The violent revolution had passes. Androids were considered equals when proven to be deviants. Machines though, they were still very much second class citizens. Years passed and RK900 was bounced from post to post. Nobody wanted the responsibility of employing an obedient killing machine. It was just as well he didn’t need much. An empty room to call his own, there were charging ports dotted around the city and thirium handouts happened once a month. As a top of line android, he didn’t need a top-up all that often. So he floated around the city, haunted the streets as he tried to find somewhere to fit in. Circadian rhythms meant nothing to him and he could be on the streets at 3am or 3pm, it didn’t matter to him. He was down by the waterfront, letting his feet get soaked in the lapping waves by the foot of the bridge when someone growled at him.
“Fuck off, this is my spot. Find your own!” The ‘fuck’ was slightly mangled and the voice rough with a lingering infection. RK900 looked around to find the source of the words.
“I said fuck off you plastic prick,” the lump of discarded bedding moved and a harrowed, scarred face glowered at him. He might have looked menacing and wild to a human but to RK900 is was like a kitten hissing at him. Full of rage and indignity but about as harmful as sandpaper if it lashed out.
“I believe that this is communal area owned by the city council so we have equal rights to be here,” Nines replied easily and wriggled his toes in his soaking shoes. “I’m an RK900, what can I call you?”
“You haven’t earned the right to call me anything, dip shit. Now get the fuck out of here before I beat you to a pulp.”
More out of respect than fear, RK900 got up and took sopping, wet steps as he retreated but still heard the grumble of “fucking androids” from behind him. Even though his room was stark white, empty of all personality, at least nobody could tell him to get out of there.
The next night, he found himself back at the foot of the bridge just before sunset. Carefully stashed away, the bedding was folded up into a holey bin bag. They were rolled tight and a quick scan suggested that clothes and other knickknacks were hidden in the centre. Whether they were valuable or not, RK900 didn’t have the time to scan because a voice was yelling at him again.
“Get the fuck away from my shit!” The same man from yesterday was hobbling towards him, fury etched into every line of his face.
Obediently, RK900 stepped away, hands up to show he meant to harm. He was surprised when the man all but ignored him, instead, turned to his worldly possessions and fussed over them.
“Get lost,” he grumbled to RK900 but didn’t look up.
In the light of day, he looked even less intimidating. Dirt and grime were embedded in his skin, making his wrinkles and scars even more prominent. He couldn’t have been much older then 40 but his situation had aged him beyond his years.
“I mean no harm,” RK900 tried to placate him but went ignored.
The bedding was unrolled and a book was pushed aside, along with a change of clothes which looked just as ragged and worn as what he was currently sporting. Something metallic was quickly palmed and shoved in a pocket with a muttered “thank fuck”.
RK900 watched him make his bed under the bridge, the support leg provided some shielding from the elements but it was no doubt useless against the bitter cold that was creeping in at nights.
“Is there not a shelter you could go to?” he finally asked.
The snort and side glance he got were as bitter as the reply. “They’re all full. Government spends all their money on android shit. They’re cheaper and easier to support and make their numbers instantly look better. Why care for a human when you can sort out eight androids for the same price?”
There was nothing RK900 could say to that. After all, he was one of the ones the government was providing for. He looked over at the man as he heavily sat down in his bed, rubbing his hip with a hiss.
“What happened to you?”
“None of your concern, now piss off.”
RK900 retreated a few steps but sank onto the ground and watched. His scans indicated a low level fever was plaguing the man, given his condition, it probably was the tail end of a chest infection. But given how bad the weather forecast was, there was a 57% probability of a relapse.
“Holy shit, you’re not a deviant, are you?” The man rasped from where he’d burrowed down.
“No, I’m not.” There was no point in lying or denying it. RK900 was what he was, he felt no shame in it. He felt nothing at all. What he didn’t expect was a barked laugh that ended in a hacking cough.
They said nothing to each other until RK900 left close to midnight. His silent companion had been fitfully dozing, obviously not used to the company.
Over the course of the next week, it became a bit of a habit for RK900 to sit by the water under the bridge for the first half a the night. His chosen companion said nothing most days, they just stared out at the water and waited for the sun to go down.
“Hey,” the man called one night as RK900 got up to leave. “I know it may mean nothing to you other than a dictionary definition but thanks.”
Puzzled, RK900 nodded and returned to his room. He didn’t know why he deserved gratitude. They were just two strangers occupying the same space for a little while. It wasn’t like they talked. Still, it was nice to know that his presence wasn’t outright loathed and feared like it was by most people. RK900 had detected many things in the man but not once did he see fear.
“Evening Nines,” the man was propped up against the concrete of the bridge, huddled in his blankets. Rain pelted down around them and was slowly soaking the bedding. “Was wondering whether you’d turn up in such miserable weather.”
RK900 dropped gracefully down next to him, water dripped from his clothes but he didn’t care. Left exposed to the elements as he was, he at least shielded what he’d started calling ‘his human’ from some of the rain. He turned to look at him with a question, “Nines?”
“RK900 was a bit of a mouthful.” It looked like there was a shrug accompanying the words but a shiver swallowed half the movement up.
There was a hiss and, as it had become almost habit, the man rubbed his hip.
“Does it hurt?”
“The cold sets it off. Old battle wound. You know what it’s like.”
A quick scan showed the piece of scrap metal was clutched in his hand and Nines filtered through his potential responses.
“What happened?” He finally settled on. It was open enough to give plenty of choice in response.
Once the coughing had subsided, his companion too a breath. “What happened to everybody else. I trained years, no, decades to get where I was for my job. Then a piece of plastic waltzed in, fresh off the production line but had downloaded all the knowledge that took me years of study to accumulate.”
“I was designed for fighting in the arctic against Russian. Then the revolution happened. Now I am without purpose. Without a sense of self.” It only felt right that Nines would share a little of himself in return.
“Damn. That sucks. I had “Reed, you’re a drain on our resources, taken too many sick days, we cannot keep up this kind of wasteful behaviour.” Not even a sorry or asked to help train up cover. As I walked out with my box of shit, an android arrived, prim and proper as you please. Ready to pick up and do so much better than I did. Not like i had so much time off because I got fucking shot on a case.”
He fell silent after that, eyes tight with the pain of the memories. Nines didn’t want to press, he had a name now and that was enough. Eventually, Reed’s head tipped forward a little, face slack with sleep. On quiet feet, Nines rose up. For the first time in a long time, he had a mission objective.
Hacking into government files wasn’t a chore for an android of his calibre. Personnel files were less heavily protected. Searching for ‘Reed’ brought up several possibilities but sorting by rough age, gender and narrowing it all down to the Detroit area finalised it down to two potential people. A quick look at the attached photo and Nines had found his friend.
Gavin Reed, 41, discharged from service as a homicide detective two years ago. No known address as of 18 months ago. His last case involved a shootout where he’d jumped in front of an undeviated android, took a bullet to the hip. Insurance only covered so much of his bills and time off work. With a slow recovery hindered by infection, the DPD couldn’t keep his position open and filled it before he was fit to return to work. With no job to return to, he was fired on the pretext of too much time off work.
When Nines went to see Gavin the next day, he asked as much. Half expecting to be yelled at for such a breach of privacy, Nines didn’t expect Gavin to let out a bitter laugh.
“That’s the official story, yeah. What they don’t say it that I took the bullet for her and fell on her. Dented her chassis a little. She lodged a complaint but by the time internal affairs conducted a hearing, she’d had it replaced for an upgraded version already. Claimed that the shock of it all forced her to deviate in a traumatic way. Agreed to waive any charges if I was reprimanded and fired. Otherwise she was going to take the DPD to court over her deviation.”
There was nothing Nines could say to that, something simmered in his circuits, burned with something he’d never experienced before. Instead of speaking, he watched as Gavin got up and limped to the water, swirled his hands in it a couple of times before splashing his face. It didn’t seem to serve a purpose other than to human eyes, hide the tears on his cheeks.
“Couldn’t pay the hospital or the mortgage. Sold everything I could and have been trying to make ends meet on the street since.” He coughed weakly into the crook of his elbow as he settled back down and closed his eyes. “I’m tired Nines. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The next evening saw Nines back under the bridge. He didn’t expect Gavin to push something at him. Wrapped in a plastic bag was a brand new scarf.
“For putting up with me,” Gavin shrugged and Nines ran his fingers over the material. Cheaply made polyester that was rough against his fingers. Unlikely to keep him warm and it wasn’t exactly fashionable either.
“With the cold coming, thought you might look a little less out of place. Wanted you to have something of your own.” He carefully didn’t say how the colour made him think of Nines’ eyes.
Nines tucked it in his pocket with a soft ‘thank you’, completely at a loss as to how to handle such a gift. He left shortly after, ignoring he sad look Gavin sent him.
Only at home, when he sat in the corner of his bare room did he fish the scarf out again. The tags were still attached, the price hastily torn off but a quick scan of the item and Nines knew it cost a couple of dollars from a discount store. Realisation hit Nines then. It wasn’t an extravagant gift by any means. But those couple of dollars probably meant a day’s food for Gavin. He’d sacrificed that so he could make warmth flush through the circuits of an undeviated android who sat with him most nights because neither of them had a place in the world.
The walls around Nines were cracked, holes were letting the colours of the world shine through. He picked away at them for the rest of the night and wondered whether Gavin was sleeping well. His chest infection had been getting worse, his breathing shallow and rapid even in his sleep. The more Nines let the walls crumble, the more an overwhelming sense of worry crept through him.
With nothing better to do, Nines decided to surprise Gavin by being at their usual spot by the time he returned from the city centre. Some days he tried finding a job, other days he sat with a sign begging for change from strangers who barely even glanced at him.
Walking towards the bridge, Nines watched how pages from a book were scattered along the shore. They flipped and floated in the wind, pretty in their own right. The cover of the book at some way ahead of him, ripped pages fluttered in the breeze. It was surrounded by clothes strewn in a trail with familiar bedding that was half dumped in the river, sodden. Dread finally forced its way through the gaps in the wall which crumpled under its weight.
Gavin’s things were scattered all over, ransacked and destroyed in anger when nothing valuable was found. As Nines got to the bridge, he finally saw a familiar figure lying face down on the ground, one hand outstretched. Nines ran. He was kneeling next to Gavin in the matter of seconds and rolling him onto his side. Blood coated half his face, eye swollen shut, breath a shallow wheeze.
“Gavin?” Nines shook him a little. “Gavin?”
No response. All logic suggested that Nines calls an ambulance but he didn’t know how Gavin would be able to afford any kind of medical care. He’d left his chest infection untreated for that very reason. An ambulance ride and hospital stay was too costly.
A minute later, Gavin’s lashes fluttered and he whined as the pain registered.
“Nines? What are you doing here?”
“I came to see my friend,” the reply was all too easy. It earned him a soft smile from Gavin. His fist uncurled and Nines watched as the scrap of metal his scans had picked up so often before was finally revealed.
A police badge. Or rather, what has left of it after a bullet had passed through it.
“The bastards couldn’t get this. I wouldn’t let them.” Gavin smiled proudly even as blood welled up from a split lip again.
Mind made up, Nines gathered Gavin against his chest and stood as gently as possible. None of Gavin’s belonging were salvageable. The bedding was sodden, the clothes deliberately ripped beyond use. One step at a time, Nines carried him back to his room. It wasn’t much, barren and white but at least it provided a shelter from the elements.
Since activation, Nines had been without a purpose. A machine without a function in the world he was built in. Now, as he looked at Gavin curled up and small in his room, he knew what he needed to do. Lists of mission objectives filled his HUD, maps to the nearest free treatment clinics, food banks, forms to fill in for government aid which Gavin may not have been told about yet alone given the means to access.
They were two people society had shunned, wanted to forget even existed. Nobody needed an obedient killing machine or a disabled ex-detective but somehow they’d met and, as unlikely as it was, found themselves needed of each other. The future may have looked bleak but Nines finally saw the glimmer of hope.