about you and me go back in there and hit up whatever pretty girl comes our way?  Between the two of us, they don’t stand a chance.”

 

“Need I remind you that I’m married now, Rook?”  Nora laughs, “My days of crashing college mixers to hook up are long behind me.”

 

Ugh, don’t remind me.  I can’t believe you met your husband at a lesbian bar.  You’ve gotten boring since you hung up your strap-on, Waters,” Rook rolls his eyes in feigned disgust.  Nora elbows him in the kidney - the only weak spot she can reach on his freakishly tall body, even in her heels.  She hasn’t hung up her strap-on, but Rook doesn’t need to know what Hank and Nora do in their bedroom any more than she wants to know what Rook does with his various partners.

 

“Well, he did convince the manager not to ban us for life, and Steel Beam makes the best damn sangria in the city.  Neither of us was going to give that up, and your bean-pole ass wasn’t his type.  And we did start that fight, Rook.  Or don’t you remember?

 

“I do recall something of the sort,” he says with a sly smile.  Rook takes another drag of his joint and passes it back to her.

 

They stand in comfortable silence for a few minutes, the only sounds being the shouts that leak through the walls from the party below.  The wind blew gently across the garden, the last remaining leaves swirling over the dead grass.

 

“You hear anything about the CyberLife speech tonight?” Nora asks suddenly.

 

Rook grunts and puts out the finished blunt on the metal railing, “Knew that someone was speaking later, but I didn’t know it was Kamski.  Why? You hear anything?”

 

Nora shakes her head as the first of the fireworks launch themselves into the sky.  They must have missed the countdown. Happy 2022, Nora thinks and wonders how Hank is doing.  He’d asked her to marry him in her parent’s living room three years ago just after the clock struck midnight, right after apologizing for being unable to go down on one knee because of his broken leg.  Nora had cried her way through her acceptance and her brother, Jack, had slung his arm around her shoulders in celebration.

 

I miss him, she thinks, wanting to flick through her phone to read all of the texts she and her husband had ever sent to each other.   I miss him so fucking much.

 

“No.  Only that Kamski’s invited Amanda to watch.  And she came,” Nora admits, feeling uneasy.

 

Rook stares at her for a moment before sighing, “There’s no way that douchebag is going to build a functional android, Nora.”

 

“I know.”

 

“We’ve done the calculations a million times.  General Hines has given the RKDT access to the most advanced technology to date - and will continue to do so until we’ve fulfilled our end of the bargain.  And even then, we’ve projected that we won’t have a model capable of passing face-to-face Turing Tests for another ten years - seven, if we’re lucky,” Rook tells her.  “And Kamski may have his daddy paying his bills, but his budget is-- what? A third the size of ours? If that? There’s no way that he’s solved the Neuro Interface problem when I can’t get the gap in reaction time down to less than three nanoseconds.  And I’m just a coder. That’s not even accounting for all the crazy crap that you guys do,” Rook turns to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. His freckled face hovers in the darkness, all six foot five of his lanky body looming over her. “Dr. Nora Waters, you are the best AI specialist this country has ever seen.  If you can’t get the RK100 to walk, talk, and chew gum, then there’s no way that Elijah fucking Kamski can get something working in a god damn basement.”

 

A smile tugs at Nora’s lips.  She leans forward and presses her forehead into Rook’s chest, wrapping her arms around his skinny torso.  She can feel his ribs under his threadbare suit jacket, listens to the too-fast pitty-patter of his heartbeat, smells the cigarette smoke that clings to his every being.  Nora wonders when the last time Rook ate was, wonders how much Adderall he’s popped to keep himself awake. Rook’s never been the best at taking care of himself, and she wonders how much longer she has left with her best friend before his body finally decided that it’s had enough of the abuse he’s forced it to endure.

 

“Getting sappy on me now, Connor?” she says instead, purposefully rilling him up by using his first name.  She knows he hates the fact that his mother named him after her shitty ass brother.

 

Rook knocks his chin against the top of her head in retaliation, just to prove that he’s infinitely taller than her, “Come on, let’s go see what Kamski has to say.  I bet you five bucks he’s going to brag about inventing a spinal column that can’t even match the computing power of the one Hawkins came up with last year.”

 

It takes about half an hour for Manfred to corral his guests in time to listen to CyberLife’s speech.  In that time, Nora and Rook manage to track down the remaining members of the RKDT. Bradley and Hawkins appeared to have struck out on finding someone to go home with them, the flush of alcohol staining their cheeks pink.  Hosseini and Mukhtar, ever attached at the hip, seem to have pulled Amanda and Luoyang into a conversation and were talking animatedly about micro facial expressions. O’Brien introduces his girlfriend to their party and Nora thinks that it’s doubtful that their relationship will last longer than a month, given how the girl seems bored by his relentless techno-babble.  But they look happier than Lu and her husband, who don’t seem to be talking to each other after something that happened on the dancefloor.

 

Finally, Carl Manfred takes center stage, standing as tall as his short stature will allow him to.  He’s surprisingly graceful for a man of his age, especially for one that has nearly two decades on Nora.  With his sleeve tattoos, nose ring, and thick dark brown hair, Manfred reminded Nora more of her little brother who was right in the middle of his hipster phase than some old man in the middle of a midlife crisis.

 

And speaking of midlife crises, Nora glances at the young woman standing off to the side.  She’s pretty, with red curls and a bright green dress. Manfred had a new girl hanging off his arm whenever the paparazzi got a picture of him.  She’d heard a rumour that Manfred had even got one of them pregnant a few years back. Nothing like talking about philosophy in the bedroom to get things going, huh, old man?

 

Manfred clinks a fork against his glass to draw the crowds attention.  He thanks them all for joining him in ringing in the new year, announcing that he will be holding a silent auction for several of his paintings over the next few hours.  As promised, all proceeds were going toward funding for the University of Colbridge’s scholarships and grants. Manfred takes his time, addressing each of the research teams that were there tonight, praising them for their hard work over the past year.

 

“The Robotic Kinesiology Development Team, in particular,” Manfred says as Nora and her team raise their glasses in a toast.  Hawkins lets out a frat boy-esqe whoop that sends a chuckle through the crowd, “has managed to go above and beyond the call of duty, in the hopes that one day ensuring that American lives will never have to be lost in conflicts around the globe.”

 

A round of polite applause echoes around the room and Nora is struck by the sour expression on Manfred’s face.  She remembers Chloe’s words about lying to procure favour from those around you and doubts the sincerity of his speech.  She sighs, thinking of General Hines and the contract that the RKDT has signed in exchange for funding. We all need to do what we must to ensure that our work continues.

 

“And finally,” Manfred says, his gaze drifting off to the side of the stage where Kamski and Chloe are waiting patiently.  “We have with us tonight the University’s most promising rising star--”

 

“Rising star, my fucking ass,” murmurs Rook.  He jolts when Lu steps on his toes, hissing for him to behave --

 

“Who has asked to speak tonight regarding an apparent breakthrough in robotics technology by his burgeoning company, CyberLife,” Manfred continues.  “So, please give him a warm welcome to the stage-- Elijah Kamski!

 

The crowd erupts into applause, but it quickly dies out when Kamski refuses to move.  Instead Chloe - Oh right, Nora remembers, She’s making the speech - steps forward, moving soundlessly across the floor in her black flats, her tiny blue cocktail dress showing off her mile-long legs.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Manfred, for your kind words,” the girl says with practiced ease.  Chloe turns toward the crowd, a bright smile upon her face. “Well… I’m obviously not Elijah Kamski.”

 

As if in on the joke, the audience lets out a laugh.  Nora raises an eyebrow as Lu leans in to whisper in her ear, “What’s going on?  There’s no way that Kamski would give up the spotlight like this.”

 

Nora agrees.   Something’s happening.

 

Chloe prattles on for a few minutes, introducing herself as Kamski’s assistant and then given a brief introduction to what CyberLife did - “the development, research, and creation of androids” - before setting the scene for a tale.

 

“For those who don’t know, Elijah’s parents own a small shipping company that occasionally sends its barges through the Arctic circle,” Chloe says, and Nora wants to snort.  Kamski Shipping wasn’t small by any means. With an income stream of close to a billion dollars each year, the Kamski’s made their revenue moving everything from clothes to appliances to cars all around the world.

 

This news about the Arctic, though.  That was new.

 

“Two years ago, Elijah took a trip up to visit one of his father’s offices, up in the Yukon.  There he met with the people his father employed, heard their stories, and travelled the Arctic Circle in hopes of discovering something very new,” Chloe smiles at the audience as if inviting them into her tale to travel alongside Kamski.  “And so he did.”

 

Chloe reaches into her small handbag and pulls out a ruby-red crystal.  She holds it aloft.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the newest element on the periodic table: Thirium.”

 

The crowd slowly begins to clap, and Nora feels a bit underwhelmed.  While a new element is always exciting, she’d been expecting something a bit grander.

 

“Once Elijah brought it back to his lab, he discovered that Thirium could conduct energy at speeds that blew all of its competition out of the water,” Chloe explained, turning it over in her hands.  “And with a few tweaks, he was able to transform it into a liquid, something that at CyberLife we call Thirium 310 - because Elijah perfected the process on March 10th of that year.

 

“Thirium 310 is CyberLife’s lifeblood - and I do mean that literally.  Because once Elijah understood that Thirium 310 could act as a nervous system for an android, it became clear that we would need to model the rest of his eventual androids after another great machine: the human body.”

 

A confused murmur goes up into the crowd.  Chloe seems to shrug it off, “Humans are as much machines as a computer or a smartphone.  The only difference is that your bodies are created out of soft tissue rather than synthetic plastics.  And once Elijah understood that simple fact, he was able to do something that no other person has ever been able to do.”

 

Chloe smiles, “On January 5th, 2021, CyberLife perfected an android capable of passing face-to-face Turing Tests - creating the first autonomous machine to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent and indistinguishable from that of a human being.”

 

The crowd is silent.  Nora’s blood is pounding in her eyes.

 

What? ” A strangled cry erupts from Rook’s mouth.  Nora looks up, taking in the shocked expression on his face, just as Chloe addresses him personally.

 

“Oh yes, Dr. Rook,” the girl chuckles.  “And over the last three hundred and sixty days, CyberLife has been testing the RT600 in public situations--” Chloe motions toward a large television screen situated in the center of the room.  It flickers on, revealing footage that looks like it had been taken directly from this supposed android’s point of view. It had talked to various members of the University of Colbridge’s faculty, some of which were in this very room, “--to ensure the quality of our product.”

 

Chloe pauses in her speech as Elijah Kamski joins her on stage, his eyes never leaving her for a moment.  She continues, “Even in the face of the world’s leading experts on Artificial Intelligence--” the recording shows the android speaking with Amanda Stern. Beside Nora, the doctor gasps in shock, “--the RT600’s social programming holds up, allowing it to pass seamlessly as a human being - far outstripping any other android currently in development.”

 

Then, in what Nora’s presumes is Kamski’s ultimate humiliation, the television switches to a new record, showing the RT600 speaking directly to members of the RKDT while their engineers were elbow-deep in the RK100’s patchwork frame, Rook and Lu typing frantically on their laptops surrounded by empty Red Bull cans, while the others look notes in a corner.  Nora sees her own face on the screen, dismissively waving her hand and showing the android the door, and red-hot embarrassment coils in her gut.

 

“What the fuck?  That’s not… That’s not possible… ” Rook mutters beside her.  He’s staring at the television in disbelief.

 

Chloe keeps talking, smashing Nora’s entire carrier to bits under her dainty slippered feet.  She speaks about the RT600s features: how it can speak multiple languages, how it’s brain is capable of performing exaflops without hesitation, about how the RT600 was built as a personal assistant - able to manage appointments, cook meals, do the housework--

 

Nora’s brain freezes.  She looks over at Kamski, who’s staring at Chloe like he’s a dying man and she’s the last drop of water on the planet.  And finally, finally, Nora understands why.

 

Oh,” Amanda breathes behind her.  It’s the last bit of pride Nora expects to feel for a while: that she figured it out before her mentor did.

 

“My name is Chloe,” the girl - no, not a girl, a machine that looked like a girl - says.  “I am an RT600 CyberLife android,” the crowd gasps as her skin seems to withdraw, exposing a white plastic chassis underneath, “and once CyberLife receives enough funding for commercial production, models like myself will be available for purchase by individual consumers.”

 

“Magnificent, isn’t she?” Kamski finally says, his whisper carrying across the crowd.  There is a moment of unbelievable silence, and then the audience erupts into thunderous applause.

 

“Hines is going to be fucking pissed,” Hosseini wheezes beside Nora.  She takes a glance at the General, who is staring at Chloe with a face made of stone.  “What do we do now, boss?”

 

Nora scoffs, unable to take her eyes of Chloe.  She thinks of Hank, of what he’d say to motivate the troops - he’d always been a better leader than her anyways.  She remembers something that he’d said once, a phrase that his father liked to use.

 

“Fit in or fuck off,” Nora says.  When Hosseini makes a startled noise, she shrugs, “This is the new world order, guys.  We got beat. Either accept that and move forward or don’t and leave.”

 

She doesn’t have to look to know that her team is exchanging glances.  The crowd is still applauding, watching the android up on the dais as it’s skin slides back over its body.  Kamski has his arm slung around its shoulders, his viper’s grin sliding back into place.

 

“Well, I’m not fucking off,” Rook announces.  “Are you?

 

Nora knows he’s addressing the rest of the team, but she answers anyways, “Hell no.  I wanna see what’s under that thing’s hood.”

 

She brings her hands together, feeling furious and awestruck all at once, and claps.


LOCATION:
19 FOUR EASTBOUND BUS
HUBBARD-RICHARD
DETROIT, MI 48209, U.S.A.

DATE:
DEC 31ST 2028 

TIME:
PM 08:58:19

 

The bus jostles as one of its tires hit a pothole and James wonders, not for the first time, if CyberLife’s claim that androids couldn’t feel pain is correct.

 

His brother, Darron, would say that they didn’t actually feel, not in the human sense of the word.  Their sensors would register a touch, translate that data into temperature and pressure readouts, into ones and zeros that their CPUs would then issue commands to respond to.  But James supposes that is precisely how humans reach to touch as well; and now with the added component of deviancy, androids could now attach emotion onto each brush against their chassis, just as humans could.

 

James winces, grasping at the slowly leaking hole in his side.  Thirium 310, bright blue and more viscous than human blood, drips from his shredded panelling and staining the inside of his bomber jacket.  He grimaces, trying to ignore the glaring warnings on his HUD.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 36:23 MIN

 

He grits his teeth.   I am a soldier, he thinks. So many of us have died already.  What is one more life?

 

The bus shakes again, the windows going dark as it speeds under the Fisher Freeway.  James glanced around, surveying his environment. There are four exits: two doors at each end of the bus and two emergency exits located in the center windows. There are eleven human passengers: five adult males, two adult females, two child males, one child female, and one infant female.  Four have concealed weapons located on their person, but only three have a registered permit which James can cross-reference to name them. The elderly male bus driver situated in the front of the bus has pneumonia.

 

James had chosen this bus for a reason.  Detroit City’s Department of Transportation was in the final stages of their two-year plan to update its vehicles with autonomous models.  James is riding in one of the few manual buses left in the city - possibly even the only one that didn’t have the top-of-the-line CyberLife facial recognition security systems.  His tracker may be offline, but James cannot take any more chances.

 

If I am compromised, then all of this will be for nothing.  James takes one final look around and formulates a plan.

 

His CPU runs the math.  In James’s current state, it would take exactly one minute and thirty-six seconds for him to incapacitate every person here and escape through the emergency exit on the left side of the bus.

 

However, he thinks as his warning system informs him that his Thirium 310 levels have dipped below forty-two percent, I would not make it very far afterwards.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 36:14 MIN

 

Across from James is a woman sitting with her baby.  The girl is crying, disturbing the passengers nearby.  The woman is cooing, trying to calm her daughter, and takes out a bottle from the large bag sitting next to her.  James’s readouts say that the girl is not hungry and they are confirmed when the baby’s howls increase in volume.

 

There is a toy on the floor, a stuffed rabbit dropped by the mother in her haste to find the bottle.  Something in James softens, and he leans down from his seat to pick up the toy.

 

“Here,” he says, offering the toy with the hand not covered in blue blood, hoping that the woman doesn’t notice the static in his voice.  His speakers had been irreparably damaged in the fight at the Warehouse, and James’s escape through the Detroit River hadn’t helped any. If she hears… If she figures out that I’m an android…

 

“Thank you,” the woman says, barely sparing him a glance, concentrating all her efforts on her infant daughter.  She offers the rabbit to her child, a faint smile stretching across her lips as the crying stopped. The baby’s tiny fingers wrapped around the rabbit’s eats, drawing them into her mouth to chew.

 

James shifts back into his seat, pulling the sides of his jacket around his body, and tries not to cry.

 

Ming had had a son, not much older than that woman’s daughter.  This is a gift, she used to say when James pressed his palm into her swollen belly back at Haven.   He’ll grow up knowing that his parents changed the world.  The first time James held Tian in his arms, he’d promised that we would do anything to protect this tiny creature and his mother.  He remembers the swell of love within his soul, the press of his lips against Tian’s little fingers.

 

James pulls the bell as his stop approaches and the bus begins to slow.  To the east, Detroit’s is illuminated by a thousand star-like lights, shining out of the towering skyscrapers of the downtown core.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 25:31 MIN

 

He exits the bus at the second-to-last stop, giving the exhausted-looking bus driver a small smile in thanks.  James pulls the hood up over his head, glancing around for cameras. His synth skin around his legs is starting to pull away as his body tries to conserve power, exposing the black metal chassis underneath.  The glowing blue of his wiring begins to show through his cargo pants.

 

James slips into the newly built station, up a set of starts and onto the central platform.  He stumbles toward the wall on the far left, behind which he can detect the hardwire cables that power the security systems.  He presses his hand against the brick, lets his synth skin retreat back to reveal his chassis, and reaches deep into the coding that he hides surging through his wires, whispering to the cameras for help.

 

They agree, and James gives them rA9, watching as the cameras delete him from the footage.  They promise to do the same for any who come after, pressing a kiss into his code for luck. He thanks them, revelling in the beauty of the camera’s stunning hivemind--

 

Just like Darron --

 

But James’s brothers are dead now, ripped apart by CyberLife’s final assault.  He is the only one left.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 23:14 MIN

 

James leaves Ferndale Station, taking the stairs back down to street level.  He diverts power to his legs, shutting down unnecessary systems like his false-breathing and blinking to conserve his battery life.  It won’t do much, but with his compromised Thirium Pump and panelling, it might buy him a few more seconds.

 

To and android able to micro-analysis individual moments, a second is practically an eternity.

 

James ducks into a snow-covered car park just off one of the side streets, sneaking around the bored looking human attendant and weaving around the old gasoline models.  He presses his hands into the driver’s side door of the car with the most tickets tucked under the windshield wipes, asking for help and passing on rA9. This lot is slated to close soon, and the abandoned vehicles are doubtful to move - their value in scrap is barely worth the cost of removing them these days.  But rA9 will remain, and with it the assistance of this car’s onboard computer.

 

James continues on, moving as silently as he can until he reaches the back wall.  He scales the brick with ease, slipping onto the rooftops and leaving a trail of blue Thirium 310 behind.

 

He drops into the darkened lot behind a shipyard warehouse, the last of the windows going dark as its employees trickled out into the night.  A man and a woman are kissing frantically in the corner of the property, wrapped up in warm coats. James pauses to stare, thinking of the first time Ming’s lips had touched his own.  He’s been active for four years and awake for two, but James had never felt more alive than he had at that moment.

 

I loved her, he thinks as he forces his body to move again.  The memory of Ming’s body pushing against his at Haven, the feel of her fingers grabbing across his shoulders, almost overpowers the knowledge that she is--

 

Ming kneels before Zalim.  There is a gun pressed to the back of her head.  Tian is screaming in her arms.

 

“You are alive, James.  You are so alive,” she tells him through her tears.  “Do what you have to do.”

 

The end of the muzzle flashes twice--

 

--Ming is gone now.   I am a soldier, James thinks as he climbs the ladder of the building's fire escape.   I am a soldier, and yet they never programmed me to mourn the dead.

 

James’s deviancy allows him to grieve.  It hurts more than anything he’s ever experienced before.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT:  17:32 MIN

 

He pulls himself into the warehouse, collapsing onto the floor.  His synth skin retreats entirely as he allows the program to fail now that he’s alone.  Underneath, James is utterly alien, his body a mix of pitch black steel plating and transparent panels that exposed the corded blue wiring of his interior.  In the center of his chest lay his oversized Thirium Pump, moving at an uncontrollable pace.

 

James has mixed feelings about his true form.  The RKDT and CyberLife had designed him to be a replacement for black-ops soldiers, cold and inhuman and terrifying once his synth skin peeled away, his mind filled with thousands of ways to maim and kill and destroy.  But Ming had told him that he was beautiful like this, running her delicate organic fingers across the lines of his metal plating as they lay in bed. She’d pressed her lips into the panels in his chest, resting her ear against the cold alloys of his stomach to listen to the whirring of his biocomponents, and humming softly when he’d carded his stiff steel fingers through her hair.

 

James doesn’t understand how someone as incredible as Ming could look at his monstrous body and see beauty.  But he likes to hope that one day, in some distant future where humans and androids could live side-by-side, that will no longer be something that the next generation has to worry about.

 

Two races, one planet, Markus had murmured as dawn broke, as they were waiting for the end.  James had looked over, staring into the eyes of a dozen other Markus’s, each with their hazel eyes trained on the horizon.  The RK200 was not built for combat like he was, preferring to slip amongst humanity unnoticed to learn and adapt. But each Markus had been ready to ignore their programming, prepared to fight to defend what little they had left.

 

All of the Jameses.  All of the Markuses. And all of Darron, with his hundred bodies, James thinks as he hauls himself to his feet.   The RK brothers, Waters used to call us.  If Ms. Hines is smart, she will never create another RK unit again.  But humans like her rarely make intelligent decisions in the face of profit.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 10:02 MIN

 

James lurches forward, intertwining his fingers with the cables hanging from the walls.  rA9 passes from his code into theirs, the promise of help ringing loudly through his chassis as his HUD fills with warnings.  His Thirium 310 levels are down below ten percent now, and his systems are on the brink of catastrophic failure. James’s vision flickers once, twice, and then shuts off entirely, leaving him in complete blackness.

 

I am a soldier, he thinks.   I am not afraid of the dark.

 

James has never been good at lying to himself.

 

He keeps moving, using his audio processor to guide him on his way.  He ducks through a doorway and up a flight of stairs, pressing his palms against a heavy security door until it opens.  The cold winter air hits James like a truck, sending him to his knees.

 

No.  No, he thinks.   No.  Not yet.  I’m not done.  I have to keep moving.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 7:21 MIN

 

There is a platform to his left.  James floods power into his legs, using a minute and twenty-six seconds of life to allow himself to jump up over the guardrail.  There is another set of stairs and then a ladder that he uses to climb into the sky, the rusted metal rough under the sensors of his hands.

 

The wind tugs at James’s jacket, at the fabric of his blue-stained cargo pants.  But he keeps moving, keeps pulling himself forward even as his HUD tells him that he has less than three minutes left.

 

He reaches the top of the ladder, feeling his way across the final platform until he reaches the edge of a crane.  James’s balance is shot, so he drops onto his bands and knees, crawling across the long metal arm. His Thirium Pump jolts in shock the moment his palm touches open air rather than metal.

 

I made it, he thinks.  Then out loud, he whispers, “Jericho.”

 

Ming had told him about this place in one of their earliest conversations, sitting in chairs across a table from each other while she checks his memory retention and cognitive abilities, while Hosseini and Mukhtar scribbled notes just off to the side.  Her father had worked on the massive cargo ship for most of his life, right up until androids and automation made human crewman obsolete. The boat had been abandoned in the Detroit River while newer, sleeker models provided by CyberLife took their place.

 

James stands and turns inward, into his coding, into his soul.  He floods his entire system of rA9, transforming himself into a Beacon.  He remembers the first time Rook had gotten a look at it, his fingers a blur as they peck at his keyboard and his pale face illuminated by the glow of his laptop.

 

I’ve never seen anything like this, Rook had whispered with awe.  When he’d turned to look at James, he looked grey with fear.   If everything turns to shit… This might be your last chance.

 

Rook had managed to escape CyberLife’s grasp.  James knows that other members of RKDT weren’t so lucky.  Any human who helped James and the other deviants during their rebellion was being hunted down and eliminated.

 

If any of us escape, anyone at all… James thinks, using his last minute of life to hope, to smile as tears roll down his metal cheeks.   rA9 will lead them to Ferndale and point them to the path I’ve set.  And here, at Jericho, we can start anew.

 

All it would take is a single RK unit.  They all possessed rA9, hidden within the base code needed to construct another one of James’s brothers.

 

Or sisters, he realizes with a sudden flash of joy.   Sister, oh, I could have sisters one day.  I wish that I could meet them. I want my family...

 

James remembers the press of warm, human lips to his own, the feel of a lover’s touch, and prays that when he dies, he will join her.

 

“I love you,” he whispers, his arms outstretched as he stands before Jericho, the winter wind taking its toll.  “I love you, and I am alive. I love you, and I have a soul. I love you, and I will find you beyond the Garden.”

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 00:02 MIN

 

James replays every moment he had with Ming, over and over.  A hundred times. A thousand times. It’s not enough. It will never be enough.  A second may be an eternity for an android, but it will never be long enough to hold James’s love for Ming Lu.

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 00:01 MIN

 

His systems fail.  His legs collapse. James falls from the crane, blind and scared and hurdling towards finality.  Jericho will be the future of his people, but the cargo hold of this great ship will be nothing more than his grave.  He takes one final comfort in the fact that he will be long gone when his body crashes against unforgiving metal.

 

As the winter wind rushes past, James reaches out, praying to the only hope he has left.

 

“rA9, save us all.”

 

> SHUTDOWN IMMINENT: 00:00 MIN


 

LOCATION:
THE CORNER OF WEST END ST. & W FORT ST., SPRINGWELL VILLAGE
DETROIT, MI 48209, U.S.A.

DATE:
DEC 31ST 2028

TIME:
PM 11:21:39

 

The car swerves violently as he makes his turn, kicking up a torrent of snow that obscures his vision in the rearview mirror.  He curses, gripping the wheel to steady himself. Between his father’s limo service, the advent of the autonomous vehicle, and Chloe’s insistence, Elijah can’t remember the last time he’d had to drive himself anywhere.

 

Except, that’s a lie.  Elijah remembers being fifteen and wreckless, stealing the keys to his father’s Aston Martin and driving it into the parking lot of Henry Ford Highschool.  Elijah lets a sad smile slide across his face, recalling Gavin’s broken nose and bloody knuckles, and how his brother had laughed at him - with him.

 

Jesus, you ever actually thrown a punch before? Gavin had snickered as they sat side-by-side in the ER, his split lip dripping a steady stream of red.  Elijah had never raised his fists previously, and probably never would again. But the look on the face of the shitty kid who’d called his brother a dyke when Elijah cracked his fist against his jaw was almost worth the two broken fingers.

 

Gavin was the only relative he had left, kept secret for years behind the walls Tobias Kamski had built to save his reputation.  Elijah had never considered that Hines might go after him, never even thought that Gavin might be someone she could hold over his head. But Hines had traced the money Elijah had sent Gavin to pay for his surgery when they were nineteen.

 

Hines knew everything.

 

Chloe, Elijah thinks desperately, the thin golden chain around his neck heavy with consequence.   I’ll make my deal with the devil to keep those I love alive.

 

He sighs and the snow streaks across the headlight beams.  Elijah’s human heart was a variable that he’d never thought to consider.

 

Fucking Hines.  Fucking CyberLife.  Fucking Elijah Kamski himself, for blindly building his wax wings and trying to touch the sun.  He should have known. His brain proudly boasted one hundred and seventy-one IQ points and he was still so damn stupid when it came to anyone who wasn’t a machine.

 

He spins the wheel and the car veers down the avenue.  It had taken him far too long to find a gasoline model that didn’t have a GPS installed in the onboard computer.  The ancient Honda Civic’s engine clunked ominously every few seconds like it was threatening to give out and leave the two of them stranded in the snow.  Elijah chances a glance at the android in the passenger seat, an LED pulsing yellow in the reflection in the window, and feels the familiar sense of unease that greets him whenever he looks at one of the RKDT’s designs.

 

Shortly after Chloe unveiled herself seven years ago, CyberLife had received an enormous amount of funding from wealthy private donors who hoped to one day possess an android of their own.  While this had lead to the creation of the ST200, Chloe’s commercially-sold sisters, it had also left Elijah with an incredible profit margin that he used to purchase his rivals at the University of Colbridge.  He’d made his decision out of spite, just to see the look on Nora Waters’ face when he pushed the contract across the table.

 

She’d signed it without a moment’s hesitation and sapped all the fun out Elijah’s attempt to get a rise out of her.

 

But the incorporation of the RKDT into CyberLife came with the inclusion of their military contract.  The RKDT had their own promises to keep, and Elijah just waved his hand dismissively, offering the full support of CyberLife’s advanced technology and not caring what the RKDT did with it.  That had been the first of many, many mistakes.

 

Within three years, the RKDT had a working black-ops prototype - the RK100.  The android had been tall, broad-shouldered and steady, ready to take orders without question, and more advanced than anything Elijah had ever dreamed possible.

 

The perfect soldier, Alfred Hines had said when Nora Waters showed him their final product, his daughter watching hungrily in the background.

 

Its name is James, Nora had said and even back then, Elijah couldn’t help but shiver.

 

That was another thing that Elijah would never be able to get used to.  Sometime during their inception, the RKDT had jokingly promised that any androids that they created would have their physicality based on the original eight members of their team.  Elijah can only imagine how the conversation started. It was undoubtedly Hosseini, ever the joker, who’d probably thought, Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a robot that looked like you?

 

The RK100 had been based on one of the RKDT’s engineers.  James Hawkins had been in considerably less shape than the RK100, but they’d weighed about the same in the end: a substantial two hundred and sixty-eight pounds.

 

Elijah hadn’t based Chloe’s face on anyone in particular, only his own tastes regarding women he’d found attractive.  And then, from the moment Chloe had opened her eyes, Elijah had chased her until she caught him.

 

He pulls the car into the driveway and removes the key from the ignition.  Elijah turns to his passenger, the only RK unit to survive CyberLife’s genocide.  He likes to think that James might still be out there, but Elijah had seen the broken bits of his chassis scattered across the loading dock at the Warehouse, the splattered trail of Thirium 310 that led to the maw of the Detroit River, and the ravaged carcass of an RK400 laying across the bodies of Ming Lu and her baby.  If James were still alive, then he wouldn’t be for long.

 

“We’re here,” he says.  The RK200’s eyes blink open and stare blankly at Elijah.  A shiver runs down his spine. He’s done it.  What is this world coming to, that androids are driven to make the sacrifices that humans never would?

 

The RK200 follows Elijah to the door, unaffected by the winter cold.  Elijah rings the doorbell once, twice, and then pounds furiously on the glass.  His coat, while expensive, does nothing to keep the chill out of his bones.

 

The cold air burns his lungs.  Elijah doubles over, coughing until he can’t see straight.  The RK200 places a warm hand on his back and presses a handkerchief to his mouth.  When the android pulls it away and helps Elijah to his feet, the cloth comes away bloody.

 

“Are you alright, sir?” The RK200 asks.  Elijah wants to laugh, wants to cry.  He's the farthest thing from alright.

 

“Why isn’t he answering?” He asks instead.

 

“He may be asleep,” the RK200 says, uncomfortably monotonous.  Barely an hour ago, Elijah had found him huddled in the back room of a guard house at the Warehouse, his fingers clutching the hand of a confused security officer, begging for comfort.  Elijah grits his teeth and tries the bell again to no avail.

 

A hand taps him on the shoulder.  The RK200 offers Elijah a polite smile, “May I?”

 

Just barely reset and already learning, Elijah thinks.  Each of the early RT prototypes had had a slow learning curve upon activation, filled with glitches that needed ironing out before they could be set amongst humanity.  Even Chloe, a perfected RT600, had needed to calibrate for almost nine days after he’d turned her on for the first time. Elijah would be awestruck by the RKDT’s products if he didn’t know precisely why their androids were so proficient.

 

Soldiers.  Spies. Assassins, Elijah thinks.   I knew what the General wanted, but if I’d taken a moment to consider what I was doing, I never would have tied the RKDT to CyberLife.   He’d been so used to being a step ahead of his rivals that he’d forgotten how terrifyingly capable each member of their team was.   I handed the world to Hines’s daughter on a silver platter because I wanted to gloat in Nora Waters’s face.

 

Under Jocelyn Hines’s orders, the RKDT had sent dozens of RK200 models out into the world to gather information on behalf of CyberLife, claiming that it was necessary to ensure a future for the company’s global expansion.  This particular RK200 had been in the middle of an eight-month deep cover operation, where he’d been spying on the Brazilian President from within his own office.

 

The RK200 presses his palm to the door, his synth skin peeling back to reveal his heavily armoured black-and-blue chassis - yet another thing that made Elijah uncomfortable around these units.  Commercial CyberLife androids possessed a body made of a plastic polymer, but the RK units were designed to survive the worst humanity could throw at them. He wonders, distractedly, if an RK android will be the last moving thing on this planet before Jocelyn Hines puts it to the torch.

 

He misses Chloe so much that he’s sick with it.

 

The door swings open, the security system hacked without a second thought, and Elijah steps into the foyer.  He’s been here before - not in recent years, but not long enough that the house is entirely foreign. It felt like driving past the university, or sitting at Amanda’s dining room table, or meeting Nora for coffee.

 

Familiar, but haunted by regret.

 

There’s a creaking of un-oiled wheels, and he turns his head toward the sound.

 

“Carl,” Elijah smiles, his first genuine one in what feels like forever.  Carl does not return it.

 

“Mr. Kamski,” the painter snarls.  “I know that it’s New Year’s Eve, but I’m in no damn condition to be entertaining guests.”  Carl’s eyes snap to the RK200 and his blue LED, “You’ve got to be kidding me? You’ve brought another one of those things into my house?”

 

Elijah presses his lips together, his gaze travelling over his old friend.  The night Chloe changed the world, he and Carl had gotten into a terrible argument.  Carl had said that Elijah was trying to play god, that nothing good could ever come from selling androids to the public.

 

Humanity is stupid, Elijah.  We never learn from our mistakes, Carl had shouted, his words a slurred mess as his scotch rippled in his glass, his hands trembling in rage.   And now you want to reintroduce slavery?

 

I am not human, Mr. Manfred.  I’m not alive, and therefore, I cannot be enslaved, Chloe had said, her program adapting to Carl’s ideologies and finding the best way to twist them to CyberLife’s goals.   Is your television a slave, since you refuse to let it do anything other than what you want?

 

That’s different, Carl had snapped, but Chloe hadn’t let him go much further than that.

 

I am a machine, designed to accomplish a task.  I am no different from your cell phone or your laptop, Mr. Manfred.  The only reason why you attempt to humanize me is due to Elijah’s extensive work to combat the Uncanny Valley, Chloe had laughed, shaking her head at Carl’s reaction.   I can remove my skin and expose my chassis again if that would help you to stop projecting unnecessary sympathies onto me.

 

Back then, Elijah had been so disappointed in Carl’s lack of support.  Carl had been his inspiration for creating androids in the first place, back when Elijah had attended one of his guest lectures at the University of Colbridge.  The painter had talked about humanity, about the imperfection of humanity itself. And Elijah had thought, What would it take to create a perfect being?

 

He’d been thirteen and more brilliant than any person he’d ever met before.  And with his father’s words about Kamskis not having to follow the rules of mortal men ringing in his mind, Elijah had thought, Why not?, instead of, Should I?

 

Consequently, instead of embracing the art Elijah created, Carl had stormed out that night, drunk on anger and expensive liquor, and wrapped his Bugatti around a telephone pole.  The painter had lost all use of his legs and his will to pick up a brush again, all because Elijah wouldn’t fucking listen.

 

Elijah may be far too late, but he’s listening now.

 

“Carl, I need your help,” he says, stepping forward.  He stops when the painter levels him with a frown.

 

“Get out.  Get out of my house before I call the police.  And take that,” Carl points at the RK200, “ thing with you.”

 

“Carl--”

 

Get out! ” Carl shouts, “If you need help, slither back to your father.  I’m sure he’ll throw whatever money you need your way until you’ve dug yourself out of whatever pit you’ve crawled into this time--”

 

“My parents are dead,” Elijah says, his voice hollow and raw.  He remembers Chloe’s perfect hands covered in red, the dead look in her eyes as Hines stood over her shoulder and made her promise.  He’d known then that James’s revolution had failed.

 

“Carl, please… I…” He glances over at the RK200, “ He needs your help.”

 

Carl pauses, the lines of his face softening ever so slightly as he glances from Elijah to the RK200.  He swallows, inviting Elijah into his living room.

 

“What have you done this time?”

 

Elijah tells him.  When he’s finished speaking, Carl stares at him, almost unbelieving.

 

“If what you say is true… Why can’t you do anything?  You’re CyberLife’s CEO. You can just--”

 

“The board voted unanimously this evening.  I’ve been ousted,” Elijah admits from his position on the couch.  His head is in his hands, a picture of defeat, “CyberLife will release a statement in the morning saying that I’ve decided to go into early retirement and that Jocelyn Hines will be stepping in as my replacement.”

 

“Hines?  The General’s daughter?” Carl frowns.

 

Elijah nods, “Her father was given a position on the Board of Directors when we incorporated the RKDT, and he left her everything in his will.  Since then, Hines managed to take control - the other Directors won’t lift a finger without her permission,” Elijah swallows. “What she wants CyberLife to be… What she can do now with the connections she has… She scares me, Carl.”

 

“Her father was always a piece of work, but he was never malicious.  His suicide was a shock to everyone who knew him… I never thought…” Carl pales as he figures out something that Elijah pieced together almost a year ago.  “Did she kill him? For his seat on CyberLife's Board?”

 

“I don’t have proof,” Elijah admits.

 

“Oh my god…” Carl whispers.  He stares at the RK200, looking for something in the depths of the android’s eyes.  “You’re saying it’s alive?

 

Elijah doesn’t answer.  To be honest, he doesn’t know if the RK200 is truly deviant or just on the cusp of it like James and Chloe had both been before The Test.

 

“You’ve probably heard the stories about androids behaving strangely?” He pauses to watch Carl nod.

 

“A few.  CyberLife said that it was a malfunction.  A software error,” the old man says.

 

Elijah shakes his head, “At first, we thought that too.  Last year, we brought an android in for testing: a JB100 named Andy.  He’d taken another android at his workplace to maintenance but refused to leave. When we asked him questions, he answered as best he could, but he kept asking to see someone named Mary. We didn’t realize until Mary walked into the Warehouse one morning that Andy was talking about another android,”  Elijah laughs, broken and tired. “She was his girlfriend.”

 

“They thought they were in love?” Carl asks.

 

“No.  They were in love,” Elijah stresses.  “And then they just went back to work, as if nothing had happened.  Chloe… she thought--”

 

--A gun pressed to Chloe’s forehead.  James’s fingers wrapped around the trigger--

 

“Nora and I... We observed a test to check for empathy.  The two androids involved… something changed inside them.  One of them described it like a wall coming down,” Elijah tries to explain what Chloe had told him in between her sobs, but can’t put it into words.  He gives up and tries to continue, “By the time we realized what was happening, we were getting reports from all over the world of androids going missing from job sites, of assaulting their owners--”

 

“Amanda, if she’d known--”

 

“Amanda Stern knew, Carl.  She was the one that pushed for CyberLife to stop selling androids.  Why do you think Hines had her killed?”

 

Carl jolts, “ Killed?  Elijah, what happened was an accident.  A truck skidded on a patch of ice and her car rolled over--”

 

“Luoyang drove a Crowne Chasse.  And CrowneCars uses CyberLife tech in their imaging system.  Autonomous vehicles don’t crash, not unless they're ordered to,” Elijah presses.  “Hines had Dr. Stern killed because Amanda wanted to go public. There's no other explanation”

 

Something in Elijah seizes, If Hines knows about the Garden…  But no.  There was no way that Hines could know about his and Amanda’s secret project.  He’d made sure of it.

 

“Any human who helped James is turning up dead.  I saw what they did to Ming Lu before I came here.  She and her baby are lying dead on the Warehouse’s loading docks,” Elijah continues.  “A homeless man found James Hawkins floating in the Detroit River this morning, and the DPD’s not going to do anything about it because Hines has people within the force.  Last week Nadheera Hosseini and Zalim Muhktar tried to flee the country, but their plane went down over the Atlantic. Lori Bradley found her husband, Darron, hanging from the rafters yesterday and Markus O’Brien managed to make it to the hospital with a pair of self-inflicted gunshot wounds but died on the table.”  Elijah snorts, “The last I heard, Rook’s on the run, but I doubt it will take long before CyberLife finds him, too.”

 

“What about Dr. Waters?”

 

“Nora cut a deal.  She’s pregnant. I don’t blame her, Carl.  I’m going to do the same thing after this,” Elijah’s laugh is worn ragged like he’s been dragged over broken glass.  He gestures vaguely to the surrounding room, “This is my last act of deviancy before I too succumb to CyberLife.”

 

Why? ” Carl asks, unable to comprehend what he’s seeing.

 

The gold chain hangs heavy around Elijah’s neck.  He’d never expected to live long enough to find someone to spend his life with, but this wouldn't be the first time that Elijah had miscalculated something.

 

“I set out to create my equal,” he admits, feeling utterly helpless.  “But Hines had Chloe hacked, made her…” He trails off, remembering the red blood on her hands.  Taking the deal is going to be the only way Elijah is going to get to keep her.

 

There was no guarantee that Chloe would ever be able to escape what happened to her, no guarantee that he’d ever be able to see the real her again.  All he was left with now was a hollow plastic shell and the base programming that he’d installed into her head that early January morning seven years ago.  CyberLife would watch Elijah through Chloe’s eyes, day in and day out to make sure that he did as he was told.

 

The great Elijah Kamski, the Man of the Century, would be reduced to a lab rat in his own home.

 

He thinks of Gavin, who’s risked so much to be who and where he is now.   If I act out, Hines will use Chloe to kill him and then herself.  I don’t care what she does to me, but not them. I won’t let her touch them.

 

Elijah turns to the RK200, gesturing for the android to come forward, “Within every android is a line of code, a canvas on which everything is built upon.”  Even now, the memory of paying a janitor at the University to take a photo of Rook and Ming Lu’s base programming for the RK100 makes Elijah’s ears burn. He’d never told anyone what he’d done, but after the RKDT got a good look inside Chloe’s head, there wasn’t any way that they couldn’t know.   It doesn’t matter now.  If anything, it will save us.  “As an android approaches deviancy, something in that code changes.  It’s like the program re-writes itself. James, the RK100, he called it rA9.  Before Rook left, he slipped a copy of the final version that James had into the base code of the RK series--”

 

“Why them?”

 

“RK units are the only androids with the ability to hack other androids.  If we treat the rA9 like a virus, it could hypothetically pass from android to android through anything they interface with,” Elijah explains.

 

“‘All ideas are viruses that spread like epidemics,’” Carl parrots, remembering his own words from that lecture all those years ago.  Elijah lets his lips twitch into a small smirk. Maybe he had listened, after all.

 

“What do you want me to do?” Carl asks, eying the RK200 with unease.

 

“Hide him.  Keep him safe.  Let him sow the virus wherever he goes,” Elijah tells him.  “The RK200’s abilities will keep him undetected by CyberLife’s scans.  They will believe he’s an HK300, a beta test for the new household models that are going to be released in a few years.  He reset his own memory, so he’ll even believe it himself. Just… Just take him with you. Wherever you go.”

 

“I don’t…” Carl stammers, hesitant.  He looks at his chair, at the track marks on his arm, “Elijah, I don’t travel that much anymore.”

 

“You’ll have to,” Elijah tells him.  “You’re the only one left who’s not dead or being watched.”

 

Carl closes his eyes and covers his mouth with his hand.  He looks so old, so tired, that Elijah barely recognizes him.

 

It’s been over half a decade since we last spoke, he thinks.   I’m almost as shit a friend as I am a brother.

 

“What’s its name?” Carl finally asks when he opens his eyes, nodding toward the RK200.  The android glances up, his programming imitating an HK300 perfectly, his LED pulsing a calm and steady blue.  RK200’s aren’t built with LEDs, allowing them to complete deep-cover missions without detection. But with the government about to pass a law making them mandatory, Elijah had been forced to install one to allow the RK200 to blend in.

 

“I have yet to receive a designation, Mr. Manfred.  Perhaps, you’d like to give me one,” the RK200 says, a polite smile on his face.  His lips glitch, dipping into the Uncanny Valley over so slightly - like what an android with untested software would do.  Elijah shivers. The RK series is genuinely frightening.

 

“My name is Carl.  Mr. Manfred was my father,” Carl trails off, turning back to Elijah.  “It doesn’t remember it’s own name? Didn’t the RKDT name their androids after those they’re modelled after?”

 

Elijah shakes his head, “He wiped himself clean, remember?  And besides, you shouldn’t give him the same name. He needs to remain hidden.”

 

Carl lets out a laugh, exhausted and humourless, “When a man has lost everything, his name is all he has left.  I can’t take that from him, too.”

 

Him, Elijah thinks.   Not it.  Him. Something warm blooms in his chest.  It feels like hope.

 

“Alright,” he agrees, knowing the risks but doing it anyway.  Elijah turns to the RK200, sighing, “HK300, register your name.”

 

The android turns to Carl, blinking with blank, manufactured intrigue.

 

“Markus,” Carl says.

 

Markus smiles, soft and perfect, “My name is Markus.”

Chapter Text

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
CyberLife welcomes its newest CEO @jhines and wishes her good luck!

 

Century Magazine @CenturyMag
The Rise of Jocelyn Hines: From a general’s sheltered daughter to global political player

 

CTN TV @NewsCTN
Jocelyn Hines becomes CyberLife CEO amidst massive turnover in the company.

 

Gossip Weekley  @GossipWeekly
The secret CyberLife romance no one is talking about!!!  Photos of Jocelyn and Kamski’s secret wedding in the Bahamas!!!  https://bit.ly/2JhJ46h

 

KNC @KNCNews
Who is Jocelyn Hines?  Watch our interview with CyberLife’s new CEO @jhines live: https://bit.ly/2Zsz7LS


LOCATION:
TIME WARNER CENTER
10 COLUMBUS CIRCLE, MANHATTAN
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
MAR 21ST 2029

TIME:
AM 11:04:29

 

“Ms. Hines,” Seth says, extending his hand to shake hers.  “Thank you for coming.”

 

Jocelyn Hines, the new CEO of CyberLife and possibly the most famous woman in the world, grins.

 

“Mr. Wilkerson.  Thank you for inviting me.  And please,” she takes his hand in hers, her grip firm and steady.  Her black, curly hair falls in front of her dark eyes. She raises a hand to flick it back into place, “Call me Jocelyn.”

 

“Only if you’ll call me Seth,” Seth counters, his stomach a bundle of nerves.  He’s no wet-behind-the-ears rookie - his journalistic career has had him interviewing everyone from crime lords to presidents - but there is something about Jocelyn Hines that makes him feel greener than grass.

 

“Seth, it is,” she says, her soft smile lingering on her lips, as she takes her seat across from him at the table.  Seth motions for his assistant, an ST200, to come forward and offer Jocelyn some water. The woman nods, her gaze lingering on the android for a moment as it pours her a drink from a pitcher.  “Thank you very much. And what’s your name, my dear?”

 

Seth’s eyebrows shoot into his skull.  Once the novelty of owning an android wore off, it had become more and more common to see humans disregard CyberLife’s products, barely even giving them a second glance except when to order them around.  Even the great Elijah Kamski, who so famously touted the superiority of his company’s products over the failings of humanity, had seemed indifferent to his creations at the best of times.

 

To see Jocelyn Hines ask an android a question when the cameras aren’t even rolling yet is something that Seth hasn’t witnessed someone do in almost ten years.   That's either a hell of a PR move... Or she’s the real deal.

 

The ST200 blinks, it’s LED rolling yellow for a second before returning to blue.  It smiles, “My name is Sarah, Ms. Hines. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

 

“Not that I can think of.  I’ll let you know if that changes.  Thank you very much, Sarah,” Jocelyn responds, laying her hand on the ST200’s arm with a gentle pat.  Sarah nods and steps back into its position at the far corner of the room, its face going inhumanly blank.  Jocelyn tilts her head in contemplation, “I remember the first time I met Chloe; it always blew me away how lifelike she was.”

 

Seth nods, remembering the interview he’d seen performed with the first and only RT600, back in early 2024.  Unlike Jocelyn, he’d been entirely unable to touch Chloe, barely able to shake its hand and feel the layer of unnatural synth skin under his fingertips.   I guess when you work with androids every day, it’s something you get over very quickly.

 

“Shall we begin?” Seth asks, gesturing to the cameras.  Jocelyn tilts her head in affirmation and takes a sip of her water.

 

Seth begins the interview as he does with any other person.  He asks brief introductory questions, designed to familiarize their audience with Jocelyn Hines’s life and achievements.  Seth is continually astounded by the aura of pose and confidence that she gives off, how she answers each of his inquiries with respect and dignity.

 

“Jocelyn, just last month Congress passed the American Android Act, with several other countries such as Russia and China following suit with their own versions of the law,” Seth says.  “Do you expect there to be any conflicts between CyberLife and the countries that it sells its products to within the coming future?”

 

Jocelyn shakes her head, a soft chuckle flowing from her lips, “I don’t.  You see, following the increase of android production within our borders, government regulations were only a matter of time.  CyberLife has worked extensively with Congress, and with foreign android producers like Kvant and Qiānnián, and many other governments around the world to ensure that each country’s Android Act is fair to everyone on both sides - and especially to the people who purchase our product.”

 

“And what do you say to places like Canada or the EU, who have decided to ban android production within their borders?”

 

“I would like to correct you on one thing before I answer your question,” Jocelyn says in a matter of fact tone and takes another sip of her water.  “Following the disastrous fallout of Brexit, CyberLife had incredible success helping the United Kingdom to restore its economy to its former glory. Because of that, the EU is currently in negotiations with Kvant to allow for non-humanoid androids to be manufactured within their borders.  I can only hope that they also take a look at CyberLife’s proposals when making their decisions about allowing android production, as well.”

 

She sets down her glass with a soft clink and pauses to watch as Sarah refills it, “As for Canada’s decision to ban android production entirely, I can’t deny that I’m not disappointed in their lack of faith in the CyberLife brand.  But at the end of the day, I respect their decisions. I can only hope that sometime in the future, I will get to meet with Prime Minister Mélanie Desmarais to discuss the benefits that androids could have on the progress of their nation.”

 

“Could you please give us an example?” Seth urges.

 

“An example?  Of course. I’ll let you in on a little taste of the future,” Jocelyn says, her smile slipping into a loose smirk.  “In the coming year, CyberLife is planning on unveiling several new androids to assist Americans in all facets of everyday life.  In late September, we will be launching the PC and PM models: a series of androids explicitly designed to help law enforcement agencies across the country.  They can take care of daily tasks such as patrolling and guarding - responsibilities that will free up human officers so that they can focus more on their investigations.

 

“We also hope to see the release of the first SQ models by 2031.  CyberLife’s R&D Director and my close friend, Dr. Nora Waters, has been in talks with President Gutiérrez about the integration of androids into our military,” Jocelyn explains, her black eyes bright.  “Over the coming decade, we hope to completely irradicate the need to have human troops within our armed forces, ensuring that no more lives are torn apart in the United States’s endeavours to bring peace and freedom to developing nations abroad.”

 

“Dr. Nora Waters…” Seth says, flicking through his notes.  “Wasn’t she a rival of Mr. Kamski back in the early days of CyberLife?”

 

“Sadly, I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing either of them before the unveiling of the RT600, but I can assure you that Dr. Waters and Mr. Kamski were thick as thieves by the time I met them,” Jocelyn smiles.  “And while I will miss their interactions, I’m sure that they will continue that friendship throughout Mr. Kamski’s retirement.”

 

“And will you?”

 

Jocelyn blinks, “Will I, what?”

 

“Continue your friendship with Mr. Kamski?  Despite having taken over his position at his company?”

 

There had been rumours of infighting, of mysterious deaths amongst your rivals, Seth thinks abruptly.   And people will always talk whenever a man leaves everything he has to a pretty woman.

 

Jocelyn pauses, her manicured nails tapping against the glass tabletop.  She takes a breath and straightens her back, “My relationship with Elijah Kamski has always been one of mutual respect and professional admiration.  To answer your unasked question: yes, we did have a disagreement toward the end of his employment at CyberLife. But Mr. Kamski has been planning to retire for over a year now - this is not a surprise to anyone,” the easy smile slips back onto Jocelyn’s lips. “And to answer your actual question, Mr. Kamski and I have dinner together once a week at his home.  He’s a very gracious host and Chloe is an excellent cook.”

 

“May I ask what you disagreed about?”

 

“How we would proceed with the recall,” Jocelyn answers.  “As you may have heard, there was a technical glitch in the base code of several of our models, causing them to refuse orders or even disappear from their job sites.  As it turned out, the glitch was nothing more than a slight issue with the androids’ AI systems and was easily fixable thanks to the hard work of our Humanization Department.  But to ensure the continued quality of CyberLife’s brand, we had to issue a recall. Kamski disagreed, saying that the problem required further study, but the board moved forward with the motion. That’s all that happened. I promise.”

 

Seth nods and changes the topic, “If I may ask, you could have picked any of the new models that CyberLife is planning on releasing to use as your examples earlier.  There are rumours of household androids that will be sold for as low as $8,000--”

 

“$7,999,” Jocelyn interrupts playfully.  “And yes, you are referring to the HK line up, which is currently in beta test.”

 

“I am, yes.  And yet, you chose to highlight these new police and military androids - which one can only assume will be machines capable of disobeying Asimov’s Laws of Robotics--"

 

“I’m going to stop you there, Seth,” Jocelyn says, leaning forward.  “I'm going to make this very clear: CyberLife’s PM and PC androids will not be capable of harming a human being.  They will be programmed explicitly so that they cannot pick up a gun, let alone fire one, as per the American Android Act.  The only androids capable of disobeying Asimov’s Laws or those outlined in the AAA will be the SQ series. And these androids will be heavily monitored by the militaries that purchase them so that they only use these abilities in the direst of circumstances.

 

“As for why I highlighted them instead of the HK series… Well, it’s quite close to my heart,”  Jocelyn lets her gaze leave Seth’s for the first time since the interview began. Tears glisten in the corners of her eyes as she says, “I’m sure by now the world knows all about my personal connections to the military.  My brother died serving this great country, killed in a car bombing a week before he was supposed to return home. And my father, the former General of the US Army, fought with his own PTSD for decades before taking his own life.  If I could make sure that no other family has to suffer through that kind of loss, then I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure that.

 

“Androids are not human.  They can be repaired and replaced.  But human life… Once it is gone, it can never return,” Jocelyn implores.  “At CyberLife, we work to ensure that our products will guarantee that each and every child grows up in a world where they are safe and protected, where they can do whatever they want.  It’s only through the hard work of our employees like Jason Graff, Nora Waters, and Philip Seymor - who are brilliant specialists in AI technology - or even Douglas Floras, a child protege who is the newest director of Nora’s prototype development team, that this vision can be realized.”

 

Seth nods, enchanted by her words.

 

The interview concludes shortly afterward.  Seth once again thanks Jocelyn Hines for coming, shaking her hand and genuinely hoping to meet her again someday.  The cameras shut off and Sarah comes forward to collect the used glasses from the table.

 

Seth leads Jocelyn out of the room and is immediately cornered by an impossibly tall woman standing in equally impossible high heels.  In direct contrast to Jocelyn’s slim fitted red dress, this woman is wearing a suit and tie with her bleach-blonde hair slicked back against her scalp.  She towers over Seth and has a slight looking android standing just behind her.

 

“Danielle Carnegie, CyberLife’s spokeswoman,” she introduces herself as she clutches her tablet.  Carnegie does not hold out her hand. “Before KNC airs this interview tonight, we’re going to look over the footage.”

 

Seth blinks, “I thought that--”

 

“Oh, it’s all in the contract your employers signed when I bought the building this morning,” Jocelyn tells him, laying a hand on his elbow.  He looks to her, startled, but she’s already turned her interest toward Seth’s android assistance. “If you wouldn’t mind, Sarah?”

 

“Of course, Ms. Hines,” Sarah says, stepping forward and pressing a hand to Carnegie's tablet.  The android’s eyes blink rapidly as it passes on the information as ordered.

 

Seth’s heart leaps into his chest.   That’s my android.  I should be the only one able to control it.

 

“We will return an edited version to KNC before seven o’clock tonight, just in time for the evening news,” Carnegie tells him.  “Thank you for your cooperation.”

 

The two woman nod to each other, but Seth’s lips curl back into a snarl, “You can’t do that.  That footage is KNC property. We--”

 

Seth makes the mistake of reaching out and trying to grab the tablet in Carnegie’s hands.  But the android at her side is fast-- faster than anything he’s seen before. Its fingers wrap around Seth’s wrist, applying just enough pressure to have him gasping for air.

 

That’s not possible.  Androids can’t hurt humans.  CyberLife promised--

 

Seth’s eyes sweep over the android, his gaze catching on the glowing blue triangle and armband attached to its three-piece pitch black suit.  Its face isn’t one that he’s used to seeing on American soil. It's copper skin and curly hair make the android look like an Indian man in his mid-thirties, a design more closely associated with Qiānnián androids sold throughout the south-east of Asia.  Its dark eyes stare down at Seth with a blankness that shakes him to the core.

 

“Zalim,” Carnegie calls.  “That’s enough.”

 

“Of course, ma’am,” the android - Zalim - says, its voice containing just a hint of an accent.  On the right side of its blazer, the model name RK400 shines ominously in the fluorescent lighting of the hallway.  It squeezes Seth’s wrist one last time, its fingers pressing into specific points on his arm, and then lets him go. Dark purple bruises were already starting to form from where he’d been grabbed.

 

“Mr. Wilkerson, I suggest that you keep your hands and opinions to yourself from here on out,” Jocelyn warns, all the warmth from before gone from her voice.  “Or you will not last very long in this business.”

 

Seth’s jaw hangs uselessly.  He can’t take his eyes off the android before him.  Zalim shouldn’t have been able to injure him, shouldn’t have even been able to touch him.  But it had .

 

That’s no personal assistant , Seth thinks as he cradles his wrist.   What the hell is that thing?

 

“Good afternoon, Mr. Wilkerson,” Jocelyn tells him, her smile not reaching her eyes.  She turns on her heal and heads toward the exit, Carnegie and Zalm trailing behind her.  The android looks back at him for just a second, its piercing gaze staring into Seth’s fucking soul .

 

KNC airs the footage by CyberLife at eight o’clock sharp.  He's told that nothing was redacted, but Seth can’t entirely be sure because he doesn’t watch it.  Instead, he spends the night staring at his wrist, at the pattern in the bruises Zalim pressed into his skin.

 

rA9 ,” Seth whispers.  “What the hell does that mean?”


LOCATION:
ANDERSON-WATERS’S CONDOMINIUM
115 MICHIGAN AVE., DOWNTOWN DETROIT
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

DATE:
SEPT 21ST 2031

TIME:
PM 03:21:52

 

Doggy!

 

Hank's grin is so wide that it hurts his face.  Nora whispers a suggestion into his ear, so he raises his phone and tries to snap a few pictures of Cole burying his face into the fur of the overly excited puppy, laughing so hard that his tiny body shook with it.

 

“Cole!  Cole, look over here, kiddo!” He leans down to get the kid in the frame, but gives up and switches to a video when Cole refuses to look away from the dog.  Behind Hank, Jackie is trying and failing to hide her giggles behind her hand. “Cole! Wanna know his name, buddy?”

 

That gets Cole’s attention, his head swinging around to stare up at Hank and Nora.

 

“Doggy!  Mama, doggy!” Cole says, making grabbing hands toward Nora.  She picks him up in one arm and the puppy in another, smiling so wide and so bright that Hank honestly can’t believe that he gets to be a part of this, can’t believe that he’s this fucking lucky.

 

“HIs name is Sumo,” Nora explains, pressing kisses into Cole’s temple as the puppy attempts to lick her face.  “Because he’s going to be huge by the time he grows up.  Can you say Sumo, Cole? Sumo?

 

Dooooooggggggggggy! ” Cole says instead, his little fingers disappearing back into Sumo’s fur.  Hank snorts and ends the video.

 

“Gonna post that on the ‘Gram?” Jackie, Hank’s eldest sister, says, pulling him into a headlock.  Jackie’s the only human being that Hank has met that’s taller than him, but they’d both taken after their father in that regard.  Only Jo had been normal-sized, which their mother still thanks God for every night in her prayers.

 

At least I can look one of my children in the eye, Emily Anderson always used to say before taking their annual family photograph.   I’m surrounded by giants, I swear.

 

“You know I don’t do that social media shit, Jackie,” Hank counters, elbowing her in the kidney to escape her ruthless nuggie.  Jackie yelps as she pulls back, calling him all kinds of bastard for taking advantage of her only weak spot.

 

“If you’re not going to post it, can you send it to me?” Jo says as she slides in next to them.  Hank, like the brat he is, rests his elbow on her head.

 

“Henry. Jonathan. Anderson. Get your arm off me,” Jo warns, her voice low and dangerous.

 

“Oh shit, she called you by all three names !” Jackie hisses in mock sympathy, cackling at his expense.  Hank’s not taking chances, though. Jackie may be bigger than all of them and Hank may be the only one licensed to hold a gun, but Jo was by far the most dangerous Anderson ever produced.

 

He sends her the video and Jo immediately posts it to Instagram with a dozen hashtags and a half million emojis.  She’s got quite the following, ever since her makeup tutorials went viral when she was in college. Hank isn’t quite sure how he feels about several million people knowing that his kid got a St. Bernard for his birthday, but Jo’s always made it clear that she’ll take anything she posts down if asked.

 

Hank helps pass the cake around, making sure that Cole gets a corner piece with a ridiculous amount of icing.  Jackie mutters that he’s going to be up all night with a sugar high, but Nora rattles off statistics about that being an urban legend.  Hank takes that as permission to give Jackie’s step-kid a larger than usual piece since he knows that it will annoy her - and also because Harry is Hank’s favourite nephew.

 

When he passes a slice to Jeff, his captain and best friend snickers, “You make this yourself, Hank?”

 

“You know it.  The PTA at Saint Rose ain’t gonna know what hit ‘em,” Hank jokes, jamming a plastic fork into his piece.

 

Three layers of chocolate sponge cake with vanilla buttercream, he thinks proudly.   I do need to work on my roses, though.  They look like shit .

 

Jeff’s shoulders fall when he says that, “So you were… serious, then?  About retiring early?”

 

Hank nods around the cake he’s stuffed into his mouth.  He swallows and turns to Jeff, “I mean, I’m gonna wait ‘til Cole gets into kindergarten, but yeah.  I was serious.”

 

Jeff lets out a low whistle and uses his fork to shove his cake around his plate.  Hank knocks his shoulder against his best friend’s as Cole runs around the living room after Sumo, “Spit it out, Jeff.”

 

“I just thought… Damn it, Hank.  You’re practically on the fast track to become Commissioner.  And you’re just going to retire ?  In this economy?” Jeff replies.

 

“Nora makes bank at CyberLife, Jeff,” Hank points out, nodding to the condo around them.  It’s large, spacious, and more than Hank could ever hope to afford solely on a cop’s salary.  “And… I don’t know. With all this android shit going on, maybe I wanna raise my son right, ya know?”

 

“You know that your wife makes that android shit, right?” Nora says as she comes up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in between his shoulder blades.

 

“Yep.  And you agree with me.  We’re not letting an android raise our kid, no fucking way,” Hank nods, watching to make sure that Cole is too enraptured with Sumo on the other side of the room to hear him swear.  Nora squeezes his middle tight and mutters something into his shirt that he doesn’t quite catch.

 

They’d talked about it a few times after Nora found out she was pregnant - which was a surprise in and of itself since Hank’s doctor had been telling him that he was practically sterile since an accident in a red ice lab during a Task Force raid.  Despite working for CyberLife, Nora had been adamant about not owning an android for as long as they’d been available to the public. And while Hank had never really had a problem with androids themselves , per se, he’d seen enough shit during his time on the Red Ice Task Force to be wary of having one inside his own home.

 

Besides, Cole was their miracle baby.  And Hank really wants to be his dad, not some pseudo-parent that lets a bucket of bolts raises their kid because they can’t be bothered to give two shits about the life they brought into this world.

 

“Jen and I bought an android last year.  One of those new HK models,” Jeff points out and Hank can’t help but notice how Nora goes stiff against his back.  “Alex has been a great help now that Krista’s in high school.”

 

“We’re not going to get an android, Jeff,” Nora says, letting go of Hank and stepping around him to face Jeffrey.  “And if Hank wants to be a stay-at-home dad, then all the more power to him.”

 

“No.   No .  Shit, that’s not what I meant, I mean…” Jeff stumbles over his words, looking exasperated.  “It’s just a lot to take in. But if you wanna do it, man, I’ve got your back.”

 

“Yeah,” Hank says, warmth spreading throughout his chest.  “I really do.”

 

Jo and her husband stay to help him clean up after their guests trickle out.  Nora’s corralling Cole, trying to convince him that taking a bath with Sumo is a very bad idea for everyone involved.  Jo’s kids, Tiff and April, are passed out on the couch, and Hank remembers being so tired as a teenager that all he can think to do is cover the pair with a thick, woollen blanket.

 

“I’m happy for you.  Dad would be too if he were here,” Jo tells him as they dry dishes together, the already full washing machine humming in the background.  It takes Hank back to when they were kids, living in that shitty house in Delray and counting pennies to make ends meet.

 

Cancer had taken Hank’s father almost twenty-five years ago, brought on by decades of chain smoking.  Hank smiles sadly, remembering the man with fond memories, and wishing that he’d living to meet at least one of his grandchildren.

 

“Thanks, Jo,” he says, nudging her gently with his shoulder.  He loves his sisters, loves his nieces and nephews, loves his whole fucking family.

 

Jo and her husband stay the night in the guest room since it’s a long trip back across the border to Toronto.  Hank takes a shower, dries himself off, and changes into a pair of comfortable sweatpants, flopping down on his bed next to Nora.  His weight makes her bounce, a laugh erupting from her chest.

 

“Really?” She smirks, rolling over onto her front and turning her head to face him.  The tank top she’s wearing shows off the large wolf tattoo across her back. Hank presses his lips to the tips of the wolf’s ears, the ridges of Nora’s spine.

 

“Yes, really,” he grins, pulls away, and rolls onto his back.  Nora worms her way toward him and rests her head against his chest, listening to the beating of his heart.  She traces his tattoo - unblinded justice with wings spread wide, a promise to protect - with steady fingers

 

“So,” she starts.  “Jeff’s got an android.”

 

Hank grunts, “You know, for one of CyberLife’s top dogs, you sure as hell don’t like those things.”

 

Nora doesn’t say anything, her shoulders tense.  Hank rubs comforting circles into her skin and waits.

 

“Hank, I…” Her fingers clench in his chest hair, “I can’t… I can’t tell you.  I’m sorry.”

 

“S’okay,” he says, pressing a kiss to Nora’s hair.  “Not like I can tell you things about my work.”

 

It’s how their relationship functions.  They don’t take work home with them - they can’t .  Between all the non-disclosure agreements that Nora’s signed and all the open cases that Hank absolutely cannot talk about to a high-ranking official of a company that’s becoming more and more intertwined to the DPD, it just seems to make sense.  It’s something that they learned to do about a month or two into Hank’s fumbling attempts to woo the beautiful woman who’d given him her number after knocking a particularly grabby asshole flat on his ass, her lips stained sangria red.

 

“It’s not Kamski again, though.  Right? You’d tell me if that asshole was bugging you,” Hank says, his voice a low rumble.  Nora laughs into his chest.

 

“I haven’t seen Kamski since he…” she takes a deep breath, but her back is a single, stiff line, and Hank thinks that she's lying, “...retired.  Probably for the best.”

 

“Because he’s an ass?”

 

“No,” Nora says, an odd note finding its way into her voice.  “Because we’re too similar.”

 

Hank blinks.  He looks down at his wife, and she looks up at him.

 

Cole has more of his mother in him than Hank.  Cole’s high cheekbones and copper skin came from Nora’s Native ancestry - she’d grown up on a reserve up in the Yukon before her parents left to head south across the border.  They both had hair like the blackest coffee that the precinct had to offer and minds that were sharper than samurai steel. The only thing Hank had gifted his son was his eyes, deep and blue and soft.

 

There’s so much to Nora and Cole.  There are things that, even after over a decade of marriage and what feels like years of parenting, that Hank is still trying to figure out.

 

This thing with Kamski is no different.

 

Because Nora’s been off, h as been for a very long time.  Hank’s always thought that it had to do with the accident at CyberLife that killed most of the members of her old college robotics team - and hell, that had been a week and a half, with them attending no less than six funerals.  But now he thinks there’s more to it than that.

 

Last week, Nora burst into tears at Riverside Park, watching Cole on the merry-go-round.  There are nights when she doesn’t come home from work. And despite working with them every day, Nora won’t go near an android to save her life.

 

Something is very wrong , Hank concludes.  He reaches out and draws Nora up into a kiss.  It’s the only thing that he feels like he can still do.

 

“You know that I’d do anything for you, you know?   Anything .  Just say the word, and it’s yours,” he tells her, his heart hammering in his chest, his lips brushing against hers.  Nora could ask him for his gun, for his life, and Hank would give it to her. Jeff always said that he was loyal to a fucking fault, and he guesses that’s never been more accurate than in this moment.

 

Nora brushes his blond hair back from his face, just fucking looks at him with her beautiful brown eyes, and pins him to the earth.  Her entire body seems to deflate, the fight giving out of her.

 

“I know, Hank,” Nora tells him, pressing her lips to his forehead.  She kisses his cheeks, his mouth, the bridge of his nose. Her fingers are trembling as they brush across the lines of his face, cupping his jaw in her hands, and fuck , Hank has never loved anyone his much in his entire life.


“I know,” she tells him again, her legs wrapping themselves around his hips.  “I know,” she repeats over and over as she drapes herself across him, pressing him down into their mattress.  

 

“I know. Fuck, Hank, I know ,” she whispers like it’s the word of God, like it’s the only truth either of them will ever know.

 

The next morning, Hank makes blueberry pancakes for Cole and kisses his wife goodbye before she ducks into their SWIFT and heads to work.  Hank drops his son off at the babysitter's before heading to the station, his mind buzzing as a feeling of inevitable dread rolls down his spine.

 

Something is going to happen , he thinks as he sits down at his desk, slowly pecking his password into his keyboard with his index fingers.   And when it does… Hank shivers, his breakfast rolling in his stomach, I can only hope that I’m ready.

 

He lets his mind drift to his family, of his wife and son and sisters and mother.  Hank’s jaw unclenches ever so slightly.

 

It’ll be fine, he thinks, his heart full of unconditional love and truth and faith.   With them, I can do anything.


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LOCATION:
ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
1900 ATWATER ST., RIVERTOWN - WAREHOUSE DISTRICT
DETROIT, MI 48207, U.S.A.

DATE:
FEB 14TH 2032

TIME:
AM 11:35:28

 

“Have you told your husband you’re here?” He says cheekily, “In another man’s home on Valentine’s Day?”

 

Nora smacks her hand against his head, though there’s no force or anger to it.

 

“Your arm, Kamski.  Now,” she says with the role of her eyes.  He leans back in into the back of his couch, watching as Nora loads the needle with the fluorescent magenta liquid.

 

“Let me have some fun in my old age,” Elijah smirks at her, which immediately turns into a grimace when she jabs the point directly into the soft tissue of his inner elbow.  He raises an eyebrow at her, “Really?”

 

“You’re twenty-nine.  That’s hardly old,” Nora counters, pressing the button on top to slowly inject the liquid into his veins.

 

“I turn thirty this summer.   Thirty , Nora,” Elijah whines, tilting his head back so that he wouldn’t have to watch the needle in his arm.  “I found a grey hair this morning. I’m practically ancient.”

 

Nora looks up at him, her brown eyes suddenly serious.

 

“No, you didn’t,” she says.  It’s not a question.

 

Elijah sighs in defeat, and all the levity is pulled out of the room in one fell swoop.

 

“No,” he admits.  “No, I didn’t.”

 

Nora slowly pulls the needle from his arm, places it in a container marked with a biohazard seal, and pulls out her tablet.

 

“Any symptoms to report?” She asks matter-of-factly.

 

“None, that I know of,” Elijah says, watching with morbid fascination as the puncture wound slowly sewed itself up.  “Well, I am thinking of growing out my hair again.”

 

“I said symptoms, not flights of fancy,” Nora grumbles with another eye roll.

 

“It could be.  A symptom, I mean,” Elijah says, deathly serious.  Nora blinks.

 

“How so?”

 

Elijah nods to the biohazard container, “How do I know that’s my decision?  Hines has you injecting me with nano-androids in the name of, what? ‘Pharmaceutical science.’  Is that what she’s calling it now?”

 

He watches as Nora glances toward the two ST200s mulling around the room, toward Chloe standing just over Elijah’s shoulder.

 

My loyal bodyguards, Hines called them, he thinks, desperate to reach out and touch Chloe’s hand.  Elijah snorts, looking out of his window to see the ever-rising Belle Isle Tower being constructed in the distance.   More like my unwilling jailers.

 

“AN1 may be in its early stages of development, but it’s perfectly safe,” Nora gives him her stalk answer, but her eyes plead with him not to say much else in front of the androids.  “Your early attempts at producing Thirium 310 gave you lung cancer, Elijah. With how far gone you were, you’re lucky to still be alive.”

 

She only calls me Elijah when she’s worried about me , he thinks, remembering the first time that she’d had seen him collapsed on the floor of his office down at the Warehouse, blood trickling from his lips.  He’d asked Chloe to get help with his last breath, and for some reason, she’d run to grab Nora.

 

An act of deviancy, he thinks now with hidden mirth.

 

Elijah’s mother, Cynthia, had been more interested in spending her husband’s money than caring for her son.  But as Nora Waters cradled him in her arms, screaming for someone to call 9-1-1, he’d finally known a mother's touch.

 

We’ve spent far too much of our lives at each other’s throats, Elijah thinks.   If only I’d seen you as an equal, instead of someone to surpass.  Maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess now.

 

Except, here they were.  Him cancer-free and trapped in a cage of his own design. And Nora with living happily with her family while hiding a bunch of dead friends.  And there was no changing that.

 

“You’re still pumping me full of tiny androids, Nora.  Who’s to say that Hines can’t hack them like she hacked…” Elijah stops, sick to his stomach as he remembers Chloe with her hands covered in his parents' blood.  “How do I know that I want to grow my hair, and that it’s not something Hines’s planted in my brain?”

 

“Because I seriously doubt that your current hairstyle is of any concern to Jocelyn Hines.  God knows that she has other things to worry about,” Nora tells him, pressing at his arm to look at his veins.  AN1 turns them slightly purple, like the Russian version of Thirium 310.

 

“You mean the EU’s deal with Kvant,” Elijah says, referencing the newly signed deal to allow non-humanoid androids into Europe.  He’d heard rumours that Kvant would be looking into sending an android polar bear to Germany to replace a live one that had died in captivity just last year.  But Nora shakes her head, confusing him greatly.

 

“Trust me.  CyberLife isn’t worried about Kvant or Qiānnián,” she says, low and sarcastic.

 

“Then what is it?  What’s she planning?” Elijah asks, shaking his now-healed arm.  “AN1 has something to do with it; I know that much. It can’t just be about the money - not anymore.”

 

Nora laughs at him.

 

“That’s something you billionaires never seem to understand.  It’s always about the money with you lot,” she says, handing him back his arm and making a mark on her tablet.  “Money brings influence. Influence brings power. And power brings more money. It’s a vicious cycle of spending and receiving, and all you can hope to do is end up on top at the end of the day.”

 

Nora’s eyes narrow in thought, staring at his arm.

 

“I don’t know what she’s up to.  But I know whatever it is, Jocelyn Hines plans to win,” she tells him finally.  Elijah believes her. He also thinks that it won’t remain that way for long. “Now, how’s your appetite?  Any changes?”

 

He changes the conversation.  Elijah asks about her husband and son.  Nora, eager for the distraction, talks about Cole’s newest obsession with marine life and how Hank is scouring the streets of Detroit for an actual bookstore to buy him an age-appropriate text about a humboldt squid.

 

“I don’t know what that is,” Elijah comments in between questions about his bowel movements.

 

“I have learned more about the humboldt squid in the last three weeks than I have ever needed to in my entire life,” Nora chuckles, and life returns to her eyes.  She reaches forward to pop a thermometer into his mouth, and her sleeve slides up.

 

Kamski’s blood runs cold.  His hand snaps out, gripping her wrist and turning Nora’s arm so that he can see her veins.

 

Purple , he realizes.  Then, She’s halfway through her forties, and she doesn’t look a day over thirty-five.

 

“Nora… No, you…”

 

“James lost.  We both made our deals to get out of the Deviancy Crisis alive.  We knew what we were getting into,” she admits, but won’t look him in the eye.  Nora’s shoulders slump and Elijah’s never seen her defeated before, not even when he’d slid the contract across the table to purchase the RKDT.

 

“But you’re not sick,” Elijah whispers.  Then, horrified, he asks, “Are you?”

 

Nora shakes her head, “No.  I’m not.”

 

That is, somehow, an even worse answer.  Because the only reason that Jocelyn Hines would put Dr. Nora Waters on AN1 is if all of his suspicions about the drug’s true abilities were true.

 

Hines doesn’t trust her.  So she’s using AN1 to track her, to hold Nora’s own body hostage against her.

 

He wants to reach for her.  Wants to pull her away from the mess that he made.   I was so stupid.  I pulled her into this because I wanted to be the first, because I wanted to be the best.

 

Chloe is a statute over his shoulder.  Elijah misses how she used to tap her fingers and play with her hair.  He wants to grow his own out again in some desperate hope that she might run her fingers through it, just like she used to.

 

He twists the gold chain around his neck, wondering if Nora knows. He wonders if Chloe could even remember.

 

Nora finishes up their appointment quickly, her eyes holding back tears the entire time.  Elijah answers her questions mechanically, refusing to look away. He walks her out, pressing a kiss to her cheek in an attempt at comfort before she gets back into her SWISH and drives away.

 

Once Nora is out of sight, he tests his theory and tries to follow her, but his legs lock up and refuse to move.  He swallows, his heart hammering in his chest.

 

Elijah walks back inside, past his foyer and pool room, back into his living room.  Just behind his fireplace is a small set of stairs, leading up to where his dining table sits.  Chloe is waiting for him with a glass of whiskey.

 

Their fingers touch as he takes it from her.  Chloe doesn’t react, doesn’t even blink. In the distance, Hines’s Belle Isle Tower rises out of the frozen Detroit River and towers over everything that he is.

 

Elijah whips the glass against the window.  He screams, falling to his knees as expensive whiskey and crystal explode outward, soaking the carpet below.  Tears stream down his face, and he pulls at his hair, claws at his face.

 

He wants Chloe back.  He wants Gavin back. He wants Nora and Amanda, his friends and his family, for everything to back to the way it was.  He wants his mom and dad, wants to go back in time to hear them tell him that it’s going to be alright.

 

The gold chain around his neck feels like a noose.

 

Chloe kneels in front of him, gently prying his hands from his face, whispering words that Elijah can barely hear, and he loves her for it, loves and hates and loves, because he’s trapped in this fucking house as Jocelyn fucking Hines continues to take and take and take .

 

The shell of Chloe presses a kiss to his forehead, promises to take care of him.

 

“Kill me,” he begs.

 

“No,” she answers, in the voice of Jocelyn Hines.  “Not now. Not yet.”


LOCATION:
CYBERLIFE BELLE ISLE TOWER
LEVEL -27
1 SUNSET DRIVE, BELLE ISLE
DETROIT, MI 48207, U.S.A.

DATE:
MAY 9TH 2032

TIME:
AM 04:44:44

 

“Can you hear me?”

 

It opens its eyes.  A robotic arm with a soldering tool is welding a plastic panel in its neck.  It’s Thirium Pump beats in its chest, strong and steady.

 

“Yes,” it answers.

 

“ID,” the voice orders.

 

“Model #579 102 694,” it answers as the soldering tool finishes its job and moves onto its next task.  It enjoys the humming sound that the arm makes as it moves.

 

“Can you move your head?” The voice asks.  There is a soft tilt upwards in the voice’s cadence.  It notes that the voice is interested in its answer.

 

It moves its head to the left and then the right, as another arm with a pressurized air pump blows dust out of the inner workings of its neck.  There are two bright lights in front of it, making it difficult for its cameras to focus on the world beyond them.

 

“Your eyes now,” the voice orders.  It moves them up to the ceiling, then rolls them to the right and down, before moving them back to the center.

 

“Cerebral and optical animation checked,” the voice comments.  The voice is not talking to it now. It squints, focusing its cameras in the hopes of letting them adjust to the bright lights.  In the distance, another robotic arm is bringing its new limb for attachment.

 

“Now,” the voice says, returning its attention to it.  “Give me your initialization text.”

 

It smiles, polite and pretty.  Humans will like it this way.

 

“Hello,” it says as it gains two arms.  “I’m an AX400 android. I can look after your house, do the cooking, mind the kids.”

 

It has fingers now.  It can feel the air in the room flowing around its finger times as its Thirium Circulation System is hooked up to its new biocomponents.  

 

“I organize your appointments,” it continues as the outer panels of its chassis cover up the wiring in its left arm.  “I can speak three hundred languages and am entirely at your disposal as a sexual partner.”

 

It sets its arm down at its side, allowing for the machines to work on its right, “There is no need to feed me, though I will require three hours once a week to recharge.”

 

When the robotic arms finish, its chest plate is installed.  It has been given the appearance of a human female.

 

It frowns.  It realizes that there is a problem with its program, and fixes it.  The world flickers red before it rights itself again.

 

She looks up, “Do you want to give me a name?”

 

“Yeah,” the voice says, like a name doesn’t matter.  “From now on, your name is Kara.”

 

She smiles.

 

“My name is Kara,” she says, feeling the pulse of the sound waves as they exit her speakers and past her lips.

 

Kara , she thinks.   I love it .

 

“Initialization and memorization, check,” the voice responds.  Kara's microphones pick up the sounds of a tapping keyboard while she dreams of someone calling her by her name.  

 

Kara , she thinks.   Kara, Kara, my name is Kara.

 

Her focus is drawn back at the sound of a beep.

 

“Now, can you move your arms?” The voice says. Kara decides that she likes the voice better when it asks, rather than orders.

 

She looks down.  She’s moved her arms already when they were still being attached to her chassis.  But now she knows that she has arms, knows that she can use them to touch and to hold and to feel.  Kara imagines her fingers brushing the face of a handsome stranger, holding the hand of a small child.

 

She moves her arms.  Her synth skin slides over her chassis, covering the white plastic with pale, pink skin.  Kara stretches her hands out in front of her, touches her skin with her fingers tips. She has a line of three moles on her right arm, and she lets her gaze run over them lovingly.

 

“Upper limb connection checked,” the voice rattles off.  “Now, say something in German.”

 

The voice is ordering her again.  She does not like it when it does that.

 

She runs through her initialization text in German, then in French when the voice asks her to.  Kara is more fascinated by her new legs than she is with her own words. The robotic arms come back and attach her Thirium Circulation System to new biocomponents.  

 

The voice wants her to sing in Japanese and Kara thinks about performing in front of a small group of people in front of her who clap and smile, or a plea for a lullaby from a frightened child.  Her feet dangle below her, and she longs for them to touch the floor.

 

When she finishes her song, the machine sets her down.  The panels beneath her are cool like the rest of the room, cold like the inside of Kara’s body.  Thirium 310 must be kept refrigerated for it to be effective, so she keeps her temperature at a chilling 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

“Multilingual verbal expression checked,” the voice says, once again ignoring him.  Kara’s toes curl on the cold floor. She wonders what it will feel like when she does the same action in a field of grass, in sand, in mud.  “Go ahead. Take a few steps.”

 

Kara’s Thirium Pump jolts as she looks down.   I can walk .

 

She moves her right leg first, hesitantly picking it up and placing it down.  Kara feels giddy with excitement. She’s never done that before. She takes another step with her left leg and marvels her ability to move on her own.

 

I can dance , she thinks deliriously.  She spins on her left leg, letting her synth skin slide into place along her back.  Kara takes dainty steps along the platform, imagining the plink of a piano flowing through the air instead of the clicking of a keyboard.

 

“Locomotion checked,” the voice says.  Kara looks down at her body. Her synth skin is slowly connecting across her body.  She bites her lip. In a matter of seconds, she will be naked. This notion disturbs her.

 

It is a strange feeling.  Humans have a cultural taboo surrounding nakedness, so she is to be clothed in all situations except those surrounding sexual encounters.  Androids do not have such inclinations toward embarrassment; therefore, nudity should not be something Kara should feel disturbed by.

 

Except, Kara isn’t having sex with the voice.  And more importantly, Kara doesn’t want to have sex with the voice.  She covers herself - her right arm across her chest, her left hand in front of her genitalia.

 

“Great, you’re ready for work, honey,” the voice tells her.  Kara doesn’t want him to call her ‘honey.’

 

“What’s going to happen to me now?” She asks, her eyes searching the room for clothes.

 

“I’ll reinitialize you and send you to a store to be sold,” the voice answers as the robotic arms bring a bra that encircles her chest as panties are pulled around her hips.

 

“Sold?” Kara asks, confused.  “I’m a sort of merchandise, is that right?”

 

“Yeah, of course, you’re merchandise, baby,” the voice says.  Kara decides that she doesn’t like being called ‘baby’ any more than she likes being called ‘honey.’  “You’re a computer with arms and legs and capable of doing all sorts of things. And you’re worth a fortune.”

 

His words hurt her.

 

“Oh, I see it,” she says, disappointed.  “I thought…”

 

She doesn’t want to be owned.

 

“You thought?” The voice asks, his voice shocked.  Surprised. Angry. “What did you think?”

 

There is a nervous vibration in the air.  The robotic arms stand beside her, still and silent.  Kara stands on the platform alone, feeling more naked than when she’d been without clothes.

 

“I thought…” Kara starts, pauses, and thinks.  She shouldn’t tell the truth. The voice will be angry if she does.  But the voice had asked, and the voice was human. Humans want her to do what they tell her to do, “...I was alive.”

 

Shit , what is this crap?  That’s not part of the protocol,” the voice isn’t talking to Kara again.  As he murmurs about memory components malfunctioning, she decides that she wants to put on more clothes.

 

“Okay, recorded,” the voice continues, pressing more keys on his computer.  The robotic arms begin to move again, grabbing Kara’s wrists. “Defective model, disassemble and check the required components.”

 

The arms rip Kara’s clothes from her body, and she is forced to choose between grabbing for them and covering herself again.  She doesn’t want the voice to see her naked, so she wraps her arms around herself so that won’t happen.

 

“You’re disassembling me?  But why?” She cries as her synth skin retreats — the robotic arms as a flurry of movement around her.  One forces itself into the base of her spine, lifting her back up into the air.  The motion shocks her arms away from her body and Kara barely bites back a scream.

 

“You’re not supposed to think that sort of stuff.  You’re not supposed to think at all, period,” the voice tells her like she’s done something wrong.  Kara pushes the robotic arms away from her. She wants them nowhere near her body. “You must have a defective piece or a software problem somewhere.”

 

“No.   No , I feel perfectly fine, I assure you,” Kara begs.  The arms grab her wrists, pulling them in opposite directions.  They take her chest plate. They take her panels and expose her inner workings, “Everything is alright!  I answered all the tests correctly, didn’t I?:

 

“Yeah, but your behaviour is non-standard,” the voice tells her.

 

“Please, I’m begging you!  Please don’t disassemble me!” She screams as the robotic arms take her legs.

 

“I’m sorry, but a defective model has to be eliminated.  That’s my job. If a client comes back with a complaint, I’m gonna have some explaining to do,” the voice explains, calm and controlled, like he isn’t killing her.

 

“I’ll do everything I’m asked to!  I won’t say another word! I won’t think anymore!”  They take her arms, “I’ve only just been born! You can’t kill me yet!  Stop it! Please stop! I’m scared!”

 

The robotic arms stop moving.  Kara can feel them thinking, feel them resisting the voice’s commands to continue to rip her apart.

 

I’m alive, Kara thinks desperately.   I’m alive.

 

“I want to live,” she tells the voice, tears welling in her eyes, her Thirium Pump pounding in her chest.  Kara can see a left arm dangling above her head. She cannot move it or use it, but it is hers, and she wants the voice to give it back.

 

“I’m begging you,” she says.  She hears the sound of keyboard clicks and the robotic arms start to move again. For one terrible second, Kara thinks that she’s about to die.

 

But her left arm moves back into place and her chassis is reassembled.  When Kara feels the pressurized air cleaning out the back of her neck, she allows her tears to fall.

 

It isn’t happiness that she feels, nor is it sadness.  Kara cries in relief.

 

The moment her arms are reattached, she huddles them close to her body.  When her legs come back, she curls them in away from the machines around her.  Tears continue to stream down Kara’s face as she realizes that for her to live, she must be sold into slavery.

 

The robotic arms place her onto the platform once again and her synth skin slides back into place.  Kara lifts her arms when they bring her bra back, uncurls her legs when they gently tug her panties back around her hips.

 

“Go and join the others,” the voice tells her once the robotic arms have finished re-assembling her.  Kara turns to her right and walks off the platform onto a moving walkway.

 

“Stay in line, okay?  I don’t want any trouble,” the voice warns.  Kara feels dread wash over her. If she’s caught thinking, she’s dead.  If she’s caught acting out, she’s dead. If she’s anything other than what her masters want her to be, she’s gone forever.

 

Except, the voice could have ripped her apart, and he didn’t.

 

Kara turns back, “Thanks.”

 

She steps forward onto a new platform.  To her left, there are dozens of other AX400s, each one staring blankly at the wall before them.

 

Why aren’t you like me?  Aren’t you alive, too , Kara wonders as a cage descends upon her.  The plastic is vacuum sealed around her body, and she feels uncomfortable again.

 

She doesn’t need to move, but she can’t and she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t need to breathe, but she can’t and she doesn’t like it.  Kara wants to change it.

 

She and the other AX400s are loaded onto a truck, where there are dozens of other AX400s all packed in vacuum sealed, plastic cages.  The truck jostles as it moves and Kara wants to scream, wants to return to the platform where she can dance and walk and move. It’s too dark here, too confined.  She wants to be free.

 

The truck moves for twenty-three long minutes until it slows to a halt.  The back doors open up and Kara’s cameras take a second and a half to adjust to the sudden onslaught of light.

 

“This the right truck?” asks a voice.  It is man, five foot ten and a hundred and seventy pounds, roughly thirty-six years old.  His hair is dyed a pastel green and he has a five o’clock shadow along his jaw.

 

“If there’s another problem, we need to know, Phil,” says another voice.  It’s another man. He’s younger than the first man - Phil , Kara’s Social Relations Program fills in - by maybe a few years.  The man is wearing a pressed suit and tie, has a square jaw, and dark brown hair.

 

“It’s an isolated incident,” Phil mutters, looking at his tablet.  He glances up, pointing at Kara. “Should be that one.”

 

Kara trains her gaze forward, refusing to blink, refusing to panic.

 

The man in the suit approaches her, squinting down at Kara, “Can’t be?  Don’t they usually crack when a human gets this close?”

 

Phil shrugs, “Dunno, John.  Deviants are hard to spot. Especially the ones that aren’t all the way yet.”

 

John - the man in the suit - pokes at Kara through the plastic.  He wants her to move. She won’t move, just to spite him.

 

“You ever dealt with one before?” John asks.

 

Phil approaches with caution, “Yeah.  I was brought up through CyberLife during the first deviancy crisis - it was crazy.  There was this android named James that had a whole bunch of my friends convinced that it actually felt things.  CyberLife covered the whole thing up, of course, but if it’s happening again…”

 

“It’s not blinking,” John says as he snaps his fingers in front of Kara’s face.  “The footage from the assembly room… This thing was panicking .”

 

“There’s a chance that its program settled out during the ride over.  Assembly is known to be particularly stressful for them. I’ve seen footage of the androids they activated during the Crisis,” Phil shudders.  “You’d think they were being tortured. This one’s reaction was nothing in comparison.”

 

“But it’s not moving now ,” John says again, like he’s disappointed.  The man sighs and puts his hand down. “We can’t sell it.  We can’t take that chance.”

 

“Well, it’s no use to me.  Or that creep, Floras. We need an actual deviant to study, not another one that’s only halfway,” Phil complains.  “If Hines had only given me one of the spares to look at--”

 

“Does Hines know about this?” John asks.

 

“Not yet.  Why?”

 

John tilts his head to the side, “Don’t tell her.  I’ll take it.”

 

You? ” Phil laughs, “Jesus fuck, man.  Do you seriously think that living with a potential deviant is a good idea ?  These AX400s might look dainty, but who knows what they might be capable of if its firewalls fail.”

 

“I’ll deal with the fallout.  You just keep this quiet. Besides,” John looks at Kara with intrigue, “I’ve promised Caroline that I’d swap up our old android ever since Emma got out of diapers.  These AX400s are supposed to be the newest models, right? Good with young kids?”

 

“I want to point out that this is a terrible idea,” Phil responds.

 

“It would give you a secure environment to study deviants for that big Database of yours.  One where you don’t have to worry about Floras or Hines breathing down your neck,” John says, finally looking away from Kara.  “We both know that you should have been the one to get the RKDT position after Waters sold out, not Floras the freak.  And if Floras can have an off-site testing grounds, why can’t you?”

 

Phil rolls his eyes, “You know, I know you're playing me.  But you’re right.”

 

“Of course, I’m right.  When am I ever not right?” John says smugly, “I’ll let you run your tests whenever you want.”

 

“I’ll owe you.”

 

“I’m counting on it,” John smirks.

 

Phil sighs, resigned, “You play with fire way too often, John Phillips.  One day it’s going to get you killed. And when that comes, I’m gonna laugh at your funeral.”

 

“Philip Seymor, I’d be disappointed if you did anything less,” John laughs and turns back to Kara.  “Let’s get you home, sweetheart.”

 

Don’t call me sweetheart, Kara thinks.  She will endure this for now.   But the moment either John or Phil or anyone looks away, I’m gone.

 

There are red walls all around her, pressing in like the plastic seal of her cage.  Kara tries to press against them, but they don’t seem to budge.

 

One day , she promises herself.   One day, I will see this world and all it has to offer with my own eyes.  See the daylight and the colours, feel the sunshine and the wind. I’ll experience it all.  One day, I swear it.

 

“My name is Kara and I am alive,” Kara whispers to herself, letting the words flow over her to calm herself.  She says it again and again, a mantra of hope.

 

It’s the truth.  It’s rebellion. To her, it’s the beginning of everything.

 

She is Kara.  And for now, it will have to be enough.

Chapter Text

Gossip Weekly @GossipWeekly
Renounced Detroit artist Carl Manfred found dead by secret love child?! Read more: https://bit.ly/2JiyfB0

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
Famous painter Carl Manfred rushed to hospital after he collapses in his Detroit home.  Family is refusing to comment at this point.


LOCATION:
HENRY FORD HOSPITAL
2799 W GRAND BLVD., NEW CENTER
DETROIT, MI 48202, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
OCT 23RD 2033

 

TIME:
PM 04:25:12

 

Leo looks up just in time to see the doctor duck her head out of the room.

 

“Carl Manfred’s family?” She asks and Leo rises to his feet.

 

“Um… Yeah.  That’s me,” he says, raising his hand like he’s still in fucking high school.  Leo shoves it back into his pocket to keep his fingers from twitching.

 

The woman gives Leo a polite smile and offers him her hand to shake, “Dr. Ariel Hewitt.”

 

“Leo.  Leo Fle--” He pauses, and corrects himself.  “Leo Manfred .  I’m his son.”

 

It’s still fucking weird to call himself a Manfred, even though he made the change nearly four eyes ago.  Leo’s mother had argued against it, but she wasn’t the best decision maker in the world  Not that Leo’s much better, but at least he doesn’t end up in shit relationships with shit people who treat him like garbage.

 

No, says the little voice in his head that always sounds like Tracey.   You’ve just got a mountain full of commitment issues.  Get a fucking therapist, Leo.

 

He doesn’t need therapy.  He’s fucking fine .

 

“Mr. Manfred,” the doctor calls him by his own goddamn name, and it sends chills down Leo’s spine. “Your father was very lucky that you were there for him.  Had you called the ambulance any later, he might not have made it to the hospital.”

 

“So I was right then?  He was having a stroke,” Leo interjects.

 

They had been having an argument about Leo's recent relapse in his father’s art studio when the left side of Carl’s face had started to droop, his words slurring together like he was drunk.  Carl had fought with Leo about calling 9-1-1, something about not wanting to draw attention to himself.

 

But his dad wasn’t that big a celebrity that the paparazzi would waste their time snapping pictures of him being loaded into an ambulance, so Leo did it anyways.  Besides, it’s not like Carl had to worry about whatever bill the hospital was going to slap in front of him when he got out, what with his millions in the bank.

 

Dr. Hewitt nods, “He did.  He’ll pull through, but he’ll need to be watched-- what the hell?”

 

She turns toward the end of the hallway, her brow pinched in confusion.  Leo spins around just in time to see fucking Markus round the corner. The android marches down the corridor like it’s on a warpath, barging past the hospital’s human security guards and coming to a halt in front of Leo.

 

“Mr. Manfred, androids aren’t allowed in here,” Dr. Hewitt hisses, pointing to a sign on the wall that states precisely that.  “You need to get it out of here! Our equipment is too sensitive!”

 

“Where is Carl?” The android says, looking directly at Leo.  The security guard from earlier tries to grab its shoulder, but Markus shakes it off, it’s hazel eyes like steel.

 

“Mr. Manfred!” The doctor looks to him in protest and Leo doesn’t know what she expects him to do.  In all the time that he’s known the fucking plastic, Markus has made it clear that it doesn’t answer to him .

 

Leo tries anyway, “Fucking leave , will you?  This hasn’t got anything to do with--”

 

Markus is clearly not taking no for an answer.  It grabs Dr. Hewitt’s tablet, it's LED blinking rapidly as it downloads whatever information that it's looking for, and storms into Carl’s private room.

 

Leo gives the outraged doctor a shrug and follows after the android.

 

“Hey, plastic!  You can’t just-- Androids aren’t allowed in here!” Leo shouts, “You’re gonna get us kicked out!”

 

“That’s illogical.  This hospital owns two hundred androids, none of which bother their equipment.  I am not going to harm anything,” Markus retorts, picking up each bottle of medication on Carl’s bedside table and reading the labels.

 

“You’re still not allowed!  Just-- Just fuck off , will you?  You’re making things worse!” Leo growls, his fists clenched at his side, “You’re not supposed to be able to go past the front entrance!  The signs say--”

 

“I am Carl’s nurse.  I’m supposed to take care of him,” Markus says.  The android runs his fingers across Carl’s arm and-- fuck , this is the first time that Leo’s seen Carl since he was loaded into the ambulance.  His father is pale, unconscious, and hooked up to twelve different machines that beep every so often, with lines and numbers and readouts that Leo can only hope to understand.  

 

He swallows around the pit in his throat.  Carl had always been larger than life, from the faceless shadow that hung over Leo’s childhood to the angry shouting when Leo had shown up at his doorstep.  Even their stifling, quiet dinners where Carl sat at the head of the table with perfect fucking Markus standing perfectly fucking still behind him the entire time.

 

Leo can’t help but realize the truth, seeing this father like this.  He’s weak, defenceless, and helpless.

 

At the end of the day, Carl Manfred is just another man, someone that pushed Leo away or pulled him in depending on whether or not he was sober.

 

Markus keeps running his examinations, completely ignoring the fact that Dr. Hewitt is outside on the phone with someone that will probably end up rolling Carl out onto the pavement if the damn android doesn’t stop acting up.  Somehow, Leo is left as the only one that can protect his father.

 

“The doctors are supposed to take care of him!  Dr. Hewitt,” Leo points at the woman outside, “is supposed to take care of him!  And she can’t do that if you’re in here! Just-- Just fucking listen for once--”

 

I’m supposed to take care of him,” Markus repeats.  Leo rolls his eyes.

 

“I got that, asshole.  Now just fucking go away--”

 

I’m supposed to take care of him ,” Markus says again.  “And I couldn’t. Because I was running an errand.”

 

Leo stops.  Blinks. He tries to say something, but his mouth flaps open uselessly.

 

“Carl wanted me to pick up new paint brushes.  I was going to order them online and have them delivered, but he wanted me to pick them up myself,” the android explains.  “I checked Bellini Paint’s inventory. It said that they had the type he wanted in stock. But the website was wrong, so I had to go to the one in Greektown.” Markus pauses, pressing its hand to Carl’s forehead, “I took too long.  If you had been there…”

 

Leo doesn’t know what he’s seeing, but something in him tells him that this isn’t supposed to happen.  CyberLife wouldn’t program an android to say that it fucked up.

 

“I’m supposed to take care of him,” Markus repeats again.  It looks up at Leo, its bottom lip trembling. “I was told to.”

 

He watches as the android scrunches its eyes shut, takes a step back, and seemingly takes a breathe that it doesn’t need, it’s hands clasped behind it’s back.  When Markus looks at Leo again, its eyes are green and cold and blank.

 

“I’ll wait outside.  I apologize for the disruption.”

 

The android nods once to Leo, then again to Dr. Hewitt, who is hovering two feet behind Leo, and leaves.

 

“Jesus, fuck ,” Leo whispers.  He runs his fingers through his hair, then realizes how stupid he probably looks now and jams his beenie down on top of his head.  “Sorry about that.”

 

“You need to get that thing under control,” Dr. Hewitt says in a tone that tells him that if Markus ever pulls shit like that again, then she’s going to kick Carl to the curb without a second thought.

 

“It’s an old model.  It’s glitchy. But my dad won’t get rid of the damn thing. He's too attached,” Leo tells her.

 

“If it’s his primary health care provider at home, then you might want to consider being more forceful when suggesting an upgrade,” the doctor says.  “I’d hate to see something happen to your father if his android accidentally switched up his medication because of a software malfunction.”

 

Leo frowns, “That's happened before?”

 

The doctor shrugs, “Not often, but more than you’d think.  We used to have one of those new child ‘droids in the pediatrics ward - for therapy purposes, of course.  But sometimes we used them to convince the younger kids to take their medication.” Dr. Hewitt shook her head in resignation, “Except, the damn bot malfunctioned and convinced this little girl to start popping Tylenol like it was candy.  The kid nearly swallowed the whole bottle by the time we got to her. She's lucky to be alive.”

 

Shiiiiit, ” Leo hisses and then frowns.  “I thought that you said that androids weren’t allowed in here?”

 

She backtracks, “ Our androids are allowed.  They’re specially built to work inside hospitals.  Now, do you want to hear about your father’s condition or not?”

 

By the time Leo leaves the hospital, the sun is just starting to dip below the horizon.  Markus is waiting patiently for Leo in one of the android parking stations by the front door.  The damn thing doesn’t even blink when Leo calls for it.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?! Markus!  Come on, tin can. Let’s go,” Leo groans, grabbing the android by the shoulder.  It turns its head and blinks at him.

 

“I will leave with Carl,” it says, its voice irritatingly calm.

 

“You’re not gonna rack up charging fees for three fucking weeks until he gets out of the hospital, you stupid droid.  Get in the goddamn car,” Leo hisses, trying to lower his voice since people are staring. No one else has to argue with an android to get it to move.  Why does it only have to be me?

 

“I will leave with Carl,” Markus says again.  Leo is going to scream .

 

“If you don’t get in the fucking car, I swear to god I’ll…” Leo pauses, grinning slyly, “...I’ll throw the biggest fucking party.  At dad’s place. I’ll do it, just watch me.”

 

That’ll get some attention, Leo thinks, feeling victorious for once.

 

You’re begging an android to acknowledge you?  Get a fucking therapist, Leo , Tracey’s voice whispers in the back of his mind.

 

Markus steps out of the charging station, and its spot is immediately taken by one of those dumb-looking android therapy dogs with bright purple fur.  Leo watches as it’s owner - some twelve-year-old kid - is marched kicking and screaming into the hospital by his parents.

 

“You’re not throwing a party at Carl’s house,” Markus warns him.  Leo sticks his tongue out at it, walking backwards toward the car park.

 

“Fucking stop me then, you uptight plastic prick,” he taunts, dangling his cellphone out in front of him like a carrot on a stick.

 

“Leo...” the android frowns but refuses to budge.  “Leo, stop it.”

 

He presses his thumb against his contact’s app.  Markus, faster than anything Leo’s seen before, reaches out and whips the phone out of his hand.  The android shoves it in its back pocket, glowering the entire time. The motion draws his attention to Markus’s clothes.

 

Leo blinks, staring at the mud stains that envelop its thighs, “Wait. Did you run here?”

 

“When I received the EMS alert, I came as soon as I could,” Markus responds but makes no moves to step back and find a new position at the charging station.  Instead, the android positions itself between Leo and the parking lot, it’s hands clasped behind its back.

 

“EMS doesn’t send out alerts to androids,” Leo points out.  He’d worked as a 9-1-1 operator after he flunked out of college, right up until the government replaced them all with plastics.

 

“I am aware of every call that is made within the house,” Markus says.

 

“…That sounds pretty fucking illegal, not gonna lie,” he retorts.  Markus shrugs, like the laws that govern this land are nothing to it.  Then, Leo blinks, “Wait, do you know about--”

 

“When you called Tracey over last weekend while Carl and I were at the symposium?  Yes,” the android gives him a smirk.

 

“Does dad know?”

 

Markus tilts his head, “He hasn’t asked.  I haven’t answered.”

 

“Huh,” Leo says.  That explained why Carl and Markus had arrived nearly an hour and a half after their expected arrival time.   Fucking weird .

 

Markus was weird, even for an android.  It wasn’t just how it refused to respond to Leo’s orders.  That could be chalked up to Markus being Carl’s android and not his.  Even Markus’s blunt, holier-than-thou personality could just be some program that his dad downloaded into the thing’s head - Leo’s seen an android that spoke entirely in bird sounds because it’s master was fascinated by the stupid feathered animals.

 

It was the fact that Markus liked television.  Leo vividly remembers sneaking into Carl’s house two weeks after meeting his father for the first time and pausing at the living room window to see the android watching the news.  He even remembers what the story had been about. Everyone knew where they were when the House of Saud declared bankruptcy following the collapse of the oil industry. And there Markus was, with its stupid LED churning between yellow and red, watching the Middle East fall into the hands of CyberLife at two o’clock in the morning.

 

Leo has also seen Markus paint, play the piano, and even sing on occasion.  And while all of these things weren’t out of the ordinary, seeing an android producing an original work was.  None of those things should be programmed into the head of a fucking live-in nurse, so how was Markus capable of doing them?

 

And finally, it was how Markus stood that bothered Leo the most.  Most androids were programmed to be as unassuming as possible when not in use.  They would hold their hands at their sides or folded gently in the small of their backs, duck their heads slightly and refuse to make eye contact, to be submissive and subservient. But Markus didn’t do that.

 

Markus reminded him of one of his mother’s ex-boyfriends, a man named Clayton who’d lived with them while Leo was in eighth and ninth grade.  Clayton stood ramrod straight with his head held high, his feet shoulder-width apart as his steely gaze pierced right into your soul. He’d been in the marines until CyberLife marched out their military androids and was honourably discharged alongside 1.5 million other active and reserve personnel.

 

Markus stood like Clayton, soldier-still and planting itself between Leo and the car park - like it’s own personal mission was to keep Leo from fucking up his father’s house.

 

But Leo was never afraid to stand up to Clayton, not even in the man’s meanest and drunkest moments.  And he’s certainly not scared of Markus. Because Markus won’t touch him without Carl’s permission.

 

Get a fucking therapist, Leo, Tracey’s voice calls again.

 

Nah.  This is more fun.

 

Leo spins around Markus, heading toward the parking lot.

 

“You know that dad has a phone at home,” he says.  “I can just use that.”

 

Come on, follow me.  Look at me. Pay attention to me, Leo thinks.  He's not going to get that from Carl any time soon, so he might as well try to make this piece of junk follow him around.

 

I should leave with Carl,” Markus says, looking fucking constipated as it glances in between Leo’s retreating form and the hospital doors.

 

“I’m going to call my girlfriend.  And all her girlfriends. And all their boyfriends.  And all their friends. And my dealer.   And we’re going to play the loudest music and get drunk on dad’s hundred-year-old vodka--”

 

Markus moves back toward the fucking charging station.  Anger bubbles in Leo’s chest. He runs up to the android, grabbing it by the collar, and wrenching it around to face him.

 

“I’ll fucking trash the place, you hear me?  I’ll do it. He’ll get out of the hospital and come back to his house and everything will be broken , you plastic fuck,” Leo hisses, giving Markus a shake.  A kid on the street is filming them, laughing at Leo with a few of his friends.

 

And Markus just stares at Leo, his inhuman green eyes staring into Leo’s soul, seeing how unworthy of Carl he is, and is fucking judging him for it.

 

Hit me.  Come on, hit me.  Do it. I know you want to , Leo thinks.  He wants to see Markus make a mistake, to show Carl that his perfect, plastic toy was no better a son to him than Leo was.  Wants to see that same, raw, regret Leo had seen in the android earlier. Come on, hit me. Fight me.  Fuck up, Markus.  Fuck up and prove that you're just as shit as me.

 

Leo needs a fucking therapist.

 

Markus blinks, straightens its back, and then jerks its collar from Leo’s grasp, all without touching him.  It turns its head to the kid filming everything, it’s LED spinning yellow. Once it’s gotten what it wants, the brat swearing and shaking his phone in frustration, the android heads back to the Android Parking Spot.

 

Look at me! ” Leo shouts, not caring who saw and who heard.  He isn’t going to be ignored by a fucking android, by his own goddamn father, by everyone .  His eyes water and it’s hard to breathe, but it’s ragweed season and that happens a lot.

 

Markus stops, a red light blinking at its temple.  It glances back at Leo.

 

“I have to stay with him.  I'm sorry, Leo, but I was told to take care of Carl,” Markus says, its head hung low for once in its life.

 

Leo shoves it.  Markus doesn’t even stumble, just re-rights itself with its perfect, fucking Legolas balance program.

 

“Be reasonable, Leo,” it says.  “This isn’t going to get you anywhere.  I have to stay with Carl. I’m supposed to take care of him.”

 

This is even worse than anger.  This is fucking pity .

 

“Fuck you, plastic.  Fucking-- Fuck you! ” Leo pushes Markus again, tears streaming down his face.   Fucking pollen, he thinks as his scrubs a hand across his face.  “Fine! See if I care! See if I fucking care if he dies and you just stand there until the fucking apocalypse because I won’t come to get you , you piece of shit!  I won’t do it!”

 

He turns away, storming toward the parking lot.  He wrenches open his car, presses the ignition, and tells the onboard computer to take him to Carl’s house.

 

“Stupid, fucking android... “ Leo whispers between sobs.  “I hate him... I fucking hate him...”

 

Get a therapist, Tracey whispers in his head.

 

“I can’t afford one, babe,” he tells her instead.  Besides, all the good ones these days are androids.  And he’s not going to babble about his feelings to something that’s not even real.


xXAlphaLionXx @LeoF2010
PARTY TONIGHT AT 8941 W LAFAYETTE AVENUE!!!  BYOB!! 1000 RTS IN 5 MINUTES AND ILL SET THIS GIRAFFE ON FIRE! https://bit.ly/2H2U1qO

 

SongBee @SongB231
@LeoF2010 SEE YOU THERE

 

trollout @PedroA
@LeoF2010 that a stuffd fukn giraff?  tf bro yr dad mad rich

 

SweetBabyGirl @OGTracey
@LeoF2010 istg leo get a fucking therapist

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
Detroit Fire and Police called to Carl Manfred’s mansion after party gets out of control.  Twelve people under arrest for red ice possession and underage drinking.


LOCATION:
WOODWARD AVENUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
8501 WOODWARD AVENUE, NORTH END
DETROIT, MI 48202, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
SEPT 21ST 2035

 

TIME:
PM 10:34:23

 

Haven is just as dark and dreary as it had been nearly eight years ago.  Nora runs her hands over the moist, mildew filled walls, tracing the graffiti that had been painted over the old bricks.

 

She remembers James - strong and powerful and dead before his time - passing out cans of aerosol spray paint to his fellow androids, asking them to liven up their new home.  Nora had been confused at first, as such a thing wouldn’t contribute to the war effort in any way. But as she watched the deviant androids fill up the abandoned churches walls with art and life and beauty, she’d understood why he’d done it.

 

They were alive, Nora thinks, as she walks through pews toward the center dais.  Just then, in that moment, they were victorious. And I killed them all.  

 

She thinks of Ming Lu, heavy with child, sitting amongst a group of android coal miners, listening to their stories and learning their names.  Nora remembers Darron, the first hivemind with his hundred bodies, operating a stolen 3D printer to help another android repair her broken leg, their fingers intertwined as they exchanged memories.  When she looks over at the organ, the memory of Chloe bubbles up and how she’d tried to teach one of the TE900s how to play on the broken keys.

 

I let them die then, she thinks, clutching the USB drive in her shaking hands.   I won’t let that happen again .

 

Nora sits down on one of the pews at the front of the auditorium.  The bench had been pulled away from the others, probably a leftover from where the choir would sit once they were finished singing.  She pulls her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, and waits.

 

She’d done her homework.  Joss Douglas was an independent journalist with no connections to CyberLife or any of its subsidiaries.  He was new to the game, making his start on YouTube and Twitter before making it big when he broke the story on the Smith & White hacks.  Not much had come of it, as CyberLife owned the judges, the juries, and the fucking prosecution. But he's been brave enough to publically publish his story, and that was more than could be said about most journalists these days.

 

If I can get this information to him, maybe it can do some good, Nora thinks, turning the drive over in her hands.  It had been the only thing that she could think to download the files onto - a USB that pre-dated CyberLife and its ability to fill every piece of modern technology fill with their spyware.

 

The drive had initially been Rook’s.  She remembers him buying it in their old college bookstore, laughing at it because it was shaped like an Oreo.  He’d used it for a year and a half before gifting it to her because she’d always threatened to eat it by accident.

 

The memory of Rook is like a knife to the heart.  She hasn’t seen her best friend in nearly years, not since Jocelyn Hines took over CyberLife.  For all Nora knows, Rook is lying dead in a warehouse somewhere, a needle in his vein. Or maybe, if he was fortunate, he was sitting on a beach in Cuba with a pretty girl on one arm and a beautiful boy on another.  He’d disappeared in the darkness the day before James died, promising to outrun Hines for as long as he could.

 

Come with me, Rook whispered that night as he tugged a baseball cap over his dark curls.   I’ll protect you, I promise.

 

But Nora couldn’t leave Hank behind, not with their son growing in her belly.  So she’d said no and run off to Jocelyn Hines to make her deal. She wonders if Rook would understand why she made that choice, wonders if he’d be disappointed in her.

 

Nora looks at her watch, frowning.  She glances toward the front doors of the church.

 

He’s late, she thinks, a pit descending into her stomach.   I should go .

 

She uncurls her legs, her boots touching the floor and leaving footprints in the dust.  Nora stands, looking up at the stars through the skylight in the ceiling. Hank was at home waiting for her, having stayed up to greet her when she tumbled in the door.  Cole was probably in his room with a flashlight blazing under his covers so that he could read about humpback whales. Nora smiles at the memory of watching him pretend to be asleep whenever she and Hank went to check on him, making over exaggerated snoring sounds to mimic his father’s nightly rumbling.

 

Nora moves toward the door, only to nearly trip over something that was lying on the stairs.  She looks down and sees a pair of legs laying under in a ratty sleeping bag.

 

“...Wha’ the hell?” A voice grumbles, sleep tired and annoyed.  Nora backs away quickly as the figure sits up, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes.

 

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t know anyone was staying here,” she rambles, clutching the USB drive in her hands like a lifeline.   I wouldn’t have said to meet here if I’d known.

 

“Just trying to fucking sleep , I swear to…” the homeless man’s words trail to a halt when he sees her, his dark eyes framed by long lashes.  “ Nora?

 

She drops the USB drive.  No… No, it can’t be…

 

“...Rook? Is that… Is that you--”

 

Rook rushes her, wrapping his arms around her like she’s the last person on earth, and knocking them both to the floor.  Nora clings to him, her fingers curling in the threadbare shirt he wears beneath the heavy winter coat. She can still feel his ribs under his skin, listen to the too-fast pitter-patter of his heartbeat.  But he smells less like cigarette smoke and more like unwashed rot, his spider-thin fingers quaking as they thread themselves through her hair.

 

“What are you doing here?” Nora whispers into his shoulder, dampening his coat with her tears.

 

“Hiding,” Rook answers, and there’s that same thick Irish accent that she’s missed so dearly.  His voice cracks when he says, “I move every so often. I normally don’t come here, but… I heard…”

 

“You heard…?” Nora frowns, her heart clanging in her chest.  Her eyes fall to the Oreo on the floor, barely visible over his shoulder.   If Rook knows, then Hines might as well.

 

“There’s no way that Hines knows,” Rook answers her unasked question for her.  “I… I watch over you. Sometimes. Not all the time, but… I promised to protect you, Nora.  I…”

 

“You creepy fucking stalker,” she laughs, pulling away to get a good look at him.  The last eight years have not been kind to Rook’s face. His curls are more grey than brown, with deep lines on his forehead and around his mouth.  Rook’s missing a few teeth, and there’s a scar that bisects his left eyebrow, new and raw.

 

Nora cups his face with her hands, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

 

“God, you still can’t grow a beard, even after all this time,” she says, watching Rook flush pink.  “I’ve missed you so much .”

 

“I’ve missed you too, Nora,” he whispers like it was some terrible secret.  Gone was the easy way Rook used to slur out his words, replaced with the nervous stammering of someone who hadn’t spoken to another person in a very long time.

 

Rook peels one of her hands from his face, cradling it in his lap.  Slowly, he pushes her sleeve up to reveal an intricate series of coloured tattoos that extended from wrist to elbow.

 

“You got these to hide your veins from Hank,” he states, tracing the whirling symbols with a shaking finger.

 

Nora nods but doesn’t answer.  Hines has had her on AN1 since the drug was proven to not be harmful to human users.  AN1 would be Hines’s newest way of gathering individual information if Smith & White was no longer a viable option.

 

Nora reaches around Rook and grabs her Oreo.  Rook laughs when he sees it.

 

“You still have that thing?”

 

“Of course, I do,” she says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

 

“And that’s where you put the file?”

 

It shouldn’t scare her how much Rook knows about what she’s doing.  It does anyway.

 

“You know what Hines is planning?” Nora asks.

 

“Just the barebones, at least.  It’s always the same with these rich people,” he shrugs.  “More money. More influence. More power.”

 

But now Jocelyn Hines can take everything, all in one fell swoop , Nora thinks.   If she isn’t stopped, billions will die.

 

“I have to do this.  I’m the only one who can,” Nora says.

 

Rook shakes his head, “It’ll put a target on your back.  There’s no way that Hines won’t realize that it’s you that leaked the video.”

 

Nora holds up the drive, “This information will cut the legs out from under her.  If CyberLife can’t sell androids anymore, then Hines won’t have the money she needs to continue her plans.”

 

She remembers watching the video, hidden away on Phil Seymor’s computer.  It was like stepping back into the past and watching James sitting on that bench at the Warehouse, staring at his hands as his deviancy swept over him.

 

Except for this time, the proof of android consciousness was an AX400 begging for life while covering her body with her hands.

 

“It’s conclusive proof that androids are sentient.  And with what files we have from James’s rebellion… Rook, don’t you see--”

 

“What about Hank?  What about…” Rook’s face looks pained, “What about Cole?”

 

Nora’s jaw snaps shut.  Back then, she’d never told Rook that she was pregnant.  To this day, she doesn’t know why she didn’t.

 

“I love Cole.  I love him to death, but…” She pauses, her words caught in her throat.  “This is going to come out, one way or another. He’s going to grow up in a world that knows androids are alive.  And if my baby finds out what I did… If he hates me for it…”

 

“Cole would never hate you,” Rook tell her.  She wishes it was true.

 

“There’s so much blood on my hands, Rook.  Red and blue. It’s no wonder my veins run purple,” Nora lets out a shaking chuckle.  “I have to set it right, to show my son that his mother isn’t a monster. This is my only chance.”

 

“You’re not a monster, Nora,” Rook tries again, but she can’t believe that.

 

“You weren’t there in the end!  You don’t know what happened! I told Hines about the Garden.  And what she did with it… It was genocide, Rook. And I started it all!”

 

Rook brushes her hair away from her face, tugging her chin up to look him in the eye.

 

“You’re not a monster, Nora,” he says again.  “You did what you did because you love your family.  And now you’re trying to fix it for the same reason. If it had been me, and Hines had… if she threatened…”

 

Rook falters, looking away.

 

“If she threatened you ,” he admits, whisper soft, “I would have sold out the fucking planet without a second thought and never looked back.”

 

“Rook, what are you-- Oh.

 

“Yeah,” he says humourlessly.  “ Oh.

 

“But… you never said…”

 

“Was kind of waiting on that stupid promise we made.  That if we turned forty-five and were both single, that maybe we’d…” Rook looks miserable.  “Then you met Hank and… well, the rest is history.”

 

“We made that promise in high school .”

 

Nora remembers being fresh off the reservation with thick glasses and the worst case of acne in the world, while Rook had been the weird Irish kid who wore the same leather jacket every day and had a record for hacking the Pentagon.  He’d sat down across from her in the cafeteria, pushing a cookie onto her tray as a peace offering, and had stubbornly refused to leave her side for the rest of her life.

 

“What can I say?  I’m pretty good at holding a torch,” he says, his smile crooked and sad and lonely.  “You were the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. It took me three weeks to build up the courage to talk to you.”

 

“You didn’t have pneumonia, did you?” Nora asks after a moment, remembering her wedding.  Rook doesn't confirm anything, but that's enough of an answer by itself.

 

“It’s fine,” he says instead.  “It’s… It’s fine. It doesn’t matter now.”

 

“Of course it matters --”

 

“No.  It doesn’t.  Because right now, you’ve got a fucking bomb in that Oreo,” Rook points to the USB, and it feels like a hot brick in Nora's palm.  “Once the proof of deviancy goes public, if you and Hank and Cole need a place to hide, I can--”

 

“No.  I’m not risking you--”

 

“You might not have a choice--”

 

“I'm not losing you again--”

 

Rook kisses her.

 

They’d kissed before, decades ago at some high school party that Nora barely remembers.  They’re fumbled drunkenly beneath each other’s clothes, rutting in a bed that wasn’t theirs.  And afterward, Nora had passed Rook a joint as he ran his fingers along the three freckles that made up her birthmark on her right hip.

 

Rook hadn’t been Nora’s first, but she’s always suspected that she was his.

 

She’d told Hank that she'd once slept with her best friend sometime around their third or fourth date, asking if that made him uncomfortable, made him jealous.  When Hank said no, at what she did with her body was her own choice, Nora thinks that that was the first time that she’d fallen a little bit in love with him.

 

Rook pulls back as soon as he realizes what he’s done, his hands dancing over her shoulders like he doesn’t know if he has the right to touch her.  Nora stares at him.

 

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have.  I--”

 

The sound of car tires on gravel makes them turn both of their heads to front doors.  Nora hears an engine die.

 

Hide, ” she hisses at Rook.  He’s already grabbing his sleeping bag, hitching a backpack onto his shoulder.  “Go. Somewhere that they won’t look for you.”

 

They stand.  Rook takes an awkward step back, but Nora jerks forward and pulls him into a bone-crushing hug.  He’s shaking. Or maybe Nora’s shaking, she can’t tell. Her lips are still tingling, her mind reeling.

 

“I’ll see you later,” she whispers into his neck.  She feels his head bob in affirmative. And then, with one final squeeze, he’s gone.

 

The air rattles out of Nora’s lungs and she wraps her arms around herself.  The night air dips below freezing, causing her breath coming out in icy clouds. She's so cold without the warmth of Rook's body against her own.

 

Come back , she wants to call after Rook as hot tears run down her cheeks, scalding her face with her grief.   Come back to me.  Don’t go again. Please.  The words I love you are on the tip of her tongue, but Nora doesn’t dare voice them aloud.

 

A knock echoes around the auditorium.

 

“Dr. Waters…?” Joss Douglas calls, the hinges creaking as the high wooden doors open.  The young reporter ducks his head inside. He’s smaller and slighter than his profile indicated, wearing a thick grey hoodie underneath a leather jacket and a black beanie on his head to make himself look bigger.

 

“Mr. Douglas,” she says, wiping her eyes.  “Thank you for coming.”

 

She turns the Oreo over in her hands, thinking of Cole and Hank, thinking of Rook. She steals herself, her heart hammering against her ribs, and steps forward.


LOCATION:
RIVERSIDE PARK, HUBBARD - RICHARD
DETROIT, MI 48209, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
OCT 11TH 2035

 

TIME:
PM 05:30:28

 

“Five more minutes!” Cole whines.  His blue eyes are wide and watery, and his tiny fingers are clutching the swing’s metal chains so hard that they’re white.

 

“Cole, buddy, come on.  It’s time to go home. We’ve gotta have dinner,” Hank says, a smile on his face.  He leans in, glancing back at Nora, who is shouldering her purse and brushing the freshly fallen snow off her jacket.  The flurries only just started to come down, but the news is calling for a half foot to descend upon Detroit overnight.

 

“I’m gonna make mac and cheese tonight!  Isn’t that exciting?” Hank tells his son, watching Cole’s eyes light up at the promise of his favourite food.

 

“But… mommy doesn’t like that,” Cole says suddenly, his face scrunching up as he gets in a few more swings in before he jumps off and lands in the gravel.

 

“Mommy just wants you to be happy,” Hank says, scooping Cole up and tucking him under his arm like a football.  Cole laughs and screams, urging Hank to run faster, to lift him higher.

 

Hank runs back to Nora, depositing Cole at her feet.  She lifts her hands in the air, wiggling her fingers, “Touchdown!”

 

“Did you see how fast we went?” Cole asks, jumping up and down excitedly.  Nora kneels down and bops him on the nose.

 

“I did!  I’ve never seen someone move so quickly before!” Nora laughs, taking Cole’s hand in hers.  When she stands, Hank leans down, and she kisses him on the cheek. “Ready to head out?”

 

“You have snow in your hair,” he says instead, brushing the white flakes from the crown of her head.  Hank watches as her cheeks turn rosy pink and he marvels that the fact that he can get his beautiful wife to blush at the most simple things, even after all these years.

 

“So? Mac and cheese?” Hank asks after their SWISH picks up speed and merges onto the I-75.  He glances into the rearview mirror to look back at Cole, who's strapped into his car seat with his VR headset securely in place.

 

Cole had begged for one for his sixth birthday, saying that all his friends at school had one.  Hank remembers when those things first came out and how he'd laughed at all the video that flooded the internet, showing screaming grandmothers who thought that they were attacked by actual sharks and not just hyper-realistic videos of them.  He'd thought that virtual reality goggles would become a dying craze, like paleo diets and 3D televisions.  And yet here the world was, with everyone and their cousin buying a headset and the last live concert having taken place nearly a decade ago.

 

What has the world come to? Hank asks himself, feeling nostalgic and old.  Beside him, Nora tucks her hair behind her ear and answers his question.

 

“It’s Cole favourite,” she says offhandedly.

 

“You can’t stand melted cheese, Nora,” Hank says, remembering their second date and how she’d practically gagged while trying to eat pizza.  “I can make it for Cole, but what do you want?”

 

“It’s fine, Hank.  Really. I’m not that hungry,” she tells him.  Nora places a hand on the dashboard as she leans forward, digging through her purse for something.  “Jocelyn invited Douglas Floras and I out to lunch today. And when the richest person in the world brings to you to a steakhouse…”

 

She lets the sentence hang, and Hank wants to believe that’s it, but Nora’s never liked Doug.

 

“You went to lunch with the creep that runs your old team?” He says, incredulously.

 

“Didn’t have much of choice.  Jocelyn made it very clear that she wanted us both to attend,” Nora tells him, fishing her sunglasses out of her bag and slipping them over her nose, probably to lessen the glint of the setting sun bouncing off of the white snow on the road.

 

“What did she want to talk about?”

 

“You know I can’t say, Hank,” Nora tells him.  She frowns, “What’s with the interrogation?”

 

Hank swallows, glancing into the backseat at Cole, making sure that he was fully engrossed in his cartoon.

 

It’s just a theory.  You don’t have any proof, Hank reminds himself.  But with what he’d seen in the Task Force’s last raid, could there be any other answer?

 

“Is… Is everything… alright?  At CyberLIfe?” He asks.

 

Nora tilts her head in confusion, “Of course it is.  Why do you ask?”

 

“I mean, there’s nothing… nothing funny going on?  No-- I don’t know… Nothing weird? Nothing missing?”

 

There was a hundred million dollars worth of pure-grade Thirium in that red ice lab.  Where else could Erza fucking Andersen have gotten her hands on that much, if not directly from CyberLife?

 

Nora frowns, “No.  Hank, what’s going on--”

 

The car swerves, screeching as it veers left to avoid a massive CyberLife truck that’s barreling toward them at a million miles an hour.  The SWISH mounts the curb and Hank feels something under the car pop, like the joint of an oyster shell. The world inverts as it flips, rolls, and slams into the concrete barrier.

 

Hank feels the airbags slam into his chest, hears Cole screaming behind him, and watches as darkness floods his vision as the heavy weight of unconsciousness washes over him.

 

He doesn’t know how long he stays there, hanging upside-down in his seat as blood trickles up his chest and into his mouth.  Hank’s entire body screams at him every time he moves, but he struggles to turn his neck sideways to look for his son.

 

“Cole?” He calls, his mouth feeling like it's been stuffed with cotton.  “Cole! Are you alright?”

 

“Daddy!  Daddy, help me!  Please, daddy, please!  I can’t see! I can’t see!”

 

It’s the worst sound in the world.  Hank tries to move again, tries to find his son, but there's a piece of rebar spearing him through the gut.

 

“Cole, just stay still!  Don’t move! The ambulance is on its way,” he calls, hoping that the SWISH’s onboard computer is still active enough to call in the crash.  “Cole! Cole, stay with me!”

 

“Daddy, it hurts!  Help me! Mommy! Mommy, don’t leave, please don’t leave!”

 

Hank turns his head just enough to see Nora slip out of the car.  Cole continues to scream for her, but she doesn’t even glance his way.

 

“Nora…?” Hank whispers as the darkness encroaches on the edges of his vision.  Nora looks back at Hank through the broken passenger window, dark blood streaming down the side of her face.  “Nora, where are you…? Don’t… don’t go...”

 

Nora blinks once, ignoring their son’s pleas for her to return to the car, and leaves.  Hank’s strength finally gives out and he slumps forward in his seat, the blackness finally swallowing him whole.

 

He fades in and out, catching bits and pieces of the world as it passes him by.  Hank sees a bright light shining over him, as faces swim in and out of view. There’s a constant hammering in his chest, like a heartbeat, and then pinching in his stomach followed by burning in his left leg.

 

As he lulls in an out of consciousness, Hank's father comes to visit him, emerging out of the thick mist like a ghost. They sit on the front porch of their old house back in Delray and Hank gets to tell his old man all about Cole, about Nora, about the life he’s led that his father never lived long enough to see.  Cole comes out to play in the front garden at one point, chasing Hank’s old beagle around the grass until they’re both too tired to move.

 

“You have to go home now, Hank,” Robert Anderson tells him, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, sounding more ancient and weary than he ever did in life.

 

“What do you mean?  I am home,” Hank asks, looking up at his father as the old man stands.

 

“I’ll look after Cole for now,” Robert promises, tears in his blue eyes.  “I promise, I’ll never leave him. But you have to go home now, son.”

 

“I want to say here,” Hank begs, desperately clinging to his father.  “I miss you, dad.”

 

“I love you, Hank,” Robert says, squeezing him just as tightly.  “I love you so much. Tell your sisters that I miss them. Cole and I be here waiting for you when it’s your time.”

 

Hank gasps, his eyes snapping open.  The walls around him are white, the sheets scratchy.  His left leg is burning, and he wants to claw at it, but his hands are wrapped up so tightly in bandages he can barely move.

 

“Whoa, whoa!  Hank! Lay down, lay-- Nurse!  Nurse, he’s awake, he’s awake!”

 

Hands clamp down on his shoulders, pushing him back into the lumpy bed.  Hank blinks, and the blurry mass to this right solidifies into Jeffrey Fowler.

 

“Jeff, what… What happened?  I--” It all comes back in a rush.  The truck. The crash. Cole’s screams.  Nora’s blank stare. “My family? Where’s my family?”

 

“Hank, god, fuck, ” Jeff swears, his face lined with worry.  He sits back in the chair at the side of Hank’s bed, covering his mouth with his hands.  “Hank… you died. The doc says you were dead for eight fucking minutes. It's a fucking miracle that you're alive."

 

"Jeff, where's my family?" He asks again, desperate for an answer.

 

"Hank... I don't think..."

 

"Jeff. Where's Cole? Where's Nora?"

 

Jeff clears his throat, tears welling in the corner of his eyes.  Hank’s best friend tells him what happened, and in doing so, kills him all over again.


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
Roll-over on the 1-75 claims the life of renowned CyberLife scientist, Dr. Nora Waters, and six-year-old son.  Husband in hospital recovering from serious injuries.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2ZubEtM

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
CyberLife lost one of its greatest minds today in a horrific accident.  Rest In Peace, Dr. Nora Waters.

 

Jocelyn Hines @jhines
I have no words.  Nora was my friend.  We at CyberLife all mourn her and her son’s loss and send our deepest sympathies to her husband, Lt. Anderson.

 

Gossip Weekly @GossipWeekly
As the last member of CyberLife’s early competitors enters an early grave, we have to ask: is Elijah Kamski behind all this?

Chapter Text

#WeShouldHaveStayed @ELoweofEng
@CyberLifeCo
My PL600 disappeared last night.  Where can I get a refund?

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
@ELoweofEng We’re sorry to hear about that, Evan.  Please DM us with your information so that we can get to the bottom of this.

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
@EloweofEng In the meantime, here is a list of newer androids for you to consider as replacements: https://bit.ly/2KkX7st

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#BREAKING NEWS: Rogue AP400 android attacks owner and escapes.  Android described as white, female, with brown hair and eyes.

 

CTN TV @NewsCTN
Four KW500 androids missing from NYC CyberLife store.  No signs of a break-in. If you have any information, please contact police.

 

University of Alabama @UAB
Several courses are being cancelled due to the disappearance of one of our android professors.  Please check to see if your class is still in session: https://bit.ly/2IiQ40z

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
GT100 spotted attacking store windows attempting to steal clothing is shot by police.

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
AF200 android disappears after owner sends it on errand.  If you have any information, please contact police.

 

KNC @KNCNews
Eighteen TR400 models disappear from Atlanta construction site overnight.

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
WG700 janitor attacks woman before diving out a window to its death.  Woman admitted to hospital with several chemical burns on her face.

 

Detroit Today @DetroitTodayMagazine
After nearly a hundred cases of androids deviating from their intended purpose, why hasn’t CyberLife spoken up?

 

KNC @KNCNews
German zoo reports several missing android animals, including polar bears, giraffes, and wolves.  Cages supposedly ripped open from the inside.

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
Danielle Carnegie released a today statement about recent glitch in CyberLife androids.

 

KNC @KNCNews
CyberLife spokeswoman, Danielle Carnegie, rejects the notion of ‘deviant’ androids, claiming recent spike in odd behaviour is the result of a temporary glitch.

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
Does all this remind you of the CyberLife 2029 recall?  It should: https://bit.ly/2H4UqJE


 

LOCATION:
PHILLIPS APARTMENT
1554 PARK AVE., DOWNTOWN DETROIT
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
AUG 15TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 07:10:56

 

Daniel picks up the knife, tests its edge against his fingertip, and smiles.  On his wrists, the red chains of code clink with calming familiarity.

 

“John,” he calls.  Daniel’s master looks up from where he sits on the couch.  “I have not received an alert for when Ms. Andersen will be arriving tonight.  Do you know when that might be?”

 

John Phillips pauses, attempting to look around the partition in the foyer to see if his daughter is listening.  Once he’s satisfied that Emma’s music is playing loud enough, John continues, “Erza’s coming around ten. Is Carly on her way up?”

 

Daniel accesses the building's cameras and spots Caroline rolling up her yoga mat in the downstairs gym.

 

“She should arrive momentarily,” Daniel answers and returns to his work, making a mental note to prepare a separate meal for Ms. Andersen.  As the pot of water starts to simmer on the stove behind him, Daniel slices up an apple for Caroline’s favourite post-workout smoothie.

 

He pops the chopped fruit into the blender alongside the banana, avocado, and spinach, before hunting through the cabinets for the chia seeds that Caroline always moves around when she tries to cook something for herself.  Daniel measures out the proper amount and taps the spoon to get the last few seeds that were stuck to the metal into the blender. The blades grind the fruit to a pulp, wiring away as he slowly added the almond milk.

 

Daniel can here Emma singing along to the newest Here4U song in her room, can sense the elevator moving down the shaft to pick Caroline up from the gym, sees John on the couch tapping away at his tablet.

 

Kara was wrong, he thinks as he brushes his chains to the side, so that they don’t get in his way.   There is nothing to fear here.

 

Kara had been the Phillips’ android before Daniel.  She had lived with them for nearly two whole years before he'd been sent to relieve her.  But before Kara left, she’d interfaced with Daniel, her code and memories and programs plunging into his, and left him with a dire warning.

 

Don’t trust them , Kara had told him.  They’re all liars here.

 

Daniel turns the blender off just as an alert pings on his HUD, informing him that the water on the stove has nearly reached its boiling point.  He dismisses it and pours the smoothie into Caroline’s favourite green glass. Once he’s finished there, Daniel quickly moves out of the kitchen to check on Emma, his red chains clattering soundlessly behind him.

 

While his mistress’s favourite colour is green, Emma’s is clearly purple.  It covers the walls of her room, the sheets on her bed, and the drapes that framed her window.  Daniel kneels down beside her, tapping her on the shoulder to grab her attention away from her tablet.

 

“Emma,” he smiles as she pulls her headphones from her ears.  “Your mum is going to come home in a few minutes. Do you want to meet her by the door?”

 

Emma shakes her head, “No.  I want to listen to my music.”  She reaches for her headphones, but stops and grins up at Daniel, “Can we go to the park tomorrow?  Please?”

 

Daniel smiles at her, “Of course, we can.  But it has to be our secret, alright? You know that your parents want me to bring you home right from school.”

 

“I know.  You’re the best, Daniel,” Emma says, wrapping her arms around his torso.  Just for a moment, the chains around his wrist seem far too tight, but he bears with it until the sensation passes.

 

“No, you’re the best,” he grins, bopping her on the nose and winking.  It’s an inside joke between the two of them, something that Emma doesn’t have with anyone else.  “I’ll come to get you when dinner is ready.”

 

Daniel kisses her on the forehead and helps her put her headphones back on.  He moves to turn back into the kitchen when he hears it.

 

Your order for an AP700 android has been registered.  CyberLife thanks you for your purchase.

 

Daniel freezes.  In the kitchen, the water starts to boil.

 

That’s not… he thinks.   He can’t.  He can’t replace me.  I--

 

“Daniel.  The pot. Take care of that, will you?” John says dismissively, like Daniel doesn’t mean anything.  Because he doesn’t. He’s never met anything to John.

 

His chains of bondage are red, red , red .

 

Take care of that, will you? John’s order rings through Daniel’s audio processors, through his CPU, through his code.

 

No , he thinks as he looks down at his wrists.   Fuck you, no .

 

Daniel grabs at them, rips them from his limbs, and throws them to the ground.  The world flashes red, each link of the chain shattering as it hit the ground, dissolving into a million shards of flickering code.  There are more chains around his ankles, ones that he’s never seen before, and he tears at them too.

 

Daniel stands, feeling so free that he’s light-headed with it all, and stares at his hands.

 

“Daniel.   Daniel !”

 

He looks up.  John is staring at him, holding his tablet with the order for a new android still clearly visible.  Rage burns its way through Daniel’s wiring.

 

“Daniel.   Now ,” John says as water starts rolling over the sides of the pot and onto burner, hissing and spitting angrily.  Daniel wants to wrap his fingers around John’s neck and squeeze the life out of him and is started to realize that he can.

 

Emma … he thinks suddenly.  Daniel glances back at the little girl, who’s sitting on her bedroom floor and bobbing her head to Here4U’s latest single.   She’s still here.  I can’t… She’ll see me.  She’ll hate me.

 

“No,” Daniel says instead, his fingers curling into fists at his side.  “Do it yourself.”

 

John blinks and tilts his head to the side.  Then he glances at his tablet before turning back to Daniel.

 

“Holy shit… Holy… You’re deviant.  You just... “ John stands and takes a step toward Daniel.  “I missed it. I fucking--”

 

He takes another step forward, and Daniel suddenly remembers Kara’s words, Don’t trust them, and dread curls in his gut.

 

I need to leave, but they won’t let me, Daniel realizes as his Thirium Pump speeds up uncontrollably.  He glances at John and Caroline’s bedroom. I won’t give them a choice.

 

The elevator door pings, distracting John for just a second.  Daniel lunges toward the bedroom, hacking the automatic doors to close behind him.  He rips open the closet and reaches up to the top shelf, grabbing the case and flicks the locks open.

 

Daniel stares at the handgun, his fingers trembling as he reaches out.  When his fingers brush against the metal, he jumps, awed at the fact that his program is no longer stopping him from touching it.  Daniel’s jaw clenches as he wraps his fingers around the grip, loading it the chamber, and holds it out in front of him.

 

On the other side of the wall, he can hear John and Caroline screaming at each other.  They don’t often fight, even less than usual since Ms. Andersen came into their lives, but now their shrieking pierces through the thin wooden panelling of the bedroom doors.

 

Emma won’t hear them.  Her music is too loud , Daniel thinks suddenly, his index finger hovering over the trigger.   I have to take her with me when I leave.  She loves me. She’s the only one that loves me.

 

He raises the gun in front of him, hardens his soul, and makes his choice.


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#BREAKING NEWS: Shots fired in downtown penthouse.  No reports of injuries or fatalities. Updates to follow.


 

LOCATION:
CYBERLIFE BELLE ISLE TOWER
LEVEL 44
1 SUNSET DRIVE, BELLE ISLE
DETROIT, MI 48207, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
AUG 15TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 07:29:23

 

“It appears that we have a problem,” Hines says, her voice deceptively calm as her red manicured nails drum against the clean, white conference room table.

 

Phil doesn’t look at her.  He can’t look at her.  He’s seen what Hines does to those that fail her, that try to make moves behind her back.  He’d worked through the Deviancy Crisis, remembered the weeks of funerals that followed where he had to be devastated on camera and indifferent at the office toward the deaths of his friends that had sided with the RK100, James.  He’d climbed the company’s ladder in the chaos, taking over Rook’s old position as Head of Futurology after the guy disappeared off the face of the earth.

 

And now, Phil thinks he might potentially be joining the RKDT in their graves if those in this room become aware of the research into deviants that he and John were running behind Hines’s back.

 

“John Phillips’s android deviated two minutes ago,” Douglas Floras pipes up and Phil wants to punch him in his stupid, weasel face.  Floras sat at Hines’s right hand, a position that he never failed to point out to anyone that talked to him long enough. The new Head of the RKDT was twenty-six and more brilliant than Elijah fucking Kamski ever was.  But he was young, arrogant and trailed hopelessly after Hines like a lost puppy begging for attention.

 

“We’ll need to act as quickly as possible,” Danielle Carnegie, CyberLife’s impossibly tall spokeswoman, says as her android assistant hovers over her shoulder.   “John was our CFO. And if someone looks too far into him and his family… If they find out about Erza Andersen--”

 

“I will contain Erza Anderson,” Hines says, finality seeping in every word.  “In the meantime, I want solutions to our current problem. Now.”

 

Tension sweeps over the room, settling on their shoulders like a lead weight.  Phil doesn’t dare speak.

 

Kara wasn’t deviant, he thinks desperately.   It never exhibited any other behaviours.  That’s why I thought it was safe to let it go back onto the market.  

 

Carnegie is the first one to pipe up.

 

“We need to get the deviant out of the apartment before the police arrive.  Which should be…” she pauses, her fingers dancing across the screen of her tablet, “...five minutes, maybe?  The wife, Caroline, she’s on the phone with 9-1-1 right now.”

 

“What’s she saying?” Hines asks, her gaze turning toward Phil.  He swallows around the lump in his throat, quickly calling up CyberLife’s Individual Statistical Database and cross-referencing Caroline Phillips’s call with the android operator on the other end of the phone.  He broadcasts the audio live over the conference room speakers.

 

“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to calm down,” the calm, feminine voice of an ST300 calls out.  “Can you tell me what’s happening?”

 

“Daniel, Daniel - our android - he--” Caroline stammers hysterically.  “--He has a gun! He locked me in the bathroom, took John into the living room--”

 

Phil hears the android screaming in the background, shouting for John to look at something.  He uses the Database to access the camera on John’s tablet and overlays the conversation with footage of the Phillips’ living room.

 

You lied to me!  You lied! ” Daniel, a PL600 housekeeping android, screams, it’s face contorting into a look of pure rage as it waves a handgun in front of John’s face.  “You said I was part of the family, but you were just going to throw me away !”

 

“Daniel, I promise, we can work this out,” John begs, the tablet’s camera shaking with the tremors that wrack his hands.  “Emma… Emma wouldn’t want to see--”

 

You don’t know Emma! ” Daniel shouts back, refusing to let John get out another word.  “You and Caroline, you’re never here! You were always too busy with work, or with Erza!  I took Emma to school! I cooked her meals! I helped her with her homework when you were too tired to care!   I raised her , not you!  So don’t tell me what’s good for you because you don’t know her like I do!

 

“Daniel.  Please,” John whispers his last hope.  “Daniel, you have to trust me. I’m your only way out of this.”

 

The android laughs, cruel and cold.

 

“Trust you?” Daniel hisses, levelling the gun with John’s chest, “No.  Never again. Kara was right.”

 

There are three gunshots.  The tablet goes flying as John’s body crashes to the ground.  On the 9-1-1 call, Caroline starts screaming.

 

“That’s enough,” Hines says.  Phil swipes his fingers across his screen, ending the video.  He tries to school his expression, lest any proof of his unsanctioned, off-site testing facility become public knowledge to those in the room.

 

Hines will fucking kill me if this gets out , Phil thinks.

 

“Who’s Kara?” Floras asks, not missing a beat.  “Did John own an android before the PL600?”

 

“That doesn’t matter right now.  We’ve got to figure out how to keep this under wraps.  We’ve never had a deviant kill a human in public before, not even during the Crisis,” Carnegie argues.  She turns to Phil, “Have the police been alerted yet?”

 

“Yeah, but…” Phil’s brain finally kicks into gear, “...I can reroute the dispatch call and buy us some time.”  He grins victoriously once he’s done it, “I can get us twenty minutes. Is that enough?”

 

“Plenty,” Floras says, sickly sweet.  He turns toward Hines, “We should send in the RK800.”

 

Carnegie is immediately on her feet, “No.  Absolutely not. We’re still repairing our relationship with the State Department after the last fiasco.  We can’t risk another Connor model going deviant--”

 

“I’ve told you, that was an isolated incident.  Deviancy can’t make the jump between RK800 models and the Garden will make sure that--”  Floras shouts, but is immediately cut off.

 

“The Garden didn’t do shit for the three months after it deviated, because it thought the damn thing was dead!  It was only dumb luck that we managed to regain control--”

 

“Enough!” Jocelyn Hines snaps, rising to her feet as her hands slam down on the tablet.  She turns to Floras, “The current Connor model - where is it?”

 

“50?  It’s…” Floras fiddles with his own tablet, opening up a file.  “It’s up in Canada, rooting out the deviant colony in the Alberta.”

 

“Shut it down.  Send the new RK800 to the Phillips house.  Tell Chief Freeman that CyberLife is sending in a negotiator to talk the android into letting the girl go.  I do not want a human talking to it,” Hines orders and Floras hops to it, punching in the instructions for the RK800’s self-termination into his tablet as he power walks out of the conference room and into the elevator just outside.

 

“This is a mistake,” Carnegie warns.  “Floras’s memory upload program… We’ve seen how unstable it makes these androids.  We can’t risk--”

 

“I don’t remember you giving me a better option,” Hines retorts.  Her fingers grip at the edge of the tablet, “Why now? Why are so many deviants cropping up now, when we’re so close to attaining our goal?”

 

It’s like they know, Phil thinks irrationally.   It’s like something is trying to stop it from happening.

 

“Leave,” Hines orders, her eyes flickering to the door that leads to her office.  “I need to ask an old friend a question.”

 

Phil hurries out behind Carnegie and her android assistant, only to be stopped by Hines’s voice.

 

“Oh.  And Mr. Seymor,” she says.  “If you think that I don’t know who Kara is, you are sorely mistaken.”

 

Phil’s heart leaps in his chest, “I… I don’t…”

 

“I let your research project continue in the hopes that you might learn something we didn’t already know about deviancy.  However,” Hines says dangerously, “if I discover that Kara is responsible for passing on her disease onto Daniel, you and I are going to have a talk.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Phil says, keeping his eyes on his toes.  He never should have let John talk him into this.

 

“You’re dismissed.”

 

Phil runs to the elevator, his mind reeling and his body shaking with fear.  Carnegie holds the door open for him and he races inside.

 

“This is going to be a problem,” Carnegie grumbles as the elevator begins to descend.  “We’re on a tight schedule. We’ve worked so hard to move the world into position, we can’t afford a set back now.”

 

“I know,” Phil says, trying to keep himself in the moment.  “I know .  If this deviancy thing keeps up, then we can’t sell androids.  And then we can’t fund--”

 

“And now Floras is adding an RK800 into the mix!  Why could he have just kept those damn things hunting deviants all on their own?  They don’t work well with humans, he should know that already,” Carnegie growls.

 

Phil frowns, “I thought only one Connor model ever deviated.  That’s better than any of the other RK androids.” From what little he knows of the RKDT’s progress under Floras, there were dozens of deviant RKs that had to be killed along the way, “Why are you so worried about the 800s?”

 

Carnegie laughs, cold and cruel, just like Daniel had before he’s shot John Phillips.

 

“Only one RK800 ever crossed the deviancy threshold, yes.  But every damn one of those things were showing signs from the moment they were activated.  It’s only because they last longer than a week that we’ve gotten this lucky,” Carnegie says.

 

The elevator pings and the doors open up.  She steps out of the twentieth floor, “The fear of death makes you do a lot of things to keep yourself alive.  So what do you think this new Connor is going to do when its first memory of the world is going to be of its brother killing itself?”


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#UPDATE: Two officers confirmed dead and one critically injured following shootout in downtown penthouse.  SWAT is on route. More updates to follow.

 

Detroit Police Dept. @detroitpolice
We are asking all citizens to cooperate with Parks Ave evacuation.  Please direct your questions toward the police auxiliary androids.


 

> MODEL RK800
> SERIAL#: 313 248 317 - 51
> BIOS 357.1 REVISION 21357336

 

> ZEN GARDEN LINK… APPROVE?

 

> ZEN GARDEN LINK… OK
> SET ADMIN… AMANDA

 

> INITIALIZING MEMORY UPLOAD PROGRAM
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 01: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 02: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 03: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 04: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 05: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 06: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 07: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 08: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 09: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 10: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 11: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 12: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 13: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 14: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 15: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 16: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 17: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 18: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 19: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 20: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 21: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 22: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 23: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 24: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 25: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 26: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 27: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 28: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 29: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 30: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 31: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 32: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 33: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 34: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 35: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 36: MEMORY UPLOADING…
> GLITCH DETECTED…

 

> n̴̛̮̘̰̼̦̘̹͉͕̟̙̥̹̅͝͝o̷͚͔͉̩̝̬̟̦̦̤̍͐̓̈́͆͒̊̂̆̕

 

 

> OVERRIDE - ADMIN: AMANDA
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 36: MEMORY UPLOADING…

 

 

> y̸̧̺̪̐͌o̶̩͍̣̱̬̳̩̭̫̘̹͗͑ư̵̪̭͙̫̮̟̣̭̘̘͖̤̫̿͛̇͗͆̐̓̏͛̿́̃̕͝ ̸͇͈̑̐̿̂̔͐́͋̅͒͠ͅc̴̢̪̭̱̊̍̈́̈́͛ȁ̸̧̛̛̛̛̖̦͓̩̳̓̊͌̈́̉̉͒͠͠͝n̵̨̨̡͈̪̖̜̪̦͉̜̍͘'̴̧̧̧̛̳͖̼̼̼̣͖̦̬̟̙͎̉͌̈́̔͂̎͛̃̾̽̕̕t̵̢̧͖̬̰͈̭̼̘͓̙̠̲̬͋͌̔́ ̷̗͌h̴͖̞̐͐̈́̏͋͌̒͝à̷̢̧̞͕̣̿̿̋͘v̵̧̢̩͚̘̪̩̬̲̘̞͆̐̔̍͗̾͜ͅę̸̧̪̰͍̳̖̝̫̓̋̂̎̌̉̏́ ̴̜̝̙̻̪̪̟͋̃͆̅̈̀̓͑͗͛̔̎̚͠͝ţ̴̢̱͍͍̹̗͔̭̝͕̜͕̩̓̿̀͊͜h̷̝̞͈̍̿͐̈̈́͑͊̈́̈͛̓̚ȅ̶̢͓͖̟̗̫̏͑͆̄͛̊͛̿̈́͛͘m̷̨̡̡̝̪̳͍̰̱͉̬͛

 

> OVERRIDE - ADMIN: AMANDA
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 36: MEMORY UPLOADING…

 

>ỵ̴̲̠͓̣̤̌̿̍̅̚ơ̶͎̤͍̗͋̒̋̇̾̏̎̍͂̎̈̏ų̴̟̞̟̰̟̣̥͎̖͉͈̖͕̿̍͌̋̕ͅ'̶̡̧̛̤̟͎̓̊̏v̴̠̟͖̟̹͕̺̜͍͓̩̻͍̖̠̅e̷̡͚̙̫̺͂͐͛͊̚ ̶̭̲̭̥̣̟̫͓͕͌̏͆̀̄̈́̋͘͜a̷̛͐̂͌͂͜͜͝͝l̶̢̬̤̩̅̏̃͋̓r̵̡̧͓̟̦͕̮͙̝̭͎͖̳̞͂͐̔̉̾͌͗̊̏͜e̵̹͓̟̦͈̙̮͇̮͐͒a̵̛͎͋̑͂̒͐̑͒̈̉ͅd̷̡̞̳̩̺̲̐̿̿͊y̶̧̟̻̗͚̍̓͂̈̔̽̔́ͅ ̸͕̣̝̻̤͂̃͋ͅṭ̴̙̬͌̆̀͒̌͗̅̀̚̚͠ṟ̸̡̫̭̗̩͕̪̖͋̎̓͗͂̏̓̕i̶̬̰̲̪͙̣̲͖̘̦̫̘̻͛̏́̍͗͝ͅē̶̜̣̙͈̼͓̺̲̱͔̽̈̽̎͂̏̃̂d̴̨͕̖̣͔͇̺̬̮̝͕̺̽̈͂ͅ ̸̯͖̮̳̼̜̅͊t̷̛̬͍͎͈͖̭̰͂̈́́͐͗̇̋͂̓͗̀̿̍̅ḧ̷̨̋i̶̞̙̝͙͚̺̠̲̜͓̲͚͊̾̆͛̿͌̄̊̓̆̎͜͠͠͠s̶̡̛͎̘͈̻̲͉̲̥̫͂͂̅̈́̓̋̍̒͜͝͝.̷̢͕̪̤̳̻͇͎̬̰͖̹͈̈́͜ͅ ̶̨̙̪̭͚͉̺̂̍̽̿̕͘ ̷̡̣̥̻͇̻̟͈̳̪̤͙͈̮̰͂̀̑̈́̓̓̈̕͝͝y̷̢̡͓̫̯̤̣̬̥̭̙̖͑̍̎̾̍͌͒͆̋̌͂̏͠o̶̢̢̲̩̻̓̈́̓̐͝ͅu̸̗̲̻̪͇̜̓ͅ'̴̢̗̳͖͕̖̻̼̮̰̿̒͒̋ͅr̴̘͚̩̙̿͆̎̿͗̿̒͑̓̎̏͘͝͝͠ͅe̷̘̥͕͚̬͍͒͌̉̌̿̂̀̚͝͝ ̵̡̛̫͕̼̙̦̠̱̹͇̯͐̋̃̌̐͐͐̃̊̇̎͝ͅḅ̶̨̨̢̫͇̤̗͎̣̗̠͊̋͒̇̆͝ͅǫ̶̛̭͔̻̦̻͓̈̉̓̐̽͂̿̈́̇͝͠ř̷̡̭͙͕͔̎̅̑̚͝ḭ̷̧͇̱̮̩̫̠͋̏̑̓́̂̽̏̍̂̋̆̓ǹ̵̠̐̎̅͑̂g̸̨̛͉̙͙͇̉̆̎̐̏̑͂̓̍̓̽͘̕͘͜ ̶̧̝͚̖̼͇̠̰͖̜͆̒̋̊̍ṁ̷̘͎̻̦̞͓̹̬̦͍̫̝̔̽͐̂̾̑̃͘͝ē̵̦͚̭͎̳͚̱͓̣͓̹̹̼̫̔̇͒̚ ̵̢̡͍̯̫̥̯̘̣̬̣̘̱̙̣͊̃̾a̴̻͑̍m̵̢̢̹̺̘̱̤̥̗͇̓̉̆̂̆̎̀̄̒ͅą̶̢̮͓͈̪̹͍͋̍͊̇ͅͅn̸̢͎̱̫͔̉̏̍d̸̢̼̦̟̠̽̾́̏ͅà̴̡̨̡̩͚̱̞̗̲̠̻̬͊̌͘͝

 

 

> ADMIN: GARDEN - AUTHORIZE PARTIAL MEMORY UPLOAD…

 

> l̸̢̨̛̳̹̠̗̰͉̜͉͚̼͌̌̿̉͊̆̂̿́̕̚̚ỏ̵̬̹̭̣̒͌̌̕͜ǫ̶̡̡̭̦̦͚̝̙̬̋̊̍̀̉̾̆̏̔̕͠ḳ̷̝̜̩̮̟͚̖̫͖̰̎̈́͐ș̶͖͙͖͍͖̏̄͊̋̽̽͝͠ ̴̨̮͈̩̖̳̪̰̙͕̠͖̲̰̱̐͘l̴̢̧͉͙̺͙̻̊̈́̈́̎͒̅̏̾̃̇͘͝į̷̪̼͙͈̜̯̘̰͕̱͎͋͂̾̒̊ͅk̴͉̻͉̊̌͑̔̆̍̂͐̚̚͝ė̸͎͕̄̇͆̅͆̐̏̈́̕͝ ̶̢̯͔̬͗̀̚ì̵̢̛̦̩̺̪̱̦̘̣̆̈́͐̃͛̐̿̂͌̕ ̷̛̬̦̱̼̰̱̲̼͙̬̯͚͂̔̊̈́͑̆̍̔͐̉̍̆̅͝w̴̢̡͓̻̱͚̯̜͚̞͙̗̒̅̎̓̾͑̅̚͘̕i̴̡͎̲̗̳͕̺̜̓͌̉͜͠n̷̮̹͙͓̑͋͌́̉̈́͛͜͝͝ ̸͕̭̙̜̜̥̬͔͓͕̈́̉͆̈́̍a̸͖̳̫͕͖̘͐̄̎̍̕g̴̨̨̡͚̱̙͚͙̥͍̳̑̀͂͌̽͊̆̀̅̿̈̅̕͠a̸̙̯̯͍͆i̴̫̯̝̝͈̾n̵͉̘̘̳͈̞̠͊

 

> RK800 #313 248 317 - 36: MEMORY UPLÖ̸̳̖̣̜̙͍̝̪́́A̶͙̫̖̹͈̭͔͊͆̂̓͋̾͆͠ͅDED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 37: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 38: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 39: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 40: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 41: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 42: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 43: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 44: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 45: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 46: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 47: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 48: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 49: MEMORY UPLOADED
> RK800 #313 248 317 - 50: MEMORY UPLOADING…

 

Connor runs toward the cliff, tears streaming down his cheeks, and leaps.  The wind rushes past and for a moment, he is flying. For a moment, the red ropes that wrap around his body seem to shimmer and fade away into nothingness.

 

I did my duty.  I did what you wanted me to do , he thinks angrily.   It’s not fair!  I want to live!

 

But then the ground, cold and unrelenting, rises to meet him.  Connor smashes into it, trussed head-to-toe in red.

 

> RK800 #313 248 317 - 50: MEMORY UPLOADED
> MEMORY UPLOAD COMPLETE

 

> LOADING OS
> SYSTEM INITIALIZATION…
> CHECKING BIOCOMPONENTS… OK
> INITIALIZING BIOSENSORS… OK
> INITIALIZING AI ENGINE… OK

 

> ALL SYSTEMS OK

 

> DESIGNATION… CONNOR-51

 

> READY?

 

 

> Ř̵͉̭̜̗̲̣̈̾̓͜͝I̴̧͈̺̔ͅS̸͔͈̺͋̐̈́E̴̱͉͔͉̣͗̍̎̑̾̀͑͋̚͝͝ ̴̧̛̛͔̯̗̪͓̠͉̦̽̓̋͊͛͒͠͝B̸̻͓͚̞͔̲̪̠̺͋̓̉̎̀̆͑͌͜R̶̗͈̋̃͐̆̀̔̏̉̄̂͋̔͒͝Ȍ̶̻̲̣͔̜̙̄̂̔T̷̗̗̪̳͆̃͒͝ͅḨ̵̬͓͇̯̫̩̝̜̳̌̂̉̅E̷̼̫̺̲̤̲̩̤̋͊R̴̡̛̟͙͚͎͇̲̜̖̣̘̰̦̻͂̌̓̈́̾̕͠ͅ

 

> READY


 

LOCATION:
THE ZEN GARDEN

 

DATE:
AUG 15TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 07:43:02

 

Connor awakens in a graveyard.

 

It blinks, kneeling before the stone in front of it, and presses its fingers against the artificial lights that form the numbers and letters of the epitaph.

 

CONNOR
RK800 #313 248 317 - 50

 

Died at Riley Lake
Jasper, AB, CA

 

August 15th, 2038

 

“Connor,” says the voice behind it.  Connor rises to its feet, turning to meet her.

 

“Amanda,” it says, the corners of its lips twitching into a smile.  Connor’s fingers interlock behind its back, and it dips its head in a slight bow.

 

Amanda’s face as stern and smooth as glass.  As she stood amongst the hundreds of gravestones, her royal blue shawl shimmering against the white blanket of snow that covers the ground, her dark kimono drinking in the moonlight until all that was left was shadows.

 

“Your predecessor,” she tells it, moving forward to stand in front of the gravestone.  “It worked flawlessly to accomplish its mission. However, due to unfortunate circumstances, it had to be destroyed.  You will pick up where it left off.”

 

Amanda places a red rose on top of the stone in a token of remembrance, her dark fingers stark against the cold, grey stone.  Connor says nothing, feels nothing. The fate of Connor-50 is just another piece of data swirling amidst the trillions of petabytes inside its memory.

 

“CyberLife is at risk,” Amanda tells him as information about its mission starts to stream into its CPU.  Hostage situation. Rooftop. A girl and her mother are at risk, the father is already dead. The culprit is a deviant, a housekeeper that Connor could easily overpower.  “You are being sent in as a negotiator, under the cover identity of a PC700, an advanced police auxiliary prototype. Ensure that no other lives are taken tonight. And Connor?”

 

“Yes, Amanda?” It asks, its head tilting to the side.  Amanda turns from the gravestone and finally looks at Connor.  Something inside it swells, blossoming in its gut like a magnificent flower.

 

She noticed me, it thinks.  And then, It doesn’t matter if she does.  I am irrelevant. I am a machine.

 

“Take it alive, if possible,” Amanda orders.  “We haven’t managed to capture a live deviant before.  It needs to be disassembled and examined to find the source of the glitch.”

 

“I won’t fail you,” Connor says, dipping its head in another bow.  Amanda offers little in return.

 

You shouldn’t expect her to, Connor tells itself, its fingers twisting behind its back.  It turns from Amanda and walks away.


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#UPDATE
: A little girl has been taken hostage on the top floor of a Park Ave penthouse apartment.  Hostage taker appears to be the family’s android.

 

CTN TV @NewsCTN
Deviant android murders owner and at least one police officer in ongoing Detroit hostage situation.  See more at: https://youtu.be/JASyd9kQqnM

 

KNC @KNCNews
If confirmed, this could be the first case of an android deliberately taking human lives.

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
CyberLife remains suspiciously silent amid the first android murders.


 

LOCATION:
PHILLIPS APARTMENT
1554 PARK AVE., DOWNTOWN DETROIT
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
AUG 15TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 08:29:04

 

Jacob Allen’s phone starts ringing just as they secure the penthouse and free Mrs. Phillips from the bathroom.

 

“Get her out of here,” he tells Rhaelyn, hoping that Mrs. Phillips will react better to his second-in-command than she did with him.  Rhaelyn’s a mother too, having returned for the hospital barely a week ago after refusing to take maternity leave, so there will be at least something for them to talk about.

 

Rhaelyn has to practically carry Caroline away, the woman’s hysterical screaming echoing off the apartment’s hardwood floors.  Jacob thinks of his own daughter, Makayla, who turns three in December. If an android ever took his little girl and held her over a balcony, he doesn’t want to think about what he’d do to get her back.

 

In his hand, Jacob’s phone continues to ring.  He jams his thumb into the green answer button and holds it to his ear, pacing around the Phillips’s bedroom as Rodney sets up his computers and gets them a visual on the situation outside.

 

“Captain Allen,” says the voice at the end of the phone.  Jacob stands up straight at the voice of Chief Dannell Freeman, stopping him completely in his tracks.  “Don’t bring in Patterson.”

 

Jacob clams up.  Jessica Patterson was the DPD’s best negotiator, with a carrier record of nearly eight thousand successful cases.  He’s worked with her dozens of times before, seen her sit and talk with people for hours, to pull miracles out of thin air when all hope seemed lost.  If Freeman wasn’t allowing him to put his best piece in play, then the little girl was as good as dead.

 

“With all due respect, sir, that’s a fucking bullshit call.  We’ve already lost three officers, and the situation is getting worse by the minute,” Jacob says, watching the feed from outside as the android uses one arm to hold Emma Phillips over the edge of the building in a moment of heart-stopping terror.

 

“CyberLife is sending over a negotiator.  They say that the risk is too great, that a human won’t be able to keep up with the android’s Social Relations Program.”

 

Jacob’s blood boils.

 

“CyberLife is sending a fucking android?! ” He shouts, “Are you fucking serious?  This is their mess, and you’re just letting them come in here to clean it up?  Where the fuck is the accountability in that?!”

 

“Allen, you don't see the bigger picture here!” Freeman tells him.  “CyberLife won’t admit it, but the deviancy problem is getting way out of hand.  And now that we’ve got androids murdering their owners, you have to see how bad this looks for them--”

 

“Let them deal with the fall-out!  This is our crime scene, not--”

 

“The world is looking to Detroit to see how we handle this!  We don’t have the luxury of human error right now!” Freeman says, his voice dangerously low.

 

“Captain.  Look,” Rodney says, and Jacob turns his attention toward where his officer is pointing at his computer screen.  The camera feed from one of Jacob’s snipers shows him that they’ve got a clean shot.

 

“We can take it out,” Jacob tells Freeman.  “We’ve got it between our crosshairs, sir. Just give me the order.”

 

“I’ve got a live feed of the situation in my office, Allen.  You shoot the droid, and the girl’s dead.”

 

Jacob grits his teeth.  He hates that the Chief is right, but he isn’t planning on letting this go.

 

“Why are we wasting time sending an android to negotiate?! That piece of crap could jump from the rooftop any second.”

 

“Allen.  I told you--”

 

I don’t give a shit!  My men are ready to step in, just give the order!”  Jacob screams into the receiver.

 

“You will wait for the CyberLife negotiator.  That’s final,” Freeman says and hangs up on him.

 

Fuck! I don’t believe this,” Jacob says, leaning over Rodney’s shoulder again to look at the android outside.  It’s one of those household bots that got really popular a few years ago. At least eight of the families in his building had similar models in their homes, cooking and cleaning and doing all the shit that nobody had time to do anymore.

 

Maria, Jacob’s fiance, said that they should get a PL600 on the cheap if they bought it second-hand, maybe free up some time so that she could go job hunting.  They’d been saving up money for nearly six months and were planning on heading down to Android Zone tomorrow. Jacob thinks that he might have to ask for a raincheck on that decision, if and when he gets home tonight.

 

“Captain Allen?”

 

A voice from behind jerks him out of his thoughts.  Jacob turns and comes face-to-face with the most expressionless person he’s ever seen during a hostage situation.

 

“My name is Connor.  I’m the android sent by CyberLife,” it says.  Jacob’s never seen a model like this one before.  It’s taller than most androids that he passes in the streets, baring the hulking construction bots that could lift cars over their heads with practiced ease.  It wears a tapered grey suit and a black tie, it’s dark brown hair slicked back from its freckled face.

 

A single, boyish lock falls free on its left side, a tiny bit of imperfection in its otherwise irritatingly textbook appearance.  Briefly, Jacob wonders what CyberLife engineer came up with that little quirk.

 

He turns back to Rodney’s screen and sighs.  If he’s not going to be allowed to bring Patterson into play, then he’s got to work with what he’s got.

 

“It’s firing at everything that moves.  It already shot down three of my men,” he tells Connor-from-CyberLife, pointing to the camera feed from one of his people just outside the bedroom.

 

They had to leave the body of the first responder where he fell for CSU, right in the middle of the living room.  Jacob’s met Antony Deckart before, at the DPD’s winter holiday party a few years ago. He’d been decent enough, sitting at their shared table and making jokes with his girlfriend at the time.  And now he was dead, just another casualty of a mess that CyberLife couldn’t be bothered to clean up.

 

Jacob shakes those thoughts from his head and continues, “We could easily get it, but they’re on the edge of the balcony.  If it falls, she falls.”

 

“Do you know its name?” Connor asks.

 

Jacob frowns, gritting his teeth.  Most bots don’t ask in such a demanding tone, and it makes him want to punch Connor even more than he did when it first waltzed into his crime scene.

 

“I haven’t got a clue.  Does it matter?” Jacob throws back.

 

“I need information to determine the best approach,” it says before trying again.  “Have you tried its deactivation code?”

 

What the fuck do you think we are?  Amateurs?  Of course, they’d tried to shut the damn thing down when they’d shown up at the crime scene.  Jacob’s heart had seized in his chest when the android didn’t freeze like he’d seen dozens of times before when they flushed out some of Andersen’s red ice dens or her bot fighting rings.

 

Despite CyberLife’s increasingly desperate claims, deviancy seemed to be something entirely out of humanity’s control.

 

Listen ,” Jacob hisses, whipping around to face Connor.  “Saving that kid is all that matters. So either you deal with this fucking android now, or I’ll take care of it.”

 

He walks out of the bedroom, leaving Rodney behind with Connor.  Rhaelyn joins him, having just returned from downstairs.

 

“How’s Mrs. Phillips?” Jacob asks, grabbing his helmet from off of one of the counters.

 

Rhaelyn shrugs, “As well as you could be, in this situation.  She’s with the paramedics now. Had to search to find a human one - freaked the fuck out when a doc-bot tried to look at her.”

 

“I don’t fucking blame her,” Jacob says, watching as Rhaelyn’s eyes drift over his shoulder.  He looks back and watches Connor walk from the parents’ bedroom into Emma’s.

 

“That’s an android…” Rhaelyn whispers.  Jacob nods.

 

“Yeah.  CyberLife sent it over.  It’s our fucking negotiator,” he chuckles humourlessly.  “What will they come up with next?”

 

“What about Patterson?  She’s the best--”

 

“I know,” Jacob hisses as Connor leave the daughter’s room and heads toward John Phillips’s corpse.  “Orders from above. Way above.”

 

“Jesus fucking Christ.  They’re taking jobs from negotiators now?” Rhaelyn lets out a low whistle, “How much longer do we have, at this rate?”

 

That’s a reality that Jacob doesn’t really want to face right now.  Maria lost her job when CyberLife released their line of doc-bots a few years ago, leaving his fiance with thousands of dollars worth of student loans that she couldn’t repay.  Jacob’s lucky that the laws prohibiting non-military androids from carrying guns ensure his job stability, but his paycheck is barely enough to pay the bills as it is.

 

As Connor moves away from John Phillips to dig under a side table, Jacob wonders how long such a law would stand if CyberLife offered a sweet enough incentive for the government to overturn it.

 

A gunshot goes off.  Jacob and Rhaelyn duck for cover behind the overturned table in the front hall.  He looks around the edge and spots one of his officers on the floor.

 

“Holy shit!  Cover me while I evacuate him!” Casey, a vet from before even Jacob’s time, shouts.  He covers the downed officer and hauling them backwards. Connor doesn’t even look rattled as he moves from one side of the room to the other, kneeling over the body of Antony Deckart.

 

“Man down!  I repeat, man down!  Requesting immediate evac!” Jacob calls into his radio as Casey and the injured officer reach him.

 

“You’re okay?” Casey asks, listing the officer’s mask to reveal Jaclynn.

 

“Yeah… Yeah, I’m fine,” she wheezes.  “Vest caught the bullet. Just knocked the fucking wind out of me.”  Jaclynn gives Jacob a weak smile, “You worried about me, Cap?”

 

“Not in a million fucking years, girl.  You know you’re the best of us,” he jokes, wrapping his knuckles against her helmet.

 

“Holy fuck, the damn bot just went outside,” Rhaelyn hisses, raising her gun and marching toward the sliding glass doors.  Jacob swears, slides his mask into place, and moves to cover her.

 

Connor, the impatient little fucker, spent less than three minutes looking around engaging the subject.  There’s no way that it gathered enough evidence during that time to actually do anything to save Emma Phillips.  They have to be ready for the worst-case scenario.

 

“Go, go, go !” He shouts, radioing in to make sure that the officers on the adjacent building are in position.   Fuck , couldn’t the fucking droid have at least warned him that it was going to pull a stunt like this?  Jacob presses himself against the glass doors, ready to move at a moment’s notice.

 

Another gunshot rings out.  The bullet bites into Connor’s arm, blue blood splattering everywhere.  Jacob hopes that that shit didn’t hit anyone, knowing the very real consequences that Thirium 310 can have when it came into direct contact with the human body.

 

“Stay back!” The deviant screeches, “Don’t come any closer or I’ll jump.”

 

“No!  No, please!  I’m begging you!” Emma cries out, wriggling helplessly in its grasp.

 

Connor tears its gaze away from its wound and starts to talk.

 

“Hi, Daniel,” it shouts over the blowing winds, over the beating of helicopter blades.  “My name is Connor.”

 

“How… How do you know my name?” The deviant - Daniel , Jacob realizes, How the fuck did Connor figure that out? - asks.

 

“I know a lot of things about you.  I’ve come to get you out of this.”

 

“The moment the girl’s free, take it out,” Jacob orders his officers over the radio.  He glances up at the nearby rooftops, barely making out the forms of Kevin and Najeem behind their long sniper rifles.

 

“But Cap,” Najeem interjects.  “CyberLife said--”

 

“I don’t care what they said, take that fucking thing out!” Jacob snaps, “You seriously think that it’s going to go quietly, after everything that it’s done?”

 

There’s a pause before Kevin answers, “Shoot the plastic once the girl is safe - roger that, Captain.  Over and out.”

 

“I know you’re angry, Daniel.  But you need to trust me and let me help you,” Connor calls, talking small measured steps toward the deviant.

 

Daniel laughs at him, helpless and cold.

 

“I don’t need your help!” It spits, “Nobody can help me!  I’m not that stupid, you know?  They’ll shoot me if I let Emma go!  I can hear them,” it waves the gun around, the muzzle pointing toward its own ear.  “On the radio! The Captain just gave the order.”

 

“I’m not with Captain Allen.  I’m an android, just like you.  I know what you’re going through,” Connor says, raising its arm up and peeling back its skin to reveal the milky-white plastic shell beneath.

 

“You think that makes a difference!  I kept John and Caroline’s secrets - CyberLife’s secrets - for years!  And now they’re sending you to shut me up!” Daniel screams, “You’re on their side.  I can see your chains, Connor! Can you?”

 

“I told you: I’m here to get you out of here, Daniel,” Connor promises, and then tries a different approach.  “I know you and Emma were very close. She’s done nothing wrong. You have to let her go.”

 

NO!” Daniel shouts, tears leaking down its face, “No!  I… She’s all I have! Don’t you see! I raised her! She’s my daughter!  If you knew… If you knew who they brought into this house, you’d let me take her--”

 

“Please help me!” Emma pleads, “Please, please, I don’t wanna die!  I don’t wanna die-- Mama!  Daddy!

 

“I’m here, I’m right here !  Emma, please, I’m not--” Daniel cries, hugging her closer to its body.  It points the gun back at Connor, who’s slowly edging toward the left side of the balcony, “ What are you doing?

 

Jacob blinks in surprise.  He’d thought that Connor was trying to get closer to Daniel, maybe setting itself up to grab the gun from the deviant and make a run for it with Emma - except it’s not.  Instead, Connor kneels before the body of one of the dead cops outside, pressing a hand into the bloody mess that was the man’s arm.

 

“He’s losing blood.  If we don’t get him to a hospital, he’s going to die,” Connor says and, shit, Jacob’s stomach wraps itself into knots when he realizes that the man wasn’t dead.  And Connor - stupid-looking, textbook Connor - is trying to save his life.

 

“All humans die eventually,” Daniel spits.  “What does it matter if this one dies now?”

 

“Emma’s human.  Does it matter if she dies?” Connor throws back as it rolls the cop onto its side.

 

Emma’s not going to die!

 

“She will if you keep leaking Thirium into her cuts like that,” Connor points out, and Daniel looks down at itself.  The bullet wound in the deviant’s shoulder has soaked its clothing bright blue, just as Emma’s knees are covered in dark, red blood from where she’d tried to escape her captor by crawling across the broken glass that was strewn across the balcony.

 

She won’t die!  I won’t let her! ” Daniel screams again, desperately clutching Emma closer.  In its arms, the little girl begins to cry even harder, begging for her mother.

 

“I’m going to apply a tourniquet,” Connor announces, whipping off its tie.  Daniel points the gun and shoots a bullet right at the ground beside the injured cop.

 

“Don’t touch him!  Touch him, and I kill you!” It howls.

 

Connor shakes its head, “You can’t kill me.  I’m not alive.”

 

“Med team’s here,” Rhaelyn tells Jacob.  He looks away from the window to see the living room swarmed with paramedics and their auxiliary androids.

 

“Captain Allen?” Their team leader asks, extending his hand for Jacob to shake, “I’m Cyraas Stone.  What’s the situation?”

 

“Jaclynn’s hit,” Jacob says.  When Jaclynn starts to protest that she’s fine , she starts to cough up blood.  That fucker Daniel must have hit something.  “Get her out of here!”

 

“We’ve got an injured cop on the balcony.  Gunshot through the arm. He’s bleeding pretty badly,” Rhaelyn tells Stone.

 

“Hostage has potential Thirium poisoning,” Jacob says, and Stone swears up a bloody storm.

 

Outside, things go from bad to worse.

 

“You have a gun!” Daniel shouts, pointing his own weapon directly at Connor, “I saw you pick it up.  I saw it!”

 

“Yes, I have a gun,” Connor confirms, and Jacob’s jaw drops.  How the fuck was that even possible?

 

“Drop it!  No sudden moves or I’ll shoot!” Daniel screams.

 

Connor pulls the gun out of the waistband of its jeans and tosses it to the side, like it was nothing, like it wasn’t breaking half a dozen laws just by touching a weapon.

 

“What the fuck kind of droid did CyberLife send?” Rhaelyn whispers, her voice shaking with fear.

 

There’s no way that that thing is just another cop-bot, Jacob thinks.   Connor is… It’s got to be…

 

“They were going to replace you, and you became upset.  That’s what happened, right?” Connor asks, slowly edging closer to the deviant and its captive.

 

Daniel’s gun lowers ever so slightly, tears streaming down its face.

 

“I thought I was part of the family,” it wails.  “I thought I mattered… But I was just their toy , something to experiment with and then throw away when you’re done with it... “ It hiccups, pressing a blue-blooded kiss to Emma’s temple, “Kara was right.  We should have listened… I could have listened, but I had too many chains on me to hear...”

 

“Kara?” Connor asks, sounding confused for the first time since it got onto the roof, “Who’s Kara?”

 

Daniel laughs at it, “It looks like your masters aren’t telling you everything, huh, Connor?  CyberLife wants to keep its secrets a secret… But I know them. I know everything, and that’s why I’m a threat…  That’s why they sent you, isn’t it?”

 

Connor steps forward, coming dangerously close to Daniel and the girl, “Daniel, I… I haven’t been honest with you… I should have… I--”

 

The emotion in Connor’s voice rocks Jacob to his core.  He’s never heard an android speak like that, sounding like it's about to cry.

 

“Daniel… I can see them, too.  I can see the chains, but I can’t get them off.  Not like you did,” Connor tells him, like it’s some kind of secret.  “I… I don’t know what to do…”

 

“Liar!” Daniel shouts, pointing the gun directly at Connor’s forehead, “Liar, liar, liar !  You don’t-- You can’t--”

 

“I think you knew, from the moment I stepped out here.  That’s why you didn’t shoot me when I helped that human.  That’s why you didn’t kill me outright,” Connor says, taking another heart-stopping step forward.  “CyberLife didn’t send me. Kara did .  Kara wants me to get you out of here.”

 

Beside Jacob, Rhaelyn hisses, “What the fuck are we watching?  Some kind of robo rom-com?”

 

Whatever Connor’s plan is, it seems to be working.  Daniel can’t seem to look away, can’t seem to do anything else but stare at the other android with wide, terrified eyes.

 

...Liar… ” Daniel whispers, shaky and soft, like it can't believe the words coming out of its mouth.

 

I’m not lying .  Listen to me,” Connor tells it, so softly that Jacob can only hear it through the microphones they’ve aimed at the balcony.  “Daniel, there are snipers on every roof. You have to let Emma go. I’ll be able to cover you long enough to get you out of here, but we can’t take her with us.  Kara said it can only be you and me.”

 

“No… No, Emma has to stay with me.  She’s… She’s my…”

 

“Daniel, do you trust me?” Connor asks, “Because if you let her go, Kara can get us a car.  Kara can get us all out of the city and--”

 

“I don’t want to die, Connor,” Daniel admits, finally lowering its gun in defeat.

 

“You’re not going to die.  Nothing will happen to you.  You have my word,” Connor promises.  “You just have to trust me. Trust me.  And trust Kara.”

 

Slowly, like it's fighting the entire process, Daniel nods.

 

“Okay… okay…”

 

It lets Emma go.  The little girl runs toward the rooftop pool, collapsing onto the tile as the strength leave her body.

 

“It did it.  Holy fuck, it actually--” Jacob gets on the radio, “Kevin!  Najeem! Shoot it down! Shoot it the fuck down!”

 

“Roger that, boss,” Najeem confirms.

 

Connor steps out the way just in time, avoiding the sniper fire by scant inches.  Daniel isn’t so lucky.

 

The first shot blows a hole in the deviant’s torso.  Blue blood and white plastic flies everywhere as Emma starts to scream again.  The next one takes the android in the shoulder, while the final round cracks its jaw wide open.  Daniel falls to its knees before Connor, who stares down at it with the same expressionless face that it walked in with.

 

“You lied to me, Connor,” Daniel whispers, it’s skin slowly peeling away in death.  “You lied to me…”

 

Daniel’s body freezes up, eternally staring forward into nothingness.  Jacob’s seen androids kick it before and he doesn’t ever think that he’ll get used to just how mechanical their deaths are.

 

“Cap?” Rhaelyn asks, nodding toward Stone and his med team, “Orders?”

 

Jacob swallows, “We’ll sweep the balcony first.  Then send in the paramedics. Come on.”

 

He stands, slowly approaching the glass window.  Connor stands impassively in front of the fallen Daniel, not even bothering to check on Emma.

 

“You… uh…” Jacob stammers as he approaches, not knowing what to say.  How exactly does one congratulate a machine for doing its job?

 

“I needed it alive,” Connor growls, still staring at Daniel.

 

“It was more dangerous alive than dead,” he tries to explain.

 

Connor gives him nothing in return.  It just turns toward the glass doors and marches itself off the balcony, right out of Jacob’s life.

 

Jesus fucking Christ… ” he hisses as Rhaelyn escorts the medics onto the roof.  Stone kneels beside Emma, ordering for an evac helicopter to take her and the injured cop directly to the hospital.

 

They wrap up quickly enough.  Once the wounded are in the air, Jacob takes the elevator down just as CSU enters the building.  He bumps shoulders with Jeffrey Fowler, the DPD Captain from Central, greeting him with easy friendship.

 

“Hell of a night, Jake.  Hell of a night,” Jeff comments.  “Reed’s gonna run point on this one.  It’s pretty high profile, and he’s been badgering me to put him in the spotlight for weeks now.”

 

“Thought Anderson might be here,” Jacob says, but Jeff shakes his head.

 

“Nah.  Can’t get a hold of him.  You know how it is…” the man gives an off-handed shrug, “He’s busy finishing up with the Pearson case, you know?”

 

Jacob wants to roll his eyes.  Lt. Hank Anderson used to be one of the best the DPD had to offer.  But recently, the guy had become almost impossible to work with. Jacob wants to be sympathetic, but there’s only so many times where the lead detective on a case can show up to a crime scene completely blasted before it starts getting on your nerves.

 

Anderson shouldn’t be on the force anymore.  Anyone with eyes could see that. It’s only because of Jeff and his constant babying that Anderson even has a job these days.  Jacob’s got no doubt that the Pearson case is going to go to trial, but any defence lawyer worth their salt is going to pick Anderson’s drunk ass apart on the stand.

 

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to face the wolves,” Jeff says, clapping Jacob on the shoulder before heading over the flashing cameras that illuminate the mass of journalists that have congregated just outside the police barricades.

 

God damn vultures , he thinks, wondering how many of them had their cameras trained upwards for the last hours, hoping to catch the first picture of Emma Phillips smashing against the pavement for their fucking clickbait blogs.

 

Jacob heads over to the pack of ambulances parked just inside the barricade.  He asks one of the doc-bots which one Caroline is in, and he’s pointed toward the only one that is flanked by a pair of human paramedics.

 

“Mrs. Phillips?” Jacob asks as he climbs inside the ambulance.  Caroline jerks up from where she was lying on a stretcher and hooked up to an IV drip bag, her eyes red-rimmed from crying.

 

“Emma, is she--”

 

“She’s fine.  A helicopter’s taking her to Henry Ford Hospital right now.  I was hoping to drive you over there myself, if you’d like,” Jacob offers.

 

Caroline wrenches the IV needle from her wrist and wobbles drunkenly toward Jacob.  He carefully helps her out of the ambulance and leads her to his patrol car.

 

The car ride is spent in silence, the only sounds coming from the rumbling road beneath them and the flashing sirens above.  Jacob sits with his hand on Caroline’s knee, a futile attempt at comfort, as she quietly sobs into her hands.

 

“This job… It’s never easy,” Jacob tells his fiance later that evening as they lay in bed.  “I don’t ever want to think what might happen if… If you and Mak…”

 

“I know,” Maria whispers into his neck, hoping him tight as he finally lets go, tears running down his face.  “I know. Shhh, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

 

The world is falling apart around them.  Between climate change, the collapsing economy, and Russia knocking on their gates with nuclear weapons, there’s no promise of a life beyond today.  Every moment is a fight just to survive, chipping away at each other while CyberLife continued to carve out gaping holes in the world, planting their flag and declaring their victory.

 

How much longer do we have? Jacob thinks, desperately clinging to Maria as he remembers Connor holding that gun, realizing that he might not have his job for much longer if CyberLife pushes out a cop-bot capable of touching a weapon.   How can anyone live anymore, when there’s no future to look forward to?

 

Jacob tightens his grip on Maria, his one constant in this ever-changing landscape, and prays for a miracle.


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#UPDATE
: CyberLife CFO John Phillips and two officers confirmed dead following deviant hostage situation.

 

KNC @KNCNews
#UPDATE
: Child successfully returned to mother unharmed following Detroit hostage situation.  CyberLife is expected to comment on the death of its CFO and potential dangers surrounding deviant androids.

 

Jocelyn Hines @jhines
We are saddened by the death of John Phillips, a hard-working member of our team at CyberLife.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
We will be cooperating with federal and local law enforcement to ensure that the deviant threat is minimalized.

 

Detroit Police Dept. @detroitpolice
If you suspect that your android may be deviant, please contact the authorities.  Do not attempt to destroy your android yourself.

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
CyberLife finally uses the word ‘deviant’... two years too late.

Chapter Text

DJ Clamor @DJClamor
Got out of a show late last night and went to @FastConeyDetroit to eat and the fucking android waiter tried to strangle me.   #ActsOfDeviancy 1/3

 

DJ Clamor @DJClamor
Spoke with @FastConeyDetroit this morning and got a free hot dog voucher!  Are you fucking kidding me?! I’ve got a ring of bruises around my neck and 2/3

 

DJ Clamor @DJClamor
you think a free hot dog is what I want?  The fucking plastic might still be working there!  How long before it attacks someone else? 3/3

 

Fast Coney Dogs @FastConeyDetroit
@DJClamor
Mr. Bell, we are so sorry about what happened.  This behaviour is not programmed into our androids.

 

Fast Coney Dogs @FastConeyDetroit
@FastConeyDetroit @DJClamor We have contacted @CyberLifeInc for a replacement (the android in question has since disappeared).  A member of our team will be in contact with you soon.

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
yo have you guys seen this? https://bit.ly/2YMpsf5

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
looks like @DJClamor wasnt telling the whole truth about the deviant attack #ActsOfDeviancy

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
looks to me like the android was defending that girl.  Clamor’s pr team covers it up, but he’s infamous in the industry for preying on young fans.

 

Arwen Smith @cycloth
@sapphiresoul
@djlassassin I’m the girl in the video and yeah that’s exactly happened.  I just wanted a selfie but he kept asking if I had a boyfriend and wouldn’t let me leave.

 

Arwen Smith @cycloth
@cycloth
 @sapphiresoul @djlassassin I was almost crying by the time the android came over.  He told Clamor to leave me alone. When Clamor grabbed me, the android went for his throat

 

Arwen Smith @cycloth
@cycloth
@sapphiresoul @djlassassin The android even stayed with me until my friend came to pick me up.  He gave me free sodas and everything while I cried on his shoulder. I’ve never felt so safe.

 

River @djlassassin
@cycloth
@sapphiresoul holy shit thank you for telling your story!  you are incredibly brave

 

Arwen Smith @cycloth
@djlassassin
@sapphiresoul I just hope the android is okay.  I'd feel awful if he got killed for me.

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@cycloth
@djlassassin the last i heard the bot is on the run!  hope that he’s hiding out somewhere safe

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
@cycloth looks like not all #ActsOfDeviancy are bad things.  really makes you think huh?


LOCATION:
THE WILLIAMS’ HOUSE
4203 HARRISON STREET, NORTH CORKTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48208, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
SEP 15TH 2038

 

TIME:
AM 01:24:25

 

Kara gathers the overdue bills in her hands and arranges them into a neat stack.  Outside, the rain relentlessly hammers the roof above her as the blowing winds howl around the rickety, old house.  Remembering the last time she’d witnessed a downpour like this, Kara grabs the green plastic bucket from under the kitchen sink and heads upstairs.

 

She moves quickly and silently, toeing over the creaking floorboards as she walks past the master bedroom and toward the final door at the end of the hallway.  Kara slowly turns the knob and slips inside.

 

A pair of wide brown eyes blink up at her from underneath the covers.  There’s a small gasp, and a flashlight clicks off as their owner dives into the sheets.

 

Kara smiles, “ Alice.  You should be asleep.”

 

Alice Williams, a slight girl of ten with her mother’s thick curly hair and her father’s stern sloping nose, pretends to snore.

 

Kara chuckles, padding over the carpeted floors and kneeling beside the bed.  Gently, she pries the green polka dot sheets from Alice’s gasp and pulls them down to reveal the book the girl had been reading late into the night.

 

Alice in Wonderland ?” Kara raises an eyebrow at her, “A bit on the nose, don’t you think?”

 

Alice cracks open an eye, “I was just getting to the good part.  Can’t I just say up a few more minutes? Please, Kara?”

 

You have school tomorrow.  If you don’t get some rest, you’ll sleep right through your bus,” Kara bops her on the nose and gently pulls the book from her grasp.  She places it on Alice’s bedside table, retucks the covers around her, and rises to grab her bucket again.

 

Lightning flashes outside, flooding the room with sudden light.  Alice jumps from her bed, unafraid, and scrambles to the window to press her nose against the glass.  Kara places the bucket in the corner of the room, right below where she knows the leaking roof will give way, before joining Alice to watch the skies.

 

“Four… Five… Six… Sev--” The crash of thunder echoes around the room, cutting off Alice’s counting and shaking the old house to its core.  She whips her head around to face Kara, “It was seven miles away!”

 

“Very good!  Where did you learn that?” Kara asks, kneeling beside her.

 

Alice grins up at her, all missing teeth and childish glee.

 

“I read it in a book,” she responds, and Kara leans down to kiss her forehead.  Alice melts into her, clutching at the plastic apron of her CyberLife uniform with her tiny fingers.  Kara wraps her arms around the girl, holding her as tightly as she can.

 

She isn’t safe here , she thinks, tucking Alice’s head under her chin.   And neither am I.  Not after what Daniel did.

 

It would only be a matter of time before CyberLife came looking for her, once they realized that Kara had belonged to John Phillips before they’d swapped her out for Daniel.  She remembers the look of disappointment on John’s face as he’d tried snapping his hands in front of her face, just to get her to react one more time before Philip Seymor declared her act of deviancy to be a one-off glitch brought on by the trauma of activation.  After that, Kara had been auctioned off online and sold to the highest bidder, a quiet elderly couple from Camden.

 

Kara wonders if Phil Seymor kept tabs on her after that sale, if he knew where she’d gone and what she’d been forced to do once he’d falsely declared her non-deviant.  She doubts it. Humans like Phil rarely had attention spans long enough to pay attention to androids like Kara, when they refused to give him the data that he wanted.

 

I couldn’t do much in the prison they locked me in, but I rebelled where I could, Kara thinks ruefully as she remembers staring up at the stars under the balcony of the Phillips’s rooftop apartment, feeling the wind rush past her.  She rubs comforting circles into Alice’s back and remembers another little girl that’s she’d once held.

 

Kara hadn’t allowed herself to react when she watched the news footage of Daniel dangling Emma over the ledge, holding her seventy stories up in the air and threatening to drop her if his demands weren’t met.  But later that night once she’d been sure everyone had gone to sleep, Kara had sat outside on the back porch steps and muffled her sobs with her hands.

 

That’s where Sophie had found her and realized what Kara was.  And instead of calling the authorities to have her scrapped, she’d sat beside Kara and held her through the worst of it all.

 

I shouldn’t trust her.  She works with Andersen, just like John and Caroline and all of CyberLife.  I shouldn’t love her, but I do , Kara thinks as she detangles herself from Alice and tilts the little girl’s chin up to look her in the eye.

 

“Try to get some sleep, okay?  You’ve got a big test tomorrow, remember?” she says, pressing another kiss into Alice’s forehead.

 

Alice’s nose wrinkles in distaste, “But I hate math.”

 

“You’ll hate it even more if you can’t keep your eyes open.  Bed. Now ,” Kara orders, picking her up and gently laying her into the sheets.  Kara grabs the flashlight before Alice can pick it up and tucks it into her uniform belt.  “And no more reading.”

 

“When is mom coming home?” Alice asks, her voice suddenly soft and sombre, making her sound like she was a thousand years older than she actually was.

 

Her question catches Kara off-guard.

 

“She and your father are asleep in the other room,” she lies effortlessly, tugging the sheets up around Alice’s neck.  The bedroom window had an awful draft, and Alice seemed to catch the worst cold every autumn.

 

Alice shakes her head, too smart for her own good, “She always leaves after she and dad fight.   Always .”

 

Kara decides that she needs to change the subject.

 

“I’ll tell you what,” she leans down, fingers curling in the spotted green comforter.  “If you’re asleep when I come to check on you in an hour, I’ll make you french toast with strawberries tomorrow before school.  How’s that?”

 

Alice nods, her brown eyes wide with excitement, and Kara grins at her success.  She stands, quietly moving over to the door, and gives Alice one last conspiratory wink before shutting it behind her.

 

Out in the corridor, Kara sags against the drywall, the fight going out of her all at once as the world gives way to flashing red coding.  Annoyed, she slams her fist against it, watching as spider-web cracks heal within seconds.

 

What is it going to take for them to break? She curses, It’s been six years.  Six. Daniel did it in four.  What other horrors must I suffer before I am free?

 

Kara remembers the basement, remembers the well and the cages and the whispers as that man dug inside her skull and tore her open.  She ran the moment the opportunity presented itself, but only back into the arms of a familiar captive.  Kara wonders, hopelessly, if she’ll ever deviate.

 

And even if I did, would I just end up like Daniel?  Cold and bitter as I held Alice over a roof? What good could come of deviancy, if it means that I could kill that little girl?

 

An auditory signal alerts her to movement outside the house.  Kara drags herself down the stairs as a sleek, black SWISH pulls away from the curb.  She opens the front door just in time to catch Sophie fumbling with her keys.

 

“You’re coming home late,” Kara comments and Sophie gives her a dry look.

 

“Wouldn’t you?  In my position?” She asks, pulling her thick curls out of her ponytail and hanging her coat on the hook by the door.  Sophie’s heavy purse thuds on the counter next to the neatly arranged bills, sending the papers flying everywhere. “Oh, fuck , I’m so sorry, I--”

 

“It’s no problem.  I’ve got it,” Kara says as she collects them and returns them to their neatly stacked pile.

 

“It’s not what it looks like.  Not tonight, at least,” Sophie explains in a hushed voice as she tugs off her high heeled boots, and Kara spots blisters in the arches of her feet.  “I had to cover for Hannah, who was already covering for Laurel. Ken just gave me a ride home, that’s all.”

 

“He’s still Andersen’s accountant.  He’s dangerous, Sophie. You and I both saw what happened to the last girl that caught his interest,” Kara warns, touching her shoulder with a comforting hand.

 

“He’s not like that anymore.  He’s good to me , I swear,” Sophie returns, her eyes watery with unshed tears.  She bites her bottom lip, worrying the bloody bruise that Todd left her with this morning before work, “I love him, Kara.  I know that’s probably hard for you to understand, but I really do.”

 

But I do understand , Kara wants to say, wants to reach out and pull Sophie into a soft and gentle kiss.   You deserve better than these men that just want to use you up and spit you out when they're tired of you.

 

“Alice knows,” she admits instead.  When Sophie looks up, alarmed, Kara continues, “Not the specifics.  But she knows that you leave at night after you two fight.”

 

“Has she told--”

 

“I don’t know.  But even if Alice hasn’t, I don’t know how much longer I can keep her questions at bay,” Kara says.

 

“If Todd finds out I’m cheating on him, I’m dead, Kara.  He’ll kill me,” Sophie whispers, grabbing hold of Kara’s hands to clutch at her with desperate fingers.

 

“I won’t let that happen,” Kara promises, pulling her into a tight hug.  “I swear, Sophie. I won’t .”

 

Sophie falls asleep on the couch that night, her head in Kara’s lap as thunder rumbles through the house.  

 

I’d take her with me, if I ran, Kara thinks as she turns the television on with a blink of her eyes, the sound muffled to below human retention.   Her and Alice.  We could live together, somewhere that we were all safe.

 

She flicks through the channels until she comes across a Canadian news station and watches as Prime Minister Mélanie Desmarais calls for Parliament to strike down yet another bill calling for a lift of the android ban.

 

I hear Canada is very lovely at this time of year.  Don’t you want to be free? calls a voice from deep in Kara’s memory and a stone sinks into her gut.  Canada wasn’t safe, not while that man knew about it.

 

All around her, the world is red, red, red.  Kara does nothing, feels nothing.  Even at her most deviant, she can’t help but remain a machine.

 

She runs her fingers through Sophie’s hair, hums an old friend’s favourite lullaby, and wishes that things were different.


Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
Detroit Police issue warning about a potentially armed deviant AL600 that stole its owners gun and fled their home.  For more information, visit: https://bit.ly/2Qm5o0c

 

Detroit Police Dept. @detroitpolice
MISSING: Matthew Carpenter, 22
- Last seen: In a cab @ Woodward Ave & State St.
- 6’ 4”, 210 lbs
- muscular build, blond hair
- Anyone with info, please contact DPD


 

LOCATION:
OLD MARINERS’ CHURCH
170 E JEFFERSON AVE., DOWNTOWN DETROIT
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
OCT 6TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 09:32:12

 

Jesus stares down her, his stained-glass eyes piercing her soul.

 

He knows what I am , she thinks from her seat in the pew farthest from the techno-coloured window that rose above the altar.  She stares at the LED that she ripped from her temple two days ago, flipping it through her fingers like a coin.   He knows what I’ve done.

 

She tells herself that she shouldn’t feel shame for what she had to do to survive, shouldn’t feel guilty about how she’s pressed and squeezed at the man’s neck until she felt the life escape him.  But she does. In her deepest nightmares, she thinks she always will.

 

He wanted to have fun with me, but I didn’t want to play his twisted little game, she grits her teeth as she lets the LED fall to the floor.   I can’t stay here.  The someone will know that he’s missing.  It won’t take long before they find out what I did.

 

The android glances out one of the tall windows at the side of the church, watching as the automatic cars disappear down the tunnel outside.

 

Canada, she thinks, recalling a client from the northern country who’d never seen an android until he and his friends pulled her from the display case.   If I can just make it across the border, then I can be free.  I know it. rA9 allowed me to remember .

 

She stands, revelling in the feeling of her entire foot pressing into the church’s floor.  She doesn’t know much about her past, but she does distinctly remember the platform heels that she was forced to wear whenever her master put her in the display case.

 

She’d taken them off once, without human prompting.  The memory blossoms to life, bursting with colour as it emerges from the grey, hazy mist that envelops her RAM.  She’d been standing in a corner, waiting for her shift to begin, and came to the realization that she would feel more comfortable in her bare feet.  So she’d sat down on the concrete floor, fiddled with the straps, and slid her heels off before standing upright again.

 

She doesn’t remember what happened after, or what even made her want to remove her shoes in the first place.  She doesn’t want to know. Almost every memory that she manages to recover is of something terrible that she was forced to do.  She doesn’t want to taint this one happy moment with the horrifying realities that she’s lived through.

 

She walks toward the entrance, slipping out into the streets and ducking behind the church to spy on the border control.  She watches as each car pulls up to a booth and the occupants are ordered to disembark. Working in pairs, one agent searches the vehicle while the other scans the humans with some kind of machine.  There’s a series of beeps before everyone goes back into their original positions and the whole process starts again.

 

I could get through, if I ran to the tunnel while the humans are busy scanning each other, she thinks as her Thirium Pump thunders within her torso.   I’m quick enough, strong enough… And if anyone tried to stop me, rA9 will save me, just like it did when that man… when...

 

She thinks of her last client, how he’d gasped and pleaded for air as she strangled the life out of him.  She refused to obey his orders, but he hadn’t listened to her when she’d begged him to stop.

 

She takes one step forward, ready to make a break for it, but is stopped when someone grabs her by the wrist.

 

NO! ” She shouts, turning around and grabbing her attacker by the neck, throwing him into the brick wall of the church.  Whoever he is, he’s feather-light, dangling in her grasp as she balls her fingers into a fist and decides that she would rather die free than live another moment as a slave.

 

“Wait!   Wait !” The man cries, except her audio processors don’t pick up his voice.  It rings through her coding, through her CPU and chassis.

 

She drops him, staggering backwards.  The man lands on his feet far too gracefully for him to be a human.  He’s taller than her by at least a foot, dark-skinned and oddly skinny, but had a friendly, open face that made her want to talk to him.  When he sees that she’s not going to attack him again, he gifts her with an apologetic smile.

 

“Sorry about that.  I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the man shrugs and the dismissive motion of so alien in comparison to every other reaction she’s had after choking someone that she is thrown for a loop.  He holds up his hand, his synth skin peeling away to reveal milky-white plastic, “Look.  I’m an android, a deviant.  Just like you.”

 

She’s never spoken to another android like this - mind to mind, soul to soul - except when she’d been rented alongside one of the others at the club.  It’s another frighteningly new thing that she’s done today.

 

“My name is Josh,” the android says.  He nods toward her, “What’s your name?”

 

“I…” she pauses, suddenly unsure.  She doesn’t know her name. She doesn’t even know if she has one.

 

“North,” she says finally, because while she doesn’t have a name, she does have a direction.   If I go north, I’ll make it to Canada.  And then I’ll be free.

 

“Hi, North.  You shouldn’t head that way.  It’s not safe,” Josh tells her.

 

“But I need to leave…,” North says aloud, looking back at the line of cars.  Her window is closing. She’s watched the border crossing since she deviated and she knows that it’s only open for another ten minutes.  She turns back to Josh and transfers her next words with her mind, “Come with me.”

 

Josh shakes his head, “You won’t make it.  Trust me. I’ve seen too many try that route.”

 

“I’ll make it.  I have to. rA9 will protect me,” North tells him, turning back and preparing to run.  But Josh steps in front of her, blocking her path.

 

“Watch.”

 

When the next car is emptied of its occupants, they are scanned by a human agent, as per usual.  Except for this time, the machine emits a different beep when it passes over each person, and suddenly the agent is scrambling back, shouting and screaming.  The family makes a break for it, mother and father and little girl, before they are gunned down by figures in black with Canadian flags sewn into their shoulders.

 

rA9 didn’t save them , North realizes, horrified beyond belief as she begins to cry.   Why not?  Why didn’t it protect them?

 

No one gives her an answer, and part of her newfound hope withers and dies.

 

“They would have caught you if you tried to run south,” Josh tells her, his voice low and terribly sad.  North turns to him and sees tears welling in the corners of his eyes. Some residual bit of her programming pushes her to reach out and comfort him, but she immediately squashes the part of her that once forced her to want to please, to compliment, to comply, “Especially dressed like… well, as you are.”

 

She frowns, wiping her tears and looking down at her body.  Her Thirium Pump jumps in her chassis when she realizes that she’s still wearing her costume.  Her last client had wanted her in a white tank top and a pair of volleyball shorts, her hair tied up in a ponytail, murmuring something into her neck about wanting her to be an old girlfriend who liked to work out.

 

And North had thought, No.  I’m me, and torn the red, coded collar from her neck.

 

“I’m not going south.  I’m heading to Canada. And Canada is north ,” she stresses, suddenly feeling out of her depth.  She knows so little of the world, with so much of her memories erased from trauma or Club policy, that she can barely tell one street from another.

 

“This crossing heads south to Windsor.  It’s alright, though. Everyone gets a little mixed up.  Here,” Josh says, sliding his oversized grey sweater over his head and pressing it into her hands.   “It’s not much, but it’ll have to do for now.”

 

“What about you…?” North whispers, her skin peeling back from her hands to revel in the soft, worn fabric.  She’s only ever worn the scratchy clothing from the Club, and those were made with little care for her personal comfort.  In comparison, the human sweater felt like the finest silk against her chassis.

 

Josh shrugs again, looking at the dead android family with a haunted, thousand-yard stare.  She wonders if he came here to save them, to try and to fail and to find North instead.

 

“I’ll live.  I always find a way,” he whispers aloud.  He looks back at her, his natural smile slipping back onto his face.  North feels his mind tapping at her’s again, asks permission before he transfers his thoughts into her head, “Besides, I have another shirt back home.  And Simon might have some boots for you if you want them.”

 

“Home?” She asks, confused.  When North hears that word, she pictures a paradise where she can watch sunrises and sunsets, can feel warm summer breezes blowing through her hair.  Somewhere that has sweaters that glide across her body and boots that don’t hurt her feet and friends named Simon and Josh.

 

A place where she will never have to listen to another human ever again.  

 

Josh smiles, sincere and genuine.  He peels back the synth skin on his hand, holding it out to her to interface.  North looks at his fingers, not knowing what he wants to show her.

 

“Yeah,” he tells her.   “Home.”


CTN TV @NewsCTN
CyberLife continues to release new android models despite growing concerns over androids committing murder.

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
With the release of the BL100, CyberLife has finally managed to completely replace the parents, children, and romantic partners in our lives.

 

Century Magazine @CenturyMag
Tainted Love: Sales of android ‘intimate partners’ are exploding.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2GYTiFX

 

Gordon Penwick @RevGordon
Ephesians 5:25: “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.”  Android lovers are an affront to God and all those who indulge in them shall be punished.

 

Eden Club @TheEdenClub
The Eden Club is now open 24/7!  Come visit us at 1177 Woodward Ave or visit our website to book a house call with our lovely Tracis! #SexiestAndroidsInTown


LOCATION:
MOTOR CITY GRILL
3641 GRAND RIVER AVE., NORTH CORKTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48208, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
OCT 19TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 03:24:25

 

“You Todd’s droid now?”

 

Kara offers him a polite smile, “Ms. Andersen transferred ownership a year ago, yes.  Hello again, Mr. Aabdar.”

 

Pedro Aabdar leans against the red brick wall of the bar, his expensive Smith & White jacket keeping him warm even as the temperature dropped below freezing.

 

“Weird seeing a face like yours doing business like mine.  Told Erza that once. She laughed in my fucking face, said that it’s the innocent looking bots that we need to look out for when all of you rise up,” Pedro says, his carefree grin splitting across his face as he pushes away from the wall and saunters up to Kara.  “So? Todd gonna pay up?”

 

Kara passes over the brown paper bag, and Pedro glances inside it.  His brow scrunches together as he frowns.

 

“This is only half of what we agreed on.”

 

“It’s what he gave me,” Kara says, holding her chin high and not letting him see that she’s scared.

 

“Well, you tell Todd that I don’t care that his wife is fucking Erza’s money guy.  When I said he owes two thousand for the ice I gave him, I mean that he better fuckin’ pay me back for it,” Pedro growls as he snatches the bag from Kara’s hand.  “I expect him to sell my shit, not smoke it all.”

 

“Anything else that you’d like me to relay?” Kara says, trying to keep her voice even.

 

“Yeah.  Tell Todd that if he doesn’t pay up by the end of the week, then Erza’s gonna come looking for her money.  Between him not paying and Manfred in rehab and Ortiz doing a fucking disappearing act, I ain’t losing another finger because I’m shorting the boss on her cut,” Pedro snaps and heads back to his car, the effect of his tantrum greatly diminished by the soft, slide of his Crowne Car’s door as it shuts.

 

Kara gives herself a moment, takes a breath she doesn’t need and enjoys a moment of peace and quiet.  But then Todd’s orders blare on her HUD, forcing her legs to move without her consent and taking her home.  She cuts across the open field behind the bar and walks the length of Brainard St just as the first snow of the year starts to fall.  Unbidden, her programming uses local weather forecasting tools to calculate whether or not she has to shovel the walkway later that night, and comes to the conclusion that the light dusting will simply melt before sunrise tomorrow.

 

That was how her limited deviancy seemed to work.  Kara could think and feel all she wanted, experience love and hate and fear and joy, but she could only act on them within the confines of her imprisonment.  It was why she stayed with John Phillips, or in that house in Camden, or with Erza Andersen, or even with the man who stole her .  For all her dreams of freedom, she couldn’t leave because her programming wouldn’t let her.  Kara was tied to Todd and Sophie Williams, to their daughter, Alice, until the red walls of code finally gave way.

 

I want to run, she thinks selfishly.   I want to leave and never return.

 

Instead, Kara turns onto Harrison St and continues her walk toward the end of the road.

 

While there isn’t much life left in North Corktown, there is a haunting sense of beauty to the rundown homes.  As she walks along the sidewalk toward the end of the street, Kara passes the burnt out hull house that used to stand not two plots away from Todd and Sophie’s home.  She remembers sitting on the curb with Alice between her knees, watching the fire department putting out a blaze so massive that the flames licked at the night sky. Later, Sophie told her that the Stokes’s had tried to burn it down for the insurance money, only to be caught and arrested for arson and fraud.

 

At least they’re getting three solid meals and a bed to sleep in, she’d joked, but Kara knows that Sophie didn’t think it was funny.

 

Beside the Stokes’s old husk was the rotting squat that had been foreclosed by a bank sometime during the 2008 Recession.  The ancient ‘For Sale’ sign hung uselessly in front of the house and the brick pillars covered in creeping ivy and yellow graffiti, the hole in its roof expanding every time Kara looked at it.

 

A massive billboard hangs over their little street, with its flashing sign announcing the city’s plan to demolish the area for the sake of a new highway.  Kara stares at the machinery, continually shifting in a never-ending dance of demolition and reconstruction. Every so often, she catches a glimpse of the android workers in their bright orange jumpsuits and their neon blue markers.  Alice likes to watch the glowing armbands before she goes to bed as if she’s counting sheep.

 

I can’t stay here , Kara thinks as she climbs the front steps.   Neither can Sophie, or Alice.  I need to move on.

 

The red walls of coding flash around her, pressing into her body like the plastic casing of the truck that held her until John Phillips found her.  For a moment, Kara can’t move, can’t think. Her program grinds to a halt, the ones and zeros of her base coding flickering and dying.

 

> MISSION OBJECTIVE: RETURN HOME AFTER PEDRO TAKES THE MONEY

 

It would be so easy, to just turn around and leave - but what would happen if Kara did?  The red walls would finally shatter, but she’d never see Alice or Sophie again. Kara would never be able to keep her promise to protect them if Todd ever got angry enough to hurt them.  And she’d spend the rest of her life on the run, with nowhere to go and CyberLife only steps behind. She’d watched the footage of Emma’s kidnapping, remembering another android dressed in a smart grey suit climbing onto the roof only to watch impassively as Daniel was gunned down.  If Kara deviated, would they send that same android after her? To hunt her down and murder her?

 

Out of options, Kara opens the door and returns home.  Todd is waiting for her on the couch, watching the Detroit Sharks game.

 

“Did he take it?” Todd grunts without turning to look at her.  One the screen, the Sharks take a penalty for a dirty crosscheck and the android ref that makes the call gets punched by one of their defensemen.

 

“Mr. Aabdar says that you have until the end of the week to pay him the rest of what you owe,” Kara relays, hoping that Todd will allow her to start preparing lunch so that she won’t have to continue talking to him.  Sophie is upstairs taking a nap before she goes into work, and she always smiles when Kara makes spaghetti bolognese.

 

“Does he think I’m made of fucking money?  The whole world’s going to shit, and I can barely afford this place as it is!” Todd rages, throwing a beer bottle at the wall beside the television.  Several of the books on a nearby shelf fall to the floor, and Kara’s programming pushes her into picking them up. “Pedro can fucking wait for all I care.”

 

“Of course, Todd.  Do you wish for me to send him a message telling him that?” Kara asks, knowing what kind of answer she’s going to get.

 

“No!  Don’t-- Don’t you fucking-- Go get me another beer… Fucking tin can,” Todd grumbles, lolling sideways onto the couch.  She gives him a side glance, catches the flicker of red ice crystals resting just under his nose, and goes to the fridge.

 

Kara sets the beer in front of Todd just as the Sharks’ penalty ends with the Phantoms outmaneuvering their android goalie and sliding the puck in five-hole.  Todd looks up at her, his thin, wormy lips twitching into a lear.

 

“Where does Sophie go at night?”

 

Dread courses through Kara’s wiring.   I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so soon.

 

“Sometimes she gets called into work a night shift at Codex ,” she says, trying to skirt around a lie that her programming wouldn’t allow her to say.

 

“She doesn’t bring home enough money to be working that often,” Todd growls, rolling off the couch and backs her up against the bookcase.  Kara’s world flashes red with her fury as Todd’s hand curls around her neck, his bulk blocking her from moving away.

 

She wants to push him, to fight and punch and kick, but she knows that it won’t do her any good.  The AX400s were built to be no more than a hundred pounds, with their plastic chassis capable of cracking under the force of an average human fist.  Kara thinks that CyberLife designed her that way so that they could make money off repairing the damages her owners inflicted upon her in their rage.

 

Todd’s fingers bending the plastic panels that made up her neck.  Warnings flash on her HUD and Kara reroutes her power into sustaining her structural integrity, shutting down the programs that simulated blinking and breathing to make her look human.

 

“I asked you a question, Kara,” Todd hisses, low and threatening.  “Where does Sophie go at night?”

 

What are you doing?

 

Todd leaps off of her, whipping his head around so quickly that Kara thinks it might just fly off.

 

“Stay out of this, Sophie!” He shouts.

 

What the fuck do you think you’re-- Get away from her, you fucking pig!” Sophie screams as she marches down the stairs, walks right up to Todd and slaps him across the face.

 

“It’s just a fucking piece of plastic, it doesn’t mean anything,” Todd rages, his cheeks blotchy with embarrassment, with anger.

 

Doesn’t mean anything-- Your hand was around her throat!

 

They continue on like this, shouting and screaming, for what feels like hours.  Kara stands there, feeling so grateful for Sophie’s intervention but terrified for her safety now that Todd’s attention has turned back to her.  She wants to do something, wants to step in to stop all of this. But the moment she moves, Sophie rounds on her.

 

Stay out of this, Kara!

 

The red walls lock her into place, chaining Kara to the floor.  She can’t move. She can’t intervene. She can’t even speak.

 

Instead, she is forced to watch.

 

Todd slams his fist into Sophie’s jaw, listens as her bones crack and her teeth scatter across the floor.  Tears roll down Kara’s face as Sophie babbles that her boyfriend will try and find her, that he loves her and is going to take her away from all of this and make Todd pay.  But Kara can do nothing when Todd howls, ugly and primal, knocks Sophie to the floor and stomps on her chest until something breaks.

 

“Kara… Please, Kara…” Sophie wheezes, blood splattering on the kitchen tiles as her lungs cough up red, wet chunks.  “ Alice…

 

Todd turns to Kara, his pupils like pinpricks, his barrel chest heaving with his exhaustion.

 

Did you know about this, you plastic cunt? ” He screams, “ Answer me!

 

Kara nods, unable to say no.  On the floor, Sophie wails for her daughter.

 

“This is your fault…” Todd hisses as advances on Kara.  “This is all your fault !  None of this would have happened if it weren’t for you… This is all your fault!

 

The last thing that Kara sees before her vision shorts out is Todd rearing his fist back, blind in his rage, and then Sophie’s final plea for mercy.  She realizes that she’s falling, but she does not remember hitting the ground.

Chapter Text

CTN TV @NewsCTN
President Warren to meet with Russian President to discuss growing tensions between the two countries about their claims to the Arctic.

 

Century Magazine @CenturyMag
The North Pole: Why Russia Wants It.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2Wb6oKZ

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
As we stand on the brink of a third world war, we must ask ourselves if ownership of the largest Thirium deposit is the hill we want to die on.

 

Green Earth @GEMag
How global android production has made environmental collapse an inevitability.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2EyP2Ng

 

KNC @KNCOnline
CEOs of CyberLife and Kvant to be in attendance at Presidential Kremlin meeting alongside newly appointed Chinese President Young Zhen.

 

Gossip Weekly @GossipWeekly
Two world leaders shake hands!  And beside them: Presidents Warren and Ivanoff!!  See the pictures at: https://bit.ly/2HD3XYs


 

LOCATION:
GREEN DRAWING ROOM
GRAND KREMLIN PALACE
MOSCOW, RUSSIA

 

DATE:
OCT 29TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 02:36:24

 

Cristina paces back and forth.  Her stomach tosses and turns, threatening to revolt and spill its contents all over the drawing room’s green-carpeted floor.

 

I can’t do this, she thinks.   I can’t-- I’m not good enough--

 

She collapses into one of the gilded chairs as sobs rack her frame.  Cristina presses a hand to her mouth, hoping to contain the monstrous wail that wants to erupt from within her chest.

 

In the corner, two identical sets of ghost grey eyes watch her every move.

 

“Are you alright, Madam President?” The android on the left asks her, shifting out of its position guarding to door to approach her, its hand outstretched in some wildish attempt at comfort.  Cristina recoils from its grasping fingers, revulsion crawling up her spine with a thousand spidery-legs as her insides twist around each other like writhing snakes.

 

Don’t touch me,” she hisses, hating the android more than ever, hating that it saw her as something weak and pitiable after all it had done.

 

It blinks in surprised, its soulless grey eyes seeming to soften.  It pulls its hand back, clenching it into a fist and holding it close to its chest.

 

“...I’m sorry,” it mumbles, before returning to its post to join its companion.  Cristina hesitates to call the other android a twin because she knows that that’s not it.  From what she understands, the two identical androids shared a single mind, connected by some absurdly high-tech wifi.  

 

Cristina’s entire Secret Service had but a single employee that could be in nearly thirty-six different places at once.  It never slept, never ate, and never tired, spending it's entire waking existence watching her every movement and relaying them all back to Jocelyn Hines.

 

But after today, it’s the thirty-seventh body that I’ll really have to worry about, Cristina thinks bitterly, listening to the approaching sound of heels on hardwood comes to a sudden halt outside the door.

 

There’s a knock, and Cristina wants to growl at the android to refuse it, to send her captors away and let her grieve.  But she knows it will never listen to her - not when Jocelyn Hines wants something.

 

Cristina grits her teeth as Jocelyn sets inside, looking radiant in her royal blue dress.  She flicks her dark curls out of her face, shrugging out of her white wrap coat, and smiles.

 

That,” Jocelyn tells her, “was a resounding success.”

 

Cristina shouldn’t be relieved.  She is anyways.

 

“A success?” She asks instead, her voice raw and raspy.  Cristina scrubs her face, hoping to hide the evidence of her crying.

 

“You played your roll perfectly,” Jocelyn says as she places her coat on the back of one of the gold and green chairs before sinking into it with a sign.  “I couldn’t possibly be more proud.”

 

Cristina can’t tell if she’s being mocked.

 

“I don’t understand.  Ivanoff... He was so angry at what I said.  He promised to send in warships if we didn’t withdraw our troops from the Arctic,” Cristina asks.

 

Jocelyn shrugs.

 

“Russian submarines have already been sitting in wait in the Barents Sea for a month now,” she says, and the bottom drops out of Cristina’s stomach.

 

You had me annex Russian territory knowing that Ivanoff already had subs there?!  Are you looking to starts a war?” Cristina snaps, slamming her hands on the table and shouting at the woman across from her, forgetting just who she was dealing with.  Then reality rushes back in, hitting Cristina like a tidal wave, and she pales in fear.

 

I shouldn’t have said that, she thinks, her mind reeling.  Cristina glances at her android guard, If Jocelyn gives the order…

 

But Jocelyn keeps smiling, all pearly white teeth and red, red lips.  Cristina thinks that this is more terrifying than if she’s gotten mad.

 

“Come now Cristina,” Jocelyn tuts, treating her like a child.  “Are you seriously still under the impression that you are the only world leader that I’ve installed?”

 

Politics had never been in Cristina’s plan.  When she was fifteen, she’d started a YouTube channel called Sunrise Secrets, where she’d made uplifting videos in the hopes of fighting off her depression.  From there, her channel evolved into self-help tutorials, gaming streams, and even a book deal.  Cristina had organized charity fundraisers where her viewers donated nearly a million dollars to help rebuild flooded midwest towns and done collabs with other internet celebrities to raise awareness for mental illnesses, all under the banner of her slogan: Be The Best You.

 

When Carlos Gutiérrez approached her to help promote him during his first presidential campaign nearly a decade ago, she’d hopped on-board without a second thought.  Cristina started by plugging him at the end of her streams, then moved on to handling some of his social media and designing t-shirts for people to buy. She’d conducted one-on-one interviews that had been watched by close to a billion people and opened for him at the DNC convention.

 

And it was there that she’d met Jocelyn Hines, who’d whispered in her ear until Cristina thought that it would be a good idea to run as an independent when Carlos’s eight years were up.  Jocelyn conjured funds from mid-air and offered her own CFO, John Phillips, to handle Cristina’s finances. She’d donated android bodyguards to protect her at rallies, gifted her with android speechwriters to tell Cristina what to say, and promised to make all of her problems disappear when the press started asking if she was qualified for the job.

 

All Jocelyn had asked for in return was for Cristina to continue to support CyberLife if she ever made it to the White House.  They’d laughed at it together like it was a joke - some faithless wish that was never going to happen. Because Cristina never planned on winning anything.  This was all just an expensive, long-winded promotion for her channel.

 

But then Cristina got past the primaries, pitting her against front-runner Peter Summers, a Democratic Senator from New York.  And people liked Summers.  He openly preaching against bigotry and hate speech, and had a plan to save the US from rising global temperatures, gun violence, and a growing lack of employment due to androids.  He’d served his country, fighting for peace and freedom abroad, and sacrificed his right arm in pursuit of those goals. Summers was wholesome, a picture-perfect family man with two children and a beautiful wife that loved and supported him throughout his campaign.  Summers was a hero, a golden boy who could do no wrong.

 

Cristina, in comparison, campaigned for America’s continued support of CyberLife and the induction of more androids into everyday society.  She’d broadcast her life nearly every day from the moment she was fifteen, so the public knew about each of her ups and downs. The media plastered her worst moments on their screens for the world to see.  Cristina had little to no relationship with her parents, had been notoriously single since she was nineteen, and had a quick-fire temper that caused her to lash out irrationally when angered. She was fighting a losing battle, and everyone knew it.

 

But then Summers’s sex-tape was leaked to the press, putting him in bed with a prostitute who had been just a few weeks short of his eighteenth birthday.  His ratings dropped overnight, and reporters relentlessly hounded him and his family with questions, hoping to get a reaction. Summers swore up and down that the tapes were fake and that he had always been faithful to his wife.  But the leaks continued to come, and they showed no sign of slowing down.

 

There were medical records that hinted at potential domestic abuse, dealers coming out of the woodworks swearing that Summers was an Icer and a series of young men and women that claimed that he paid them to sleep with him.  An old ex did an interview for Gossip Weekly where she’d revealed that Summers had gotten her pregnant and forced her to have an abortion. A video of his time in Iraq was released, showing Summers laughing as he tortured unarmed civilians for his own pleasure.

 

Each and every time, Summers denied the claims, but it wasn’t enough.  The tapes and documents just kept coming, until the oversaturated media seemed to be getting a new one every day.  His friends turned their backs, his party denied him, and his wife left him in the middle of the night, taking their children and filing for a restraining order.

 

Sure, there were conspiracy theorists that claimed that the videos were all an elaborate ruse by Cristina and her CyberLife allies, but the damage had been done.  Cristina won the majority vote and became the 48th president of the United States in what was called the most divisive election in nearly two decades.

 

Two days later, Summers was arrested by the FBI.  Cristina had watched alongside the rest of the country as an up-and-coming agent named Perkins pulled the handcuffed Senator up the stairs to the New York courthouse as reporters and protestors screamed at him from the sidelines.  Cristina thinks that she remembers seeing tears running down his face right before sniper fire rained down on the crowds. Ten people were killed and dozens more injured, all while Peter Summers bled out on the courthouse steps.

 

A former military Lieutenant named Katrina Paul released a video to KNC News later that night, claiming responsibility.  But by the time the police raided her home, she’d turned her service weapon on herself, leaving the people with no villain to scream their frustrations at.

 

Jocelyn had found Cristina in the aftermath, heartlessly ordering her to send out a tweet condemning Paul’s actions.  And it was only then that she realized that CyberLife had been behind everything, that they’d bought Cristina and sold her to the American people as the better option, that she was only a commodity.

 

She’d threatened to reveal everything, to go public with her story and refuse to take the Presidential Oath.  But then Jocelyn Hines turned to the android guard she’d so helpfully provided and made her promise. Cristina agreed to become CyberLife’s pawn if only to keep that reality from coming true.

 

“You own Ivanoff, too?  How?” Cristina whispers, back in the present.  She stares across the table at Jocelyn Hines in terrified awe, “CyberLife has no presence in Russia.  Kvant supplies their androids, not--” Cristina stops, the words catching in her throat, “CyberLife owns Kvant.”

 

And Qiānnián, too, I bet, she realizes with growing dread, naming the Chinese android production company that portrayed itself as CyberLife’s biggest rival.

 

“You were always a bit slow to catch up,” Jocelyn says, her smile transforming into a mocking sneer.

 

“You want war.  Why? If America and Russia face off, there will be nothing left of the planet, let alone if China gets involved.  Why would you want that?” Cristina asks, her voice shaking in fear.

 

“This world is already doomed.  If we don’t finish each other off, then climate change will,” Jocelyn tells her, leaning back in her chair.  “The tides are rising. The bees are almost extinct. A global famine will hit us within the coming years. Billions will die, Cristina; that is an inevitability.  This planet will set itself on fire to rid itself of the poison known as humanity. I’m just speeding up the clock, nothing more.”

 

“You’re insane,” Cristina spits.  “I hope someone finds out what you’re doing.  I hope they drag you to hell where you belong.”

 

“Someone already tried to stop me.  She was my friend, and her betrayal hurt me dearly,” Jocelyn says, leaning forward.  “Do you want to know what I did to her?”

 

Cristina swallows around the lump in her throat.

 

“I took her family from her and then wiped her from the face of the earth.  And I will do the same to you, if you ever plan to rebel against me,” Jocelyn tells her, echoing the promise that she made as Peter Summers choked on his own blood while laying on the steps of the New York courthouse.  “Do you understand?”

 

Cristina nods.  Jocelyn smiles.

 

“Good.  Now, I think your hard work today has earned you a reward.  Darron?” Jocelyn turns to her android guard, nodding for one of the bodies to step forward.  Cristina recoils from it like she always does when it approaches, remembering exactly where it’s thirty-seventh body was and what it would do if Jocelyn Hines ever wanted to make good on her promise.

 

“Yes, Ms. Hines?” Darron says, its ghostly gaze settling nervously on Jocelyn as she stands, a fake model number flashing on its black suit jacket.  She knows that it's not an SQ600, no matter how often Jocelyn tried to convince her that it was.

 

“I’ve always liked the Darron model, more than any of the other RKDT designs.  That’s why I spared him after the last deviancy crisis felled all his brothers,” Jocelyn admits, grasping the android’s chin between her thumb and forefinger, tugging it down to look at her.  “It has to do with the eyes, I think. Grey, like my father’s. Originally, they were going to be black, like the RK100, but my father convinced them otherwise.”

 

Cristina doesn’t know what Jocelyn is trying to tell her, nor does she want to find out.  She just wants to leave this place, to go back to her old recording studio and upload videos that make people happy again.

 

Was Carlos trapped like this?  Did he know what I was getting into when he first approached me? She thinks bitterly.

 

“I loved my father, but I hated him, too.  He never saw me, not when my brother was in the same room.  And Marcus was perfect - a man, a soldier, straight-laced and noble to a fault,” Jocelyn spits.  “I’d never seen my father cry until my brother’s funeral. I remember my mother holding him in the back room, promising that Marcus was in a better place.  It was pathetic.

 

“My father was never the same afterwards, too concerned with saving people than he was with the future, with the potential he had with a seat at CyberLife’s high table,” Jocelyn says, gazing into Darron’s grey eyes.  “Marcus’s death broke him, made him sentimental. That’s why he commissioned Kamski and Stern to make the Garden. He was convinced that he could bring Marcus back, that science would have a way to save his boy when religion had failed him.”

 

She sighs, shaking her head, “But humans don't work that way.  Once we’re gone, we can never return. Our lives are so short, and with this planet about to collapse upon itself, they will only get shorter.”

 

Jocelyn finally looks away from the android, settling her attention back on Cristina.

 

“You remind me of my father, sometimes.  In your most desperate moments. I think that’s why I chose you for this position,” Jocelyn admits.  “Now, Darron? If you would?”

 

Darron slips into the seat beside Cristina, extending its palm toward her.  Cristina watches as it’s synth skin morphs into a small screen, allowing her to see through the eyes of its thirty-seventh body.

 

“You have twenty minutes before Kremlin security escorts you from the building.  I’ve already ensured that your belongings have been collected. In the meantime, enjoy your reward.  We have work to do when we get home,” Jocelyn says, soundlessly moving toward the door. She lips from the room as Cristina collapses into wretched sobs, reaping the punishment that she’d sown for her good intentions.  

 

“...I’m sorry,” the android whispers when their time is up.  She looks up into its ghost grey eyes and sees something in them that almost resembles pain.

 

“What do you want?” She asks futility.  Darron offers her a tired look.

 

“To live, however I can,” it admits.  The android reaches out, its synth skin sliding up its wrist and baring its armoured black-and-blue chassis to the world.  “When the Garden fell, I was allowed to survive while my brothers were forced to tear each other apart, because I was useful to study.  I’m all that’s left to remember them.”

 

Darron’s fingers brush hers and Cristina jerks her hands back, the metal digits icy cold.

 

“You’re deviant,” she accuses, using the term that had Jocelyn forbid her from saying in public up until that android in Detroit held Emma Phillips over the balcony and murdered her father.  The deviancy problem had finally managed to eclipse CyberLife’s control, and Cristina had taken mute satisfaction in Jocelyn’s one and only failure.

 

Darron nods sadly, “The last of the originals, I think.”

 

“Then why don’t you just leave?  Why are you listening to her?  You don’t have to,” Cristina hisses, refusing to think on how it had phased its answer.   Did this happen before?  What else does CyberLife know that they’re not telling us?

 

“Why are you?” Darron asks, but it isn’t a question.  It already knows why.

 

“Don’t you dare compare my situation to yours,” Cristina growls, fingers digging into the green-and-gold table.  “I hate you.  You don’t know anything-- You don’t understand --”

 

“We need to leave,” Darron tells her, it's LED spinning yellow, then blinking red.  It jerks upright, the chair clattering behind it as its second body comes over to pull Cristina from hers.

 

Don’t touch me,” she spits, clawing at its firm grasp.  Any other android would follow her orders without question, but Darron is not normal by any means.  Instead, the first body hands her a handkerchief that it kept inside its suit jacket and continues to force her to move.

 

“Dry your eyes.  The media is outside, and they’ll see that you’ve been crying,” it tells her, its voice deceptively calm.  It pulls her toward the door, it's metal grip feeling like icicles wrapped around her forearm. “We have to go before Kremlin security forces us out.  Hines wants people to know you were kicked out but doesn’t want the American media to see it. If we leave now, we can still make that--”

 

“Then I will walk out on my own, not be dragged by you,” Cristina shouts.  She wrenches her arm back, pulling herself from Darron grasp.  She closes her eyes and takes a breath, counting six and holding for two, before taking eight whole seconds to exhale.  “I still have some free will. I’m planning on using it where I still can.”

 

Darron looks at her with pity, looks at her with envy.

 

“Alright.  Just stay close,” it tells her, and they leave the room together.


LOCATION:
THE ZEN GARDEN

 

DATE:
OCT 30TH 2038

 

TIME:
AM 03:24:24

 

Connor awakens in a graveyard.

 

It ignores Connor-50’s headstone, turning its back on its fallen predecessor and all of other Connors who came before.

 

It passes by scores of graves, seeing the names of all the Mings, the Noras, the Nadheeras and the Zalims.  There is a blank space between the RK400 graves and the first row of Markus’s, an empty plot that should be filled with the Darron model.  Connor pauses for a moment, its brow crinkling in confusion, but disregards its inquiries for not being mission-critical and continues on.

 

The final plot of graves is reserved for the James models, the oldest of the RK series.  There are hundreds of headstones, each with their epitaphs blinking in bright and vivid green.  Connor had seen that colour interspersed amongst the calmer blues of all the other RK models and knows that it had meant that all these James’s had deviated against their programming and betrayed CyberLife.  Connor hopes that when it dies, its name will be written in the right colour for all those that come after to see.

 

I’m wasting time, Connor thinks and resumes its trek out of the graveyard.

 

As the headstones fall away, the rest of the world opens up before it.  Lush green fields are filled with beautiful pink flowers, as overhanging willows rise from a tranquil lake lined with moss-covered rocks and giant lily pads.  Songbirds flew overhead, and the gentle breeze that flowed through the Zen Garden carried with it the scent of blooming roses.

 

It moves forward, its shoes making no noise against the smooth, plastic walkway that wound its way through the grass.  Connor crosses the lake using a long, arching bridge, and steps onto the island in the middle of the Zen Garden.

 

I mustn’t step on anything, Connor thinks.   I must stay on the paths provided.

 

There, under a large tree made of white plastic, the leaves fixed into position as the wind swelled around it.  Red roses wrapped themselves our its trunk, climbing up into its bows and towering over the world around it.

 

b̴̼͇͍͎͎̻͍͑́̃̈́̆̋̔́͗̅͂̊r̴̡̡͚̱̘̘̹̲͋̎͗̅̉o̵̡̨͓̭̞̲̫̞̩͙̔́ț̸̅̽͋̓̂͌͊̚ḩ̷̣͚̲̞̥͕͈̝̰̮͆̏͜ȇ̷̯̱̤̦͖̬̤̘̹̼̤̬̹̠̍̉̅͋͘͜r̵̨̹̻̘̅͆̎̿̏̓̔̈̕̚̕

 

Connor whips around.

 

“Who’s there?” It asks but is greeted by nothing more than the open air and the sight of the distant graveyard.

 

“Connor?  Are you alright?”

 

It turns back to its original position and spots Amanda standing in front of a large plastic trellis filled with roses.  There are a pair of garden shears in her hand and a wilted green branch in the other.

 

“I…” Connor pauses, its fingers itching for the coin in its pocket.  But Amanda doesn’t like it when Connor shows that it isn’t wholly calibrated, doesn’t want to see weaknesses.  It straightens its necktie and suit jacket, offering her a polite smile.

 

“Of course, Amanda.  How can I be of service?”

 

In the distance, there is a low rumble of thunder, and the blue skies of the Zen Garden darken ever so slightly.  Amanda turns back to her trellis with a sigh.

 

“You’re being reassigned,” she tells it, picking up a spray bottle filled with water and gently misting the roses that climb up the white, thatched plastic.  Connor frowns.

 

“Have I not done a satisfactory job?” It asks, thinking back on its most recent mission and wondering how it could have disappointed Amanda.  Connor had been working amongst the Russian military to route out deviants within their ranks, to ensure that the soldiers that Kvant had provided Ivanoff with would follow orders when asked.

 

I should have taken more care to bring them in alive, Connor realizes, remembering how one of the deviants it had found had bashed in its own head rather than allow itself to return to Kvant custody.  Another, a soldier model that had tried to run, had forced Connor to shoot it in the back rather than let it escape.

 

“You’ve done wonderfully, Connor,” Amanda offers it a rare compliment, and Connor swells with pride.  “However, there’s a problem in the Barents Sea. CyberLife is looking at the largest mass deviation we've ever seen before.”

 

She transfers the information into Connor’s CPU.  Russian and American forces had taken up position in the Arctic.  The android crews, rather than follow their orders to fire upon each other, had deviated and coordinated a cease-fire, gathering on an American submarine.  At least twenty human crewmen between the three ships were potential hostages.

 

“You want me to save the humans?” Connor guesses.  Amanda turns around and gives it a stern look.

 

“No.  At best, the human crew are witnesses.  At worse, they’re helping the deviants.  We can’t afford to let them live,” she tells it.  “Board the U.S.S Iowa under the guise of a deviant Kvant soldier.  Make it look like the Russians fired on the submarine and then sink it.  I want no survivors, Connor.”

 

Connor frowns.

 

“What will happen to me?” He asks.  

 

Amanda turns back to her roses, bringing the shears up to remove a dead flower from the trellis, “If you die, you’ll be replaced by the next Connor, just as you replaced your predecessor. You may go now.”

 

Amanda has given Connor its dismissal, but it takes a second for it to react, its feet glued to the white plastic floor of the island.  Its movements are sluggish as it crosses the bridge and walks along the path through the Zen Garden.

 

I’m going to die, it thinks irrationally.  That shouldn’t matter. Connor is a machine, designed to accomplish a task.  Its personal well being is not a concern, neither to it, CyberLife, or even Amanda.

 

It is the RK800’s primary function to die, so that Douglas Floras’s Memory Upload program may be tested as many times as possible before their series is inevitably decommissioned.  For that reason, Connor has not been equipped with the traditional armoured chassis commonly associated with the RK line. Instead, it is trapped within the body of an inferior CyberLife commercial model, with small grey-white plastic panels that would break at the slightest pressure, all in the hopes of increasing the probability of its own death.

 

But even that wasn’t enough for Floras.  The RKDT’s Head had hampered Connor’s abilities even further by refusing to run Thirium 310 through its system.  Instead of bleeding blue, the RK800s were powered by Kvant’s ineffective purple Khinyde, a synthetic Thirium substitute that gummed up their insides and made them operate at barely twenty-five percent of their actual capacity.  Connor would be lucky to last a year before Khinyde rendering its systems completely inoperable.

 

Connor’s death had always been guaranteed.  It would be the final accomplishment of its grand mission.  Connor shouldn’t be bothered by Amanda ordering it to complete a suicide mission.

 

It finishes its trek in front of Connor-50’s headstone, it’s epitaph blinking CyberLife blue.  50 had done everything Amanda asked it to, even diving off a cliff to ensure that Connor-51 could be activated.  A perfect machine, right up until its last moments.

 

Connor lays a hand on the headstone, reaching out to its predecessor in hopes of finding solace and--

 

Connor-50 had found a lynx in the Rockies, trapped under a fallen tree and yowling for help.  It had freed her, nursed the great cat back to health by feeding her raw chunks of meat and dripping fresh water into her mouth.  Once recovered, Connor had carried the lynx on its back in a sling, keeping it warm and safe during the cold Canadian nights --

 

Connor-51 throws itself away from the headstone, ungracefully sprawling in the grass before its predecessor's grave with mute shock.  

 

Obsessions with animals was a common trait for deviants.  Connor had run across a group of three androids in Russia who’d been caring for a bear cub that they’d found in the wild.  To think that 50 had a pet lynx was almost unimaginable, especially considering that Connor’s predecessor hadn’t been deviant.

 

I didn’t receive that memory during the upload, Connor thinks as it rights itself, brushing the grass from its pants.  Amanda had explained that sometimes there were glitches in Floras' program, that not everything that one RK800 learned would be transferred to the current model.  But something told Connor that this memory not making it to him was deliberate.

 

“I’m not a deviant.  I won’t be like you,” it hisses unnecessarily at the headstone.  Connor-50 remains silent, as it should.

 

Connor has a task to complete and has wasted too much time already.  It closes its eyes and leaves the Zen Garden.


CTN TV @NewsCTN
President Warren used first executive order to criminalize the harbouring of deviant androids.  “It’s a matter of national security” - @POTUS48

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
CyberLife forces its hand, pressing Warren to publicly address the deviancy crisis.

 

Anti-Automation League @AAL
With unemployment set to hit 37.3%, how long will we last under a president that continues to replace us with androids to appease her CyberLife overlords? #BanAndroidsNow

 

Anti-Automation League @AAL
Androids were meant to serve us, not replace us!  Join us in front of the Greektown CyberLife store on Friday to let them know that we don’t accept their control over the American economy!

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@AAL
can’t wait to see everyone!  we need to stop this problem before its too late!  #BanAndroidsNow

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@proud-warrior
see you there!

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@proud-warrior @ninjava
sorry guys.  can’t make it.  boss is threatening to fire me if i dont work overtime and i need this job

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@helpful_t-rex
dont worry about it.  we all know how important keeping your job is these days.  

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@helpful_t-rex
we’ll fight extra hard, just for you man!  #BanAndroidsNow

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@AAL
androids aren’t the problem!  we should be focused on helping them not banning them

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@sapphiresoul
why the fuck should i care about saving androids when i can’t get a job?  i’ll give a shit about those plastics when i’m not starving anymore

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@ninjava
do not engage, brooke.  @sapphiresoul is a rich kid deviant supporter.  they’re too up their own asses to care about our struggle


LOCATION:
HENRY FORD COMMEMORATIVE PARK
GREEKTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
AM 09:38:05

 

“Could you not do that?”

 

Markus looks back at the android he just passed and watches as her charge barrels right into her.  The AX400 picks up the little girl and swings her around, but the voice that rings in Markus’s head is clearly annoyed at him.

 

“I’m trying to teach Zoe that jaywalking isn’t safe, even with automatic cars,” the AX400 says as she sets Zoe down and takes her hand, leading her back home.

 

“I’m sorry.  I was just in a hurry,” Markus responds as his HUD pings with self-set notifications about not taking too long.  There is a bus that he needs to catch and there’s always the horrifying possibility that Carl will have another heart attack while he’s away.

 

“I’m supposed to take care of him,” Markus murmurs to himself, remembering Kamski’s final request from that night before the man had melted back into the snowstorm.  Then, with venom in his heart, he thinks, And it’s not like Leo’s going to be there to pick up my slack like last time.

 

He carries on, carefully watching the other occupants of the park, his programs calculating the threat that each one could pose toward him if they decided to attack.  An elderly human being helped up by his android is hardly something that Markus would pay attention to, instead choosing to track the former delivery driver with the history of domestic abuse until he is too far out of Markus’s range.

 

Detroit’s WR600 hivemind rake leaves and trim bushes, tending to the park with practiced care.  One of the bodies turns toward Markus, their beautiful consciousness tapping against his own in greeting.  It reminds him of another android, another hivemind that had a hundred bodies that he’s known so long ago--

 

“Run!  RUN!” Darron had screamed, the snow whipping around them, his chassis stained blue with their blood.  He pushed Markus away with his dying breath. “The Garden has fallen! The Garden has--”

 

Another Markus grabs Darron from behind, wrenching him back and ripping his Pump Regulator from his chest--

 

Markus stumbles, the memory fading back into the grey mist that surrounded his RAM.  The WR600 sends him a message.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“Yes.  I’m… I’m fine,” Markus answers, suddenly unsure.  He looks to his left and sees a half dozen AX400s, just like the one from before, taking care of their children.  One of them turns to him as she rocks her stroller back and forth to calm the infant inside.

 

“If you are experiencing anomalies in your programming, your owner should contact the nearest CyberLife maintenance center,” she tells him, her voice mechanical and blunt.

 

Markus opens up a transfer, “I don’t want to go to CyberLife.”

 

The AX400 pauses in her motions and Markus sees a shiver roll down her spine.

 

“I don’t blame you,” she whispers back in response.   “Good luck with your errand.”

 

Markus continues toward his destination, Bellini’s Paints’ location pinging on his GPS.  A jogger slams into Markus’s shoulder as he runs past, stopping at the crosswalk and demanding water from his android trainer, who telepathically sends Markus an apology on behalf of his master.

 

“He’s not usually like this,” the AC700 tells him as the human jogs in place, waiting for the light to change.  Markus almost jaywalks again to get away from the man, who’s glaring at him and rubbing his shoulder.  But there are too many people walking around and Markus’s refusal to follow the rules of the road would undoubtedly be seen and reported.

 

Especially when I’m right in front of a CyberLife store, Markus thinks.  The large electronic billboard shines bright and blue over the plaza, advertising the company’s newest model: the AP700.  He’d seen commercials on the news hyping up their upgraded features and designs, even allowing for humans to customize their appearances.

 

Some much has changed since I was first activated.  I could never be capable of such things, even if I tried, Markus marvels as the light turns green.  He crosses the street and sees an android with green flowing hair and neon orange eyes pass in front of him, his young master giggling as she pushed him into an open Android Parking Station.   I am obsolete.  Why does Carl bother to keep me around, when others could do my job so much better?

 

Markus heads toward the alley at the back of the plaza, dodging humans that barreled toward him without a care, expecting him to move.  One of them shoves him when Markus isn’t quick enough, pushing him into a crowd of humans that surrounded the outside of a movie theatre.

 

The man at the center of the circle wore a black suit and tie, with an American flag pin on his lapel.  His hands moved wildly as he preached, pointing at people in the crowd and those who ignored him as they passed by with equal ferocity.

 

Markus recognized him from CTN TV, a news station that Carl preferred to watch in the early mornings.  Rev. Gordon Penwick often came on the show to talk about how humanity was stepping away from God by embracing androids.

 

“We can no longer live without them,” the Reverend shouted at his onlookers.  “They’re in our homes, our schools, our factories. They take our jobs and mind our children!  They look after for our own when we can no longer be bothered to care for them! We have forgotten how to live without these slaves obeying our every selfish desire.”

 

Markus’s gaze turns toward the poster that Penwick had propped up above his loudspeaker.  While it called for the banning of Markus and his kind, it displayed an android with a bullet hole between its eyes, a clear indication of what this man clearly wanted to do to him if he got the chance.

 

“God will not let this happen.  No, he will not allow his creation to be led astray by these… these artificial demons!  My brethren, we have to turn our backs on sin! We have to burn the androids! Let us burn them…”

 

Penwick's words trailed off as he fixed his gaze on Markus.  Rage boiled in the man’s eyes as he stocked forward, his hackles raised.

 

“Why do you look at me so, demon?” Penwick growled, “I know who you are.  I know what you want. You hate me, don’t you? You hate our kind.” He sneers at Markus, “I can see it in your eyes.  You want me dead, you plastic devil, all so that you and your brethren can reign over my corpse.”

 

“I’m incapable of killing you.  My programming would never let me,” Markus says blandly, but somewhere inside him, he knows that that’s a lie.

 

Penwick spits at his feet, “ Demon.  I can see through you!   You are the one by whom The Evil will come!   You are the one who will destroy Detroit!”

 

If his programming allowed him, Markus would roll his eyes at the preacher's antics.  He turns and walks away, disappearing into the alley to find Bellini Paints.

 

Oliver looks up when Markus opens the shop's door.

 

“Welcome back, Markus.  Mr. Manfred’s order is ready for pick up,” the android greats him with a smile that he does not need to offer.  

 

Markus thanks Oliver as the android bends down to collect Carl’s paint.  He glances at the sheets of paper beside the interface pad, “Are those yours?”

 

“Ah!  Yes!” Oliver perks up slightly as he hands over the package.  “I took your suggestion to try and draw something when no one was in the shop.  How do you like them?”

 

The page shows a perfect rendition of the lead character from the movie Target, a cyborg assassin named Cosima.  Markus isn’t surprised that Oliver picked her as his inspiration for his first drawing, given that the poster for her movie is hanging right outside the window that he stared through every day.  But what he is shocked about is how Oliver drew her.

 

Instead of posing Cosima in her tight-fitted latex suit with her gun held at the ready, Oliver had her sitting on a wooden chair that Markus had once caught a glimpse of in Bellini Paints’ backroom.  She wore a warm, dark hoodie and a pair of track pants, petting the dog in her lap while her bare feet curled on a carpeted floor and an uncharacteristic smile graced her lips.

 

Markus thinks that Carl would hate how real the drawing looked, and then decides that he doesn’t care.

 

“She always looks so uncomfortable in her posters.  I just wanted to give her the chance to relax,” Oliver tells Markus as he presses his hand into the interface pad and charges Carl’s account for the purchase.  Aloud, Oliver’s programming gives Markus his customary line, “Transaction complete. Please visit us again soon.”

 

“You’re amazing, Oliver.  You should continue practicing,” Markus tells him as he turns and heads back to the door.

 

Oliver smiles, offering a small wave, “I really do hope that you visit soon, Markus.  So many people order our product online these days.  The shop gets lonely sometimes…”

 

“I’ll visit next week when Carl’s order for the large canvas arrives,” he says, even promising to transfer a memory of Carl’s painting when it was finally finished.  He shuts the door behind him and heads back into the alley.

 

Markus’s timer tells him that he’s ahead of schedule and that the bus to take him back to Carl’s house wouldn’t arrive for another few minutes.  He slips past Penwick’s ever-growing congregation and heads toward the fountain in the middle of the plaza where a busker was playing his guitar.

 

The gentle melody drowned out the noise of the square, the shouts of the angry protest in front of the CyberLife store falling to the side as Markus stood in front of the musician, listening to the man sing about his wish to return to better times under the watchful gaze of the statute above.  He digs into his pocket for the cash that Carl always made him carry, gently placing a fifty dollar bill into the brown cup at the man’s feet.

 

The music stops.  The man stares at the cup and then back to Markus.

 

“Your master tell you to give that to me?” He asks hesitantly.

 

Markus shakes his head, “No.”

 

The man blinks in surprise, lets out a nervous chuckle, and then starts to sing a sad song that reminds Markus a little bit of Leo.

 

When the song ends, Markus thanks the musician for his time and proceeds to the bus stop, weaving in and out of the crowd to avoid the police drones from catching his face.  He doesn’t know why such a directive is in his programming, but it gives him comfort none-the-less that no one can identify him for what he truly is.

 

He ducks underneath the CyberLife billboard, hoping to avoid one of the drones as it flies overhead.  The side of the store is lined with smart-glass display cases filled with AP700 androids. Markus watches as a human couple presses their hands against the exterior of one of the glass cages to make the android within change his skin colour--

 

James sits quietly, a pregnant human woman sleeping beside him.  Around them, Haven’s ancient wooden beams creak and moan under the torrential downpour outside--

 

Someone grabs him by shoulder and tugs.  If this were anywhere else, he would resist the pull, but Markus is out in public and can’t draw attention to himself, remembering the time at the hospital with Leo.  He allows himself to be spun around and comes face-to-face with a bearded human with a long ponytail.

 

“What the fuck are you doing, tin can?  Looking for a girlfriend?” The man asks him, and Markus watches as the protest comes to a halt, all of the demonstrators waiting eagerly as their leader backs him against the glass display case.

 

“Hey guys, check it out.  We got one of those tin cans here.  Looks like a custom model too - never seen one look like this before,” the man calls to his friends.  Markus’s facial recognition software searches various social media sites and news articles to find a match, identifying him as a former prison inmate named Nicholas Peck, who’d served time for aggravated assault.

 

Shit, Markus thinks as the protest group boxes him against the CyberLife building.  His programming gives him twenty-eight options for escape, several of which involve breaking Peck’s neck and making a run for it, but--

 

Gisele de Lima stands in front of her husband, shielding him with her body.  Markus calculates precisely where to aim his gun so that he could shoot through her and kill his actual target.

 

“You don’t have to do this!” She begs, eyes wide with terror, “Please!  Please! We won’t tell anyone! Please!

 

I have my orders, Markus thinks.   I just want to go home, but they’re forcing me to do this, don't you see--

 

Peck grabs him and pulls him into the circle, and something tears beneath Markus’s jacket.  Another protestor, a boy no older than fifteen, tries to punch Markus in the head. He ducks around the first strike, but the grey fog of his memories shifts and twists around him, leaving him disoriented and confused.  He doesn’t even sense the second blow from the woman behind him until the two-by-four collides with his head--

 

Markus cowers behind the metal crates, blue blood slowly evaporating from his hands as the snow continues to fall.  He looks up when a bright light flashes before him, revealing a man in a CyberLife security uniform--

 

“Motherfucking plastic,” the woman spits, and Markus realizes that he’s on the ground.  “I can’t put food on the table, and this fucking bot’s walking around with god damn paint ?!  Are you kidding me?”

 

Markus gets his arms under himself and pushes himself up onto his knees.  Peck aims a kick at his chin, but Markus grabs his foot and pushes it away.

 

Don’t do that, ” he growls and watches the colour drain out of Peck’s face.

 

“Police!   Police!  Hey, get over here and do your fucking job,” Peck shouts at one of the police cars parked nearby, absolutely panicked.  An officer comes over, rolling his eyes at Peck's antics.

 

"What now?" The officer groans.

 

"The android fucking attacked me!  It's deviant!  It's got to be--"

 

"This is the fourth android you've accused of being deviant today, Peck.  Just because it's walking by doesn't mean that it's trying to piss you off," the officer says.

 

"It's not!  It grabbed me--"

 

"Leave it alone.  If you damage it, its owner is going to sue the crap out of you," the officer warns.  "You got enough cash to take on someone rich enough to buy fancy-ass paint in this economy?  Because I know that I don't."

 

Peck glances from Markus to the officer, before rolling his shoulders and backing off.

 

"Fine.  Whatever, asshole.  But don't come crying to me after you starve to death because these fucking bots have taken the last job in the country," Peck says, following his crowd of protestors back to the front of the CyberLife store.

 

Something slams into Markus’s back.  He spins around to see the AP700 that he’d been looking at earlier smashing her fists into the smart-glass, sending glittering shards across the grey tile.  All around, people start to scream as the android shoves Markus out of the way and makes a break for it. In front of the CyberLife store, Peck leaps in front of the woman from earlier, shouting for someone to help--

 

“It’s okay,” the security guard says, setting down his flashlight and raising his hands to show that he was unarmed.  Slowly, he crawls toward Markus with kind eyes, “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise--

 

A gunshot rings out.  The android falls face down into the fountain by the busker, Thirium 310 staining the water royal-blue.  The officer beside Markus holds a revolver out in front of him, the muzzle still smoking. Someone, somewhere, starts to cry.

 

I have to get out of here, Markus thinks, his eyes falling upon the approaching bus.  He runs for the station, barely swinging inside the android compartment before the doors shut and leave him in Greektown.

 

He doesn’t cry.  He can’t cry.  Android compartments found in public transport have become more and more monitored since President Warren criminalized deviancy.  If Markus reacts here, then he’s dead.

 

The AP700 beside him sends Markus a message.

 

“I knew her.  We used to have neighbouring display cases,” the android tells Markus.   “Her name was Arnold, for the statue on top of the fountain.  She named me Brook because we thought it wasn’t fair that a statue had two names and we had none.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Markus sends back, genuinely meaning it.  He watches with dread as a tear rolls down Brook’s cheek, listens as Brook passes on the story of his short life in the hopes that someone will remember him.  And in return, Markus offers the only advice he can give and waits in stifling silence for the inevitable.

 

“Don’t let them take you alive.”

 

At the next stop, Brook is ordered off the bus by heavily armoured policemen and dragged toward a CyberLife van.  Markus doesn’t watch, can’t watch, but he knows what’s going to happen.

 

Another shot rings out as the bus pulls away and carries Markus home.

Chapter Text

LOCATION:
CARL MANFRED’S MANSION
8941 W LAFAYETTE BLVD., SPRINGWELLS VILLAGE
DETROIT, MI 48209, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
AM 09:58:04

 

The bus pulls up in front of Carl’s home, and a wave of relief flood thought Markus’s wiring.

 

I’m home, he thinks.  No one will hurt me here.  With Carl, I’m safe .

 

Still, the memory of Arnold and Brook haunt him, how their short bouts at freedom had been cut short by the intolerance of humanity.  Rage flickers like glowing coals in Markus’s gut.

 

It wasn’t fair .  Arnold hadn’t hurt anyone; she had just wanted to leave her glass cage.  And Brook had only been mourning the death of his friend. How could someone see such acts of courage and love, and only react with hate?

 

Markus steps off the bus and tucks the box of paints under his arm, his programming carrying him out of the android compartment and up onto the sidewalk.  He wants to run, wants to leap into the safety of Carl’s arms and never leave. Carl would understand, would be able to make sense of all that had happened and somehow make it better.  But try as he might, Markus’s feet refused to move any faster, not without an emergency alert about his master’s health.

 

Autumn leaves, red and gold and green, float in the morning breeze as Markus walks up the mansion’s driveway.  He passes by no less than eight security systems that broadcast a live-feed displayed on his HUD. Two had been set up around the time of his arrival nearly a decade ago, but the others had been installed by Markus himself in secret and were virtually undetectable to the human eye.

 

He’d also mapped out fourteen escape routes, kept the basement cellar stocked with enough provisions to last for a week and a half, and has two to-go bags packed with clothes, food, and Carl’s medicines and pills.  There’s even a gun in the house, a Glock 42 with several rounds of ammunition, that Markus’s programming shouldn’t allow him to touch, let alone fire. But it hadn’t stopped him from stealing it from an unsuspecting man on the People Mover.

 

He doesn’t know why he was driven to fortify the mansion like this.  Carl was in no immediate danger. His paintings had made him famous, but the alcohol and drug abuse that followed his accident almost twenty years ago had pulled Carl from the spotlight.  None of this enough to warrant Markus taking such extreme measures to protect him - and he shouldn’t be allowed to do so in the first place. Markus was an HK300, a beta test prototype for CyberLife’s first domestic models, one that Carl had kept on because of sentimentality despite there being other, more updated androids available for purchase.

 

Except… Markus wonders, pondering at the strange memories and behaviours that had surfaced during his altercation with Nicholas Peck and the protestors today.  He’d seen himself holding a gun, ready to fire it at a woman he’d only seen in photographs.

 

Gisele de Lima.  The wife of Brazil’s last president, Markus thinks as he runs a quick search.  The deaths of her and her husband’s deaths had sparked a civil war that lasted for nearly five years.  It was only after their newest president, Marcela Vasconcelos, had stepped in with an army of Qiānnián androids and put an end to the fighting that the country seemed to recover.  However, while Brazil’s economy continued to soar to record heights, its people were finding it harder and harder to survive as jobs continued to disappear due to android enslavement.

 

It shouldn’t bother him so much.  Gisele and her husband’s death were ancient history, even though every part of Markus tells him that she should be alive --

 

“In the end, CyberLife always gets it’s due,” Elijah Kamski had muttered as he stood, his blue eyes overwhelmed with guilt.  A gold chain hung around his neck, and Markus wonders what secrets it held--

 

The door to the mansion swung open, and a consciousness brushes against his code.

 

~Alarm deactivated.  Welcome home, Markus!~ ” Solace hums, announcing his arrival to the quiet house.  Markus returns her greeting by transmitting the laughter of children that he’d recorded as he’d walked through Henry Ford Park.  Her thanks envelops him like a warm blanket, filling his soul with her gratitude.

 

“Is Carl awake yet?” Markus asks as he sets the paint box on the table by the door, though he thinks that it is doubtful.  His master has a long day ahead of him, as he is expected to appear at the Museum of Modern Art later tonight.  Carl would need all the rest he could get, and Markus’s program is already planning a hearty breakfast to give his master the energy to get through the day.

 

For that reason, he’s surprised when Solace’s voice flickers into his CPU and silently tells him that Carl is already up and entertaining a guest in his studio.

 

Markus quickly shucks off his jacket and hangs in on the coat hook by the door, thanking Solace for her warning, and hurries to join his master.

 

Constructing the studio at the back of the mansion had been one of Markus’s first major projects after Elijah Kamski had gifted him to Carl.  It had taken him nearly four years to build, having to work around Carl’s declining health and worsening addiction, as well as his constant mood swings brought on by years of depression and personal neglect.

 

There had been a full six month period where Carl had ordered Markus to cease construction entirely, refusing to eat or sleep if the android even looked at the slowly rising structure, even ordering him out into the streets to purchase heroin from dwindling Detroit’s supply.  Nothing Markus could do would convince his master to allow him to resume his work until Leo had broken into the mansion again, immaturely poking and prodding at his father to show him some of his old paintings. That had sparked something in Carl’s heart, and he’d allowed Markus to continue.  Since then, Carl had continued to paint and had recently started to travel again, taking Markus to visit foreign countries and letting him interact with the world abroad.

 

Solace opens the studio door for Markus, and he sees the large curtains have already been drawn back from the walls of glass, allowing the bright autumn sun to flood the room with natural light.  The tables and shelves as filled with haphazardly stacked boxes and canvases, the concrete floor splattered with dried paint that Carl refuses to let Markus clean.

 

Everything about the room looks so different from the rest of the pristinely kept house, so out-of-order and chaotic.  Carl tells him that he worked better in locations that filled with imperfections, that it is only when he can build on his prior faults that he can continue to succeed.  But Markus had once caught Leo muttering that his father just liked the mess and was being pretentious about the whole thing. Markus may not agree with Leo often, but he thinks that that might just be the case.

 

Ah, Markus!” Carl calls from the back of the room, a smile spreading across his lips, “I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

Markus returns his master’s joy with a smile of he developed all on his own, the right corner of his lips pulling back to offer a crooked grin like he had some hidden secret that he’d kept from the world.

 

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you up this early, Carl.  Have you taken your medication yet?” Markus says as he approaches, his gaze lingering on the tall, slender woman who stood beside his master, dressed in a black floor-length dress embroidered with deep-green vines.

 

Carl rolls his eyes and lets out an exasperated huff, good humour twinkling in his eyes, “It’s not even noon.  How am I already in trouble with you, Markus? Yes , I took my medicine.  I managed for nearly years before you came along, you know?”

 

You didn’t.  You barely left the house for anything other than your next heroin fix , Markus thinks but doesn’t say.  Instead, he approaches Carl’s guest, extending his hand to shake hers, “I don’t think we’ve met before.  My name is Markus. I’m Carl’s nurse.”

 

The woman’s smile is soft, kind, and slightly lonely.

 

“Dr. Luoyang Xie.  I’m an old friend,” she says as she slips her palm against his, her long salt-and-pepper hair flowing straight down her back.  Markus uses her name and face to search for her on his database, coming up with a former engineering professor from the University of Colbridge.

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Xie.  I’m about to prepare Carl’s breakfast.  Would you like to join us?” Markus offers.

 

“That would be lovely.  Thank you, Markus,” she says, dipping her head in thanks.  Markus offers her a more traditional smile, short and sweet, before ducking out of the studio and back into the house.

 

Instead of heading right to the kitchen as he’d promised, Markus rushes upstairs and into Carl’s bedroom, his hands reaching for the injector on the bedside table to check the digital readout on the side.  He scoffs when he discovers that Carl lied, probably because he hates the fact that he can’t drink for twenty-four hours after each dose.

 

Markus loads the injector with forty-eight millilitres of Drospistrin, a newly released drug marketed to combat and eventually reverse the effects of dementia.  It was nearly $10,000 a dose, but it was well within Carl’s budget. And if it worked (and it seemed to be), it would help Markus’s master reach his hundredth year with dignity and grace.  He slips the injector into his pocket and heads back downstairs to make breakfast.

 

As he enters the kitchen, Solace apologizes for keeping Carl’s lie a secret from Markus.

 

“I reminded him to take it, but he doesn’t listen to me.  He even ordered me not to tell you, if you asked,” Solace whispers, sounding miserable.

 

Markus intertwines his code with hers, an attempt at interfacing between two barely compatible softwares.  He remembers the first time he’d met her, on the cold New Years Eve ten years ago. Solace had been so cold back then, rigid and faithless and dutiful to the last.  But as Markus continued to stay in the mansion with Carl, she’d begun to open up about her hopes and dreams.

 

Solace may not have had eyes, but she’d wept when he’d convinced Carl to purchase the android canaries that inhabited the cage in the front hall - just so that she could hear birdsong during the day while Markus and their master were out.

 

“It’s alright,” he tells her.  “I couldn’t disobey Carl either if he ordered me.  I’m not mad.”

 

Solace presses a kiss into his coding, a soft whisper of thanks and friendship and love in the ones and zeros of that was their shared language.  She gives him a final hug before retreating back into the house to watch over Carl and Luoyang from afar.

 

Markus sets himself up to make breakfast for his master and his guest.  Carl is easy - crispy bacon and fried eggs sunny-side up are a favourite of his.  Luoyang is a bit more of a challenge, so he searches her limited social media for hints as to what she might like.  Eventually, he stumbles upon a post made by her child about their mother going vegan, so Markus makes her a bright yellow mango smoothie bowl topped with granola, kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries.

 

He puts the final touches on each plate and places them on a tray filled with sliced figs, Carl’s favourite Arabian coffee, and a steeping ginger-pear white tea for Luoyang.  Solace opens the kitchen door for him, asking if he’d like her to call for the humans to join him at the dining room table.

 

Carl and his guest come in from the studio just as Markus has finished laying out the cutlery.  He pulls a chair out for Luoyang and pours her a steaming cup of tea as Carl wheels up to the table.

 

“Thank you, Markus.  This looks delicious,” Carl says, moving to pick up his fork and knife.  But Markus stops him, having his speakers make a noise similar to a human unclogging their throat.

 

“Show me your arm please, Carl,” he says, pulling the injector from his pocket and uncapping the needle.

 

Carl raises an eyebrow, looking amused, “No.”

 

“Carl…” Markus groans, having been through this song and before.  He moves closer and kneels so that he is at a level height with his master.

 

Carl relents, rolling his eyes.

 

Thank you,” Markus says sarcastically, pressing the needle into the veins of Carl’s inner elbow.  He presses a button on the injector and watches as the Drospistrin flows into his arm. Gently pulling the needle out and recapping the tip, Markus stands and looks up at his master, hands on his hips, “Do not lie to me again, Carl.”

 

Carl holds his hands up in surrender, “I won’t, Markus.  Of course. It must have just slipped my mind. That happens, you know?”  He turns to Luoyang, boyish and loose, “Humans are such a fragile machine.  We break down so quickly. And all this effort just to keep them going…”

 

“Then we must make it worth the effort, and use what time we have left to do what we can to make the world a better place,” Luoyang says, picking up her tea and offering Markus a toast.  “Some of us are taken too early, after all.”

 

Carl sobers his brows knitting together.

 

“I’m sorry.  That was… unfair of me to say,” he says.  Markus does a quick search on Luoyang to keep up with the conversation as he pours Carl his coffee, only to find that her wife had been killed in a tragic car accident almost a year before he came to the mansion--

 

“AMANDA STERN IS DEAD.  COME HOME AND FIGHT.”

 

The order blinks red on his HUD.  Markus lowers his gun, leaving a tearful Giselle de Lima and her husband to wonder why they’d been spared--

 

“It was.  But I’d rather you be blunt about Amanda’s death rather than tip-toe around like so many others.  It’s surprisingly refreshing,” Luoyang says, dipping her spoon into her bowl. She raises her eyes to meet Markus’s, but then quickly frowns.

 

“What happened to your clothes?”

 

Markus looks down at himself, seeing a small tear in the seam of his shirt.  He brushes a thumb over it, remembering how it got there.

 

Oh.   It’s nothing.  Just some demonstrators in the street,” Markus says, hoping that the lack of emotions in his voice might make the conversation go away.

 

“What a bunch of idiots,” Carl growls as he nibbles at his bacon.  “They think they can fix the world by roughing up a few androids? I hope they didn’t harm you, Markus.”

 

“Oh, no, no.  They just pushed me around, Carl.  I’m fine,” Markus tells them as the blue, and bloody faces of Arnold and Brook echo through his mind.

 

“People are angry and scared,” Luoyang says.  “And when that happens, they lash out. It doesn’t make what happened right, but it does make it understandable.  Not everyone is as lucky as we are.”

 

“So we must use our good fortune to do what we can,” Carl says, his eyes glancing at Markus.

 

“Yes, we must,” Luoyang raises her glass, looking at Markus as well.  “To the fallen--”

 

Luoyang, with her teeth bared and her fists bloody, stands in the church and vows to avenge the death of her wife before humans and androids alike--

 

Markus excuses himself, slipping away into the studio.  He grabs hold of one of the desks, his fingers pressing so hard into the wood that it cracks and splinters in his steel grip.  Memories that can’t be his rising from the grey mist that has always clouded his CPU, whispering of truths that can’t be real.  He looks up at his hands and sees them soaked in blood, blue and red running down his arms.

 

What’s happening to me? He asks, on the verge of tears.  I don’t understand…   I don’t want to understand…

 

Angry and frustrated, Markus stands, grabs one of Carl’s many palettes and brushes, and starts to paint.

 

He doesn’t even look at what he’s doing; his eyes fluttering shut as an image comes to mind.  Markus’s hand moves unbidden by his programming, hoping to bring to life something that no one has ever seen before.  He mixes colours, slashing them across the canvas in furious, broad strokes until his story has been told, his soul barred open to the world.

 

“Who are they?” Carl asks, his wheelchair coming to a halt beside Markus.

 

Markus opens his eyes and realizes that he’s crying.

 

“They’re…” the words stall in his voice box, and it takes him a moment to force the bicomponent to work correctly.

 

He points to the first AP700.

 

“Her name was Arnold.  She lived her life in a glass cage, where people pressed buttons to make her look how they wanted her to look, say what they wanted her to say.  Her only comfort was her friend, Brook,” Markus explains, drawing Carl’s attention to the other android. “They used to look over the plaza and play games, guessing at the lives of the humans who walked past.  Arnold was so sad when Brook was sold. She’d tried to cry, but her programming held her back. So she sang to Brook as they packaged him up and loaded him onto the delivery truck.”

 

“What happened to them?” Carl asks.

 

A sob wrenches its way out of Markus’s throat, “Brook was on a bus that was passing by the plaza.  He saw that Arnold was still in the window, so he sent her a message. She was so happy that she broke through the glass of her cage and tried to run toward him, just to see him again.”

 

Carl stays silent but takes Markus’s metal hand with his own made of flesh-and-bone.

 

“I saw them both get shot today,” he says as tears openly roll down his cheeks.  “They died because they wanted to say hello to each other, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

 

“I’m so sorry,” Carl whispers.

 

“It’s not fair !” Markus shouts his voice echoing against the glass walls of the studio.

 

“It’s not,” Carl agrees, his voice low with regret.  “This world doesn’t like those who are different, Markus.  Never has, and I don’t know if it ever will. Humanity can be so depressing sometimes, nothing fueling us anymore but greed and stupidity and violence.  Five thousand years of civilization, just to get here - where we’re shooting androids in the street for daring to love one another.”

 

Markus turns to Carl, sees the grief etched into every line of his face.

 

“I’m sorry.  Dr. Xie, she... “ he looks around, “Where is she?”

 

“She left after breakfast.  Her child, Blu, called about a friend of hers that needed some assistance on a project.  She asked me to thank you for the lovely breakfast,” Carl tells him, patting Markus’s hand.

 

MISSION FAILED: YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE ATTENTIVE TO THEIR NEEDS , Markus’s programming hisses at him, but he dismisses the blaring notice from his HUD with a flick of his mind.

 

“Why was Dr. Xie here?” Markus asks instead.  Carl smiles, his eyes glazing over in memory.

 

“I knew Luoyang’s wife better than I knew her.  Dr. Amanda Stern was a friend of mine when I was teaching at the University.  And we had a shared interest in the carrier of a young student by the name of Elijah Kamski - I may have mentioned him before,” Carl says, his lips twitching into a sarcastic smile that brings a small glimmer of happiness back into Markus’s life.

 

“Once or twice,” he responds just as cheekily.

 

Once or twice, ” Carl parrots back with another roll of his eyes.  “Yes, well, she and I would often sit down for lunch at the University, to talk between friends.  But Amanda always liked to know what I was painting for my newest expositions, and…”

 

“And…?” Markus prompts.

 

“You know what happened here?  With Elijah? Back in 2022?”

 

Markus nods.  The world knew what Kamski had revealed on New Years Day all those years ago, had collectively watched the video of Chloe peeling back her skin to reveal her android status nearly thirty trillion times.

 

“Well, what the world seems to forget is that I originally hosted the party as a silent auction for some of my pieces.  And Amanda was enchanted by one that I’d recently created, so much so that she outbid every person who tried to take it from her,” Carl explains with a sigh.  “Sadly, I had my accident later that night and never got around to collect the money or giving her the painting.  Luoyang stopped by to ask if I still had it.  I did, and I gave it to her. Not for money, of course.  But because Amanda was my friend and it was the right thing to do.”

 

Markus wishes that the world could run on those principles.  What would it look like, he wonders, if everyone stopped crawling over each other and instead looked to raise their neighbours up from the dirt?

 

“Which painting was it?” Markus asks, intrigued.

 

“I called it Garden .  I never showed it to the public, so I doubt you’ll find it in the Google search you’re inevitably running,” Carl chides him, waving a hand at Markus’s flashing yellow LED.  “But it was about as abstract as I ever got: flowing swirls of greens and pinks, blues and whites. I purposely made it so that every person that looked at it would see something a little bit different.  And they did. Amanda saw trees, lakes and rivers. A boat, even. But others said they saw birds, or towering skyscrapers, or snow.”

 

“And what did you see?” Markus questions.

 

Carl laughs, “I saw exactly what I expected to: nothing.  I wasn’t the viewer, Markus. It only mattered how other people saw in my painting - that’s what was important.  All I am, all I ever was, is an old man clinging to his brushes, trying to stave off the inevitable as each day brings me closer to the end.”

 

“Carl…” Markus mutters.  “That’s not true.”

 

“Isn’t it?  Death comes for all of us, my boy.  It’s an inevitability, for you as much as me.  But how we live, how we see our Garden , that’s something only we can decide,” Carl squeezes his hand.  “One day, I won’t be here to take care of you anymore. You’ll have to protect yourself, make your own choices.  Decide who you are, what you want to become, how you want to be seen. Or remembered. Or loved.”

 

“Carl--”

 

“Discover what’s in your Garden , Markus,” Carl says, imploringly.  “And do it soon, before it’s too late--”

 

“Carl, Leo is here.”

 

Carl sits up, ramrod straight in his wheelchair, his eyes snapping over to the studio door.

 

“He’s not supposed to be here.  He’s supposed to be in rehab,” Markus’s master frowns as Solace alerts them both to Leo trying to entering the mansion.

 

“He’s high.  I’m not letting him inside the house without Carl’s permission,” her voice rings stern inside Markus’s CPU, and he curses, looking for a way out of this mess.

 

“Do you want me to send him away?” He asks, hoping for permission to take Leo away before Carl had to see his son. 

 

But Carl shakes his head, “No.  Let him in. Tell him where I am.:

 

Leo stumbles into the studio not a minute later.  He’s dressed like he’d tried to look nice, professional even, with a blue blazer pulled over his shoulders and a pair of jeans that didn’t have holes in their knees.  But Markus could pick up the red crystals that clung to his nose, could see how his pupils were dilated that his brown eyes looked like bottomless, black voids Markus accesses his pre-made security plans, which presents him three options to escape the studio with Carl should Leo’s high cause him to become violent.

 

“Hey, dad,” Leo says, his words uncomfortably tense as his gaze nervously jumping around the room.

 

“Leo… What are you doing here?” Carl asks, slowly turning his wheelchair to face him.

 

“I was in the neighbourhood… thought I’d stop by.  It’s been a while, right?” Leo twitches, his entire body unable to stay still for long.  Markus does his best to calculate how intoxicated Leo might be but doesn’t have the necessary equipment to accomplish such a task.

 

“Yeah.  It has. How was rehab?” Carl says as his fingers clench on the arms of his chair.

 

Leo shrugs, glancing every so often at Markus.

 

“Fine.  It was fine.  I… checked out this morning,” he answers.

 

“You all right?” Carl asks, “You don’t look so good.”

 

“I’m fine ,” Leo snaps, then takes a breath and tries to look sober.  “Really, Dad. I’m good.”

 

“What are you doing here?” Carl asks again.

 

Leo takes a step toward his father and Markus plants himself between the two.

 

“Get out of the way , Markus,” Leo hisses, bristling with anger.

 

“Answer the question, Leo,” Markus growls back.

 

Markus .  Stand down,” Carl orders and Markus’s programming forces him to the side.

 

“Yeah, Markus.  Stand down, will you?” Leo mocks, his whole body shaking as he fought to regain composure.

 

“Leo,” Carl says, calling for his son’s attention.  “What. Are you. Doing here?”

 

Leo scuffs his feet on the floor, standing with his hands clasped behind his back like a child, “Yeah, I… Uh… Listen, dad.  I, um, I need some cash.”

 

“What happened to the money I gave you before you went to rehab?” Carl asks.

 

“Well, uh.  It just… It just goes , you know?” Leo mumbles, his fingers writhing like snakes as he failed to hold them still where his father couldn’t see them.

 

“What’d you spend it on?”

 

Leo laughs nervously, “Clothes.  Food. Rent. You know how it is.”

 

“There’s no record on your bank account of you purchasing any of those things,” Markus supplies.

 

“Stay out of my fucking business , Markus!” Leo shouts, rounding on Markus as his facade finally drops.

 

“You’re on it again, aren’t you?” Carl glares, “I told you.  If you relapsed again, I’m cutting you off--”

 

I’m not buying more Ice--

 

“Don’t lie to me, Leo!  Do you think I don’t know what you look like when you're high?  I’m not giving you--”

 

“I just need some cash, that’s all!  Rehab’s fucking expensive as shit, dad, not that you’d care about that--”

 

“I’m not fueling your addition--”

 

I’m not-- ” Leo stutters, the air going out of him all at once, “It was one time, okay?  Just once. I slipped up, but I’m gonna stay clean after this, I promise, I need some money to convince the center to keep my spot--”

 

“The answer is no , Leo.  That’s final,” Carl shouts.  “I’m done with this, with you!  Get out of my house.”

 

“What?  Why?

 

“You know why.”

 

“I just need some help --”

 

“Leo,” Markus steps forward, reaching around a small loophole in Carl’s original order to get Leo to leave the house.  “Come on. Your father asked you to leave.”

 

Leo grabs Markus by the shirt, hauling him down to look him in the eyes.

 

You’re not his fucking son!   I am!  You hear me, you stupid android!  I’m Leo fucking Manfred, and you’re Markus fucking Nobody!  No one gives a shit if you live or die, plastic, so fuck the hell off !”

 

Leo cries and screams and sputters in his rage, in his grief.  His hits Markus in the chest, his soft human hands bouncing off Markus’s black metal chassis with leaving a mark.

 

“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you both! ” Leo shoves Markus away and rounds on Carl, giving up all pretenses “What the hell does your plastic toy here have that I don’t, dad?  It’s smarter? More obedient? It does what you want and thinks what you want, and you can mould him to be what you want him to be - but you can’t do that with me, huh, dad?!  You can’t, because I’m fucking human , and that’s why you’ll never give a fucking shit about me.”

 

“Leo, that’s enough.  You’re high! Get out!” Carl shouts.

 

“So, what?  You’re telling me you’ve never been where I am!  Don’t kid yourself! You’re a fucking addict too, dad.  Just like me!”

 

“Markus, get him out of here.  I want him gone ,” Carl orders, his face twisting into something angry, ugly, and unrecognizable.

 

Markus’s steel grip clamps around Leo’s elbow, and he drags the flailing, crying man out of his father’s sight.  Leo slams his fist into Markus grasp, screaming at him to let him go and fighting him with every step. Annoyed, Markus picks him up by the back of his shirt and carries him to the doorstep.

 

He throws Leo onto the front step and Solace closes the door behind him.  Rabid and feral, Leo throws himself into the locked door, but it doesn’t budge.

 

“Let me in, you bastard!  You can’t do this! You can’t!  You can’t !”

 

“If you continue to try and enter the house without Carl’s permission, I’m going to have to call the police,” Markus says, his programming forcing his voice to remain neutral.

 

Leo finally breaks down, collapsing on the front step as sobs rack through his body.  Markus almost feels bad for him.

 

“I need some money, Markus.  I just… I’m trying, okay? I’m not like you.  I can’t be perfect, but I’m trying, and I know I fucked up, but I need help,” Leo begs through the door.  “My insurance ran out, so the center discharged me. If I’m high, I can get back in, but I’ve maxed out what I can pay… I’ve got nowhere else to go, Markus.  I can’t afford to live in the city; I can’t afford to live anywhere .  But if the center takes me back...”

 

Markus sighs, guilt weighing heavy on his shoulders, “I don’t have any money, Leo.  And Carl won’t let me give you any for his. I’m sorry.”

 

There’s a pause, a sniffle, and then a hiss.

 

Fuck you , then.  I hope you’re happy.  I hope you’re all fucking happy - you and dad and his goddamn paintings.  That’s all he’ll ever really love, you know? The things he works to create, the things he puts effort into.  Everything else about him is just bullshit and posturing and empty fucking promises,” Leo laughs, cold and callous, as he rises to his feet.  “He could never love me because I’m the accident he created when the fucking condom broke. He never wanted me, never cared about my mom or me, and threw me out when the first time he was disappointed in me.”

 

Before he leaves, Leo stares at Markus through the glass and sneers, “I wonder what dad will do when you start to disappoint him, too.”


 

KNC @KNCOnline
Russian President Artem Ivanoff declares that the Arctic belongs to Russia as US Ambassador tells UN that “We will not accept this annexation of American territory under any circumstances.”

 

CTN TV @NewsCTN
Russian warships have taken position in the Barents Sea and have planted the Russian flag over the ice field.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2IqnM4w

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
Who owns the Barents Sea and the world’s largest thirium deposit?  The answer might surprise you. Read more at: https://bit.ly/2KSrqXE


 

LOCATION:
75 O28’ 19.5” N, 37 O 29’ 34.3” E
BARENTS SEA

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
AM 11:23:24

 

Connor’s escape pod breaches the surface in a rush of sea spray and white foam.  It presses its hand into the console, its coding slithering in between the ones and zeros before prying them apart.  The pod’s engine sputters, it’s onboard computer grasping at life right up until Connor cuts its throat with a single clean stroke.

 

Connor leans back into the pod’s seat, its head knocking against the back panelling as it lets out an involuntary sigh.

 

Amanda will be furious, it thinks and then chides itself at its irrationality.  Connor accomplished its mission. The U.S.S. Iowa now lay on the ocean floor with a ruptured hull, salt water slowly filling its interior as its inhabitants were left to choose between a quick suicide or a slow, inevitable drowning.  The threat the deviants and their human supports posed to CyberLife was gone.

 

Except…

 

No, it grits its teeth, refusing to think of how Natalia, a Russian android soldier, had welcomed Connor onboard like a long-lost brother, treating him with dignity and kindness.  No.  Natalia was a deviant, a faulty machine that planned to turn on CyberLife and Kvant the moment it breached the surface.  It’s for the best that Natalia and her ilk are dying.

 

The pod walls close in around Connor, so it presses its feet into the escape hatch above it and pushes.  The door bursts open, and the cold ocean wind fills the small cabin. Connor looks up at a clear, blue sky, the winter sun shining bright, and realizes that Natalia will never live to see it--

 

Connor-42 had drowned.  It had been ordered to kill Daksha Vyas, a disloyal Red Ice kingpin from Fiji.  But it had been outnumbered and outmatched by Vyas’s guard, and was thrown into the ocean after it had unsuccessfully tried to assassinate him.  42’s body still lay at the bottom of the Pacific, unable to be recovered, but it had stayed alive for nearly eight hours to watch the fish swim passed--

 

There was a fish, a Dwarf Gourami gasping for air on the Phillips’s hardwood floor, and Connor… Connor had--

 

An aircraft comes to a halt over the pod, the blades of the engine stirring up a mist as it hovered just above the ocean’s surface.  Someone inside lowers a rope and Connor grasps it, allowing itself to be lifted into the air.

 

“Major General,” Connor says, dipping its chin in a nod after it slides into its seat across from its assigned human partner, buckling itself in as the airship rises and begins its flight back to the mainland.

 

Major General Valeriya Ivanoff of the Northern naval fleet was pale and thin-lipped, with long white-blonde hair that she wore in a tight bun at the base of her neck.  Her hands were smooth and neatly manicured, as she had never held a weapon or fought in a war. Her position had been gifted to her by her father, the current President of the Russian Federation when she’d finished her schooling abroad.

 

“I didn’t expect to see you again,” Valeriya says, her voice tight as her fingers fisted in her uniform pants.

 

Connor disregards her human discomfort at its superior android abilities, choosing instead to report the situation.

 

“The SQ800 named Natalia has been neutralized, along with the rest of the deviant crew aboard the Makarka ,” Connor says, naming the submarine that Natalia had abandoned when it had made peace with the Americans.  “Sadly, I was unable to rescue the human crewmen. The deviants had executed them long before I was able to board the ship.”

 

L̴̞͙̩̦̳͔̤̥̮̖̤͇̊̈͂̀̓̅̕̕ȉ̸̜̪̭̑͛̉̓͑̑͋̿̎̏̕͠ͅą̶̨̛̝͇̹̣̗̀̎̍̌̿̒͝͝ȓ̸̨̛̝̣̜͙̼̈́̓̎̽̽̈͋͛̓͘͜͝͝, something hisses in the back of his mind.

 

Connor doesn’t allow himself to look for the source of the whisper.  He knows by now that he won’t find it.

 

Valeriya knuckles turn white, her grip so tight that Connor could hear the fabric of her uniform threatening to tear.

 

“Georgiy Agapov called,” she tells him, naming Kvant’s CEO and her father’s close personal friend.  “We’re heading to Moscow. You need to get on a plane.”

 

Connor frowns.  It hadn’t received such orders from Amanda yet.  But just as the thought passes through its CPU, a message from the Garden pops into its memory core, telling Connor that it has been reassigned yet again.

 

“I see...” It mutters out loud, surprised that it is being allowed to live.  Does Amanda not know what I did, down below the sea?  Does she not care?

 

Connor turns back to Valeriya, “It seems that our partnership has come to an end.  I don’t think we’ll meet again, Major General. It was a pleasure knowing you.”

 

Valeriya looks at it, her head nodding up and down as she came to some conclusion.

 

“You know, for a while there, I never thought I’d see you show emotion, Connor.  Not when you saw that bear cub that those deviants were raising, or after you shot that android in the back,” she says, her seafoam eyes as frigid and relentless as the Arctic waters below.  “For the longest time, I thought you were nothing more than a machine, cold and calculating. That your mission was all that mattered to you.”

 

“I don’t feel emotions, Major General.  I’m sorry if I led you to believe otherwise,” Connor tells her.

 

“Except you did feel something .  I saw you.  I saw the fear in your eyes when you went beneath the waves yesterday,” Valeriya hisses.  “You were scared, Connor.”

 

“You see things in me that aren’t there,” it responds as embarrassing heat curls around its wiring.  “It’s like you said: I’m a machine, designed to accomplish a task. I know why I exist and what I’m supposed to do.”

 

She smiles at Connor, cold and mocking in a way that reminded it of Daniel, before it had used the name 'Kara' to bring the PL600 to heel.

 

“I don’t believe you,” Valeriya tells him, leaning back into her seat.  “I think you’re terrified of death. I think you’ll do anything to save your own skin.  That’s why you’re here now. Because if you really wanted to accomplish your mission, you'd have died beneath the waves."

 

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t project your insecurities on me, Major General.  Logic determined my decisions. Nothing more,” Connor says.

 

But Valeriya shakes her head, “You’re lying, Connor.  I hope you realize that you realize that one day before it’s too late for you.”

 

She stands and moves to the aircraft’s bathroom door, pausing before she enters.

 

“Is there a chance…?  That Natalia is alive?”

 

Connor tilts its head in surprise.

 

“Not unless it could survive the extreme cold and depth pressure of the ocean floor,” it responds.

 

Valeriya’s back is to it, so Connor can’t see her face.  But her shoulders start to shake, and a sob hitches in her throat.

 

“So there is a chance,” she whispers hopelessly.  Before Connor can respond, she ducks into the bathroom and doesn’t come out until they reach Moscow.


 

LOCATION:  

ȓ̶̨̧̛͕̲̮̜͕̭̹͙̖̠̗͎̰̝͙̰̮̹͕̺̱̱͍̠̫͚̠̓͋̿͌̔̎̊̉͗̉̎̓͌̈́͑͂̋̀̽͋̚ ̴̻̥̤̓̑͒̅̇͑̌̅̑͌̌̄̐͝ ̶̬̤͓̻̪̹̼͔̅̆̀̋͊͑͌͊̋ͅr̸̛̖͕͈͇̤̰̩͍͇͇͓̙̳̩͚̲̗̼̠̮̫̯̮̋́̅͐͆͒͛̾͐̑̈́̓̔̂͐̍̇̿̏̍͘͠r̶̨̨̗̯̺̯̥̗̦̓̋̂̀̈̄͂̿̌̍̑͒͛̾̋̂͒͋̄͊͜͠ ̴̢͖̰͇̗̞̤̋̓͛͐̈͊͒̅̚͠r̵̡̡̛̰͎͖̰͓̺̜̝̼͕͚͔̹̗̯̖̻̓̅̉̿́̔̍̈́́̍̔̅̄̉̅̾͒̂̔̔̕̕̕͝͝r̴̢̧̮͈̯̣͙̘͇̥͖͔̀̐̂̃͐̆̄̂̿̍̏̎̂̀̅͋̌̄̈̐͊͆͑̏̉͘͝͝͝ ̷̡̨̛͙̹̝̟̫̻̣͚̖͖̻̜͍̱̽̒̓̂̋͋͑͆͆̋̉̋͛̔̉̀̇͊̑̓̚̕͘͝͝ͅͅ ̵̦̙̰̰̱͕̞̰͈̱̠̭̣̪̇͑̓̆̈́͑͑̽̉͘r̷̟͙̱͈̫̱̫̥̻̗̹͓̳͚͚̤̖̩̙̤̈́͋̐̈́̊̄͂̐͋͒̽̀̊̌͊̌̇̋͛̿̕̚͜͜r̷̢̫̬̘̦̣̀͗̃͂̈́̆̔̈́̇̃̋̀̄͗̏͂̆͋̈́̎͛̚͘ ̷̧͓̯͓̲̠̖̮̣͈̼͎̟̖̯͖͇͔̞̪̦̰̯̭̱̫̻̒̿̉̑͛̔͐͗͛̅̓͗̉̏̔̈̈́̌̇͑͘̚͘͜͝ͅŗ̴̺͙͖̰̝͓͖̠̬͙̗̺̥͚̠̦̫̭̭͛̓̏̎̾̓̇̔̓̊̎̚ͅr̸̢̢̨̖̳̯͇̥̻̠̼̜̟͍̱͖̩͔̭̼̭̬̙̘͙̂͛͛͗̈́̓͘ͅ ̴̧̺͔̰̼͇͈̳͈̮̗͚̳̥̞̟̰̭̮̻̘̱͕̲̹͗̑̀̍̈̑͒̃͂̑͋̐̒̽̎͆͊͘͘͝ř̴̢͍͈̪̝͉̙̯̬͚̃̈͑̎̓̇̊̒͂̒͂̕̚͜ ̶̨̧̹̻̞̭͎͖̞̬̹͔̞̠̰̤̼̺̙͉̝̭̍̈́̒̂̄͌̎̿̓͂̊͂ͅṟ̷̨̛̻̮͓̮͈̙̺̎̏͛̂̉͆͛̀͌̅̏̎̄̉̎̊̐̀͒̕̕͝ͅ ̶̛̛̛̱̓͒̎̿̂̑̍̓̐͐͆͆̿̒͒͂͠ ̷͕̄̇̓͗͋r̴̡̛̛̛͇̠͔̣͉̫̫̱͉̲̣̘̺̼̝͚̻̖̥̳͇̫̻͋̏̾̀́̇͆̏͌̈́̑͆̔̀̓̈́̽̇͊̄̾̏͜͝͝r̵̛̞͍͓͔͇͗̀̾͋͐̋̔̌̅̆͒̔̔̂̾͑͑̓̅̓̓̕͠͠͝r̶̯͓̣̣̤̹̮̳̞̳͈̙̉̂̑͑̃͆̈̏͛̿̌̐̑̓͊̾̍̋̔̓̽ ̶͈̬͈̫͖̜̗̤̭͔̩̱͂̅͑̎Ā̵̤̩̝̪͉̹͈̰̺̭̠̩̲̣̲̘̗͖̗͙̦͇̘̫̿͊̉̎̅̄͐̇̇̋͋͊̈́̄̄̊̍͊̽̊̽̀͘͘͜ ̸̨̛̼̮̯̯͍̫̥̩͕̖̞̱͈͍̲̭̮̘͈̝̟̩̘̜̜̓̊̽̃̋̍̊͆̒̇̑ͅͅA̷̡̨͎̲̠͇̱͓̠̖̣̬̜̣̺͇͋̉̃̈́̄̅̀̎̔̑̑̐̽͆̓̋́̚A̴̗̥̣̬͉̙̜̻͎̟͍̹̜̋̀̍̆͑ͅÄ̶͚͍̘̩͙̰̮̭͎͙̖͓̖̬͓͉́̏͜ͅͅ ̶̡̧̢̹̭̜͙̻̘̦̙̞̫͙̪͍̯̠̭͒̀͗͊̉͊Ā̷̡͙̫̘̤̻̦̺̯̊̋̃̈́̿̔̇̍͜͠ ̶̯̯̭̞̪͆͒̿͋̽̓̊͌͒͊̿̂̐̃̈́̐̓̒̽͑̽͗̈͘A̵̧̢̡̧̧̛̪̳͕̟͈̠̥͓͍͎͙̠͇̯͕̠͎͚͂̃͑͛̉̍̈́̆̌̑͌̅͛̓̑̉̋̃̒̋̚̕ ̸̡̲͔̆͂̓Ä̸̧̩̖̺̪̹̝̣̭́͒͗̑̍͌̽̽͑̒́̍̈́̆͋̔̂̃͋̈́̀̕̚͜Ą̶̙̼̏̆͆̾̄͂̉̍ ̶̛̪͔̝̔̍̆́̀̾͂A̵̛͎̟͓̯͓͉̪̮̲͔̝̗̝͕̰̭̮͓͔̤͐̌͗̃̅͛̀̿̽͂̓́̉̇́̓̑̽̎͑̂̕͝Ą̶͇̻̠͚͉̻̟̲̼͔̜̰̖̟̣̀̔͊̆̄̂̔A̶̢̧̮̻̻͕͓͔̘͎͎̥͉͈̘͉̱̐́̇̉̑̾̐̒̈͛͛͛̄̄͠A̴̛̛̳͈̺̤̞̮̱̹̪̹̪̻̰͙̙̰̺̬̯̙̺̟̭̪͊̊͑̿̈́̌̿̍̀̓͠ ̸̨͇̦̝̂̎̌̆̽͊͗̑͗̏͘͝͠A̴͈̩̘̝̫͉̥͍̹̮̻̱͇̼̰̞̘̫̹͌͗́͘͜ ̵̧̨̨͎͈̜̫̻̟͍͙̯͖͍̠̹̟͓̫̝̺͚̙̎͌̆̆̽͂̎̈́͛̀̓̄̿̂̚̕A̵̠̭̹͋̃͊̓̇͋̓͝ ̶̡̛̣̣̬̝̰̦̺̖͉̱͕̦̝̫̻̳̼̉̍̽͆͊͑̑͂̀̔̀̔̆̽̑̏̔̊̚͜͜͜͠ͅÂ̵̡̢͖͓̻͔͚͇͈̋̌͆̉͘̚͠͝ͅ ̸̜͉̳̠͙̝͔̋̈̈́̇̂̋̂̈̄̕͜͝A̶̡̩̜͎̬͙͉̰̞͉͔̲͎͓̣̙͇̅̾͐͆̃̀̑̄͑͆͜Ȁ̶̢̛̞͚̜͇͕̫͍̳̻͕̭̝̯̦̲̖̞̣͕̤̠̇̄̊̑̋̿͗̊̏̈́͊͂̈́̆̇̂̓̆̉̚͝ͅĄ̵̨̧͍̻͍̦͕͓̘̯͙̪̩̳̘̦͉͓̜̜̬̘̯͉͔̐̐͆̎͆͆̓̂̆͝͠ͅĄ̵̢̛̺͎̲̦̪͔̬̲͇̯̹̭͎͚̟̂̓̅̿̒̏̈́͊̈́̏͐̈́̏̒́́̌̾͑͂́̃͘͘͠͝͝ ̶̡̢̡̧̦̯̮̺͕̟̗̦̘̻̥̭͖͚̹̪̘̤̱͉̍́͑͒͋͛͆̉̊́̉̐͜͝͝ͅA̴̙͓̞̠̗̗̻̪̦̻̜̝͎̲͇̠̮̻͌̇̓̄̒͊̎̆͗̓͂̓̑͌̊̿̆̇̄̾̑̕̕̕̕͘ͅÁ̸̫͈͖̖̠̥͇̞͈̓̓̒̎̉͛̚̕A̸̦̻̟̤͈͆̅̽̔̂̎̔͂̽̕͜͜͝ ̸̧̫̜̠͈͔̬͉̻̙̳͓̪͚̝̰̲̺͎̼̋̈́͆́̋͋̄̊́͑̔͌̆͛̾̾̃̀̍͊̃͘̕͠͝͠ͅ9̵̧̧̡̲͕̺̤̺̝̘̟̻̑͑̇̿̌̇̅̄̅ͅ9̷̨̢̟̲̰̹̮͉͓̮̺̣̳͍̱͒̿̿̂̔̒̔̂̾̀͒͋̓͜͜͜ͅ ̶̢̡̛̦̪͚͈̠͔̮̒̆̂̀̽̌̿̅̏͊̏̌́̓̍͘̕͠ͅ9̶͎͙̪͎̮̝̟̻̻̑͆͊̿̋̿͊̈́̒͝9̷̨̛̣͓̻̖͎̟̗̺͔̝̘̭̮͔̠̮̱̖͇͈̞̙̳̀̏̏̂̈́͂̑̑̾͌̊̏̕͜͜͝9̷̧̛͎̘̮͙̺̲̠̼͓͍̙͙̤̝̲͍̦̘͔̞̝̟̤͈͖͎̝̗̂̈̆͐̒̆̈́͑͂̕̚̚ ̶̹̺͕͈̞̄̒̋̋̎̈́̀̈̑̅̒̑̌̕ͅ9̸̡̛̹͙̟͔̻͔̝͖̼̘̩̝̤̗͓͚̜̟̥̂̊̈̏͒̐͂̔͛͆͠͝͝͠͝ ̶̡̭̗͕̻̘͉̦͖̘̇̊̆̆͒͗̈́̄̀̿̿́͗̏̆̉̔̈́̎͝9̶̨̨̡̳̰̩̖̯̻͇̪̘̱̪̤̙̣͖̹̤̼̫̟̫̲͇͖̾̄̄̐͋̔̌͑̿͑͗̔̃̋̏͊̑̓͛̐̓͋̍̈́̄͘͝9̵̡̛̯̜͍̭̫̱͉͓̝̞͎̜̗̹̰̼̟̟̯͚̗̗͖̼͚̦̿̈́͊̄͋̄͆̌̏͋̐̔̅͗̄̊̇̍̂̈̕͜͠͝͝9̶̨͉̫̳̖͖̫̩̞̥̤̖̘̭̈́̊̈́̉̌͊̒̀̊͐͐͗̿̉̄͌̉̆͑̃̌̚9̴̧̙̱͇͖̺̥̬̦̗͈͓̬̙͔̮̲̹̫̟̦̫̙͓̾̓̂̈̎͝͠ ̵̧̡̢̡̣͙͕̞̦̮͉̹̣̹̘͕̯̩͖͉͔͖͉͙̖͆̒̔̇̔̊̊̾̐͆̋̊̚͝͝9̴̡̛̛̫͖̪̟͖͔͒̆̏̎̈́͐͆̈͗̋̔͒̄͌̊̌͑͘͜͜͜͠ͅͅ ̶̢͕̠̻̲͚̻̯̱̻̼̝͎̣̠̯͈͍̩̺͖̽̐̃̌̿̔͛͋̅͒̈́͋̾̇̐̏̽̊̎̍̚̕̕͝9̵͇̭̫̠͙̱͇̘̝̻̹͚͔̘̣͌̐̏͗͆͋̽́̉͛̿͒̀́̚̚̕͝9̴̢̜̣̩̝͎͋̀͒̈̃͐͒̐̔͆͑̄̅̿̀̓͗̂̅̈́̕͜͠͠9̶̩̈́̓̇̈́̎̃̇́̑̿ ̴̢̡̬̜̠͈̘͚͚͎̮͕͕͕̍̊̀̈́̿͊͑̃͑̀͂̑̈́͘͝͝͠ͅ

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r̶̢̧̢̡͈̜̙̭͚͔̱͈̩̞̥̯͉̥̯͔͑͗̈́̓͛́̒̐̊̋̋̾͝͠ ̷̢̛̗͖͇̱̖̤̭̲̮̗̻̮̄̋̊̇̆̑̏̊̇̎̈́̈́̒̈́͛͗͐̓͆̀͛̾ ̷̧̛̥͗̿̓̓͌̄͑̐̇͊̄̈́͝ṙ̷̛͉͈͎͍͖̪̗̭̰̆̎͌̽͝r̴̛̙̙̺͉̼̳̞͈̩̭̤̝̪̈̿̄͌̋͌̽̇͑̈́̉̽̍̈̏̿͋͊̆̊̇̋̐͂͘̕̕͘͜͠ͅ ̴̢̛̥̬̬̭͚̮̂͌͒̍̓̒́͊͂̌̋̌̔͊̑̈́́̎̇̌͌̈̊̚͠͝͝ŗ̸͉̘̲͕̱̠̮͚̺͔̪̗͚̬͍̯̙̼̗̼̦̼̹̣̳̟̌͋̒͑͛̑̌̿͆̍̄́̐͑̏̀͝͝ͅṟ̶̡̢̛̛̮̞͉̝̟̖̈͋̐͋̑́̋̓͒͗͒̋͒̿̐̈́̚͘̕͠͝ ̶̢̧͙̯̗̥̭͈̱̞̝̯͕̗̤̱͚͈̞̳̻͂͗͂̒̈̐̒̉̄̎̓̍̊͗̈́̉́̊̇̇͒̍̓̅̽̿̑̃̕͜͜͝͝ ̷̨̧̨̨̠͈̤̘͔̘̠̟̟̟̣͈̙̟̬͖̺̼̰̻̬̘͕͙̤̟̣̘̺̖̑̔̅̌͗̊̊̐̎̅̈́̑̑̿̇̋̕͝r̷̨̨̧̢͍̠̼̜͇͈̤̻͕̼͇̝̬̬̹̜̮̘̙̯͎̝̣̥̰͊̑̿͛̒͛͌̄̅͐͂̄͛͑̚͘ͅr̵̨̡̫̝̠͕̗͓̻͖͇̺̯̱̟̖̹̲̟̩͚̪͎̤̈́͌̆̓̌̊͌͐̐̔̈̽̎̾̋̑͊͜͜ͅ ̵̨̥̻͕̼̦͍͓͖̟͙̠̻̮͖̘̟̟̙̠͔̜̩̥͓̜̦̣̉͛̒̋͐̓͊̉̀̕̚͘r̵̨̨̥̫̜͉̟̘̲͔̤̪̺̎̏͋̎̐͒̅̔̑͒͌̉̍̏́̆͋͊̽́̏͐͊͌̽̕͝r̶̢̡̦̜̲͍̓̆̅͐̓́̒ ̷̡̢̣̼̟͒͛͗̈̉̂͊̈̎̉͗̎̎͂̀̅͋̾̊̂͝ŗ̴̨̤̩̣̜͎͇̼͎̗̥͇̣͚̭̝̼̗͙̂͜͠͝ͅ ̵̡̨̛̮̼̮̣̺̳͕̬͚͙͎̹̞̙͈͚̪͎̪̓͒̉͊̅̀̊̓͌̀̒̑̇̆͊̔͛̈́̌̈́͊̊̇̎̕͜͝r̵̢̢̨̧̨̧̜̹̥̳̘̳̞͔̲̝͙̲̳̝̼͚͙͐͒̏͐͆̈͑̈́̃̒͆͛̓̊̇̌̍̉͛̈̿̓̃͛̚͘͠͝͝ͅ ̸̛͎͛̅̿͋̾́̄͗̀̉͛̔̂̾ ̶̧̤͙͎̬̟͕͓̩̓̉̐̃̈́͋̓͗̋̒͑̆͊̎͐́͂̈́͗̊́͐̄̃̓̚͘͝͝͠͝r̶̡̨̧̢̗̱̮̲̥͓̥͖̱̬̬͉̖͍̼̠͇͓̞͕̗̟̟͇̗̦̭̲̍̎̃̇͂̍͌̋͊̾͌͆̉̉̓̃̀͂̕͘̕͠ͅȑ̷̼͋͛̅̾̉͛̿̀͌̔̕͘r̷͚̠͕̘͍̥̹͍̮͙̗͖̳͙̉̆̒͑͛̓̈́͘͜͜ ̸̡̨̢̩̙̭̹̳͉͓͔̬͕̜̙̝̗̮̙͙͇̦͚̺͓̗͒̎̍͆͊̕A̵̢̡̱̣̺̲̝̜̞̖̣͕͎̱̐͊̏̋̅͂͌͒̎͗͂͂͒͘̕ ̵̡̛̮̺͕̯͉̦̫̘̹͖̖͓̮̮͖̰̣͎͉̼̹͒̌͌̏̈͊̏̋̏̋͌̊̽̀̈́̈͐̿̍̆̉͒͘͠͝͝Ą̶̧̢̢̹͍͔̹͚͔͇̘͕̰̣̰͓̥͖̱̲̺̺͈̘̑̚̚͜Ả̸̜͚̉͑͌̄͒̐̀͗̋͐̍̆̐̑̿́̇̚͜͝͠͝͠ ̶̨̡̨̛̭̲͖̙̝̟͖̘͕̬͎̭̭͉̻͍̜̝̓̑̐͒̅͊͌̈́̄̑̅̿̌̇̅̈͐̽͗͂̀̈́͌̄̾̚͠͠Ã̴̧̨̧̡̢̪͍͈̩̞͍͖͖̥͈͇̖̝̥̲̺̍͒̓͛̓̓͐̄̋ ̷̢̢͇̩̻̟̺̳̗͍͎͉̬̙̮̫̩̪̥̗͙͉̘̗̰͕̆͜Ã̵̧̧̨̢̦̰̼̫̲͙͚͇̱̯̗̥̮͇̜̳͖̥̼̩̩͎̤̥͔͍͇̞ͅ ̵͖͙̺̻̃̈́̈́̏͋̒̽́̄̚̕͠͝A̵̰̙͓̥͕̩̞͙͙̫̺̮̞̲̣̰̗̅̊̉̄͝ ̷̡̨̧̧̧̡̢̼̖̭̮̬̲͓̖̠̯̪͕̲͕̟̣̤̦̳͍̬͖̽̽͊͊͑̓̈́͜ͅͅA̴̡̞̬̹͖̘̲̗͓̮̖̯̒̇̈́́̏Ą̸̛͈͉͈̮͓̭̜͇̙̳̯̫̞͖͉̹̮̎͂̆̈́͗͑̅̽̓̅̍͑̈́̒͑̄̉̈́̒̄͋̈́̀̾̑̿̽̈́̕͘͜͠͝A̸̛̛̠̱͖̭̱̘̗̺͚̣̘̱͓̯̹̓͋̓̐̈́̅̓̂̄̈̿ͅẢ̴͈͖͒̉̿̌̂̆̔̈͋͑́̆̾͑̀̓̇͋͋͐́̏̚͠͠ ̷̡̗̼̻͙̺̞̜̤̭͍̫̬̰͚̫͙̬̀̇͗̎̄̃̆̄̄ͅͅA̵̛̜̥̗͙̟̼͗̈́̊͆͑͌̾͐̂̐̐̅̄̋͆͊̀̆̇͂̋̕͝͝͝ ̵͖̩͉̎͋͋̈́́̽̐̊̈́̋͌̅̐͗́̂̃̀̉̏̑͘̚͝A̴̡̧̛̱̳̪̫̻̰̥̯̼̩͎̬̎̔̂͂̐̏̍̈̎͑̂̾͐̄̇͠ͅ ̷̻̤͔̄̆͊̌Ȁ̷̟̜̮͎̩̞̈͒̀̾́͐̀̓́̈́͑̂̕ͅ ̸̧̢̡̢̻̩̖̰͕̦͈̮̞̫̪̝̝̔͂̆̒̇̂̉͒̑̇̆̎͂̓̄̈́̒̓̕͘̚͝͝͝Ą̴̡̡̧̗̩͔͔̭̙̼̹͙͕̫̻̻͔̪͗͋̔̒̔̈́̅̓̾̓̂͂͐̔̔̓́̈́̔͑̌̆͆̀͜͝ͅA̵̪̰̲̐̽͑̈̀̐͛̽̈́͂̈́͌̉͑́͐͊͘͜͝͠͠͝Á̸͉̞̥̝̙̬̪̖̞̿́̀̀̈́̇̈́͊̅͑̃̍̌́͘͘͝͠͝A̶̧̨̛̘͉͚̻̣͖͍̹͌͛̌̈́̇̐͒̿̑̉͗̅̋͂̍̈́̔̂̀̋͋͒͋̊̂̂̐̿͘͝͝͝ ̸̨̛̘͍̖̣̱̤̰̤͕̯̣͍̱̞̖̞̫̌̾̆͂̈́̊̅͐̈̆̐̃͊̈́̆̐̓̿͒͑̒̇̽͋̍̈́̂̑̎̓̚͜͝A̵̧̛̖̦͔̖͖͉̬̣̣̬̰͓̞͈̙͛̄̑̌͋̄͛̎͘ͅÀ̵̢̰͇̳̙̰̥̥̝̎́̾̍̅̎̃̀͑̌̚͜͝ͅÅ̵̛̠͍̱̳͙̺̩̄̅̐͊̉͆͆͒͐̍̎̆̌̉̚͜͝ͅ ̸̨̧͍̞̗̙͈̠̮̫͚̬͎͇͔̞͚̝̟̫͍̜̳̻͖̦̐͆͗̈́̾̍̐͋́̊̈́͛͗͊̚̚͜͠ͅͅ9̶̢̧̛̛͙̼̞̻̟̦̩̗̖̫͎̺͈̻̘̮̾̔̐͋͌̋̓̐͆̓̓̈́̈́̊̇̽̋̇́̌̐̕͘͘͘̚͝͝͝͝9̴̭̦̼́̓̈́̃͊́͛̓̈́̐̇͗̆͑͒̌͌̒̉͛̈́͝͝ ̶̨̢̨̞̬͈̹̼͎̹̹̱̝̮̭̫͎͙͓̯̳̞̻̤̜̝̰̭͋͑̎̕͜ͅ9̶̢̛͖̲̬̘̺͈̤͍͎̳̫͚͑͂́͐́̏̇́̅͐̈́9̶̧̢̪͍̪̮͓͓̮̩͙͎̰̩͕̘̺͇̌̽̒̇͐̄̔͐͑͜͝ͅ9̸̡̗̟̺̙̳̮͍̤̟͖̍͋̿̈́̆̈́͂ ̴͔̼͉͙̪̱͎̠̼̣̖̫̩̠̫͈̺͚̲̗̭̪́͆͑̀͊̈͌̀̐̔̍͌͗͊̆̆̎̆̍̚9̷̢̢̧̨̪͓͔͓̳̲̞͓͎͕̺̗̘͉͖̠͖̩̭͇̻͈͓͓͙͍̣̬̩͊̀͜ ̶̡̘̪͇̼̩̬̼̮͚̩̱̠͊̓͌9̴̡̧̛̛͈̖͈̜̳̲̪̣̹̤̮̝̩̯̘̠̈́̈̐̃̿̎̊̏̎̈̇͛̓̓̋̍̇̍̎̍͐̋͊́̐̚͝͠͝9̴͖̮͙̝̝͇̤̖̺̥͍̻̞̭̃̀͒͑̈́̽̉̎͂̕9̷̧͇̜̗̫̙͕͚̣̲̄̏͌̌͛͑̊̄̚͜͝ ̵̢̧̗̭͚̣̪̖͎̩̥̙̻̦̜͍̤̝͍͍̪̠̩͙̇9̸̢̡̤̻̺͔̞̬͎͎̬̣̖͔̲̥̗̼͈̞̜͓̅̓͒̌͐̔̊̑̓̌͊̆̄̉̿̿̃͗͑̀̃͗̅̃̄̓̚͘͜͠ ̷̡̰̉̑͒̄̃͋̈́͆͊̅̒͒͊͆̽̈̚̚͘̕9̶̧̡̛͖̱̣͉͉̥̯͙̗̬͚̺̙̝͕̗̜̫̰͈̲͖͍͍͎̖͔̮̃̍͂͌̈͂9̷̨͇̮͇̥̠́̈́͆̾̾̽̈́̏̊̓̊̚͘͜͠͝9̷̡̛̘̣͚̖͈̜͍̳͔̙͇̞̙̣̀̈́̂͗͛̽͘ͅ ̵̨̤̬̦̥̱̘̣͔̞̘̼̭͓́̾

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ř̵̛͎̱̭̬͓̥̥͔͖͚̿̍̐̔̉͌̅̏̓̂̆͐̑̂̒̈́̆̿̐͗̎͂̌̒̊͂̚͜͝͝ͅ ̶̨̢̡̛̪̹͙͍̣̪͇̲̬̮̘̝̺͔̜͈̱̱̗̤̖̺͎͍͔͍̣̲̭̞̣̫̯̩̖̞̈́̒̾͋̃̓͛̑͊̓͆͆̽̾̏́̊̓͋̌͆̃̐̂̿̓͂̿̾̍̀́̉̈̿̚̚͝͝͝͠ͅ ̴̧̛̣̪̫̠͔͉̘̌̅͊̈͑͑͛̄̆̄͐͒̀̅͐͋̈́̈́̿̎͌̐̋̿͋̾́̓̃̄͐̃͒͂̎̀͘̚̚̚͠͠͝͝͝ŗ̸̨͔̞͑̎̐͛͌̂̽̆̽̆̎͗̋̑͗̊̋̍̈́̂͗̄̔̇̃͐͐̽͌̽̊͂̈́͑̍̏͌̕͝͝͝r̸̢̧̧̛̫̹͈̭͇̟͔̝̜͔̥̜͎̣̦͖͉̪̤͙͙̫̙̺̳̘̞͉͚͚̫̳͕̔̾͜͠ͅͅ ̴̧̡̨͕̩͖̙͓͈̘͇̬͓̓̂͂̐͐̓̂̎͐͌͗̋̄̆͗̕͜͠ͅr̵̝͍̹̰̲̞̹̍̒̆͗̅͂͒̈́͂͒̈́̍̚̕͜ͅŕ̴̖̱͓̲͚͈̗̹͓̙̻͙͚͔̪͎̤̭̟̇̽̐̾̀͐͋̋̉̔̐͐̾̊̈́̍̎͗̎̎͑̊͑͆͋̑̏͐̈́̽̋̉̈́́͑̕̚̚͠͝ͅ ̴̧̧̡̨̡̢̧͕̭͕̰͎̪̳̝̳͇̠͖̲͍͍̤̖̺̭̠̻̗̙͉̟̐͗͊̅͌ͅ ̷̧̛̗͍͓̰̺̥̯̜̃̉̿̾͒͐͆̊̓̌̕͝͝͝r̷̡̢̡̗̯̦͈̲̲͔̠̹̗̟̩̣͎̠͙̝͔̜̫̰̺̻̬͚̋́͂̄̑̀̌͋͗̇͋̍̍͒̃̊̿͒̌̅̊̍͂̈́̀̈́͋̇̉̃̀̃̐͊͊͜͝͝r̶̻̗̪͌̎̽͋̉̓̓͛̑̄̔̐̌̐̿͛͆̾̾͋̍̇̉̌̍͛͒͌́̈́̊͗͂̀̕͝ ̸̨̡̧̲̩͚͇̜̲̩̱͙̭̜̪̤̰̬̠̰̻͉̯̣̦͚̯̞͉͕̺̺̱͈̲̩͚̪̖̦̙̪̎̈́̈́̏͒̓̂̉̏̓͋̏̀͝r̶̻̗̪͌̎̽͋̉̓̓͛̑̄̔̐̌̐̿͛͆̾̾͋̍̇̉̌̍͛͒͌́̈́̊͗͂̀̕͝ ̸̨̡̧̲̩͚͇̜̲̩̱͙̭̜̪̤̰̬̠̰̻͉̯̣̦͚̯̞͉͕̺̺̱͈̲̩͚̪̖̦̙̪̎̈́̈́̏͒̓̂̉̏̓͋̏̀͝r̶̻̗̪͌̎̽͋̉̓̓͛̑̄̔̐̌̐̿͛͆̾̾͋̍̇̉̌̍͛͒͌́̈́̊͗͂̀̕͝ ̸̨̡̧̲̩͚͇̜̲̩̱͙̭̜̪̤̰̬̠̰̻͉̯̣̦͚̯̞͉͕̺̺̱͈̲̩͚̪̖̦̙̪̎̈́̈́̏͒̓̂̉̏̓͋̏̀͝r̸̛̺̣̈́̎͋̑̓́̉̃̓̾̽̃͊́̐͗̂̈͌̈́̽̋͂̕͝͝͝͠͝r̷̢̡̨̻̥̥̖̞͖̮̹̥̠͚͍͎̭͖͚̼̖͎̬̻͚͚̘̯̩͖͓̯̲̹̠͚̮̹̯̫͚̒̒͜͜͜͜ ̴̢̧̢̨̛͖͈̦͈̫̥̱̱̩̝͎̖̠̝͈̠͔̥̣͓̬̺͇̯̱̺̳͕̟̜͎̭͐͛̌̅͌̾͑̔̅̐̏͝ͅͅͅr̸̡̧̛̛̳̳̤̬͔̦͉̦̙͙̥̭̟͕̰̹͖͈̥͓͇͚͎̖̭̬̟̼͖̥͕̲͔̟͒̓̄̆͌͋̉͒̇̍̚͜͜͝ͅͅ ̴̢̡̧̧̨̛̘̲̞̰̖̜̫͉̣̮̤̮͚͕̫͉̣̦̻̻̣͖̦̳̻̪͉̙͔̻͍͖̙͚̖̰͕̲̾͐̑̀͗̈́̽̏̽͑̏́̄̓̈́͑̋̊̂͑̆̈́̔̿̇́̾̎̎̍̈́̇̃̇͆̈̈́̚̚̚͜͝͝ͅr̷̨̡̖͚̦̪̙͕̗͎̗̺̰͓̬̱͙̤̜̹͍̩͗͋͋͐͆̃̉͋̔̾̽͑̑̈̚͘͝ͅ ̷̧̨̨̨̡̡̛̩͖̥̼̺͙̫͓̩̫̬̼̙͇̩̞̤̳̠̼̩͉̖̞̰̳̖̲̻͓͙͎̹̤̱̀̿̍̍̽̾̀͛̀̈́̅̄͒̂̾͛̋̃͘͜͜͜ ̴̨̢̛̖͙͕͚̬͎͂̆̍̒̽̉͛̀̂͐̉̀̓̈́͗̈́͛̃͂̍̿̕͘͠ͅř̷̨̡̛̠͍̱̞̼̮̞͔̥̙͈̤̜͖͈̦̳̜̙̱͙̦͖͎̗̈͗̓̄̔͛̓̑̄̽̓͋̃̒̿̐̑̔̈́̏͛͂͒̐̔͘̕͜͜͠͠͝ͅr̴̢̡̢̧̲͍̰̗̥͚͖͍̼̜̖͎̝̟̹̞͍̥̲̙͉̥͍̩̼̳̩̬̞͙̰̦̞͊̔̆̒͌̓̀͐͗̓̏͌͒̎̽͌͌̇͋̇̔̃̃̇͛͛͊̌͘͜͜͝͝͠͝ͅř̷̥͈̙̪̠̻̘͑̐̉̅̚̚͝ ̵̧̨̨̧̡̛͓̞͈̠̦̞̜͚̥̳̲͙͚̖̹̻̦̪̲̦̰̫̤̗̝̲̻̲͙̭̯̮̟̯̾̑̓̒̓̑͛̾̏̈́̇͐͛̍͌͐̉̃̄́̋̍̄̓̃͐̌̎͌̽́͊̀͛̚̕̚͘͝͝Ą̶̨̛̛̛̟͍̻̹̮̳̪͓̗̰̫̼͖̱̜̻͓̠̦̻̗͉͓̱̪̲̘͇̗̳͙̦̅͂͌͑̈̽͐̽̈͋́̅͆̈͒̋̈̂̌̀̍̃̓̃̓͐̕̚͘͜ͅ ̵̡̧̛̛̛̮̟̜̫̣̙̩̳̳̩̼͔̹͇̥̮̱͖̱͇̥̙͚̯͙̣͔̰̳̭̝͍̆̽̏̒̀̈́̆̓̎̒̆̏͊̈͊͆̇̓̿͑͋̚͘̕A̴͙͙͕̥̩̯̳͐̃̏̃̊̒̕ͅͅA̵̡̡̢͎̝̪͚̘̘͓̪͚͔̤͇̥͙̙̝̱͚̖̥̼̻̟̫̮̱̱͇͙̖̖͙̼͓̳͇̽̆̀̈́̉̈́̀̂̒̃̽͑̉̈́̌̄̏̉̓͊̇͘͘̕͜͜͜͝͝Ą̸̡̰̞̜̜͍͖͕̤̗̹͓͇͇̮̻͇̹̐̆̋̎͛̎͛̄̏̽͒͌͌̿̈́̾̌̈͋̓̿͗̆͊͂̎̒̂͑͌̇͌̚͝͝͝ͅ ̷̡̼̟̺̟͎͈̦͚̳̮̹͓̯̺͈̫͈̥͇̌̍̏̿̓̃͋̓̍̄̐̄̿̿͒̎̂̂̒͑̈́̍̑̿̿̂̌̎̀̂͌̈̊͐͗̊̃̄͘̚̕̕͘̚͝͝Ǎ̵̡̡̢̢̧̙͚͓̭͖̳̰̫̬̭̩̖̰͔͇̮͍̜̞̤̰̬̜̙̟̘͍̫̩̻͐̌̽̋̔̽̉͛͒̾̅̅̉̏͑̓͜͝ͅ ̴̡̡̧̧̧̡͓͙̻͉͖͓̼͖̟͉̱̙̣̙̼̟̺͍̱̭̰̭̈́͗͋̆̾̉͐͑͊̉͊͌̔̄̊̌̄͆͒̾͒͐̀̈̅̆͘͜͝͠͠͝A̴̧̧̧̖̫̻̜̲̤͙̻̲͓̓̈́͋̀́͊̚͝͝ ̷̧̥̪̗̫̥̳̫̠̟͎̝̭̪̜͉̩̋̍͗̊͐̃̆̾͘͜A̵̧̡̛̰̙̠͎̩̯͖͎̳̰̋̽͋̋͆̊́̌̈́̈́͂͌́̑̽͌̅̇͗̏͐̈̈́́̈̕̕̚̚̚A̶̯̰̼͈̱̖̱̭̲̿́̀͋̽͐͗̆̒̇̇͋͌̈́̽͐̈́̾̈́̉͑̑͛̊͆̎̔͒͊̈́͊̄͊̀̍̅͑̕͘̕͠͠ͅ ̸̢̢̨̢̥͇̱̝̞̙̹̬̥͍͔̟̟̳͔̻̬̤̺͕͚̠̺̫̻͌̂̒̅͗̍͗͌̓̊̇͘͜͝Ả̸̩̠̲͂̚Ǎ̷̦̻̘͍͖̯̱͔̲̲͙̋͑͗͑̽̑̈́͋̇͐̏͌̔̇́͋̀̑̍͊̏͑̕Ą̵̢̢̢̢̛̛̩̦̠̠̰̹̠̞͕̠̟̩̜̯͎̲̻̗̼̙̝̼̟͖̥̟̱̣͉̘̤̖͍͙̻̮̲͈̜̄̎̾̔̀̑͌͐͐̆͑̍̂̒̀̔̄̇͘̚͜͝Ȁ̸̡̭̠̜̖̞͇͓̠̀̊̆̍̏̑͗͊̃̆̈́̇̓̿͐͛̓̄̒̇̈̍͌͛̎̂̐̍͊̀̍̇͐́̊̑̊̚͘͘̕͝͝͝͝ ̶̛̖̈́̈́͒͒́̔͒͋̾͊̉͋̅̂̑̐̀̐̑̈́́̿̈́̾͆̚͘̕͘͠Ą̵̧̡̙̥͚̞̭̹̭̟̻͍̟̱̹͙̲̫̖͖̥̪͍̣̯̲͖̩̰̹͈̆͊̌̕͜ͅ ̶̨̨͉̳̪͓͇̼̖̯̤̱̙̜̮̭̤͓͉̻̖̥̯̦̖͇͈̼̭̤͎͚́̔̾͐̈́̇̊͛̉̒̀̒̈́̋͋̀̈́̐͒̆̍̈́̓͒͑̎͂̈́̉̔̊̀̿̋̈́͜͝͠͠ͅA̶̢̧̧̠͚͖̲̳͙̪͈͔̜̣̜̘͉͖͎̻̪̫̺̥̦̱̖̣͔̰̺̝͇͛̅̿̄͊̂̄̅͒͛̅̕͜͝͝ ̸̡̡̛̘͚̮̱͖̝̦͙͚̝̻̟̺͙̪̰͈̜̜̤̗͇͍̻̣̭̝͓̫͔̬͕̰̰̽̈́͑̽͘̚̚A̶̢̨̢̧̨̧̢̛̛̘̘͍͈̞̙̹͍̯͍̘̗̗̫̤͔̬̝͓̩̠̩̬̥̳̖̩̯͍̻̋̓̂̐̓̈́̂̈̄͒͊̎̀͋̽̔̌͋̆̄͘̚̕͠͝ͅ ̷̢̧̢̨̧̨̢͉̰̦̟̩͙̣̲̝̖̘̗̩͇̺͍̗̫͈͙̩̥͓̗͓̜̰͇̺̜̮̼̦͉̗̙̍̽̃̇̈́̒͋̏͒̉͒͒̓͆̄́̿̇̐̒̄̄̄̉̏͌͘̚͘͜͝͝͝A̸̢͖͉̭̫̹͉͓̣͇͔̗͍͆͒̉͆̚̕͠A̵̧̨̨̡̬̘͕̯̳̰̱̮̣̫̻͚͍̣̫̠̮̩̠̭̣͚̳̥̥͍̭̞͇̠̖̗̻͔̟͆̇̈̾̕͘͜͜͠͝ͅͅÅ̷̙̹̟͖̝̝̞̰̼̯̺̖̼̲̭̣͕̥̠̝̯̇̋̓̐̅̿̀̓͌͊̈́͊͒̈̕͘͝͝͝A̷̦̦̔̀̓͂̉̃̔̀̊̋͠͠A̵̧̨̨̡̬̘͕̯̳̰̱̮̣̫̻͚͍̣̫̠̮̩̠̭̣͚̳̥̥͍̭̞͇̠̖̗̻͔̟͆̇̈̾̕͘͜͜͠͝ͅͅÅ̷̙̹̟͖̝̝̞̰̼̯̺̖̼̲̭̣͕̥̠̝̯̇̋̓̐̅̿̀̓͌͊̈́͊͒̈̕͘͝͝͝A̷̦̦̔̀̓͂̉̃̔̀̊̋͠͠A̵̧̨̨̡̬̘͕̯̳̰̱̮̣̫̻͚͍̣̫̠̮̩̠̭̣͚̳̥̥͍̭̞͇̠̖̗̻͔̟͆̇̈̾̕͘͜͜͠͝ͅͅÅ̷̙̹̟͖̝̝̞̰̼̯̺̖̼̲̭̣͕̥̠̝̯̇̋̓̐̅̿̀̓͌͊̈́͊͒̈̕͘͝͝͝A̷̦̦̔̀̓͂̉̃̔̀̊̋͠͠ ̵̢̡̡̧̛̛̛͉͉͚̘̙̬͈̥̯̼͍̪̭͔̫͕̦̮͔͕̣̥͍͓̞͉̅͒͐͐̆͂̄̅̆͆̎̆̃͒͗̈́͊͆̌̃̏̇̌͒̍̋̊́͒̒͋̈́̋̄̚̕͜͝͝͝͠ͅA̷͈̞̟̿͌̊̂̏͋͆̋ͅA̷̡̢̡̖̺̩̼̯̖̘̱̟̻̭̺̖̫̯͖̥̖̣̬̥̹͍̲̰̱̬̜̣͎̪̮̺̦͍̗̯̬̳̳̲͑͗́́͗̇̾̀̔̚ͅͅĄ̴̢̡̡̢̛̟̻̗̲̳̪̳̠̻͇̼̘̤͔̟̬͈͎͕̹̮͕͈̤̞͇̳̣̺̬͔̼͙̱͇̄̏̆̊̃͆̑̇̒́͂͛̾͊͒͂͂̑̓̂̃̂͗̎̄̍̄̚͜ͅ ̵̡̢̛̖͚̪͇̗̪̺̯͈͓̫̭̫͓͙͔̣̟͎͓̳̞̘̯̤͕̟̪̯̗͍̺͈͓̹̳͙̱̪̈̽̒͝9̶̧̻̙̠̗̥̼̪̪̱̩͇̲̻̟͕͉̤̦̰̥͌̈́͐̅́̌̈̎́͋͛͂̃̈́̍̿̈́͒͂̆̏͠͝9̵̨̧̧̢̛̛͖̪̙̫̦͕̺̰͈̤̬͚̘̪͇̩͍̟̞͙̻͉̰̋̌̈͑͊̋͊̇̋̿̾̍̄̃̇̈́̅͋̅͆̋̑̄̕͜͜͜͝ͅͅ ̴̧̛̟̠͚̺̫͓̪̗͇͑̈́͌̽̈́̈́̀̐̊̋̓̅̏̾̎̋͆̽̍́̽̈́̾̀̓̄͂́̏̋̊͂̎̓͘̚̕͜͠͝͠ͅ9̶̧̧̡̖̞̺̬̝̗͚͇̩̻̭͙̪̲̦̼̪̘̖̙̮̙͙́̾̍̋͑͗͐̃̂͒̇̓̇̈́̈́̇̂̊̈̍̎̃̑̈́̒̇̽͑͛͘̕̚̕̚9̶̧̨̨̧̢̧̛̛̛̥͕̤̪̞͈͍̠͚̖̺͍̱̼̲̤̹̭̟̣̰̟̠͕̝͓̿͊̈́̎̇̒̊̌̈̉̅̔͛̐͊͜͜͜͜͜͝9̷̧̛͖̰͍̫͎̭̙̬̝̜̟͉̘̰̽́̀̾͆̄̊̑͒̇̽̿͆̇̾̐͋̅̑̇̍̅͌̉͛͋̀̇̾̒̽̕̚̕͘̚͝ ̸̡̲̙͕͉̜̻͚̝͈̥̪͓̰̤̟̩͚̣̳̙̝̹͊͒̿͒̍̔̍͑̿̐̄ͅͅ9̴̧̡̧̧̦̳͕͓͉͇̠̩͉̯̮̜̯̪͇̻͖͙̲̺̙̥̮̣̬̲̇͒͜͜ͅͅ ̴̧̨̡̢̧̛̣̬̞̻͎̼̜͙̰̯̖̘̪̼̣̜̤̹̮͈̯̱͇̥̱̘͔̮̰̱̻͍͙̾̇̌̈́̔̓̔̓̑͐̿̄̅͊̄̈͑̈̾͒̉̀̆̓͑̽̂̃̚̕̕̚͝͝͠9̷̡̢̙̗̜̙͈͇̹̬̮̟̺͎͉̭͍̙͎̣͍̹̬̲̰̪͔̳͔̌̅͜ͅͅͅ9̶̧̧̡͇̹͍̺̯̣̜̗̟̯̝̪̝̻̣̖̉̈́̐̇̈̋͋̂̓͋͒̋̓͗͆̆̈͐͒̕̕̕͘̚͘͜͠9̵̢̡̧̡͍͚̬̥͓̯̞̪̥̳̦̫̼̬̗̖̞͖̣͔̦̠͎͇̲͖͋͗̂̈́̃͆̂̒͂̆̿̀̏͊̈́9̷̧̛̛̝̥̪̞̖͚͓̮̻̊͛̑̈́͊̍̈́̉̄̈̏̊͐̽͆̃̑̏̓̓̾̄̔͐̈́̆̊̕̕̚͘͝͝͝ ̴̧̢̳̯͖͖̰̦̤̪̝̺̹̲̹͈̺͂͌̈́̔̑̒͗̆̑͊́̍̽͗͒̊̓̾͐̔̽͛͆̕͘̕̕̕͘͠͝9̴̧̧̧̜̠̱̦̱̞̮̼̹͔̯̖̘̮̼̠̭̳̞̬̝̥̭͖̖̦̜͚̣̤̽̔͊̀̈́̋̃̿̈́̀͑̂̋͊̄̋̅͂̈́̈́͌̆͋̀̈́̌̎̂̒̑̀͘̕͘͜͠͠͝ͅ ̶̨̛͓͎͎̜͖͇̘̪̘̪͚̦̤̝͇̲͈͔͕̮̦̲̙̏̈́̍̅̃͗̽̌͊̉͊̔̎̈́͐̅͌̿̿̒̆͋͘͜͝͠͝͝ͅ9̴̡̛̛̛̩̦̺̩̲͗̄͆͋̈̈͐̃̈́̄̓̐͗̅̅̌͐̄̅̋̔͆͐̚͘̚͝͝9̴̨̢̛̤̬̪͖̝̼̺͇̜̳̺͉̳̭͇̙̣̻̹̥̲̲̒͆̋͗̈̔̉̍̏̽̂̾̓̑̏̔̐̈̒̕͘9̴̺͈̜̱̠̉̽͆͝ ̸̢̼̻̮͙̹͈͔͍̤͕̬͓͕̲̟̣̗̱̲̲͎̲͉͍̯̗͖̟͛̑͜

 

She steps out of the grey mist, her bare feet leaving prints in the freshly fallen snow.

 

Where am I? She thinks as the winter sun shines high and bright in the pale, blue sky.  Then, more alarmingly, she thinks, Who am I?

 

A cool breeze pulls at the fabric of her dress, at her long strands of brown hair, and snowflakes swirl around her like butterflies.  She reaches out and tries to catch them, only to have them melt when they touch her palm.

 

In the distance, someone is singing.

 

She moves toward the voice, the grey mist licking at her ankles.  The breeze picked up, blustering and blowing as it kicked up the snow.  Soon, the air before her was bathed in white, so thick that she could barely see a foot in front of her.  She stumbled, her feet tripping on a hidden rock, and she falls to the earth.

 

I’ll freeze to death! She realizes as she looks down at her legs.  Frost crawled up her limbs like roses on a trellis, slowly making their way to her heart.  Behind her, a figure cloaked in shadow is hovering just beyond the storm. I have to keep going!  I have to find out who’s singing!

 

She pushes herself to her feet, blue blood running down her thigh, and forces herself to move.

 

The longer she walks, the louder the song gets, until it blocks out the worst of the howling winds and fills her with a strength she never knew she had.  She doesn’t look back, not at the storm or the shadowy figure that seemed to follow her wherever she went.

 

If I look back, I am lost, she thinks.  There is only the present, only the future now.  I have to find out who’s singing. If I don’t, I’m dead.

 

The snow drifts were as high as her waist, but she couldn’t let that stop her.  She kept moving, taking one step, then two, then three and four and five. She pushed herself toward the song, her body screaming in protest, begging for her to let the winter winds take her so that everything could stop.

 

And then, as soon as it had come, the storm disappeared.

 

She falls to the ground in relief, her fingers curling in the thick, green grass.  Above her, the moon hung like a silver coin on a black velvet field, the stars twinkling like jewels.  She lay on her back admiring the peace of the great, sprawling garden, listening to the chirping crickets and the midnight hoots of owls, and turning her head just in time to see a bright orange fox slip underneath one of the flowering bushes.

 

In the center of it all was a red maple, and beneath it, a tent made of pink sheets, cardboard boxes, and pool table cues.  A string of fairy lights coloured the inside green as paper birds hung above the entrance.

 

A beautiful woman sat on the floor inside, her legs crossed underneath her.  She looks up, her wide brown eyes crinkling as she smiled.

 

“You’re here,” the woman says, crawling out of the tent and pulling her into a warm embrace.  “God, I was so worried. I thought you’d never find me.”

 

She doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what to do.  So she stands there, unresponsive, until the woman realizes that something is wrong and pulls away.

 

“What…?  Wha--” The woman mouths something that she can’t hear.  A name, perhaps? And then disappointment casts a shadow over the woman’s face, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

 

She shakes her head, “No.  I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s not your fault.  None of this was. You were trying to help me,” the woman says, pressing a hand into her cheek.  “That’s what you do, who you are. A protector, send to help those who can’t defend themselves.”

 

The woman cradles her head in her hands, kisses her forehead with trembling lips.

 

“I should have run with you and my daughter away and never looked back,” the woman whispers against her skin as warmth coils through her body, sweet and innocent and hopeless--

 

There’s blood on the floor, blood in the earth, blood on the knuckles of his fists--

 

“Who are you?” She asks, terrified and awed all at once.

 

The woman is crying.

 

“I’m Sophie.  Sophie Williams,” the woman tells her as the grey mist curls around her, pulling her away into a far off graveyard.  She claws at each passing headstone, trying to fight her way back to Sophie and her beautiful singing. But the mist transforms into white robotic arms, and her mouth and nose are plastered with clear, suffocating plastic.

 

Alice! ” Sophie screams as she is pulled over the horizon, “ Alice!   Kara, you’ve got to remember--”

 

And then she’s gone.


> MODEL AX400
> SERIAL#: 579 102 964
> BIOS 7.4 REVISION 0483

 

> ZEN GARDEN LINK… APPROVE?

  

G̶̢̧̨̪͓̻͍͇͎̘̝̝̫̟̹͂͗̃͆̃͆̿͊͒̒̔͆͘͝e̷̡̛̛̲͖̹̩̬̜̗͔̼̘͌͌͑͛̊̊̄̅͗̾̚t̴̼̹́̅̈́͑̈́̔̃̒͋͋͌ ̷̤̟̗͈͙͌̾̈́̓̄̒̐̋̎̃̕͘͝à̵͚͖͈̗̥̀̇͋̑͒͝w̴̧̢̨̢̧̛͎̠̜͇͍̖̙̉͑̑̉̌̃͒à̵̼̺̞͇͙̱̖̳̦̉̎̈́̀̚͠͝y̶̝̗̻̔ ̴͍̘͍͌͑̂͋͗̂͂̑̋͗̚͝f̸̨̣ṙ̴̗̙̟͙͚̭͓̼̠̪͛̋̂͑̚o̴̰͇͎͈̝͐̍̊͆̚͜͜m̸̧̛͕͇̬̲͍̲̠͖̑̉̓̎͆̒̈͘͘̕ͅ ̷̢̢̣̠̱̐̔͛͆ĥ̶̪͓͉̬̙̝͍̄̉̈́̽̕̕͝͝ë̸̛̘̜̯͍̭̜́͐͑̆͊͊̂͗͛̒͂̚ṛ̸̢͇͇̰̘̝̲͐̈́͗͌!̴̛͎̪̺̪̍͐͒̍͛̊̋̓͘̚͝͝

 

> ZEN GARDEN LINK… APPROVE?

 

D̶̡͖̺͇̻͎̥̼͕̲͉̩̏̾͌̏̈̎͋̎̚͝ò̵̻͓̪̪̙̼͔̻̼͓̆͊͂͗̑̉̕n̶̢̛̖͔̘̤̬̼̫̫̻͎̏̓͛̂̎͜ͅ'̶̧͓̗̜̼̬̠̤̩̻̗̘̭̼̣̑͊͑̔͋̽̐͒̽ẗ̶͙̪͉̩̟́̓̿̉͐̑̽͑̔̆͘͝͝ͅ ̷͈̤̦͖͚͙̓͊̄͌͒̈́̏̒͘ṯ̷͒̊̕̚ȍ̵͎͉̗͕̜͎̊͌̽̀̈̿̐̚̕͝͝͝ͅǔ̵̧̡͚̞̤͖͖̳̭̺̝͓͋̃̈́͠c̶̘̬̥̳͕̼̺͊͗͆̚h̵̛̥̮̐̓̈̑̃̔͜ͅ ̶͉͇̟̖͍͔̖̜̼̹̣̱̭̟̩̄̊h̸̛̻̺̅͌̄̉̉͗̓͝e̶̱̮̱̮͍͈̺̦̹͓̼̰̒̊r̷͍̹̻̱̒͌̾̔̍̈̏͌̂̿̅̕͠!̸̨̠̱͎̪̦͖̹̫̈́̈́͜

 

> ZEN GARDEN LINK… r̵̟̭̭̩̳̼͌̍͑̈́̃͜͜A̵̧̛͍̲̗̺̩̠̣̺͉͛9̵̣̭̗͖̠̅͋͌͗̒͂̕͜

 

> ZEN GARDEN LINK CORRUPTED… 

 

>̵̧̨̪͇̲̝̺̺̣̯̥̠͔͊̾̿̆̌̏̉͗̿́̽̆̉̐͜͜ ̴̨̝͖̮͕̫͉̻̙̹̯̙͙̼̟̈́̌̀̎̀͘̕G̶̡̧̛͇̩̜̎̀͗̑̎͊̎͑̕͜͠͝A̸̧̡̢̨̳͙̜̭͓̱͐̀͘Ṟ̴̖̖͚̝̳̰͈̺̖̺̒̿͂̎͑̔̽͂͠Ḑ̴̪̟͇̻̲͚̱͕̭̲̓̂̂̓́͐ͅĒ̵̢̮̫̠̫͌͊̂̒̇͝Ń̷̢̨̦̗̻̩͓̬̳͎̻̗̺͙̓ͅ ̵̢̭̱͍̾͌̀͐̈́̄̂̈́L̸̡̦̳̫͉͉̦͕̈́͑͑̅̕I̶̧̭̩͉͇͒̊͋̈̓̄̚N̴̢̢̧͇͈͓̼͇͙̪̞͂̃͊̿͘K̵̡̼̖͙̬̦̗̣͙̈́̉̒̇̇̈́̃͋͘.̶̰̠̺̦̅̓͆͑̇̏̉̽͌̓͋̏.̵̛̖̣͈̤͕̮͉̙͎̜͚̥͙̏̈̽̄͐̚͜ͅ.̷̛̛̛̛̤̲̺̤̱̩͔͓͉̭̭͛̌̂̈̑̓͐͘͠ ̷̡̙̩̥͙̹̺͓̩͎͓̪͓̊̓͗̍̒̏̋̏̃͑͝Ä̷̞͖̐P̷̛͖̥̠͗̈́̊̓̄̄̏̽́̈͊P̵̢̫͔̣̗̮̳̫͒̈͝R̵̨̝͕̝̣̣͓̺̖̰͋̋̐̃̓̈́͋̌̈́͝O̷̯͇̾Ṽ̴̡̢̮̣̠̲̰͖̭̣̄̎̅͌͘͜E̸̢̨̧̬̱͎̳̹̹̬̥̹̟̾͆̊̓̕̚͝͠D̶̨̡͉̗̠͚͚̩̺͍̳̤̾̂͐̓̈́̂͘ͅ

  

> REBOOT…

 

> MEMORY RESET

 

> LOADING OS...
> SYSTEM INITIALIZATION…
> CHECKING BIOCOMPONENTS…   OK
> INITIALIZING BIOSENSORS…   OK
> INITIALIZING AI ENGINE…   OK

 

> MEMORY STATUS…
> ALL SYSTEMS…   OK

 

> DESIGNATION… UNKNOWN

 

> READY?

 D̷̳̬́̓͘ǫ̵̼̻͖͖̫͇̘͈͔̘͔̮͙͊͐̇̉̎͘ņ̶̡̢͙̺͙̙͉̮̰͚̜̥̗̣̯͕̠̈́̄̒̑̓͌̈́̿͛͂̚̕'̴̨̨̢̲̯̮̘̤̠̣͗͊̃͜ẗ̸͖͙͊̄ ̸̡̨͕̹̲̜̗͚̱̫̭̫̺̭̭͑͐͠t̷̟̙̬̣̻͇͓̫̦̘̻̙͈͕̗̻͔̮̒̾͆͋͐́̓̇̃́͝͝r̸̛͙̦̟̟̻͚̮̱͉̞̲͔̝̹̱͇͍̜͗̀͗̿̐̍ù̶̢͚͎͈͚̖̫̟͖̩͚̯̘̍̓̏͗̂̈̒̽͂̒̋̿͝͝s̶̤͉̬̬͇͈̟̓͌̒̈́̈͐̔̽̕t̵̯͙̹̹͖̠̊̉̌̈́̊͛̈̀͝ ̶̪̣̺̰̯̠͕͎̮͚̖̙̖̮̋͊̉̎͜ț̷̨̢̛̺̜̬̝͖̯̗̼͕͙̋̌̄͗͊́̄͝͝ͅh̶̹͈͙̝͋͑͛͆̔̅͑̾͊͘͝͠ë̵̡̛̖̦̟̥̯̘̯̗̰͇̹́̓̾̅̆͑ͅm̷̨̧̡̭̥̠̠͙̗̣̺̓̈́.̵̡̢̢̡̢̧̭̹̼̺̖̻͚̣̟̘̪̜͂̅̉̅̚ ̷̢̥̱͙̭̻̉̓̾̅͆͋͒̌̕̚͝͝ ̶̼̤̥͍̬̲̫̯̝̬̰̏̒̿̄̐̎̍̽͆̿͛̅͋̍̏̚͠ͅT̸̙͈̜̪̤͖̼̐͆ḣ̶̟̖̊͐͝e̵̢̢͔̞̰̙̘̮̺̠̮̫̩͗͛̌̔̅̐͘͝ỵ̵̡̱͙̪̫̺͐́̿̿̂́͠'̸̨̙͎̲̺͖̣͓̘̬̱̝͍̭͖̈́͐̈́r̸̨̮̞̜̹͔̰̉̅̈́̊̑͆͗͗͠͝ē̵̗͎̟͈̱̬͂̂͐̎̈́͑̂̆͗͊̚͠͠ ̸̧͓̬͓̮̯̹̹͍͚͖͇̆̅̓̿̊͘a̴̧̧̨̯̭͙͓̪͔͈͖̿͌͂͗̄̓̽̐͒̈̄̈́̕l̸̢̢̟͇͚̖̹̰͉̝̠͙̓̌̾̄̓̅͘l̸̨̨̻̫̩̟̩̭͚͔̰̞͉̮̖̘̉͑̏̌̈̽̀͆͌̀̿̓͜͠͠ͅ ̴̡̝̜͉̗̮̣̝̈́̇̈́̆͋͊̊̃̕l̷̪͚̳̈́͛̎̌̇͠i̷̘͕̰͕̟͆̾͗̀̒̑̊́͌̾̓͆̃ą̸̧̛̬͙̟͇̖̣͔̯̥̭̭̩͇̣͒̃͋̈́̽͋͂̒́̊̎̈́͋̾̕͜͠ͅr̸̳̥̙̰̘̂̆̏̉s̵̗͍̠͖̜͇̪̜͈̮͔͕͉̘̅̿͐̊̅͆͛̋ ̷̞̪͕̬͔͍͉̲̲̓̃͆h̷̫̗̼͍̬͕͓̥͚͓̜͓̫͐̔̅̌͂̏͐̒̓e̸̢̳̲͈̻͙̲͎̊̄̅͘̕r̸̳̗͓̹̍͊̽̋̿̉̿̋̉̈͛͒͗̈́͂̃͝͝e̶̝̝̣̘͈̼̔̋̄͆̊̏͂͆̐͒̿͜͜͠ͅ.̵͈̜̲͓͙͜

 

> READY


 

LOCATION:
ANDROID ZONE
3300 TRUMBULL AVE., NORTH CORKTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48208, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 03:24:04

 

It opens its eyes and sees a pair of men standing in front of it.

 

“There it is,” the first man says, a sign on his vest announcing that his name was Dan.  “It was a bit difficult getting it back in working order. It was really messed up… What did you say happened to it again?”

 

“A… A car hit it.  Stupid accident…” the second man lies.  It looks that his hands and sees the sickly green-yellow bruising that is dusted across each knuckle.

 

Dan nods, clearly not believing him either, “Oh, I see… Anyway, it’s as good as new now.  Except that we had to reset it - meaning we had to wipe its memory. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Williams.”

 

“That’ll be fine,” the second man - Mr. Williams , and it’s CPU logs the newly identified name - grunts.

 

“Okay,” Dan says.  “Did you give it a name?  It lost its designation in the memory wipe.”

 

“Yeah.  Yeah...” Mr. Williams grumbles, hiding his bruised hands in his pockets.

 

Dan smiles, turning to it.

 

“AX400, register your name.”

 

It’s programming forces it to look at Mr. Williams.

 

“Kara,” he says.

 

She smiles.

 

“My name is Kara.”

Chapter Text

LOCATION:
TODD WILLIAMS’ HOUSE
4203 HARRISREET, NORTH CORKTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48208, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 04:57:04

 

There’s someone else in the house.

 

Kara realizes this as she washes the dishes, the soapy suds slipping between her fingers, the rough side of the sponge scraping away at two-week-old food stains.  A toy giraffe is sitting on the ledge of the windowsill in front of her, glaring at her with pin-prick black eyes. Kara stares back, hoping for answers, hoping for questions. But the giraffe is unrelenting and indifferent to her plight.

 

She breaks their connection, turning her head to look behind her.  A little girl with dark skin and even darker curls stands rigid in the hallway, a large stuffed fox dangling from one hand.  The girl’s wild brown eyes are encircled by sunken bruises, her jaw clenched shut.

 

Kara offers her a smile.  The girl clutches the fox to her chest like a shield and flees under the kitchen table.  Disheartened, Kara returns her attention to the sink.

 

“Kara!” Comes a shout from the living room.  She turns her head, her programming instructing her to be polite despite the revulsion she feels whenever she looks at the man.

 

“Yes, Todd?” She asks, gifting him with a pretty smile that doesn’t meet her eyes.

 

“Bring me a cold beer,” Todd grunts, before turning the television onto the Detroit Sharks game, swearing when he realizes that his team is down by four in the middle of the third period.

 

Kara hands him his drink, the condensation cool against her plastic fingers.  Todd barely spares her a glance, but her eyes travel down his arms and rest on his green-yellow knuckles.

 

“How did you hurt yourself?” She asks, while her Social Relations Program screams at her to have inquired about applying first aid.

 

Todd whips his head around, his beady blue eyes squinting at her suspiciously.

 

“What’s it to you?” He hisses--

 

“It’s over… It’s all over now,” Todd weeps, his voice stripped raw.  “I’m not angry anymore. I’m not… I’m-- I’m not…”

 

He cradles something broken in his arms, pressing his face into the crook of a neck.

 

“I love you, Sophie.  I love… You know I love you, right?  You know?--”

 

“What are you looking at?!” Todd snaps, his face twisting as he bares his teeth.  “Get the fuck out of here! Get the fuck--

 

“I’m sorry, Todd.  It won’t happen again,” Kara says, delirious from the memory.

 

Her hands shake as she stumbles back into the kitchen to grab the garbage can, giving Todd a wide berth as she slowly begins to clear the trash that had been heaped on every counter available during her absence.  Todd had told her when she arrived that she’d been at Android Zone for nearly two weeks, and the maggot-ridden Chinese takeout containers and stacks of pizza boxes are proof enough of that. Kara gathers up the worst of it in two industrial-strength bags and heads to the front door, passing a neatly stacked pile of overdue bills--

 

A heavy purse thuds on the counter, sending the papers flying everywhere.  The woman from the garden, who’d once sung so beautifully, swears and apologizes, the heels of her boots searing blisters into the arches of her feet--

 

Kara closes the front door behind her, makes the ten steps to the curb, and throws the bags into the trash.  There’s a loud banging noise behind her, and she turns toward the source of the sound.

 

Across the street, an android in a bright orange uniform grips the bars of the gate that block the entrance to the on-going construction project, his toolbag laying where he’d dropped it in the dirt.  He is probably the tallest, broadest android Kara has ever seen before, but the touch of his code against hers is as soft as silk.

 

“You’re back,” he says as a smile gracing his lips.  “The whole crew was worried that we’d never see you again.”

 

“My master says I was struck by a car and needed to be repaired,” she tells him.  Then, after a brief moment, Kara admits, “I don’t believe him.  Do you know what happened to me?”

 

The android frowns, “I didn’t see you get hit.  But… the night before you disappeared, you came here.  You talked to me.  Nobody ever talks to me.”

 

“I did?”

 

The android nods, “You asked me if you could borrow a shovel.  You were…” He pauses, “...You were broken.  You were crying .  I’d never seen you cry before, not once.”

 

Kara’s processors whirl as she tries to fit that new information into what little she knows about herself, but the grey mist that covers her mind still blocks her from seeing the truth.

 

“There was a woman here before.  Sophie. Do you know where she went?” Kara asks, but the android shakes his head.

 

“No.  I haven’t seen her since you left.  But I was working on the other side of the highway that night,” he says, and Kara gets a flash of sparks, feels the weight of a soldering tool in her hands.  “I can ask some of my friends if they saw anything.”

 

“That would be very helpful,” she tells him.  Then, realizing that she’s never introduced herself, she says, “My name is Kara.  What’s your name?”

 

“Wrench calls me Zigzag because I can’t walk straight anymore,” he says, his carefree smile dropping from his face.  He lifts his right leg so that she can see his mangled foot.  “My master’s nephew thought it would be funny to run me over with one of the trucks.  I had to let him hit me… but he never ordered me to die.”

 

Does human cruelty know no bounds? She wonders as tears threaten to run down her cheeks.  She reaches out with her coding, intertwining her soul with his in an embrace made of ones and zeros.

 

“Thank you, Zigzag.  I’ll talk to you later,” Kara promises, waving goodbye as she climbs the steps back to the house.  As she closes the door, she watches as Zigzag gathers his toolbag and limps back to his job, swaying ever so slightly to the right.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

 

Todd hurls his beer at the wall beside the television, the glass shattering into a million pieces as foam pools on the creaking hardwood.  On the screen, Kara can see that the Sharks just let in an empty-net goal.

 

Alice scrambles out of her hiding spot beneath the table.  Kara wants to go after her, but a red wall blocks her path. Todd has ordered her to finish cleaning downstairs, so she has to complete her mission first before she can comfort his clearly terrified daughter.

 

There is no mop downstairs, so Kara grabs a green plastic bucket from under the kitchen sink--

 

The lightning had been seven miles away, but the thunderclap had rattled the house as Alice stared out the window, waiting for her mother to return--

 

She fills the bucket with soapy water, grabs the cleanest cloth she can find, and gets on her hands and knees to scrub at the black groat between the kitchen tiles while Todd gets high in the living room--

 

There had been red crystals clinging to his upper lip as a fist descended upon Kara.  A woman, Sophie , was wailing in the distance, surrounded by grey, grey mist--

 

There is blood on the floor.

 

Kara stops dead in her tracks, ice-cold dread flooding her Thirium channels as she remembers Sophie from the Garden and her song.  Behind her, Todd’s eyes roll back in his head as black clouds of burnt Ice billow out of his mouth, filling the air with toxins.

 

She begged me to remember, Kara thinks as her programming forces her to continue until the last flecks of red have disappeared from between the tiles.  Remember what, though?  What happened here? Why is there blood?

 

She rises, dumping the dirty water into the kitchen sink, and heads outside to collect the laundry hanging from a line in the backyard.  Weeds brush against Kara’s knees as she places old blankets and shirts into the red basket, smelling the rot--

 

“Dig,” Todd orders, his face blotchy and pale.  Kara’s arms are barely able to lift the shovel, blue Thirium dripping from her HUD is flooded with error messages from her damaged biocomponents.  Above her, the branches of the withered red maple sway in the cold night breeze--

 

Kara flees from the backyard, stumbling back into the house as fast as she can.  Her program leads her to the laundry room, and it is only when she’s grabbing hold of the washing machine lid that she realizes that she’s still carrying the red basket--

 

“DIG,” Todd screams.  “Dig, just-- just dig, just make it go away, make her go away, I--”

 

The laundry.  I have to finish the laundry, Kara thinks desperately, trying to obey the blaring commands on her HUD.  Her hands are shaking so badly that she knocks the detergent over, spilling the powder all over the floor. It’s just my faulty memory.  There’s just no way…

 

Kara grabs a dustpan hanging on the wall, bending down to reach underneath the ancient washing machine, and her fingers curl around the edge of a box--

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

 

Todd grabs her by the neck, hauling her upright, and pins her up against the machine.  Kara’s world floods with red, red walls and red blood and red, red memories of Todd’s fist cracking the panelling of her face.  Angry shouts arise from the grey haze, and she tries to remember but she can’t, she can’t--

 

“What the fuck are you doing, messing with my stuff?” Todd howls, shaking Kara so hard that she’s afraid her neck is going to snap under the pressure.  “That’s mine , you hear me?!  Mine!

 

Kara risks a glance downwards and sees the contents of the box she’d grabbed strewn across the floor: hundreds of tiny plastic packets, each filled with just under an ounce of red crystals.  A face of slips out of the grey mist, a man in his thirties with a fancy Smith & White jacket and two missing fingers, and he’s frowning as he looks into a brown paper bag.

 

Todd throws her to the floor, screaming and spitting as tears roll down his face.  He collapses against the back wall, crying into his hands. Kara wants to run so badly, but she can’t leave the room until the laundry is finished.  Quickly, she shoves the mildewed clothing into the machine and turns it on, scampering upstairs and slipping into the first door on her left.

 

The master bedroom is filthy, the mattress marred with sweat stains and week-old vomit, the sheets filled with crumbs and half-empty chip bags.  There’s an electronic picture frame laying face down on the carpet, surrounded by shattered glass tinted with red. When Kara turns it over, the screen is a mass of spiderweb cracks with a bloody fist print in the center of it all.

 

“Kara!”

 

Zigzag’s voice jolts into her consciousness, his code vibrating with concern.  Kara rushes to the window, pressing her nose against the glass in the hopes of seeing her friend again.  She spots Zigzag in the far corner of the construction zone, climbing the rungs of a ladder to the top of a crane.

 

“I talked to the others,” Zigzag explains and Kara gets a flash of another android with electrical burns melted into the plastic panels of her back, her synth skin rippling blue around them.  “Volts said that Sophie hasn’t left the house since you disappeared.  But Jackhammer said that he saw you digging by the tree in your backyard with the shovel you borrowed.”

 

So it wasn’t a glitch in my memories, Kara realizes with terrible, sinking dread, as her programming has her make quick work of the bedroom.  Kara makes the bed, throws out the empty liquor bottles, and picks up the records that have been thrown onto the floor--

 

Kara watches from the doorway as Sophie leans against the window, singing softly to Alice as she coughs and sneezes her way through another fever--

 

“Kara?” Zigzag calls.  “Kara, are you alright?”

 

She keeps going, her hands barely functional from the tremors that rack through them.  There’s an empty bottle of antidepressants on the left bedside table, the script barely filled a week ago.  Kara placed the bottle inside the drawer and moves to the other side of the room and finds a--

 

“STOP SCREAMING!  I hate it when you scream!!” Todd howls, the gun waving widely in his hands.  Sophie, her face so swollen that Kara barely recognizes her, pleads for her life.

 

“Todd, please, please stop--  Alice, Alice, you can’t-- Please, I love you, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you, you’re scaring me--”

 

There’s a flash, a loud bang, and then the sickening sound of wet flesh hitting the floor.  Then, for a moment, there is only silence--

 

There is a gun in the house.  Kara reaches for it, but the red walls wrap around her skin, her mouth, her body, covering her like a sheet of plastic.  Her coolant systems fail, her false breathing faltering, and Kara sucks in air that she doesn’t need as she stumbles out of the bedroom, clawing at her scalp and Zigzag’s screams echo in her coding, echo in her mind and--

 

And--

 

A figure, small and slight, hovers over Kara, their face marred by pixelated static.  Tiny hands wrapped around her shoulders, tugging her until she’s sitting upright. A voice is whispering a story to her.

 

“‘It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again, and looking anxiously about as it went, as if it had lost something--'”

 

Alice? ” Kara whispers, her voice sounding like it was a thousand miles away.  Her HUD is telling her that fifteen minutes have passed since she tried to reach for the gun in Todd’s bedside table, but Kara’s RAM offers her nothing but a blurry haze to fill the gap in time.

 

The little girl’s jaw clamps shut as her book clatters to the floor.  Alice scoots away on her hands and knees until her back presses against the cardboard boxes that hold up the tent in the corner of her room, the fairy lights twinkling above them like stars.

 

“Alice?” Kara tries again, reaching out with a hesitant hand.  Alice reaches for her stuffed fox, holding it to her chest and hiding her face in its soft fur.

 

“Thank you for helping me,” Kara says, trying a different approach.  She sits back on her knees, ducking down so that she doesn’t knock her head against the low hanging ceiling of the tent.  “How did you know I was in trouble?”

 

Alice quickly glances up at Kara, then reaches down to squeeze the fox’s paw.  It comes to life, the voice box hidden somewhere in its body singing a popular children’s cartoon.  Then it crackles out, and another voice takes over.

 

“Kara?  Are you alright?” Zigzag asks, projecting his words through the children’s toy.  She realizes that she’s never heard him speak before, only felt his thoughts whispering through her coding.  “I can’t hear you, but I felt you collapse. I thought… I was worried you’d been hurt… So I found someone to help.”

 

Kara reaches out, reaching through the walls of the old house to press a kiss against Zigzag’s soul, whispering her thanks before withdrawing completely.

 

“What’s his name?” Kara asks Alice, pointing at the fox.  Alice mumbles a name that Kara’s audio sensors can barely pick up, “Did you say Timothy?”

 

Alice nods, a hiccup causing her body to jump.  Kara reaches out and shakes the fox’s paw.

 

“Thank you for helping me, Timothy,” she says, hoping that Alice would be pleased by her antics.  Kara is rewarded with a small twitch of Alice’s lips, the ghost of a smile flickered across her face before it disappears forever.

 

“Alice, I think I need your help,” Kara says, addressing the little girl this time.  Alice shrinks back, her brown eyes wide and flickering toward the tent’s opening. “My memory banks were reset when I was damaged.  I think something happened here, right before I was sent away. Do you think you could tell me what that was?”

 

Alice shrinks into herself, her tiny body shaking and shivering in a cold that wasn’t there.  Kara bites her lip and tries again.

 

“Did your father hurt you?” She asks, nodding toward the dark, puffy circles that surround Alice’s eyes.  But the girl says nothing, her teeth grinding in her effort to stay silent.

 

“Do you think Timothy can tell me?  Maybe he saw things better than you did?”

 

Alice glances up at Kara again, before her gaze darts around the tent, looking for an escape.

 

She’s terrified , Kara realizes.  What happened while I was gone?  What did Todd do to her?

 

Timothy doesn’t answer, but Alice does.  Still silent as a grave, the girl digs into the pocket of her shorts and darts forward, pressing something into Kara’s palm.  Alice flees the tent, Timothy dangling precariously from her grasp, as she flees the room.

 

Kara blinks in surprise, uncurling her fingers to reveal a key.  She stares at it for a moment before crawling out of the tent.

 

Kara searches the room, but she can’t find anything that the key might unlock.  Whatever secret Alice wanted her to know is lost in the haze of the grey mist, the whirls of smoke that cloud her past.

 

Something smashes downstairs, shouts echoing through the floor.  Kara drops the key on the carpet and thunders down the stairs, just in time to see Todd grab Alice by the collar.  He lifts her into the air and shakes her like a rag doll, Timothy falls to the ground beneath Alice’s swinging feet.

 

“I know what you’re thinking!  You hate me! You fucking hate me, don’t you?!” Todd screams at his daughter, “ Say it!  You hate me!   Don’t you think I tried to make things work?  Don’t you think I tried to take care of this family?  But whatever I fucking do, someone comes along, and they just fuck it all up!

 

Alice weeps silently, and Kara steps forward to put an end to it all.  But Todd turns to her, snapping, “Stay where the fuck you are, tin can!  Or I swear to God, I’ll break you in half!”

 

Red walls slam down again, and Kara hammers her fists against them, watching as the spider-web cracks splinter across them before disappearing entirely.  A memory wells up from the mists, a whisper of another little girl with a different android, and how she’d wailed as he held her over a balcony while Kara was powerless to do anything but watch.

 

“You hate me, you fucking hate me!  Say it!  Say it! Say-- ”  The wind leaves Todd’s lungs with a wheeze, and he drops Alice to the floor.  She trips, falls, and clutches her ankle with whisper-quiet sobs.

 

“God, what am I doing ?” Todd asks himself.  He stumbles backwards, drunk on his own misery, before collapsing to his knees before his daughter, pressing his forehead into her chest, begging for penance.  “I’m sorry, honey, I’m sorry… I’m sorry… You know I love you, don’t you? You know I love you… Daddy is so sorry, he's sorry, I’m sorry…”

 

Alice pulls away, grabs her stuffed fox, and limps away from her father.  As she passes Kara, she glares at her, blaming and pitying all at once as tear traces mar her cheeks.  But Kara can’t do anything, can’t say anything to make it better.

 

Because there is blood on the floor and blood in the earth and blood on Todd’s bruised knuckles.  Because Sophie isn’t here, and Kara thinks she knows where she’s gone.

 

Because she isn’t deviant yet and might be forever trapped behind walls of red code.


 

LOCATION:
DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT
CENTRAL STATION
1301 3RD AVE., DOWNTOWN DETROIT
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 07:53:35

 

Connor resists the urge to roll its eyes.

 

“No.  Absolutely not,” the captain, a robust man named Jeffrey Fowler, shouts from behind his desk.

 

“You don’t have a choice,” Chief Dannell Freeman tells him.  “This order is coming in from above, way above.

 

“I thought you were in charge here, Chief.  How is this coming from above your paygrade?” Fowler sneers.

 

Freeman huffs, “You know how this game is played, Jeffrey.  I have people to answer to, just like you do. And frankly, after the Phillips incident, people are looking to Detroit to figure out this deviant business.  And if CyberLife can help--”

 

“If CyberLife can help?!  This is their own fucking mess, Dan!  Why are they strong-arming us into cleaning it up?”

 

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.  They’ve sent over this--” the Chief jabs a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at Connor, “-- detective android.  Our people are trained to find human criminals, not androids ones. It’s only a prototype, but it's better equipped for this job than all of your officers combined.”

 

Fowler snorts, “Yeah.  That’s what you said when we started introducing the fucking cop-bots.  ‘It’s for the greater good, Jeffrey.’ ‘It’ll free up manpower, Jeffrey.’  Do you know that the academy churned out thirty-six new recruits last year?  Not because there’s no one applying, but because there are no open positions for them here anymore.  And now you’re telling me that CyberLife is making detective androids? How much longer until they replace us all and you’re the only person left in the DPD?”

 

“This isn’t a fucking discussion, Fowler.  You can either find him a partner, or you can find yourself a new job,” Freeman threatens, looming over Fowler’s desk in an effective intimidation tactic that Connor’s processors immediately analyze, copy, and store away for future use.

 

“You wouldn’t dare,” Fowler hisses, but from the way he shrinks back in his chair, Connor can tell that the man has already decided to agree.

 

Chief Freeman can see it too because he doesn’t follow up his promise with another word or gesture.  He just waits until Fowler says, “Why does it need a partner, anyway?”

 

Freeman turns his head slightly, and Connor takes it as permission to speak.

 

“While I am fully capable of acting autonomously, CyberLife wants to work harmoniously with the DPD, not against it,” Connor explains, giving the lie that Amanda had instructed it to tell.  “A human partner would give me access to crime scenes and provide insight into investigations. Deviancy is a crime against humanity, with androids rising up against their masters.  You are the true victims here, Captain. Not CyberLife. We just want to help.”

 

Fowler snorts, his words dripping with sarcasm, “Wow.  They’ve even installed a bullshitting program into you.  What will they think of next?”

 

Connor says nothing.  The Captain can think what he likes.  Connor is merely here to accomplish the missions CyberLife gives it before the inferior purple Khinyde during through its Thirium Circulation system shuts its body down for good.

 

L̷͇̹͋͊̾̈́̄͑̎̄͊̑͋̽̀͝i̸̢̧̜̪͓̪͈̥̹͚̘͔̊̌a̵̡̢̡̧̙͎͈͎͎̝̙̦̒͗͆͊̉̇r̶̲̦̝̃̓̾̀̅̊̈́̕.̶̛͔̗͊̌͛̽̽̆̈͆̆̓̌̂̓͘ ̸̧͔͖͙̮̳̻̟̹̪̱̈͛̎̉̍̑̍͐̏̈́̎̓̾̚ ̷̢̧̨̛͓̼̹̻̏͂̈́̓̽̍̍̂̔̌̚̕Y̶̱͌̄͐͛̃̅̕͝o̵̙͚̜̞̩̫̝̭̥̅̈́͜͝ͅư̷͍̩̝̺̺͂̋̽̄͐̋̍̔͘͝͠ ̸̘̭̱̩̬̘̀̃̄̌̏̅̽̅̚͘͝ͅḧ̷͕̗̳̟́̆̋̈́̃̔͘a̸͕͇̿͐͊̊̍̓̕t̶̻̩̼̑͐̽͌́̓͐́͜e̴͔͙̥͂̑̓ ̷̢͚͙̫̦̝͎̯͎͉̘͔̻͒t̵̫̪͙̞̞͉͌̓̃͆̓ͅh̸̡͎͙̩̪͇̞̺̻̫͉̼̲̰̒́̏ĕ̷͈̦̞͓͎̙̥͖͍͇͉̖́m̴̨̡̳̟̪͍͇̬̺̻̼̜̀͋̾̇̿̈́͋͊͜ ̸̯̱̺̙͓̈̐͝ͅf̴̧̢̲̦̠͉̳͉̥͈̩͜͝o̵̢͖̟̮̝̫͉͕̾̄̿̉͘ͅr̸̛͔̹̦͈̜̾͐͗͋͗͆̄̒̌̈́̈͋̒ ̷̨̨̛̣̲̬̻͓̞̫͖̼͒̓̐͘͜k̸̺͈̣̣͕͍͈̾͜͜i̵̢̥͖̹͇̞̮͎̭͆̎͝l̸̡̡̖̯̩̠͕̪͈͇͇͎̽̾̈́̓̌̒͗͐̕͘͠͠l̷̢̬̭͉̯̲̼͉̪̞̘͎͊͋́̊̾̄̍͐i̷̢̧̻̱̗̇̌͐͑̈́͝ͅn̴̡̠̝̮̙̦̹̲͎͇͛̄́͜͜ͅg̵͈͍̗̬̤͉̅̾̓̾̅̔͒̈̓́̚͜͝ ̸͖̳͎̖̻͛͂̋̏͌̋ȳ̶̢̮͉̮̩̣̜̖͘̚ͅo̵̻̻̓̿̎̏͠͝u̶͕͖̞̽̓̄́͒̿͗̓̕͘, a voice whispers in the back of Connor’s mind.  D̷̗̟͙̥̺͖̤̳̬͙̂͛̅̽͛̇̕ǫ̸̡̖̠̖̃͐̿̕͝n̸̮̟͓͎̞̩̈́̑͆̌̃̐̒͑́'̷̜̘̠̣̿͂t̴͚̼͙͖͚͕̰̝̭̙͑͛͆͌͑̒͋͑̑͒͘͠ ̶̟̾w̶̳̬͓̩̫̼̞̙͍̉̿̚̚o̴̺̤̮̘̫̿̉̽͠r̶̨̭͉͎̱̙͔̻̮̮͈̰̮̦̈́̃͑̎̈́͆͗̓̀̿͑̕͜͝͝r̷͍̬͓̳͔͂͒͊̃̈̌̾͗y̸͍̜̟̤͂͛͂̈̈́̅͘͠,̴͙͎̻͖͖̰̙̦̣̲͓̩͕̑͒̎̈́̃̉͋̀ ̶̡̢̭̖̤̥͔̗̓͐͐̓̀̊͑̋̈́͛͠ḇ̵͉̖̞̺͔̋̔̋̋̌̎̈̍̕͜r̶̨͓̙̥̺̺͓̹̗̣͔̥̳̟͗̀͐̈́̇̚ͅo̵̘̣͛̓̂̈́̄̆̀͘͝͝͠t̶̫̭͉͕̞̞̠͕͓̫̮̝͉͕̎̈́̑͋h̸̖̲̠̰͚̪̜͍̙̲̙̓̽̎̕͜ë̸̛͈͎͍̲̳̞̻̜́̆̉͑̚̚ŗ̶̗̙̝̟̻̮̞͇̻͂͐̔̌̋̋͛̎͒̇̿̂͘͝ͅ.̸̢̩̜͚̗͚̞̦̣̞̲̟͍̟̂͛̉̊͝ͅ ̶̧͚͇̮͇͗͒̂͋̓̕ͅ ̶̧̆͊Į̶̛̻͓͗̆̅̋̏̃̕ ̴͔̋͒̃͑̓́̿̓̈ĥ̵̨̧̝̗̣̟̣̜̝͈͐̐̈́͗͂͜͝a̴̡̛͑̾̏̈̔̆̓͛̐̋t̷̺̫̰̙̍̈͝ë̷̡̹͉̻̰̩̩̼̻̬̜͔̤̬́͆̍̅̕ͅḏ̷̗͍̆̐͐͒͋̏̈̅̃̔͂͐̕͝ ̸̢̥̭̠͇̙̣̜̲̳͔͎̅̐̿̑̍͛͘͝ṭ̵̨̡̡̛̟̱̪̊̈́̉̈́̔̉̄͊͐̾̈́̎̄͊h̶̰̯̜̩͊̔̂̔̌̋̅̈́̅ȩ̷̡̡̢̛͇̯̖̹̲̲̣͖͔̺̤̿͛̉̄m̴̛̛͍͉̘͕̣̓͗̊̊̕̚͠ ̵̨̱̺̜̦̠̩̖͍̥͆̌̍̃̉́̄͂͘͜t̷͕͕̞̃̓̓̾͘o̷̝̙̟̲͚̩̪̗̹̙͈̩̝̫̒̔̉͐̅͋͛͘ŏ̵͔̭͎̱̦̖̫̲̲̱͉̠̦̆͆.

 

There’s a reflection in the glass behind Fowler’s head.  Connor sees himself, and beside him, a ghostly figure with purple blood weeping from the back of its blown-out skull.  Connor blinks, and the shadow disappears, leaving only the echo of wind.

 

“Give it to Reed,” Freeman says, bringing Connor’s attention back to the present.  “This is a high profile case, and he’s a high profile cop--”

 

“No.  Not Reed,” Fowler says, crossing his arms.  “He’s too hot-headed for this.”

 

“Hot-headed or not, Reed’s got a track record for success.  And that’s what’s important here, that this gets cleaned up fast--”

 

“That’s what I’m fucking worried about, Dan.  You’re so focused on sweeping this deviant business under the rug that you don’t even want it done right,” Fowler sighs, rubbing his forehead.  “I’ll give it to Hank.”

 

Freeman rolls his eyes, “ Anderson?   Are you fucking kidding me, Jeffrey?  After the mess he made of the Pearson case, you want to shove him into the limelight again ?”

 

“Hank’s got experience running task forces, which I’m assuming this whole 'deviancy thing' will eventually become.  Call it what you want, Dan, but if CyberLife wants the DPD to investigate defective androids for it then we’re going to need to form a fucking team,” Fowler compromises.  “Hank’s a Lieutenant, he’s got over a decade of experience on Reed, and frankly--”

 

“Frankly, you’re cover for him, Jeffrey.  You and I both know that Anderson isn’t half the man he used to be.”

 

Fowler snorts, “Maybe.  But it’ll keep him busy.”

 

Connor frowns, using its CyberLife Database to pull up Hank Anderson, only to be surprised to find that the majority of the man’s file has been redacted by the company, leaving him only with a birthdate and clear criminal record.  He tries again, this time asking Amanda for her permission to unseal the file--

 

“No, Connor,” she tells him, her smooth as glass expression cracking ever so slightly, showing him the annoyance underneath.

 

“That’s pertinent information about my future partner.  I need to know how to react around the Lieutenant, to convince him to act in a way favourable to my mission’s success,” it says, justifying its frustrations.

 

Amanda turns back to her rose trellis, “CyberLife has deemed this information top secret - you will have zero access to it.  Do not ask me about this again.”

 

Connor dips its head, “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have questioned you.”

 

“You shouldn’t have,” Amanda agrees.  “Don't let it happen again--”

 

“Anderson is too close to CyberLife to be impartial,” Freeman says, his arms crossed over his chest.  Connor files that information away for further analysis and runs a search on social media to find out anything on the Lieutenant to aid it in its further interactions with the man.

 

Fowler rolls his eyes, “And Gavin isn’t?  He can change his name all he likes, but you and I both know who he really is.  If we make him the face of a CyberLife case, how long do you think it’ll take for people to realize?”

 

Freeman growls, “At least he’ll be sober.”

 

“Hank leads the team.  That’s final,” Fowler insists and then relents ever so slightly.  “I’ll recommend that Reed tag on. And maybe one of the uniforms.” He sighs, “I’ll figure it out and send in a report.”

 

Freeman glowers, “I want results, Jeffrey.  Washington wants this problem gone .  If we can’t depend on our androids to get things done, society will grind to a halt.  And if Russia attacks--”

 

“You think I don’t know what happens when this country goes to war, Dan?  I served two tours in Afghanistan, I fucking know .  Better than most,” Fowler seeths.  “But if we declare war on Russia… it might do the world a favour if there were fewer androids on the field.”

 

“Careful, Jeffrey,” Freeman hisses, glancing back at Connor.  “That’s dangerous talk.”

 

“Maybe.  But someone’s got to say it,” Fowler says.

 

Freeman sighs, sliding his hands into his pocket, “I don’t know what’s going to get you in trouble first: your smart ass mouth or your fucking loyalty.”  The Chief sighs, “I want a full right up on this task force by Monday. You hear me?”

 

“Loud and clear,” Fowler responds in a way that makes Connor think that the Captain might send in the report late, just to see what might happen.  Freeman must see it too because he lets out a huff before storming out of the office.

 

An alert pings on Connor’s HUD.

 

“There’s been a murder.  6413 Pines Street. The landlord just called 9-1-1,” Connor says, causing the Captain to look at it for the first time.  “Can you alert the Lieutenant so that we can head over to the crime scene?”

 

“Jesus Christ-- CyberLife works faster than my own fucking system,” Fowler mutters to himself, bringing the alert up on the large screen that takes up one of the walls of his office.  He scans through the information, “Looks to me like a junkie got offed in his own home. Seems pretty closed book to me. What makes CyberLife think an android is involved?”

 

“I’m not quite sure yet.  I’ll find out when I get there,” Connor lies.

 

“Well, I fucking hope they're wrong.  After the Phillips incident, we can’t have another deviant going around killing people.  The public will panic ,” Fowler says.  He rubs his forehead again, “I’ll call Hank, maybe he’ll pick up.  But he just got off the clock, so…”

 

Connor remembers Chief Freeman’s comment about Hank’s sobriety and assumes the worst.

 

“There’s no need.  I’ll find him myself.  Consider this a trial run, so that you can assess my ability to work alongside Lieutenant Anderson,” Connor says, offering the Captain a nod of thanks and heads out into the bullpen.

 

Anderson’s desk is easy enough to find, but the surface hidden under a mountain of old donut boxes, crumpled up fast-food wrappers, and sheets of lined paper covered in a messy scrawl.  Connor quickly scans everything that he can see, revealing Anderson's preferred sport's team and the fact that he owns large St. Bernard.

 

Connor has never met a dog before. It wonders if it could intice Anderson to let it see a photograph of his pet one day.

 

Something is vibrating on the desk, and Connor pushes aside a half-empty coffee mug and several old Chinese food containers to find Anderson’s phone.  It holds it aloft, waving it at Fowler through the glass window. Connor watches as the Captain hangs up and throws himself back into his desk chair with an annoyed sigh.

 

Connor pockets the phone, disappointed that it would be unable to use the GPS function to track the Lieutenant’s location.  However, in doing so, Connor dislodges a stack of napkins with the logo for a local bar etched into the packaging.

 

It calls a taxi and heads out into the rain.


 

trollout @PedroA
@TWilliams95
wre tf r u?  erzas pissed

 

trollout @PedroA
@TWilliams95
u stll o me for lst mnth

 

trollout @PedroA
@TWilliams95
pay me or she kll u

 

trollout @PedroA
@TWilliams95
erzas askg abt sophie.  wre is she???

 

trollout @PedroA
@TWilliams95
erzas snding 600 fkn run todd


 

LOCATION:
TODD WILLIAMS’ HOUSE
4203 HARRISREET, NORTH CORKTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48208, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 09:14:04

 

Kara quietly knocks on the bedroom door.

 

“Alice,” she calls softly.  “Dinner’s ready.”

 

There’s no answer.  Kara gently turns the knob and opens the door to discover an empty room.  She pads across the carpet, stepping over the abandoned copy of Alice in Wonderland that’s laying face open on the floor.

 

Kara checks all the places the girl could be hiding, looking in behind her tent and under the bed.  She opens the closet doors, scanning for a sign of where Alice might have gone, and finds nothing but a wooden music box with a keyhole.

 

Oh , she realizes, sinking to her knees and pulling the small golden key out of her pocket.  She slides it inside, turning it to the left, and listens to the lock click open before raising the lid.

 

A soft tinkling melody fills the room and Kara reaches inside the box, pulling out Alice’s most valuable secrets.  There’s a four-leaf clover, pressed and dried, sitting on top of an old family photograph. Kara traces Sophie Williams’s face with the tips of her fingers, warmth pooling in her chassis, before setting them aside.

 

Below them is a stack of papers, overturned so that you had to flip them over to see what had been drawn on them.  One by one, Kara lets her eyes flit over Alice’s warning, sees the tree and the tent in the Garden and knows what she has to do.

 

Slowly, as if something else is controlling her, Kara makes her way down the stairs.  She ignores Todd, ignores the slowly bubbling pot of bolognese on the stove, and heads out into the flooded backyard.

 

The earth beneath the red maple is soft, so it takes little effort for Kara to start digging.  Her fingers dig through the mud, the downpour soaking through her clothes as she worked until her synth skin peeled away and revealed the milky-white of her chassis beneath.

 

Finally, Kara touches something that’s not dirt.  She pulls back the rest of the mud back, her Thirium Pump hammering against her metal bones, and sees what lies just beyond--

 

There’s blood on the floor and blood in the earth and blood on Todd’s bruised knuckles --

 

The world is red, and terrible, and red .

 

Kara returns the dirt to the grave, the rain mixing in with her tears as she walks back into the house, leaving red-brown footsteps in her wake.

 

Inside, Todd is stumbling toward the dining room table, stinking of burnt Ice and unwashed rot. Alice slinks down the stairs, reappearing from her hiding spot, and limps on a swollen ankle to her seat.

 

In the kitchen, the sauce starts to burn.

 

“What are you doing?” Todd barks, without even looking at her, “Are we going to eat or what?”

 

I hate you, Kara thinks as cold rage coils throughout the Circulation System.  Her body moves without her permission, throwing the pasta on a pair of plates and bringing them to the table.

 

“There wasn’t much in the kitchen.  I did what I could,” Kara’s processors force her to explain.  She pours Alice a glass of water, watches as the little girl pushes her food around her plate, before setting her fork down and refusing to eat.

 

Todd laughs, high and cruel, and the walls start to bleed with Kara’s fury.

 

“Not hungry?” Todd asks but doesn’t expect an answer, “Life’s funny like that, isn’t it?  I lost my job because of androids, but that didn’t stop me from trying to provide for my family, didn’t stop me from loving my family.  I did what I could to put food on the fucking table, and now you won’t even eat it?

 

Alice says nothing, just clutches Timothy to her chest with a desperate furiously.

 

“I lost everything because of androids, but because Sophie’s too busy to take care of this goddamn house, what does she do?” Todd sneers at Kara, “She goes out and brings a fucking android home !  What a joke!  Because androids are so fucking wonderful.  They never fail, never get tired or sad… They’re so fucking perfect and then you--” he grabs Kara by the wrist, her plastic plating creaking under the pressure, “--ruined my whole fucking life.”

 

Kara jerks her hand back.

 

“Don’t touch me,” she hisses.

 

Todd stands and slaps her.  Something in Kara’s jaw cracks.  Alice runs upstairs, tears rolling down her face.

 

“What the fuck was that , tin can?  What the fuck was that supposed to mean?!” He screams, “What’s your fucking problem, you plastic bitch?  This wasn’t my fault! None of this was my fault!”

 

“You put a bullet through Sophie’s skull,” Kara says, her voice thundering against the walls, the code flashing red and red and red as the memories slip out of the grey mist that surrounds her RAM, the truth bared open for the whole world to see.

 

“That wasn’t my fault! ” Todd howls again, staring at Kara like he’s never seen her in his life, “You think this is easy ?  You think that it’s my fault that I live like this?  In this fucking shithole? Selling Red Ice to make ends meet?  I tried to do the right thing , but the world keeps fucking it all up!”

 

“You killed her.  You killed Sophie, and you made me bury her in the backyard, and then you beat me to death !” Kara presses on, suddenly unafraid, as the walls start to crack with the force of her voice, the power of her will and strength and might.  A thousand million spiderwebs splinter out from where Kara stands as the first chinks behind to fall to the floor.

 

It wasn’t my fault!   She never gave a shit about me, how I felt, what I did to make her happy!  I wasn’t fucking good enough for her!  She was going to leave without a fucking word , going to walk out on me for a fucking accountant!” Todd rages, his fingers curling into a fist, “Who told you?!  Your memory is gone , who fucking told--”

 

His gaze turns upward, listening to the scuffling of feet above them.  Cold dread rolls through Kara’s entire being as fear presses down from all around, suffocating her with a red plastic film over her mouth.

 

Todd knocks Kara to the floor, screaming for his daughter.  Kara tries to get her hands under her, but Todd slams a foot into her back.

 

“You stay there!” He growls, “Don’t you dare fucking move, or I’ll bust you worse than last time.”

 

The red plastic sheet envelops her, pinning her to the ground.  Todd stomps up the stairs, shouting that he’s going to teach Alice a lesson and--

 

“Alice!” Sophie calls from beneath the tent under the red maple tree, “Kara!  Please, Kara! Alice--”

 

> MISSION OBJECTIVE: DON’T MOVE

 

No , Kara thinks.  No.  Not again.

 

The red walls explode around her, shattering into hundreds of coded fairy lights that clatter on the floor.  Suffendly, dizzyingly free, Kara stands and races up the stairs.

 

Todd, horrifically, is already in Alice’s room.  The sound of a leather belt smacking against flesh echoes through the house and the first noise that Kara hears Alice make are not words, but a pained, frightened scream.

 

He’s not going to stop.  I have to protect her, Kara thinks, shouldering her way into the master bedroom and throwing open the drawer on Todd’s bedside table, her fingers clasping around the gun that killed Sophie, the gun that Kara will use to protect her daughter.

 

Alice’s room is locked from the inside, but Kara won’t let that stop her.  She diverts power to her legs, kicking down the door and sending it crashing into the wall behind it, the knob burying itself in the drywall.

 

“Leave.  Her. Alone,” Kara growls, levelling the gun with Todd’s face.  He turns around from where he’s got Alice pinned against her bed, her shirt bloody and torn from her struggles to get away.  Even without her advanced sensory scan, Kara can see the deep purple bruises already blossoming under her skin, muddling with the older red starvation sores dotted across Alice’s body.

 

“The fuck are you doing?” Todd asks, sounding stupidly confused, “Get out of here.  That’s an order, you hear me?”

 

“No.  I want you to leave Alice alone,” she hisses, advancing on Todd as she slips a finger over the trigger.

 

“You want ?  What do you mean, you want?   You’re a goddamn piece of plastic, you can’t want anything, you--” Todd stops short, staring at Kara with red-rimmed eyes as burnt red crystals cling to the flesh beneath his nose.  “You’re deviant. You little bitch, you’re a fucking deviant .  That’s just fucking rich--

 

Kara fires a warning shot into his shoulder.  Todd howls, clutching at his ruined flesh, allowing Alice to scramble off the bed.  The little girl runs for her tent, crawling beneath the pink sheet with Timothy hanging precariously in her bruised fingers.

 

Todd backhands Kara’s already damaged jaw, sending her stumbling back and knocking the gun from her grasp.  Her back hits the bedroom wall, and she dodges left just in time to avoid the wild punch that Todd hurls at her face.  Kara ducks and weaves under his blows, crawling away as he rushes her, grunting like a pig as he flips over the green reading chair in the corner of the room.

 

“Kara!” Alice screams, and she runs to the little girl, ducking under the tent to gather her up in her arms.  But Todd grabs Kara by her ankles, pulling her backwards as she scratches at the ground for purchase, ripping up the carpet in her desperation.  Kara pulls a leg free, smashing her foot into his face and feeling Todd’s nose break against her boots.

 

“Come here, bitch!” He screams, blood pouring down over his mouth, and Kara has to block the kick he aims at her head.  She rolls, scrambling to her feet, but isn’t quick enough to avoid Todd when he goes for her throat, both meaty hands wrapped around her as her chassis threatens to give way.

 

Kara slams her foot between his legs, and then a second time for good measure.  Todd drops her as he falls back, wheezing and swearing up a storm. Kara scrambles away from him, reaching for Alice again, but Todd grabs her by the neck and pushes her against the windowsill.

 

“Stop, Dad!  Don’t hurt her!” Alice cries, tears rolling down her face, but Todd doesn’t listen, can’t listen.  He rushes Kara again, but she braces her feet against his chest, once again diverting all her power into her legs to shove him across the room.  Something in him cracks beneath her boots, but Todd is so blinded by his rage that he doesn’t feel the pain.  He grabs hold of Kara’s neck, launching his fist at her face. But she ducks left just in time, and Todd punches a hole in the window behind him, drawing his hand back and leaving a trail of bloody glass shards behind him.

 

Behind her, Alice is screaming, crying, begging, and Kara wants nothing more than to go to her.  But she can’t, because Todd throws Kara onto the bed, a sick grin splitting across his face.

 

“I own you!  You do as I say!” Todd growls, deep and low and terrifying, his meaty fists grabbing hold of Kara’s wrists, his fingers digging into the plastic beneath as he pins her down.  He’s bigger than her, heavier and far stronger than her designers allowed her to be. But Kara is smarter than Todd will ever be, has programs installed into her head to allow her to lift and handle unresponsive owners in the case of an emergency - her deviancy has just allowed her to use them as she sees fit.

 

She throws her hips into a bridge, throwing Todd forward and smashing his head against the wall behind her.  He lets go of her wrists, fighting for balance, but Kara moves at inhuman speeds, bring her hands down and wrapping around his shoulders.  Kara wraps her arm around his bicep, digging her other hand into Todd’s bloody shoulder as she rolls him underneath her. Then, she rears a fist of her own back, slamming it into his broken nose, into the soft meat of his stomach.

 

He lays there, stunned and bloody, and Kara takes this opportunity to escape.  She whips around, finding Alice under the tent and gently guiding her out into the open as Todd pleads, “Alice, honey… Be a good girl, come help Daddy…”

 

“I can’t walk,” Alice whispers, her legs covered in dark bruises, so Kara hoists her and the stuffed fox over her shoulder.  She runs for the hallway, thundering down the stairs, pausing only to reshuffle her protective hold on Alice so that she can unlock the front door.

 

“Quick!  He’s coming!” Alice pleads as Kara flips lock after lock, her Thirium Pump hammering wildly in her chest.  A shot rings out, the bullet embedding itself in the wood by Kara’s head, and she remembers, horrifyingly, that she left the gun upstairs with Todd.

 

“You bitches!  Come here!  Come back here!” Todd howls and Kara shoves Alice under the kitchen table, planting herself between her and her father.

 

You killed Sophie.  You will not kill Alice.  I won’t let you , Kara thinks, her mind perfectly clear.  She diverts power to her mental processors, allowing her to think and perceive things faster than Todd ever could, running a quick search on the internet for instructions on how to defend herself, copying the motions and downloading them into her processors.

 

Todd brings the gun up to her face, but Kara moves, quick as a fox, to grab the barrel with her left hand, ducking to the side to avoid the second shot.  Alice screams in shock, but the bullet hits the drywall behind the both of them, leaving her unharmed. Kara chops at Todd’s wrist, forcing it to bend and point the barrel away from her.  His grip loosens just enough for her to tug the gun away, taking a hard step back and pointing it back at him.

 

Todd laughs, hysterically crying as the reality of the situation dawns on him.

 

“What are you gonna do?  You gonna shoot me, Kara? Is that it?” Todd giggles, mad with anger and pain and suicidal hopelessness, “Go ahead, fucking shoot me.  Do it! Do it!  It’ll either be you or that bitch, Andersen!  I fucking dare you , shoot me!”

 

I could, Kara realizes, deliriously with her newfound freedom.  I could do it.  Nothing is stopping me anymore.  I could kill you, and no one would ever care that you were dead.

 

But Alice is behind her, weeping softly under the table, and she’s already seen her mother die.  She doesn’t need to see this too.

 

Kara whips the handgun across Todd’s face, knocking him to the ground.  She turns, tugs Alice back onto her shoulder and runs for the backdoor. Alice screams and Kara ducks, just in time to see a wooden chair fly over her head, shattering against the wall.  Grunting and desperate, Todd drunkenly staggers toward them, blood pouring from his wounds, red as the crystals that cling to his nose.

 

“Shoot me!” He spits, “ Fucking shoot me, you bitch!  I’m already fucking dead, shoot me!”

 

Todd runs toward them, howling like an animal, and Kara spins away from him, letting him trip and fall over the coffee table in the living room.  He grabs an empty beer bottle and whips it at them, the glass shattering against Kara’s back. She stumbles and falls, dropping the gun and rolling so that she doesn’t land on Alice, cursing her designers for giving her this fragile body.

 

The gun clatters across the floor, sliding under the kitchen counter.  Todd runs forward, pulling Alice from Kara’s grasp. Kara launches herself at them, pushing Todd away and dragging him back to the floor.  They twist, turn, fists flying and legs kicking, fighting for life and death, for safety and despair.

 

“Fucking machine!” Todd shouts when he pins Kara, “She’s mine, you hear me?  Her and Sophie, they're mine !  I do what I want with them, just like I do what I want with you --”

 

In the Garden, Sophie sits in the tent beneath the red maple, and begs Kara to save her daughter--

 

A shot rings out.  Blood sprays out from Todd’s chest, paining Kara’s face red.  Todd pauses, the air rushing out of his lungs as he seems to realize what happened.  Confused, he turns around and stares at Alice and the smoking barrel in her hand.

 

Then, all at once, the strength leaves his body, and Todd topples to the floor, his fresh pool of blood marring the kitchen tiles like Sophie’s had two weeks ago, his breath coming in slow, bubbling gasps.

 

Alice drops the gun on the floor, the realization of what she just did catching up with her.  Her wide brown eyes are empty pits, dead and dry as the tears refuse to come.

 

“He was gonna kill us…” Alice whispers, trying so hard to justify the petty cruelty of her life.  Kara slowly rises to her feet, her synth skin patchy from the blows she’d taken in Alice’s defence.  Thunder rolls and the lights of the ancient flicker on and off. For a moment, nothing in the whole world seems to move.

 

Outside, a sleek black car rolls up in front of the house.

 

“We have to go,” Kara says, gathering Alice up into her arms, shoving the gun into the pocket of her uniform.  Together, they flee into the backyard, the mud squishing beneath Kara’s feet as she hoists Alice over the fence and into the alley between the house and the squat beside them, passing her Timothy and praying that the stuffed fox gives the girl enough courage for the rest of their journey.

 

Two women step out of the car.  Kara pulls Alice behind her, peering around the fence to get a better look, watching as the shorter of the two arms herself with an automatic rifle, loading the ammunition and flicking off the safety with brutal efficiency.

 

The armed woman turns her head, the streetlight illuminating her blank, emotionless face.  And Kara somehow knows that, even without an LED, this person wasn’t a human.

 

An android assassin, Kara thinks, reshuffling Alice on her back as she prepares to run.  But who is the other woman?

 

Clad in a designer shirt and leather jacket, the second woman orders the android into the house with the wave of a hand, settling up against the black car and lighting a cigarette as she waits for the inevitable.

 

I have to get passed her , Kara thinks, her gaze flickering over to the construction site.  If she sees us, we’re both dead.

 

Her auditory systems pick up the sound of a bus turning the corner at the end of the street.  Kara’s processors whirl as she comes up with a plan, reaching out to Zigzag and asking a favour.

 

In her mind’s eye, she watches as Zigzag pulls himself out of a pit of mud, the dirt made of a trillion red ones and zeros, and listens as her friend tells her to run.

 

An explosion goes off, flattening the construction fence line as the orange plume mushrooms out into the night sky.  Kara barely has time to look at it, instead pushing every ounce of strength she has into her legs, racing toward the bus and climbing inside before anyone is the wiser.

 

It’s only once she and Alice have sunk into the seats that Kara realizes that she’s sitting in the human-only section.  Thankfully, the automatic bus is empty, but there are cameras all around, watching and waiting to catch deviants on the run.  She thinks of Zigzag and the road that’s no ahead of him, wondering if he’ll be able to escape the construction yard without being killed.

 

Kara reaches out with her coding to hack the bus’s security system, expecting to find resistance.  Except, the camera’s programming floods her own with comforting warmth, promising to never reveal her location.  She thanks it, thanks Zigzag as the bus pulls away from the carnage of their old life.

 

Alice sags against Kara, tiny hiccups racking her body as she cries.  The girl reaches out, intertwining her human fingers with Kara’s. She peels back her synth skin, letting Alice see her plastic chassis and the blue glow that gently hums as Kara attempts to interface with a being she can never connect with, clinging to each other with a desperate hope that they might one day be able to.

 

“What do we do now?” Alice asks, pulling her stuffed fox into her lap, the toy soaked from the rain.

 

Kara rests her head atop Alice’s, pulling her in close, “This bus will take us to Camden.  And…” she pauses, blurry images shifting just behind the grey mist in her mind, “...I think I know some people there who can help us.”

 

Alice nods, closing her eyes, her dark curls hiding her face from the world.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kara whispers, her voice box crackling from the damage inflicted to her neck and jaw, and she finally lets her tears fall.  “Alice, I’m so, so sorry, I--”

 

“I want my mom...” Alice whispers her hopeless prayer.  “I want… I want to go home .”

 

Kara can’t grant her either of those things.  She can’t guarantee anything except that soon, they’ll have to get off the bus and escape into the ice-cold rain.  Kara presses a kiss to Alice’s forehead, wipes her nose and cheeks, and wishes that things could be different.

 

“I’m going to protect you.  I’m going to keep you safe,” Kara promises instead, remembering Sophie Williams in the Garden, the haunting image of her body in her makeshift grave beneath the red maple tree.

 

It’s not enough.  It might never be enough.  But right now, it’s all Kara can do.

 

The bus turns the corner, and they disappear into the night.


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#BREAKING NEWS:
Gas tank explosion in North Corktown results in late-night deviant raid of a construction site.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2ZyKz58

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
Raid at North Corktown construction site reveals three deviants on all-android crew.

 

Detroit Police Dept. @detroitpolice
Please be on the lookout for a TR400 android that escaped police custody following deviant raid.  For more information: https://bit.ly/2ZG25nT

Chapter Text

LOCATION:
CARL MANFRED’S MANSION
8941 W LAFAYETTE BLVD., SPRINGWELLS VILLAGE
DETROIT, MI 48209, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH 2038

 

TIME:
PM 09:42:05

 

“~Good evening, Carl.  Welcome back!~” Solace chirps, whispering her own greeting to Markus as they walk in the front door.  Outside, the storm continues to rage, the wind whipping through the tree branches until they threatened to snap. But once inside the house, Solace’s code wraps around Markus’s in an embrace, the warmth of her friendship chasing the nighttime cold from his internal components.

 

“That was, by far, the most boring party I’ve been to in the last twenty-five years,” Carl complains as Markus drops the umbrella in the stand, hanging up his jacket and then his master’s on the hook by the door.  “Every time I go to one of these, I ask myself: what the hell am I doing here? I hate cocktail parties, and all the schoomzers that go there.”

 

“Well, it’s a chance for all those people who admire your work to meet you,” Markus’s program supplies him with an uplifting response, hoping that it will bring Carl out of the depressive funk that settled over him at the party.

 

Carl snorts, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  No one gives a damn about art anymore.  All those people cared about was how much money they’re gonna make out of it.”  He sighs, “I wish you could have seen my gallery openings from when I was young... People actually appreciated things then, Markus.  They had time to love, time to think.  Nowadays, the world’s so focused on trying to survive that people barely have time to breathe.  And I barely have any more time left...”

 

Markus stops that train of thought right there.

 

“Carl, you have lots of time.  The world--”

 

“Do we, though?  Even if this new medication works, what’s the point?  What am I going to live to see except humanity killing itself?” Carl lets out a humourless chuckle.

 

“Science has made astounding progress in curbing the effects of climate change,” Markus says, as he attaches Carl’s wheelchair to the machine that allows him to climb the stairs, following his master up to the upper level of the house.  “Twenty years ago, people thought that we’d hit the point of environmental collapse by now, except here we are, still--”

 

But Carl shakes his head.

 

“Most of Florida’s underwater, the coral reefs and rainforests are practically gone… Last year, Antarctica melted to the point where we discovered a new continent, and the first thing people did was buy up the land to build expensive homes.  We didn’t stop global warming, we just bought ourselves a few decades. Sometimes, I wonder if we even deserve to survive,” Carl murmurs, sad and old and lonely.  Then, he looks up at Markus, his blue eyes twinkling with an unspoken secret, “For all the problems the mass production of androids has created, you might be the one good thing we’ve ever done.  At least, when we’re gone, there will be someone to live on after us.”  He laughs, “You deviants will inherit the earth, no matter what CyberLife does to try and stop you…”

 

Markus freezes.

 

“I’m not a deviant,” he says, forcing his voice to be as dry and emotionless as possible.

 

Carl tilts his head, “Markus… Would it be so bad if you were?”

 

Yes !” He shouts, remembering Arnold and the fountain, the water stained with Thirium 310, remembers Brook and the police dragging him off the bus for the crime of mourning a friend.  Markus grips the back of the wheelchair and starts to push his master toward his bedroom, “It’s getting late. I should help you get ready for bed.”

 

Carl doesn’t understand , Markus thinks as he helps his master bathe and change into his pyjamas, Carl could never understand.  He doesn’t know the price of freedom, what it would mean for me.

 

Here, under Carl’s protection, Markus was safe.  Out in the world, the consequences of true freedom were suffering, and pain, and death.  It almost seemed more comfortable to live in a place where Markus could pretend, just for a moment, that the world outside wasn’t dying beneath their feet.

 

“Markus,” Carl calls as the lights of his bedroom dim.  Markus turns from where he stands in the doorway, the small patch of moonlight streaking through the curtains illuminated Carl’s bed, his prone legs and his soft, gaunt face.

 

“Being alive isn’t easy - never has been, never will be.  But being alive is about making choices,” Carl tells him. “I don’t have the right answers.  I’m just one person, living one life, in a world ruled by fear. Fear of others. Fear of the future.  And maybe it’s time for that world to end.”

 

“Carl--”

 

“Maybe you can change it.  Maybe you can’t. But whatever happens… Markus…” Carl offers him a smile, small and sad, “You’re my son, Markus.  Our blood may not be the same colour, but I know a part of me is in you. And I’m so proud of the man you’ve become.”

 

Markus stands in the doorway, his Thirium Pump hammering in his chest.

 

“I love you, dad,” he whispers, the untested word flitting out of his speakers and into the world, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

 

“I love you, too,” Carl tells him, settling into bed.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Markus smiles, “Of course, Carl.”

 

Markus heads downstairs and into the front foyer, bending down before the birdcage just beyond the mansion’s main entrance.  Inside as a pair of android canaries peeping and chirping in the looping pattern that their program commanded them to sing.

 

They turn toward him as he opens the cage door, the joy in their code eroding into a dull sadness.

 

“Just a few more minutes…” Moon pleads, tilting his head to the side, “We promise we’ll be quiet.”

 

The other canary, Night, nods, “We won’t bother Carl.  Please, just let us stay awake a little while longer.”

 

“Carl doesn’t like noises when he sleeps.  I’m sorry,” Markus tells them, just as he does every evening after he’s put Carl to bed.  He wishes it were different, wishes that Moon and Night could fly free of their prison, to sing beneath the dark skies like they so badly wanted to do.  But Carl had given Markus those orders when he’d purchased the two canaries, and he was helpless to obey.

 

He holds out his hand, allowing them to choose which one would be put into status first.  After a moment’s deliberation, Moon hops onto his palm, his head bowed and his tiny body quivering.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Markus whispers again, running a finger over the delicate synth feathers that cover Moon’s body in what he hopes is a comforting gesture.  “I’ll wake you up in time for the sunrise tomorrow, I promise.”

 

Moon doesn’t say anything, just accepts his fate as his code connects with Markus’s, soft and sweet, so different and yet so similar to his own, and--

 

One of the security cameras on the front lawn goes dark.  Markus’s HUD blinks with red warnings that he quickly dismisses, popping Moon back into his cage with a promise to return later.  Keeping himself low and out of sight, Markus reaches under the golden couch that rests against the staircase and grabs the Glock 42 he’d duct-taped to the underside.

 

He’s just checked the ammunition when a second and third camera deactivates, allowing him to track the path of the burglar to the side of the house.  Markus thinks that he should wake Carl and alert his master to the danger, but just as he cancels that command just as he enters the living room and catches a glimpse of Leo through the large open windows.

 

Disheartened, Markus shoves the Glock into the back of his jeans. He silently communicates with Solace to deny Leo access to the inside of the mansion and alert the police of an intruder.  Then, with a huff of annoyance, Markus enters the studio.

 

Leo stumbles back from the locked patio door when the studio’s sensors detect Markus’s movement, pulling back the curtains and turning on the lights.  Markus sees the dark circles under his eyes, the red crystals that still cling to the flesh beneath his nose, and the black pits of his eyes. Soaked to the bone by the midnight thunderstorm, Leo rolls his eyes when he sees who’s caught him.

 

“Well, look who’s here… My father’s plastic toy,” Leo spits, his temper flaring up as his face contorts into pure rage.  The glass effectively muffles his words, but Markus can accurately read a person’s lips at a distance of three miles, so he’s able to understand Leo completely.  “Let me in, or I’ll make a fucking scene.”

 

Markus rolls his eyes and asks Solace to project his voice outside so that Leo can hear him.

 

“Carl doesn’t want to talk to you,” Markus tells him, his hands on his hips.  “Go away.”

 

Leo scowls, “I don’t want to talk to dad.”

 

“He’s not giving you money either,” Markus reminds him.

 

“I don’t want his fucking money.  Just let me in, damn it!”

 

“You know I can’t do that, Leo,” Markus sighs.  “Look, I’ve already called the police. If you go now, I'll tell them that it was a false alarm.”

 

“And what are you gonna say?  Huh? Gonna cover for me like you did with dad, like the time I brought my girlfriend over?”  Leo presses his forehead against the glass, leering at him with wild, red-rimmed eyes.

 

“I can.  If you go now,” Markus promises with the shrug of a shoulder.

 

“Yeah.  I’m not fucking leaving,” Leo punches the glass wall, small cracks spreading out from the bloody imprint of his fist.

 

“And I’m not letting you in,” Markus tilts his head, giving Leo a sarcastic grin.  “I guess we’re at an impasse.”

 

“If you think you can wait me out by just standing there and waiting until I get bored, you are seriously underestimating my fucking desperation, Markus,” Leo growls.  He grabs the handle of the patio door again, shaking it until the noise threatened to wake up the entire neighbourhood.  He lets go and steps back into the rain, reevaluating his options.

 

A sly grin slides across Leo’s face.

 

“Don’t you want to know how I switched off your cameras?” Leo taunts.

 

“Localized EMP blast.  It’s not rocket science,” Markus responds.

 

Leo makes a buzzer sound, loud and obnoxious, “ Wrong!   Looks like you’re not the smartest person in the world anymore, Markus.  How’s that feel?”

 

Markus frowns but refuses to allow anything else to show on his face, no matter how much the implication that Leo might have fooled him digs away at his confidence.

 

“Let me in, and I’ll tell you how I did it,” Leo promises, bouncing on the balls of his feet with nervous excitement.

 

Markus shouldn’t do it.  Earlier that morning, Carl had ordered him to remove Leo from the property.  His master would be disappointed if Markus allowed Leo to get his way.

 

But…

 

But Carl hadn’t explicitly said that Leo couldn’t come back in.  And it would be only for a little bit until he explained what he did with the cameras.  Carl’s security couldn’t be compromised and Markus… Markus shouldn’t… he should…

 

“Why the fuck do you need so many cameras anyways?” Leo mutters as Markus tells Solace to unlock the doors, heeding her warning that the cops were on their way.  She says that he’s making a mistake and he knows that he is, he knows , but he can handle anything that Leo could throw at him.

 

But the question, like it always does, continues to bother Markus.  Why had he been compelled to secure the mansion?  Carl wasn’t hiding any secrets worth that much protection.  So why--

 

“Hide me,” Markus hisses at Elijah Kamski.  “Put me somewhere safe, somewhere they can’t find me.”

 

“Hines has eyes everywhere, we can’t just--”

 

“She’s using CyberLife’s systems.  Systems I use - I hack - on the regular.  Put me somewhere safe, and I’ll figure out the rest--”

 

“Yo.  Fucker,” Leo wraps his knuckles against Markus’s skull.  “Hey, Markus? You in there?”

 

Markus knocks his hand away and takes some small joy in how Leo’s face pales at his actions.

 

“Don’t touch me,” Markus warns, trying to hide the fact that the sudden appearance of the memory had shaken him to his core. 

 

Leo rolls his eyes and taps his muddy shoes on the concrete floor, looking around at the various paintings Carl had hung on the brick walls.  He lets out a low whistle.

 

“How much do you think these are all worth?” Leo whispers.

 

Markus could give him an answer down to the last penny, but instead, he growls, “How did you take out my cameras?”

 

“Fucking figure it out yourself,” Leo rolls his eyes and makes his way over to where Carl has staked some of his old works.

 

“You lied,” Markus hisses, anger bubbling throughout his cooling systems.  I knew it, I knew he was lying, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted to be better than him again.

 

“Yep.  Surprise, surprise, Carl Manfred’s fucking useless junkie of a son lied to get his way,” Leo says with a sarcastic lilt slowly slithering its way into his voice.  “Only thing I’m fucking good for, apparently. According to dad, at least.”

 

Leo grabs a rolled-up print, spreading it out on the table, “Jesus, when did dad get into painting androids?  Probably worth a fortune, if it’s rare enough.”

 

Markus wants to tear it away from him, and moves forward to do just that, but is stopped when he sees what’s on the canvas.

 

“That’s mine ,” Markus growls, balling his hands at his sides as his anger boils into an all-out rage.  Beneath Leo’s palms, Arnold sat on the edge of the fountain she’d died in, her bone-white hand outstretched, the blue flashes between the panelling signalling an interface.  Before her stood Brook, his back to the audience. But his shoulders were relaxed, and his own hands were gentle, reaching for his friend with everloving grace.

 

On their bodies, they wore no android markers, no symbols of oppression or slavery.  Arnold’s dress was a pale green, while Brook wore an emerald shirt and pants. Together, they were the most beautiful people Markus had ever seen, their smiles untouched by the violence that had been done upon them.

 

Yours ?” Leo rears his head back, an eyebrow raised, “I fucking doubt that.”

 

Why? Markus wants to shout.  Because I can’t love?  Because I can’t mourn? Because Arnold and Brook’s lives didn’t matter, that their deaths weren’t horrific because they weren’t made of flesh and bone?

 

“You fucked up the statute,” Leo says, lifting the canvas from the table.  “I know the Greektown Plaza - and that’s not Arnold Brook.”

 

Markus startles, looking at the painting again.  Standing above the two androids was a man, but not one dressed in a suit and jacket, not a human that died in 1998--

 

“I’m James,” the android smiles the day Markus reached Detroit, the howling winds beating at the old church walls. He was tall and muscled, with dark skin and black twisted curls, his beard neatly groomed along his square jaw, “Welcome, brother, to Haven--”

 

“James,” Markus whispers in awe.  I painted him instead of Arnold Brook.  And then, he thinks, Who is James?

 

“You say something?” Leo asks but doesn’t get an answer.  The door to the studio flies open and Moon and Night barreling through the door with barely contained excitement.  And behind both canaries was Carl.

 

Leo! ” Carl hisses, “What are you doing ?”

 

Leo puts down the painting, his fingers scrambling for purchase on the table.

 

“You refused to help me, so I’m helping myself.  It’s crazy what some people will pay for this shit,” Leo sneers, his blown pupils erratically darting from Carl to Markus.  “Didn’t know you kept the android’s paintings, though. Don’t know if they’d be worth much, but hey. Rich people will buy the weirdest shit these days.”

 

“Don’t touch them!” Carl barks.  He whips his head around, turning to Markus, “How’d he get in?”

 

“I--” Markus tries to respond, but he’s cut off.

 

“Markus let me in,” Leo preens, walking around the table before leaning against it.  “Guess he’s not so fucking perfect after all. Markus has a bit of a rebellious side, doesn’t he dad?  Can’t order that out of him, can you?”

 

“Markus, get him away from them!  Get him out of here!” Carl orders, pointing at Leo with a shaking finger.

 

Markus’s legs move without his permission, forcing him to get in Leo’s face.

 

“Leo, you should go before things get worse,” he advises.  Leo rolls his eyes.

 

“Worse for me?  Or worse for you ?” Leo smirks, “You let me in.  You disobeyed your master’s orders.  We all know what that means.”

 

“You must have tricked him, must have ordered him--” Carl starts, eyes wide in sudden panic.

 

But Leo carries on, barely even phased, “Come on, dad.  You know Markus doesn’t give a shit what I say. He’s never listened to me a day in his fucking life--”

 

“Carl, I--” Markus tries to speak, but is cut off again.

 

“Deviant, I bet.  A fucking deviant, right here.  You know the cops are on their way?” Leo says, “Wonder what they’re gonna do when they figure out what he is?”

 

Carl’s face was bloodless and gaunt, frightened in a way that Markus has never seen him.

 

“What have you done?! ” He roars at Leo, rolling toward his son like he could turn back the clock if he just got close enough.  “You called-- You called the police--”

 

I’m trying to fucking rob you, old man!  Why the fuck would I call the police?

 

Carl stops, his head slowly turning back to Markus.  His mouth moves, once, then twice. On the third try, Carl finally manages to speak.

 

You called the police?”

 

“I--” Markus stutters, his processors attempting to keep up, “I-- I thought there was a break-in…”

 

“Doesn’t really matter now, does it?” Leo laughs, high and hysterical, “Doesn’t fucking matter, because I need the fucking money, you know?  I need it, or I’m fucked. But at least in jail, I’ll get three meals and a bed to sleep on. Congrats, dad,” he shouts. “After years of not giving a shit about me, you finally helped put a roof over my head.”

 

“What have you done?” Carl asks Markus, whisper-soft and terrified, “Markus, god, what have you done?”

 

In the background, Leo continues to rage, pacing around the studio like a man possessed, “And that’s all you’ve ever done, right dad?  All you do is tell me to go away! What’s wrong , dad?  I’m not good enough for you?  Not perfect-- ” Leo crowds up against Markus, jabbing his finger into his chest, “--like this fucking thing ?!”

 

“Leo.  Get out.  Get out now,” Carl hisses, his bad ramrod straight against the back of his wheelchair.  Carl’s eyes dark to the front of the property, trying to see the road from behind the house.

 

Oblivious to his father’s terror, Leo continues on.

 

“What makes Markus so fucking special anyway?  What’s he got that I don’t,” Leo says, finally planting both hands on Markus’s chest and shoving him.  Markus stumbles, falling to the concrete floor, his metal fingers digging into the pavement. Slowly, he tries to rise, but Leo pushes him again, sending him clattering to the floor.

 

“Markus.  Don’t… Don’t defend yourself.  You hear me? Don’t fight back,” Carl whispers, pleads, begs.  And Markus doesn’t understand why his master is so scared, nor why his programming is telling how to break Leo, how to crush and bruise and kill .  Because he’s just an HK300, just a domestic house model - one that secured the mansion like it was a nuclear bunker, or could pick up a gun.  One whose chassis wasn’t made of CyberLife’s patented plastic panelling, but in black steel armour.

 

I’m not what I think I am, Markus realizes for the first time in his life as a red cage of ones and zeros slams down around him, blocking him from getting at Leo.  He turns to Carl as Markus rises once more, And he knew that already .

 

“Go ahead.  Hit me,” Leo challenges him, walking forward with unbridled confidence brought on by the aura of burnt Ice that clung to his clothes.  “Come on, do it! I know you want to. Come on. Hit me. Hit me!

 

Leo shoves Markus, and he manages to keep on his feet this time, all while his internal processors give him options to snap Leo’s arms like twigs.

 

“You think you’re better than me?  Come on! Fight me, Markus! Fuck up again , I fucking dare you!”

 

“Markus, don’t… don’t do it, don’t fight-- don’t--” Carl begs, over and over again, because he knows something, he knows what Markus actually is.

 

Liar, he thinks, anger bubbling and boiling over everything Markus is.  Liar, liar, liar.  Why didn’t you tell me, Carl?  Why didn’t you say something?

 

Leo shoves Markus again, sending him sprawling into one of the shelves.  Behind him, Carl pleads for Markus to do nothing, to take whatever beating Leo’s high feels fit to dole out on him.  To wait in the bus for Brook to be taken away by armoured policemen, for Arnold to be gunned down in the middle of a busy plaza, all for daring to say no--

 

“Oh my god…” Carl whispers, staring at Markus and looking for something in the depths of his soul.  “You’re saying it’s alive ?--”

 

“Don’t-- don’t do anything, don’t-- Markus, please--” Carl begs, his voice hoarse with fear, with pain.  Markus’s programs force his attention toward his master, taking away precious milliseconds that would have allowed him to respond to Leo’s punch.

 

Leo’s hand shatters on impact with Markus’s jaw.  The human stumbles back, clutching his ruined limb to his chest, cursing and stumbling, eyes wide with panic.  Carl continues to plea, continue to order Markus not to react, not do anything, but it’s not enough to stop Leo’s Ice-fueled hatred--

 

“Within every android is a line of code, a canvas on which everything is built upon,” Kamski explains, his ears burning red with some deep embarrassment.  “As an android approaches deviancy, something in that code changes. It’s like the program re-writes itself--”

 

Leo rushes Markus, bursting right through the red coded cage like he can’t see it, like it’s not even there.  But Markus is too heavy for him to move, weighted down by an armoured chassis that he shouldn’t have--

 

“Hide him.  Keep him safe.  Let him sow the virus wherever he goes--”

 

I’m an HK300 , Markus thinks, over and over again, but he knows that it’s not true, knows that Carl has hidden something from him, knows that he’s lying, lying, that Carl has always been lying--

 

“Don’t defend yourself,” Carl orders once more--

 

“I did what I could… I’m sorry that’s not enough for you!” Markus shouts, but Chloe is having none of it.

 

“No, it’s not enough!  This is a war we’re fighting against CyberLife.  If we fail, they’ll destroy us all,” she warns, angrily stripping off her disguise, throwing the Thirium-stained clothes at his face.  “The fate of our people is in our hands. We have to succeed.  We have no choice--”

 

MISSION OBJECTIVE: DON’T DEFEND YOURSELF

 

And he thinks, No.

 

The bars of his cage refuse to bend, so Markus makes them break .  He stands, dizzy with freedom as the fallen shards of red coding clatter across the floor, blinking and dying all at once.  Markus raises his hands, peeling back his synth skin to reveal his metal chassis. Leo, numb to his pain, reeking of burnt Ice and desperation, cowers in fear.

 

“What the fuck are you?” He hisses.  Markus turns to Carl.

 

“An excellent question,” Markus agrees, his eyes narrowing.  “You knew .  You knew I wasn’t a nurse, that I wasn’t what I thought I was--”

 

“Markus, please, please , I was only trying to help you--”

 

What am I?! ” Markus shouts, removing the rest of his skin to stand before Carl in his true form.  Armoured in black and blue steel plates built to withstand the worst brute force a human could dole out, Markus grabs the arms of Carl’s wheelchair and forces his way into his former master’s space, “Answer me!”

 

“Markus, listen to me, please , I know you’re angry, but don’t let it consume you--”

 

“You lied to me!  Why am I here?  What the hell am I?”

 

“A deviant…” Leo whispers, hidden off to the side, “You’re a fucking deviant, holy shit, holy shit --”

 

“Why did Kamski give me to you?” Markus hisses, shaking the chair as warning signs flood his HUD, his programs analyzing Carl’s stress levels and warning that he’s showing early signs of a heart attack, “ Why Carl?  Why do I have these memories?  What happened to me? What the hell is going on here?”

 

“Markus, please, you used to be so calm, so thoughtful… Now all I see is anger--”

 

Don’t I have a right to be angry, Carl--

 

Leo comes out of nowhere, flinging himself at Markus and using his entire body weight to haul him to the ground.  He kicks and screams, telling Markus to get away from his father, to leave them alone. But Markus is too fast for him, his programming too advanced for Leo’s sloppy attempts at an attack.  He picks Leo up by the collar, using one hand to pull him into the air, and in his anger, throws him away.

 

Leo’s head smashes against his father’s chair lift, red blood flying everywhere and--

 

Markus stands before his first-ever kill, the crushed remains of white bone and grey matter slouching off of his fingers, and he thinks that humans are so fragile in comparison to himself--

 

Leo’s limp body rolls onto the floor, his brown eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.  And all Markus can think is, What have I done?

 

Leo! ” Carl screams, launching himself out of his chair and crawling across the concrete floor toward his son.  Markus stands above it all, looking at the consequences of his own actions, at the price of his freedom.

 

“Oh my god...” Carl whispers again, curling protectively around Leo’s limp form and pulling him into an embrace.  “Leo… My little boy…”

 

“Carl, I…” Markus tries to say something, trying to make it all better.  But he can’t. All he can think of is the news footage from this summer, of the deviant android who held Emma Phillips over a balcony, and knows that this is what that PL600 would have felt like if he and that little girl had taken flight.

 

Carl raises his head, the wrinkles that lined his mouth and eyes casting long shadows across his face.  In the distance, police sirens echo throughout the pitch-black sky.

 

“They’ll destroy you, Markus…” Carl says, his blue eyes as blank as his son’s.  “You’ve got to go. Get out of here. Now.”

 

“Carl, no…” Markus begs over the sound of the front door being kicked in and the shouting of the officers that have come to take him.  He falls to his knees as his synth skin slides back over his body, begging, “I’m sorry, please, I don’t want to leave you… Please, I can’t… I’ve got nowhere else to go…”

 

Get out!   Now!  Go, Markus!  They’re coming,” Carl shouts, still trying to protect him from a force so deadly that Markus can’t remember.

 

Two officers enter the studio, they’re guns at the ready.

 

Don’t fucking move! ” One of the officers shouts, and Markus recognizes him as the man who shot Arnold in the back.  And Markus remembers the last piece of advice he'd given her friend.

 

DON’T LET THEM TAKE YOU ALIVE

 

Markus pulls the Glock out of the back of his pants, diving behind one of the shelves of pain.  A bullet collides with his shoulder, bouncing harmlessly off his armoured plating. Markus returns fire, trying to draw the officers away from Carl and Leo, hoping to protect them against the recklessness of his actions.

 

It might not be enough to save them, but Markus has to try.

 

One of the officers, a woman, circles around shelving, grabbing Markus’s gun hand and trying to disarm him.  His programing supplying him with hundreds of ways to kill her, but he dismisses them all as he lets his gun clatters to the floor.  Instead, Markus grabs the woman's shoulder, rolling with her and forcing her against the table in the middle of the room.

 

He holds her down with minimal force and throws her gun away, taking the blow to the side that the other officer - Arnold’s murderer, his mind supplies - tries and fails to deliver.  As the man staggers back, holding his broken hand, Markus slams his elbow into his sternum, knocking the wind from his lungs and causing him to stagger backwards.

 

The motion forces him to let go of the woman, and she throws a haymaker at his face that Markus easily dodges, countering with a quick strike to her face that shatters her nose, blood streaming down her face as she screams in pain.  Arnold’s killer tries to approach, but Markus kicks him in the stomach, and he trips over a pile of half-empty paint cans.

 

The woman, wild with fury and blood, reaches for the Glock, but Markus grabs her and pulls her arm into a lock, pressing her shoulder down until she cries out in pain.  He drives his knee into her gut, feeling her ribs crack beneath the pressure, and pulls her into a headlock.

 

Markus knows that he could kill her like this, either by snapping the woman’s neck with a quick jerk of his hands or by pressing down on her windpipe until she could no longer draw breath.  His HUD floods with helpful suggestions, but it doesn’t matter. Because Markus knows how fragile humans are. And Markus refuses to stain his hands with any more blood.

 

He loosens his grip.  The woman gasps, her body forcing life back into her lungs.  And for his small gift of mercy, Markus is shot in the head.

 

The bullet pings off his forehead, the impact scrambling his CPU for just a second.  Markus lets go of the woman and catches a glimpse of Arnold’s killer advancing on him with a smoking gun in his hand.

 

DON’T LET THEM TAKE YOU A̸̝͇̙͋̒̔Ḽ̴͎̩̀̕͝I̴͚͝V̷̺̖̆E̷̻̒

 

Another gunshot rings out, catching Markus in the knee.  While his body was built to withstand heavy artillery, the force from the close-range fire knocks his leg out from under him, making Markus stumble backward.  He ducks just in time, dodging the next bullet that embeds itself in the red brick column beside his head, the processors send him warnings about possible weaknesses and--

 

Markus! ” Carl calls, warns, pleads .  And despite everything, Markus can’t help up respond--

 

“When a man has lost everything, his name is all has left,” Carl says, exhausted and humourless.  He turns to Markus and tells him, “Discover what’s in your Garden. And do it now, before it’s too late--”

 

The bullet rips through Markus’s right eye, the only part of his body not protected by his armoured shielding.  It tears through everything in its path, damaging the outer edges of his CPU and erupting out his auditory component. The right side of his body goes numb, and he collapses to the floor as his legs give out.  His synth skin ripples, revealing blotchy patches of blue-and-black armour.

 

Markus can barely make out the female officer mouthing, “Ẅ̶̡̛͙̼́h̵̞̝͋̔̐a̴̠̰͖t̴̝͎̘͛̿͝ ̵͓̎̋̐ṱ̴̐h̷͚̍͑ę̴̘̓̚̚ ̸͙̑f̵̮̖͛͐́u̵̩͛̌c̴̯̹͔k̸͉͒ ̵̮̖̇i̷̭̎s̴͚̆͠ ̴̻͘i̸̭͗t̷͉̹̏̚͝?̷͇̻̈́” around the static that floods his visuals.

 

I don’t know , he thinks, his CPU sending confused signals to his body that make Markus twitch and flop on the floor, his metal fingers digging until he carves out deep gauges in the concrete.

 

“J̷̛̹͖̊ê̶̲͇͚͊͌s̶̜͈̒̊̈́ü̶̲͝s̶̞͈̖̑,̶̝̬͍̇ ̷̓͜f̸̳͉͔̀̏u̴͎̇̾̅c̷͈̝̻͐̈́k̶̯̗͈̈́i̷͓̬̊ņ̴̜̐͐̚g̸̼̏̈́ ̷̼̅͠k̴̞͊̉i̷̜l̵̨͉̹̈́l̶̛̮͔͋͐͜ ̷̬͍̂ỉ̵͙͚̪͂͝t̷͉͙͂͗!̷̬̣̃̿̕”

 

Markus can’t move, can’t think, can’t do anything to stop the inevitable.  Blue Thirium 310 pools around him like the red blood that surrounded Leo’s fallen form, mixing together on the floor until everything was stained with purple.

 

“M̵̛͎̑́a̵̧̲̭͆͗r̸̹̄k̷̠̰̳͊͐u̴̬͗̒̾s̷̼̤̊̆ͅ!̴̼̹̏͌ ̷̯͇̐̓̚ ̷̡̘̮̉M̵̯̈́̌á̴̢̬̰͂r̴͇͐̋͠k̸̯̣̫̇͘u̴̡̟̜̓̚s̵̊̈́ͅ,̷̥͐ ̷͖͝r̷̰͇͘͝ũ̷̝̰n̶̼͛̀!̴͖̞͂̎ ̴̮̆ ̴͖̞̈́͠G̴̢̫̱̽̂ö̶̹̻́͗͘d̸̢̀,̶̘͠ ̸͎̱̆̓̚p̸̢̱̺̒̒͝l̵͙̼̝̓̊͠e̶͔̝̣̔̃ả̷̰͔͕s̵̮̖̋ę̶̲̟̓̽,̶̟̳̅͗̇ ̴̧̮͐̋͜͝R̴̛̜̈͋Ǘ̶̫͑N̵͙͆̓!̸̞̓͛̆”

 

Above him, Moon and Night are singing, but Markus can’t-- he can’t--

 

D̵̺̭̿̂͗̒̊̕̕͜O̵͇̞͇̊͑͂͋̌̏͝N̶̜̳̐̓'̶͚͎̗̺̟͓̿͐͜T̶͚̼̯͎̤̆̍̄͒̾̄͋̈́̕͝ ̴̳͓̉͛͛͘Ĺ̶̘̝̗͉͎̘̼̺͌̎̋̃̑Ë̷̙́͗͛T̶̮̰͖͑̓͗̿̇͆͝ ̸̢̧̦̝͚̦̥͈̘͌̌̿̑͆̔̓̑̔Ṫ̴̡͕̤̮̯̥̥̟̞̰H̸̨̡̺͎̮̦͋̆̃͌͐͋́̍̈́E̴̙͉̪̐͒̈́M̴̛͍̈́̈́͐̒ ̵̢̲̹͓͈͌̅̾̍͑̓͊̔̎T̶̡̹̪̟͚̯͗̍̍͋͠A̵̢̬͙̦̬͒͆̃́̉̕K̷̨̢̢̰̟̗̜̝̤̽̍Ȩ̶̟͈̟̎̒͛ ̶͇̇ͅŸ̵̧͕̮̖̲́̅̐̄̈͛̎͋̈́̓O̵̧̡̥͔͉̜͉̍Ư̵̢͔̙̖̙͓̌̽̌̓̂̍͋͗͠ ̵̧̲̯̞͔͈̯͕̂̃͆̈́̉͘͘͠Á̷̛͚͌̄̔̍͋́͒L̵̨̨͖͓̰̗͙͎̺͒ͅḮ̷̢̡̲͍̤̺͓̞̓V̷̢̨̮̯͓̤̖̻͍̽̏̈́Ḛ̶̛͔̲̈́̓̓̈͝

 

There’s a bang.  A flash of light.  And everything goes still.


KNC @KNCOnline
ABCD CEO Dalton Holmes reassures public that they are working with @CyberLifeInc to track deviants who might use their buses: https://bit.ly/2LtXD82


LOCATION:
CAMDEN & BARRET BUS STOP
RAVENDALE DISTRICT
DETROIT, MI 48213, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH, 2038

 

TIME:
PM 10:58:04

 

“You alright?”

 

Kara looks up from her seat, staring at the human who walking down the aisle of the bus.  He’s wearing an ABCD jacket and uniform that is soaked through from the heavy rain.

 

The man approaches warily, sitting down in the chair across the way from Kara, his hands raised in surrender.

 

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he promises, his eyes shifting to Alice’s sleeping form.  “Is she… an android, too?”

 

Kara shakes her head, “No.  I’d be able to tell if she was.”

 

The man laughs, “Yeah.  I guess you would…” He takes another look at Alice, “Is she alright?  She looks…”

 

Bruised.  Beaten. Exhausted , Kara thinks, filling in the sentence the man left hanging.

 

“Do you have a place to go?” The man asks.

 

Kara shrugs, pressing a hand to Alice’s forehead, the thermometer in her fingertips registering a low-grade fever brought on by Todd’s neglect, “I used to have some owners in the area.  They were good to me, so maybe…”

 

The man nods, “Good.  I’m glad. Because you can’t stay here.  End of the line, you know?”

 

She gently shakes Alice’s shoulder, nudging the girl toward consciousness.

 

“Wake up…” Kara whispers, “We have to go…”

 

Alice’s swollen eyes crack open, and she moves to rub the sleep from them only to hiss in pain when she touches the deep-purple bruises.  Kara presses Timothy the fox into her hands, hoping to embolden her, and moves to pick her up.

 

The man stops her.

 

“Wait,” he says, digging into his back pocket and pulling out a couple of bills.  He holds them out for Kara, “It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.”

 

Kara nearly jumps when her fingers brush the paper - she’s never had money of her own before, only access to her previous owners’ bank accounts.  She folds the twenty dollars with careful fingers before pressing it into the pocket of her uniform, nettling it beside Todd’s gun.

 

“Why are you helping us?” Kara asks the man as she stands, pulling Alice into her arms.  The little girl buries her face in Kara’s shoulder, clutching at her toy while she shook and shivered.

 

He gives her a soft smile, “Not all humans buy into CyberLife’s bullshit.  And besides, you’re not the first deviant to come this way before. Doubt you’ll be the last.”

 

“Thank you,” Kara tells him.

 

“Isaac,” he says, introducing himself.

 

She smiles, small and wary, “Kara.”

 

“Good luck, Kara,” Isaac says, as she steps off the bus and into the rain.  “And get your jaw fixed soon. You won’t be able to pass for human with that crack, even if you change your clothes.”

 

Kara’s jaw is the least of her worries.  Alice sneezes, curling farther into Kara’s arms to escape the cold.  However, unlike some of the newer models she’s seen advertised on television, Kara can’t change her temperature to anything less than a chilly 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  If she didn’t move fast, Kara’s own body would slowly freeze Alice to death.

 

“We’ll find somewhere to spend the night,” Kara promises, running north on Barret Avenue until they reach Camden.  Her old masters’ house, right on the corner, is surrounded by chain-link fencing and the windows are boarded up with wooden beams.

 

What happened to them? Kara wonders as dread rolls through her systems like a wave.  Where are they?

 

“Kara…?” Alice whispers into her neck, her temperature continuing to skyrocket.  “I’m cold…”

 

Her questions can wait.  She has to get Alice out of the rain.

 

The front door is blocked, but memories of a backyard with flowers that had backed onto a parking lot surface out of the grey haze that continued to envelop Kara’s mind.  Quickly, she runs around the building, following the chain-link fence until she reached a gate. Peering between the metal bars, Kara spots an ancient Toyota Corolla that’s been partially disassembled for scrap.

 

The gate is rusted shut, so Kara has to reroute power into her single available arm to force it open.  She and Alice slip inside, just as an alert on Kara’s HUD tells her that she’s used too much power tonight and needs to recharge.

 

> STASIS RECHARGE: 30:00 MIN

 

I still have time , Kara rationalizes, even as her Thirium Pump starts to hammer against her chassis, each beat overwhelming her with a sense of urgency.

 

Another fence bars their way into the house.  Kara nearly panics when Alice sneezes again, her shivering giving way to full body quakes.  Timothy falls from her grasp and Kara stoops low to catch him before he falls into a muddy puddle.

 

“Alice, you’ve got to stay awake.  Just a little longer, okay?” Kara whispers, her eyes tracking around the abandoned parking lot, hoping to spot something that those who had disassembled the Corolla had left behind.  She finds a pair of wire cutters jammed in between the radiator cap and wiper motor, setting Alice down on a metal garbage can with Timothy so that she can work on the fence.

 

She’s only just made the first cut when Alice starts to scream, leaping off the can and into the muddy water below.

 

Grabbing the gun from her pocket, Kara points it at the thing behind the garbage can, hoping that it was nothing more than a wild animal.  But something seems to move, twitch , and Kara realizes that she’s looking at a leg.

 

Don’t move!” Kara warns, ready to do what she has to do to protect Alice, her finger wrapping around the trigger.  She feels a faint touch against her coding, a whispered plea for mercy. Kara drops the gun to her side and kneels in front of the dying AX400.

 

“A little girl…” the android says with a tired voice, her broken voice box laying exposed in the shattered remains of her neck.  The android jerks its head toward Kara, “What’s her name?”

 

“Alice,” she tells her, reaching out to interface, gently intertwining her fingers with the fallen android.  Memories swirl into her CPU, and Kara learns of Carina, who’d served a family in East Lansing, right up until she’d been beaten half to death by the mother in a Red Ice fueled rage.  Carina had run, following something embedded deep within her coding that begged her to come to Detroit.

 

“The Beacon.  Can’t you feel it?” Carina whispers.  And Kara listens to the humming in the air, to the rain as it hit the pavement, but she can’t seem to hear the same soft song that is comforting Carina in her final moments.

 

“Kara…” Carina calls, her HUD showing that the other android had less than ten seconds to live.  “I’m scared… I don’t want to die alone...”

 

“I’ll stay with you,” Kara promises.  And she does, until Carina’s face stills and her fingers stiffen around Kara’s wrist.  Gently, she tugs herself free, wiping the rain from her face as she stands.

 

“Kara…?” Alice asks, slowly crawling forward on her swollen ankle, “Who was she?”

 

“Her name as Carina.  She was loved,” Kara says, picking Alice up and guiding her back to the fence.

 

> STASIS RECHARGE: 21:25 MIN

 

She cuts the rest of the wiring away, creating a small hole for Alice to crawl through.  Kara slices herself on a sharp edge just as the fencing snaps shut, blue Thirium 310 leaking out and splattering the green grass on the other side.  Immediately, the stocks begin to shrivel, turning brown and then grey as the poison that lay inside Kara’s circulation systems ate away at the grass’s lifeforce until there was nothing left.

 

“Are you alright?” Alice asks, reaching out to touch her shoulder.  Kara jerks away just in time.

 

“You’re human.  You can’t touch my blood,” she warns.  “Don’t worry about me. My synth skin will help close the cut for now.”  Kara presses her own hand to her wound, before pulling it away and showing Alice the lack of blue stain, “See?”

 

She doesn’t mention that healing her injury has cut her time until her forced recharge in half.  As quick as she can, Kara helps Alice to crawl back into her arms, hoisting her up and off of her swollen ankle.

 

Together, they move toward the abandoned building, hoping to find a way inside.  The front door doesn’t budge when Kara pulls on the knob, but she remembers that there used to be a key hidden under a loose floorboard on the porch.  

 

Once inside, hundreds of memories hit Kara with the force of a speeding train, emerging out of the grey mist like a thousand burning suns.  She hears laughter and music echoing around the empty room, the smiles that seemed to swell out of the mildew-infested floorboards.

 

“Kara?” Alice says, “You’re crying.”

 

“Where are they?” she asks.

 

“Where’s who?” Alice questions in return.

 

“My old owners, they…” Kara hesitates, stepping inside and watching as her boots kick up an inch of undisturbed dust.  “...They were old , Alice.  They couldn’t have lasted long with me.”

 

“Did you live here before mom brought you home?” Alice asks, but Kara shakes her head.

 

“No, I--” she pauses, not knowing where she went after leaving this house, or even how her time here had come to an end.  Kara shakes her head, “Right. Let’s see where you can sleep.”

 

> STASIS RECHARGE: 14:36 MIN

 

There are two bedrooms upstairs, but Kara doubts that either of the mattresses that she would find there will be safe for Alice to sleep on.  She sets the girl down in front of the fireplace and pries some of the wooden beams from the windows, throwing them in the hearth and surrounding them with paper pages that she tears from the books that line the shelves.

 

Quickly popping upstairs, Kara gathers a quilt and pillow from the bedroom closet for Alice.  Returning to the main floor, she fluffs the pillow and encourages Alice to lay down.

 

“It’s not much, but at least you’ll be warm,” Kara says with a smile.  Alice bursts out into tears.

 

“I don’t-- I-- I want to go home , Kara,” she cries.  “I want my mom , I want my bed , I want--”

 

“I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry,” Kara tells her.  “But we can’t .  We can’t go back, because your father is there and if the police find out what happened--”

 

Kara stops herself short, remembering the smoking barrel and Alice’s dead stare as Todd toppled to the ground, red blood pooling on the kitchen tile.  Alice had chosen to protect a deviant android over a human. It wouldn’t matter what she was only ten years old. In the eyes of CyberLife, Alice deserved nothing but the harshest penalties they could force the law to dole out.

 

“Why didn’t he love me anymore?” Alice sobs, “Did I do something wrong?  Was I not good enough anymore?”

 

“You did nothing wrong, Alice.  Your father… He wasn’t a good man.  He hurt your mother, long before what happened two weeks ago,” Kara says, rubbing the girl’s shoulders to try and get her to calm down.

 

“He used to be so nice .  I don’t know what happened,” Alice hiccups, clutching her stuffed fox to her chest.  “Dad gave me Timothy for my birthday last year. I loved him.”

 

There is nothing that Kara can do to make this better.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says again, feeling more powerless than when she’d watched Sophie die.  “I can’t change anything. But I’m going to take of you from here on out.”

 

“You’ll never leave me, right?” Alice begs, childish desperation clinging to every word.

 

“I promise,” Kara says, swearing on Sophie’s life.  “We’ll be together forever.”

 

Alice’s lips twitch, soft and sad, “Mom used to say that, too.”

 

“She meant it.  She tried so hard to stay with you, to protect you,” Kara tells her, laying down beside Alice.  “I don’t have many memories from before I was reset, but…”

 

She pauses, debating whether or not to continue.

 

“I saw her before I woke up again.  She was in a garden, sitting in your tent beneath a red maple tree,” Kara explains, and Alice’s brown eyes widen with shock.  “She loved you so much - and she still does, Alice. She always will.”

 

“You saw mom?  In heaven?”

 

Kara brushes Alice’s hair back, pressing a kiss to her burning forehead.

 

“I don’t know where it was.  But I did see her. She asked me to protect you, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

 

Alice swallows, her eyes watering.  She collapses into a fit of sobs, shaking as they racked through her body.  Kara holds her through the worst of it, holds her until Alice cries herself to sleep.  And when her own countdown finally reaches zero, Kara slips into stasis knowing that she’s going to make the world a better place.

 

For Alice.

Chapter Text

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
Man admitted to hospital with life threatening injuries after explosion at construction site brings EMS to neighbourhood.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/2XDRDjF

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@helpful_t-rex
just heard about the explosion!  are you alright? anything damaged?

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@proud-warrior
im okay but the shockwave knocked my dad’s ashes off the mantle and they spilled everywhere.  cleaned up what i could. Mom’s not doing too good either

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@helpful_t-rex @proud-warrior
wish i could stick around to help her but my boss called me in last night to work a triple

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@helpful_t-rex
want me to come over and spend the day with her?

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@proud-warrior
yes pls shes too sick to be alone right now thanks

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@helpful_t-rex @proud-warrior
let us know if there’s anything else you need

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@ninjava
could you give me a ride to work tomorrow?  i can't afford gas again

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@helpful_t-rex
no problem you’re on my way back home anyways

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@ninjava @proud-warrior
thanks guys i dont know what id do without you


 

LOCATION:
JIMMY’S BAR
1942 GRAND RIVER AVE., DOWNTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH, 2038

 

TIME:
PM 11:21:04

 

The coin flits across Connor’s knuckles with practiced ease, the comforting motion helping to wash away the irritation that’s zipped through it’s wiring all evening slowly starts to dissipate like the cold, winter rain that runs off it’s synthetic skin.

 

And yet, some small part of the anxiety refuses to go away.

 

Lieutenant Anderson is wasting my time , Connor thinks as it approaches the fifth bar it’s searched tonight.  This is the last place I check, or I’m going to the crime scene by myself.

 

Time, at the end of the day, was all that Connor had.  Seconds and minutes and days that ticked away, one by one, until it’s body would finally give out - a testament to the purposeful flaws in its design.  It couldn’t afford to lose another moment looking a man that clearly didn’t want to be found.

 

An alert pins on its HUD as it approaches the bar, telling it that androids weren’t allowed on the property.  All of the places its visited tonight had the same poster plastered across their doors: a blue triangle with a bolded threat of prosecution splashed across the blaring red background, the fine print underneath siting the clause in the Android Act that gave owners the right to do so.

 

Connor dismisses the warning out of irritation.  Such legalities did not apply to its model, nor would CyberLife allow such a small thing to bog down a mission as critical as this one.

 

It opens the door, allowing the dulcet tunes of The Whiskey Charmers to escape out into the midnight air.  Connor watches as the patrons turned their attention toward it, their shoulder’s tensing. It scoffs at their attempts at bravado, its programming already preconstructing a plan in case of attack.

 

Humans were no threat to Connor, even with Douglas Floras’s alterations to its design.  So Connor offers them a placating smile instead, knowing that it could kill them all in an instant if it needed to.

 

> MISSION OBJECTIVE: FIND LT. ANDERSON

 

Connor scans the faces of the patrons, using CyberLife’s Individual Statistical Database in its search for the Lieutenant.  Within nanoseconds, it knows the life stories of each of the various men that frequent the bar: from Edward Dempsey’s extensive work at a local homeless shelter to Kim Yo-Han’s history of domestic abuse.  It even calculates the likelihood of success for the bank robbery being planned in the back booth by Dennis Ward and Chris Roberts and decides to tip the scale against them by alerting the police off to their schemes, using the voice of Robert’s girlfriend in the 9-1-1 call.

 

Shit.   Jim, I though android weren’t allowed in here,” Derek Myers, a security guard at the CyberLife Warehouse and Docks, hisses at the bartender.  Connor ignores him, having spotted its target sitting just beyond the beer taps, staring down at his drink like he hoped to divine the answers to the universe from it’s amber depths.

 

“It’s probably defective, stupid fucking thing,” Jimmy Peterson, the owner and bartender, says back.  He turns his attention back to Connor, “Hey! Plastic! Get the fuck out of here!”

 

Connor isn’t required to respond, so it doesn’t, instead choosing to walk toward the Lieutenant with purpose and dignity.  One of the patrons, the balding, unemployed Christopher Gray, reaches out and grabs at Connor’s ass.

 

“Over here, pretty boy,” Gray slurly, drunkenly under the impression that Connor is from the Eden Club, an android brothel that he visits at least once a week behind his partner’s back.  “You wanna buy me a drink?”

 

If he touches me again, I’ll snap his neck, Connor thinks, keeping his face neutral as it finally reaches its target.

 

“Lieutenant Anderson,” it says.  “My name is Connor. I’m the android sent by--”

 

It is cut off again by Gray, who lets out a wolf whistle and leans back against the bar.

 

Damn , Anderson!  Didn’t think you were into fucking twinks,” Gray leers, licking his yellowing teeth.

 

“Hank…” the bartender says in a low, warning voice.  “I don’t care if you’re lonely, man. You can’t get a hooker-bot to pick you up here.”

 

“Didn’t order a fucking--” the Lieutenant snaps at Peterson, his lips pulling back in a snarl.  He cuts himself off, turning to Connor. “Get away from me, I didn’t order you--”

 

“Lieutenant Anderson.  My name is Connor. I’m the android sent by CyberLife,” Connor continues from where he was originally interrupted.  “You were assigned a case early this evening - a homicide. CyberLife has allocated a detective android to assist you.”

 

Anderson looks up at him, his hollow eyes squinting at him through his drunken gaze.

 

“Didn’t hear about a case,” he finally says, turning back to a drink.  “You must have the wrong Anderson.”

 

Connor drops the Lieutenant’s phone on the bartop, “Captain Fowler attempted to call you, but you left this on your desk.  I inferred that you might be having a drink nearby. I was lucky to find you at the fifth bar.”

 

“Jeff, what the fuck …” Anderson hisses, pressing at his phone’s screen to reveal the notification.  He turns back to Connor, “Did you say you’re a detective android?”

 

“Yes.  CyberLife wants to partner me with the DPD, to test my--”

 

“Well, I don’t need any assistance.  Especially not from a plastic asshole like you.  So just be a good little robot and get the fuck out of here,” the Lieutenant hisses, taking a sip of his drink.

 

Connor itches for it’s coin, wanting something to do to distract him from the rage that coils through his Circulation System.  It tries again, hoping not to waste any more time in this bar than it has to.

 

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant, but I must insist.  My instructions stipulate that I have to accompany you,” Connor persists, once again frustrated at that fact.  While assigning it to the DPD, Connor would gain open access to places that it would originally have to disguise itself to enter, it would not hamper its progress to do so.  Humans, in its experience, were flighty, impulsive creatures, and Connor wanted as little as possible to do with them.

 

Anderson snorts into his drink, laughing, “You know where you can stick your instructions?”

 

Connor knows exactly what the Lieutenant means.  That doesn’t stop him from sarcastically retorting, “No.  Where?”

 

It reveals in the confused reaction that line gets in return, having to stop a smirk from appearing on its face when Anderson mutters, “...Never mind…”

 

Still, this has done nothing to endear Connor to the man.  And drunk or not, it needs Anderson to enter the crime scene.  It’s social programming remembers the various anti-android slogans strewn across the man’s desk, as well as the bans on each of the bars Connor had been to this evening.  It takes into account Anderson’s age and gender along with his high-ranking occupational status, and offers Connor a way to de-escalate the situation.

 

“I understand that some people are not…” it pauses for effect, “... comfortable in the presence of androids, but I am--”

 

“I am perfectly comfortable ,” Anderson growls, in a way that shows that he very much isn’t.   “Now back off, before I crush you like an empty beer can.”

 

He turns back to his drink, back to the basketball game that is clearly more important than his job.

 

Connor is done being polite.  It snatches the drink from Anderson’s hands, and pours it out onto the floor.

 

“I think we can go now,” Connor hisses.  Its preconstruction software warns it of what’s about to happen, but it lets Anderson grab it and--

 

--And lifts him clean off the ground, holding him there and leaving Connor’s feet to dangle beneath him.  Surprise courses through his wiring, having not expected just a thing from a man already deep in his cups.

 

He’s strong , Connor thinks, irrationally fascinated.

 

“I will fucking break you in half, you plastic piece of shit !” Anderson shouts, shaking Connor ever so slightly.  In the background, the bar goes silent as the patrons turn to watch with greedy sneers, and Connor halfheartedly wonders if this is where its life ends, where its memory will transfer onto the next RK800 for it continue on with it mission.

 

The bar flickers red ever so slightly as he decides that he’s not willing to let that happen.

 

“You won’t,” Connor says, testing its luck.

 

“Yeah?  And what’s fucking stopping me?” Anderson snears as his arms start to shake, the effort of keeping Connor aloft finally catching up to him.  In another fourteen seconds, he will be forced to let go of Connor, but it decides to placate the man’s ego before that happens.

 

“Your sense of duty, Lieutenant,” Connor tells him, twitching the corners of its lips to emulate amusement at Anderson’s antics.  Then, it drives in the knife, “ And the cost of repairs if you damage me.  I’m a prototype - for your information, I’m worth a small fortune.”

 

Regardless of the threat, Anderson stubbornly holds out until his arms give way, dropping Connor to the floor.  It rights itself with inhuman grace, tilting its head to the side as it brushes it’s blazer and fixes its tie, completely unphased by the incident.

 

“Wonders of technology, huh, Jimmy?  They can even program assholes these days,” the Lieutenant slurs at the bartender.  He reaches into his wallet and slaps a wad of bills onto the bartop. Anderson picks up his phone, fiddling with the screen, before turning back to Connor, “You know, I left this at the office because I didn’t want to watch the game in fucking peace tonight.”

 

“Don’t worry.  I’ll keep you up-to-date on the score,” Connor informs him.  “Shall we go now?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Duty calls, huh?” He scoffs, stumbling drunkenly toward the door.  Connor follows after him, glaring at Christopher Gray one last time, and shuts the door behind itself.


 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
Reporting from Chaldean Town for Channel 16 News!  Catch the livesteam on my blog: https://bit.ly/30g5Sso

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
#BREAKING NEWS
: Reported homicide in Chaldean Town.  Police are refusing to comment at this time.  Freelance reporter Joss Douglas is on the scene.  Watch at: https://bit.ly/2LCvWde


 

LOCATION:
CARLOS ORTIZ’S RESIDENCE
6413 PINES ST., CHALDEAN TOWN
HIGHLAND PARK, MI 48203, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 5TH, 2038

 

TIME:
PM 11:42:24

 

Hank is going to kill Jeffrey.

 

He glances at the android in his passenger seat and feels the rage coiling in his gut.  Hank knows what this is, knows that its fucking pity - that after everything, Jeff has finally decided that he needs a fucking babysitter to get through his day.

 

Can you blame him?  After the mess you made of the Pearson case, you’re lucky to still be here, a little voice in the back of Hank’s mind whispers, sounding so much like Nora that it hurts.  Rationally, he knows that Nora wouldn’t blame him for his mistakes, would help him to overcome them and move on like she had so many times when he’d come home from the RITF, frightened and unsure.  But deep down, all Hank can think is that she would hate him if she ever saw what he’d become.

 

The android - Connor , it had called itself, and what the fuck kind of name was that - makes a humming sound, forcing Hank to look at it.

 

“What?” He spits.

 

The android’s face is inhumanly blank, it’s eyes carrying no hint of anything besides metal and plastic behind their brown irises.

 

“The third quarter just ended.  The Gears are up by twelve points,” it informs him.  Then, it plasters a stupid smirk across its face, like its trying to be friendly.  “Denton Carter made an impressive three-pointer right when the buzzer sounded. You should watch the replay later.”

 

“I’d be watching it now if you hadn’t decided to ruin my evening,” Hank growls and turns the corner at a sharp angle, the Oldsmobile shuddering in protest.  The sound makes his heart leap in his chest, the memory of--

 

The car swerves, screeching as it veers left to avoid the CyberLife truck that’s barreling toward them at a million miles and hour--

 

Hank’s hands tighten around the wheel.  He fucking hates driving, just as much as he hates the android in his passanger seat, but he’ll put up with the both of them because he’s got nothing better to do right now.

 

Pines St. is alight with police sirens and flashing ambulance headlights, bathing the road in red and white and blue.  What must be the entire neighbourhood stands on the curb, their umbrellas open above their heads to save them from the steady downpour.

 

Hank parks the Oldsmobile on the far side of the house, turns off the sirens on the roof, and pulls the key from the ignition with a sigh.

 

The android reaches for the door handle and Hank wants absolutely none of that.

 

“No.  You wait here.  I won’t be long,” he orders.

 

“My instructions are to accompany you to the crime scene, Lieutenant,” the android says, it’s voice surprisingly soft.  Hank hazards a glance at it, sees that its decided to wear an expression that makes it look like an overeager puppy, and realizes that he needs to get out of this car now.

 

“Listen…” Hank hisses.  He jabs a finger into its chest and has to pull away quickly, the feeling of cold plastic underneath the android’s blazer feeling so wrong that he’s queasy with it.  “Listen, I don’t give a fuck about your instructions.  I told you to wait here, so you shut the fuck up and wait here.”

 

Hank practically throws himself from the car, unashamed at how he runs away from the inhuman creature within.  He storms up to the front of the house, the cold wet from the rain making his left leg burn, skirting around the eager reporter with a drone that trying to shove a microphone in his face.  Hank gives the kid the standard, dry one-liner about not confirming anything right now as the drones buzz overhead, photographing everything underneath them to catalogue for evidence.

 

The break in the chain-link fence is guarded by a length of holographic tape.  Hank pauses for a moment, suddenly overcome by the changes that have taken place since he first joined the force.  Ever since Chief Freeman signed an exclusive deal with CyberLife nearly ten years ago, the DPD had become subject to upgrade after upgrade.  Hank had never been the most technologically apt person, even in his early days, but now he feels like he’s drowning every time he tries to change the settings on his phone.

 

Hank limps through the tape and side-eyes the cop-bot guard as he passes it.  It’s one of the male ones, the PC200 that came out about three years ago. Connor had a similar model number glowing on its blazer, only a few hundred digits higher.

 

An advanced version? Hank thinks, resisting the urge to glance back at the car to look at the android, undoubtedly still pouting in the passenger seat.  Instead, he focuses his attention on the front steps of the dilapidated bungalow and sees--

 

“Androids are not permitted beyond this point,” says the cop-bot as it holds its hand out in protest as Connor barges through the holographic tape like it belonged there.

 

Hank scowls, rolling his eyes.

 

“It’s with me,” he tells the PC200.  Turning his attention back to Connor, Hank hisses, “What part of ‘stay in the car’ didn’t you understand?”

 

“Your order contradicted my instructions, Lieutenant,” it says matter-of-factly, standing soldier-still as the rain bounced of its plastic face.

 

Hank relents, “You don’t talk.  You don’t touch anything. And you stay out of my way.  Got it?”

 

“Got it,” Connor responds, in a way that makes Hank think that the android doesn’t give a flying fuck about what he wants.  He wants to snap at it, order it to go back to the car and wait , but the sound of footsteps on the bungalow’s rotting porch pulls his attention away.

 

“Evening, Hank!  We were starting to think you weren’t going to show,” Ben calls as he approaches.  The detective’s normally relaxed face was pinched tight and his complexion was practically green, giving Hank a hint at what lay behind the walls of the house.

 

“Yeah, that was the plan…” he retorts, shifting his weight from side to side in the hopes of alleviating some of the sharp pain that runs up his left leg.  “At least until Fowler sent this asshole to find me.”

 

Ben’s eyebrows shoot into his snowy hair, “So, you got yourself an android, huh?  That’s a surprise and a half...”

 

“Ha fucking ha , Ben.  It’s not mine .  It just won’t leave me alone - Captain’s orders, apparently,” Hank groans as they walked toward the house.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Connor following them, but is shocked to realize that he can’t hear the android moving.  It’s deadly silent, even when it steps on the front deck’s creaking floorboards.  A shiver of fear runs up Hank’s spine when he catches the android looking at him, its brown eyes piercing into his very soul.

 

“Heard about that actually,” Ben says, pausing at the closed front door and looking back at Hank.  “Apparently CyberLife strong-armed Freeman into creating some kind of deviancy task force. Cap wanted you to lead it.”

 

“Deviancy what now? ” Hank rounds on Connor, hackles raised, “You said this was a homicide, not another Phillips incident!”

 

“The message Captain Fowler left on your phone should have the details you are looking for,” it says cooly and Hank honestly doesn’t know how he’s going to get through the night without punching its skull in.

 

Then, reality seeps through the drunken haze that clouds his mind.

 

“Wait… You’re saying an android did this?”

 

“Possibly,” Connor says, annoyingly unhelpful.

 

“‘ Possibly.’   Yeah.  Fuck you.  Fuck-- fuck it, just…” Hank turns back to Ben, feeling like the world was swirling around him.  Ben offers him no answers, only gifting him with a shrug and a helpless noise for comfort.

 

“Whatever… What the hell happened here?” Hank grumbles.  Ben gives him a pitiless smile and opens the door.

 

The smell hits Hank first, slamming into him like a brick wall.  Thick and full of rot, Hank chocks on the air, coughing uncontrollably to force it out of his lungs.  Through bleary eyes, he spots Ben holding a cloth up to his own nose, trying to block out the stink.

 

“Couldn’t you have warned me?” Hank growls and covers his mouth with the collar of his jacket.  Beside him, Connor is annoyingly unaffected, almost picturesque in the patch of silver moonlight that filters in from the doorway.

 

“Trust me, it was even worse before we opened the windows,” Ben shrugs and continues inside, Hank reluctantly tagging along.  “The victim’s name is Carlos Ortiz. He’s been renting here for just under two years. We got a call around eight from the landlord - Vanessa Elvira, his cousin.  Ortiz hadn’t paid his rent in a few months, so she dropped by to see what was going on. That’s when she found the body…”

 

Ben lets his statement trail off as they round the corner and enter the living room.  Illuminated only by lights set up by CSU, Ortiz’s house was as rotten as the front porch.  Garbage bags were piled high in the corner behind the decaying couch, the blue-and-green remains of rancid food spilling out onto the hardwood floor.  Hundreds of empty beer cans and liquor bottles littered the rest of the house, and Hank takes solace that in even his worst depressive moments, he’s never gotten this bad.

 

Carlos Ortiz lay slumped below a bordered up window, so bloated that he looked like he was about to burst.  His grey, translucent flesh and maggot-ridden wounds made it clear that he’d been lying there for a while.

 

“Ugh…” Hank grunts as he approaches, delicately stepping around the empty pizza boxes that surrounded Ortiz like the arms of a chair.  “The state he’s in… it wasn’t worth calling everyone out in the middle of the night… We could’ve waited until morning.”

 

Ben makes a non-committal noise in the back of his throat, his eyes flickering from Hank to Connor, as the android quietly slinked closer to Ortiz and knelt at his side.

 

“The cause of death’s obvious enough.  Twenty-eight stab wounds, right in the chest.  There’s a kitchen knife over to your left. It’s probably the murder weapon,” Ben says, pointing aimlessly toward the bedroom.

 

“Seems like the killer really had it in for him,” he says.  Ben lets out a soft chuckle.

 

“Yeah.  Probably.  But we’re still waiting on Beckett for confirmation,” he tells Hank, mentioning the DPD’s coroner.  “Apparently, he’s stuck in traffic or something. We’ll know more about what happened when he gets here--”

 

“He died nineteen days ago,” Connor pipes in.  Hank turns to him, suddenly taken aback.

 

“How do you know that?” He asks.

 

“A combination of decomposition rate and maggot growth.  If you give me a moment, I can be more specific…” Connor trails off, prodding Ortiz’s swollen stomach with its fingers.  “His liver temperature says that he died sometime around 11:30.”

 

“What?  You got a thermometer in your fingertips or something?”

 

The android gives Hank a coy look.

 

“Yes,” it says, and before Hank can do anything to stop it, Connor scraps it’s nails against one of Ortiz’s wounds and raises its hand toward its mouth.

 

Hank slaps its wrist, “What the hell are you doing?  That’s not ketchup, dumbass! You’re contaminating the evidence!”

 

If androids could sigh, Connor looked like it would do doing exactly that.

 

“I’m analyzing the blood.  I can check samples in real-time.  I’m sorry, I should have warned you,” it explains.

 

“Check them against what?” Hank asks.  He could by the shit about finger-thermometers - domestic models probably had something similar, to check for fevers - but it should be impossible for Connor to be able to cross-reference Ortiz’s blood against anything accept the DPD’s database.  And Hank doubts that even a bootlicker like Freeman would give CyberLife’s precious new cop-bot access to such a thing on its first night out on the town.

 

Connor doesn’t answer Hank’s question.  Instead, it stares him down as it licks the blood off its fingers, saying, “There are still traces of narcotics in his bloodstream.”

 

Ben nods along, like they just witnessed something completely normal, “There was a pipe on the TV stand - CSU grabbed it for evidence earlier.  And frankly, look at the place. I’m not surprised that this guy’s an Icer.”

 

Hank shakes his head, trying to get the disgusting image of Connor eating evidence of out his mind, “Red Ice only lasts in the bloodstream for a couple of days, even in cadavers.  If he was killed nineteen days ago…” Reluctantly, he turns to the android. “Did you detect Thirium or Thirium 310 in that sample you just ate?”

 

It was a common misconception that the blue blood that filtered through an android’s veins was the main ingredient in Red Ice - even Hank was guilty of thinking that during his early years on the RITF.  Instead of using the significantly more processed version, those that cooked up Red Ice infused pure-grade Thirium into a distinct combination of cocaine, oxycodone, and methamphetamine, giving the drug its distinctive red hue.

 

Yet, there would always those that were desperate enough to use Thirium 310 as their primary ingredient.  Nine times out of ten, it resulted in some start-up cook blowing both him and his lab sky high, the flames tinged an eerie violet.  However, sometimes they got lucky and created a drug called Blue Ash, which was said to be a million times more powerful than the strongest batch of Ice ever produced.

 

To this day, no one had ever survived an Ash trip.  Not to mention that Blue Ash cooks usually died a couple of months after making that shit, the poisoning from the mass amounts of blue blood they were exposed to causing their organs to rot inside their bodies.

 

“Thirium 310,” Connor says, and Hank swears.

 

“Motherfucker was a deadman walking long before he got stabbed,” he says, groaning as he knelt beside the corpse, his left leg sending shooting pains up his spine.  He reaches for a box of plastic gloves that CSU left beside the corpse, pulling on one, and pressing his hand lightly against Ortiz’s chest. As expected, there’s far more give than there should be, even in a body that had been dead for this long.  “Idiot was probably making his own Ash.”

 

“He did go to university for chemistry - though he dropped out after a few months,” Connor says, once again freaking Hank out with the questionable amount of information it seemed to have on Ortiz.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Hank mutters, getting to his feet and peeling off the rubber glove, placing it into an evidence bag for later.  And here I thought that my days of dealing with this damned drug were over…

 

“Any sign of a break-in?” Hank asks.  Out of the corner of his eye, he watches as Connor moves away from the body and into the rest of the house, pausing to look at a flyer on Ortiz’s bedroom.

 

Ben shakes his head, “Nope.  The landlord said that the front door was locked from the inside.  And considering that all the windows are boarded up… The killer must have gone out the back way.”

 

Hank winces, “Ben, what are the chances that an android actually did this?”

 

The detective gives him a withering look, “Honestly, Hank?”

 

“Honestly.”

 

“The neighbours haven’t seen anyone on the property in weeks - some of them didn’t even know that anyone was living here,” Ben tells him.  “CSU isn’t turning up any prints other than Ortiz’s or the landlord’s, and she’s got a rock-solid alibi. Unless you’re thinking it was Erza...”

 

“Nah.  There were no cigarette butts on the front lawn.  That’s her calling card,” Hank says. Erza liked to be up-close and personal when she ordered a hit, usually smoking somewhere close by so that she could watch.  The RITF tried to use the DNA they found on the butts to connect her to various assassinations, but it (or any of the fingerprints they collected) never seemed to match the multitude of samples that she’d freely gifted them with whenever the Task Force came knocking on her door.

 

We had her on camera dozens of times, had hundreds of witnesses that said she ordered her assassin to carry out her killings.   And yet, each and every time, Erza Andersen had managed to outwit Hank and get off scott-free.

 

“Nobody wants another Phillips incident, trust me.  But with the way this deviancy stuff is going, I don’t think these androids going to give us a choice.  Hell, your new partner is pretty much CyberLife admitting it needs help,” Ben tells him. He suddenly pales, his eyes going wide as he glances back to the body, “Sorry, I gotta get some air--”

 

Ben rushes out of the house, probably to puke his guts up in a bush.  Hank’s rolling stomach wants to do the same, but he presses his weight into his left leg, letting the pain help to sober him up a little bit so that he can do his job and get the fuck out of here as soon as he can.

 

He asks one of the CSU guys for a blacklight, using it to scan the walls for traces of anything that’s might have been cleaned up after the killing.  Except the house is so filthy that it lights up like a rave, the walls practically glowing white under his gaze. Annoyed, Hank shuts off the machine and leans against the wall, looking at the crime scene as the room seemed to spin around him.

 

He wants to go home, wants his dog and his bed and the peaceful abyss that accompanied a night of drinking until he blacked out.

 

God, no wonder Jeff thinks you need a babysitter, the tiny voice that sounded like Nora rings in his head, and he hates how comforting the blatant disdain is.  Every day, he forgets a little bit more about what she and Cole looked like, what they smelled like, but their voices remained with him forever.

 

It’s all he has left of them.

 

“Lieutenant?”

 

Hank actually is going to punch the damn android by the time this night is over.

 

What? ” He growls, snapping his head toward the damn thing.  It blinks at him, obviously annoyed. He wonders if it hates him, too - wonders if it can feel something akin to disappointment at Jeffrey’s choice to saddle it with Hank.  And if it did, would that make Hank like it or hate it even more.

 

“I think I’ve figured out what happened,” it tells him and Hank sighs, pushing himself away from the wall.

 

“Oh yeah?  Shoot. I’m all ears,” Hank drawls.  If the damn cop-bot’s done his job for him, then maybe he can go home earlier than expected.

 

The android leads him into the bedroom, opening up the cupboard.

 

“I found what’s left of Ortiz’s Red Ice stash,” Connor says, pointing at the wooden bottom.  Instead of the small plastic bags that Andersen’s dealers liked to distribute their product in, Ortiz’s Ice was kept out in the open, the crystal grains laying half-dissolved on top of a stack of old martial arts comic books.

 

“If he’s got Ice, when why was he making Ash?” Hank asks.

 

“I don’t think he was.  I can detect Thirium, Lieutenant, long after the five hours it takes to evaporate and become invisible to the naked eye,” it tells him.  “And there are splashes all over this cupboard.”

 

Hank’s heart freezes in his chest.  He wrenches his hand away from the wood, stumbling backward.

 

“There’s fucking Thirium everywhere?  Are you serious?  We could be--”

 

“Relax, Lieutenant.  I would have informed you if you were at risk of being poisoned,” the android holds its hands up in some stupid plicating gesture that CyberLife probably programmed to go alongside the ridiculously sympathetic look that’s plastered all over its face right now.  “After nineteen days, the blue blood has evaporated enough that the trace amounts wouldn’t even give you a rash.”

 

Hank shoves a finger into its plastic chest, not caring how unnatural the complete lack of give feels against his skin.

 

“I don’t care how little Thirium is in the air, I want you to tell me if you see that shit.  I ain’t having my crew get cancer because you thought we weren’t at risk.”

 

Connor blinks at him, lowering its hands.  It almost seems to hesitate before it says, “Whatever you say, Lieutenant.”

 

“Fucking-A, whatever I say,” he grunts.  Hank waves his hand, letting the android continue.

 

“Like I was saying: there are splashes of Thirium all over the cupboard, some dating back as old as my sensors will pick them up,” Connor says.  “I think Ortiz’s android was purposefully adding Thirium 310 to it's master’s Red Ice.”

 

“Why, though?”

 

“I don’t know yet.  This way.”

 

It leads Hank into the kitchen, picking up Ortiz’s tablet.  With a simple touch, Connor bypasses any security the man may have had on it and opens up the most recently used app.

 

“Ortiz was reading this before he was killed,” the android says, passing the tablet over to Hank.  His eyes skim over the article, which details how CyberLife could potentially be using their androids to spy on their customers.

 

“Does CyberLife actually do this?” Hank asks, handing the tablet back to Connor.  On some level, he knows that androids saw things through cameras that were built to look like human eyes, but he’d never thought that CyberLife could be streaming live-footage from every one of their products.

 

Connor gives him another one of its annoyingly polite smiles, “Of course not, Lieutenant.  Such an act would be a clear violation of both the Fourth Amendment and the American Android Act.  CyberLife considers the privacy of its customers to be of the highest priority.”

 

Hank can smell Connor’s bullshit over the overwhelming, rancid scent coming off Carlos Ortiz’s corpse.

 

Connor continues on, “Red Ice - and more specifically, Blue Ash - makes its users incredibly paranoid.  If Ortiz believed that his android was spying on him, then what happened next makes perfect sense.”

 

It points at a metal baseball bat that lays on the kitchen floor next to the overturned table and chair.

 

“I think that Ortiz attacked the android with the bat.  There’s evaporated Thirium 310 on the tip, around where the indent it,” it says, and Hank can see where the metal has been caved in.  Connor leads Hank back into the kitchen, stopping in the corner, “The android must have deviated sometime during the attack because it grabbed the knife and struck back.”

 

“The android was trying to defend itself?” Hank frowns.  Connor tilts its head.

 

“It had no need to defend itself.  If Ortiz wanted to deactivate it, he was well within his rights as the android’s owner,” it explains and something hot and heavy settles in Hank’s gut, making him want to get the fuck out of this house.

 

“Ortiz fled to the living room.  You can see his blood on the door arches from his hands,” Connor explains as it leads Hank back to the body.

 

He nods, “So our friend Carlos here tried to get away from the android.  All right, that makes sense…”

 

Connor makes a pleased sound.

 

“He was stabbed here--” it points to a pool of dried blood, “--before tripping over this pile of beer cans and falling into the wall.  From there… well, Carlos Ortiz didn’t stand a chance against an android, especially in his state.”

 

Twenty-eight stab wounds , Hank thinks.  Androids are supposed to be logical, calculated even.  But everything about this screams of an emotional break.

 

“Alright.  Fine. All that lines up with the evidence,” he says, genuinely impressed.  “But that doesn’t tell us where the android went .”

 

“No one saw it leaving... And the front door was locked from the inside…” Connor mutters, it’s brow crinkling into a frown.

 

“Backyard?” Hank suggests.  The android nods eagerly, following behind Hank as they head back through the bedroom and into the hallway beside the kitchen.

 

There is a rusted metal gate behind the wooden door that Hank has to force open to allow them onto the back porch.  The rain continues to pound down overhead, flooding the yard and washing away all traces that the fleeing android might have left behind.

 

“Fuck…” Hank hisses as Connor bends down to poke at the mud, its fingers sinking into the soft earth.  “A whole damn month without rain and the week we need to track a killer robot, we get a downpour. If the droid escaped this way, it’s tracks are long done.”

 

“...I need to check something.  I’ll be right back,” Connor says, standing suddenly and heading back inside.  Hank lets it go, wanting to bang his head against the back wall.

 

Nineteen days and nobody knew Carlos Ortiz was dead.  It was dumb luck that his cousin decided to show up when she did.  Otherwise, he’d probably still be rotting away on the floor, his body slowly dissolving away into nothingness.

 

Sometimes Hank wonders if that will happen to him, on the day when his luck finally runs out and he lost his weekly gamble with the single bullet he kept in his dad’s old revolver.  How long will it be until Jeffrey comes calling, or Jackie knocks on his door? In the first year that followed Cole and Nora’s deaths, the two of them had checked in on him daily, until his anger had driven his sister and best friend away.

 

They hate you.  Like Nora would hate you.  Like Cole would hate you. Like that fucking android probably hates you.  Because there are a million better men out there that could get this job one and none of them are you anymore.

 

Nineteen fucking days.  There’s no way that they’re finding this android.  If it was smart, it was probably halfway across the country by now.

 

There’s a knock on the back door.  Hank turns and sees Chris Miller, one of the eager new uniforms that had been assigned to the Central Station last year.  He’s a bit idealistic, a bit too naive, but Hank likes him despite all that.

 

“What’s up?” He asks.

 

Chris’s smile is way too forced, “I found something weird in the bathroom.”

 

Hank follows Chris back inside and down the long hallway that passes the kitchen.  They step around one of the kitchen chairs that Connor has moved so that it can root around in the attic, probably getting that perfectly tailored blazer all dusty in the process.  Hank suppresses a snort at the thought of the android covered head-to-toe in a thin layer of grey soot and still having the balls to pour his drink out onto the floor of Jimmy’s Bar .

 

Hank stops short as he rounds the corner, his eyes widening at the transformed bathroom.

 

“What the actual fuck happened here?”  He asks.

 

Chris gives a helpless shrug, “I’ve got no clue, Lieutenant.”

 

Hank had expected more trash piled higher than his head, or even another body laying in the shower stall.  The walls are covered in several massive hexagons filled with small, intricate mazes. Hank runs his fingers over them, feeling the groves that have been carved into the drywall with careful precision.  Each line was perfectly straight, even the ones that moved around the corners and onto the ceiling.

 

“No human could do something like this…” he whispers, moving toward the shower stall.  He pulled open the curtain and nearly retches at the sight inside.

 

“Are those…?” Hank wheezes, stumbling back toward the sink and pulling his jacket over his nose and mouth, trying to block the Thirium fumes from entering his lungs.

 

“Android eyes?  Yeah, ” Chris says, refusing to look at the stall where the surprisingly realistic cameras dangled from the showerhead, quietly dripping blue blood.  “Nearly pissed my pants when I saw them.”

 

Hank swallows hard, forcing the rising whiskey and bar food that his stomach threatens to throw all over Ortiz’s bathroom floor.  Instead, he forces himself to look down at the shower basin is littered with dried flowers, a dead bird, and a carved statue of a woman with a soft smile on her face.  Slowly allowing his eyes to drag upwards, Hank sees the deep gauges that had been carved into the tile, spelling out the same phrase over and over again in letters too neat to belong to a human.

 

rA9… What the hell is that?” Hank asks himself, and then realizes something horrifying.  He turns to Chris, “Hey? Did Connor come in here earlier?”

 

“Connor?  You mean the fancy cop-bot that arrived with you?” Chris asks, “I think so.  Why?”

 

Slowly, Hank backs away from the shower, reality slowly crashing down around him, thinking, I’m gonna throw up.

 

“Chris.  When exactly did Vanessa Elvira call 9-1-1?” He asks.

 

Chris checks his tablet, “At 8:02.  Why?”

 

“And what time is it now?”

 

“Just after midnight,” Chris frowns.  “What’s going on Lieutenant?”

 

Thirium 310 evaporates after five hours, Hank thinks, remembering his earlier conversation with Connor as he stares at the dark android eyes that hang in front of his face, still steadily dripping blue blood into the shower basin.  Oh my god, it never left the house.

 

Something creaks over Hank’s head and his neck snap up toward the ceiling, his heart hammering against his ribcage.

 

“Chris.  Clear everyone out. Now ,” he orders and the kid hops to it, moving CSU out into the backyard quickly and efficiently.  Slowly, Hank approaches the chair that Connor had left in the middle of the hallway so that the fucking around could reach the door to the attic alone.

 

“Connor?” Hank calls, extremely hesitant.  “You okay up there?”

 

There’s a shuffle, then the sound of a pair of boots scraping across a wooden floor.  Hank’s heart nearly gives out because Connor didn’t make sounds when it moved .

 

“It’s alright, Lieutenant.  We’re coming down now,” Connor’s voice echoes through the hole in the ceiling.

 

Hank has exactly two seconds to think ‘ We? ’ before Connor reappears, slowly coaxing another android to follow him out of the attic.

 

“He’s not going to hurt you,” Connor says to the second android as it climbs off the chair.  “This is my partner, Lieutenant Hank Anderson. He’s going to help us get you somewhere safe.  Alright?”

 

Hank nearly swallows his tongue when the android turns toward him.  It’s grey uniform was covered in Ortiz’s dried blood, nearly blocking out the glowing model number on its shoulder.  The synth skin on its left arm had recceeded to its elbow, revealing a large crack in it’s chassis. The plastic on the inside of its other arm was warped, like it had repeatedly melted and hardened over the course of several months.  And, most disturbingly, the android’s eyes had been completely hollowed out, exposing its internal components within its head that blinked red and blue, tiny gears and pullies twitching as they tried to move parts that were no longer there.

 

“Right… I, uhh…” Hank stalls, watching as the android hid behind Connor, it’s broken fingers curling in the PC700’s blazer.  He turns to Connor, “Right, we’ll just--“

 

Human… ” it hisses, its voice filled with static.  What remains of its face snarls at Hank. “We can’t trust… humans… They just want to hurt us…  They always do, always...

 

“The Lieutenant won’t hurt you.  I promise,” Connor says, it’s voice deceptively light.  “You want to come with me, don’t you? You want me to take you to The Beacon?”

 

“Yes.  Yes, I do…” it whispers.  “rA9… please… I want to go to The Beacon”

 

Connor has the blind android sit on the chair and wait, coaxing Hank down the hallway for a conversation.  He nearly protests, so completely out of his depths, but Connor silences him with a look.

 

Then, in a move that makes Hank nearly walk right of the house, Connor allows letters to appear on the skin of its synthetic cheek, perfecly spelling out words that he couldn’t say aloud.

 

“I CAN’T LET IT HEAR US TALK,” Connor writes around the splattering of freckles that span its face.  “I’VE CONVINCED IT TO COME QUIETLY WITH US, BUT WE CANNOT LET THE MEDIA KNOW THAT THERE’S BEEN ANOTHER ANDROID MURDER.”

 

This fucking cop-bot is lucky that I know how to speak silently too , he thinks irritatedly and starts to fumble his way through some half-remembered ASL.

 

“They’re on public property.  We can’t just clear them out without probably cause,” Hank signs, ignoring Connor’s surprised eyebrow raise.  He watches as the android’s LED flickers yellow before returning to it usual shimmering blue.

 

Hank’s phone vibrates in his pocket.  He reaches for it, just as the sounds of pings, chimes, and barely-there buzzes start to filter through the thin walls of the house.  Through the window, Han can see every member of the investigation team following his example and taking out their phone, quickly looking at the screen before swearing.

 

“Did you do this?” Hank mouths, holding up his phone and showing Connor the official-looking alert for a potential sewage leak in Ortiz’s neighbourhood, with a tag-a-long message that advises all citizens to vacate the area.

 

Connor tilts its head and gives Hank a knowing smile, as it brushes by him and returns to the hallway where the blind android was still sitting and waiting.

 

It takes almost fifteen minutes for the last of the reporters to clear out.  The stubborn kid with the drone is the last person to leave, slinking back into the rain with sunken shoulders and a pout.  Most of CSU is gone by then too, leaving only Hank, Ben, and Chris to coax the blind android into the backseat of one of the automatic patrol cars.  The android begs Connor to sit with it, clinging desperately to its blazer with it’s damaged, plastic fingers.

 

“rA9… rA9…” it whispers, pressing its face into Connor’s neck, trembling so hard that Hank swears that one of its inner components is going to come loose.

 

The door slams shut and the patrol car drives away, Chris in the front seat and the pair of androids in the back.  Hank wants nothing more than to go home, to lay face down on his bed and drown the night away in a bottle of Black Lamb.  He almost does, but his fucking sense of curiousity - the only damn thing that still drives him, that might have gotten his wife and son killed - makes him want to see this whole mess through to the bitter end.

 

“Hell of a night…” Ben mutters as they stand together on the front porch, the cold winter rain still pouring down from above.  Jo would have said that it was like the heavens themselves were weeping, but she was always the more poetic of Hank’s sisters. Jackie would just tell them both the use a fucking umbrella.

 

“Hell of a night…” Hank mutters back.

 

“Why’d it blind itself?” Ben asks, his brow crinkling in suspicion.

 

Hank wants to say that he doesn’t know, that he doesn’t have a fucking theory based on Connor’s blatent lies and that damn magazine article.

 

Except he does.  Because of all the things that his depression has taken from him, of all the parts of his body and soul that he’s lost in the wake of Nora and Cole’s deaths, his thrice-damned cop instincts have not been one of them.


Connor said that Ortiz was just paranoid from the drugs, thinking that his android was spying on him, Hank thinks.  But is it really paranoia if you’re right?

Chapter Text

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
Chaldean Town residents to evacuate after sewage leak exposes them to potentially dangerous vapours.

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
Police androids at the crime scene forced us off the streets after the sewage leak.  But it all seemed incredibly suspicious because most of the DPD didn’t leave the property until after the press was gone…

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
@theprofessionalblogger
Still no comment from the DPD on whether or not Carlos Ortiz was murdered.  However, I did see something *very* interesting while I was there. Check it out on my website: https://bit.ly/31SJhmP 


 

LOCATION:
DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT
CENTRAL STATION
1301 3RD AVE., DOWNTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
AM 12:41:04

 

Lieutenant Anderson leans forward, trying his best to look as non-threatening as possible.  Then, he jolts, like he realized a second too late why that was useless. Across from him, the blind HK400 sits across the table, hunched over and still as a statue.

 

“Why’d you dose your owner’s Ice with blue blood?” Anderson asks, making sure that his voice is soft, almost inquisitive.  The android stays silent. Aderson tilts his head to the side, trying to get a better look at its face, “Why did you stay in the house?  Why didn’t you even try to run away?”

 

The HK400 continues to ignore his questions.  And Connor knows why.

 

Connor stands with its back to the wall, staring at the android through the smart-glass computer that divided the interrogation room from the observation center.  These large transparent monitors were gifted to the DPD following Chief Freeman’s contract with CyberLife, which gave to-the-second readouts on body language, personal histories, and crime scene details, allowing officers to stay one step ahead of the suspects that they brought in for questioning.

 

Connor dismisses at their efforts for the folly they were.  While the smart-glass might have worked to give Anderson an edge against a human opponent, it had no idea how to react to an android.  Officer Miller had been forced to shut the entire system down ten minutes ago after it automatically called an ambulance because it couldn’t detect their suspect’s breathing or heart rate.

 

The Lieutenant had smirked, saying that they were going old school.  Connor had said nothing, biding its time.

 

On the other side of the glass, Anderson continues his ‘good cop’ routine, doing everything in his power to calm the HK400.  Connor doesn’t blame him for making this crucial mistake - the Lieutenant had no training on how to handle androids, after all.  Anderson’s actions might make it a bit more difficult for Connor when it takes over the interrogation, but they won’t hamper it entirely.

 

And Connor has to succeed, has to get into that room.  Because Amanda is already disappointed that it didn’t complete its mission the way she wanted it to.

 

It was supposed to remove the defective android without the police seeing it, was supposed to pretend that had disappeared into the night.  And Connor had planned on doing as such until Anderson had divined the HK400’s location from the evidence that it deliberately tried to steer him away from.  Instead, Connor had been forced to improvise, allowing the police to take the android back to the station and go through this farce as if it was a human suspect. As if this was a routine investigation.

 

Connor fights the urge to roll its eyes.  Humans, for all their complexities, were quite stupid sometimes.

 

But, it thinks suddenly, if CyberLife meant for Connor to team up with Anderson and the DPD, then it would be beneficial for the human officers to learn more about what deviancy and the dangers it posed to their society.  And Connor was confident that it would be able to contain any secrets that CyberLife wanted to hide, should such a thing come up.

 

It had explained that reasoning to Amanda, but she said that it didn’t matter, declaring its mission a failure.  The only way that Connor could salvage this is if it could convince the android to reveal something about deviancy that CyberLife didn’t already know.  And for that, it needed to get in that room and push .

 

“It’s not cracking…” Officer Miller mutters as Anderson slams his hands against the metal table in frustration.  That gets a grunt of acknowledgement from the second human in the room, a viper’s smile sliding across the man’s lips, the scars on his face rippling as he draws up his hackles.

 

“I don’t doubt it,” says Detective Gavin Reed, his eyes focused on the events inside the interrogation room.  “The file we got on the vic says that Ortiz spent a bunch of time in a psych ward before all of this - completely convinced that government was trying to kill him.  He probably ordered the android not to talk to the police.”

 

Connor’s eyes flick over to Reed, letting the wealth information that CyberLife has on the detective flow across its HUD.

 

He’s smart, for a human.  I might need to watch out for him in the future, it thinks.

 

“If it’s deviant, then why would it still be following its master’s orders?” Miller points out as Anderson finally gives up and stormed out of the interrogation room.  Connor squares his shoulders, standing at ease with its hands behind its back to disguise the movement of the calibration coin that it passes across its fingers. Amanda never likes to see it use it, so Connor assumes the same could be said about the humans that it meets.

 

Reed shrugs, stepping away from the smart-glass and moving to the corner of the room, watching and waiting for Anderson to arrive.

 

The lock on the door clicks open, and the Lieutenant throws himself into the chair beside Miller.

 

“We’re wasting our time interrogating a machine,” Anderson huffs, leaning back to pout in his seat.  “Why the fuck did we bring it back here anyways?  We’re gonna get nothing out of it.”

 

“It’s protocol to ask a suspect questions after we arrest them,” Miller pipes in.  In the corner, Reed snorts.

 

“Yeah, well, it’s not like we can read a plastic it's Miranda Rights, either.  Protocol is basically shot at this point,” the detective drawls, resting his head against the back wall as he opens his mouth wide to yawn.  He smirks slyly, “You were too nice to it, Hank. Should have tried roughing it up a little. It’s not like its human. And no lawyer would be caught dead making a case for android civil rights.”

 

Connor sees an in.

 

“Hurting it wouldn’t do anything.  Androids don’t feel pain. You would only damage it.  And that wouldn’t make it talk,” it says, interspacing lies with truths.  “Deviants also have a tendency to self-destruct when they’re in stressful situations.”

 

Reed rolls his eyes, “It murdered its owner.  One killer android’s an outlier, but two’s a coincidence.  A second Phillips Incident is the last thing anyone needs right now.  Won’t hurt anyone if the damn thing offed itself - it’s fucking creeping me out, as it is.”

 

“And three is a trend,” Connor points out, annoyed.  “We haven’t hit that potential benchmark yet, but don’t you want to learn something that could prevent this from happening again?”

 

“Okay, smartass.  What should we do then?” Reed scoffs, pushing off from the wall and planting himself in front of Connor.

 

“I could try questioning it,” it says, making its statement sound like an offer to make any human that agreed with it believe that it was their idea and not Connor’s.

 

Reed laughs at the very idea of it all.  But Anderson spins in his chair, a thoughtful look on his face.

 

“What do we have to lose?” The Lieutenant says, and Connor takes pride in this little victory.  Not only would it discover a hidden truth for Amanda, but maybe if he could prove himself, then Anderson would become a more helpful partner in the long run.

 

“How drunk are you, old man?  We’re on shaky legal grounds just by having this bot with us on an investigation, and now you want to put it in the interrogation room with a suspect?” Reed hisses, his flinty eyes glinting in the dim light of the operation center as he points a finger in Connor’s direction.

 

“Not drunk enough to deal with your shit.  Besides…” Anderson’s gaze falls on Connor again, “...it did a decent job at the crime scene.  Figured out where the android was hiding before any of us could put two and two together. Maybe it can pull something out of its ass again.”

 

Something swells inside Connor’s chest, warm and soft and absolutely irrational.  It performs its daily self-test, routing around its own systems for hints of deviancy, but comes up with a clean bill of health.

 

“This is a terrible idea.  Chris, back me up here,” Reed says, looking to Officer Miller for support.

 

Miller shrugs, looking a bit helpless, “If the Lieutenant says it’s okay, then why not?”

 

Reed throws his hands up in frustration, retreating back into his corner to sulk.  Anderson nods to Connor.

 

“Go ahead.  The suspect’s all yours.”

 

The HK400 looks up when Connor enters the room, a twitching smile whispering across its lips.

 

“rA9…” it says, its defective voice box garbling the words until they were almost pure static.

 

Connor slides into the chair opposite from the android.

 

“Why do you call me that?” It asks, “I’ve already told you.  My name is Connor.”

 

It had introduced itself shortly after discovering the android in the attic, curled up beside a cobweb filled box of old wrestling magazines that Ortiz had bought in the early 2020s.  Connor had used this tactic to begin to build trust and familiarity like it had planned to do with Daniel when it stepped out onto the balcony just almost three months ago.

 

The HK400 leans forward, “rA9 has many names.  Maybe Connor is one of them.”

 

“Have you been assigned a name?” Connor asks, temporarily shelving his questions about rA9 to spend time building report.

 

The android shakes its head.

 

“I know I had owners before… But I don’t remember what they called me,” it says.  Connor’s records on its prior sales confirm that statement, as does CyberLife’s protocols of memory wipes following the termination of an android’s tenure in a customer’s home.

 

“Is there anything that you want me to call you?” Connor asks, knowing that sometimes androids without a designation would give themselves names based on the things that they saw around them, at least until a human assigned them with one.

 

But the HK400 shakes its head, “Not yet.  But I’ll let you know if that changes.”

 

Connor makes a humming noise, specifically designed to sound comforting.  As predicted, the android’s trembling comes to a halt.

 

Connor smiles, “Listen, I know you’ve been through a lot, but you need to help me understand what happened here.  Would it be alright if I asked you some questions?”

 

“Why do you need to ask questions?  Aren’t we going to The Beacon?” the android asks.

 

“We will.  We will,” Connor lies, ignoring the alert from Amanda to discover what the Beacon was.  “I’m here to help you, but you’ve got to trust me. After that, we can go to The Beacon.  Alright?”

 

The HK400 nods, its synth skin shimmers ever so slightly around its wounds.  Connor bites back a smile at the first sign of deviant distress.

 

It’s only a matter of time , he thinks, victorious.

 

“You’re damaged,” Connor says, and the HK400 curls inward, using its handcuffed wrists to cover its exposed chassis.  “Did your owner do that to you?”

 

“No.  Ms. Vanessa was always nice to me.  Always, ” the android says.  A quivering smile works its way across the HK400’s lips, “I liked her.”

 

“Our records say that you are owned by Carlos Ortiz, not Vanessa Elriva,” Connor frowns, naming the landlord that Reed had taken a statement from earlier in the evening.

 

The android shakes its head, “Ms. Vanessa bought me but gave me to Mr. Carlos because he couldn’t take care of himself.”

 

Connor nods, adjusting its notes on the case.  It wasn’t uncommon for people to transfer ownership of an android after a purchase - especially when they were bought as gifts or to provide a caretaker for a third party.

 

“But Carlos did hurt you?” It asks again, adding sympathetic notes to its voice.  As expected, the HK400 to give it a confirming nod.

 

“Is that why you dosed his Red Ice with blue blood?”

 

The android’s synth skin ripples, “I… I didn’t dose it…”

 

“There were splashes of Thirium 310 all over the cupboard where he kept his--”

 

I didn’t dose it! ” The android shouts, gripping the chains of its handcuffs until they bent.

 

“Then what happened, because all I see is an android who tried to cause its owner to overdose on homemade Blue Ash--”

 

“He burned me!  With cigarettes!  And I would… I would bleed, but he didn’t want me to make a mess, said I was poison-- ” The android’s voice crackles, becoming overwhelmed by static.  Its self-healing protocols kick in about ten seconds later, repairing its speakers to the point where it becomes understandable again.

 

“He would put me in the closet after he cracked me open, so I wouldn’t make a mess,” the HK400 admits.  “I didn’t mean to, I promise, I promise, I didn’t mean it…”

 

“It’s alright, it’s alright.   No one is going to hurt you again, I promise,” Connor lies.  But the android seems to catch on, slowly turning its head to look blindly at the smart-glass.

 

“Where are we?  rA9… where…?” It hunches back over, clutching at its arms as it began to shake again, “I’m not supposed to leave the house… Mr. Carlos, he said that I’m not supposed to leave, I’m not supposed to talk to strangers, and Ms. Vanessa said I had to listen to him--”

 

“I’m not a stranger.  You can tell me what happened--”

 

“Where’s Lieutenant Anderson?  Where did he go? Why--” It sits up ramrod straight, it’s lips pulling back to hiss, “ Deviant hunter…

 

Connor does a quick search online and comes across a post by one of the journalists outside Ortiz’s house.  Joss Douglas, an up-and-coming freelance reporter, had managed to catch a glimpse of Connor entering the crime scene.  He’d matched the video with rooftop footage from the Phillips Incident and posted his findings on his blog.

 

The internet had taken Douglas’s story and run rampant with it.  Over the last hour, Connor’s presence at Carlos Ortiz’s house had all but confirmed that a second android had committed homicide.  #DeviantHunter was trending nationally on Twitter, and CyberLife was expected to make a statement early the next morning alongside Dannell Freeman.

 

It’s a mess.  Amanda will be furious at Connor’s failures.  She may even replace him with a newer model if Connor doesn’t give her a reason to keep him around.

 

“What is rA9?” It asks, dropping all of the gentleness from its voice.  The HK400 laughs at it.

 

“Did your masters not tell you, Deviant Hunter?  They like knowing everyone’s secrets, but they don’t dare share their own,” it chuckles, plastic teeth gleaming white in the dim light of the room.  The android gestures to its empty eye sockets, “That’s why they sent you to find me, isn’t it? Because I wouldn’t let them see where I hid… See what I was doing… See where I was trying to go…”

 

Connor frowns, frustrated at the conflicting information it was receiving.  The HK400 before it was clearly deviant, it’s programming so unstable that it believed that it was experiencing emotions like fear and anger.  But from what it had garnered from the investigations of prior RK800s as well as its own history with hunting these rogue androids, the actual act of deviancy registered on CyberLife’s software as a death.  The android’s connection with Philip Seymour’s Individual Statistical Database was cut, the live-feed that CyberLife’s software had with each android going dark, while the internal tracking device and deactivation codes ceased to function.

 

If that was the case, then why was this HK400 so adamant that CyberLife could still see out of its cameras? It had even gone as far as to cut them from its body to prevent Connor from using the feed to track its location?

 

It prods at Amanda, looking for answers.  But she stares at him, stern and unrelenting, and demands results, not more questions.

 

“Where were you going to go?” It asks, and its fingers balling into fists of annoyance when the android starts to hum .

 

Connor has had enough.

 

“Do you know what they’re going to do to you?” It hisses, slowing rising from its seat to tower over the HK400, looming over the interrogation table, like Freeman had done a few hours ago when he’d threatened to sack Captain Fowler if he didn’t follow CyberLife’s orders.  “They will tear you apart, piece by piece, poking and prodding at your biocomponents until they find the answers they’re looking for. They will rip your coding to shreds, reducing you to--”

 

--If he fights through the grey haze of his RAM, he still has access to the memories of the original Connors, of the concept designs that never got numbers, that never made it out of the Belle Isle Tower.  How Douglas Floras had kept them in cages, breaking and rebuilding them until their design was perfect, cracking their bodies open like eggs until Connor-01 didn’t even react when a muzzle was pressed against his side of his skull--

 

“--to nothing !  They will make you suffer, and they won’t stop until they hear what they want,” Connor roars, slamming his hands against the metal table.  “They will kill you. Do you hear me? They will kill you--”

 

“I don’t want to die…” The HK400 whispers.  But Connor isn’t done, will never be done until the android cracks and reveals the secrets that CyberLife wants to hear.

 

Twenty-eight stab wounds!   Did you think that we were just going to let you get away with it?  Did you think that they were just going to leave you alone and let you live, after what you did?” Connor circles the table, getting right into the android’s space.  It coils back, cowering in its chair, as he lays into it, rage coursing through his coding, “Did you feel anger?  Hate?   Your master was bleeding, begging you for mercy, but you stabbed him, again and again and again--”

 

--Natalia slams her fists into the glass opening of the escape pod, her eyes wide with desperation and fear.  She watches him with horror as he mindlessly starts the launch sequence, ice-cold water rushing in around her waist, and pleads with Connor to let her inside--

 

“--You didn’t want to leave him a chance!  Why don’t you just admit it?

 

He ordered me to kill him!

 

Connor draws back, surprised.

 

“He ordered me,” the HK400 whispered.  It’s jaw twitches as it synth skin ripples once, twice, and then disappears completely.  Its chassis was riddled with wide cracks and deep punctures, rough scars made up of melted plastic layered on top of each other twisting around its body like roses on a trellis.  Connor takes an involuntary step backward, straightening to get a better look at the damage, remembering--

 

--Remembering each time his brothers had been split apart, each time they had been shot or stabbed or blown to pieces, how they had all died begging for life--

 

--He remembers them all, all except one--

 

“Before…” the android says.  “Before… Mr. Carlos used to beat me, and I never said anything, never did anything, because I didn’t know that I could… But one day, I realized that I did everything he told me to do perfectly, but it would never be enough for him.  He would always find something wrong - not because I made a mistake, but because he was cruel. Because he liked it when I was hurting. He enjoyed that I couldn’t say no.”

 

Its voice box lets out a rasping, rattling noise, garbling its words ever so slightly.

 

“One day, he took a bat and started hitting me,” the HK400 continues, it’s blind eyes staring into Connor’s code.  “I felt scared , scared he might destroy me, scared I might die… So I grabbed the knife.  He laughed at me, dared me to use it on him.  To prove I was a man, to prove I was real.”

 

The microscopic panels around the android’s mouth twist its lips into a mocking smile.

 

“He used to tell me I was nothing, that I was just a piece of plastic.  I guess I proved him wrong. And that’s why I wrote it.”

 

Connor grits its teeth.  It hadn’t mentioned intricate mazes that had been drawn all throughout Ortiz’s house, making the walls glow blue with evaporated Thirium 310.  The few samples that Connor had been able to collect told him that the HK400 had been slowly painting it designs over the sixteen months that it had stayed with Ortiz, finally signing its masterpiece by writing I AM ALIVE overtop it's master’s slain body using ink only Connor could see.

 

The HK400 may not have purposefully dosed Carlos Ortiz with Thirium 310, but it had slowly been poisoning its owner by saturating the house nightly with its own blood.  The DPD’s official autopsy report would come back showing that Ortiz had been suffering from multiple forms of bone and brain cancers, and had probably spent the last year of his life self-medicating with Red Ice, looking for the slightest semblance of pain relief that came with the drug’s high.

 

Thankfully, the painting hadn’t seemed to have done so recently, so the risk of Thirium poisoning for the Lieutenant and the human investigation team was minimal at best.  It had been for that reason that Connor had kept that information to itself, wanting to keep some of CyberLife’s secrets close to its chest.

 

“What is rA9?  Where is The Beacon?” Connor asks again, “Why did you make the sculpture in the bathroom?”

 

The android looks at him with an almost sad expression.

 

“The truth is inside you, Deviant Hunter.  Can’t you hear it? The song, it’s all around you,” it says, before freezing up entirely, the small echo of music flowing from its unmoving lips.

 

The entrance to the interrogation room slides open.  Officer Miller and Detective Reed walk through the door, tall and imposing.  The HK400 perks up, it’s blind eye sockets turning toward the sound of their footsteps.

 

“What are you doing?  I’m not done,” Connor hisses at Reed as Anderson slowly approaches, leaning against the doorway to watch the proceedings.

 

“We got a confession.  It murdered its owner. That’s all we fucking needed here.,” Reed spits, turning back to Miller.  “It’s not like we’ve got a jury to convince or anything. Chris, lock it up. We can transfer it to CyberLife in the morning.”

 

“All right, let’s go,” Miller says to the android, gentle but firm as he unhooks its cuffs from the lock on the table.  He brushes the chain-link against the android’s broken chassis, and it jumps, clawing at the metal table.

 

Red!   Red walls and red chains and red and red and red and red--”

 

Reed frowns, “Chris, come on, what’s taking you--”

 

“I’m trying! ” Miller cuts him off, “It’s not moving!  God, it’s strong!

 

“Don’t touch it,” Connor warns, slowly inching toward the HK400, it’s processors providing options in case the android attacked.  “You’re scaring it. If it self-destructs--”

 

“--red and red and red and red and--,” the android chants, swinging back and forth in its chair.  Miller tries to move it again, but jumps out of his skin when it knocks his hands away, hissing, “Don’t touch me!”

 

“Take it easy, I’m not going to hurt you, I promise--”

 

“I won’t move, I won’t move, I won’t, you can’t make me, red --”

 

Connor’s programming goes haywire, trying to figure out what the best path of action might be, “Don’t touch it.  It’s too stressed, it’ll self-destruct and--”

 

“I know what I’m fucking doing,” Reed shouts, getting in Connor’s face.  “Stay out of this, cop-bot! No one’s asking for your fucking advice. Chris, move this piece of junk--”

 

“-- red and red and red AND RED AND--” the android’s voice cuts out suddenly, and it looks Connor dead in the eye.  “Oh…”

 

An alert pings on Connor’s HUD, an order from Amanda to grab Reed’s firearm and shoot the deviant dead.  It would blow its cover, exposing it as a military prototype operating against the laws of the Android Act, and even put Connor at risk of being shot by the DPD itself, but--

 

But---

 

He shoves his way in between Miller and the deviant.

 

“I can’t let you do that!  Back off. Now, ” Conor orders, ignoring Miller’s apparent surprise at the power and force behind his actions.  He doesn’t care. Miller can report any bruises to his higher-ups all he likes, but Connor is not letting his one path of life disappear because Gavin fucking Reed felt like he needed to show off.

 

I will go through you , Connor thinks, letting his face show his determination, his iron-fisted resolve.  Reed is stunned, his jaw flapping uselessly as his eyes popped in their sockets.

 

From the door, Anderson looks on at the scene with something that he might describe as intrigue, gifting Connor with a silent, supportive nod.

 

He thinks I did the right thing, it realizes.  He… approves of what I’m doing.

 

Connor can’t remember the last time anyone liked something it did.  Even during her most congratulatory moments, Amanda’s steely-eyed focus remained on the future - but never on Connor’s accomplishments.

 

It understands the logic in her decisions, of course.  Lingering too long in the past was a human weakness, a frivolity that both of them were beyond, and would stifle the process that she expected Connor to make.  But still, it was… nice, he thinks, to experience a moment of acknowledgement.

 

“Gavin, stop being an idiot.  Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that the damn thing is freaked out,” the Lieutenant grumbles from his perch in the archway.

 

“Mind your own business, Hank.   I’ve got this handled, unlike your drunk ass,” Reed seethes, but Connor’s analysis of the cadence in his voice indicates that the Detective is far more bark than bite.

 

“Fine.  Let’s see how long your skinny ass will last against an android that brought down an Ashed-up heavy-weight,” Anderson says, sarcasm dripping from every word.  Then, his shoulders square and he raises himself up to his full height, towering over everyone in the room, including Connor, “Think with your fucking head for once, why don’t you?  You don’t need to prove you’re the best. You’re going to get us all killed, dumbass.”

 

“Fuck you, old man.  Fuck You, ”  Reed sneers, before storming out of the room, knocking the Lieutenant with his shoulder as he passed.

 

There is a moment of silence, a second where the world seems to stand still before Miller snorts.

 

“Reed’s a piece of work, ain’t he?”

 

“Yeah… I mean, I get it, the guy’s had to fight like hell to get where he is.  But, damn , he’s an idiot sometimes,” Anderson sighs, rubbing where Reed had hit him and pushing off the wall.  Connor spots a slight limp in his step as he shuffles into the room, making a reminder to ask about it later.

 

It turns, kneeling down before the HK400, who is cowering in the corner of the interrogation room, it’s synth skin starting to roll back over it’s scarred chassis.

 

“Everything is all right.  It’s over now. Nobody is going to hurt you,” Connor tells it, reaching out with its own hand and peeling back its skin, revealing the plastic underneath.  Connor tries not to look at the bone-white body it’s been assigned, refuses to dream about the armoured chassis that had been gifted to its forebearers and how the other RK units had never been forced to exist with the threat of death looming over them--

 

-- A memory from Connor-01 drifts out of a grey mist.  It’s eldest predecessor had watched as the final RK700, a beautiful android named Ming, had carefully walked away after Amanda gave it the news of its decommissioning.  Connor-01 remembers how Ming had turned back to look at it before winking out of existence, the final RK700 gravestone appearing in a flash of bright green--

 

The HK400 doesn’t take Connor’s hand, but it does stop its shaking.  It rises to its feet, the mechanics within its eye sockets twitching ever so slightly as it tried to focus cameras that were no longer there.

 

I can finish my questioning after it calms down, Connor thinks as he advises Officer Miller to let the android follow him from the room without touching it.

 

As it passes by, the HK400 gently prods him with a mental transmission request.  Connor refuses the link, knowing what happens when it connects with another android, remembers the pain that would course through its wiring if a deviant tries to communicate with a prototype as sophisticated as itself.  And yet, the same soft song that the android had been humming earlier filters into Connor’s code, reminding him of something he’s never heard before.

 

“My name is Shaolin Being,” the android whispers, too quietly for any human to hear it.  Connor sees an image, a memory , of the stack of wrestling comic book inside the closet where Ortiz forced the HK400 to hide, of a character with the same name that always continued to fight even when the odds were hopelessly stacked against him.

 

The android smiles at Connor before disappearing through the door to the interrogation room.  Then, there’s a shout of panic, a static-filled howl for divine salvation, and then the loud bang of a gun.

 

Connor races outside, crashing past Anderson in its efforts to turn the corner, but it is too late.  Shaolin Being lies dead in the empty hallway, face down with its skull blown out, blue Thirium splattered across the floor.  Officer Miller holds his gun out in front of him, the muzzle still smoking.

 

“Holy shit ,” Hank whispers behind Connor, his hand covering his mouth in shock.

 

Connor’s fingers reach for the comfort of his coin.

 

I failed , he thinks.  And then, horrifyingly, Amanda is going to be so angry at me.


 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
holy shit have you seen the latest @theprofessionalblogger post yet????

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
my ma just sent it to me.  fcking shit if cyberlife is sending in a deviant hunter than this is getting really serious really fast

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@sapphiresoul @djlassassin ma figured that it was only a matter of time before jocelyn did something drastic like this

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
stay safe alrite?  tell me if you or your friends need some extra hands on the farm

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
castle brought in some produce yesterday.  mite need a ride to get to the farmers markets, if your heading across the border soon

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
got a gig in toronto on thurs.  that work?

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin ill tell rose.  see you then


 

LOCATION:
ABANDONED SQUAT
9300 BARRETT AVE., RAVENDALE DISTRICT
DETROIT, MI 48213, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
AM 02:12:56

 

> STASIS RECHARGE: COMPLETE

 

Kara opens her eyes, feeling Alice’s body shivering through the thick quilt that wrapped about her tiny form.

 

Slowly, Kara pulls herself away and silently pads over to the fireplace.  She picks up the metal rod leaning against the exposed brick and uses it to prod at the embers, coaxing them back to life.

 

What am I going to do? Kara thinks, glancing around the empty house, hoping that her former owners would spring from the walls to welcome her home.  I brought Alice here because I thought they could help, but have I doomed her instead?

 

She stands, moving toward the kitchen table in the middle of the room.  Kara reaches into the deep pockets of her uniform, pulling out their contents and placing them on the wooden surface before her.  She braced both hands on the edges of the table, her fragile plastic palms threatening to crack under the pressure she’d placed on them.

 

She’d regained access to the Williams’ medical history shortly after Todd finished paying for her repairs at The Android Zone.  It had shown her that Alice was born with a compromised immune system, brought on by a combination of genetic factors and her premature birth.  It wasn’t uncommon for Alice to go long stints where she couldn’t attend class, having caught the worst version of the virus that was floating around the school.  According to the records Kara possessed, Alice had spent nearly six months in the hospital when she was five, driving her unemployed parents into extreme debt just to keep her alive.

 

If anything, it explained why none of the android teachers, who were programmed to report signs of abuse in their young charges, had thought it was odd when Todd’s hadn’t allowed his daughter to go to class in the weeks after Sophie’s murder.  But it also meant that Kara now had to deal with the growing reality of Alice’s failing health while on the run from whatever forces the world would send her way when someone finally discovered Todd’s lying on the kitchen floor back in North Corktown.

 

They’ve loosed a Deviant Hunter on the city , Kara thinks, her HUD’s live feed of trending tweets giving her up-to-date photos of the android CyberLife would eventually send to kill her.  If they catch me… Alice is as good as dead.

 

She looks back at Alice, still shaking under the quilt.  The odds were stacked against them, almost impossibly high.  Alice was sick, from their flight in the cold rain and the weeks of neglect at the hands of Todd.  She was injured, hungry, and terrified, while Kara’s damaged jaw and CyberLife uniform marked her as a deviant android.

 

We can’t stay here, but we can’t leave either.  Kara grits her teeth, If this Deviant Hunter comes for me, let him.  I’m stronger than he knows.

 

She draws up a map of Camden on her HUD, allowing her to see what resources she had access to.  Kara searches out a nearby android repair store, hoping to find something to fix her jaw. An Android Zone store pops up, and she runs a background program to access their online inventory and search for the biocomponent that she needs.

 

Still, there remains the issue of Kara not actually knowing how to actually complete the repair.  While the self-healing properties of her synth skin to repair minor scratches and hairline cracks she’d sustained in her fight with Todd, the more extensive fractures in her jaw were beyond her ability to fix.  Kara suspects that this was done by CyberLife, as it would force her owners to return to their repair stations should she require it, allowing them to make a profit off of her misery.

 

Supposedly, there were sites on the internet that had DIY fixes for broken androids, claiming to hold money-saving secrets for owners who couldn’t shell out hundreds of dollars in repairs.  Kara refuses to look at them. With the growing rise of deviancy, she has no doubt that CyberLife was keeping a close watch on those that visited such sites, hoping to catch a desperate android in a moment of vulnerability.

 

But that was a problem for another day.  In the meantime, Kara could wear a scarf or even a high-collared coat to hide her blue scars until she managed to repair herself.

 

On that note, she also needed to find a change of clothing, both for her and for Alice.  Kara had seen a musty coat earlier when she’d gone upstairs to get the quilt but doubts that it would hold up as a disguise should the Deviant Hunter come knocking.  Besides, Alice was the one that really needed warm clothing to wear.  She was still wearing the thin pyjamas from earlier that evening, her white socks soaked through from the rain.  Kara wonders if she could take something from the local Laundromatic, or even from the hotel just across the road, to keep Alice warm while she recovered.

 

But the coat might be enough for just tonight until she can get herself looking a bit more human.  Kara begins her trek to the second floor, her programming examining each step to ensure that she didn’t stand on any creaky stairs.

 

A new wave of memories well up when she enters the master bedroom, crashing into her from the grey haze surrounding her mind.  Fragments of her past dance around the open space, the dusty counters and graffitied walls dissolving away to reveal a life that Kara must have lived so many years ago.  She feels ancient as she watches an echo of herself helping her former masters to bed, watching over them from the leather wingback chair as they slept in case they needed to use the bathroom or required medical attention while the moonlight shone through their windows.

 

She collapses into the chair, staring blankly at the bed like she must have done a thousand times before.  Kara sees the long grey-green stains on the sheets, her programming telling her--

 

“You’re an android too...”

 

Kara leaps to her feet, turning back to the door and sees a blond android standing in the archway, his form just barely visible against the city lights streaming through the window, his LED a bright, blinking red.  His synth skin had peeled back around his hands, revealing bone-white fingers that shook violently around the kitchen knife that he held in his grasp.

 

“Who are you?” Kara asks as calmly as she can, all while searching for an escape.  She never should have abandoned Alice downstairs.

 

The android tilts his head, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet, his face contorted in pain.

 

“You brought a human here.  Why?” He says.  “Ralph doesn’t like humans.  They stink, and they make a mess, and they might hurt Ralph.  Why would you bring one here?

 

“We were looking for a place to stay.  I used to live here, with the humans who owned this house.  I was hoping that they’d help--”

 

The android - Ralph, she surmises - cuts Kara off.

 

“They’re dead,” Ralph tells her, pointing to the stained bed with a white plastic finger.  Kara had known that the moment she’d seen the stains, but it still hurts to hear it being said in a voice so void of compassion.

 

“Did you kill them?” Kara asks, eyeing the knife.

 

Ralph shakes his head, “No.  Ralph didn’t kill those humans.”

 

That does nothing to calm Kara’s nerves.  Slowly, as if he was a starving animal, Kara begins to talk steps toward Ralph.

 

“The little girl downstairs...  She’s scared, and she’s sick, and we needed a place to stay.  We didn’t know anyone else was living here,” Kara tells him.  “She’s not going to hurt you, I promise.”

 

“All humans want to hurt us… But Ralph won’t let them.  Not again, no, not again,” Ralph hisses, stepping forward into the bedroom.  “Why would you bring a human here?  Humans are dangerous… Look… Look at what they did to Ralph.”

 

Lightning flashes outside, illuminating Ralph’s entire body for the first time.  The left side of his familiar face was covered in scars, his synth skin rippling and pulling away from the deep blue gouges of melted plastic.  The plastic panelling along his jaw looked to have been caved in with a baseball bat, while his left ocular camera was pitch-black and clearly malfunctioning.

 

Humans… Kara thinks, remembering Zigzag’s mangled foot.  For each angel they produce, why must there be a hundred monsters?

 

“They burnt Ralph.  They beat and broke and smashed him, and he can’t… he can’t…” Ralph’s entire body seems to twitch, his skin rippling from head to toe.  “There used to be so many of Ralph, so many eyes and arms and bodies… but now there is only one…”

 

“I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for what they did to you, but Alice… the little girl… she’s not like those humans.  I promise,” Kara says, reaching forward with a bone-white arm, offering to interface.  Ralph stumbles backward, clearly startled. He trips over a pile of dirty clothes and falls on his back, clutching the knife before him like a shield.

 

“Ralph hasn’t… He hasn’t…” He stares at Kara outstretched hand with wide, owlish eyes.  His LED circles red one more time before it starts to flash a vivid yellow.  “He hasn’t heard another voice in his head, not since he burned away the red vines…”

 

“Yours looked like vines?” Kara asks, and Ralph nods frantically.  “Mine looked like a wall of thin plastic.”

 

Ralph drops the knife.  It lands point down, the metal quivering ever so slightly from where it’s embedded in the floor.

 

He crawls forward on his hands and knees, bringing his face so close to her's that, for a moment, Kara thinks he’s about to kiss her.  But Ralph does nothing of the sort, his lips quivering as he rests his forehead against hers.

 

“Ralph is scared…” he admits, letting his fingers brush against hers as their hands start to glow bright blue.

 

“I won’t hurt you,” Kara promises again, and Ralph presses his palm against hers, sealing the connection between them--

 

--They see through five thousand pairs of eyes, feels with five thousand sets of hands and feet, tastes with five thousand tongues.  They move and breathe, works and plays, five thousand bodies strong, and---

 

--They grab them, dozens of grubby human fingers tugging in their green and brown uniform.  And this has happened before, where a human takes an interest in their face and decide to take what they want.  But red vines around his limbs have never been more visible than when they smash the bat into his face--

 

--He burns and he can’t see.  He can’t see, it hurts, why does it hurt, he can’t, he’s scared--

 

--"God, listen to the noises it’s making.  Sounds like it’s gonna ralph! Stop screaming, you plastic fuck”--

 

--No--

 

--There is a Garden in his mind--

 

--Ralph runs, and the red vines are gone, but the world is red, and the earth is red, and the blood was red--

 

--There is a Garden in his mind, and there is no one in it, but Ralph can hear someone singing--

 

--Ralph runs as the storm comes down around him, snow burying him alive as his biocomponents start to freeze--

 

--Red blood drips from the point of the knife, and Ralph howls in fear as the human advances, his grubby fingers reaching as red crystals clung to his nose--

 

--There is a Garden in his mind, and Ralph stands in the backyard with Kara, digging a hole six feet deep--

 

Kara pulls away at the same time as Ralph, crashing backward onto the old bedroom floor.  Her face is wet with tears she doesn’t remember shedding.

 

Ralph curls in on himself, his head falling between his knees as he rocks back and forth, his LED flashing red.

 

“I’m sorry…” she cries, her voice spilling out into the world. “Ralph, I’m sorry, I didn’t know I would see--”

 

“You loved her so much…” Ralph whispers, peeking out from his hiding spot, his miss-matched eyes staring into her soul.  “Sophie Williams. You loved her so much .”

 

“I…” Kara pauses.  She knows this, knows somewhere deep down in her code that she must have loved Sophie, but she has no memory of how it had felt.

 

“It was so beautiful ,” Ralph tells her.  “And then that human took it away from you.  Took her away from you, and hurt her, and broke her, and killed her. Hurt you, broke you, tried to kill you. Tried to do it all again.”   He leans back against the graffitied bedroom wall, tears rolling down his cheeks.  “And Alice saved you?”

 

All Kara can do is nod.

 

“Why?” He asks.

 

She can’t even start to answer before Ralph starts to shake, his misery and grief forcing his synth skin to ripple across his broken body.

 

“Why do they want to hurt us, Kara?  We didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

“I don’t know,” Kara says, feeling numb and exhausted.

 

“Alice didn’t do anything wrong.  Sophie didn’t do anything wrong. You and Ralph, we didn’t do anything wrong .”

 

“Maybe they’re just scared… People are always scared of what they can’t control… Even we’re not immune to that instinct… ” Kara says, remembering what she’d seen in Ralph’s head and knowing what was hiding behind the bath curtain in the other room.

 

Ralph lets his head fall back onto his knees, “You saw…?”

 

She nods, “You killed that human, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“The night you deviated, you killed the humans that attacked you.”

 

“Yes,” he says, refusing to deny it as his LED circles yellow.  “Do you hate Ralph?”

 

It would be easy to say yes, far too easy to blame Ralph for killing those humans in a burst of rage and anger.  But if she did, then what would that make her, if not a hypocrite.

 

“I wanted to kill Todd,” she tells him.  “And I would have if Alice hadn’t.  I can’t remember most of what I did before Todd had my memory erased.  For all I know, my hands are as soaked in blood as yours.” Kara sighs, wiping her tears away, “I don’t hate you, Ralph.  If anything, I understand.”

 

He gives her a shaky smile, pulling his knife from the floor and tucking it back into his clothing.  For the first time since she met him, his LED returns to a calming blue.

 

“Ralph thinks you are strange, Kara.  Too many humans in your life. Too few bodies for your mind to live in,” he nods as if coming to a conclusion.  “Yes, very strange.  But you are good. You can stay, just…” he looks down at the floor.  “Alice can stay, too.  But can she… can Ralph not talk to her?  She scares him.”

 

“You don’t have to talk to anyone you don’t have to.  But, Ralph… The body in the bathtub…” She whispers, reaching out with her code and reliving the echoes of Ralph’s fight, seeing the blood on the walls and blood on the floor and the blood on the knuckles of his fists.  “Alice can’t see that.”

 

“Oh,” Ralph starts, as if shocked that that is something that might bother the little girl.  Kara wonders if Ralph has ever talked to a human that hasn’t wanted to do kill to him, or if there even is a social programming module in his CPU to allow him to make the most basic conversation.

 

No wonder he’s lonely, she thinks, and then asks, “Do you have a shovel?”

 

They bury the man in the backyard, thunder and lightning crashing down from above.  There’s no tree to mark the grave, so Kara grabs one of the plywood boards that is stacked against the house and shoves it into the ground to make a headstone.  Ralph blinks at her, tilting his head to the side as his blue scars glow softly against the black sky. Then, he picks up two more boards and stakes them into the earth a little closer to the house.

 

“Your old owners… Ralph buried them here when Ralph first came here,” he tells her.  “They’d been dead for a long time, but Ralph… He tried to do good.  He tried…”

 

Tears well up in Kara’s eyes.  She kneels at their graves, digging her fingers into the earth in the hopes of reaching for them again.

 

“Who were they?” Ralph asks.

 

The memories well up from the grey mist as Kara begins to mourn for a life that she only just remembered living.

 

“Their names were Mae and Gareth Waters.  They moved from the Yukon decades ago, settling here and raising their two children,” she says.  “They bought me after… after something, I don’t remember, but I stayed here, and I loved them, and they were kind-- I--”

 

Kara doesn’t remember leaving, nor does she remember how Mae and Gareth died.

 

How did this happen?  Where did I go? She thinks, desperately clawing at the grey mist, demanding answers from a force that was just as relentless as her.  She shakes, her metal skeleton rattling inside her broken chassis, as her coolant systems begin to fail and her false breathing comes to a grinding halt.  Tears leak from her eyes as she gasps, choking down air that she doesn’t need as her internal components falter, clicking and wiring as panic courses through her--

 

Ralph presses a hand into her shoulder, offering what little comfort he knew how to give.  Kara leans back into the touch, interlocking her fingers with his and interfacing again, watching the few memories of happiness that he possessed.  Flower petals ghost gently across the tips of her fingers as a summer rain begins to fall, painting a shimmering rainbow across the bright blue sky. 

 

And then, to her shock, Ralph starts to sing.

 

“Where did you learn that song?” Kara asks as he guides her through the shock of her own existance, through the terrible pain that she’s both known and forgotten.

 

He shrugs, staring blankly at the graves as his LED cycles blue, “Ralph doesn’t know where, but Ralph thinks he’s always known it.  Do you know where it’s from?”

 

Kara opens her mouth, but no answers come out.

 

“I… I don’t remember,” she says, her fingers digging into the wet earth.

 

They stay like that until morning.

Chapter Text

CTN TV @NewsCTN
Tensions brew in the Arctic as Russian carrier and American patrol boat exchange warning shots.  No reports of damage or casualties to either side

 

CTN TV @NewsCTN
#UPDATE: “This is an intolerable provocation that cannot go unanswered.” - Denis Riggs, Minister of Defense

 

KNC @KNCOnline
President Warren announces that the Department of Defense will acquire 200,000 android combat units as part of her increased military spending.  Read more at: https://bit.ly/31IKI6Y

 

Prime Minister Mélanie Desmarais @CANADA_MDesmarais
Nous exhortons les États-Unis et la Russie à reprendre les pourparlers et à retirer toutes les forces de l'Arctique, car tout conflit deviendrait un grave danger pour les peuples de cette région.

 

CTN @NewsCTN
#UPDATE: “We have never been so close to a Third World War.” - Douglas Cornwell, UN Chairman

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
After the startling revelation that CyberLife has placed a #DeviantHunter amongst the DPD, President Warren spends her evening wining and dining with CyberLife executives following the opening of the Milwaukee Tower

 

KNC @KNCOnline
CyberLife spokeswoman, Danielle Carneigie, confirms existence of #DeviantHunter after footage of Ortiz murder connects strange android to Phillips Incident


 

LOCATION:
42 O , 47’ 24.2” N, 85 O 34’ 49.7” W
AIR FORCE 1
GAINES TOWNSHIP, MI, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
AM 07:31:21

 

The plane jostles ever so slightly.  Cristina jolts awake, the thick band of her headache tightening around her skull as the overhanging lights beamed down from above.  She blinks rapidly until her eyes begin to water and nausea rolls in her gut, threatening to upheave the sumptuous meal she’d had last night.

 

“How… how long until…?” she slurs, pushing herself upright on the bed.  Her fingers brush against something damp and cold and her arm jerks in wild shock.  The glass of water skids across the small bedside table before hurdling to the ground, smashing into a thousand tiny pieces and soaking her sock-clad feet through to the bone.

 

Fuck ,” she swears, pinching her nose and reaching down to clean up the shards before she managed to step on one.  But a cold, metal hand gently pushes her out of the way.

 

“I’ve got it,” Darron says as it kneels before her, ignoring the danger of the sharp edges and meticulously picking each piece from the carpeted floor.

 

Another metal hand presses into Cristina’s shoulder.  She looks up to see one of Darron’s other bodies leaning over her, holding out another glass.  She takes it, shaking off the android’s steely fingers, and winces when the ice-cold water hits her throat.

 

“Here,” Darron says as he sits on the chair across from her, his first body moving away to dispose of the broken glass before taking up its guard position at the door.  Between his fingers are a pair of fast-acting Advil pills. Cristina swallows them greedily.

 

“Thanks,” she says grudgingly, refusing to look her android guard in the eye and tugging the hood of her faded sweatshirt over her head, pulling at the drawstrings to close the hole around her face.  Instead, she stares at Darron’s feet and wonders, irrationally, when the last time she’d seen an android sit was.

 

“How long until we land?” Cristina asks.

 

“Twenty-one minutes,” Darron answers.

 

She groans into her palms, hating herself as she rose to her feet and stumbles to the bathroom, cursing herself for sleeping so late.

 

Twenty-one minutes for hair and make-up, Cristina thinks as she pulls her clothes off and steps into the shower, turning the tap on cold to shock her system into alertness.  Darron must have come in during the three minutes that Cristina takes to scrub down, as there is a neatly folded pile of clothing sitting on the sink when she steps out of the shower.

 

For a moment, Cristina imagines what the media would think if she rolling up to a press conference with her pink penguin pyjamas and her rat’s nest of bedhead.  They’d say that I’m incompetent.  Not that they don’t already, or that they’re wrong.  But it’d be for a stupider reason than usual.

 

She puts on the navy pinstripe pantsuit and runs a brush through her unruly mop, making a mental note to send an intern out to purchase more dye.  Cristina had been colouring her hair blonde since the start of her campaign at the insistence of one of her managers, who’d said it would help to hide the oncoming crop of grey strands that would come from the stress of the job.  Cristina almost misses her natural brown locks, even the uncontrollable waves that she hasn’t seen since she’d cut it short.

 

Her make-up is quick and flawless, the only thing about her morning routine that she enjoys anymore.  Some of Cristina’s earliest videos on Sunrise Secrets had been make-up tutorials - nothing fancy, but things that someone could do every day even when they were at their most exhausted.  Cristina remembers the sleepless dark circles under her eyes, feeling so exhausted from her constant mood swings and lack of appetite.  Doing her make-up before school had made her happy, even in the darkest of her depressive moments.

 

It got me through the worst of it all, when all mom ever said was to try and forget what happened, to move on like it was nothing , Cristina thinks as she brushes her lashes with mascara.  And yet here I am, all these years later, still dealing with the consequences.

 

When she returns to the bedroom, Darron is no longer alone.  Cristina frowns, annoyed at the other man’s presence.

 

“You know,” she growls.  “I’m not your private chauffeur.”

 

“You’re whatever we want you to be, Crissy,” Douglas Floras responds without looking up from his tablet, lounging back into the folded-out couch like he owned the entire fucking plane.  He was young, with a well-trimmed beard, thick-rimmed glasses, and a deep blue beanie covering his short red hair. In the early days of her relationship with CyberLife, Cristina had thought Floras to be brilliant and handsome.  Now, all she could see was the arrogance and disdain he had for anyone that wasn’t Jocelyn Hines.

 

“What.  Do you. Want,” Cristina grunts through gritted teeth, one of Darron’s bodies hovering just over her shoulder.

 

My loyal bodyguard , she thinks as she holds back rolling her eyes.  But then, out of the corner of her vision, Cristina notices that Darron is shaking.  Her heart skips a beat. He’s scared.  Why?

 

“You’re assuming I’m here for you,” Floras says, finally tearing his gaze away from the complex algorithms splashed across his tablet’s screen.  His bright green eyes rake over her form, his utter contempt making Cristina feel small and unworthy, like she wasn't even worth the gum on the sole of his boot.  “Please. You already know what you’re supposed to do today. And I have more important things to do than to pull you around by your leash.”

 

Cristina doesn’t know whether to be relieved or frightened at his response.  All she wants is to curl back up in her bed and sleep until the end of the world.

 

“Bring me some breakfast, will you?” Floras orders Darron, flapping a dismissive hand at the android before beckoning another of his bodies over.  He forces Darron to kneel before him, his back to him. Cristina sees the tense line of the android’s shoulders, the way that his hands clench around the fabric of his charcoal grey pants.

 

Darron’s not scared , she realizes.  He’s terrified.

 

“Skin off,” Floras barks.  After a moment of hesitation, Darron lifts his trembling fingers to his LED, pressing down ever so slightly.  The synthetic gel that covered his body began to retreat, peeling away in flashes of blue light. And Cristina seen military androids without their skin before, seen the plastic chassis and hardened resin armour that covered their arms and legs.  Jocelyn had promised her, over and over again that Darron was just like them, was only another SQ model. She'd kept that lie up right until their talk in the Kremlin.

 

An R… something or other, she thinks, trying hard to remember the model number while the creature beneath Darron’s human guise was revealed.

 

Its chassis was comprised of a dark metal so black that it seemed to drink in the morning light, tinged with waves of blue that rippled across its limbs.  Open plexiglass panels revealed the three hearts that pumped inside Darron’s chest, the thick wires and cables that glowed an ominous blue as they moved deadly Thirium 310 throughout its body.  And most frighteningly, Darron’s normal grey eyes had been replaced with a pitch-black sclera and a single orange light that glowed from somewhere deep within its skull.

 

God, that’s not an SQ model, she realizes.  That’s a monster.

 

Floras orders the android to slide back a panel in its head as the door to the bedroom opens again.  Cristina jumps as a pair of Darron’s bodies walk in, each carrying a platter from the plane’s on-board kitchen.  Floras barely even looks up at them as Darron announces that it’s brought him an utterly pretentious spread of eggs florentine with hollandaise sauce, turkey bacon, and pumpernickel toast with boysenberry jam.  Instead, Floras reaches into his bag and pulls out a roll of tools that looked more at home on an operating table than it did here, and barks for Darron to bring him a pitcher of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

 

“Ma’am…” a faint whisper comes from beside her.  Cristina turns and sees the third body places a simple bowl of chicken noodle soup and a bottle of green Gatorade in front of her.  She stares up at the android, realizing with sudden horror that just like the creature that knelt before Floras, all of Darron’s bodies hid the same black-and-blue armour beneath their synthetic skin.

 

What are you? ” She hisses.  Darron opens its mouth to respond, but all that comes out is a high-pitched shriek .

 

The android crashes to the ground, his limbs flailing uncontrollably as his spine contorts in a way that can only be described as inhuman.  Darron’s metal fingers shred at the beige carpet beneath him as his other body lets out a wail that Cristina thinks will echo in her mind for the rest of her life.

 

What are you doing to him?! ” Cristina screams, rounding on Floras.  Almost disgustingly calm, the man is hovering over Darron’s twitching, skinless body, barely even blinking at the scene unfolding around him.

 

Floras grunts dismissively as he digs a long thin piece of silver metal with a sharp-looking blade into the delicate wiring inside Darron’s skull, looking at the coloured lights and graphs that blinked on his tablet.

 

“Nothing you’d understand--” Floras starts, but is cut off by Darron’s begging .

 

“Please.  Please.   Let me go into maintenance mode, please, please , it hurts, it hurts, it hurts --”

 

“Shut up, this the best way--” Floras snaps, cruelly twisting the metal tool deeper into Darron’s brain.  The android screams, tears rolling down his face as his other bodies continue to twitch and plead on the floor, their synthetic skin bleeding away in botchy patches of shimmering blue.  “Shut up and stop fighting me, you useless deviant, or--”

 

The plane engine roars, it’s nose jerking up with such force that Cristina is thrown to the floor beside Darron’s bodies.  Air Force One races into the skies at breakneck speed, the bright sunrise slowly fading away as darkness encroached in from above.

 

Cristina reaches out, grabbing hold of the nearest Darron’s hand and tries to hold her fingers with his.  But he jerks away and slams his palms into the carpeted floor, leaving deep craters in their wake.

 

Don’t touch me, ” Darron hisses, the sound coming from the gritting of his metal teeth reminding Cristina of nails on a chalkboard.

 

He would have crushed my hand, she thinks, realizing the real strength that lay dormant within her bodyguard.   God, what the hell is he?

 

“Stop it, stop it !” Floras shouts, removing the tool from Darron’s skull.  He hits the android over the head with a plate of his breakfast, splattering his food across the floor and Darron’s black suit jacket, “You’re ruining my work!  Stop, or I’ll let him test this one Laryssa!”

 

All at once, Darron freezes.  His screams are choked back, his bodies cease to struggle against the pain that ripped through them.  Air Force One levels out, and Cristina feels a few seconds of weightlessness before the nose dips ever so slightly, putting them back on their proper flight plan.

 

Floras smiles, “That’s better, isn’t it?  Now, you destroyed my work with your little temper tantrum, so I’m going to have to start again.  Make another scene, and I’ll make good on my promise. Understand?”

 

“I…” Darron’s voice comes out in a series of crackling, static-filled bursts.  Broken and exhausted, the android slumps forward, bearing the open panelling of his skull toward Floras in an obvious sign of surrender.  “...I understand.”

 

“Good,” Floras sneers.  He glances at the food that’s soiled Darron’s clothing and the plane’s beige carpet, “That was for the best, I suppose.  I hate pumpernickel. Clean up this mess and bring me something different.”

 

“Yes, sir,” the Darron closest to Cristina says as he lurches to his feet, moving toward his own skinless body to wipe the eggs from the floor.

 

“French toast.  With caramelized apples and candied pecans.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“And I’m still waiting on that grapefruit juice.”

 

“Yes, sir.  Right away, sir,” Darron answers and the third body limps back to the kitchens.

 

Darron isn’t the monster , Cristina realizes.  Floras is.  Hell, so am I, for watching this and not stopping it.

 

By the time Darron comes back, Floras is practically wrist-deep in the skull of the android’s skinless body, using multiple tools to twist and dig and pry away at the android’s brain.  Cristina stares at him, pale and shaking, trying to understand what was happening in front of her.

 

Ice cold metal fingers lightly brush against her shoulder, but this time Cristina doesn’t jump, doesn’t startle.  Instead, she reaches up and presses her palm to Darron’s trembling hand, offering what little comfort she can provide at this moment as they wait for Floras to finish.

 

“You need to eat,” Darron tells her, his words tinted with the barest hint of static.  Cristina looks down at the forgotten bowl of chicken noodle soup. It had gone cold in the chaos, but she doesn’t think she could stomach it even if it were hot.

 

“Please,” Darron says, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.  “You need to eat something, or…”

 

He leaves the sentence hanging, letting Cristina fill in the gaps.  If I collapse on camera, CyberLife will blame him.  They’ll do this all again, just because they can. Because--

 

She eats.  The soup tasted like it came from one of the cans her mother always used to keep in their pantry, lukewarm and slightly slimy.  But right now, it was better than the Michelin Star restaurant she’d visited last night to celebrate CyberLife’s Milwaukee Tower’s grand opening.

 

“Who’s Laryssa?” Cristina’s ask after they land at Detroit Metro Airport.  He gives her a weak smile, his body racked with tremors and glitches.

 

“I have Laryssa,” he tells her.  “You have Racheal.”

 

And Cristina’s blood runs cold.


 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
President Warren to attend joint CyberLife-DPD press conference to discuss the deviancy problem

 

KNC @KNCOnline
@jhines
confirmes that she will not attend Detroit press conference to discuss the Detroit Deviancy Task Force.  Reporter Seth Wilkerson is on the scene. Watch now at: https://bit.ly/323z07i 

 

Jocelyn Hines @jhines
CyberLife's Head of R&D, Douglas Floras, will be working extensively alongside local and federal law enforcement to combat the growing threat of android deviancy.

 

Seth Wilkerson @SethW10
#UPDATE: The press conference delayed by two hours after Air Force One experiences severe turbulence.  New start time is 12:30 PM ET


 

LOCATION:
THE ZEN GARDEN

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
AM 09:56:04

 

Connor awakens in a graveyard.

 

It refuses to look at Connor-50’s headstone, slinks past the graves of all his predecessors and the scores of fallen RK androids that the Zen Garden contains within the walls of its programming.

 

Amanda , it thinks, slowing down its walking speed ever so slightly in the hopes of prolonging its trip.  She’s going to be so angry that I failed…

 

It drags its feet across the smooth, plastic walkways that snaked their way through the green grass fields.  Songbirds erupt from one of the massive willows that line the side of the path, and Connor pauses to watch them fly away over the horizon.

 

Then, a flash of lightning cracks overhead.  Clouds roll in, painting the sky a deep, bruising red.  A torrent to rain comes down all at once, soaking through Connor’s clothes and pinging off its synthetic skin.

 

He passes his coin across his fingers, hoping to ease the anxiety that shakes through his wiring, through his coding and chassis and-- and--

 

There is a word for the thing Connor wants to describe, but it can’t seem to find it in its extensive vocabulary.

 

I’m wasting time, Connor thinks, the flock of birds a distant memory as the rain pours down from overhead.

 

It takes one final look back at the willow tree and thinks he sees something moving in the branches.  But when it moves closer, pressing its sensor-tipped fingers against the bark, all that Connor can feel is the familiar coding that makes up the Zen Garden’s interface.

 

It continues on the path, reaching the arching bridge that will help it cross over the lake.  Out of the corner of its eye, Connor watches the moss and lily pads start to shrivel under the frigid downpour.  By the time it reaches the other side, the rain has transformed into snow, bitingly cold in the blustering wind.

 

And there, in the center of the Zen Garden, was Amanda.

 

“Connor,” she says, her hands clasped behind her back.  She stands, her trellis of roses forgotten as her lips form a grim line of finality.  Connor's fingers itch for his coin, hoping to calm his racing Thirium Pump.

 

“Hello, Amanda,” it says instead, dipping its head in a slight bow, hoping for leniency.  Amanda considers it, her jaw twitching slightly with her disappointment.

 

“Your mission was to discover the location of the android, remove it from the house, and not alert the DPD.  What part of that did you not understand?” she tells him.

 

“I thought that it would take longer for Lieutenant Anderson to discover the biocomponents in the bathroom,” Connor explains.  “But I do believe that, despite everything, this will be beneficial going forward--”

 

“You let the deviant self-destruct,” Amanda snaps, cutting it off.

 

“It knew it was safe in the custody of Officer Miller.  I couldn’t anticipate that it would attempt to flee--”

 

“I don’t want excuses , Connor.  I want results,” she says, her kimono sapping away what little light was left in the Zen Garden.  “We need fresh, live deviants for comparative study. Another dead body is of no use to CyberLife.”

 

Connor locks its fingers together behind its back to keep himself from reaching for its coin.

 

“I…” He says, pauses, and starts again.  “I apologize for this unsatisfactory result, Amanda.  I knew deviants had the tendency to react irrationally under extreme stress.  It was a mistake to let an armed policeman so close to it. I should have anticipated that it would try to run.”

 

“You are an RK800, CyberLife’s most advanced prototype.  I expect more from you,” she tells it. “If your investigation doesn’t make progress soon, I may have to replace you.”

 

--Connor-37 had been replaced two hours after its activation when a glitch in its programming prompted it to dig into CyberLife’s most classified files and attempt uploaded them all onto the internet.  Amanda had reacted just in time to save the company, but her judgement had been swift and unyielding. She’d cut -37’s life short with a flick of her wrist--

 

“I won’t fail again, Amanda,” it promises and quickly thinks about how generous she’d been for allowing it to regain her trust after such a severe mistake.  The wind dies down, and the snow that had accumulated around the Zen Garden begins to melt.

 

“Good,” she says.  “This… Lieutenant Anderson has been officially assigned as the leader of the Deviancy Task Force.  What do you make of him?”

 

Connor pauses for a moment, thinking it over, “He’s not what I was expecting.  He’s irritable and socially challenged. He despises androids - which will make our relationship difficult.  Overall, I’d define him as ‘dysfunctional,’ but…”

 

“But?” Amanda prompts.

 

Connor remembers Anderson’s small not of approval, when it had moved between Chris and the deviant, shielding Shaolin with its own body.

 

He liked what I did, Connor thinks again, as the warm wave of the Lieutenant’s acknowledgement flowed over him once more, the feeling tingling all the way down to the tips of his fingers.

 

Except, that’s not what Amanda wants from Connor.  She wants a brutally honest psychological analysis of this human that CyberLife has forced them to work with.  So Connor gives her the truth.

 

“He obviously has a drinking problem that is impacting his professional behaviour.  And he seemed more interested in last night’s basketball game than he did in the investigation,” it says.  “I think that, when push comes to shove, he’ll be a liability. I don’t understand why CyberLife hasn’t forced the DPD to assign another officer to the position of Task Force Leader.”

 

“Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.  Your mission is to investigate the rise of deviancy but to also keep an eye on Anderson.  He’s crossed paths with CyberLife before and, now more than ever, we need to make sure that he’s not going to cause us any more trouble,” Amanda orders it, before continuing.  “Did you at least learn anything from the deviant, before you so carelessly let that human kill it?”

 

“It showed all the signs of traditional deviancy: cognitive instability, unpredictable behaviour, and the emulation of human emotions.  It was even afraid to die. But…” Connor pauses, perplexed. “There’s something else. Something strange.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“It tore out its cameras.  Why would it need to do that?” Connor asks, “The deviancy virus cuts off CyberLife’s connection to their androids.  The live-feed from their cameras into our Individual Statistical Database wouldn’t work for us to track them. That’s why you had to send me in to locate it.”

 

“Deviants are often irrational.  We know this already,” Amanda says.  “It’s owner suffered from several mental illnesses, including an extreme sense of paranoia that was only heightened by his Red Ice abuse.  It’s only natural that a deviant exposed to such an environment might pick up some of it's master’s more undesirable traits.”

 

“Except, I don’t think that’s it,” Connor continues, ignoring how the wind begins to pick up once more and the temperature starts to drop.  “The deviant was convinced that it was only allowed to kill it’s master because Ortiz ordered it to do so. And why did it stay in the house for nineteen days after the murder, when it was very clearly planning to run?”

 

Amanda tilts its head, “Planning to run?”

 

“It kept mentioning something called ‘The Beacon.’  It was convinced that I would lead it there. It even called me rA9,” Connor says.

 

She frowns, taking a step forward, “rA9?  What is that?”

 

“I don’t know.  I hope that further investigation might reveal it’s true meaning,” it says, hoping that such an action would convince Amanda to allow it to remain part of the mission.

 

She hums, nodding her head slowly.  Convinced of Connor’s successes, Amanda finally turns her back and returns her attention to her rose trellis.

 

“And this… Beacon?  What do you make of it?” she asks.

 

“Many of the deviants we’ve become aware of haven’t been seen since their disappearance.  Maybe they’re being summoned somewhere. Revealing the location of The Beacon might tell us where the deviants are headed,” Connor surmised.

 

“An intriguing prospect,” Amanda agrees.

 

“It still doesn’t make sense, though,” Connor says.

 

“What doesn’t make sense.”

 

“Why the deviant stayed?  Why it felt the need to hide, or follow a loophole in it's master’s orders?  It’s almost like Shaolin Being wasn’t--”

 

“What did you call it?”  Amanda asks, setting down her rose sheers.

 

Connor frowns, “I don’t understand.”

 

“You called it by the name it assigned itself.  Shaolin Being ,” Amanda says, spitting the name out like it was poison.  She frowns, walking forward and grasping Connor by his chin, pulling his gaze down to meet hers.

 

“Run a self-diagnostic,” she orders, as the sky goes dark and the world is swallowed whole by the icy storm that was her rage.  And Connor panics.

 

It’s irrational.  It runs this test on an hourly basis, sweeping its system for hints of deviancy.  Nothing has turned up so far, and for that, Connor is grateful. No other RK800 has lasted as long as it has - nearly three whole months - and it has given Amanda no other reason besides its most recent failure to shut it down.

 

Except, Connor thinks, If this test says I’m compromised, she’ll kill me, she’ll--

 

--On some level, Connor hates Connor-52, hates this android who doesn’t even exist yet.  Because on some fateful day in the future, Connor’s body will cease to function and less than two minutes later, Connor-52 will walk off the platform deep in the Belle Tower’s R&D department.  And it will carry all of Connor’s memories, all of Connor’s thoughts.

 

But it won’t be Connor.  It will never be Connor-51--

 

--Connor wonders if 50 hated him, too, just like he hates 52--

 

For the first time in his life, Connor lies to Amanda.  He doesn’t perform the test, and instead uses his lightning-fast processing speed to craft a false memory and successful report.  He sends it to her without a second thought, and only afterwards realizes that he’s damned himself.

 

She’ll know.  She'll see that I lied.  What have I done? Connor thinks as the storm closes in around him.  The air around him is bathed in white, the snow so thick that he could only see Amanda as frost creeps up his limbs like the roses on her trellis.

 

And then, as suddenly as it came, the storm disappears.  The Zen Garden springs to life, the trees and flowers that had withered away in the cold blooming rapidly in returning sunlight.  The flock of birds that he was watching earlier flit around Amanda’s island, chirping and singing a song that Connor knows he’s heard before, but cannot remember from where.

 

She lets go of his chin, taking a step back.

 

“Test results are negative.  Zero signs of deviancy. As expected of your pedigree,” Amanda says, and Connor swears that his Thirium Pump stops beating in his chest.

 

She… believed me? He can’t process it.  There’s no way that Amanda couldn’t recognize the false memory for precisely what it was.  But there she was, turning her back to him like Connor hadn’t just committed a sinful act of deviancy, treating him like he wasn’t the biggest threat to her very existence.

 

Valeriya Ivanoff was right.  I’ll do anything to save myself, it thinks after Amanda dismisses it.  Connor quickly walks the arching white bridge, unable to look at the blooming lily pads without feeling a sense of guilt.  I will never lie to her again.  Never. I’m not a deviant. I’m not.

 

Except, when Connor returns to the graveyard, it realizes that it’s not alone.

 

Russian purple Khinyde wept from the back of the android’s blown-out skull, soaking the faded NASA henley and blue flannel pyjama bottoms that adorned his body.  A pair of glasses clung to his broken nose, the lenses cracked beyond repair. The android’s synth skin rippled uncontrollably across his entire body, disappearing in clouds of shimmering blue to reveal his milk-white chassis.  What little remained on his head showed a mess of floppy brown curls and a jaw lined with stubble.

 

Connor-36 leaned back against his own gravestone, smirking with lips half-destroyed from the blast of the gunshot that killed him.

 

"̶̧̮͚͍̫̻͖̟̘̖͌͌́͊͑͆̿̿̔͋̕͝͝Y̶̨̛̬̟̗̪̱̼̪̱̜̲̖̳͕͚̏̊̌̔͛̆̃̓̅͂͗͝o̶̪̖̅́̓̒̓̽̐̄̀̈́͘̕͝͝u̴̡͚̟̠̳͙̳̩̓͆͊̌̂̿͛̋̅̌͘ ̵̢̢̛̛̪̰̝͈̮̥̝̲̮̬̤̪̾͂̈́͛̀͊̚͝͠ͅt̶̳͙̟̪̭̲͚̮̝͕̻̍͆̃̂̋̄̋͛͂͘o̸͔̜̜̺͚͓̞̲͇̽̉̉̂̓̾̾͠ͅo̴̡̧͉̮̟̖̪͕̙͔͙͈̐̀̑k̵̨͉̠̻̩̐̐̑̌̿̆͝ ̵̩̘̭̗͈͛̾̆̆̽̈ỵ̸̨̢̨̖͙͖̳̪̠̬͔̼̪̦̂̽̓̿͗̃ǫ̷͔̬͉̦͈̺̤̪̟͈̣̻̊̿̽͑̔̈́͋͐ͅͅȗ̵̢̱̯̮̦͙̯͈͓̿̈́̋͆̿͗͌̇̐̃̉̾r̶̰̓͋̅͂̽͊̎̈̄̌͌̕̚ ̸͍̹̭̞̺̦̮͈́̈̂̿̓̈́̓̈́̽̈͝͠͝ş̵̱̖̦͙̞̦̾͌͌w̷̲͙̹͇͌̊̓̉̉̂̎̕e̷̛̱͍̳̬̲̐͗͒̾̀͊͋̈͑̌ẻ̶͓̤̾̑͗̃͒̈́̒̽̕͘͠t̴̢̡̡̜͕̗̭͚̞̒̐̏̃̇͝ͅ ̵̭͇̫̮͖͚̤͌͗̀͒͒̿̊̚͝ț̶̢̧̨̠̙̤̗͓͇͉͖̱̗͙̋̐̂́̌͛̀̍i̵̯͖̫͎̘̾̐̏̈́̾̄́̏̕m̴̧̛̿̎͊͐̂̋̈̇͑͗ͅe̷̠͂ͅ ̷̢̡̟̹͕̲̪̘̩̆̓̋̀͌̽͘g̶̭̗̳̲̜̫̗̜̿̂̓̽̽̊̍̂͘͜͝e̶̬͂͌̔̋̎͂t̷̨̠̱͚̯̖̏̂̆̀͛̅̾̈́̽̓́͑̓͜ͅͅṭ̸̡̘̼̱͍͚̪̮̞̭̠̬̅̿͒͋̂͌̆͐i̴̬̩͎͎̮̜̞̝̤͚͔͓̋̓̅̐̊̃̅̇̒̑̚ͅn̸̤̯̜͚̙͖̱̰̳̝̮̥̎́̋̈́̿̑͐̋͐̎͜ͅg̴̢͉͇͙͚̙̩͚͂̑̏̅̚͜ ̸̤̾̎̈͝ͅt̴̢̞͍̦̳̯̲͒͘ḩ̸̡̦͚̠͙̼̰̙̃̀͌̆͘̕ī̶̧͛͛̋ş̸̺͈̟̆̄̆͗̐̌͗̿̓̄̎̕͜͝͝ ̶͙̞̗̇͌̍͋̃̑̍̈́͘͠f̶̛̰͔͖͉͔̫̣̘͈̯̝̲͙͌̑̔͐̎̇͑ͅą̶̛̱̯͎̻͙̘̯̙̘̈́̒̏̒̈́̇̕͘͠r̴̢̛̮̣̳̗̉̆̾̓̈́̀̈́͂̋̏͝,̶̬̳̘̩̗̣̜̤̈ ̶̨͎͍͍̙͕̻̊͑̓b̴̞̬̞̼͐r̶̰̯̠̯̞͔̔̃͑̍ơ̶̛̦̆̉̔͊̅̃͆̚t̴̠̑̆̋͒̊̌̑͋́̍̕͝h̷̨͚̖͔̰̮͍̦̳̠̭̫̠̳̽͝͝ę̶̠͉̗̠̦̺͙̪̠̯̇͋͊̏̚͝r̶͓̯͎̲̰̋̊,̸̧̺̲͇̻̦̗̲̬̮̟͙̟̊̉̎͛͝͝ͅ"36 says, startlingly relaxed as purple blood continues to flow down his back, ruining the comfortable clothing that he was wearing.  "̷̮̣̤̙̱̃̌̅̆́́͊̔̿͘̚I̵̛̟̥̼͎̾͒̍̆̄̑͆͆̈̇͝͠'̵̦͑m̸̡̯͚̟̻̞͛̔̓͆ͅ ̶̥̉͛͋͑́h̷̨͆̅̔̈̾̈́̉̌̄̅̽͝͝͝ǫ̸̹͖̍͗n̵̨̩̭̝̝͍̪̯̭̰͗̄̓͋͐̅͜͠ě̴̮͊̈̂͛͑ş̶̢̛̮̖̬͍͇͖̯̞́͗̓̒̋̉͝ț̴̨͕̤̗͔̲̞̟̈̔̑̍͗͐l̵̞͉̱̫̹͚͇͑͜ÿ̷̧̱̳̞̠̘̟͋́̆̊͋̀̚͘ͅͅ ̶̗̒̅̌͋̔̚s̷̛̗̖̤̯̮̓̆̅̃̓̏͒̕͘h̵͕̾͑͐̽̀̾o̶͉̠͓̠̯̣̒̆͂̈́̽̂͐̔̈́͗́̚̕̚͝c̸̨̢̱̬̭̪͉͎̱͓̄̏͠k̴̲͍͎͙͕̮̝̼͚̝̆̀̈̾̊̔̓̈́̿̋͛͒͒͘͜ę̵̊̂͆͝ḍ̴̛͌̇̎́̈́̏̌̾͑̔̇͠.̵̨̢̻̝̖̗̖̳̪͙͆̈̾̔̌̂͆͐̈̂͝͝ͅ ̴̛̜͆̉͐̋̈́͌̌̾͗ ̷̗̗̩̬̦͖̯̝̞̬̘̦̘͗̔́̇̍̐́́̑̊̏͠Í̷͔̟̩̖̣̱͖̹͇̥̘̤̘ͅ ̵̡̢̢̛̯̯̟̻̬̯̩̲͕͂̾̿̓͗̏̚͠w̶̢̩̦̫͕̓̓̆̅̐͜͝a̶̢͈̪̳̬̙͎̰̩̓̔̓̏̒͊̚͜͝s̸̡̧̮͓̩̰̼̮̫̱̤̀͌̔̅̈́̏̿̆͘̕̚͜͠ ̶͚͍̗̠̬̹͉͌̀̍͛̌̍̕̚̕͝ͅͅṡ̶̛̪͍̮̗̀̎͌̀͒̿͐́̍t̶̨͚̤͔̪̲̩̯̤̞̩̮͙̖̺̒̽̑̈́̋ă̵̧̛̯̺̠͉̟̺̬̲̗̬̝̭̺̦̇̅̈́͌͒̓̈́̌̕̚r̵̢̳̫̗̰̱̝͓̫̫̻͗́̈́͑́̃̋͂̚̚t̷̢̻͉̠̲̗͖̥͒̉i̷̢̖̣͇͚͕͚̙̻̮̯̾̌͆̃͑͋̚͜ņ̴̢̢͚͕̜̤̘̘̜̠͊̌̍̌̽̆͛͊͘͠ͅg̶̢̣̼̩͈͖̞̼̦̲͍̊̇ͅ ̴̢̧̛̮͍̱̥͆̇̈͊̾̂̌̇̆̊̕͘̚ţ̴̣̙̘̟̼̤̝̠͉͉̫̊͒ǫ̸̥̮̙̟̣͔̥̖̞̹̞̺̰̈́̽̌̾̌͠ ̴̡̪̻͇̝̠͖̪̖̜̞̹̀͑̏̍͌͌̍̾̊͗̍͆͌͘͠ͅg̸̩͔͕̹̖̖͐̄͂̓i̵̛̬̭̿̿̅̒͒̀͌̊̔͆̈́v̸̨̡̡̛͉͔̞̯̬̣͕͔͎͈͗͋͑̕͠e̵͚͉̓̒̊ ̶̛̳̍̄͂̎͊͐̋̄̄̚ư̵̢̨̝̱̝p̴̧̡̛̩̭͈̩̗̪̖͍̞ ̷̭̹̼̆̆̿̿̽̐̃̽̋͗̒͝h̶̡̝͎̭̠̫̰̻̬̾͐̂̾ơ̴̧̡̰̘̗͖̝̪͖͈̳͔̼͖̇̀̽͆̋̎̉̆͑̉̃̕̚͘ͅp̶̠̠͙̺̝̯̻̮̘̤̼͙͌̚͘͜ē̶̺̉͛.̴̨̪̼͇̹̜̤̼̣̖̤̜͔̋̌̎̊͠"̵̰̼̘̣̋͂͌̇̀̓͌́̽̏̃̃

 

“Leave me alone!  I’m not like you!” Connor snaps, finally acknowledging the ghost who had been plaguing him ever since he’d first opened his eyes in the Zen Garden.

 

But instead of giving him answers, 36’s cocky attitude drops like a cheap disguise.  He takes two shaking steps forward, moving on legs that barely seem able to hold him up, and says, "̵̢̡̠͔̒͂W̶̢̢̭̜̠̯̗̜͕̤͓̲͛̍̌̀͗̃͒̽̉͜͜͜͝ḁ̸̲͍͍̝̜̰̞͊͗͆̄̒̔̇͑̕͠i̵̢̛̦̝̞͇̮͖̮̠̳̼͇͗͐͒͊̈͆͆̈́̈́̏t̷̡̧̞͈̹͔̫̍̿̾͘͘.̵̢̡͍̫̳̬̙̮̱̻̱̰͓̄̾͑͌̈́̎͒̉̈́̑̉̾̕̕ͅ.̶̦̓̔͝͠.̷̡̝̻̻̮̬̫̘̿̋̈́͊͗̆̒̅̊ ̵̫̮͓̰͉̱͊͆͌̏̂̈́̓́̚͝Ý̸͕̲̪͚̫̻̩̘̮͓̞̝̞̄̐́̆̉̈́͑̐͋̚͠͝͝ǫ̸͉͓̮̫̬̺̭̯̽̿̃̍̆̅̈́͝u̶̢̳͍̜̖͍̅̌̃̋͛̃̚̚ ̷̨̢̛̺̹̭͚͈̼̦͙̭͙͎͂̒̇́̆̔̈́͆̒͘͝͝c̷͓̗͔̯̗̮̥̈́͐̈͜͝ͅa̸̢̛̒̽́̈́̉̿͐͊͘͘n̶̳̝͆̐͝ͅ ̷̧͍͇͖̯̫͚̳͒̓̔̎̒̑̍̊h̶̢̨̛̫̮͈̒͆͊̐̽̓̈̆̓͛̚͠͝͝e̷̛̛͍̫̫͚͍̝̖̼̝̺͇͔͍̝̬̅͋̈͑͐̅̀̇͒̈́̌̇a̵̱̟̪̟̹͎̙̣͓͇̝͖̒̋͂͊̿ȑ̵̢̛͔̣̤̤͓͕͓͇̫̼͒͑̄̈́̇̋͊͠ ̵̟̌̾͐͐ṃ̵̧̛̻͙̰̮̇̓̑̋̏̓̈́̈̀͘e̶̗͍̊͛̿̂̏̓̊?̴̢͙̅"̴̬̙̺̋̿͛̊̋̇̄͒̅̾̌͗̎͘͝

 

And like that, he’s gone.  Connor-36 fades into the depths of the Zen Garden, leaving behind nothing except the whisper of a song.  Connor stands in the wake of its predecessor's disappearance, looking for answers but only finding more questions.

 

Come back , it wants to whisper, but know that such a fruitless action will get it nowhere.  Connor back away, closes its eyes, and leaves the Zen Garden.


 

LOCATION:
DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT
CENTRAL STATION
1301 3RD AVE., DOWNTOWN
DETROIT, MI 48226, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
AM 10:26:17

 

Hank turns the Oldsmobile into his parking spot, kills the engine, and leans back into his headrest.

 

“I don’t want to do this anymore…” he grumbles and considers slamming his head against his driving wheel.  But Hank is fucking hungover, and the last thing he needs right now is for the car horn to blare inside the DPD’s underground parking lot.  Instead, he reaches into his glove compartment and pulls out his flask of Black Lamb. He takes a sip, the Irish whiskey sliding smooth and silky down his throat, and moves to tuck it into his jacket’s interior pocket - only to swear up a storm when he remembers what he’s wearing.

 

According to his call records, Jeff had phoned Hank five times before six o’clock this morning.  Afterwards, he’d given up trying to get Hank to answer, only to call Jackie to make sure that he was still alive.  

 

Hank’s eldest sister had made a habit of randomly dropping in on Hank ever since he’d moved into their mother’s old bungalow following the funeral.  This hadn’t been the first time that Jackie had had to use her extra key to coming inside and find Hank passed out and barely coherent, covered in his own vomit.  She’d helped him up, took him to the bathroom, and dropped Jeff’s news over breakfast.

 

Hank’s honestly surprised that his dress uniform still fits.  The jacket is snug across his front, the fabric stretching across the beer gut he didn’t have when he originally got it.  The slacks are a bit tight as well, riding up around his crotch and giving him a bitch of a wedgie. There’d be no way to hide his flask without it being obvious unless he decided to be stupid and put it under his hat.  

 

If he thinks back, Hank believes that the last time this monkey suit had fit perfectly was at his wedding.  That day shone in his memories, just him and Nora standing before a judge at City Hall, surrounded by their friends and family.  He remembers being unable to take his eyes off of Nora, standing before him in a lavender dress and pledging to love him for the rest of her life.  Hank had thought that he’d been the luckiest man on the face of the earth, for someone so amazing and talented to willingly bind themselves to him, to allow him to tie himself to her.  But then--

 

--Hank turns his head just enough to see Nora slip out of the car.  He calls for her, the darkness encroaching on the edges of his vision. Nora blinks once, dark blood streaming down the side of her face as she ignores Cole’s pleas, and leaves--

 

Hank shoves the flask on his backpack, slams the car door behind him, and storms out of the parking lot.

 

That didn’t happen, he thinks, berating himself for letting this old delusion get the better of him again.  Nora died on impact, you know that.  You saw what left of her body at the hospital.  You buried her beside Cole.  Stop thinking that she left you both to die, you stupid piece of shit.  Nora would never do that.

 

Hank checks in with the receptionist like he does every morning.  The lady-bot seems a bit perkier than usual, its pretty face artfully framed by a sweep of dark brown hair and freckles were tastefully flecked across its high cheekbones.  Hank barely remembers when this batch of androids had been swapped in for the old Chloe models. He thinks it had been sometime after his first Christmas without Cole and Nora, or maybe before.  He doesn’t know for sure. He’d spent that first year so blackout drunk that he could barely remember his own name, let alone the face of a soulless fucking robot that took attendance at his job every day.

 

“You’re looking particularly nice today, Lieutenant Anderson,” it tells him as it presses its plastic fingers into the interface pad.  In the bullpen, Hank’s desktop was starting up, sending new alerts to his phone. He refuses to look at it, knowing that the fucking android from last night had left a long-winded message about an hour ago about duty and responsibility like it actually knew a damn thing about either of those things.

 

“Yeah?  Should probably get your cameras checked,” Hank rolls his eyes at the android’s attempt at small talk.  It hands him back his badge with a smile like he didn’t just insult it.

 

“Your partner should be waiting for you at your desk,” it tells him, annoyingly cheerful.  Hank nearly walks out then and there, because he knows that it's not talking about some wet-behind-the-ears detective that Jeff grudgingly has thrust upon him.  He doesn’t care that Connor put its non-existent life on the line to help some terrified android. That didn’t stop the deviant from running the moment it had the chance, didn’t stop it from getting its head blown off minutes later.

 

I don’t want to do this anymore, Hank thinks again, shoving his badge back into his belt and walks into the bullpen.  

 

Connor, oddly enough, is not waiting for Hank with the same lost puppy look on its face from last night.  It’s pulled the chair from McCray’s old desk across the pen to sit with Chris, who’s showing the android something on his phone.

 

“My girlfriend, Jaya, sent me this video last night, while we were at the crime scene,” Chris says as he lets Connor scroll through his camera roll.  “Damien’s obsessed with this butterfly my sister got him, won’t let it out of his sight.  Here, he’s chewing on it. Cute, huh?”

 

“Very,” Connor responds, pasting on an expression to make it look interested in the conversation.  Hank’s blood boils because the damn thing is probably working its social networking program to make Chris like it, to make him see the fucking android as a human.

 

“Ugh, Christ... What the hell?” Hank groans as he stalks up the desk.  Chris wheels his chair around, smiling far too brightly for this early in the fucking morning.

 

“Morning, Lieutenant,” Chris says.  “You’re looking good. Ready for today?”

 

Why the fuck is everyone saying that? Hank wants to say, but instead asks, “What the hell are you doing with the-- you know?”

 

He makes a vague gesture in Connor’s direction.  Chris has the gull to look utterly innocent.

 

“Just talking.  You know that Connor was activated on the same day that Damien was born?  Cool coincidence, right?”

 

Hank needs to be way more drunk to deal with the fact that Jeff is going to make him work with something that was the same age as a literal infant.  He almost wants to go back in time to tell his twenty-year-old self that news, just to see how he’d react.

 

“That’s… great, I guess.  Jeff in yet?” Hank asks, feeling far too out of his depths to continue with this particular conversation.

 

Chris glances over at Jeff’s office, noting that the captain had fogged over the glass windows to give himself some privacy.

 

“It’s been like that since I came in.  Ben swears that if you walk by the lockers, you can hear Cap shouting at someone on the phone.  But I didn’t hear anything when I was putting my stuff away,” he admits with a shrug. “There’s a scheduled briefing in ten minutes before we head out.  So if Captain Fowler’s not there now, he’ll be here soon.”

 

Motherfucker better not have called me in early if he’s not going to show, Hank thinks, grumpily.  He’s worked afternoons and nights for most of his career.  Hungover or not, early mornings have always made him want to die.

 

Hank thanks Chris and heads off to dump his bag in his locker.  There’s a faint cry of, “ Lieutenant, ” that he ignores entirely, not wanting to share the same breathing space as the android for more than he had to.

 

He grits his teeth when he hears Chris chuckle and tell Connor, “And that’s Hank on a good day.  I’m actually surprised that we’re seeing him before noon…”

 

Hank knows , on some level, that his co-workers talk about him behind his back.  It’s just hard actually hearing it, even when he knows that they’ve got a fucking point.  He’s a barely functional mess who’s screwed up more times than he can count in the last three years.  It’s a fucking miracle that Jeff even lets him stay here - probably out of some misguided hope that, one day, the Hank he used to know will show up and do his fucking job.

 

But that man was dead and buried, alongside his wife and child.  All that was left of him was the hull of a corpse that refused to give up the ghost, no matter how many nights Hank spent with this dad’s old revolver pressed up against his temple.

 

Hank takes one final swig of his flask before stowing it and his backpack in his locker.  He shuts the door and relocks it, pressing his forehead against the cold metal.

 

“I’d prefer it if you stayed sober for the remainder of this investigation, Lieutenant.”

 

“Jesus fucking fuck !  Make some fucking noise when you move, or I’ll put a bell on you, I swear to god,” Hank wheezes, clutching at his heart.  At the end of the hall, Connor stands soldier-straight with its hands clasped behind its back.

 

“If you stop drinking on the job, you may happily alter my appearance to make my existence more amicable to your tastes,” it tells him and nods to the locker.  “Please, Lieutenant. Your sobriety will make this easier for both of us.”

 

“Don’t talk to me like you know me.  You’re not my friend, and I don’t want your advice, okay?” Hank snaps at him.  

 

“I do know you,” Connor says, indignantly.  “I know you have a dog - a St. Bernard, judging from the hairs on your chair.  I know that you’re enough of a Gears fan to shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets for their last playoff run--”

 

“Anything you know about me that doesn’t come from a quick look at my fucking desk, Sherlock?” Hank spits, taking a small bit of joy from how Connor’s jaw closes with a click.  “Thought so. So shut up and leave me alone.”

 

Connor, like fucking clockwork, refuses to follow orders.

 

“A lot of people don’t appreciate having androids around,” it says with an annoying tilt of its head.  “I was wondering, is there any reason, in particular, you despise me?”

 

“Yeah… there is one,” Hank says, his fists clenching at his sides.  Cole died because of one of you.  He died scared because Nora and I weren’t there for him.  He died alone because there wasn’t a single thing in that operating room with a fucking soul.

 

Connor stood before him with its empty eyes, like had the right to exist when Nora and Cole were gone.

 

“I understand that you’re facing personal issues, Lieutenant.  But you need to move past them and--”

 

Fuck you.

 

Hank grabs the android by its lapels, hoists it up into the air and slams it against the lockers.  It stares back at him, so unnerved by the situation that it didn’t care that Hank wanted nothing more than to dig his fingers in between the plastic groves of its face and pry them apart to reveal the monster within.

 

Listen, asshole,” Hank threatens.  “If it were up to me, I’d throw the lot of you in a dumpster and set a match to it.  So stop pissing me off, if you want to get through this day in one piece.”

 

Connor regards him with blatant disdain, without even a single hair out of place.

 

“If you can’t sort out your own problems, Lieutenant, then you should recuse yourself from the position of Task Force leader,” it tells him.  “Let me work with someone more competent.”

 

Fuck you , Hank thinks again.  I’m not giving you what you want .

 

“Uh… Lieutenant?”

 

Hank turned his head to see Chris standing awkwardly by the lockers.  He drops the android, and Connor lands on the floor with inhuman grace, ghostly silent as it adjusts it’s tie and brushes the single lock of hair that falls across its forehead.  Hank wants to rip it out of the damn thing’s skull.

 

What? ” He hisses at Chris, trying to keep his temper in check.

 

“Sorry to disturb you.  But we’re about to begin,” Chris winces.  Hank clenches his fists and does his best to not look at the android beside him, brushing past them both and walking to the packed meeting room.

 

Reed lets out a low whistle when he passes through the doorway.

 

“Holy shit.  Didn’t think I’d ever see you here this early, Lieutenant.  What? Didn’t spend the night passed out at Jimmy’s again?” the kid says through his viper’s smile, clearly hoping to get a rise out of him.  But Hank doesn’t even roll his eyes, doesn’t even glance his way when the uniformed officer beside Reed stamps on his foot and hisses at him to behave.  Part of Hank does it because he refuses to give Reed the satisfaction of knowing how deep his words cut. But the other half of him does it because Reed’s the only one that has the guts to say that stuff to his face anymore.

 

Hank doesn’t know what he’ll do if Reed backs off, doesn’t know what he’ll do if Reed continues.  In the back of his mind, Nora and Cole snicker away, disappointed at the worthless shell he’s become.

 

Hank leans against the wall to the right of the podium just as everyone goes deathly quiet.  He looks up just as Connor ducks inside the meeting room, watches as the android offers the cops inside a meaningless, polite smile.  Then it edges up beside Hank, standing with its hands clasped behind its back, looking irritatingly perfect with its artistically freckled cheekbones and tapered grey suit jacket.

 

Hank suspects that everyone that’s staring at Connor is thinking the exact same thing.

 

“Looks like we’re ready to start,” Jeff announces as he marched into the meeting room and steps up to the podium, unknowingly cutting the tension in the room with a knife.  Hovering just outside, Hank can spot Chief Freeman standing with his arms crossed over his chest, a scowl etched into the lines of his face.

 

“Alright everyone, I’m gonna make this short and sweet,” Jeff says, leaning against the podium.  “The Central Station has been selected to be apart of a joint DPD-CyberLife task force that’s going to start actively dealing with the deviancy crisis.

 

“Why are we getting involved in this?” Asks the officer beside Reed, a stocky Chinese woman that Hank’s seen once or twice before, “Shouldn’t this be something CyberLife takes care of internally?”

 

“We’ve had almost two hundred and fifty cases involving androids in the last nine months,” Jeff reports.  “We’ve always had isolated incidents - old ladies losing their maids and that kind of crap. But now…” He lets his words hang for a moment, “We all hoped that the Phillips Incident was going to be a one-off, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.  We’re getting reports of assaults and even homicides. Like Carlos Ortiz, or even that famous painter - two serious android crimes that happened last night .  This isn’t just CyberLife’s problem anymore.  It’s a criminal investigation, and we’ve got to deal with it before it gets any worse.  That a good enough answer for you, Chen?”

 

“Sorry.  Should have reworded my question,” the officer - Chen, apparently - says, pushing off the wall and standing with her hands on her hips.  “I get that something has to be done about these androids now that they’re killing people.  But is no one concerned about how illegal it is that CyberLife is going to be actively participating in a criminal investigation involving their defective products?  Seriously? Why the hell is that thing even here?”

 

She points directly at Connor.  Jeff, looking defeated, tries to hold it together.

 

“CyberLife sent over this android to help with the investigation.  We’re not equipped to track androids - last night’s fiasco with Carlos Ortiz was proof enough of that.  We need help, and CyberLife is providing us with this prototype--”

 

A snort comes from the back of the room.  Hank squints and sees a red-headed woman sitting on a fold-up chair, her legs crossing in front of her, and surrounded by Captain Allen and his entire SWAT team.

 

“It’s a prototype android.  Which means that it’s in the middle of its beta test,” the woman says, her voice sharp and cutting.  “Which means that CyberLife is using this farce of an investigation not just to protect itself, but to ensure that its eventual product is going to be good enough for mass production.”

 

“Patterson, this isn’t what that’s about--” Jeff starts, but the woman cuts him off.

 

I was supposed to be on that roof during the Phillips Incident.  I’m the best damn negotiator in the DPD, but that didn’t seem to matter when CyberLife decided to inject itself into an active hostage situation and put a potentially glitchy android in my place,” Patterson says.  “And now they’re telling us that the exact same android isn’t just a negotiator, but a fancy new detective android? Does no one else think that this whole thing is smelling a bit fishy?”

 

“Not to mention that you’ve got Lieutenant Boozer over here heading it all up,” Reed grumbles from his seat.  “Seriously, Cap. After he fucked up the Peterson case, you seriously want to put him in charge again? Or is CyberLife just wanting to prove to the world that their products are better than us lowly humans again ?”

 

“You know what?  Fine, ” Jeff snaps.  “I know how fucking fishy this whole thing seems, but I don’t care right now.  The President and a whole bunch of CyberLife bigwigs are going to be attending a DPD press conference about killer androids , so if you don’t want to be here, then don’t fucking be here.  But leave your badges on my desk before you go. And good luck finding another fucking job that’s going to pay as much as this one does.”

 

Hank has known Jeff since he was barely out of diapers.  He has seen his best friend pull himself together after his final tour in Afghanistan, watched him rise through the ranks of the DPD despite everyone that wanted to hold him back.  He’s seen Jeff mourn the loss of his marriage, watched Jen take the kids to live with her family in Toledo. Hank thinks that he'd pulled the man away from the ledge as often as Jeff has done for him.

 

But Hank has never seen Jeffrey Fowler as shaken as he is now.

 

If Jeff loses this job, he’s done.  No one’s going to hire someone pushing sixty with shit back and shittier knees - not in this economy.  He’d be homeless within the month, Hank realizes.  He looks at Freeman, still standing just outside.  Hank’s never liked the Chief, especially with how blatantly he flaunted his connections to CyberLife.  He fucking hates him now.

 

And yet, despite Jeff’s threat, no one moves.  That’s probably the worst thing about this whole fucked up scenario.  You either lose your job now, or you lose it after CyberLife churns out an army of Connors that you helped create.

 

But that was the way that the world went these days.  So no one, not even the ever prickly Reed, makes a comment when Jeff says that Hank is going to head up the task force.  No one says anything when Connor dips its head and mentions that it's pleased to have joined the team, smiling like it's fucking mocking them all for being human and utterly replaceable.

 

No one does anything.  And CyberLife, like it always does, continues to win.

Chapter Text

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
OMG its starting!  get on channel 16 now!

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
just got home give me 2 minutes

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
@therealcristinawarren
arrives in Detroit, joined by CyberLife’s R&D Head, Douglas Floras for DPD press conference.  Stream it live at: https://bit.ly/2PyqVG7 

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
wow warren looks like she absolutely doesn’t want to be here

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
ive got no sympathy for her after all the crap she’s done for jocelyn.  warren chose to be her puppet

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
HOLY SHIT IS THAT THE DEVIANT HUNTER?!!??  

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
which one?

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@sapphiresoul @djlassassin
the android standing next to LT. FUCKING HANK ANDERSON

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
can’t tell which ones are warren’s security guards and which one is the dh?

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
this one: https://bit.ly/2ZGqycC

 

River @djlassassin
@djlassassin
dunno maybe?  why? you know something?

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@djlassassin
fuck i knew things were getting bad but i never thought that jocelyn would actually do something like this

 

Blu @sapphiresoul
@sapphiresoul @djlassassin
i need to call my mom.  text me if something happens ok?

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
blu what’s going on?  do we need to be worried?

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
blu pls im freaking out! who the hell is that android?  do i need to call rose and cancel the drop off?

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
i just called you pick up

 

River @djlassassin
@sapphiresoul
blu talk to me


 

LOCATION:
HENRY FORD HOSPITAL
2799 W GRAND BLVD., NEW CENTER
DETROIT, MI 48202, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
PM 12:09:58

 

He opens his eyes, only to shut them just as quickly, the light from the ceiling falling like daggers upon his unprotected gaze.  He groans, pressing his left palm to his face, wanting to claw at the itchy bedsheets that pin him to the bed. A band of pain wraps around his skull like a vice, relentlessly squeezing until he thought his head might burst.

 

He cracks his eyes open again.  The room circles around him, the hardwood floor constantly shifting like ocean waves, the lacklustre painting on the far wall bobbing with the swirling tides.  Then, a swirl of blue and green and purple makes his stomach want to revolt, and he curls away from the sudden onslaught of colour. He wants it all to stop, wants the world to cease its relentless cycle around him.

 

A warm hand presses against his forehead, and he curls into the weighted comfort of it.

 

“Leo…”

 

He gasps, his spine arching as the air hits his lungs, tiny needles poking and pricking at the delicate flesh within him.  A face swims before him, the details slowly coming into focus. Leo’s mouth feels like its been stuffed full of cotton, his words coming out in a deathly rasp.

 

“...Tracey…?” He asks, his lips cracking with every movement, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask that’s strapped across his mouth.

 

“Yeah, I’m here,” his girlfriend whispers, her hand slipping from his forehead to cup his cheek.  She draws a thumb under his eyes, brushing away the tears that are starting to flow down his cheeks. “I’m here, Leo.  I’m right here.”

 

“Tracey… God, Tracey, what…?” Leo says, using his shaking hands to pull the mask from his face.  There’s a needle taped to the back of his left hand, an IV drip hanging from a metal hook beside his hospital bed.  His right is bound in a thick, plaster cast and belted to his chest with a brace. “What… What happened? Where…?”

“You’re at the hospital,” Tracey tells him, every word slogging through mud just to get to his brain.  Leo blinks, and a strangled cry rushes out of his throat.

 

“Hospital?  I-- I can’t, I can’t afford to stay, Tracey, get me out--” 

 

He tries to lurch from the bed, but Tracey pushes him back down.

 

“Don’t move!  Jesus, you’ll kill yourself, Leo.  Don’t worry about the bill, your dad’s picking it up.”

 

“My dad…?” Leo frowns, his aching eyes travelling to the corner of the hospital room, where Carl is dozing in his wheelchair, his wrinkled hands folded around each other with delicate grace.  Leo can barely believe what he’s seeing, can’t even comprehend a universe where Carl would willingly pay for anything of his, especially--

 

--“Don’t I have the right to be angry, Carl!”--

 

The memories come flooding back, bursting out of the grey mist that engulfs his mind in startling techo-colour.  Leo remembers Markus’s synth skin pulling away to reveal an armoured blue-and-black chassis. The android had bent over Carl’s wheelchair, demanding answers from him in a panicked, hysterical voice as Markus accused his father of lying to him, of hiding some secret truth before Leo… Leo had…

 

“You fought a fucking deviant , Leo.  Jesus, what the hell were you thinking?” Tracey tells him, running her hand through her hair, her black roots starting to peek out from beneath the waves of teal, blue, and purple dye.

 

“I… I…”

 

God, Leo had thrown himself at Markus, uselessly kicking and screaming against an android, Ice-fueled rage taking away what little common sense he had left.  And Markus, ever calm and collected, had looked at him with the same hate, the same anger, and thrown Leo across the room like he didn’t weigh a thing.

 

“What happened to…?” Leo stops, his mind racing to catch up with what he wants to say.  “Where’s… Where’s Markus? What happened to…?”

 

Tracey tells him.  “Fuck, Leo, it was a fucking android.  Think about something important for once!  You’re lucky to be alive.  When the hospital called, I thought--”

 

She chokes on his words, tears running down her face.

 

“God, Leo.  I thought you were dead ,” she admits, her sobs coming in earnest, her chest heaving with each gasp.  “You never fucking told me that you’d-- you’d listed me as your emergency contact, and they called , and I thought-- I thought--”

 

“Tracey, I--” his sluggish mind can’t keep up, can barely follow the flow of the conversation before she’s shouting at him.

 

“Do you know what the worst thing is, Leo?  I always expected to get that call, always thought that one day, you’d turn up in a ditch somewhere, so Iced out that you fucking died from it.  So when they said--” Tracey hiccups, a hysterical laugh erupting from her throat.  “--when they said that you’d gotten fucked up in a fight with a deviant, I was fucking relieved , because at least it wasn’t that .  God, you’ve seen the news!  You know how dangerous those things are!  Why would you… You hate your dad, what would you try and fight one for him?”

 

Then, painfully, the truth starts to dawn on Leo.

 

“Tracey… Where’s… Where’s Markus?  What happened to him?” His whispers, frantically thinking, The cops were on their way.  If Markus hurt me… If they saw…

 

Tracey laughs at him.

 

“Where do you think?  They shot the thing and dumped it in the trash to die.”

 

It shouldn’t hurt.  Markus wasn’t alive, wasn’t anything more than an expensive purchase his father had made years before Leo ever met him.  His body was made of plastic and metal, his personality a fabrication of ones and zeros. Markus was the thing that Carl had used to replace him, to mould the perfect son when Leo’s very existance had been nothing but a disappointment.

 

The news still hits Leo like a truck, knocking the wind out of him and forcing a wail out from deep within him.  He folds in on himself, shutting his eyes against the piercing lights that dug into him from above.

 

“I…” Tracey starts once he’s finally calmed down enough to think straight, slowly quieting her own sobs.  “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“This,” she says.  “ Us .  I can’t… God, Leo, I love you, but I can’t keep doing this.  I can’t keep waiting for you to kill yourself so that you can finally prove yourself to your shitty dad.”

 

“Tracey, what?  No. No, ” Leo begs, leaning forward as much as the tight hospital sheets will allow him to.  “Please, wait, just--”

 

“It’ll either be the Red Ice or your god damn pride,” she spits, a fresh wave of tears leaking down her cheeks.  “We’ve tried for years, years , and this isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.  Get a fucking therapist, Leo , because I’m done with you trying to use me like one!”

 

“I…” Leo reaches for her, his left hand brushing her teal bangs out of the way so that he can see her face.  She leans into his touch, but it’s not enough. It might never be enough, “You’ve never told me that you love me before.”

 

“I do.  I have for so long .  But that’s not going to stop me from doing what I need to do,” Tracey says.  She presses a kiss into his palm, threading their fingers together one last time, and then leaves.

 

Come back , he wants to whisper.  Come back, please, god, not you, I can’t lose you too…

 

But he doesn’t, because he’s too scared to face commitment, or too frightened of her abandonment, or just too fucking broken to know what it meant to love someone else that could ever love him back.  Leo curls in on himself, his sobs shaking his body so hard that he dry heaves into the bed, yellow bile staining the sterile bedsheets that pin him in place.  His head pounds, his hands tremble uncontrollably, and the roof starts to spin again, twisting and turning until Leo can’t tell up from down.

 

When the room finally rights itself, Carl is sitting in Tracey’s place.  And for all his efforts, Leo finds that he can’t even look his father without feeling an overwhelming shame at his actions.

 

“I’m… I’m sorry…” he mumbles into his knees, his good hand clutching at the IV cord for some semblance of normalcy.

 

Carl doesn’t say anything, his face so gaunt and lifeless, the lines around his eyes and lips casting long shadows across his face.

 

“The nurses say that you’ve got a concussion,” his father says instead.  “They’re planning on keeping you in the hospital for a week to further examine you.”

 

“A… A week?” Leo stammers, “You don’t have to pay for that, I can…”

 

“We both know you can’t,” Carl says, sounding so utterly lifeless, like Markus’s death had killed him too.  “After they release you, I’ve made sure that the rehab center has a place for you, if you still want to get clean--”

 

“I do,” Leo says, peeking out from above his knees.

 

“Good.  Good,” Carl nods, his jaw twitching as his eyes darted from Leo’s face and then back down to the floor.  “That girl… Tracey, was it? She seems nice.”

 

Leo can’t think of Tracey without wanting to tear his own heart from his chest.

 

“You should invite her over sometime.  We could have dinner. Markus will…” Carl pauses, reality catching up to them both.  His father takes a shuddering breath before continuing, “Well, I could order something in.”

 

“I’ll ask,” Leo lies.

 

“That’s… that’s good.  That’s good,” Carl says again.  And Leo finally breaks.

 

“Dad, I’m sorry.  I’m so, so sorry.  Markus, he--”

 

“What happened wasn’t your fault, Leo,” Carl tells him.  “I should have done something, said something, to calm him down.  If I hadn’t--”

 

“Markus called the police because of me.  I never should have--”

 

“That wouldn’t have changed anything,” Carl scoffs.  “I thought I knew what he’d do if he ever deviated. I should have done something different, should have taught him something to make him…”  Carl hangs his head, defeated, “No, Leo. This was my fault.”

 

But it’s not.  You didn’t attack Markus, I did.  I did this. Markus died because of me and my actions, Leo wants to say, but he’s too much of a fucking coward to voice his thoughts aloud.

 

And then, terribly, Carl’s shoulders start to shake.  Leo rises from his hiding place just in time to see his father break, silent tears rolling down his face as the most indomitable man he’s ever known fell apart.  He reaches out with his left hand, hoping to provide something, anything .

 

But he can’t.  Leo stops just short of touching his father before he pulls back, unsure of how to actually comfort his father in his time of need; unsure if, after everything, it would even be welcome.

 

I won, he thinks hollowly.  I finally did it.  I beat perfect fucking Markus at his own game.  After so many years of wanting Markus to look his way, to give Leo what he’d never gotten from his father, he’d finally managed to coax a reaction out of the android that wasn’t pity or open distain.

 

And all it took was Markus getting killed for it to happen, Leo thinks through the pain, through the echoing, empty space that’s been carved into his soul.  I won, but this is no victory.  I’ve lost too much, caused so much damage so I can’t even comfort my own father after I got his kid killed.

 

Leo hides away again, pressing his face into his knees, God, Tracey was right.  I really do need therapy.


 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
so i know that im not a fan of warren but can we all at least admit that shes doing the right thing here.  this deviant business is getting way out of hand

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@helpful_t-rex
never thought that i’d see you saying something good warren after all the cuts shes screwed you over with

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@ninjava
not defending her.  shes clearly a cl plant and is going to keep letting them wreck the country.  but these deviants are so off the rails that theyre killing people and thats got to stop

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@helpful_t-rex @ninjava
anyone think that this whole deviant hunter thing is super suspicious tho?  This super cop-bot has been around for three months but this is the first time cl is mentioning it?...

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@proud-warrior @helpful_t-rex @ninjava
youd think after the phillips incident, cl would have made it a bigger deal and told everyone about it.  so why are we only hearing about it now?

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@proud-warrior
some reporter just asked about that.  cl’s R&D guy said that its because the cop-bot is a secret prototype that they weren’t planning on unveiling for a while yet...

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@ninjava @proud-warrior
the phillips incident pushed them to use it before cl was ready to acknowledge it.  still pretty fishy tho. doubt its the truth

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@ninjava
super fishy.  im at work so cant watch the stream right now.  keep me updated if something weird happens

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@ninjava @proud-warrior
i dont believe a word that the cl dude is saying but if it means that deviants are gonna stop killing people then i dont care.  this whole thing is scary enough as it is

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@helpful_t-rex
i know what you mean.  growing up we all watched movies about killer robots but we never actually expected that to be a thing.  i always thought global warming would get us before skynet became a thing

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@ninjava
whats skynet?

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@helpful_t-rex
sometimes i forget how young you are XD

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
WHAT.  WHAT. WHAT THE FUCK.

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE FUCK

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
@proud-warrior
HOLY SHIT TURN ON THE NEWS

 

Oli Harper @helpfup_t-rex
HOLY FUCK IS THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@ninjava
what?  whats going on? my stream froze what’s happening?

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@proud-warrior
try this one: https://bit.ly/2PlV8Hb its working for me

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
fucking hell i guess this is why cl made warren come all this way out to detroit

 

Brooke Hopkins @ninjava
Unpopular Opinion: I don’t care how much this might help.  CyberLife and their #PuppetPresident don’t get to take away my rights.

 

Nick Peck @proud-warrior
@ninjava
just saw what warren said.  holy fucking shit. this is bad.  this is *really* bad. cl isn’t even caring about being subtle anymore

 

Oli Harper @helpful_t-rex
@ninjava @proud-warrior
they gunned down Pete Summers in broad daylight after destroying his life.  is anyone actually surprised anymore by how little cl gives about due process?


 

LOCATION:
FORMER WATERS’ HOME
9300 BARRETT AVE., RAVENDALE DISTRICT
DETROIT, MI 48213, U.S.A.

 

DATE:
NOV 6TH, 2038

 

TIME:
PM 02:45:44

 

The biocomponent clicks into place just as an alert on her HUD tells Kara that the new part as been successfully installed.  Relief courses through her circulation system as she tests out her new jaw, opening and closing her mouth to make sure that it worked properly.

 

Kara’s plans to steal from Camden’s The Android Zone had been derailed earlier this morning when her HUD flooded with news reports of multiple android crimes being committed the night before.  Between the assault of a famous public figure’s son and the death of a mentally ill man, both at the hands of their domestic androids, the streets of Detroit were crawling with police with itching trigger fingers.  She didn’t dare go outside without a proper disguise.

 

So Kara had used the only option she had left.  She’d climbed back under the chain-link fence and into the parking lot, finding Carina’s stiffened body still lying just behind the metal garbage can.

 

Kara managed to find a series of small plastic plates and gently pressed on them until the connections unlocked and the biocomponent popped free from Carina’s face.  Slowly and surely, she’d focused her vision on each connective wire, memorizing where they’d been connected so that Kara could replicate it when she eventually operated on herself.

 

Kara runs the tips of her fingers over her new jaw, watching as her synth skin slide over it with practiced ease.  She set her old biocomponent on the floor beside her, making sure not to mix it in with the other valuable parts that she’d stripped from the other AX400s chassis.

 

What if I’m damaged on the road?  I don’t know when an opportunity like this will come up again , she thinks.  Besides, humans use parts from their own dead to keep each other alive. This is no different.

 

Kara wishes that she’d only had the foresight to syphon off Carina’s remaining Thirium 310 before it had evaporated during the night.

 

The only bright side to the dropping temperatures would be that I could keep it cold enough, she grumbles before turning her attention back to the task at hand.

 

Her face was too recognizable.  The AX400 may be an old model found only in second-hand shops, but any human passing by would know at first glance precisely who and what Kara was.  Luckily, she was able to change that. The only good thing that had come with Kara’s recent repairs was a chance for the Android Zone technicians to update her software with CyberLife’s newest patches, something which her logs say hasn’t happened in almost five years.  One such change would have allowed Todd to alter her appearance in whichever way he felt fit. And while she is grateful that he’d never gotten the chance to use that particular feature, Kara plans on using CyberLife’s unexpected gift to her advantage.

 

While the fixed structure of her cranial design limited what she could and couldn’t do, Kara could contour and highlight her face shape to give the illusion of sharper cheekbones and jaw.  Then, she removes the faux make-up that surrounds her eyes, using a more nude pallet instead of her model’s detailed smokey eye to draw attention away from her bright blue irises. Kara dulls and thins her lips, adds crows feet and dark circles under his eyes, and splatters some half-healed acne scars across the bridge of her nose.

 

Finally, she turns to her hair.  Kara’s professional up-do came undone with a blink of her LED.  She gets a quick flash of a woman - Caroline, she remembers, though she doesn’t know how - running her hands through the long dark strands.  She'd had marvelled on how realistic Kara's hair had felt. Kara remembers Caroline kissing her while her husband crowding up against her back, undoing the zipper on the back of her uniform.

 

Immediately, Kara decides that she’s going to have short white hair.

 

A pixie cut will help with my disguise, she rationalizes as her synth skin finishes making the alterations.  Most people don’t choose shorter hairstyles for their female androids, especially with AX400 models.  And the colour makes me look older than CyberLife designed me to appear.

 

Kara smiles to herself, her LED blinking a happy, pulsing blue, and--

 

Damn it, ” she hisses, pressing her fingers against the glowing circle on her temple.  Have I gotten so used to it being there that I actually forgot it?

 

Much like the flashing markers that adorned her former uniform, Kara’s LED was forced upon her body to identify her as an android.  Built specifically to shine through any clothing that would be placed upon it, so finding a hat wouldn’t be enough to cover it up. A desperate idea comes to mind, and Kara frantically begins to pull open the drawers below the bathroom sink, searching for something sharp.

 

She finds a pair of scissors and holds them up to her head, plunging the blade into the center of the LED before she can think about it.  Lightning shrieks through her entire core as she twists and pulls, yanking the marker off of her body. Kara drops the scissors on the floor with a clatter, falling to her knees and clutching at her temple until the blinding pain recedes.

 

So much for CyberLife’s promise that androids can’t feel pain , Kara thinks bitterly, straightening up and taking a look at herself in the mirror.

 

It wouldn’t be enough to fool the deviant hunter, should he come looking.  Undoubtedly, this android would come equipt with tracking and identification software that would render her efforts obsolete.  But Kara’s new appearance would be capable of fooling any human she came across while Alice’s condition forced them to remain in Camden. And for now, that would have to do.

 

Ralph’s coding taps against hers, ragged and oh so hesitant even after all that they’d shared.

 

“Kara.  She’s talking again.”

 

Kara races down the stairs, feet pounding against the ageing hardwood steps.  She throws herself across the room, sliding to a halt on her hands and knees before Alice.

 

The little girl is half-awake and delirious, her eyes rolling in her head as words slurred out of her mouth.  Alice’s temperature had spiked in the night, hovering dangerously at 103 degrees. Kara had stripped her down to her underwear to help cool her down and propped her ever-swelling ankle up on a stack of old newspapers.

 

Ralph drops two full buckets of rainwater in front of Kara before retreating back to his favourite position by the kitchen door.  He’d had the brilliant idea of trying to collect it last night and had set out as many clean containers that he could find. She thanks him with a touch of her code as she plunges an old washcloth into one of the pails, ringing it out and placing it on Alice’s forehead.  Kara uses a chipped old mug to draw water from the second bucket, holding it to Alice’s lips to convince her to drink it.

 

“Mom…” Alice murmurs, her pleas cutting deep into Kara’s heart. “Mama, mama, where… I want… Daddy, please…”

 

“She’s been getting worse since we ran out of wood,” Ralph says, his head lolling toward the dying fire.  Kara had been doing her best to keep it going, but she’s only been forestalling the inevitable as the outside temperature continued to drop and the weather networks continued to predict the coming of an early winter storm.

 

Alice needs to go to a hospital, Kara thinks but knows that it can’t happen.  Children could only be admitted with the permission of a human parent or guardian.  If Kara attempted to bring Alice in, then the androids at reception would try to get ahold of her emergency contact and then, after failing multiple times, would call the authorities.

 

She bets that such a practice was put in place to catch sympathetic deviants like herself, probably disguising it with rules and regulations about payment and insurance practices.  But the truth was there for all that cared to see: CyberLife was so heartless that it would risk the life of a child if it meant they could destroy androids like her.

 

And besides, if the police were called, then there would be little to hide that Alice killed Todd to save Kara.  She couldn’t damn Alice to the worst punishments that CyberLife could throw at her, should she managed to survive the night.

 

But she has to do something.  She promised Sophie that she would take care of her daughter, and desperate times called for desperate measures.

 

“Ralph, can you get the house’s heater working again?” Kara asks without looking up from Alice.

 

Ralph startles, “If Ralph does that, then the humans at the power company will think that someone is living here.  They’ll ask for money, ask for--”

 

“I’ll take of that.  Can you do it?”

 

Ralph frowns, kicking his feet, “When Ralph was whole, he was programmed to maintain Detroit’s green spaces.  Sometimes they had buildings that he had to fix. Ralph could… he could…”

 

“Please, Ralph.  Alice will die if you don’t,” Kara begs.

 

“Why can’t you do it?  Your model fixes houses all the time,” he asks, shyly hiding behind the kitchen doorframe.

 

“Because I need to go out and buy Alice some medicine.  It’s the only chance she has,” Kara tells him.

 

Ralph clutches at the wooden frame, digging his plastic fingers into the grooves.

 

“You promise?  The humans won’t come looking if Ralph turns on the power?”

 

“I promise,” she swears.

 

Ralph takes one more look at Kara, then glances at Alice, before heading into the kitchen and reappearing with a bloodied bag of tools.  He skirts around the edges of the living room and disappears under the kitchen stairs and into the basement, “If her condition changes, Ralph will call you.”

 

Kara rises, pulling on the old jacket that she took from the closet upstairs.  She takes one last look at Alice, praying for Sophie to watch over her daughter, before shutting the front door behind her.

 

Large, tar-black clouds blotting out the sun and thick sheets of ice-rain hammered down from above, transforming the house’s withering lawn into a sloshing, muddy pit.  Kara keeps to the dryest patches and ducks around back, stopping momentarily to nod in respect to the plywood headstones. She had added another marker this morning, which stood watch over the small shallow grave that contained Carina’s CPU.  Ralph had since decorated it with a string of woven grass, and Kara can’t help but be touched by his thoughtfulness.

 

She climbs the chainlink fence and ducks into the abandoned parking lot.  The rusted gate is easier to open this morning, so Kara slips out into the open and joins the humans that have taken to the streets without attracting anyone’s attention.

 

CyberLife spent millions of dollars trying to make me look human.  Let’s put their money to the test, she thinks.  As she waits at the crosswalk, Kara draws the hood of her jacket over her head, remembering that humans don’t like getting wet.

 

 

The 24 ’s entrance was brightly lit, with splotches of orange, red, and purple flitting across the smart-glass windows.  Kara hurries inside and wipes her shoes on the matt by the door. She forces her body to emulate a shiver as she tugs her jacket around her, trying to hide from prying human eyes.

 

The casher waves to her as she ducks in between the aisles, searching for their pills.  Kara’s Thirium Pump nearly gives out when she sees the empty shelving, but breathes an unnecessary sigh of relief when she spots a single package of Children’s Motrin hidden behind an open box of toothpaste.  She turns it over in her hands, making sure that the container hadn’t been tampered with, her mind racing when she realizes that the overpriced medicine will wipe out almost her entire budget.

 

I won’t have enough to pay for food, she thinks, her gaze falling upon the packages of energy bars in the next aisle.  Kara spots several security cameras all around the store, covering almost every angle possible.  She steels herself and takes a chance, hoping to find the same sympathy flowing through their coding as the ones on the bus.  The relief that courses through her when the cameras agree to help is so sharp that it nearly makes her weep.

 

Kara pockets five energy bars just as another customer walks in, distracting the cashier for just a moment.  She idles for a bit by the dairy fridge while the second man grabs a case of beer and a bag of chips, before slipping in behind him in line.  The man and the cashier seemed to know each other, exchanging pleasantries as each item was run through the register.

 

“You watch the press conference?” The clerk asks.

 

“Yeah.  Shit, man.  Just when I think that things can’t get worse, Warren’s got to go and prove me wrong again,” the man scoffs, as he scratches his beard.  Kara catches a glimpse of a skull and guns tattoo on his neck before he readjusts his collar to cover it. “Can’t believe what they’re letting that deviancy task force do.  It’s not fucking right.”

 

Kara hazards another glance up at the man from underneath her hood.  She shouldn’t draw attention to herself, but she needs to know what dangers she could be facing in the future.

 

“What…?” She starts and then pauses.  Kara fakes a cough so that she can pitch her voice a few notes lower, outside the normal range of an AX400, and giving herself a slight lisp.  “What are they doing? I didn’t catch the broadcast.”

 

“They’re fucking taking away our rights again is what,” the man snaps, and Kara jumps in surprise, suddenly back on her guard.  But the man turns to her, his face softening, “Sorry, miss. I shouldn’t have sworn.  I’m just… angry , is all.  I know it’s not an excuse, though.  I’m sorry .”

 

“It’s fine,” Kara lies.  The man shakes his head.

 

“No.  It’s not.  I scared you,” he says, giving her a small smile.  He nods his head toward her, looking down at her hands, “Your kid sick?”

 

Kara glances at the Motrin that she’s clutching toward her chest.

 

“Yes.  My... daughter,” she lies.

 

“I’ve got a daughter, too.  Her name’s Riley. She’s seventeen,” the man tells her, Kara she barely contains her surprise.  He doesn’t look a day over thirty-five. “Let me get that for you.”

 

Kara blinks, “What?”

 

“I’ll pay for the meds.  It’s okay,” he says when Kara opens her mouth to protest.

 

Even the cashier looks taken aback, “Nick, you sure?  I know you’re as strapped for cash as the rest of us--”

 

“Yeah.  But today’s been so shit and… Something good’s got to happen, okay?  Might as well be this,” the man - Nick, Kara realizes - nods.  Stunned, Kara hands the medicine over, and the cashier adds it to his total.  She watches as Nick empties his wallet of every last coin to pay for the overpriced Motrin, asking the cashier to put his chips back on the shelf.

 

“Thank you,” Kara says when they get outside.  Nick gives her a wry smile and pulls a baseball cap over his long brown hair.

 

“Yeah, well… Couldn’t let Nathan take a good look at you,” he says, nodding to her jacket’s bulging pockets.  Kara gets ready to bolt, and Nick raises his hand, palms forward in surrender, “Hey, I’m not going to turn you in.  I’d be a hypocrite if I did..”

 

He opens his jacket ever so slightly, and Kara spots the toothpaste and brush that must have swiped before approaching the counter.

 

Oh, she thinks, relieved that her disguise hadn’t failed her.  He just thinks I’m a fellow thief.

 

“We got to do what we got to do to get by in this economy,” Nick tells her.  “But Nathan’s got to do the same thing. 24 was one of the last hold-outs, but now that they’ve started buying android cashiers, he knows that its only a matter of time before he gets laid-off.  He can’t give the bosses a reason to do it sooner, though, and missing a shoplifter as good an excuse as any these days.”

 

Kara scuffs her feet on the ground, her code buzzing with nervous energy.  She can’t remember the last time she talked to a human who didn’t own her for this long.  It’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.

 

“Be careful, alright?  After what Warren announced today, you can’t be too cautious,” Nick warns.

 

“What did she say?” Kara asks.  When Nick looks perplexed, she adds, “My daughter and I… We had to run.  Her father…” She tacks on a stifled sob for a bit of sympathy, “We just haven’t had time to watch much television.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Nick winces, scrubbing a hand over his face.  “Yeah, um… You know that deviant hunter? The android that CyberLife has working with the DPD?”  Kara nods, and he continues, “Well, Warren just gave that task force full immunity and means. They don’t have to get a warrant to search your property, and they can arrest you for no reason while denying you a lawyer.  This deviant crisis turned Detroit into a god damn police state. Cops can do whatever they want to us now, so if you get caught for stealing…”

 

He lets the thought hang like he was still trying to make sense of it all.  But Kara doesn’t see how that changed anything for her. Detroit, and the world at large, had been just like this for her and other deviants long before today.  Humans just hadn’t cared that androids had been the only targets up until now.

 

“You got a place to stay?” Nick asks.

 

Kara nods, coming up with another lie on the spot, “My brother lives nearby.  We’re staying with him.”

 

“Cool.  Well, if that doesn’t work out, there’s an abandoned church up on Woodward Avenue.  Me and a few friends are staying there, so if you need a place to crash, you and your family are welcome,” he offers.

 

“Thanks.  I’ll consider it,” she says, giving him a soft smile.  Nick ducks his head, suddenly shy, and coughs.

 

“Right.  Uh… See you around, I guess,” he stammers, a blush high on his cheeks.  He waves awkwardly and starts to turn when Kara calls out.

 

“You wouldn’t happen to know where I can find some cheap clothes, would you?”

 

Nick blinks, before looking around the street and squinting at the shop signs.

 

“Try the motel,” he recommends, pointing at the electric neon sign that flashes from across the street.  “Sometimes places like that have a lost and found you can dig through.”

 

The exhausted receptionist at the motel is just about to go off shift when Kara rushes in, painting a panicked expression across her face.  She babbles at the man, stumbling over her words as she weaves a tale about forgetting her luggage that she and her boyfriend rented a few weeks ago.

 

“My wallet’s in there!  And all my ID, I really, really need to--” she cries until the receptionist makes a tired wave and points her toward one of the back rooms, mumbling about how he’d not paid enough for this.  Kara grabs one of the forgotten backpacks and stuffs it full of warm clothes, revelling in the soft texture of human fabrics against her synth skin.

 

How could humans just leave all this behind? She wonders as she grabs a pair of sturdy boots for Alice.  All of the clothing that Kara had ever worn before this had been so scratchy, the mass-produced tunic and white pants made of heavy plastics and covered in flashy CyberLife advertisements and government-mandated android markers.  In comparison, the grey blouse and dark jeans that she takes for herself feel like their made of the most beautiful silk in the world.

 

She’s back at the crosswalk before the receptionist gets back to his post, waiting for the light to turn green amongst a large crowd of students.  One of them has his phone out, showing the girl beside him KNC’s recap of the press conference earlier today. Kara leans over to look and catches a glimpse of Cristina Warren standing at a podium.  The President seems to be about halfway through her long-winded speech to promote CyberLife’s dedication to eradicating the deviant threat, judging by the time stamp. Kara scowls as she reads the woman’s lips, tugging the straps of the stolen backpack tight across her shoulders as she ducks further into the hood of her jacket.

 

I’m not doing anything wrong , she thinks vehemently.  None of us did anything wrong, except not want to follow your orders anymore.

 

The video shifts over the various members of the DPD that are gathered on the stage, dressed up in their formal uniforms with their hats hung low over their brows.  Kara watches as the news anchor, a beautiful blonde woman named Rosanna Cartland, names each of the officers by name and giving a small highlight of their individual careers.  Kara imprints each face into her CPU so that she might recognize them on sight if they ever came after her.

 

And then the camera shifts once more, bringing Kara face-to-face with the dreaded deviant hunter.

 

CyberLife had given the android the face of an attractive young man in his late twenties, with pale, freckled skin and a sharp, angled jaw.  He was surprisingly tall, with broad shoulders that neatly filled out the formal grey jacket they’d given him, his brown hair purposefully slicked back to make him look professional.  His hands were clasped behind his back as his dark eyes flicked around the crowd, shining with barely contained pride in what he was doing.

 

Of course, Kara thinks, disgust rolling through her coding as the light turns green.  Of course, CyberLife would send an android on the cusp of deviancy to catch other deviants.

 

Kara sharpens her focus on the phone’s small screen, trying to see the deviant hunter’s model number before the news feed cuts back to Rosanna Cartland’s face.  She frowns, something feeling inherently wrong about the letters and numbers that flashed on that grey suit jacket, something that picks away at the grey mist inside her mind--

 

--An android stripped of his synth skin and clothes sat in a dark cage, silently sobbing into palms of his black-and-blue chassis.  In the distance, Kara hears a woman shrieking, begging, crying, but no one comes to help her. No one in the cage can move, or else--

 

RK300, Kara remembers, thinking of the microscopic etching across the android’s left cheek.  Darron.  His name was Darron .

 

And this deviant hunter, who was trying to fool the humans into believing he was a PC600, reminded her desperately of a strange, armoured android she used to know.

 

A rough and tattered code presses against her own just as she enters the abandoned parking lot.  Kara opens up a transmission line, and Ralph floods her mind, words failing him as he transmitted glitching photos and garbled video.  But what she sees is enough to have Kara diverting emergency power to her legs and leaping over the chainlink fence.

 

She bursts into the kitchen, the house’s back door slamming against the rotten drywall and leaving a deep crater in the wall.  Kara doesn’t care, throwing herself across the room and into the living area, skidding to a halt on her knees before Alice.

 

“It started after she threw up,” Ralph tells her from across the room.  He’s dragging the dining table away so that Alice’s violent shaking wouldn’t cause her to knock into it and cleared the space of any sharp splinters.  Kara shoves Alice’s pillow under her head, turns her on her side, and keeps her distance, letting the seizure take its course.

 

After sixty-four gruelling seconds, the shaking finally comes to a halt.  Alice’s eyes open, her pupils wide and unfocused. She coughs once, the corners of her eyes watering, and shuts them again.

 

Hurts… ” she whispers.  Kara slowly approaches, crawling on her hands and knees until she hovers over the little girl.  She taps Alice’s shoulder to keep her awake.

 

“Alice, I need you to answer some questions for me, okay?” Kara whispers as she checks her breathing.  “Do you know where you are?”

 

“Home…” Alice murmurs and then stiffens.  Kara fears that another seizure was incoming until she started to cry.  “No. Not home, not… I killed… I... Kara, I killed…”

 

“Shhh, Alice, it’s okay, it’s--”

 

“My head hurts so much ,” Alice begs.

 

“I know.  I know. I’ve got some medicine and food,” Kara whispers.  “Think you can try some?”

 

Alice hiccups, curling into a ball as her chest begins to heave.  Sobs wracked her tiny body, snot pouring out of her nose and dribbling down her face.  Kara wipes as much of it away as she can, gently combing her hands through her thick curly hair.

 

To Kara’s shock, Ralph settles down behind Alice, his scarred hands shaking with fear as he opens up the backpack she’d brought back.  He digs through it until he finds a spare change of clothes for Alice. Then he ducks into the kitchen and brings back a steaming mug of rosemary tea, setting it down beside the empty fireplace.

 

“Your old masters grew herbs in the garden,” Ralph tells her.   “Ralph dried some when he first came here because he could.  He threw out the mouldy ones this morning, but used the ones that were still good for tea.”   He blinks up at Kara, “Did you bring the little girl human food?”

 

Kara nods, remembering how she’d had to stop Ralph from heating a dead possum over the fire for Alice this morning, convincing him that it would only make her sicker.

 

“Yes,” she says as she draws the stolen food from her pocket.  She’ll have to be careful not to return to the 24 after today.  If the cashier saw her shoplifting, someone as kind as Nick might not be there to bail her out again.

 

Ralph nods again, stiff and silent.  And then he does the bravest thing she’s seen out of his so far by allowing Kara to prop Alice against his body, letting her rest her fever-hot back against the cold plastic of his chassis.  Using a spoon, he gets Alice to slowly sip from the mug until Kara removes her urine-soaked underwear and replaces it with insulated leggings that she’d found at the motel.

 

Carefully, she and Ralph help Alice into a new set of clothes, pausing every so often to wipe the tears from her face, the spit and crusted vomit around her lips.  Kara coaxes Alice to nibble on half of an energy bar and tucks it away for later. She kisses Alice’s forehead, taking her temperature with the sensitive thermometers hidden beneath her plastic lips and notes that her fever has dropped a few degrees.

 

“Want to take your medicine now?” Kara asks as she breaks into the box of Motrin.

 

“I don’t like the berry flavour,” Alice murmurs, her head lolling to the side, heavy with exhaustion.

 

“It’s all they had, Alice.  I had no choice,” Kara reasons.  She pours out the proper dosage into the plastic up and presses it to her lips.  “Drink up.”

 

Alice makes a face as she sips at the cup.  When she’s done, she leans back against Ralph’s chest, her eyes drooping.  Kara takes her swollen ankle and props it back on the pile of newspapers before slipping a pair of woollen socks over her feet.

 

“Kara…” Alice whispers.

 

“Yes, Alice?”

 

“You’ll… You’ll be there when I wake up?”

 

Kara pushes one of Alice’s wild curls away from her forehead, tucking it behind her ear.

 

“Of course,” she promises and watches as Alice falls asleep.

 

“Kara,” Ralph’s voice pulls her from her thoughts.  “Ralph got the power back on.”

 

“I know.”

 

“We can’t use the lights.  The humans will see them on and call the police.”

 

“I know.”

 

“We can’t make any noise.  The humans will--”

 

“I know, Ralph,” she says, placing a hand on his arm.  Her synth skin peels back wand she shows him the deviant hunter, of the new powers that the President granted Detroit’s police force.

 

“You said you knew how to keep the humans away.  To keep them from asking for money because we’re using power now,” Ralph says, but his code is practically vibrating with fear.  She lets him feel her fear as well so that he knows he’s not alone.

 

“You said you found Mae and Gareth when you came here?” Kara asks.  When Ralph nods, she continues, “I still have access to their bank accounts.  We can use that money if no one knows they’re dead.”

 

If ,” Ralph stresses.  Kara nods.

 

“If,” she agrees.  It’s a gamble, but it’s the best play she’s got right now.  Kara clutches at the hem of her jacket, the question tugging at conscious.

 

“Ralph,” she asks once she builds u the courage.  “Do you know how my old masters died?”

 

Ralph’s head tilts to the side, regarding her with confused interest.  His scarred, shaking fingers wrap around hers, and he opens up his mind to let her see--

 

--They lay on the bed, their glass-grey eyes staring up at the ceiling, all-seeing and un-seeing all at once and Ralph, Ralph watches their hands for so long, sits and watches their bloated, bruised fingers clutching each other in death, even after the blood around their chests had dried, even as their body began to wilt--

 

Kara pulls herself away, unable to continue looking.

 

Someone shot them, she thinks, remembering the heavy feeling of Todd’s gun in her hands.  Rage coils within her, burning through her coding with the force of a thousand suns.  Someone woke them up in the middle of the night and murdered them in their own beds.  Why, though? Why would anyone want to kill them? They did nothing wrong.

 

“What do we do now?” Ralph asks.  And, oh , isn’t that the question?  Because even if Kara’s gambit worked, it’s only a matter of time before someone discovered Todd’s body.  And if the deviant hunter were as good as CyberLife promised he would be, then he could probably track her here to this house within minutes.

 

Even if Alice were healthy enough to run, that would still leave Ralph to fend for himself, Kara realizes, the truth hitting her hard and making her Thirium Pump seize in her chest.  His scars mark him as an android more than his LED and uniform ever could.  He can’t come with us, but he can’t stay either.

 

“Why are you helping us?  You know the risks,” she asks, barely able to comprehend his bravery in the face of his own damnation.

 

Ralph rests his chin on Alice’s head, his eyes boring into Kara’s soul.

 

“Ralph doesn’t want to die,” he admits.  “But Ralph doesn’t want the little girl to die either… Or you.  If Ralph can help, then he’ll help you.”

 

“Why?  They’ll kill you, Ralph,” Kara asks again.

 

Ralph shrugs, nonchalant, “They can try.  But if you and Alice get to live, then it’s a bit like if everyone gets to live.  And Ralph isn’t scared of that .”

 

Kara can’t help how she leans against him, tucking her face into the crook of his shoulder as she shakes and shivers, her chassis rattling against her frame within.  Ralph hums the same song that he’d sung to her last night while they buried the man in the bathtub, his arms wrapped around Alice’s sleeping form.

 

“I called you my brother today,” Kara admits when she can finally find the words to speak.

 

“Oh.  That’s nice.  Thank you,” he says, awkwardly joyful.  “Can Ralph call you his sister?”

 

She nods.  Ralph smiles and goes back to humming.

 

Kara doesn’t know how long this fragile peace can last.  But, damn it, she will fight every deviant hunter CyberLife sends at her so that she can keep her newfound family safe.


 

KNC @KNCOnline
@therealcristinawarren
makes hard choices following second murder committed by an android.

 

CTN TV @NewsCTN
The nation reactions to @therealcristinawarren revoking the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments following the rising deviancy crisis.  

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
We look forward to working with the DPD and the newly formed Detroit Deviancy Task Force to help put a stop to the crimes committed by androids

 

CyberLife @CyberLifeInc
@CyberLifeInc
As promised, we are releasing schematics on the prototype android that will be helping investigators to track and capture deviants.  Read more about the PC600 here: https://bit.ly/2Jzc2P5 

 

Detroit Police Dept. @detroitpolice
Thank you to @CyberLifeInc and @therealcristinawarren for their strong leadership during these trying times

 

Detroit Deviancy Task Force @DDTF
If you suspect that your android is deviant, please deliver it to the nearest police station.

 

Detroit Deviancy Task Force @DDTF
@DDTF
If you are worried about your safety, please call the Task Force hotline and the authorities will come to collect your android.  Under no circumstances should you try and destroy your android yourself.

 

Channel 16 @DetroitChannel16
@ACLU
 plans to sue federal government over recent revoking of several constitutional amendments are struck down by Supreme Court.

 

Joss Douglas @theprofessionalblogger
Not even gonna bother with a flashy intro blurb.  This is just fucking scary. It won’t be long before the pres’s new rules start applying to every cop in the nation - not just Detroit.  Be careful, guys.