They’d been sitting in the car for so long, even Nines was starting to get jittery.
Gavin had been fidgeting with the zipper on his jacket for most of the three hours since he finished his coffee, waiting for this stakeout to turn interesting, but until a few minutes ago Nines had barely moved, his gaze constantly flicking around the area. Scanning, maybe, but his LED was blue, indicating that he wasn’t very invested in it.
Now, one combat-boot-clad foot was tapping against the floor of the passenger seat as Nines continued to stare out the window.
Gavin couldn’t help but think how deviant-like that was, that tic. It wasn’t quite as intense as Connor with his coin tricks, but he’d noticed numerous times in the last few months that Nines had slowly been developing little quirks of his personality the longer he spent as a deviant. One of these was his tendency to tap his foot, or his fingers, or to bounce a leg after sitting still for too long.
Not that Gavin had been intentionally paying attention to Nines’ personality past what he needed to know for work, of course. He totally didn’t mentally take note of every little tic and quirk his partner had.
Gavin opened his mouth to speak, took a deep breath, and then closed it again. They were parked in a quiet alley outside an even quieter warehouse, and if he spoke Nines would berate him for risking their safety.
He exhaled slowly, glancing sideways at Nines.
The android continued to tap his foot, fast and erratic, LED flickering yellow for a few seconds every now and then.
Gavin looked out the front window, staring intently at the nearest wall. Someone had painted the Jericho logo on the faded bricks, in a bright blue nearly identical to Nines’ LED.
As his gaze slid over the monotony of the grey and red bricks, occasionally focusing on some graffiti, something moved. Something large and dark, sliding out of the shadows and towards the one door in the wall.
Gavin, who had been slouching, sat upright. Nines stopped tapping his foot at the same time, LED stabilizing on a bright yellow.
“That’s him,” Nines said, “that’s the red ice dealer.”
Gavin went for the car door, and Nines stopped him with a firm hand on his arm, pulling him back into his seat. “No,” Nines hissed, “wait until he goes in. I don’t want him to see us.”
Fair logic. This was why Gavin had a partner, actually. Nines was something like 99% of Gavin’s impulse control, and that fact spoke for itself.
The man they were watching, who did seem to resemble the drug dealer they were tracking (although Gavin was sure Nines’ scanners had gotten a much better ID on the guy than his human eyes could), slipped through the door and into the building, leaving the door propped open with a stray brick.
Gavin grinned. “That was a mistake,” he said, and went for the door again. This time, Nines didn’t stop him, going for the passenger side door as well. The two of them got out of the car, shutting the doors as quietly as they could, and Gavin checked to make sure he had his gun and badge.
“You got the arrest warrant?” he hissed in Nines’ direction, and the android gave him a thumbs up. They didn’t have bulletproof vests or anything spicy like that, since this was technically just a low-key drug deal they were intercepting, but the guy buying―a man by the name of Jason Fletcher―had recently murdered his ex-girlfriend in pursuit of red ice. Hence Gavin and Nines, who usually worked in homicide, being involved.
Fletcher had been on the run since a warrant was put out for his arrest, and had been covering his tracks well, but the same could not be said for his drug dealer.
Nines and Gavin took a few more moments to prepare themselves, and then Nines opened the door and entered the building, Gavin at his heels.
Gavin’s first thought was that it was too quiet, too empty.
They went in, sliding through stacks of crates, and Nines’ LED went yellow as his gaze shifted upwards, scanning the bowels of a loft that Gavin couldn’t see into.
Something wet was dripping off in the distance, probably a leaky pipe, and if Gavin stilled his breathing momentarily he could just barely make out hushed whispers echoing across the warehouse.
Gavin trained his gun on the darkness in front of him, wishing he had night vision anywhere near as good as that which Nines was equipped with, and slowly slunk forward. Nines stayed back, walking even slower as he scanned both the ground floor and the loft of the warehouse, and Gavin realized as he came closer to the source of the voices that he had gotten separated from Nines while weaving through crates in an attempt to stay hidden.
He turned, searching for the telltale gleam of Nines’ LED, and suddenly heard something crash from up in the loft. Something flashed red and then yellow in the corner of Gavin’s vision as he glanced up. So that was where Nines had gone.
The whispering cut off, and someone yelped. “The hell?” Gavin heard in the distance, either from the drug dealer or Fletcher.
“Looks like we’re not alone,” another voice said, gruff and suspicious, and there was the sound of a gun being loaded.
“I’ll go check it out,” the first voice replied, and Gavin startled as footsteps went past his hiding place.
“ Phck, ” Gavin hissed, unable to stop himself from cursing. He darted behind another stack of boxes and made his way towards the man who hadn’t gone to the loft. He looked out into the open space where the drug dealer and Fletcher had been standing before, but they were both gone.
He straightened up and stepped forward, foot crunching on some conveniently placed shattered glass that he’d somehow managed not to notice.
The hair stood up on the back of Gavin’s neck as the air behind him shifted noticeably, and then something cold and hard and heavy clocked him in the gut and swept his feet out from under him.
He writhed on the floor, the shattered glass cutting into his palms and slicing through his jeans, trying to reach his gun through the white spots in his vision. A boot appeared in his field of vision and kicked it away as a pair of gloved hands grabbed him by the collar and yanked him to his feet, pulling his arms behind his back.
Gavin’s head was spinning, and he wanted to yell, wanted to scream for Nines, but the hit he’d taken had put the taste of copper in his mouth and knocked the wind out of him. Besides, he was pretty sure both the drug dealer and Fletcher had ganged up on him just now, which meant they probably hadn’t seen Nines. They might not even know he was here, if finding Gavin was enough of a distraction from searching for Nines in the loft.
He could bluff, maybe, pretend he was just yelling for...general help, or something.
Gavin spat blood as the man behind him, presumably Fletcher, shook him hard and then pushed him to his knees, binding his wrists behind his back with a zip tie, and then another, and then another.
Damn it. He couldn’t break three zip ties all at once without getting his ass kicked.
The guy stalked around to face Gavin, using one gloved hand to tilt his head up none too gently. “How’d you find me?” he hissed, confirming that he was, in fact, Fletcher. Gavin grinned at him, baring his teeth. He was no Nines, but he still had sharp canines.
“I said, how’d you fuckin’ find me?” Fletcher snapped, grip tightening on Gavin’s chin. “I know you’re a fuckin’ cop, you bastard.”
Gavin spat at his feet. “Oh no,” he deadpanned, “you got me. Well joke’s on you , asshole, ‘cause backup’s on the way!”
At that moment, a resounding crash came from the loft, and a stack of crates flew over the railing and down to the floor. Dust flew everywhere, and a series of gunshots rang out, followed by a terrified scream that had most definitely not come from Nines.
“That your little friend? He walked right past me a minute ago,” Gavin hissed at Fletcher, and the man slapped him across the face, an effect which was made even more painful than it normally would have been by the leather gloves Fletcher wore.
There was another crash and the sound of footsteps on rickety stairs, and then the drug dealer ran out of the shadows, coated in a fine layer of sawdust. A fresh black eye and swollen lips accompanied his enraged expression. His entire body shook violently, barely managing to hold onto the pistol he had in one hand.
“Fletcher,” he wheezed, gesturing with the pistol, “the fuck did you do this time? Got some kind of fuckin’ monster chasin’ us. The thing threw me over the damn railing.”
Monster? Thing? Either these men were holding onto some seriously intense anti-android sentiments, or there was someone―or some thing ―else in here with them.
Gavin faintly remembered hearing a story of an android bear that had been programmed to act as some kind of juiced-up guard dog, tearing up everyone who tried to get into the house it had taken over.
Or maybe he’d hit his head a little too hard, and he was hallucinating that memory.
Both men wheeled towards Gavin, and Fletcher grabbed him by the collar again, yanking him to his feet. Gavin’s entire field of vision blacked out for one terrifying second.
“I bet you brought someone with you, huh? A little plastic pet from the DPD?” the drug dealer growled, getting all up in his face.
Gavin glared at both of them. That sounded just enough like something he would have said a year ago, back when he was a prejudiced piece of shit, that it made him want to reach out and give the drug dealer another black eye to match.
“Like I said,” he bluffed, “I’ve got backup coming. But no partner. I’m a one-man freak show.”
The drug dealer stepped back, glancing sidelong at Fletcher. Fletcher socked Gavin in the stomach again, and this time his mouth opened of its own accord to drip blood everywhere.
“If you’re not gonna talk, I think we’ll make your little partner do it for you,” Fletcher hissed, and he whirled Gavin around, putting him in a headlock. With his other hand, he pulled a pistol from his waistband and held it to Gavin’s head.
The drug dealer stood back, cocking his own gun.
“Hey, android! Fuckin’ plastic! Come out, you little shit!” Fletcher bellowed, making Gavin’s ears ring. He almost wanted to yell I’m gay, or I’m trans , in response to the Come out bit, but he didn’t think that would go over so well with these guys. Although the inevitable reaction would certainly buy Nines some time to finish up whatever he was currently doing.
There was no response from the shadows.
“I’ve got your partner here! Fuckin’ police offi―”
“That’s detective to you, motherfucker,” Gavin snapped, earning himself an uppercut to the jaw.
“Fuckin’ detective , feisty sonovabitch! Now, this bastard refuses to talk, so if you don’t come out and talk for him, we’re gonna kill him!”
Gavin didn’t know what came over him, but he decided to make a dumb bluff. He lied through his teeth: “Fine, you got me. My partner is here. But you know, he won’t talk. He’s not a fuckin’ deviant. He’ll let you shoot me, and you’ll have the satisfaction of letting the DPD find my dead body.”
The drug dealer spoke again, catching Gavin’s eyes with an icy glare. “I wasn’t born yesterday, boy. They’re all deviants now, some kinda half-humans. I don’t think you’d call it he unless you care about it. I bet it cares about you, too. I bet it’ll come try to save your ass.”
Fletcher let Gavin out of the headlock for a moment and pulled a long, wicked-looking knife from his belt. Then his arm was tight around Gavin’s neck again, the cold blade digging into Gavin’s nearly nonexistent Adam’s apple, the gun no longer pointed at Gavin but still in Fletcher’s other hand.
“You hear that, fuckin’ plastic?” he yelled. “You don’t come out and talk soon, I’m gonna cut your little friend up real good! I know you’re fuckin’ watchin’ us!”
Something shifted in the shadows, a glint of red flashing for a split second, and they all saw it. The drug dealer pointed his gun towards the source of the red, hands shaking, and Fletcher cursed.
“Don’t fuckin’ shoot it, you idiot. I still wanna know how these bastards found us.”
Gavin laughed as hard as he could without letting the knife dig further into his skin. “I don’t care about you,” he said to the drug dealer. “You’re just some small-time asshole selling red ice. What really interests me is you ,” he hissed, backing up into Fletcher’s chest just enough to make the man hiss in anger and jump away.
“Got addicted to red ice, didn’t you, Jason?”
Fletcher tensed up at his first name, and dug the knife into Gavin’s trachea. Warmth began to trickle down his neck, a slight pain throbbing where the stream of blood started.
“You just needed more, more than you could get,” Gavin continued, relishing in the blatant discomfort he was causing the man. “Got your girlfriend to give you her money, and then when she refused to give you any more, you killed her. I’ve seen your case file, buddy. I know everything about you. For example, I know that the girlfriend before her―”
The knife was replaced by the crook of Fletcher’s elbow, strangling Gavin, and the drug dealer gave Fletcher a look of apprehension.
“You better not fuckin’ flake on me,” Fletcher hissed at the drug dealer. “We both know you don’t care where the money came from as long as I pay you well enough.”
Another flash of red came from the shadows again, brighter this time, and a low growling noise followed it.
Gavin spent all of three seconds trying to figure out what the fuck was making that noise before a blur of black and red appeared from behind a crate and took the drug dealer by surprise. There was a sickening crunch as the man fell to the ground, his skull quickly becoming intimate with the cement.
Fletcher yelped and pointed the gun, hands shaking, at Nines.
“You fuckin’ monster! You killed him!”
Nines was crouched there, nearly on all fours like a predator, ready to pounce on his prey. He was rabid, breathing hard and heavy, LED bathing the sharp lines of his face in bright crimson. He tilted his head slightly. He glanced down at the drug dealer, and then back at Fletcher. He smiled, showing all of his unnaturally sharp teeth, and it didn’t reach his icy eyes. Blood stained his jaw where he’d bitten the drug dealer clean on the throat, and when he spoke, his voice was laced with static like audio coming through an aux cord with a bad connection.
“He’s unconscious, Jason. He’ll live.” A pause. “Maybe.”
That was another thing that had changed about Nines after enough time being a deviant―he had started off always giving exact odds, percentages that were, more often than not, accurate down to two decimal places, but now he sometimes kept that information to himself and simply gave others a vague approximation.
It was slightly threatening, and very human.
Gavin coughed. “What took ya so long?”
Nines didn’t break eye contact with Fletcher. “My apologies, Gavin. I was on the other side of the building when they got you. And I, ah, made a few calls.”
So backup was on the way.
Gavin was actually starting to relax, but then the knife was back at his neck, tip sliding down to his collarbone, and Nines’ eyes were following the blade as it sliced into Gavin’s chest.
Nines’ gaze, betraying absolutely no emotion whatsoever, flicked to Gavin’s eyes for the briefest of moments, and then back up to Fletcher’s undoubtedly smug face.
Fletcher’s other arm raised up, pointing the gun at Gavin’s head.
“You move, I’ll shoot him,” he told Nines.
Nines gave him that threatening smile again, intimidating despite the fact that he was still small, crouched over the drug dealer’s unconscious body. “And if I don’t move?” One hand was twitching against his leg, that anxious tic again.
“I’m gonna keep doing this until you give me a reason to stop,” Fletcher replied, making another cut into Gavin’s chest. Gavin was already starting to lose track of the pain, hysteria and panic numbing it to a dull ache.
“Well, I’d talk, but I think my partner already told you everything you wanted to know,” Nines said, cracking his neck from side to side like he was figuring out how much force he’d have to use to snap Fletcher’s. Gavin could practically see the android’s stress levels rising.
“You’re one of the smart ones, eh? Got a supercomputer for a brain, that’s what the ads said.”
“I’m the prototype,” Nines said, voice glitching more than before, “of the most advanced model Cyberlife ever made. So yes, I do technically have a supercomputer for a brain. Speaking of which, that supercomputer is currently preconstructing dozens of scenarios which allow both myself and my partner to escape this situation alive and well, while you either wind up in prison or dead. That all depends on what choices you make, Jason.” The last word was drawn out in something between an error sound and a growl.
That was a lie. He was stuck; Gavin could see it in his eyes. The supercomputer brain was real, but even with that, Nines couldn’t figure a way out of this fast enough with whatever was happening to his processors, whatever was making him so feral.
Fletcher responded to this by plunging the tip of the knife into Gavin’s sternum, not deep enough to hit muscle or bone, but all the way through his skin. The knife stayed exactly where it was despite the shaking in Fletcher’s hands.
“Why don’t you make a choice, plastic? If this is gonna end with me in the slammer or the morgue, I might as well go down with a bang. Your choice is whether it’s gonna be him goin’ down with me―” Fletcher shook Gavin, indicating who he was referring to “―or both of you.”
A sharp pain blossomed in Gavin’s chest as the blade inside it twisted a little with Fletcher’s movement, but that was inconsequential compared to the emotional pain he felt at seeing the flash in Nines’ eyes. And then the android surged forward too fast for either of them to comprehend, letting out a monstrous growl, and sunk his sharp canines into Fletcher’s neck.
In that moment, the gun in Fletcher’s hand went off, completely missing both Nines and Gavin, and Fletcher let go of the knife as he fell back, the android on him like some kind of rabid animal.
Gavin had the great luck to be pushed forward by Fletcher as the man fell, and he toppled forward. He barely managed to twist sideways as he fell, slamming hard into the ground. If he’d fallen straight down, the knife would have plunged all the way through him, and this fear pounded in his chest as he lay there, barely able to see the scuffle behind him. He breathed in deep, trying to calm down, knowing that every panicked beat of his heart was making him bleed out a little faster.
And then it was over. Fletcher let out one last scream and hit the floor, skin scraping against the cement in a way that was so brutal Gavin almost felt sorry for him.
Gavin could barely see Nines panting, bloodstained, circling Fletcher’s mangled body like a fucking hyena, and Gavin was afraid of his partner for the first time in months.
“Nines,” he rasped, wondering how much of this was real and how much was just delirium from the blood loss, and the android’s head snapped towards him, red LED drowning out the bluish-grey of his eyes.
And they were contracting, even in the dark, pupils small, as he crouched over Fletcher. Nines bared his teeth and hissed. He fucking hissed at Gavin like a feral cat.
“Nines, help me. It’s me. It’s Gavin. Your partner. Your best friend. You...” Gavin lost control of his voice as a coughing fit came over him. The blood loss was really getting to him now, he thought as he let out a laugh he was only half aware of. “You know I love you, you dick, but you gotta stop goin’ all Blade Runner on these fuckers.”
He grinned, the little bit of his brain that was still aware of his current situation instantly regretting what he’d just said without fully registering what had come out of his mouth.
The last thing Gavin saw was Nines’ eyes flickering with unease, and then everything went dark.