The small hours between dusk and dawn used to be a welcome reprieve from the constant crowds and noise of the day. It’s different now--less still. Androids, unburdened with the human need for sleep, have claimed the nights in Detroit. Connor prefers the insular quiet from before the uprising. It had been restorative knowing that for at least a few hours he was expected to do nothing more than simply stand and be.
Exactly the opposite of how he has spent that last several hours.
An unexpected invitation from Markus had him returning for the first time to the hollowed-out church dubbed New Jericho. Except, after nearly a year, it has been renovated as an android support center. Rotting wooden doors and fixtures had been replaced with sleek chrome and glass. But unlike the clinical sterility of the repurposed CyberLife stores that still stand throughout the city, New Jericho is tempered with dozens of Markus’ paintings. One enormous mural spans the walls of the former chapel. It is the first place Markus takes him.
“Painted by my father, Carl Manfred,” he supplies, pride radiating from him like a beacon. But as much as Markus reassures Connor that he is one of them, and a friend, and always welcome here, Connor knows this isn’t a social call. He is led into a private room alongside a group of Markus’ associates. They re-introduce themselves as Josh, Simon, and North. He needs no introduction.
“The RK800 prototype is designed with a social module to enable integration and adaptation to human psychology and behavior in order to predict and manipulate their actions,” North says dispassionately, as if reading straight from a CyberLife brochure.
Connor berates himself in a tone that sounds suspiciously like Hank for not selecting the chair closest to the door.
She huffs a laugh and stretches her legs out, ankles crossed on Markus’ thigh. “Relax, bloodhound. We need your help.”
And they do. Simon produces dossiers and video archives of politicians as Markus explains the kickback they’re up against appointing android officials to positions outside of the Android Oversight Council that had been established after President Warren’s decree and subsequent ratification of the 31st amendment recognizing androids as alive.
“It would really help,” Josh says, “if you could give us a better idea of how to approach these individuals.” He leans forward, eyes bright and earnest. “We need you, Connor.”
Even if he were inclined to refuse, Josh could go toe-to-toe with Sumo in a match of pleading desperation.
So 6.2 hours and a self-driving taxi later, Connor is walking up the short path to his front door, key in hand. He’d messaged Hank at 10:00 p.m. to explain his prolonged absence and that Hank shouldn’t wait up for him.
“Okay, kid. Have fun at the android sleepover.”
“I still do not require sleep, Hank.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Just- bring donuts on your way home, alright?”
Connor smiles to himself. “Certainly.”
He will have to fulfill that promise later. At 2:47 a.m. O’Mansley Donuts is closed and he is overdue for self-testing.
Wary of waking Sumo, and consequently Hank because the dog’s tail wags with the force of a lead pipe, Connor carefully slides the key into the lock, twists, and pulls up on the knob to alleviate it’s usual loud squeak.
No Sumo padding heavily to the door demanding scratches. No greeting from Hank. Success.
He enters and closes the door with equal stealth.
There is a light on in the kitchen.
Connor takes two steps in and freezes.
Hank is sitting at the table dressed in the same clothes from yesterday, back to Connor. He takes a drink straight from the bottle of alcohol he grips by the neck.
“Thought you were gonna be out with your friends,” he drawls.
No new dirty dishes or takeout boxes. Hasn’t eaten since lunch.
Black Lamb Scotch Whiskey. 43% remaining. Hank is categorically drunk.
Photograph of Cole. Hank is experiencing emotional stress.
.357 Smith & Wesson Model 627 ProSeries revolver. ERROR*ERROR*ERROR
“What are you doing, Hank?”
The evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive; Connor still hopes to be contradicted.
Hank drops his head back against the chair and heaves a sigh. He takes another swig, places what he was holding in the other hand onto the table.
It’s the little St. Bernard from Hank’s birthday cake. On the table. Next to Cole’s photograph and Hank’s gun.
Saint Bernard Hand Painted Collectible Figurine Model-4503. Connor is culpable for Hank’s suicidal ideations.
>PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: PROTECT HANK ANDERSON ...failed
It flashes again and again across his display and he is floored by the revulsion it brings.
“What’s it look like?” Hank snaps.
“I just- thought you seemed happier.” With me.
Hank nods blankly, never looking up from the table. Connor can’t tell if it’s at the picture or the gun. He feels very small.
Maybe he was wrong. Maybe being part of Hank’s life hadn’t contributed to the man’s improved attitude and health. Had he been faking it all this time? And if so, why? Since reuniting at the Chicken Feed, Connor believed they had bonded, growing closer than partners, closer than friends. A family. Hank has, in countless ways since then, solidified his place in the landscape of Connor’s existence as fixed as the zen garden of his mind palace. HANK ANDERSON Status - FAMILY loops in infinite, scored forever into every part of him. But even if it is true, even if Hank feels the same way for him, it obviously isn’t enough. And that hurts. What more can he do? He can’t preconstruct courses of action, can’t calculate the possibilities of success, can’t predict or manipulate behavior because after everything they are right back where they started.
Connor reaches the table in three quick strides. He picks up the gun.
“Give it back,” Hank grouses.
Connor presses the thick barrel to his head.
“I said give it the fuck back, Connor,” he growls.
Connor knows he can’t keep doing this. Can’t feel the floor pulled from his feet thinking that his dad could be gone. Pre-constructing the carnage of a .38 caliber bullet on a human skull. The cavitation, the blowback, the combined spray and gush of oxygen-rich blood. Over and over and over. Losing Hank would be the end of him. Markus has Carl and North, he has friends and people and purpose. And Connor… “How could I, without my girls?” Shawn Rickert’s anguished voice repeats in his mind.
He’s right. What use is life without the ones you love? Connor would rather go back to being just a machine.
He pulls the trigger. Click.
“Jesus, what the fuck are you doing?!” Hank roars and lurches out of the chair, hands grabbing at the gun. He stumbles drunkenly and Connor takes a step back.
“How is this different, Hank?” Pull. Click.
“Tell me how it’s different.”
Hank gets his feet under him, but Connor easily pushes him back down.
Sumo whines plaintively at the kitchen’s threshold. Hank’s breath comes in ragged gasps. He stares miserably at Connor. “I’m gonna be sick.” He manages to reach the sink before he starts retching, arms braces against the counter.
Connor’s hands are shaking. He lowers the gun. “Are you okay?” he asks as Hank catches his breath.
He spits into the sink. “ ‘m fine, Cole.”
Connor lays the gun down on the table and it’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, but he crosses the kitchen and rubs a hand soothingly up and down Hank’s back.
Because right now, neither can be what the other really needs.