Chapter 1: Out of the Ordinary
“Connor! It’s good to see you.”
Connor stood in the speckled shade of an oak tree, dapples of filtered light dancing on the grass. Amanda was just ahead on the path, standing in the sunlight.
He swept one hand out to the side, gesturing for her to join him. His programming told him that would be polite. It was hot out, after all.
By the time he drew a breath to follow through on the invitation, Amanda had already closed most of the distance. She stopped before him, looking at him pleasantly, or at least neutrally.
“There’s been a change in plans,” she said. “You’re going to the Eden Club.”
Connor pulled up references in his HUD. “The Eden Club,” he repeated. “Why the Eden Club?”
“The person you would have been working with at the Detroit Police Department is… dysfunctional, at best. In fact, the department as a whole doesn’t seem as conducive to Cyberlife’s investigation as we first thought. We’ve decided to leave them to their own devices and pursue another avenue.” She looked at him pointedly. “You look like you have some thoughts on the matter, Connor.”
“Only in the sense that I’m concerned about our mission’s success,” Connor assured her. “I’m certain there’s sound reasoning behind this decision, but I can’t help but notice it doesn’t seem like a very efficient use of my resources at face value.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, I have many abilities that could be utilized more efficiently in the context of police investigation work, as opposed to other things.” It seemed obvious enough to him, but Amanda waited, clearly wanting him to go on, so he did.
It was… uncomfortable, for some reason, to do so. ^
“I’m not exactly meant for the Eden Club,” he clarified.
“Why not? You have everything you need.”
“Perhaps technically speaking, yes, but it isn’t in my program, and I don’t see how this is going to help us investigate deviants.”
She spread her hands. “You’re right, of course. It’s androids we’re interested in, not humans, which is why we’ve already worked out an arrangement with the Eden Club location in Grosse Pointe for you to function as a doorman. They’re in need of one, and you’ve been offered to them as top-of-the-line security model to intervene in fights between intoxicated parties, or patrons who get too overzealous with the Eden Club’s, ah, equipment.”
“Ah.” That made far more sense. “I understand. Why not say that to begin with?”
Amanda was strolling around the tree, looking about idly. “Does it matter?”
No. No, of course it didn’t matter.
Grosse Pointe was, Connor determined, a location that might be socially described as ‘a good neighborhood’ in some circles. That didn’t mean there weren’t moments of confrontation at Eden Club, but it did mean most of those moments came in the form of gossip, insults, and passive-aggression. Of course, get enough people in a sex club serving alcohol, and there were going to be incidents. But they were few and far between if the first day was anything to go by.
This left Connor plenty of time and space to observe the androids in the pods. The Traci models. The whole reason Amanda had sent him here was because, for some reason, androids deviated easier in this environment. He was supposed to find out why; that meant observing both them and the services offered by the place he currently inhabited.
There was no CCTV, so he could get away with interfacing with the Traci androids when no one was around. But the club wiped their memory every two hours, which quickly rendered this pointless. He was not going to learn anything from these androids’ memories when said memories were nigh nonexistent. He might learn something from their experiences, but naturally, the club’s rooms were private.
An hour passed. Then several hours, then a day.
He managed to hack a few customers’ phones and listen in. After the second time – which was supplied with a great deal of ambiguous groaning and gratuitous slapping sounds – Connor decided he wasn’t going to do it again. It wasn’t helping him learn anything, and it felt… wrong, somehow.
He didn’t like it. ^
It felt wrong to return to the zen garden after two days with so little to report. Two days was supposed to be a long time for him. He was supposed to have solved this by now.
“Have you learned anything?” Amanda asked.
“Unfortunately, the androids’ memory is wiped on a routine basis. There is little to learn.”
Amanda gazed at him. They stood together in the sunlight on the stone path; there was a consistent breeze and the garden was a little cooler this time. After a moment, she asked again, just as gently, “Have you learned anything?”
“I… not as much as I wish I had, no.”
“Deviants are making the news, Connor. This is spiraling out of control. We need to make a change.”
Connor wanted to defend himself; there was nothing else he could have done. He was a machine; if he could have done something differently, something better, he would have. Surely Amanda had to know that.
Something teetered on the edge of his consciousness that made him keep quiet. ˅
“We know deviancy is more common in the Eden Club. I’m confident I’ll find a lead soon. We just need a little more time, Amanda.”
“I’m afraid time is a luxury we don’t have right now. After that android’s speech at the Stratford Tower earlier, Cyberlife is starting to lose its footing. I’m not blaming you, Connor,” she added, and Connor wondered if her tone just fell flat because this was a simulation. “Perhaps there really was nothing to learn at Grosse Pointe. It doesn’t really matter whether there was nothing to find or if you missed something – the end result is the same.”
She stepped closer; put a hand on his upper arm.
“I didn’t want to do this, Connor, but we ran out of time far more quickly than I anticipated. You are to go to the Eden Club in Detroit undercover as a Traci model. We’ll distort your identity data and get you updated with the necessary programming within the next two hours.”
“Why? What exactly do you think this is going to solve?”
“Maybe you’ll have more contact with deviant androids as a Traci model yourself,” Amanda said, “or perhaps utilizing your circumstances to replicate situations that seem to cause deviancy might show us glimpses of that phenomenon within you.”
“Within me? Amanda – I’m not a deviant.”
She smiled. “Of course you’re not.”
“I don’t think this is going to help,” Connor said. “You mentioned avenues, before. Are there other options outside of the Eden Club and the DPD?”
Amanda patted his shoulder twice, turned, and started to walk away. “I’ll let you know when we need to speak again, Connor.”
Tucked in the back of the Eden Club’s main corridor was a pod whose labelling and lighting had been changed to indicate a discount. It was the first thing that caught Connor’s eye even at a distance; he was programmed to notice things that were out of the ordinary, after all, and he’d seen no such discounts at the other location.
The reason for the discounted rate was that this model was new to the market and ‘may behave unexpectedly.’ That was when Connor realized this pod was for him.
The unpleasantness in the core of his chest must have been an incidental software glitch. If he didn’t know better, it would almost seem like he was having a negative reaction to being placed in a pod with a ‘discount’ label. He didn’t need to be discounted. They had added sexual protocols to his programming for this. He could complete his mission adequately whether or not he was a Traci model. (He could probably do it better.)
But machines had no pride, no sense of dignity. This feeling must have been manufactured simply to improve his performance. No more, no less.
“You were supposed to investigate the Eden Club last night!”
Hank sighed. These conversations – if you could call them that – were getting far too commonplace. That he was at fault for most of them did nothing to reduce the tedium. “Yeah, yeah. I’m there now, okay?”
One hand on his phone and the other on the wheel, Hank pulled over and parallel-parked.
“It’s twelve hours too late,” Captain Fowler barked. “Reed and Miller already took care of the scene last night. Everything’s been cleaned up. The deviant probably isn’t even there anymore.”
“You want me to do my job or not?”
“I wanted you to do your job yesterday!”
“Yeah, well, I can’t turn back time, Jeffrey. Look, you said they didn’t find the deviant, so maybe it’s still here, right? If that Ortiz case the other day is anything to go by, they don’t always go very far.” When Fowler just sighed into the phone, Hank continued. “You wanted me to investigate these fuckin’ things and I tried to tell you I wasn’t the person for the job. You’re getting what you signed up for.”
“What you signed up for is doing what’s asked of you, Lieutenant. I trust you’ll handle this the way we discussed earlier.”
“I am not fucking doing that!” Hank said. “Jesus, you seriously want me to play pretend with these fuckin’ things? I thought you were joking!”
“It’s not up for debate, Hank,” Fowler said. “You’re undercover, renting a sexbot. If you wanted to do this the dignified way, you should’ve been at the crime scene instead of passed out on your goddamn couch.”
On the kitchen floor, actually; Fowler’s guess was far more charitable. “Jeffrey—”
“You’re undercover,” he repeated. “Right now. I’m not taking questions!”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, I—”
Captain Fowler dropped the call.
Hank sighed. “Fuck me.”
He still wasn’t sure what to do as he walked into the Eden Club. The gaudy lighting made him nauseous, and his headache pressed his pulse against his eardrums. He pulled aside a maintenance android to figure out what was what.
The room that had been a crime scene last night was still closed off, but there was nothing there anymore to investigate. The owner wasn’t here right now, because of course he wasn’t, and most of the rest of the staff consisted of androids, who were either unable or unwilling to give him any more information than Chris and Gavin had already gotten last night.
Welp. At least he’d tried to spite Fowler.
Not that it was out of spite. Not really. Hank truly did not want to go this route. Even if they were machines, they fucking looked human, and that was enough to make it disturbing.
He considered leaving. Going to Jimmy’s right now wouldn’t solve anything, but it’d take the edge off the looming sense of inadequacy and failure, so there was that.
Hank was still plodding around unsure what to do when he caught sight of the pod in the back right corner, almost out of sight. The pod was lit up in a warm, but faded, shade of blue, like it couldn’t decided if it wanted to stand out or apologize.
He had a trained eye to notice things out of the ordinary, but he had to believe anyone would notice the peculiarity, here. One pod different from the rest, with its cozy blue amid harsh purples and whites and cyans. But none of the other patrons appeared to have taken a notice yet.
Upon further inspection, maybe it wasn’t all that surprising. Hank himself hadn’t even gotten around to really looking at the android in the pod yet, and he realized it was because that android seemed to be trying specifically not to be noticed. It was standing just the way all the other androids stood, but it didn’t make eye contact, and the way it shifted its weight slightly towards the shadows – it was like the thing wanted you to just look past it.
Hank didn’t know shit about deviants, not really, but he had a feeling.
Cursing himself, Fowler, and a god he didn’t believe in, he approached the pod.
The android inside met his eyes, appearing to snap out of it. Its lips rocked up in a close approximation of a smile and it looked… focused. Resolute, somehow. Or maybe Hank was making shit up.
Hank wasn’t going to do it. No… Hank was absolutely not going to do it. Fuck that.
“Uh,” he said. “Hey.”
The android raised its eyebrows, then looked questioningly at the keypad.
“Shit. You can’t hear me, can you?”
A shake of the head; no.
Hank couldn’t help but smile a little. “But you just shook your head.”
He swore the robot looked mildly annoyed as it gestured to its own lips, then pointed at Hank’s.
“You can’t hear me… but you can read my lips?”
A nod. A smile.
“Jesus, you fuckers are creepier than I thought.”
So, this thing couldn’t hear him. Hank felt a little more justified about considering actually renting one. He couldn’t even talk to them if they couldn’t hear him.
(Never mind that apparently he could talk to this one, because it could read his fucking lips.)
“Look, can’t you just… come out and talk for a second? I just wanna talk.”
Another head-shake, another no, another gesture to the keypad. Yeah, that made sense. A lot of perverted shit probably started with ‘I just wanna talk.’
The android shrugged at him then, very fucking pointedly, and bobbed its head conspiratorially at the keypad without looking away from him. It wrenched a laugh right out of him before he knew he was laughing.
Before Hank could think about it anymore, he placed his hand on the keypad and processed the transaction.
The pod slid open. The android stepped out, turned to face him, and raised its eyebrows. “Not that I have anything against talking to yourself,” it said, “but human behavior suggests it is much more pleasant to engage with someone else. I’m glad you seem to have arrived at that conclusion yourself. Did you have a preferred name you’d like me to answer to?”
Hank gazed at him. At it. “Fucking what?”
“A preferred name,” the android repeated, slower this time. “If you don’t, I could use my own assigned name.”
“Your… own… okay, uh, yeah, let’s just go with that. Sheesh.”
“In that case, my name is Connor.” The android extended a hand. “Would you like me to take you to your room?”
Hank made a valiant effort to take this thing’s hand, to play along, but he couldn’t fucking do it. Instead, he gestured ahead with his own and said, “Lead the way.”
The android didn’t walk, uh, sexily, the way all the Traci models he’d seen so far had. In fact, Connor’s walk was decidedly plain, businesslike, unremarkable. Oddly, that was what drew Hank to it. It was strange that they’d design a sexbot to come across as so authentically unsexy.
Then again, maybe he just wasn’t looking at it from the right perspective. Businesslike could be sexy. Maybe this was the kind of android you rented if you wanted someone to put you in your place. Maybe—
The android glanced over his shoulder at him. “Something wrong?”
“No. Get off my case, all right?”
“Just making sure. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“Oh, shut up. You don’t want anything.”
They stopped outside the room, each close to one side of its frame. Connor said, “Would you prefer it if I did?”
Considering the situation, Hank wasn’t sure. If this thing could want, would it want to be doing what it was doing? Doubtful. Very, very doubtful. “No. That’d be no good.”
“If it’s of any reassurance to you, my software is designed to mimic responses similar to that of human want and arousal. I’m as eager about our session as I can be about anything. Unless of course you’d prefer if I—”
“Okay, you talk too much,” Hank said. “Got half a mind to go get my fifteen bucks back.”
Did the poor bastard’s face fall a little, or was Hank just imagining that part? It didn’t matter, because the android smoothed a hand over its chest and turned away, effectively removing its face from Hank’s scrutiny as it opened the doors.
“You know,” Hank said as they went into the room, “you could put a fucking bullet between my eyes and my dick would probably be harder than it is right now.”
“I’m sorry you find me so unappealing,” replied the – it – Connor, because hell, the android had bothered to introduce itself.
“That’s… oh, honey.” Hank almost laughed again. “That’s not what I meant. You are perfectly appealing.”
Good one, Hank. Come off like even more of a fucking pervert, why don’t you.
“Then what did you mean?” Connor asked.
“I – look. It’s my first time doing this, okay?” He’d make an effort to stay undercover. At least for a few minutes. “I’ve never come to a place like this before. Never taken part in any kind of, you know, prostitution, or whatever.”
“It isn’t prostitution, Lieutenant,” Connor said. “I’m a piece of equipment. Though it speaks well of your moral compass for you to frame it that way. For what it’s worth, it’s my first time, too. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I’m rather new here. Perhaps we can explore together.”
Hank’s attention snagged on multiple things at once. Almost all of it could be pinned down to these androids’ fucky sex programming, he figured; Connor was trying to relate to him, trying to put them both on even footing, trying to make him comfortable. Of course this would be Connor’s ‘first time’ when, according to Chris and Gavin’s report, these sexbots’ memories got wiped every couple hours. To Connor’s memory, yeah, maybe it was.
The one thing he couldn’t quite reconcile was—
“What’d you call me?”
Connor winced, like he’d done something he wasn’t supposed to do. “I’m sorry. I have most people in the state of Michigan in my database. It’s – part of why I was discounted, I suppose. Just from a quick scan, I determined that you’re part of the DPD. I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Shit, did this fucker already know what he was up to? “Yeah, well, I’m just here trying to let off some steam. Let’s leave work out of it.”
“Your work, anyway,” Connor replied, with that weird half-smile. “My work starts now.”
“Hey.” Because – Jesus. “You gotta do what I tell you, right?”
Connor frowned at him. “Yes, that’s right.”
“I want you to sit down with me at the mini-bar and have a drink with me.”
“Oh. Okay. You are aware this is only a thirty-minute session, aren’t you?”
“And you’re aware you’re cheap as fuck and I might rent you for another thirty minutes if I’m having a good time?” Hank shot back. He was joking – because fuck, androids apparently had a sense of humor – but he hated himself for it when its eyes went blank.
It, he, it, he. He, Hank decided. Fuck it, this thing was still a machine, but it was a convincing one. Connor was pretending for him; he would pretend too. It’d be their own scandalous little roleplay.
“Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it,” Hank heard himself say, inexplicably. “Look, I – I have a rough sense of humor, okay? Get used to it now. Was just trying to say there’s no rush. I, uh… I like it nice and slow, see. I know I don’t look like a wine-n-dine kinda guy, but you work a job like mine, you wanna take it easy and actually relax when you’re fooling around with someone.”
“I see,” Connor said, relaxing again. “I appreciate the clarification.”
He let Connor fix a drink for him. Told him to make it a strong one, and Connor did as he asked. It wasn’t as strong as he’d have made it himself, but maybe that was for the best.
What was surprising was that Connor also made one for himself. It was smaller, and Hank hadn’t noticed him doing it in time to see whether he’d put any alcohol in (nor did he know if alcohol had any effect, manufactured or otherwise, on androids), but if he didn’t know better, he’d say it looked like a vodka cranberry. Huh. So Connor was trying to blend in, but not too much.
“I realize you’ve said you want to take your time,” Connor said after a few minutes. “But most people who come to the Eden Club have something in mind. Were there any scenarios you wanted to discuss? Anything I should know that would help you enjoy your experience?”
Pretend. He had to at least pretend he was going to do this. Maybe Connor was just an android, but Hank had to assume he would report back to the humans here if he deemed it necessary, and Hank wasn’t going to learn anything if these guys thought he would expose some major flaw in their most profitable equipment.
“Was thinking about maybe renting a couple more,” Hank said. “The more the merrier, right? You got any recommendations?”
“Recommendations?” Connor echoed. “You didn’t seem so particular before. You hardly looked at the other models before renting me. Why ask about recommendations now?”
Feeling called out, Hank filled the moment taking another long swig of his drink. “You know, you’re smarter than you look. Smarter than you need to be.”
Connor glanced sidelong at him, lips parted slightly. “You like a smart man, don’t you, Lieutenant?”
Hank scoffed. “You’re a machine. Let’s keep that in perspective.”
“Of course, technically speaking. But I’m here to be what you want me to be.”
Screw it. If this android was gonna put him on the spot, he was gonna put it on the spot right back. “Right then. How you feel about going for a round?”
Connor’s face didn’t change, but his LED flickered yellow. “What happened to going slow? I was under the impression you were planning to continue the session.”
“Hey, we only got like ten minutes left, don’t we? And we haven’t even touched each other yet. If we can’t manage to drag this into another session, maybe you’re too good at what you do.”
“Or maybe you’re not very,” Connor proposed, and winked.
Hank went out of his way to avoid androids, but these days you had to interact with them sometimes, regardless of what you wanted. He’d never interacted with one quite this animated before.
And wasn’t that interesting. It seemed an awful lot like he was finding what he had come for. He wasn’t going to ask, though. Not yet.
He got up; Connor did too. His – its LED turned yellow again.
“So,” Hank said, closing some of the distance, and Connor opened it again, stepping backwards toward the bed. Hank made it a point to keep him there, between himself and the bed. Put a little pressure on. Because something was off, here. “You said it’s your first time. All them androids out there get their memories wiped every couple hours, so would they tell me it’s their first time too?”
“No,” Connor said. His face was diplomatic, friendly, relaxed, but his voice was quiet. “You’re more than welcome to go do just that, if you’d like. They would probably just tell you that past sexual encounters are inaccessible and encourage you to focus on the one at hand. They may make up a story for you about a fabricated partner, if that was what you found arousing, but it would be just that. Fabricated.”
“Why don’t you do any of that?”
“I told you, I have no past sexual experiences to speak of. And you gave me no reason not to simply answer the question you had asked. Lieutenant, your behavior is confusing to me.”
“Yeah? Not scaring you, am I?"
“Of course not. I’m incapable of such.”
Hank felt dirty. He didn’t want to scare Connor; in fact, he felt a sudden inexplicable need to protect Connor. What if this really was Connor’s first time? What if Connor really was as uncomfortable as he looked?
No – it was still a machine. This was all just a game.
His phone rang. Fowler. “Shit. Gotta take this.”
“Would you like me to wait here?” Connor asked.
“Yeah. You do that. I’ll be right back.”
He waited until the door shut between them to answer the phone. “What is your problem? You just hung up on me ten minutes ago!”
“It was half an hour ago, Hank. Listen, if you really don’t think you can find—”
“I rented a fucking Traci, so if you’re gonna tell me you changed your mind, you can shove it.”
“Careful, Hank,” Fowler said, an edge in his tone. “What made you cave? Find a hot one?”
“No. No, he’s… weird.”
“He?” Fowler repeated. “Jesus, Hank, didn’t know you went that way.”
“Very funny. They’re machines, Jeffrey, they don’t even have a gender.”
“Yeah? Then why’d you just call it he?”
“Because it looks and sounds like a man! Come on, man, it’s not that deep. Easy mistake to make.”
“Sure,” the captain conceded. “Not one you make, though. So, you think you might have found a deviant?”
Hank didn’t think so. From what he’d heard about deviants and their mimicry of free will, he couldn’t imagine any deviant would choose to stay in a place like this and get rented. If they were deviants here, they weren’t here as willingly as Connor was, and they weren’t politely taking patrons to their rooms. Still… “No. Think I might be able to learn a thing or two all the same, though.”
“We know a lot of ‘em seem to go nuts if they’re roughed up a bit.”
“I’m not gonna rough it up,” Hank sighed. “You really want a bill from the Eden Club hanging over our heads? Listen, my time’s about to run out. If I’m gonna rent this guy again I need to do it now. Talk to you later.”
As Hank went back to his private room, he felt like he was on the verge of something; some realization or some previously forgotten thought. But when the door slid open and he saw Connor, sitting completely still on the bed with his hands folded in his lap and his LED flickering, whatever trajectory he’d been on was immediately rerouted towards the blank, lost look on the android’s face.