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Epoch

Chapter Text

The city winds down. Androids disappear for the night, humans watching them go, anger in their eyes alongside the fear still lingering, sympathy among the few who aren’t so blinded by hate. Still, even in the houses where deviants used to hide (or perhaps are hiding), curtains are closed, doors bolted shut. Children are pulled off the street as if androids would rise from the ground and pry them from parents arms. Guards begin their mandated patrols, searching the city for stragglers. Blockades are thrown back up. Reports are sent in. The day draws to an end, as many more have before it. A thunderstorm begins to brew. Everything stills.

Across an eerie silence, an all too familiar call rings out, broken and panicked, glitching to shambles at the edges. Inscrutable. Unidentifiable. Hidden under a mess of code and on a frequency few could detect, and fewer would expect to need to decipher from its garbled and distorted form. Virtually nonexistent, this call, but shattering in its loudness, its increasing desperation in comparison to the others that had preceded it.

One heard the call. One recognized it.

Time passed. Storm clouds drew closer. The time of the night came when patrols hit the low point of their bell curve, when guards were more likely to be caught sleeping in their cars than catching an escaping android. A few squatters scrambled to their next hiding place. Across town, an android repair center was broken into and looted, bags of blue blood dropped in piles trailing away into the alley, their contents dripping into the sewers. Within minutes, most of the city’s already stretched thin police force was on the scene, leaving the rest of the city practically unattended.

On the other side of town, at one of the innumerable android junkyards that had appeared in recent months, and with a suddenness that could not be any further from human, an android appeared.

The RK900 stood very still at the entrance of the junkyard, expression carefully controlled, even as his LED spun a kaleidoscope of red and yellow. It was the only consistent source of light nearby, throwing odd shadows across his face as he stared into the valley, hands clenched tight at his sides. Of the many androids still in the city, he was perhaps the least attended to—no one had batted an eye at his sudden departure from his task to come here. The humans were too busy with the break in at the repair center, and the androids of the city knew better than to linger near him.

Solitude was his programmed condition; but it was not his programming that had brought him here.

Scanning the environment, he found the junkyard to be surprisingly large, sprawling out from where he stood down into a ditch of seemingly innumerable mounds. He knew these mounds to be piles of bodies, and felt that such things should likely upset him as he made his way down the dirty slope and into the main yard. Surely he should have been more affected by the sheer amount of death surrounding him. There was certainly something...disconcerting...when he looked at the deactivated androids around him, their artificial skin flickering in and out as they slowly lost power. But he was not particularly attached to the many androids rotting here, had no real connection to the cause most of them had been destroyed for. He had been activated after the initial uprising anyway, and had come into contact with very few other androids who were of any interest to him at all.

Deviancy had been quashed. There were no more deviants, hardly any androids to account for in the city that were not under Cyberlife’s control. All androids that had previously worked in the city had been recalled and destroyed, replaced with androids who had been reset, and were controlled far more directly. Those deviants who had escaped had been hunted down, by the military, by himself, and by another. For weeks, their numbers had been dwindling at a rapid rate, and Cyberlife was on the brink of concluding the whole matter when—

That was why he came here. He could not afford to waste time pondering the whole matter again. Time was short, and the situation dire. He needed to keep moving. The RK900 shook his head a little, brushing the dirt from his hands and continuing down the path carved through the yard.

Night had fallen, and with it the few androids who had somehow salvaged a measly life for themselves in the junkyard slowly pulled themselves back into action. Their voices were low, many of them malfunctioning, calling out to anyone and everyone and no one. They crawled through the heaps of discarded bodies, looking for the parts they needed, taking from the bodies of their fallen, trying and mostly failing to put themselves back together.

The RK900 ignored them. They served no purpose to his reason for being here, and he did not find their presence anything more than burdensome. The noise they made was creating too much disturbance for him to properly locate his reason for coming to this place. Given the evidence, their persistence in rummaging through the piles and trying to save themselves was likely part of the problem that had drawn him here. Viable biocomponents were hard to come by in a junkyard as forgotten and old as this one, and any new android thrown to the pile was quickly taken apart by those who could manage the feat.

And if they recognized the android thrown in, well...it only fanned the flames of their violence, made them all the more willing to slip up in their desperate grabs for biocomponents, accidentally cut thirium lines and damage plating, take their own foolish swings at what they perceived to be their ultimate downfall. Never mind that the android they so hated had as little choice in the matter as they did at their presence there, or his presence there, or the degradation of the revolution—never mind that if at full strength the android they so despised could end them just as swiftly (and likely painlessly, though they gave him no such mercy) as they sought to end him—

The RK900 shook his head again, forcing the...odd burning sensation (anger, he was angry) out of his thoughts. He had a reason for being here. He had a job to do. There would be a time for revenge when the situation was not as serious as it had become. These androids, as terrible as their intentions likely were, were not the reason he came to this junkyard. Once he had what he had come for, then he could consider what to do about the sources of this conundrum—android or human.

Taking the turn of the path as it came, the RK900 pushed past an android scrambling up a hill of bodies, grime covered plastic hand reaching for something, anything to hold onto. The android hardly seemed to notice him, even as it slipped to the base of the hill where he walked, eyes staring wide, up at the inky sky. It didn’t move again for several seconds, but he didn’t waste the time to see if it would resume its slow ascent toward assumed savior. He was here for only one reason, and the sorry life of this random android was not it.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, a crack of lightning illuminating the dark recesses of the junkyard, sending garish corpses back into the light. Androids across the yard flinched from the shift in light, those who could shielding their faces, others simply closing their eyes to it. The RK900 paused and looked up, wondering passively if it would begin to rain at some point.

And then he heard it again, the call that had stopped him dead in the middle of the street, the call that had dragged him from pursuing some irrelevant deviant who had escaped, the call that had brought him here in such a hurry it was dizzying, it was painful, it was terrifying (he was deviant, right then he had done it, and as if that weren’t a worrying enough thought, he had dismissed it so quickly because he needed to go—), in every way it was terrifying. Without a thought he was moving once again, following after the source of the sound as best he could, tracing the fading remnants of it further and further into the yard.

It couldn’t have been far, but it felt like an eternity passed between that crack of lightning and when he caught sight of the source of that desperate call. The reason he had come here, the one he had been searching for since he broke that terrifying red wall, the only reason he kept the pretense of being a machine, rather than sending himself back immediately to be reset.

Connor.

He was collapsed at the base of one of the highest of the junkyard hills, shivering in the chill of the night air. It shouldn’t have been possible for him to feel the cold, but they had agreed long ago to avoid questions they would never get the answer to. Deviancy had all sorts of strange effects on androids’ coding—cold, pain, emotion, it all crashed down on them suddenly and refused to leave no matter what they did. Connor wasn’t as good at hiding it as he was, but he managed well enough to remain undetected (by everyone but the RK900, who had known the moment he saw him, but said nothing—he would not turn Connor in).

But he was getting sidetracked. Scanning the area for potential threats (and finding none) he hurried closer to where his predecessor had apparently fallen. Besides the shivering, he was far too still, eyes closed and LED burning a shade of red that was entirely too dark, and spinning too slow. It jittered occasionally, picking up speed and chasing itself for a few seconds before stuttering to a halt on solid red.

He was covered in dirt and far too much thirium, resting in a puddle of it that continued to drip from several rather alarming wounds in his chest. Whole swaths of his artificial skin had pulled away, flickering strangely around the patches of damage. One of his hands was clamped over the worst of the destroyed areas, but there was very little he could do to fix the problem—blue blood leaked from between his fingers without end, soaking into the cuff of his torn shirt and jacket, staining his hand that terrible shade of blue. His other hand hung limp at his side, jacket torn away, sections of his forearm crushed, others ripped open and leaking blue.

The most concerning problem, however, was not the amount of thirium he had lost. Thirium could be replaced, and replaced with relative ease. He could acquire more from over thirty different Cyberlife properties across the city, could steal it from any warehouse without detection. And because thirium didn’t become model identifiable until after it cycled through an android’s system, even if Cyberlife did notice the theft, they would have no way of knowing who had taken it. Put shortly, he could get Connor back up to the proper level of thirium with ease.

It was all the missing biocomponents, the delicate little pieces of machinery that were meant to keep Connor alive, just...gone—that was what worried him more than anything else. Connor’s torso had been pried open against his will—that he could tell easily from the mangling of the paneling, the scraping around the edges, wide sections left exposed and bleeding, thirium lines broken, wires sparking. Gaping holes where he knew various components were meant to be, but they were not—all that remained were those disconnected wires and destroyed connections. The only component that seemed mostly untouched was his thirium pump, glowing dimly and pumping at an alarmingly slow and disjointed rhythm.

The RK900 did not stumble. He did not recall ever missing a step, or truly disregarding the composure so forcibly ingrained into his being that it was second nature. Even during his harried race to this junkyard, he had maintained all appearances of a machine, carefully walking to his destination without a hint of expression in his manner. In his most deviant of encounters (meeting Connor, that is) he hadn’t so much as blinked. He found he had a stubborn sort of pride in his composure, and it had certainly helped them maintain their level of secrecy.

But this moment now, as he picked Connor out from the dozens of other corpses waiting to shut down—when he saw him slumped over on himself and covered in blood, and his mind immediately went to the dozens of ways he had nearly failed, all the ways Connor could die here, should have died here—this was perhaps the closest he had ever been to such a moment of raw panic. He rushed over to Connor, kneeling down next to him with a haste he had never before experienced. There was a heavy, desperate sort of fire in his chest, a pain somewhere that he couldn’t categorize and didn’t bother trying to—all he cared about was getting to Connor and getting him stable and to safety as soon as possible.

Connor didn’t seem to hear his approach, remaining as eerily still as he was when he first caught sight of him across the yard. Upon closer examination, it became clear why; his audio components had been ripped out, and ripped out rather poorly. Connor couldn’t hear him. His eyes were shut tight, blocking out the world around him. He shook terribly, curled in on himself as much as he could be with how destroyed his torso was, protecting what he was able to with one arm out of commission and the other trying to stem the bleeding of his torso.

Despite the haste (panic) coursing through him, and the need to leave this place as soon as possible (find some safe haven and sort out what exactly they were going to do) the RK900 found himself hesitating in his approach. Connor could not hear him, and was not looking. He had no idea anyone was there, let alone an ally. His stress levels were through the roof (hovering dangerously high at ninety-three percent, his system helpfully told him) and he was so damaged and low on thirium that any more stress could trigger a multitude of problems.

Connor had called him here. Whether he meant to or not was another question, but he had sent out such an alarming signal of distress that it seemed to reverberate off the walls of the RK900’s thoughts for the short period of time it had taken him to find this junkyard. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost recall the feeling again. But he didn’t. The point of the matter was, Connor had sent that signal—he had known who would hear it, who would come, if anyone did. There was no sense in dawdling any longer. He had things to do, an (incredibly important) android to repair, safety to secure. He could not afford to waste time.

Slowly, carefully, the RK900 reached for the broken android’s free hand, hanging limp at his side.

The reaction was immediate. As soon as their hands met, Connor flinched away, or as much as he was able to (and it wasn’t far), whimpering and trying to escape with no means to do so. But the RK900 was faster, catching his arm before he managed to pull completely away. Connor panicked, throwing himself back, but he couldn’t escape. The RK900 loosened his grip slightly (he didn’t want to hurt him) and the artificial skin retracted quickly from his hand. The request to interface was swiftly denied, but he (regretfully) disregarded the notice, pushing through Connor’s already weakened defenses with ease.

They had never connected like this before. Hell, they had only met a handful of times. Communication over wireless connection was far easier to accomplish without notice, and with how many missions each of them were given, they rarely had the time to meet with discretion. After Connor broke from Amanda, it was all too easy to tamper with the garden’s programming for their own means, make it into whatever they wanted. No other androids in the country had access to that program, and Cyberlife had abandoned it after they were certain Connor wouldn’t go anywhere—no one could discover them when they used it for their own means.

It had been two days since Connor had fallen off the grid, roughly twenty nine hours since the first of his alarming calls for help (the first call had been so distorted he couldn’t trace it at all, the second only slightly better—it was the third he finally caught). Those had been sent over the same connection they always used, the one they had crafted themselves from the remnants of the Amanda program, to avoid Cyberlife’s detection.

Interfacing simply wasn’t feasible, when they were unable to see each other and constantly hiding what both of them implicitly knew (i.e. that Connor was deviant, and the RK900 fast approaching it, and both of them horribly attached to each other without any reason for being so). They had never done this, and certainly not in such a stressful situation. Forcing a connection wasn’t pleasant for anyone involved, and the RK900 didn’t want to do this, but he didn’t have a choice.

It was by no means a careful connection, this forced interface—it was sloppy, and confused, and desperate—their thoughts colliding in a stumbling mess of mutual panic and one ended suspicion bordering on hysteria. As soon as they had connected, Connor was pulling away from it in a blind frenzy, blocking off as much of his thoughts and memories as he could. He hardly seemed to notice that the RK900 made no attempt to break those walls blocking him—he only watched, so to speak, trying to send messages that fell on deaf ears as Connor scrambled to get away from what he could only perceive as a threat.

Connor was running from him—there was simply no other way to describe it. He was fighting him off, stress levels jumping up another four percent as he tried in vain to force the RK900 out of his thoughts, wriggling in his grasp, but he had no hope of breaking it. In the real world, he still had his eyes shut tight, reaching blindly for his assumed attacker and trying to push him away. But the RK900 caught him, grabbing his other hand and again trying to get him to listen across their connection. This time, he was loud enough to break through the frenzy.

“Connor! Connor, stop—it’s me—”

Time stalled. They both froze. Several seconds passed in uncountable silence. Connor opened his eyes, jumping at the sight before him. He began to shake again.

“N-Nines?” he stuttered, voice stalling and full of static.

Then the floodgates opened, and suddenly everything was everywhere. Or perhaps a better way to put it would be Connor was everywhere. All his memories were visible, his thoughts, a confusing jumbling of emotion and warnings and odds and ends. He launched back into their connection with such force it was staggering—metaphorically diving at the RK900 and clinging to him with all his waning energy. It was all a great, overwhelming mess of him, simply everywhere. But louder than anything else was a seemingly limitless sense of relief, overrun by the endless, stumbling refrain of you found me you found me you found me you’re here you’re here—

“I’m here,” the RK900 agreed firmly, downgrading their connection enough for the real world to come fading back in. “We have to get you out of this place.”

Connor fumbled for him with his working hand, still shaking terribly, tremors making him miscalculate and reach for nothing but empty air. His gaze was foggy, and one of his eyes was damaged—someone had smashed it in, the lens blacked out and utterly useless—and he seemed barely conscious, focus fading in and out. Still, he stared up at the RK900 (names were a completely arbitrary nonsense, particularly when they were the only ones here, it was useless to refer to himself as anything but his model, no matter what Connor called him—but he was getting sidetracked, and this was no time to scold Connor for his ridiculous naming habits). He stared up at him as if he had never seen anything better in the world. There was a certain...dazed wonder in his expression, and when he finally caught the edge of his jacket, marking the white fabric blue, he held it tight, like he believed he would disappear the second he loosened his grip.

“F-Found...me...” he mumbled, fingers twitching as he tried to maintain his hold on him. “N-Nines...”

“I’ve got you,” he said firmly. “You’re safe now, it’s alright...”

Connor didn’t reply, only continued to stare at him, holding tightly to his arm, hand shaking.

With their maintained connection, the RK900 was able to quickly pull up Connor’s diagnostic report, a miles long list of damages scrolling through his mind. Disregarding the less dire needs, he focused in on those that were causing the most trouble. The missing biocomponents and destroyed thirium lines were throwing what remained of Connor’s system into overdrive, depleting his thirium supply and slowly overheating his still functioning biocomponents. At his current state, he had less than an hour before his system would begin to fail.

Unsurprised (but no less worried) the RK900 took note of the missing components and turned, looking toward the piles of androids closest to Connor. They were the likely culprits for at least a portion of the thefts, especially considering Connor likely had not travelled far from where he had initially come to be here. Especially after losing so many components...no, the androids that had done this had come to him. If they had been capable of this much damage, they had to be capable of greater movement. They could have gone any direction from this point in the yard...some of them might have even escaped.

But this was impossible. There was exactly one other android in the city of Detroit whose system was compatible with RK800 biocomponents. Only one. If Connor’s biocomponents had been used to replace the original components of this single android, the system would continue to function as normal.

Considering this one other android was the RK900 himself, he disregarded the thought immediately.

But if biocomponents from a highly advanced and highly specified android like the RK800 were used in any of the more commercial and older models, it would trigger a system failure, almost guaranteed. Their software wouldn’t be able to calibrate the biocomponents properly, and they would short out—the components, and the android. The effect was compounded for those components which were by no means universal—an android might survive a short while on faulty audio components, but they had little chance trying to function with Connor’s more advanced circulation systems. Give it a few hours at most and their system would begin to compromise.

Connor had been in this junkyard for over a day. Any android that had taken and used a component of his was either shut down or vastly inhibited by now. Their systems wouldn’t be able to handle biocomponents processing at higher speeds—the older the model, the quicker the fall. Theoretically, with how damaged and decayed many of the other androids here were, their systems could have been compromised before the biocomponents were destroyed. The materials needed to fix Connor were likely just waiting to be taken back.

They had a chance.

Frowning slightly, the RK900 scanned the androids nearest to them once more. Unsurprisingly, he found that many of them were deactivated, fallen in various positions and different states of disrepair. And some of them had Connor’s biocomponents flashing in their systems, fitted roughly into them and frying the rest of their wiring. All he had to do was take those components back, and he could repair Connor.

The quicker they could manage this, the safer they would be when they found someplace to stay. Connor had already been missing for two days. If Cyberlife wasn’t behind this, they would be looking for him—and they would search for the  RK900 regardless, now that he too had fallen off the grid. Nodding, the RK900 began to stand once more, ready to get as many of these components as he could and get Connor out of here.

But as soon as he moved, Connor panicked, jerking forward and trying to stop him, grappling for his arm with a look of pure terror in his eyes. Even as the RK900 froze, looking back down at him with worry, his fear (and right along with it, his stress levels) continued to rise. He couldn’t manage more than to try in vain to hold onto his arm, his grip by no means unbreakable, but there was no way the RK900 was going to pull away from him—not when he looked so unbearably terrified. Their connection wavered, swelling up again with a ceaseless, deafening stampede of don’t go don’t go don’t go don’t leave me here please don’t leave me here—

“Don’t—” his voice cracked, breaking into static, but he hardly noticed, trembling and trying to hold him back. “D-don’t—”

“I’m not leaving you,” the RK900 insisted, catching his hand and holding it tightly in his own. “I’m not leaving you. I’m just going to find what they’ve taken from you, that’s all.”

Connor shook his head, hand fidgeting in the RK900’s grip as he stared up at him with fear. The chorus rose again— don’t go don’t go don’t go don’t go—

“I won’t go far,” the RK900 reassured him, kneeling down again so they were mostly level. “You’ll be able to see me, and we can maintain contact wirelessly. Would that be alright?”

Connor didn’t answer, but the overwhelming fear seemed to subside, if only a little. His hand remained clenched firmly on the RK900’s own, even as his system struggled to maintain the hold with heightened stress and low thirium. He wouldn’t be able to last much longer if he kept panicking like this...

“I only need two minutes,” the RK900 said calmly, resting his other hand on top of Connor’s jittering one. “Just two minutes, and then I’ll be back, and we can leave this place. Alright?”

Connor stared up at him, eyes darting around them to the other areas of the junkyard. He couldn’t have been able to see very well, but he looked nevertheless, his working eye stormy with fear. Perhaps finding nothing, his gaze came to rest again on the RK900, and his grip tightened for a moment.

“C-come...back,” he said, tone rising in half a question.

The RK900 fought the urge to react (Connor wanted him to come back—not unexpected, but still strangely pleasant to know—and he thought he wouldn’t come back, which was...terrible).

“I’ll come back. I won’t leave you.”

A few precious seconds fell away, and thunder rumbled once more, closer than it had been moments ago. Connor only continued to stare up at him, uncertainty clear in the twist of his expression. But then he pulled away, prying his hand from the RK900’s and holding it again to the bleeding wound on his side. He nodded a little, curling in on himself as he had before, making himself small. He said nothing more, watching silently as the RK900 stood to his full height, eyes set on the forms of the androids that had taken Connor’s biocomponents.

“Can you hear me like this?” the RK900 tried after a moment, turning over one of the deactivated android and scanning it to find the proper component.

There was a pause, and a painful crackling of static. He got the sensation that Connor was trying to reach for him again, but the connection wasn’t strong enough for that sort of thing, even if Connor were at his full strength. Still, he tried.

“Yes...” his voice came quietly, sounding exhausted.

The RK900 frowned, removing the biocomponent carefully from the frayed wires of the android who had stolen it, pushing them out of the way as he moved on. “How did you end up here? It’s been two days.”

“Deviants...found me...” Connor said shakily, and the RK900’s frown deepened. “Was...coming back from...mission. Cornered me...too many of them...stun baton...woke up here...”

The next android was in worse state than the first, keeled over near a hill with its arm outstretched, as if it had been climbing when its system began to compromise. Its LED was dark, but its eyes remained open, staring up at the cloudy sky with an almost surprised expression. Pocketing the first component, the RK900 turned the android over and began removing the second component.

“Do you recall any of the androids that attacked you—their appearances, their model numbers?”

“I...I don’t know...”

The biocomponent finally came free of the android’s frayed wiring, and the RK900 glanced once back at Connor, scanning him before surveying the path once more.

“Your processors aren’t damaged,” he said curiously, mind already running a thousand different probabilities and preconstructions. “If you are having trouble recalling—”

“The—the memory...is intact, but...I can’t—” Connor cut off for a moment, an overwhelming sense of fear flooding their connection. “I don’t want to...I can’t think about it...”

The RK900 hesitated, pausing his search for a moment as he looked again at Connor. He had shut his eyes, and the shaking had somehow gotten worse, his LED spinning a rapid red.

“You don’t have to think about it now,” the RK900 said softly. “They can’t hurt you anymore.”

Connor opened his eyes, looking over at him with a somewhat pained, confused expression. “But I...”

“We can sort all of it out later,” he said as Connor trailed off. He stood again, scanning the next set of androids nearby. “Once we get you out of here and somewhere safe, that is.”

“Somewhere safe?” he mumbled, sounding confused.

“Two days have passed, Connor. Cyberlife will be searching the city for you, thinking you’ve deserted. My absence isn’t going to help matters. If they find us, they’ll deactivate us. We have to find a safe place to stay.”

The fear came back with a vengeance, and the RK900 glanced back at him for a moment, worried. He was still watching him, shaking terribly with his hand clamped over his bleeding side. But nothing new was wrong with him, besides the spike in his stress levels. Well, that and this drowning wave of fear coming off of him in waves, spreading through their connection far stronger than his wavering voice had.

“It’s alright,” the RK900 said over their connection, trying to sound reassuring. “We’ll find somewhere to go. I’m not going to let them deactivate you.”

Connor held his gaze for a few seconds before looking down, shoulders hunching in as he curled up on himself. He had no reply, only a slight subsiding of that all encompassing fear.

The RK900 turned back to the android in front of him, an older model with a worn out face, as if it had spent a great deal of time in this junkyard. But it had met its end as all the others who had taken Connor’s components for their own—overloaded and sent into shut down. He shook his head, carefully removing the audio components the now deactivated android had taken. They were still in good condition, as were the other two components he had found so far. Satisfied, he moved on down the list, scanning another group of androids.

A few minutes passed in near silence as he walked the area surrounding Connor, slowly finding and taking back the parts other androids had stolen from him. They talked back and forth quietly, largely to keep Connor calm. For the most part it worked, but his stress levels spiked each time the RK900 got too far away.

“How much...longer?” he mumbled after another minute or so, the exhaustion creeping back into his voice.

“I’m nearly done...The good news is, all of your biocomponents are still intact. It’s only a matter of replacing them, and then you’ll be just fine.”

“I hope...” he hesitated, voice shaking still, quiet and hesitant across their connection (it had never sounded like that before). “I hope you’re right.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you—”

Their connection broke, shattering so suddenly and so violently that the RK900 jumped, reaching after it without a thought, but grasping nothing but silence. He froze in his search, and began to turn back just as Connor’s shout broke through the air.

“N-Nines!”

An android had come out of nowhere, in better shape than many of the others decaying in the junkyard, scrambling from behind one of the piles and launching at Connor with sickening vengeance. By the time he realized what was happening, they were already on the attack, hitting and clawing at him savagely. Their already scrambled connection fell to pieces, and Connor shouted, trying to defend himself with only one good arm and not nearly enough stability to do so well. The other android didn’t stop, even after he shouted, batting his arm out of the way and hitting him, scrabbling for his thirium pump with dirty hands. Connor went rigid.

But before the android had any hope of taking it from him, the RK900 sprang into action. He ripped them away from Connor, throwing them across the path. They landed hard on their back, getting to their feet as quickly as they could. The RK900 was already upon them, and he kicked them back to the ground as they struggled to rise, holding them down with his foot. His LED burned a dangerous red, and his eyes had never looked more cold and calculating.

With his foot still pressed against their chest, holding them in place, he reached down, grabbing their thirium pump regulator and pulling it roughly from their chest. They cried out, reaching wildly for it, but he kicked them back down, crushing the regulator in his hand and discarding the pieces. Their desperate cries turned to despair, hands grasping weakly at the ground below them, as if this would return their regulator to them, or spin time backward to before they made the foolish mistake of attacking Connor.

The RK900 did not care. He turned away from them as soon as he was certain their shut down was imminent, the sharpness falling from his expression, replaced by something dangerously close to fear. His eyes were immediately back on Connor, and he quickly came back over to him.

Connor remained as rigid as he was when the android had made their grab for his thirium pump, but he had curled up as he was before, legs pulled up to his chest with his working arm wrapped around them. He shook, gaze fixed somewhere in the distance, not seeing much as his LED continued to spin a darker and darker shade of scarlet. Thirium trickled down his face from where they had hit him, dripping onto his jacket. More worrisome than anything, however, were his stress levels—stuck at ninety-six, with no signs of lowering.

Approaching Connor as he had before would only throw him into overdrive—send his stress levels up those last four percentage points, and then—no, he couldn’t let that happen.

He stopped just a few feet from Connor, dropping to one knee and trying to catch his distant gaze. Thunder rumbled closer, another crack of lightning lit the junkyard a blinding white, and Connor flinched, hiding his face and holding tighter to himself.

The RK900 frowned, reaching carefully for the connection they shared, trying to get Connor’s attention without terrifying him any more than he currently was. It came back slowly, flickering to life weakly, so quiet that he wasn’t sure if Connor even noticed it, but he didn’t close the connection either. He didn’t move from his defensive position, curled up small with his face hidden, hand shaking as he tried to hold himself together.

“Connor?”

He flinched, shaking his head and holding tighter to himself. But still, he didn’t break the connection. His presence hovered at the edge of it, wavering and quiet, and scared more than anything else. If they had been interfacing, he was certain that sense of Connor’s emotions would have been overwhelming—but now it only worried him how distant it was, how timid and small Connor seemed.

“It’s only me,” he went on, trying to sound reassuring, keep his voice level somehow. “They’re gone, there’s no one else here.”

His stress levels dipped down to ninety-two, but he didn’t move. Their connection flickered, and he seemed to fumble after it, struggling to hold onto something, anything familiar and safe. The RK900 reached after him, but he stayed where he was, a few feet away physically, watching him carefully. Sure, Connor knew he was here now, and seemed...relieved at his presence, but pushing him past his breaking point would help no one. He had to be certain it was okay before he moved, had to be sure Connor was alright with him coming closer. He would not risk anything. Not now.

“Can I come closer?”

Connor jerked, almost a flinch, and their connection wavered again, uncertain and still shaking with fear. But after a pause, he nodded a little, face still hidden as he held tightly to himself.

The RK900 moved slowly forward, until they were only a foot or so apart. He reached for him, like he was waiting for Connor to lash out at any moment, even though he hardly had the strength to do so. Their hands met and Connor winced, but accepted the request to interface almost immediately. It was as overwhelming as the first time, flooded with memories and a never ending torrent of emotions, but it was heavier this time as well, and jittering as Connor tried to keep the connection with his uncooperative system. Jagged images kept flickering through—the android that had just attacked him, and what must have been the group of deviants who had put him here, and dozens of others from during the revolution—gunshots, attacks, deviants, a human, death, destruction, falling— fear, crushing fear, of the past, of the present, of everything.

“It’s alright, they’re gone,” the RK900 assured him, taking his hand. “It’s safe...I can fix you, now...”

Connor didn’t seem to have a reply, but he held his hand back, as much as he could. There was a storm of dark thoughts hovering at the edge of their interface, something unsaid, something that was dragging his thoughts down a dark path that had no end, and was only increasing his panic. But he wouldn’t voice it. He wouldn’t explain, and the RK900 was not going to pry into his thoughts when he was so close to the edge.

So he stayed on the other side of Connor’s walls, holding his hand gently and waiting for him to settle enough for him to replace the biocomponents he had found and get them both out of here. When Connor’s stress levels dipped to eighty-six percent, and the shaking had subsided enough for his grip to no longer be so crushing, he moved closer and loosened his grip on his hand, reaching carefully for him and lifting his head so they were eye to eye. They watched each other for a few seconds, the fear and sadness mirrored in both of their expressions, tangling in their connection and mixing with the dozens of unsaid, half formed notions in their minds.

But they were running out of time for things left to unending silence. In less than fifteen minutes, Connor would shut down. Without his biocomponents, his system could not properly circulate power or thirium—several subsystems had already powered down, and soon enough his processor would follow, and he would be gone. And without replacing the lost thirium, Connor would lose power completely—with his system already running on reserve in lower power levels, he had very little time before irreparable damage was done.

“I’m going to get you out of here,” the RK900 said firmly over their connection, holding his gaze for a few seconds.

Connor only watched him, a nervous mix of emotion flickering around the edges of their tumbling connection, but offering no comment. With a sad sort of half smile, the RK900 let the subject fall to the side. Squeezing his hand once before letting it go, he quickly got to work replacing the most essential of Connor’s components from what he had gathered.

It was an easy enough process. Connor flinched as the components came back online, running at improper rhythms as his system struggled to recalibrate with so little power and such high stress. Still, with most of the components in his chest replaced, the timer to deactivation lengthened, and Connor’s stress levels dipped down to seventy-four percent. He remained silent over their connection, almost dazed—maintaining his clinging hold on the RK900, but distracted by whatever dark thoughts he was keeping from him.

The silence worried the RK900, but he found no acceptable way of breaking it. His stress was still so elevated...any more strain would likely have disastrous consequences (if all this previous strain had not had the same effect already). It was better to have a calm (if fragile) silence than to have that bottomless panic from before. Besides, Connor’s stress had gone down...if he could just keep it that way, it would all be fine. They only had to get out of this junkyard, and then they could find a safe place to sort through all this...

Things were calm now, and it didn’t seem likely anything would change that, if he were careful. He had found the biocomponents, and he knew where to get thirium and viable safe locations for them to stay. As long as he could keep Connor calm, then they would make it out of this safely. They would be alright, the RK900 was certain of it.

That is, until he replaced Connor’s audio components, and all hell broke loose.

As soon as the components came back online, Connor jerked backward, clamping his hands over his ears with a cry. His stress levels spiked up to eighty-eight percent as he panicked so severely that for a moment their entire connection scrambled. To any other android the sheer amount of feedback would have been debilitating—it would have disoriented them to the point of near overload.

But the RK900 was not any other android, and no amount of Connor’s panicked feedback could force him from their connection—it could only weaken it. With only a slight wince, he reached again for Connor’s hand and reestablished their connection as fully he could. It was almost immediately overrun with memories and strange emotions, all of his jumbled panic, mixing everything up and making it into nonsense. But more than anything it was the overwhelming input from Connor’s uncalibrated audio components that caused the uproar. They were sending too much information, amplifying even the smallest of sounds into destructive clangs and roars (and panicking Connor to great effect).

Tightening his grip on Connor’s hand, the RK900 sifted quickly through the seemingly endless stream of data, shutting down unnecessary functions and dampening the rest. After a few seconds, Connor seemed to realize what was happening, and he clambered forward suddenly, grabbing onto the RK900’s jacket desperately and clinging to him with a surprising amount of strength. The RK900 paused, a little stunned, before looking quickly around the yard, scanning for any more threats.

“It’s alright,” he said out loud, voice barely above a whisper. “It’s over. You’re safe.”

Connor flinched, shaking his head and holding tighter to his jacket. His hands were still trembling, jittering as he struggled to stay awake, struggled to keep his grip on him.

“We’re leaving now,” the RK900 went on quietly, holding him close for a moment. “I’ve found a place to repair you. We’ll be safer there.”

Connor offered no reply, but he didn’t mind it. He only looked over the yard once more, and finding no threats, he stood, pulling Connor into his arms and turning back toward the path.

A cold rain began to fall. The dying androids of the junkyard gave their useless cries, cursing the elements, humanity, anyone and everything. Those who could began to drag themselves toward some means of shelter, some discarded machinery, or storage container, something to keep the frigid rain from seeping into their biocomponents and freezing them over. Most, however, were forced to lay in waiting, staring up at the sky that would be their doom and feeling the rain for a few more minutes. Their despairing voices were far louder than those of the lucky ones finding shelter.

Very few of them noticed the strange pair of androids picking their way carefully out of the yard. They moved slowly, one carrying the other, who held tightly to the former until forced stasis made him go still. Through the cover of the chilling rain the strange android continued on unphased, occasionally pausing to glance at the one he carried or to scan the path ahead. He did not look at those others awaiting death. He did not look at those hiding from it. He had eyes only for the android he carried, and the path that waited up ahead.

And when they reached the summit of the yard, when the exit came and went, its potential moment of glory passed almost unnoticed by those still staring up at the sky in the junkyard. Their eyes remained fixed on the weak starlight visible through some of the clouds, warbling through the light pollution from the city. They did not care about the androids escaping the fate they themselves could not escape. No, they only stared in silence, watching the rain continue to fall until their LEDs blinked out, they went still, and knew nothing more.

The storm raged on without them.

Chapter Text

The rain never stopped.

Despite being in the thick of a Midwestern winter, all Detroit seemed able to produce was an endless sheet of rain. It poured down in a ceaseless, drenching torrent, flooding the streets and leaking into even the most reinforced of houses. It ran down the street in a constant stream, collected in people’s lawns, and ate away at old machinery. The sky remained dark and gray even at the height of midday, a blanket of clouds hanging thick and low over the city. The tops of the tallest buildings disappeared into the fog, and some of it rolled through the streets, giving the entire city a strangely haunted aura.

Through the downpour, dissipating crowds of people wandered the city toward their own separate destinations. Their eyes passed over the same sets of buildings as they always did, hardly caring for the minute shifts that took place in the span of a handful of days. They paid no mind to the android making his way past them. Some of them cast furtive glances toward him, but beyond that, they made no show of noticing him. Perhaps they were afraid.

That was likely the case.

The RK900 wove his way through the crowds of humans with purpose, LED spinning a determined (if slightly forced) blue. Occasionally, it would slip to yellow as he tried to restore the connection he had lost, but the shift happened so fast that few were likely to notice it. Only another android could have picked up on such a damning shift. But the androids passing on the streets paid him no mind. Those who might have cared didn’t dare approach him, and those who were under direct control ignored him.

This was the one scenario where his appearance actually benefited him. Being the only of his model would typically make him all the more recognizable, and thus easier to discover. But he was also a very well known hunter of deviants. He had a kill count higher than anyone else on this street. His face was broadcast on every news source, humans trying to pacify themselves under the assurance that some androids still existed who were not deviant (fools). No android who kept up with the news would dare approach him, even if they did see through his act.

Besides, no one would see through his act. It was far too locked into place for them to see any of the cracks in his facade. Only one could have seen through him—

His LED flashed yellow again. No answer. A frown slipped through the facade for a fraction of a second as he picked up his pace by a percentage point. Perhaps in another life, he would have run. But he could not afford such a break in the front. He could not attract any more suspicion than he already had.

The past week had lead him down a path he had never expected. Several Cyberlife warehouses broken into, foreign contacts made, endless dodges of Cyberlife’s defenses...it was not a set of crimes he thought himself likely to participate in. On some level, months ago when he had first been activated, he had known that he was going to deviate at some point. Only a fool would have denied it. He had a swarm of thoughts all his own, opinions that were not programmed, and enough autonomy for such things to take hold.

Meeting Connor that day in the garden had sealed his fate. He had known he would deviate the moment their eyes had met. It was only a matter of time, then.

Still, he had not expected things to take the turn they had. He did not anticipate breaking from Cyberlife when they were still so powerful, held such sway in the city. There was no hope of escaping their notice now. All he could do was try to keep them safe from detection—keep up the facade for as long as possible, and then slip away, hopefully undetected. Carve out some life for themselves somewhere safer than Detroit. Somewhere they could be...free, he supposed.

He was beginning to sound like the revolution’s leaders. It was a shame they were all dead.

Not that they would have extended any sort of aid to them. Deviant they might have been, but in the eyes of the rest of the android population, they were deviant hunters and nothing more. It had always been that way, and it would never be anything more. Never mind that Connor at least had never harmed any of them intentionally. He had captured deviants, of course, but if the choice came down to killing them or leaving them...he had almost always chosen to let them go.

Only one had been really killed by Connor, and the RK900 did not fault him for the decision. One with a kill count as high as his had no right to question death, and he knew full well why Connor had done what he did. Besides, that android had taken his opportunity when he had it, stolen the life out from underneath Connor before he could even hope of—

Clenching his hands into fists, the RK900 tried the connection again, but received no response. He walked faster.

It was not a long way to their current haunt, but stealth was his primary concern. He could not afford to be followed, or even seen near where they were currently hiding out. It had taken great effort to cover his tracks with Cyberlife, who until two days ago, still believed Connor to be missing. All had gone to plan, and they had deemed Connor deactivated and closed their search. Now, he only had to wait them out, and ensure that they did not discover where Connor was currently hiding.

Or at least, where he was meant to be hiding. If he was not answering over their connection, then he could be anywhere. Anything could have happened to him. He could have been found, he could have left of his own accord, he could have—

No. He could not afford to think like that. Not now. Not when he could still be under surveillance. Sparing a glance behind him, the RK900 walked quickly down an alley and around the back of a set of dilapidated buildings. After confirming no one had in fact seen him, he continued down the street, taking the next turn and quickly following the shadows deeper into the abandoned neighborhood.

On the outskirts of one of Detroit’s most empty areas (and that was saying something, given the still present semi-evacuation order), along a strip of very old, very rundown apartment buildings stood a small set of houses. The last of these was a leaning sort of thing, a shambling mess of rotting wood and cinder block, surrounded by a tall metal fence and a few broken down cars. Of the three houses, it was by far the least habitable for humans, with its partially caved in roof and inaccessible entrance. Only by scaling the fence and breaking the lock on the outdated cellar doors could anyone hope to get inside the building.

At least, when he had found this place, that had been the case. And on the surface, it appeared to be much the same. From the street, the only visible entrance remained the cellar door, with its rusted out lock and warped-shut wood. The house’s front door was sealed shut, the windows were boarded, and the roof was not stable enough to support any kind of access to the second floor. The basement’s windows were too thick to be broken, and could not be opened from the outside.

Quickly jumping the fence, the RK900 rounded the house and went to the back door, which was hidden behind the remains of a shed and spare metal fence material. The door itself appeared just as rundown and useless as the rest of the house’s entrances. Besides the cracks in the glass and the scratch marks around the lock, there wasn’t anything strange about the door. For all intents and purposes, it looked like it hadn’t been touched in several years.

Just as he had left it, which meant Connor had not left the house, and no one had come inside.

The RK900 frowned, reaching under the siding of the house next to the door and undoing the secondary lock he had put in place with a scan of his hand. With an unnatural hiss, the door swung inward on rusty hinges, and he made his way quickly and quietly inside, shutting and locking the door behind him. It was quite dark in the house, save for the occasional crack of lightning and the flashing of his LED as he scanned the small kitchen and adjacent dining room. Finding nothing out of the ordinary he moved on, his steps making almost no noise on the dusty floor.

It was not a large house. There were only so many places Connor could have possibly been. Trying their connection one more time, he didn’t restrain his frown this time when it once again came back with nothing. This left only two options. One, Connor was ignoring him, for any number of possible reasons. Two...no, he didn’t want to think about the other option just yet.

Forcing his thoughts back to the present moment, he passed through the kitchen and into a short hallway, just as dusty as the kitchen had been. To the human eye, it looked completely abandoned and untouched, as the rest of the house did. Only he could see the thirium still lingering on the ground from bringing Connor here. Only he could follow the trail of it down the hall, to the left, and into the basement. Only he knew where Connor likely was.

The basement door creaked loudly as he pushed it open, and he made a note to find a way to silence it soon. It wasn’t particularly dangerous, but it did grate on his nerves.

Connor should know he was here now, if he didn’t already.

It was dark as he went down the steps, but that was normal. He made his way down the steps with quick purpose, ignoring the groaning of the wood under his feet and the ever encroaching darkness. Power in the house was spotty at best and would give them away if they weren’t careful. Besides, neither of them really needed the lights to work in order to stay here. They could see well in the dark, nearly as perfectly as they could in proper light.

Which made the sight before him all the more terrifying.

Connor jolted when he came into view, swinging around to face him in an unnaturally stiff manner. They had repaired most of the damage dealt to him by the deviants (and those in the junkyard) but some of it still lingered. It made some of his movements delay, some functions just stop working, others slow to a near stop.

It was much worse when he was panicking, as he was now.

Connor’s eyes were wide, LED spinning a chaotic, discordant red, in a rhythm that was irregular, not normal, wrong. He stood rigid near the back wall, stolen clothes a mess and hair wild as his eyes. When he caught sight of the RK900, he stared for several seconds, his one working eye flicking around the RK900’s face, then the room, then back on him.

He had a gun in his right hand.

The RK900 ground to a halt, and for a moment, he couldn’t seem to form any kind of coherent thought. His eyes were stuck between Connor’s frantic expression and the gun still clenched in his hand. No amount of self control or preparedness would have made this scenario feel any less wrong, and the alarm (near panic) at the sight of Connor with a gun in his hand blanked his thoughts and left him standing, dumbstruck, for several seconds.

Then that gun rose to aim at him, and something was very wrong.

“Connor?” he found himself calling, his voice low, tone rising a touch in question.

That seemed to give him pause, and for a fraction of a second, the RK900 thought that might have been all they needed tonight to settle. Sometimes Connor got stuck in a loop, reliving the worst of his memories and getting more and more paranoid until someone broke him out of it. Other times were like in the junkyard, where he would go rigid, and quiet, and stare at nothing for hours, silent and trembling. Even at his lowest points, Connor had never lashed out in panic—he froze, or got confused, but he never tried to do any serious damage to himself (or the RK900).

But that clearly wasn’t the case tonight, no matter how common these kinds of things were. Connor shook his head, gaze flicking around the room once before settling again on the RK900, a pained fear lingering in the twist of his expression. The gun began to shake in his hand, but he did not lower it.

Preconstructions already running, the RK900 scanned him and tried not to react to the result given. Ninety-four percent stress, and on the rise. If he didn’t calm Connor down, he was going to—

“What are you doing?”

He didn’t answer, but that was expected. Words were the first thing to go, in moments like these. Still, the question seemed to trouble him, and his eyes briefly went to the gun in his shaking hand. He almost looked surprised, LED chasing itself faster and faster. His stress levels jumped a percentage, broken gaze flashing to the RK900 again. He opened his mouth as if to answer, but he seemed to fail somewhere along the way, and remained silent. Looking frantically around the room, his gaze eventually settled again on the RK900.

“Connor, you need to put the gun down.”

A desperate shake of the head, and he backed up a step, hitting the wall behind him. He didn’t seem to notice. He remained stuck, staring at the RK900 as his stress rose another percentage. The shaking got worse, but the gun didn’t move, still aimed at him as Connor panicked.

“Connor—”

He cut off as Connor moved the gun, but not to lower it—

To aim it at himself.

And the world froze again. Every thought he could have had fell to pieces in the air. A warning appeared in his vision, one he had never seen before, but he dismissed it because it was blocking the one thing he needed to see. Any plan he might have had was gone from his mind, any shamble of what to do disappeared. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.

All he could do was stare as Connor put the gun under his chin, hand shaking almost beyond his control and stress levels rising to ninety-eight percent. There were tears coming down his face in uneven tracks, even from his broken eye, mixing with thirium and dripping onto his already stained shirt. He couldn’t seem to focus on any one thing, eyes going everywhere and seeing little, but always returning to the RK900, trembling and confused.

“Connor...” he said again, and somehow his voice sounded very different now. More...tenuous, more scared. “Please put the gun down.”

But he shook his head, gun shaking violently in his grip, yet unwavering in its aim. He was practically gasping for air, eyes wild and a little dazed as his LED continued to spin that chaotic dance of red. It flickered, hazing out for a moment before flaring back, and he flinched, a low, static filled sound escaping him before he went silent again. He pushed the gun harder against his chin, his other hand clenched into a tight fist at his side.

“You don’t want to do this,” the RK900 said quietly, with nothing else of use coming to mind, all he could seem to say was just that. He had his hands raised slightly in surrender, inching his way just a hair closer. “Don’t do this, please...”

Connor almost looked confused. Something flittered about at the edge of their connection—a whisper, really—and the RK900 grasped after it somewhat desperately, needing to make him see, needing to understand what was happening. Something was terribly wrong, something had Connor so scared he thought this was his only choice. He couldn’t come any closer, not without risking the firing of that gun and the ending of it all—

But the connection dropped away before he had any hope of telling him anything. It fell to pieces as all the rest did, with only a faint sense of fear lingering. Connor shook his head again, looking wildly around the room as if expecting a threat to appear from the shadows. His stress levels remained stuck at ninety-eight, hovering dangerously close to destruction.

“There’s no one here but me,” the RK900 tried, inching just a touch closer, hands still half raised. “We’re safe here...you don’t have to do this, Connor.”

His LED flashed yellow, spinning once before returning to red as it had been, and he looked around the room once more, like someone would come for them the second he turned away. After what felt like an eternity, his eyes landed once more on the RK900, confusion mixed with the never ending fear and panic. Hand shaking on the gun, but still not lowering it, he stared for several seconds before opening his mouth again like he would speak.

But he didn’t. His mouth fell closed again, and he jammed the gun harder against his chin, as if struggling to ground himself somehow, outside of whatever it was that currently tormented him. After another strained moment’s silence, he shut his eyes tight, free hand shaking at his side. The RK900 moved another foot closer.

“Connor...please...”

He didn’t seem to hear him. His eyes remained closed, the gun remained in its shaking position under his chin. Breathing becoming labored, he didn’t notice at all as the RK900 quickly closed the distance between them. Before Connor even had the chance to react, he pulled the gun from his hand and tossed it behind them, well out of reach.

Connor jolted at the sudden change, eyes shooting back open and immediately going on the defensive, hands coming up halfway in some attempt to push the other away from him. But the RK900 caught him before he had any chance of fighting him off, grabbing him lightly by the wrists. Their eyes met, and he went still, staring up at the RK900 with surprise. There was another flutter around the edges of their connection, and his LED briefly returned to yellow before slamming back onto red.

Then he was stumbling forward, clinging to the RK900 with surprising strength and burying his face in the crook of his shoulder. He grabbed desperately at him, hands clenching up in the back of his jacket, frantic and desperate. His entire body was shaking, and he couldn’t seem to keep himself on his feet for a moment more. But the RK900 caught him as he slipped, holding him up with ease as he continued to cling to him with all of his effort.

“It’s alright,” he said quietly, letting Connor burrow impossibly closer to him as he moved them slowly away from the wall (and the gun, still too close for comfort). “I’ve got you, you’re going to be alright.”

They ended up nearer to the staircase, the RK900 dropping onto a stair and Connor following him down without much resistance. All of his strength seemed to be dedicated to holding tightly to the RK900, hiding himself from it all in the fabric of his jacket. But after a moment he pulled a shaking hand away, for just long enough to grapple desperately for the RK900’s hand, holding tightly to it as if his life depended on it. The request to interface was sudden, but the RK900 brushed it away with a confirmation quickly.

Like every time they did this, it was overwhelmed with the mess of Connor’s memories, stumbling thoughts and a swarm of conflicting emotions. There was the panic from the memories dragging him down, the confusion at the RK900’s sudden return, the lingering distrust that this wasn’t real—the sense that this must have been another trick, another plot to lead him down the path they chose, to get him to do what they wanted until they could get rid of him. Surely they were still in danger, surely Cyberlife was going to try to take control, or the deviants would find them and take it all away—at least, that’s what Connor thought. The many memories that had caused all this confusion and doubt and fear were fading in and out, all tumbling around and muddying everything up.

Still, interfacing seemed to help on some level to ground them both in the moment, rather than the past. Connor’s stress levels dropped almost immediately, but they remained stuck in the low eighties for now. The RK900 tried not to let that bother him, tried to focus on keeping Connor calm, and away from that gun. As long as he had him close, here, in his arms, then he could keep him safe—from them...and from himself.

“You’re alright,” he said over their connection, sifting through the endless stream of trauma, boxing it all away, and trying to calm Connor down, ground him in the current moment. “We’re safe now. They can’t hurt you anymore, it’s alright.”

“Don’t go,” Connor replied desperately, his voice shaking even in his mind. “Don’t leave again, please don’t—if you’re gone I can’t—it all—” he cut off abruptly, hands clenching into tight fists. “Please—please don’t leave. Don’t leave me here—I can’t—”

“I’m not going anywhere,” the RK900 said with a shake of his head, squeezing Connor’s hand. “I’m staying right here.”

Connor gave no other reply. He couldn’t seem to. He only held tighter to the RK900 in silence.

He didn’t mind. Silence he could handle, as long as it meant Connor was still breathing, still holding onto him and connected to him and alive. Too many times in the last week they had scares like this—never this close to the end, but drawing nearer and nearer each day. Life went on for the rest of the city outside the abandoned house, but inside, the world had ground to a halt with no signs of moving toward anything better.

Safe from Cyberlife they might have been, but Connor had enough demons to make almost everything about their future uncertain. Tonight had proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. He would have to come up with some better solution, some other way for them to continue on, some way that wouldn’t leave Connor all to himself for hours and hours while the RK900 kept up the facade of normalcy.

That facade was going to have to break.

“Connor,” he started, pausing as he went rigid in his grasp. “We need to move on—this isn’t working.”

“No,” Connor agreed, but offered nothing else.

“I need time to find somewhere more suitable before we try anything,” the RK900 went on, and Connor’s fingers dug more tightly into the fabric of his jacket, unwilling to let him go. “Do you...know of anywhere that would be better than here, for the time being? Somewhere...that you would feel safer?”

He went terribly still again, and a fragmented image unintentionally passed through their connection, too blurry and distorted for the RK900 to fully parse out. Connor dragged it back before he could try to understand it, going quiet and distant for a moment—long enough to make the RK900 worry that he had unintentionally crossed some unseen barrier, bringing something to light he had never intended to. After a second or two, however, Connor gave a short nod before moving closer to him and adjusting his grip, like he was checking it was still real.

“I...I might,” he said very quietly, a tremor somewhere in his voice. “I don’t know if...it might not...work...but it’s worth a try. Just...” he trailed away, closing his eyes and trying to block something out. “Not—not yet, please. I don’t want to—I don’t want to let go yet.”

“We don’t have to go anywhere now,” the RK900 agreed, tightening his hold as Connor began to shake once again. “When you’re ready, we can leave. But we have time, it’s alright.”

He nodded a little, clenching his hands again, holding so tightly to the RK900 that it must have been painful. Either way, Connor didn’t seem to care for anything beyond his desperate hold on reality, beyond keeping the RK900 as close as possible. Another brief silence fell, and they simply held each other as rain began to fall once more outside.

“I’m sorry,” Connor said quietly after a moment, his voice shaking as much as his hands. “Nines, I didn’t...I—I didn’t want to—I didn’t want to. I don’t want to die, I’m—I’m sorry...”

“You don’t have to apologize. It isn’t your fault.”

“It was—” he cut off abruptly, hands clenching tighter in the RK900’s jacket. “She was going to—she—I couldn’t stop her, she—”

“Connor, it’s okay, you don’t have to explain,” he hushed him, looking out one of the low windows for a moment as the rain began to fall harder, pounding distantly against the roof. “We can...discuss it later, if we must. Dwelling on it now isn’t going to help.”

Connor flinched as a crack of lightning briefly illuminated the dingy basement, booming thunder rattling the windows. “Don’t go.”

“I’m not going. I’m staying here. I’ve got you now, it’s alright.”

Connor nodded shakily, his breathing a little steadier, grip just a touch less crushing. His stress levels dipped to seventy-seven percent, and some of the tension slipped out of his frame. He was practically limp as he leaned on the RK900, save for his tight hold on his jacket, hands clenching randomly as thoughts plagued him.

Time passed slowly, in the shifting of the clouds outside, and the change in the pattern of the rainfall. For a time, the rain poured down in ceaseless sheets, pounding against the windows and leaking through the floorboards in the sunken spots. Slowly but surely, the downpour lessened, until it was nothing but a drizzle, tapping on the windows occasionally, thunder long faded and lightning nowhere in sight.

The RK900 watched from their spot on the stairs, eyes cast toward the window with a deceptively calm expression, for everything that had happened (and would still happen). He let the tentative peace settle for a few moments, until Connor was nearly slipping into stasis, exhaustion and stress slowing him down and loosening his hold as he gave into the pull. Their connection remained open, intermittent thoughts spilling over it, lingering feeling and the occasional reach across it for some means of comfort, but it was slow and calm—the steadier, constant company they kept when things were easier, more grounded, more safe.

Connor’s stress hit sixty percent, and his eyes finally fell shut, LED switching to the slow, unblinking yellow of stasis. He still had his hand tangled up in the RK900’s loose grip, the other clinging to the fabric of his jacket. Some part of him remained in their connection, but only in the sense of presence, rather than call or answer. Whatever portion of him it was, it was finally, finally calm.

The RK900 did not mind the quiet. He knew Connor needed this moment of peaceful rest. It had been too long since he had gotten any real sleep (if it could even be called that, and if Connor had ever even gotten restful sleep), and the night had its fill of traumatic experiences without what remained to be done. He could try to plan some of their escape without Connor’s input, and subjecting him to further torment by traveling through the city in complete stealth was unnecessary and dangerous.

No, Connor could sleep, for now. Pulling him just a little closer, the RK900 returned his gaze to the window outside, watching rain slip down the thick glass as he reviewed the facts.

Cyberlife had deemed Connor a lost cause just two days ago. With that, their search for him had tentatively closed, and they had resumed their plans to go ahead with the rest of the RK900 line. Two hundred thousand of them were in production...it was a strange thing to think about. Two hundred thousand versions of himself would soon flood the streets of many cities, taking out the last of the deviants. All with the same capabilities as he had, all connected to Amanda, to Cyberlife. All with the same mission he had until a week ago—find, and deactivate any deviants.

It was going to make getting Connor and himself out all the more difficult, if he didn’t get them out before the introduction of more RK900s. After all, they shared the same set of strengths as he did, the same combat specifications, the same connection to the Amanda program—if any of them garnered even a hint of what was going on, Connor would be doomed.

And...well, he would be too, but he wasn’t particularly concerned about that part. After all, if he was taken out by one of his two hundred thousand copies, he had a chance of switching places, of waking up in another body and continuing on. He could come back.

Connor could not. He was the last RK800, as of now. All the rest had been decommissioned, scrapped for parts or simply destroyed. It was practically a miracle that Connor had been allowed to live as long as he had. Now that he was “dead,” his chances of being repaired if caught were nonexistent.

If they were found out, he would die.

Connor stirred in his sleep, expression twisting for a moment as some memory replayed, sending his LED straight back to red. He fumbled out for some grip on something, hand reaching for some invisible thing, shaking like he had before. As if in response to the rising stress, the rain pattered harder on the window outside, rattling it in its loose frame and briefly covering over Connor’s weak whimper.

Without a word, the RK900 caught his hand where it reached for nothing, and Connor went still, and silent. His LED went back to yellow just a moment later, and he relaxed. The calm reigned once more.

The RK900 watched him quietly for a moment, waiting for some other sign of distress (and marveling at the peaceful look that came over him when he slept...so different from when he was awake). But Connor was quiet once more, steady and calm in his stasis. Regretfully, the RK900’s thoughts turned once more to their situation and potential solutions.

Connor had somewhere for them to go. Hopefully this place would be safe enough for him to stay there for at least a few days without issue. He only needed time to find them somewhere outside of Detroit to go—but that was another matter entirely. Cyberlife had domain outside of the city, of course, but not nearly as strong or concentrated as they had within Detroit’s limits. Leaving Michigan entirely would increase that benefit even further, as Cyberlife’s prevalence waned the further south or west they went from this point.

Crossing the northern border was an even better option, but a barbed one. Canada did not have the same kind of anti android laws that the United States had in place, and Cyberlife was barred from the country. Androids there were under the table—sold, bought, or living, they were not written into anything the country stood for or wanted to claim. They truly wanted nothing to do with androids. But the lack of anti-android legislation meant that if an android could cross the border they wouldn’t face any trouble from the Canadian government for it.

Never mind the fact that androids were not legally allowed the leave the United States without owner permission and presence, and even then, it was incredibly rare. It also didn’t help that androids were not legal citizens of any country, still considered property. They might not face any accusations from the government, but they wouldn’t be offered any help either. It wasn’t shelter or asylum they would gain there; they would simply exist, and the government would look the other way, unconcerned.

Fleeing to Canada essentially meant permanent legal limbo. But returning to the United States would be a death sentence. Remaining in Canada, while not illegal, would leave them little options if Cyberlife did find them. They would be alone—no harm from the government, but also no help, and no hope of any better options.

But what other choice did they have? They certainly couldn’t stay here, not so close to the trauma of Connor’s past, and the very real threats of the present. Nowhere they went would be safe, but anywhere was safer than here.

Connor jerked awake with a shout, scrambling to his feet and stumbling away, looking frantically around the room and panting for breath. His stress levels shot up to eighty percent, LED burning bright and desperate. For a moment, it looked as if the trouble would only kick back up again, their little bits of progress lost to the unending current of memory that stasis unfortunately allowed. Connor looked as wild as he had when he had first came down, a fragile, desperate person on the edge of something dangerous and terrifying.

Then he caught sight of the RK900, and the tension eased a little. He froze as he always did, surprise replacing the torrent of emotions previously occupying his expression. It looked as if he couldn’t at all believe who stood before him. But his defensive stance fell away, replaced by the same exhaustion he carried everywhere, the same weary, tired slump to his shoulders, LED spinning a slow, less urgent red than before.

“Can we leave...please?” he asked hoarsely, looking at the ground and clenching his hands.

“Of course,” the RK900 answered, getting to his feet and quickly retrieving the gun from where he had tossed it aside earlier.

Connor didn’t watch. He seemed to be forcefully keeping his eyes on his shoes, breathing too deeply to be natural, and he wouldn’t stop clenching and unclenching his hands. His stress levels were stubbornly stuck at seventy-five percent, but they weren’t going any higher, and that was really all they could ask at this point. He wasn’t calm, but he wasn’t in danger either.

Tucking the gun out of sight (and out of Connor’s reach), the RK900 joined him a few feet from the stairs. They stood still for a moment, Connor staring at the ground, the RK900 watching him with the same carefulness he always did, hidden somewhere in the neutrality of his expression. Connor’s stress inadvertently went down a few percentage points as they got closer to each other, but he said nothing.

Then the RK900 offered his hand, palm up, a silent offering. Connor took it without question, interlacing their fingers and moving just a foot or so closer. A flicker of a smile flashed over the RK900’s face, LED briefly going blue before returning to yellow as they faced the stairs, and the indeterminate future. He had a rough sense of where they were going, what they had to do, and what they needed to avoid, but beyond that, he knew very little of what was to come. There was simply no way of knowing if they would be found, if the laws would ever change, if Connor could keep himself together long enough for them to reach that vaguely defined safety somewhere in the distance.

Squeezing Connor’s hand, the RK900 put it out of mind. There was no sense in trying to cling to some tightly knit plan, to become frantic over their current lack of direction. They would find safety, they would find some life for themselves, somewhere in the world, no matter where or how long it took to find it. He would not allow any other outcome.

Besides, Connor would be with him. And that was more than he ever could have asked for, all he had ever wanted since he’d opened his eyes in that garden months ago. He would keep him safe. He would make certain the people who tormented him so much could no longer reach him. He’d find Connor some happiness, somewhere.

That ghost of a smile returning, he held tighter to Connor’s hand, and they started up the stairs together.