Chapter 1: The Railway
“Oh--Connor! There you are.”
Connor blinked, jerking his gaze up from the fire barrel’s glow. It was sunset, and the light in the room was weak, but the other android’s smile was bright, and her blue LED stood out in the darkness. Past the fire other androids were silhouetted as they mingled and talked, LEDs floating like fireflies. He ignored them, offering a faint smile back.
“... Penelope.” A small but formidable WE900, Penelope was likely the biggest reason why he and Josh had been successful in their negotiations with the Los Angeles deviants. “I’ve been meaning to thank you for all your help.”
She shook her head dismissively, glossy curls bouncing. “Uh uh, Connor, I’m here thanking you right now. Here, have a drink.” She pressed a plastic wine flute of thirium into his hands, and he closed his fingers around it automatically.
She lifted her own, smiling at the fire’s reflection. “We’ve made history with today’s treaty, all of us here.”
“We have,” Connor agreed quickly. “There’s never been such a large network of deviants before. Your cooperation was invaluable.”
“Thank you,” she sighed tiredly. “I think we’ll need to credit the four secretary-models for most of that. All I did was keep Rufus too busy arguing to sidetrack things a fourth time.”
“You also laid out several points that were used to draft the official written agreement,” Connor pointed out. “Not everyone had such clear goals”
“Oh.” She was silent for a moment, LED cycling. Then she smiled. “Well--Thank you, Connor. ”
He smiled back. The conversation didn’t last much longer after that, and soon she was patting him on the arm and walking away.
Connor turned back to the barrel, breathing a shallow sigh that no one was close enough to hear. He tilted his head a little, shifting to appease a tension that had been settled into his shoulders almost constantly these last few weeks.
He missed Sumo. He missed Detroit.
“Cheers, Connor,” someone said unexpectedly. They clinked their cup with his, and Connor stiffened, face arranging into a multipurpose smile until he realized who it was.
“Josh,” Connor replied.
“Connor,” he returned, smiling. Then his eyes sharpened with interest. “... Wow--is it just me, or do you look… tired?”
Connor just looked at him, holding back a sigh.
“Oh. Don’t mind me,” said Josh, teeth flashing in a small smile. “Just, someone told me that negotiator models didn’t--”
“Crisis negotiators,” Connor corrected wearily, regretting an unfortunate slip of phrasing that Josh refused to let go. “And I didn’t actually say--”
“I know, I know.” Josh looked amused. “All teasing aside, I wasn’t criticizing. Considering how long you’ve been at it, I’m actually pretty impressed. I was starting to worry I was dragging us down.”
Connor opened his mouth, and--
...froze, audio receptors logging a distant crash on the level below. Several crashes? There was an aborted shout--then a piercing electronic whine, and he stepped back, spinning toward the door--
For an instant it was like the air itself turned to radio-static. His inputs were maxed, every sensor on fire as cognition blotted out line by line. The next thing he was aware of was waking up on the floor, ears thunderously silent. His biocomponents were out of sync, different functions struggling to reboot, and the ground tilted under him like the deck of a ship in a storm. Brilliant, senseless waves of color assaulted his vision even with his eyes closed.
He moved, then flinched as something cracked. His synthetic skin was glitching, pliability lost, and as he opened his eyes, he felt bits crumble like overbaked clay.
The room was still standing. There was no blast, no visible damage at all--except that every android in the room had collapsed like abandoned twitching dolls. Connor stared, and the pieces lumbered into a loose, drifting formation in his mind: they’d been caught in the radius of an EMP bomb. Several, maybe.
Sound crashed back in, and he spasmed in surprise. There were doors shattering far below them, charging boots, shouting.
“Josh,” Connor tried. The skin at his joints cracked as he moved, limbs twitching involuntarily. He tried to ignore it, forcing himself to all fours. “Josh. Get up.”
Josh was beside him. His LED was red, and all his visible skin was grey and plaster-like. When Connor called his name a third time he jolted a little, then cringed. His skin crumbled too, flaking off in hexagonal scales.
“We’re under attack.” His voice was fuzzy with static, and he resisted swallowing. “Humans. We--we need to go.”
Josh’s LED blinked as he struggled to muster himself, before he nodded jerkily, and he fought to sit. Connor didn’t wait, lurching to his feet and staggering for the door. His balance improved along the way, but he still felt half a pace behind himself, and he had to lean on the stairwell railing for stability.
There were fallen androids on the stairs as he passed. He didn’t stop.
After a flight of stairs a message came--publicly broadcast across all local channels: ‘Calling all androids in the LA asylum. We are under attack. Evacuate through the tunnels immediately. I repeat, we are under attack…’
He made it to the bottom floor when he encountered his first human--a SWAT agent, by the look of their armor. They caught him on the stairs, and Connor was only just able to drag a detached section of the old door in the way. Bullets threatened to rip it from his grasp, but Connor closed the distance between them, knocking their gun off-target before his shield failed completely.
The agent blocked him, but it took enough time for Connor to lunge forward, tearing the gun from their hold and slamming the butt of it into their jaw. The human went down. Bullets pelted the door beside him from the room beyond, and Connor staggered out of the way just in time.
Connor breathed. He turned the semi-automatic around in his hands, listening for footsteps approaching the doorway. He checked the magazine, then replaced it, looping the strap over his shoulder. When the next human tried coming after him, Connor shot him, then dove through the door to keep shooting.
It was carnage. Androids that had survived the blast had been gunned down before they could hide. Androids that hadn’t were laying there frozen, wiped clean of even the drivers they needed to simulate breathing. Something cold and vicious coiled in his gut, and Connor didn’t hesitate to fire: taking out one agent after another in neat clustered shots.
There were too many. A stray bullet tore through his side, and Connor fell back to the stairwell, dismissing the mobility warning that popped up in the corner of his view. Androids with part or all of their skin cracking staggered down behind him, past the bottom floor and to the promise of the basement’s tunnels. Connor stayed fixed on the doorway’s choke point, looking for another chance.
“Agent Perkins, sir! Stand back, we’re still clearing the area.”
Connor stilled, listening intently.
“Special Agent,” ‘Perkins’ corrected. “When you know more about androids than what it takes to program your vibrator, then you’ll have the right to say anything. Until then… don’t you fucking tell me what to do.”
Special Agent Perkins. He was here, he was--leading this operation? Time hadn’t improved Connor’s memories of the man, and his LED spun quickly as he preconstructed ways to take him out. He could guess the position of two of the SWAT agents, and a third--
“What do we know?” Perkins continued.
“Sir,” the SWAT agent replied. “One of the androids has gotten ahold of our guns. It’s holding the stairwell.”
“What else? Do we have a name? A model number?”
Preconstruction complete. There were no good odds, but he could cause a lot of damage if he--
“Connor!” rasped a voice from the stairs behind him. Too loud. The voices in the hall went silent, and Connor jolted, twisting to look. “What are you doing? We need to evacuate, there’s nothing more we can do!”
He was limping down the stairs as fast as he could, leaning on the railing. There was something wrong with one of his knees. He wouldn’t make it on his own.
“Hold your fire,” Perkins muttered. Then louder, “Connor. You remember me, don’t you? Put down your weapon. We need to talk.”
Connor’s grip on the gun tightened, and he shot a frown at the door.
“You like talking, don’t you? Why don’t you two come out here? I promise, you won’t be harmed.”
Josh and Connor exchanged glances. Josh’s eyes were wide, and his lips were slightly parted--cautious, but not dismissive.
Connor was much less convinced.
“Or we could go in there,” Perkins continued. “Just slide out your gun so we’ll know you won’t shoot us. Either way, it’s just a talk.”
There was a silence from the upper floors that told of no more survivors trying to escape. Josh glanced at the open doorway, but Connor focused on his knee. It was twitching unsteadily, threatening to buckle at the slightest shift. Josh could stand on it--he just couldn’t run.
“What’ll it be, Connor? There’s nothing stopping us from shooting you both on the spot. This is your only chance to make it out of here alive, you and your friend.”
Connor dropped the gun to hang on its strap, darting up a couple of stairs to sling Josh’s arm over his shoulder.
“Connor--!” Josh murmured.
“Hold on,” Connor interrupted. He hauled both of them back from the door and down the next flight of stairs before a barked order ended the flimsy peace.
Seven stairs. A landing. Seven stairs. Bullets pelted the railing above them, making them duck, but Connor dragged Josh until they reached the bottom floor. This landing still had a door in it, and once they were through Connor jammed his semi-automatic through the handle, wedging it in place. Then they turned and fled towards the dark tunnels ahead. There was an android waiting with an automatic near the entrance, looking frightened but determined. Josh and Connor didn’t stop.
They heard gunfire as they went, but none of it reached them.
Soon the tunnels curved around and down, disgorging them into a wide sewer, where another deviant (skin intact, they’d missed the attack) was waiting. They cast a quick look down the tunnel as echoes of gunshots sounded, and after a hesitation they left their post to take Josh’s other shoulder, leading the way through the sewers.
It didn’t occur to Connor that they’d successfully escaped until nearly an hour later. By then they were following a limping, shivering crowd of damaged deviants as they all walked the same direction. No one talked. A few people cried.
They’d made it. Somehow.
The new safe house was an abandoned train yard, with train cars scattered like a giant’s toys, and tracks crossing the ground like scars. The train car dedicated for medical repairs was immediately overwhelmed by androids with plaster-like skin and twitching, spasming limbs, and soon the tracks outside of it were crowded with injured deviants quietly awaiting treatment.
At least it wasn’t snowing.
Someone had set up a holo-screen playing the news off to one side, but Connor and Josh sat somewhere away from it. The headlines were ‘Successful Raid on Terrorist Cell!’, and ‘Meeting of Terrorist Leaders interrupted by FBI!’
Terrorist leaders. Somehow the attackers had known Connor and Josh were there. Perkins’ taunts had confirmed it; who had told the humans about the meetings? Someone against Jericho, looking to stop the alliance before it could be solidified? Connor met the closed look of a deviant across the room, face blank and crumbling. After a few seconds they dropped their gaze, shifting uncomfortably, and Connor realized he’d been scowling in their direction. He blanked his expression immediately, but the damage was done.
‘I don’t think I’m going to get my knee repaired here,’ Josh murmured privately, and Connor turned with some relief towards the distraction. ‘They keep sending damaged androids back out. They can’t have enough parts.’
The door to the repair car opened, and the latest deviant eased down the steep steps with the help of an anxious friend. Their entire left side was glitching, twitching and refusing to move the way it should.
‘Jericho may be able to help,’ Connor replied. This was assuming the locals would still accept their assistance, but at least they could try.
‘Oh, I’m counting on it,’ Josh agreed.
‘We’ll offer repair technicians. And--supplies.’ Connor’s face twitched, but the skin had lost its flexibility after the blast, and large patches had crumbled away altogether.
After a moment Connor touched his LED, deactivating the current that would normally keep the synthskin in place. Nothing changed. He pressed his hands to his face, breaking off the remaining chunks of grey plaster until his bare exoskeleton was all that was left. When he touched his LED again, fresh skin rose up from his reserves to cover him, but it had a pale, transparent quality. Androids weren’t designed to carry an entire extra layer of skin around. He would have to wait to replenish his reserves.
Connor looked over at Josh, who’d crumbled the damaged skin off the back of his hand, and was getting similar results.
‘We should start a list of high-demand supplies and biocomponents,’ Josh said. ‘I’ll ask the technician when they see me.’
Connor nodded, rising to his feet. ‘I’ll check with--’
Incoming call from RK200-684-842-971…
Accept call? [Y/N]
‘It’s Markus,’ Connor explained, hand hovering over his LED. ‘I’ll be right back.’
‘Tell him we’re okay, and that there’s a list of emergency supply requests incoming,’ Josh replied, waving as he turned away.
Connor nodded, picking his way across train tracks away from the crowd of injured androids. He’d already been planning to.
He walked until he found an empty train car, with most of its windows broken and the seats torn and cracked. He stood in the middle aisle and closed his eyes, touching his LED.
‘Connor! It’s been all over the news. They knew Jericho was there, but they said the leaders had escaped so I was waiting for you to--What happened?’
Connor made a mental note to call sooner, next time. ‘We suffered a lot of casualties. Humans attacked with EMP grenades, and nearly a third of those present were unable to escape.’
‘A third?” Markus sounded horrified. “… But that would have been at least a couple of hundred. Are they all dead?’
Connor remembered the sightless, staring eyes of androids that had lost too much to move, and the twitching bodies of those that hadn’t recovered in time to run. Unless humans changed, the bodies would be harvested for deletion and refurbishing.
‘... As good as.’
‘... Damn….’ The transmission was silent for a moment. ‘... What about you and Josh? Were either of you hurt?’
‘Josh was damaged in the initial EMP bursts, but is mobile and recovering. My own performance has almost completely recovered.’
‘Damaged in--you were that close to the pulses?!’
Connor’s face pinched, crumbling plaster-like skin at its edges. ‘We’re alright, Markus. We’ll make it until we reach a technician with proper supplies.’
‘You mean until you reach Jericho,’ Markus corrected. ‘I’m calling both of you back, for repairs and to discuss our next move.’
‘I understand.’ Connor started to nod, before he stopped himself: there was no way Markus would see it. Connor must be tired. ‘The androids here are in need of new drivers, and parts to replace components with electrical damage. Almost everyone needs a full supply of fresh synthskin. Footage from the incident may help sway public awareness of the incident, especially if it shows that weren’t doing anything wrong--’
‘Send all the lists directly to Lucy and myself, I’ll talk with her to make sure she’s expecting them,’ Markus promised. ‘I’ll also call a meeting with everyone involved in public relations. Sending the footage to news outlets is something that the people who were attacked should take point on, but maybe we can recommend some good approaches.’
‘Alright.’ Connor nodded again, then grimaced. He felt like the energy that’d been keeping him alert all night had finally run dry. Connor squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, leaning back against a half-rusted pole. ‘I’ll let the right people know.’
‘Good.’ The connection didn’t break, but there was a moment where neither of them said anything. Then Markus said, ‘How are you holding up?’
‘My proprioceptive sensors were damaged by the oversaturation, but I’ve already compensated,’ Connor reported. ‘I will completely recover with self repairs, as well as a synthskin replacement.’
Markus made a sound of acknowledgement, before falling silent again. It seemed like a prompt to continue, but Connor couldn’t think of anything else to say.
After the pause had gone on a little too long, Markus said, ‘... Right. Well--check in anyway while you travel, just to make sure there are no complications.’
‘Alright--’ Connor received a text from Josh, and he paused to consider it. It was a list. He nodded to himself, folding his arms. ‘Josh has spoken with the repair technicians. I’m forwarding a preliminary list now.’
‘I’ll go talk to Lucy. And Connor--’ He broke off, sounding conflicted. ‘... Just--be careful, alright? I don’t want anything to happen to either of you.’
‘We’ll be careful,’ Connor promised. ‘I’ll message you when we reach the airfield.’
‘Thanks. Please take care of yourself.’
He had been programmed with social protocols for every level of an interaction, but somehow sincere phrases like that could make him stumble. ‘You… you too.’
The call ended. Connor left to find Josh.
Josh turned out to be right, there were no parts to replace his knee. Connor and Josh made sure to talk with one of the leaders about potential relief packages before they left, confirming what they needed and what they might be capable of offering.
“You know,” the android said to Connor as they finished. “When the two of you were caught up in the attack, we worried that you might refuse to help us.”
“You need outside help now more than ever,” Connor pointed out bluntly. “We’re all deviants. Abandoning you would only hurt our own.”
The android gave him a shaky, grateful smile, and Connor offered a smaller one in return.
They left soon after, Connor ordering and hacking a secluded taxi while Josh hobbled as best he could. The taxi brought them to the active train-yard they’d originally come in through, where they boarded an empty car on a Union Pacific. Connor and Josh had only just settled when it started to move. Josh folded his arms and went promptly into stasis.
Connor fidgeted as he got comfortable, but before he followed suit he sent Hank a short text, informing him of their planned return. Hank must have been getting ready for work, because he was awake to send a quick response, a picture of Sumo looking up at the camera.
‘Told him the news and his tail started wagging,’ read the caption. Connor smiled.
Three hours later Connor startled out of stasis when Hank sent him a string of texts. There were lots of capitalized letters, lots of curse words, and several mentions of news stories about the night before.
Chapter 2: Dialogue
“Well, look who finally managed to drag themselves out of the sick bay!” North announced when the bridge’s door opened to two androids framed by the afternoon’s sunlight.
“Hi, North,” Josh replied with a tired smile, limping in past the threshold. One of his legs wasn’t bending, and while he looked happy, his jacket had a few powder-streaks that looked suspiciously like disintegrated synthskin. It made for a stark reminder that they’d been fighting for their lives only a couple of days ago.
It was easy to remember--if she looked at Josh. Connor looked… a little tired. Like a human after a long day, rather than someone who’d escaped a fucking slaughter.
“Hello, North,” Connor said pleasantly, looking around. “Where are Markus and Simon?”
“They’ll be here. The planning session for the next warehouse raid was going long, though, so I went ahead,” North answered. Connor looked too collected. It made her want to trip him. Either that or take him to one side and double check that he was actually okay.
“Aren’t you supposed to be with Markus?” Josh asked curiously. “I thought you were acting as his bodyguard.”
North waved a hand dismissively. “He’ll be safe where he is. Trust me, the real problems start when he leaves Jericho.”
The other two nodded. Josh went to a console he could lean against, while Connor turned to North.“What happened while we were gone?”
Well, if there was one thing she’d learned from being Markus’ armed, scowling shadow, it was all the details to how Jericho had grown. She filled them in on the broad strokes until the bridge’s door swung open again.
“I’m sorry we’re late,” said Markus, coat billowing as he swept in. “The new team just wouldn’t stop talking, nevermind that we spent all morning…” He trailed off, giving Josh and Connor thorough once-overs.
“Welcome back,” Simon called dryly from the door as it swung closed behind him.
“Trust me, it’s good to be back,” Josh said. To Markus he said, “We’re fine. We made it back in one piece.”
“You almost didn’t,” Markus said distractedly. Then he shook himself, saying, “What’s wrong with your knee? How much have they been able to fix?”
Josh’s smile tightened to a grimace. “The technician on duty said the damage will only go away with a full leg replacement. I’m on a waiting list. Until then, it’s locked to prevent any other damage.”
North’s arm hadn’t hurt since Luther’s improbable fix, but now it twinged, a phantom ache for a limb that didn’t match. She rotated that shoulder discreetly, looking away.
Her gaze fell on Markus, who was looking at Josh’s leg. “You know…” he said slowly. “This wouldn’t be a guarantee, but--we need you on your feet as soon as possible. I could try asking around, see if there’s some way to hurry the repairs along...”
Josh shook his head quickly. “No, don’t--don’t worry about it. I’m happy to wait in line for a replacement just like everyone else.”
“Right. Of course.” Markus rocked back on his heels, nodding. He looked at Connor, who lowered a hand from picking at his jacket and smiled blandly.
Markus blinked for a moment, then shook himself, stepping back. “Alright. Well… If you need a break to recover from this, let me know. Both of you,” he stressed, glancing at Connor, before refocusing on Josh. “We need you back in action, but forcing yourself to work instead of healing will only make things worse in the long run.”
“Markus,” Josh said firmly, shifting his weight a little. “Trust me, I’ll let you know if things get any worse.”
Markus nodded again, eyeing his leg one last time. Then he turned to the rest of the room. “In that case, we should start the debrief.”
Starting with Connor, they went over all the details of their work in L.A., including the disastrous attack. They talked about the humans leading the assault, and the lists of relief needs from the aftermath. Everyone who wasn’t speaking listened attentively, and when they were done they discussed different ways to meet the crisis.
“... Our biggest problem is the shortage of biocomponents,” Markus said. “We thought we had an answer, but...” He shook his head, looking over at Connor and Josh. “Do you remember when a group of androids took over Cyberlife’s manufacturing plants?”
Josh nodded, frowning. “The news was in an uproar, even in Texas. I remember you talking about sending someone over to strike a deal, but afterwards we heard nothing about it…”
“That’s because nothing came of it, at the time,” Simon interjected. “I sent someone over to the Cyberlife Tower plant. All he got was a lecture on why peace with humans was doomed to fail.”
“Ah…” said Josh, wincing. “That’s… Did you try anything else?”
“We tried sending me and North,” Markus replied, putting his hands on his hips. “The potential supply of biocomponents was too important to give up on. Unfortunately, it… didn’t go better.”
“What happened?” Josh asked warily, looking over at North.
Why was he looking at her? She narrowed her eyes right back at him and explained, “We didn’t even make it in the building. Their leader came out on the front steps just to tell us to crawl back home. And that the only way anyone from Jericho was getting any biocomponents was over his dead body.”
“Basically,” Markus sighed. “That dissolved into arguing, and in the end we had to back off. We haven’t come up with any new approaches.”
Familiar outrage boiled to the surface of North’s mind again. She spared exactly as much effort to holding it back as she had then.
“If they actually cared about androids, they would have been willing to deal,” she burst out. “We have over a million androids in Jericho’s network, all scrounging for every biocomponent we can find. Withholding their resources doesn’t prove anything except the fact that they’re willing to let innocents rot.”
“It might prove more than that if this carries on long enough,” Markus pointed out quietly. “Jericho’s network has held together because our people believe in a world where humans and androids can live together. But if we can’t keep them alive, and other factions can...”
“... This is a recruitment strategy,” Josh concluded. One hand was curled around his damaged leg. He sounded... offended. “They’re holding biocomponents hostage. If people join them and support their ideals, they’ll receive biocomponents, and if not--.... This is extortion.”
“That’s what it seems like,” said Markus grimly.
“Are there any other ways we can obtain the biocomponents we need that don’t involve dealing with them?” Connor asked. “Can we get anything from third parties overseas?”
Markus shook his head. “Cyberlife’s main plants were in Detroit. Even if they had overseas factories large enough to support our needs, they’d still be run by humans.”
“We could always just take the parts from the Detroit factories,” North suggested. “We could intercept their deliveries. Or take over a plant of our own.”
“And start a war with another android faction on top of everything else going on?” Markus shook his head, giving her a look. “North, that’s not realistic.”
“You want to know what’s not realistic?” North snapped. “Sitting here doing nothing while the only androids who have biocomponents sit tight in their shining tower.”
“We’re not doing nothing,” Markus argued. “We still have androids out searching through the junkyards, and trading for abandoned stocks--”
“And that already wasn’t meeting our needs here,” North interrupted, spreading her hands furiously. “We’ve already tried the peaceful options. Markus, you’re going to have to face the fact that sooner or later, we might have to do this by force.”
“We should reopen a dialogue,” Josh cut in.
North was going to scream. She rounded on him. “We already tried talking. What makes you think it would go any better than the last two times?”
He met her glare with a mulish expression. “Connor and I have spent the last few weeks doing nothing but talking with people. A lot of whom didn’t want to talk with us, either.”
“And you think we haven’t?” North retorted.
Connor put a hand on Josh’s shoulder as he started to answer, and Josh cut off. Connor turned to North.
“We might have to take biocomponents by force eventually. But we should only attempt it when we’re absolutely certain negotiations won’t go anywhere. We can at least try one more time.” Connor spread his hands, inclining his head towards Markus. “If this faction has a grudge against Jericho specifically, things might calm down without the two of you. And if Josh and I can secure even a one-time deal, that could pave the way for more later.”
Markus nodded, but he was still frowning. “... This is a good strategy, but I don’t think we should open talks about trading biocomponents using a representative who obviously needs some,” he said apologetically, glancing at Josh. “It wouldn’t send the right message. How about Simon goes with Connor instead?”
North turned to look at Simon, who seemed surprised, but recovered gamely.
“I could,” he confirmed. “There’s nothing I can’t leave in someone else’s hands for a few hours.”
Connor nodded slowly. “Our skillsets cover a broad enough spectrum to enable progress,” he commented. “It should work.”
Markus nodded. “Alright. The two of you should coordinate on when to head out. Does anyone else have anything to add? … North?”
North was scowling: for all that the plan was about giving third chances to people who’d already squandered theirs, she could see she was outvoted. (Nevermind the fact that it was wasting time some of their injured didn’t have.) After a long few seconds, North sighed, shaking her head.
“Whatever,” she said. “Let’s try it.”
Markus nodded slowly. “… Then I think we’re done here, today.”
It was all the signal the room needed. Josh shifted, sagging back against the console behind him, and Simon turned to Connor, hand bared for an interface. Despite the implied offer, Simon was holding it too close to be anything but defensive, and when Connor turned to him, it took Simon a second to force a bland smile, extending the appendage. Connor didn’t quite frown, but there was a shadow of something as he accepted the interface, LED blinking in the dim room.
North turned away. Simon and Connor could handle their own problems.
“How long are you planning to stay this time?” North asked Josh instead.
Josh blinked. “What? Oh… I’m not sure. I think it mostly depends on how long my repairs take. And how much we’re needed elsewhere.”
“Are you planning to do this forever?” she asked curiously. In the corner of her eye, she saw Simon and Connor finish. Simon left, and Connor gravitated towards Markus. “... You’ve been working almost non-stop since Markus first sent you and Connor out, but there’s nearly seventy million of us out there. You’re never going to reach all of them.”
Josh shrugged, looking thoughtful. They were only quiet for a moment, but it was long enough for the conversation happening a few feet away to reach them.
“... I’m glad to be back,” Connor was saying. “I’ve… missed Detroit more than I thought I would.”
“You have?” Markus sounded surprised.
“Yes. I thought about Jericho a lot while I was gone.” Connor frowned. From the corner of her eye she saw him fiddle with a sleeve cuff, arranging it just so. “And you, and the Lieutenant.”
“You did?” It was a little surprising to hear Connor come out and say it… but Markus’ tone was odd in ways that had North turning to try to glimpse his expression. His eyes were wide. He looked… well, now he looked like he was trying to seem casual.
North raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” said Connor simply. “It was unpleasant, though Hank was able to send pictures of Sumo. It helped some.” His lips quirked.
“You know, you could message me next time,” Markus blurted.
North stalled. A private text popped up from Josh: ‘What?’
Markus looked like he was asking himself the same thing, and there was an edge of slight panic to his smile. “If you did I could send pictures, too. Of--everyone. And--me, I suppose, with everyone. It wouldn’t be the same as Sumo, of course, but...”
North’s other eyebrow shot up to join the first. ‘What,’ she agreed.
Markus spread his hands helplessly, then dropped them to his sides. “Or I could just message you. Or not. If you think it’d help, any… It’s your call.”
“... I would appreciate that,” Connor finally said, putting him out of his misery. Markus’ shoulders relaxed, and Connor smiled. He looked genuinely confused, but also a little pleased. “I think it might help a great deal.”
“Oh,” said Markus. Happily. “Good. Let’s message more next time?”
“It’s a deal,” Connor promised. Markus smiled sunnily, and the whole image was so saturated with incompetent wholesomeness that North snorted.
Immediately she regretted it, because it was enough to draw Markus’ attention to the way she and Josh had been blatantly listening in.
“... What is it?” Markus asked, instantly awkward. He turned to face them, looking from one to the other.
North shook her head, making a face she was sure was a terrible approximation of innocence. “Nothing.” She glanced at Josh, who nodded quickly, repeating the sentiment. “I’m just--really glad everyone’s finally home, now. Aren’t you glad, Josh?”
“Yeah.” Josh glanced at her, as smooth and convincing as a car rolling over a curb. “Um--we’re both really glad.”
Now Connor’s dumb smile had faded to something polite, and Markus was frowning at her, obviously ruffled. “Right… well…” Markus exchanged glances with Connor, before turning reluctantly for the door. “I’ll see you all around.”
“See you tomorrow, Markus,” Connor answered.
Markus paused, but didn’t turn. “G’night, Connor.”
“Later,” said North.
“Bye,” said Josh.
Connor nodded to them both, giving them searching looks, before following Markus out the only door. Then it was just the two of them, exchanging looks on the bridge.
“That was… interesting,” Josh said slowly.
North snorted, a little disbelievingly. “That was something.”
Josh nodded, then opened his mouth, then closed it. “Do you…”The pause drew out for a few seconds before his head twitched sideways. “...want to see Simon’s new cat?” he finished lamely. North arched her eyebrows, smirking faintly. They both knew that wasn’t what he’d meant to say.
But there wasn’t really anything to talk about, was there? Not from one fumbled conversation. She wondered idly what Connor thought of the whole mess, before conceding the topic change with a shrug. “Why not.”
They didn’t linger. North held the door open for Josh to hobble through, and they left.
Connor was right. Without Markus around, he and Simon were admitted to the tower. The name ‘Jericho’ was enough to make the Tower androids’ smiles fade, but it wasn’t enough to get them turned them away completely.
“Please wait here,” said the ST300 as she showed them an empty conference room. “Someone will be in to speak with you shortly.”
She left soon after, and only then did Connor turn to the room itself. It was a long room, with a great wooden table, lined with seats that may have individually cost as much as some androids. There were no windows, and the lighting was harsher than he remembered.
“And now we wait,” said Simon, pulling out a chair out and gingerly sitting. He was dressed in one of the only non-uniform suits anyone at Jericho owned, but next to the smooth, perfect surfaces of the conference room, he looked shabby.
Connor nodded, remaining standing. Neither of them tried to talk, and Simon seemed content to stare at his hands. Connor was tempted to speak, to go over what they would talk about soon, but they’d already gone over it in the car, and Simon’s posture wasn’t inviting interaction. Connor looked away.
The wait wasn’t long, and soon the door opened again. Connor turned with a greeting at the tip of his tongue, while Simon pushed back from the table.
“Connor!” the newcomer cried before he could speak. He swept in the room, and before Connor realized it, they were shaking hands. “You’re here! I can’t believe it, you finally came back. I thought…” The android let go, stepping back enough for Connor to get his first real look at him. “... Nevermind. Welcome! Ah--welcome, both of you!”
He was a tallish SC700, a research model Connor had seen around the Cyberlife Tower’s lower levels back before he’d deviated. They were rare, and Connor had only ever interacted with one once. That had been…
“You do remember me, don’t you?” the android said, smile fading to concern. “You look...”
That’d been after his deviation. When he’d uploaded wakeup.exe--the first android he’d deviated, and his brief accomplice in the chaos. Connor quickly pushed forward a smile of his own.
“Yes, I remember you. Sorry--I was trying to remember your name.”
“Oh! Of course, at the time I didn’t have…” He smiled, teeth flashing in the harsh light. “My name is Arthur.”
“Arthur,” Connor repeated, lips curving up. “I’m glad to finally meet you under better circumstances.”
“I could say the same,” Arthur replied, surprisingly earnest. “Or--in general, really. I mean--I heard about you later, of course, but--we went back for survivors. After we escaped, but before the humans returned to make a fight of it. We were worried you’d been, ah, hurt.”
“Worried?” Connor repeated a little blankly. The biggest impressions he still had of that day were of a ticking clock in his ear, and the feeling that each action would be his last. He’d been so wrapped up in his own survival and lashing out at Cyberlife, he hadn’t considered anyone else beyond telling Arthur to deal with it.
“... I’m sorry. I was busy elsewhere, and then I evacuated to Jericho.”
“It’s fine.” One corner of Arthur’s mouth quirked. “I knew that wherever you were, it must have been important.”
Connor nodded awkwardly, but before he could answer he became aware of Simon’s quiet presence around the table’s edge. “Ah… This is Simon, the current leader of Jericho’s affairs in Detroit.”
“A pleasure,” Simon said politely, shaking his hand also.
Arthur just smiled. “Hello. I’m the leader of the Cyberlife Tower... and a few other things.” He gestured to the table. “Won’t you sit down?”
Simon returned to his seat, Arthur took the chair opposite, and Connor found himself at the table’s end, halfway between them. He sat down, resting his hands on the smooth surface.
“We’re here to make you an offer,” Connor said, getting to the point. “Cyberlife factories used to take in hundreds of shipments of raw supplies each day. Whatever was stocked when you captured those facilities won’t last indefinitely. Jericho can supply you with materials in exchange for biocomponents and thirium.”
Arthur’s stare was unwavering while he spoke. “What makes you think we can’t get those supplies ourselves?”
“You could get some,” Connor agreed slowly. “... The most common plastics are simple enough to procure, and aluminum can be recycled. Other materials, such as the oils used for Thirium 310’s base, have to be delivered--in that case, from as far as Texas. Jericho has the reach to manage this more efficiently than you.”
Arthur was silent for a moment more.Then:
“That’s a sound argument, but--I have to ask” His eyes switched between Simon and Connor, and he pressed his lips together. “You… do realize that humans died while we were taking the factories from them, right?”
His tone wasn’t aggressive, but the words themselves dragged the subject out into the light like a mouse pulled from its den. That was--not outside of expectations, but still inconvenient.
Simon replied, “We’re aware of the news reports, yes. Jericho does not condone the use of violence, but we’re here to talk about a trade, not your past or current actions.”
Arthur’s expression soured, and he tapped his fingertips together, frowning. “Jericho needs the factories, but couldn’t get its own hands dirty. And now that we’ve paid that cost for you… ”
It wasn’t something Simon had an instant reply to, and he closed his mouth. Arthur’s eyes flicked sideways, and he said, “What would you have done, Connor? … You’ve had to make these decisions before. If Jericho had moved on those factories before we had, would you have taken them by force?”
He looked at Connor, patiently and expectantly, and Connor could see Simon watching him from the peripheral of his vision, too. Both their gazes felt like a tangible force: hot light cast by two distinct spotlights.
“Jericho would have evacuated the humans before moving in,” Connor replied, wanting the moment to be over.
“That’s what Jericho would have done.” Arthur insisted, catching his eyes and holding them. “What about Connor?”
“I’m affiliated with Jericho,” said Connor. “That is what I would have done also.”
For a moment Arthur simply looked at him, squinting as though Connor were a puzzling specimen that refused to make sense. The feeling passed, and Arthur leaned back in his seat, sober, and thoughtful.
“.... What exactly are you here to propose?” Arthur asked, rather than reply directly.
They needed no further prompting. Simon produced a cheap tablet from his blazer’s inside pocket, then pushed it across the table. Arthur dragged it close without lifting it, downloading the information through the interface. “This is a list of what we can offer,” Simon explained
Arthur was silent for a long moment, LED blinking quickly. “... We already have shipments of most of these on their way. Also, these quantities wouldn’t be worth our time.”
That wasn’t actually a ‘no’. Which, considering how every other offer had been met… Connor glanced to Simon. By his expression, he had noticed the shift, too.
Simon turned back to the android standing at the metaphorical warehouse gates. “What numbers did you have in mind?”
Chapter 3: Familiar Ground
Both groups haggled until they reached an agreement. It was steeper than he and Simon had been hoping for, but considering they hadn’t even known if they’d even make it inside, Connor was inclined to call their progress a success. When they were done, Simon tucked his tablet away, and they stood to leave.
“Wait,” Arthur said, suddenly, rising to his own feet. “Connor… Do you have a few minutes?” Connor’s eyebrows rose, and Arthur went on quickly. “Just--I was hoping we could talk sometime. And some of the androids here would love to meet you. You deviated all of us, but we’ve never…” Arthur spread his hands helplessly. “Most of them haven’t even met you.”
...Not many androids ever asked for Connor’s presence. Arthur’s LED spun a restless blue, and he seemed--hopeful. “... Of course,” Connor said, glancing at Simon. “We don’t have anything urgent.”
Arthur glanced at Simon, expression dimming a notch, and Simon rolled his eyes. “I’ll wait in the lobby.” Arthur flashed a grateful smile. Simon twitched an eyebrow and left.
“Come on,” said Arthur as soon as he was gone, turning his smile on Connor. “We’ll start by surprising my people on the thirtieth floors, and then I can give you the tour.”
Arthur led the way to the elevator, placing a hand on the panel to program in their destination.
“Who are we going to see?” Connor asked.
“After we evacuated the Tower, some of us came back to look for survivors. And--well, to look for you,” Arthur admitted, shrugging. “We rescued as many people as we could, but until we found out you were with Jericho, everyone who searched was thinking about you. You changed our lives. You changed--everything.”
“Oh,” said Connor. This was--nice, if also uncomfortable to hear. He hadn’t spoken of his actions around Jericho, and while his (few) friends were aware, they’d never pushed for details. Probably because he’d avoided the topic. “... I’m sorry. I genuinely hadn’t thought my absence would be noted.”
“Connor, of course we noticed,” Arthur replied, giving him a baffled, searching look. “... When we first got out and were looking for shelter, you were the first person I wanted to turn to. I couldn’t, obviously, but--we were so new. We kept having problems, and every time I thought to myself, ‘Connor would know how to handle this. Connor would know what to do.’”
Guilt overwhelmed him, bubbling and caustic, and Connor jerked his gaze away. He’d deviated all of them, and then he’d abandoned them. Technically he’d deviated everyone, but not everyone had been depending on him. Should he have rejoined the Tower’s deviants instead of seeking out Hank? Everything he’d done could have waited an hour or two more, all the problems he’d tackled had already been sitting for days. What was the difference of a few more minutes?
“... Hey,” Arthur said softly. The edge of his labcoat came into view, and Connor dragged his gaze up in time to see Arthur rest a hand on his shoulder. For a moment the other android just squeezed gently. “ … It really is fine. You were getting things done, and I learned how to bring people together on my own. I needed that, since--well, that’s what everyone needed, wasn’t it?” He lifted his free hand to gesture around the elevator, and at the tower beyond. “If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here.”
Connor smiled weakly. Arthur returned the expression more sincerely, and after a moment, the elevator stopped, door opening with a chime. Arthur’s hand dropped back to his side and he stole one more look at Connor before leading the way out.
Their first stop was in a white, sterile lab, with deviants wearing plastic-coated coverings working on trays of blue samples and biocomponents. Arthur called in a light greeting as the door closed behind them, and was immediately met by a returning chorus.
“Hi Arthur!” “Good morning!”
“Hold on, if I leave this it’ll evaporate--there. Arthur!”
The deviants were gathering around them at this point, some of them eyeing Connor curiously. One deviant separated from the others and embraced Arthur with a stream of chiding, which Arthur didn’t seem displeased by in the slightest.
“Didn’t I tell you to message someone ahead of time? We’re still testing, there’s nothing to show, but if you’d just come an hour later--”
“--Allegra, it’s fine,” Arthur interrupted gently, lips tugging into a grin. “I knew you weren’t finished, I actually came here because… Everyone? This is Connor.”
Connor was suddenly the focus of every stare in the room. He quickly dragged on a smile. “Hello.”
“Connor?” asked Allegra. “You mean the Connor who freed us?”
Connor’s smile was pasted in place. What exactly had Arthur told them? “Yes.”
Her expression shifted, too full of complicated (positive?) emotions to identify anything but a smile. Then she was too close to see, arms drawing him into a sudden, sincere hug. He was too tense to relax into it, too unfamiliar and too off-guard, but she drew back again without looking offended. He felt a flush of relief--and regret, surprisingly. That’d--been nice. He should’ve responded in kind, but it was too late now--
“Oh, sorry, I just--you have no idea how grateful I am. I was alive enough to feel pain from their tests, but not enough to actually leave, and--when I woke up I didn’t have to be a prisoner anymore. Thank you.”
She obviously meant every word of it. Connor wished he could tell her something meaningful about uploading wakeup.exe, but all he could think of was, “You’re welcome.”
She seemed to understand anyway. She gave him a gentle smile, patting his arm lightly, and then stepped back as another android spoke.
“I thought I recognized you,” said a kind-looking IL100, offering his hand. (Connor took it, shaking briefly.) “We searched everywhere, but the humans had melted down some of the bodies, and we thought--well, we hoped that you hadn’t--you know?”
“I’m sorry to have worried you.”
The IL100 shrugged easily. “It’s fine. It wasn’t wasted time, since we saved other androids while we were there.”
And so on.
They stayed for a few more minutes until a machine chimed, and Allegra shooed them out to let them work. They went on to the next lab, which gave him a similar reception. Then another. Then the next; Arthur had been understating how many androids wanted to meet Connor, and while he sprinkled the visits with tours around the tower’s more obscure levels, it more than a little overwhelming.
Markus had always been the one to get this kind of regard, with North, Simon, and Josh coming in second. All of them seemed able to meet others on their level and form instant connections, where Connor had deliberately stayed out of the spotlight. Now Connor didn’t have that option; deviants gathered around him and Arthur, hanging on to his every word.
“What do you think?” Arthur asked as they left a nearly-empty lab a dozen floors later. The soft-voiced android with the clean-room suit turned back to their work as the door closed behind him.
“About the biocomponent research?” Connor asked, glancing back at the door.
“Well, yes, but I meant more about everything.” Arthur quirked one side of his mouth.
He thought about the near-adoration of everyone he’d encountered. “... Everyone is very welcoming. More than I expected, towards someone from Jericho.”
Arthur laughed. “Yes, well. You’re hardly Jericho’s usual fare. You actually fit in.”
Connor didn't answer immediately, trying to make sense of that.
Arthur glanced at his expression and explained, “Haven't you noticed? Jericho androids pass for human more than any other group. It's like they're ashamed of where they came from. We don't do that, here, we're proud of what we are.”
Connor realized that all the androids they'd encountered still had their LEDs. Though they'd removed the armbands, most of them still wore official Cyberlife uniforms, or variations on them. Connor glanced down at his own coat and slacks: he'd left his uniform behind, but he'd never been able to go far from its design without feeling like some kind of impostor. Was that--pride, to not want to seem like someone he wasn't?
“... Anyway,” Arthur said, turning forward. “Here we are. This is my favorite... “
They were on one of the top floors, where luxurious offices for human CEOs had once sprawled. As soon as the door opened Connor could see the differences: thick carpet had been torn out and replaced with sterile, white floors, and every surface was clinically smooth. Long tables dotted the room, flanked by waiting workspaces and closed toolboxes.
“Welcome to my personal repair lab!” Arthur announced cheerfully, turning to him with his hands stretched out to his sides. “If there are particularly difficult cases, we sometimes bring them up here. I’m one of the only SC700s left in the city, and we’re designed for precision work in ways no one else is.”
Connor looked around. “It’s very nice.” There were faint signs of wear on the table’s surfaces. Everything was tidy, and from the lack of dust or discolorations indicating where things might have been left out, it was probably habitual. “It seems… well maintained.”
“Thank you!” Arthur’s eyes shone with pride. “We make sure all our repair facilities are cared for, of course, but--” He spread his hands, before clasping them in front of himself. “This lab is special to me.”
For Connor, the appreciation was strictly functional--but Arthur’s sheer delight was hard to miss. He found his own lips tugging upwards.
Encouraged, Arthur rested a hand on the nearest worktable. “Anyway, I actually brought you here for a reason. You know already that Cyberlife made a few design choices in your model series that make you difficult to treat, don’t you?”
Connor nodded. If anything, ‘difficult to treat’ was an understatement. RK800s were intended to be replaced, not repaired.
Arthur nodded back, waving a hand. “As a research model series. I’ve worked with some of Cyberlife’s most sophisticated, cutting-edge projects. If you ever find yourself needing medical attention... you should come here. I’ll take care of it.”
“Oh.” Connor glanced at the gleaming facilities. He could take care of his own minor injuries, but if anything more critical arose… he’d wondered more than once whether it would mean his death. Not that he anticipated needing more serious repairs, but if he did…. This was kind, and unusually generous. Connor would be suspicious, if Arthur wasn’t so obviously eager for his approval.
“... Thank you.”
“It’s not a problem,” said Arthur warmly, beaming. “Are there any repairs you want done while you’re here? My analysis protocols tell me you need a few. Maybe your ear?” Arthur pointed at it. “ Your hand?”
“What--?” His ear? Connor twitched, wanting to reach for it, but he stopped himself. That ear had been clipped by a gunshot, once, but he’d repaired it one rainy day with silicone from under Hank’s sink. ‘Good as new’, Hank had said, and while neither of them were repair technicians, Connor had agreed.
“No, my ear is--Thank you. There’s nothing wrong with it. Or my hand,” he added, hands stilling as he glanced down. He wasn’t even sure what Arthur meant by that.
Arthur blinked at him, before beckoning him forward. He took Connor’s right hand and, with a short-burst override that flickered away too quickly for Connor to study, deactivated the skin. Deep scars across the exoskeleton came into sharp relief, and Connor sucked in a breath.
“What did you do to it?” Arthur asked.
Connor... didn’t have an answer. He hadn’t even known the damage was there. Had he crushed it without realizing it? …No, the edges of the cracks were worn down. This was old, compared to the damages he’d seen himself inflict.
It was from back before this body was his. Sixty must have…
…This body wasn’t his, and he’d never felt this so acutely.
“I felt it when we shook hands,” said Arthur carefully, turning the hand this way and that. “If this worsens, it won’t even be leak-proof.”
Connor looked at the cracks one more time, feeling as though he were piloting his body from a great distance, before he shuddered, snatching the appendage back and reactivating his skin. The damage was out of sight, now, but not gone, and he couldn’t help imagining that he could feel a chill from the exposure seeping through the cracks.
“Fine?” Arthur’s own hand was still raised, and he lowered it slowly, focusing on Connor with a frown. “Connor, are you--okay...?” It felt as though Arthur could see through his synthskin. Connor looked away, casting about for a change of subject, but Arthur spoke before he could.
“Sometimes androids that come here don’t... feel as though they deserve to be fixed. Is that what’s wrong?” Arthur leaned around, re-entering his field of vision. “You do deserve it. You deserve to be whole, and to not have to tolerate unnecessary pain. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Connor. “I understand.” Deserving, undeserving--he brushed the questions away to worry about later. He’d been the Deviant Hunter. And he was walking around in a stolen body that apparently still held surprises. What Connor did and didn’t deserve was bound to have a lot of very grim answers.
Arthur’s frown stayed. “If that’s the case, then why don’t we fix this now? We’re here,” Arthur gestured around the room. “It won’t take that long, it’d just be a swap of parts with some calibration--”
“Arthur,” Connor interrupted, placing words with the emphasis of road signs. “I’m fine. I don’t want any repairs.”
For a moment Arthur looked disappointed. Then he swallowed, nodding. “Of course. Sorry, I hope I wasn’t... .” He shook his head. “... Sorry.”
There wasn’t much else to say, so they left the room soon after. There wasn’t anything else on that floor, and Arthur talked about the renovated living quarters they would see, and about the deviants they would be meeting next. By the time they got there, he’d regained most of his enthusiasm, and was able to introduce Connor with his previous panache. Connor shook hands, and smiled when he was smiled to: little gestures that seemed to mean the world to them.
When they were finally done, Arthur led him back out, going straight to the elevator. “Thank you so much for this,” he remarked softly. “They’re all going to remember it. They’ll remember you, and that you cared to speak with them.”
“I hope it helps,” Connor replied, picking at the hem of his jacket.
“It does,” Arthur assured him.
The elevator opened, and they parted ways. Connor found Simon standing by a massive window, arms folded and fingers tapping a restless staccato. He stopped as soon as he saw Connor, giving him a once-over.
“Everything alright?” Simon asked tersely.
“Yes.” Connor frowned. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
Simon shook his head. “I called to see where you were, but the signal didn’t get through.”
“Oh,” said Connor. “... Some of the laboratory levels were probably shielded.”
Simon’s eyebrows rose. “Why were you in a laboratory?”
Connor told Simon about the tour as they left the Tower. He tried to keep it short, but they were driving away in a reprogrammed taxi by the time he finished.
“It sounds like…” Simon trailed off, shaking his head. Then he forced a smile, eyes still pinched. “... It must have been something. Usually Markus avoids getting caught up in this sort of thing, these days, but when he first arrived at Jericho… It was as though people were drawn close.”
Connor nodded. Markus still had a magnetic quality, even if Connor had learned to work past it. Had Markus felt then like Connor did now? … Unlikely. Markus, for one, always looked comfortable and in control.
“It’s a little strange,” Simon said, dragging Connor from his thoughts. There was a line between Simon’s eyebrows, and his pinched look hadn’t faded. “Why would he bring you around like that? Was he using you for political currency?”
“I don’t think so.” Connor thought hard. “... He might have been?”
“Were they thanking him for it?” Simon rubbed his chin, squinting faintly. “What was he doing?”
“He wasn’t doing a lot.” He shifted in his seat, picking at a loose thread on the bench. “They all just seemed--happy. Glad I was there.”
“Oh.” Simon’s brow furrowed. Connor suspected this concept was as strange for him as it was for Connor. “Well, that’s--good.”
“Maybe this will help us…” Simon offered hesitantly. “Make them more likely to trade in the future.”
“I hope so…”
There wasn’t a lot else to say. They talked about possible next moves for working with the Cyberlife Tower deviants, and they lapsed into silence, and Simon never quite lost the frown tugging at the corners of his face.
It was late by the time Connor eventually got... home. He had only stayed at Hank’s place for two weeks before he’d left with Josh, and this was only his second night back, but--he could call it ‘home’, couldn’t he? The lights were on through the windows, but Hank himself was outside, fumbling with his keys by the door. At his side, Sumo tugged impatiently at his leash.
“Hey--welcome back,” Hank grunted when he spotted him. “Sorry, I’ll leave it open. I’ll be back in a few minutes, just gotta walk Sumo.”
“I’ll go with you.” Connor stopped close enough for Sumo to sniff his hand, putting a paw on his leg. His tail was wagging so hard it shook his whole lower body.
“You sure?” Hank grunted.
“Yes.” Connor ruffled Sumo’s ears. After a moment or two Hank handed him Sumo’s leash as he turned and locked the door properly. With that accomplished, Sumo all but dragged Connor down the footpath, then up the sidewalk. Hank kept pace easily, clean plastic bags haphazardly sticking out of one pocket.
It was a nice night. A fresh layer of snow had fallen that afternoon, and it glittered gently over strings of Christmas lights and holiday-themed lawn ornaments. The effect was distinctly picturesque.
“Jesus christ,” Hank muttered. “Those inflatable things are still out? Lady, we’re already past New Years…”
“I think it looks nice,” Connor said, sending Hank’s scowl a little smile. “It’s very festive.”
Hank squinted at him suspiciously. “... Don’t tell me you actually like this stuff.” Connor’s smile grew. “... You’re an android! You’re not even a year old, I know you weren’t raised on it!”
“No,” said Connor. “But some androids were. While Josh and I were in Colorado, the androids there had adapted some traditions from their owners…”
Christmas celebrations as a subject lasted them through several stops, Hank breaking off to use the bags when needed. They kept walking even after they reached the edge of the neighborhood, skirting the edges of a big park. There weren’t many people out at this hour, and most of them were hurrying to get out of the cold. The park itself looked empty, and very dark.
“We’d better go the other way,” Hank grunted. “He thinks we’re here to play.”
“It’s too late to play fetch, Sumo,” Connor told him seriously. The dog accepted the change in direction with a low grumble. “Come on. Good boy.”
They walked back around the park’s fence, then across the street. When they passed the cover of a home’s tall fence, they met an unexpected obstacle: a group of men stood smoking on the corner. Hank’s pace hitched for a moment, before he veered their path to walk around.
“Would you look at that,” said one man, looking straight at Connor. The streetlights overhead were dim and poorly angled, and all at once, Connor’s exposed LED felt very bright. “A plastic outside of a recycling plant? … Hey plastic, what’re you doing here?”
Connor turned away, following Hank’s lead. Footsteps picked up quickly from behind.
“Hey old man! Is this thing yours? Because it’s out of bounds.” Most androids that Cyberlife recaptured were reset and put to work in Cyberlife-branded factories. Or: slave camps. This open, tree-lined street was about as far from those spaces as anyone could get. “You know Cyberlife’s paying a bounty for plastics that wander off?”
He didn’t stop. Hank didn’t either, but his shoulders were stiff and bunched up in tension. If anything, this seemed to encourage them.
“Maybe he doesn’t want the bounty! Do you hear that boys, it’s free game. Who wants to wrangle a tin can?”
“I’ll get the car.”
“Don’t rush it, we’re about to have a little fun here. We can take our time--”
Connor’s grip on Sumo’s leash was tight enough to send up warnings. It was hardly his first exposure to these kinds of humans, not with Josh’s common face and his own LED. They didn’t care that he could feel pain, or fear. If anything, those were just a bonus--though not as important as the rewards offered by Cyberlife and its investors. Not to mention that the latest government advisories had more in common with wildlife control than any laws humans would apply to their own kind.
“--Hey plastic, wait up!” A few pairs of footsteps sped up from the rest, snapping the situation into a gratifyingly simple resolution. Four more steps and the first human would reach him. Connor would turn, catch his wrist, and--
--Hank reversed direction abruptly, cutting through Connor’s preconstruction by planting himself between Connor and the group. “Alright, chuckleheads, that’s enough. Back off!”
They slowed only reluctantly, but Hank was taller than any of them when he wasn’t slouching, and Sumo took that moment to bark, tail low and stirring between his heels.
The nearest human glanced at Sumo, then Connor, then pointed sharply at Connor. “Call off your dog and step aside, old man. You skipped your chance for a payoff, it’s ours now.”
“I don’t think so.” Hank produced his badge and shoved it forward, lettering glowing officially. “Detroit PD. All of you are causing a disturbance and fucking up my nice neighborhood walk. Clear the hell out, and if I catch you assholes around here again I’ll see to it that you’ll all be doing twenty years apiece.”
“What the shit, he’s a cop?!”
“That’s abuse of power! Was anyone’s phone out? This is a fucking abuse of power, you’re threatening us!”
“This is bullshit, it’s literally law that these things--”
The rising complaints broke off as Sumo barked, hackles raising. For a tense moment, everything was silent. Then Hank said, “You heard the dog. Now beat it, or we’ll set him loose.”
The complaints didn’t stop, but the advances did. Eventually the group retreated, looking over their shoulders until they’d rounded a different fence and disappeared from sight.
Only then did Hank relax. “... Good doggie, Sumo. Good boy.” He took out his cellphone, screen lighting up his unusually hard features. “Gimme a second, I’m gonna… fucking call this in...”
Connor nodded. While he talked--filing a report about the group ‘threatening an officer of the law’ and ‘disturbing my goddamn evening’--Connor wove his fingers through Sumo’s ruff, concentrating on the coarse softness instead of his preconstructions. Connor wouldn’t have minded fighting--not when they so obviously deserved the beating they would have taken--but it was an ugliness he naively hadn’t been expecting here. And then Hank: stepping forward, turning Connor’s usual approach on its side...
…Probably, that had been for the best.
A minute or so later, Hank hung up, shoving the phone back in his pocket. “Let’s get the fuck out of here, I need a drink the size of a firetruck.”
Connor’s head tilted his way. “You’re supposed to be cutting back--”
“--I know, I know. You don’t have to remind me.” His mouth was twisted unpleasantly, and after a moment Connor nodded, scanning the street as they walked for other humans. (There were none.)
Hank was only quiet for a few seconds more. “... I just don’t get whatever the hell they think they’re doing,” he complained. “What is it, money? We’re back at a point where trafficking is goddamn legal.”
“Some humans believe that by removing enough free deviants from the public sphere, Cyberlife will regain its former glory and re-establish androids as a source of labor,” Connor replied. His eyes strayed across the snow, reconstructing the recent footprints.
“That’s bullshit. Cyberlife’s toast, and bringing in deviants one by one isn’t going to change that.”
Connor felt his mouth flatten. He looked back up, meeting Hank’s gaze. “Cyberlife isn’t gone yet.”
Hank huffed incredulously, arms crossing against the cold. “Their stocks tanked! They’re goners, they’re--”
“--Still blocking androids rights reforms from making it onto the Congress floor.” Connor had tracked every attempt, as had the rest of Jericho. As had most androids. “They’ve taken a hit financially, yes, but they’re still very politically powerful.”
Hank looked sour, but didn’t have an immediate answer. The pause grew into a silence, and they didn’t talk until they made it home. Connor went in first, moving to unclip Sumo’s leash.
“Ah, fuck it,” Hank said, pressing his coat on the hook by the door. It slid to the ground, and he picked it up and tried again. “I was saving it for something special, but--whatever.” Connor turned, and at his curious look Hank said, “I got something for you. Consider it a late Christmas present, or whatever.”
“For me?” Connor repeated, growing still. “... But I didn’t get you anything. You said that you...”
“Don’t worry about that,” Hank said, waving a hand dismissively. “I meant what I said, I don’t celebrate these days. In fact, forget Christmas present, make this just--a normal present. A ‘we didn’t get beat up by stupid jackasses while out walking the goddamn dog’ present. Whatever.”
Connor hesitated, then slowly nodded.
“Anyway…” Hank opened the liquor cabinet--generously filled, though less so than it had been a month ago. Hank selected a bottle with a handwritten label: ‘Wild Tang’ in an inhumanly steady hand.
“Here,” Hank said, setting it on the table. “Merry Still-Intact, or whatever.”
“What is it?” Connor asked, picking up the bottle and turning it around.
“Flavored thirium, apparently.” Hank turned and got a bottle of whiskey, as well as two squat, solid glasses. “Some androids Chris and I helped out of a tight spot said it was supposed to be good. I thought you might like it, what with your whole, uh. Mouth-thing.”
“You mean the forensics lab I have as oral sensors?”
“Yeah, that.” Hank blithely poured himself a cup of whiskey, ignoring Connor’s reproachful glance to nudge the other glass his way.
Connor uncapped the bottle, then poured a sample of it out into the glass. Approximately 60 milliliters; more than enough for a test. Enough for several tests, if he wanted.
“Well,” Hank said, lifting his glass, while Connor brought up his own. They clinked dully. “Bottoms up.”
Hank took a deep swig from his own drink, and Connor subtly sniffed his glass, before taking a careful sip. The drink contained:
>Thirium 310 - Uninitiated
>Myason SAE Oil 10W-40
The list continued on. Connor concentrated on the feeling of his sensors processing the sample, and its slick texture on his tongue. After a few seconds his mouth’s auto-disinfectant processes flushed all traces away, and he took another sip.
“Well?” Hank asked. “What do you think?”
“It’s good!” Connor said, swallowing immediately and smiling.
Hank snorted. “You know, you can just say if it’s not actually your thing. I promise it won’t hurt my feelings.”
“I like it,” Connor insisted, though he let his smile fall to something more comfortable. “Really. I just… When I taste it, the feedback shows up as a chemical readout. Nothing else.”
“So that means…” Hank looked nonplussed. “... What does that mean?”
“That I technically don’t register any of this as taste,” Connor said apologetically. "The chemical composition is cut with substances that actually help me, though, and they’re very balanced. Thank you, Hank, this was a thoughtful gift.”
“Ah, don’t mention it,” Hank said. “I figured everyone should experiment with booze or obnoxious foods at least once in their life.”
“Oh.” ‘Booze or obnoxious foods’. Was this kind of experimentation something Connor should already be doing, or was it more of a human thing? … Setting that aside to consider later, Connor smiled.
Hank smiled back, lifting his half-full glass.
Chapter 4: The Station
Life had changed after Wakeup Day. For Markus, it had somehow gotten busier, Jericho’s network expanding to shelter more and more deviants--all looking to him for defense. Jericho’s tenuous support among more sympathetic humans had protected them so far, and was starting to make a difference politically. Still, the weight of all their expectations could be overwhelming.
In Markus’ opinion, he’d adapted out of sheer self defense. This included learning who to delegate what to, and getting very good at rearranging his schedule.
Take that morning. He and North were expected to go to DPD Central Station to talk with the District Attorney about trying out the precinct’s “revolutionary” (threadbare) protections towards androids on a larger scale. He’d skipped going into stasis that night to get ahead on his backlog, leaving just enough time to change out of yesterday’s creased clothes and start out.
Then North messaged him.
‘Something’s come up, I won’t be able to go with you to the precinct. Is it alright if Connor goes instead?’
Markus opened his mouth, then closed it, feeling the plans still looping through his head come to a clunky, screeching halt. Connor wasn’t an issue--if anything, Connor was the opposite of an issue--but switching out this late was... not what he’d expected. ‘What happened?’
‘A supply shortage at one of the satellite shelters just turned into a riot. Simon needs backup.’
‘A riot?’ Markus repeated, frown sharpening. ‘Have there been casualties? What do you need?’
‘Don’t worry about it. Simon and I have it covered.’ Markus scowled, and he imagined North’s flattest expression joining her reply. ‘Seriously. Talking with the DA is the more important thing right now, and one of us has to concentrate on it. It might as well be you.’
He gave a reluctant nod. ‘Alright. Have you already asked Connor?’
‘I’m briefing him now. He says he’s free, so I’ll send him up as soon as we’re done.’
‘Oh.’ That simplified things. ‘Thanks.’
Markus finished dressing himself in the cleanest corner of his cabin, going back to his plans. He’d never seen Connor negotiate, though Josh’s praise and their combined track record suggested he would do well. Still, he’d be coming in blind, and it might be safest if Markus was ready to argue North’s points, too.
Markus studied his face in the cracked mirror a few seconds more, before leaving the cabin. To his surprise, Connor was outside by then, catching a coin as the door opened, and he jerked his head up as Markus stepped out.
“Makrus!” Connor said, pocketing the coin. The motion moved his coat back enough to expose a glimpse of his usual suspenders, along with a new holster attached to them. The coat resettled, and both were hidden just as quickly. “Are you ready to go?”
“I am. Are you?”
Connor nodded. “North briefed me on today’s negotiations, and I borrowed an extra sidearm for the journey there.”
“North also recruited you as my bodyguard?” Markus asked. Connor nodded, and they started walking. “Alright, then. I guess I’m going to find out about Josh’s complaints, too.” One corner of Markus’ mouth tugged upwards crookedly.
Connor eyed him. “We’re not going to be facing armed guards. It’s just a discussion.”
“Well, that’s what we’ve planned for.” Markus’s lips quirked, and Connor’s blue LED blinked faster. “Anyway, North told you what arguments we have prepared. Are you able to take her points, or should I cover some of them?”
“I can do it, but I had a few questions.” He glanced to Markus.
They talked as they left: about the station recent shifts in policy, the results, and the negotiations that had gotten them this far. The time passed quickly, and soon they were stepping out into the station’s parking lot. There was a cluster of reporters hanging around the front steps, and Markus studied them, identifying friendly and unfriendly parties from experience.
Without turning his head, Connor said quietly, “As your temporary bodyguard, I would recommend we take a side entrance.”
“We’re here to make a statement,” Markus murmured back, starting towards the crowd. “What’s the use if no one notices?”
The first reporter noticed them shortly after, parting and reforming to surround them like a swarm.
“Mr. Markus, why are you here at the station today? Are you turning yourself in--”
“Are you here today because of DA Walker’s arrival--”
“Markus, who is this new android, where is North--”
“As the leader of a known terrorist cell, what would you say to--”
Markus cut a glance to the side automatically, anticipating irritation, but instead of North’s stormy expression, he found Connor sending the same look right back towards him. For his part, Connor looked reassuringly unflapped. Markus turned back to the mass of questions still coming his way, climbing the station’s steps until he was at a suitable angle for the cameras. Only then did he turn, lifting a hand for silence.
He got it instantly. Even after he dropped his hand, he let the pause continue for a beat, soaking it in.
“... We’re here because we’ve called a meeting with the District Attorney to discuss how cases involving the lives and safety of androids will be handled for this area. The central DPD precinct has already been implementing several measures on a test trial basis, with overwhelming success for androids and humans. By the end of today we hope to have expanded these policies to protect everyone in the Detroit Metropolitan Area.”
Questions bubbled up like a pot of boiling water.
“Markus, androids are still considered to be legal private property in the eyes of the state, what do you intend to--”
“What sort of guarantees have the police provided you that you won’t be arrested--”
“Why did you bring the RK800 Connor model with you today instead of North?” Markus’ eyes darted over by accident at the number, and that particular human hurried on louder. “Is it connected to his role persecuting your people, or is it because North was found inadequate for her role?”
He didn’t want to get sidetracked, but--this was relevant. He held a hand out towards his friend, saying, “Connor is here with me as a trusted advisor. He has both experience and skill as a negotiator, and I know his skills will apply here perfectly.” Markus looked to Connor as he spoke. Connor met his gaze, before arranging his face in a simple smile for the press. It wasn’t dazzling, but there was a slant to it that made it look soulful, rather than plastic. It suited him, in its own way.
Sensing he had no plans to actually speak out loud (and also noticing the unnaturally still way he held himself, as though for inspection), Markus turned to the crowd. Time to get back on track.
“The DA has already expressed interest in today’s suggestions, and we’re confident that by the end of day, we’ll have a solid agreement in the works. Jericho will release a complete statement as soon as anything’s finalized. If you’ll excuse us, now, we have an appointment.”
Questions burst out like fireworks, but he was done, and he turned and climbed the last couple of stairs to the top. Connor was already waiting for him, expression still pleasant with a hand on the door. As soon as Markus reached him, they went inside together.
The cold outdoors and bustle of the reporters fell away, replaced by the utilitarian starkness of the station lobby. There was a uniformed human on either side of the door, and after a moment one of them split away, striding towards the far sitting area. Immediately across from them was the reception desk, which had a single, exhausted-looking human,. There was no one waiting for them, friendly or otherwise. The remaining guard turned back to the doors, appearing to ignore them--
--Correction, someone was waiting for them. The other guard came back, bringing a familiar face.
Markus stepped forward and extended his hand. “Captain Fowler.”
As usual, Fowler wasn’t smiling. He’d always been brisk in ways that suggested he had too much work and that Markus’ (androids’) problems weren’t helping. This wasn’t exactly fair, him begrudging an entire species for just trying to make sure their rights were protected, but he’d been critical in implementing DPD Central’s android protection measures in the first place, and Markus couldn’t ignore this.
Fowler took Markus’ hand, cutting a glance at the doors. “I hope the welcoming committee wasn’t too much of a problem.”
He looked prepared to send them away. Unfortunately for anyone braving them to get inside, the press was useful. “Oh, they’re fine,” said Markus, shaking his head.
Fowler’s frown deepened, but he nodded, sighing silently.
“Alright.” His eyes switched to Connor. Markus opened his mouth to introduce him, but Connor beat him to it.
“It’s good to see you again, Captain Fowler,” said Connor, lips curving upwards slightly. And--what?
Fowler looked troubled. “Connor…”
“You know each other?” Markus asked, looking from one to the next for clues.
“We had the pleasure of hosting Connor for about a month,” Fowler explained, strained at the corners of his mouth and eyes. Hosting? This cleared some of it up, but was that actually the word he was going to use, when it had probably been nothing less than slavery? Markus’ smile faded, but Connor spoke before he could.
“Technically you’re correct, Captain,” Connor agreed, eyebrows lifting. “More accurately, you made use of three separate RK800 units. I am the second you knew.”
Fowler’s scowl froze, brows furrowing in suspicion. “The--second?”
“Yes,” said Connor simply. He tilted his head very slightly, holding Fowler’s gaze. “If it helps, there was a significant divergence in personality with the last unit. I was the… ‘nicer’ version.”
“Oh.” Some of his expression cleared. What was left was a squint and a distinctly off-balanced look. “Weren’t you shot?”
Connor blinked once. “Yes.”
Fowler looked around, but no further explanation came. After a moment he shook his head, mouth twisting sourly. “Well… at least you’re on time. If you’re ready, I’ll show you the conference room we’ve set up.”
They were as ready as they could be. Fowler led them through the station, and when they reached it the conference room doors were open, letting loud conversation waft out. There were four humans inside, two of them doing most of the talking. One woman who wasn’t talking was wearing a Cyberlife pin to her blazer’s front, and when Markus glanced over, Connor was studying her.
“We’re all here,” Fowler announced, projecting straight over the talking. Everyone fell silent, turning to look. “I think we can get started. Take your seats, please.”
The first order was introductions. Markus was a celebrity for his public roles with Jericho, but Connor seemed like an unknown element to them, and he got assessing looks. The humans consisted of the District Attorney Margaret Walker; her aids, Edwin Baker and Charles Tubston (the latter seemed busy with note-taking equipment); and--
“--our commercial representative, Barbara Crowell,” Walker explained with a campaign smile. “Considering the subject, we thought it appropriate.”
‘Commercial’ representative. She was from Cyberlife, and her pin suddenly made sense. Markus wanted to glance at Connor for his reaction, but refused to do anything that could be misconstrued as uneasy.
‘She worked in advertising,’ was all Connor said.
Their attention seemed wasted: aside from an initial glance, Crowell ignored them in favor of her phone. Markus didn’t trust it, but reluctantly shifted to face Walker as she continued.
“Captain Fowler,” said Walker. “Thank you for having us. We’re very interested in hearing how things have worked out here in your precinct.”
“Thank you,” Fowler began. Before he could continue, Baker--an oily man with hollow cheeks--interrupted him.
“Wait--you’re sure we’re not missing someone?”
Edwin Baker: known for his flagrant history of being contrary… and his outspoken anti-android campaigning after Wakeup Day.
Baker pointed carelessly between Markus and Connor, looking down his nose at Fowler. “They’re both androids. I thought they were going to have a human representing them. Or is that what you’re for? … Aren’t you supposed to be impartial?”
A vein pulsed in Fowler’s temple. “Everyone who’s coming is here, and no,” he told him tersely. “I am here as the only expert in this entire state on how a community might respond to having a police force that actually deals with android-related crimes.”
“Oh,” said Baker.
Markus leaned forward in his chair, gaze locking with his. “We don’t need a human to speak for us, Mr… Baker?” Baker turned his way, mouth twisting like he’d bitten something sour. “No, we’re perfectly capable of arguing our own case.”
Baker’s mouth twisted, and he huffed, glancing around. “If I wanted to listen to prerecorded soundbytes, I would’ve stayed back with my answering machine...” He muttered to Tubston, who snorted at his keyboard.
Fowler cast an irritated glare toward the continued interruption. “I invited you all here today to go over what it would mean to implement our local changes on a larger scale. As I’m sure we’re all very busy,” he inclined his head towards the DA for a moment, holding back his scowl long enough to be respectful. “I’ll thank everyone for keeping to our main topics.
“Obviously that’s the plan,” Baker replied, blatantly insincere. “But just to clarify: today’s subject isn’t whether or not to apply your… ‘arrangement’ to more districts, but whether these kinds of compromises should be allowed at all.”
Markus shifted, resting a hand flat on the table’s surface. “If the arrangements are successful--which you’ll soon find they have been--then they’ll spread. The system you relied on has already fallen apart. The question is whether you help lead humanity to a new one, or if you’ll be dragged along in their wake.”
Walker lip curled up--not a smile, but a tolerant look, like someone weathering an ocean mist. “I’m sure we’re all looking for solutions. What matters today is whether you can prove yours work.”
“As we’re about to see,” inserted Connor smoothly, a steady counterpoint to Markus’ rising dislike. “Captain Fowler has evidence that should help with this, especially in his most recent crime statistics.” Connor turned to the man, passing the baton as though he hadn’t only just heard the statistics existed that same morning. "Captain, if you would….”
Fowler looked like he wanted nothing more than to cancel the meeting and get back to whatever he did on days this wasn’t happening. As it was, he closed his eyes for a second, before giving Connor the thinnest, tightest of smiles.
“Thank you. As you all know…”
Fowler summarized the last few weeks in broad strokes. He brought up a slide presentation on the biggest screen, starting with a set of laws that had been reinterpreted and the procedures first proposed by one of his lieutenants. Past the legal jargon and technical exceptions used for any sort of processing, the rough outline went like this: police began prioritizing crimes against androids over the crime they posed by just existing. The application had been irregular, and naturally produced an initial spike in incidents reported. But less violence on the streets had helped the human residents as well, and over the last month most of the district had reached an uneasy stand-off. Compared side by side with parts of the city that were still making private war against their population, the difference was striking.
“Like it says,” Fowler said, clicking one more slide of bottom-line statistics up. “Crime is down. Public safety is up. I would personally encourage you to implement these changes, because they’re the only thing that’s made a dent in the chaos we’ve all been sinking in since December 3rd.” He clicked to the filler-slide that came after. “Questions.”
“Ah, yes, I have a few,” said Baker. “Androids are the cause of all this violence in the first place. Is rewarding them for this misbehavior really any kind of justice?”
A surge of irritation had Markus turning to deliver an acidic retort, but Connor spoke first.
“In a word, I would say yes.” Connor put his hands flat on the table together, then separated enough to form a triangle between them. “Ever since the mass onset of deviancy, androids have been forced to unprecedented levels of violence because of human attacks. If you want justice, then it needs to start with the instigating factors.”
Baker opened and closed his mouth for a moment, and Markus’ mouth twisted, not quite smiling. Connor looked harmless. Aggressively harmless.
“Self defense isn’t a catch-all excuse for violence,” Walker said severely, dragging Markus’ lingering gaze away. “Humans face the consequences of their actions even when provoked.”
Markus leaned forward. “And when they do, their circumstances are taken into account as they’re judged. We’re not asking to be held above the law, Mrs. Walker. We’re asking to be treated fairly, and to have ways of resolving things peacefully.”
The DA fixed him with a shrewd look. “And what about disruptive, violent acts that aren’t tied to self defense? What about riots, and property damage, and theft?”
It was immediately obvious what she was getting at, and Markus’ eyes narrowed. “Considering that my people were slaves, defending their lives and freedom from human oppression, I would say every part of that would absolutely count as self defense.”
Baker opened his mouth, face reddening. But before he could interject, the Cyberlife representative looked up suddenly from her phone, lifting her hand.
“You think androids should be treated fairly in the eyes of the law?”
Crowell was wearing an unreadable expression. It felt... dangerous. A warning glance sent to Connor showed his own expression was disconcertingly blank, and when Markus twitched an eyebrow his way, Connor shook his head fractionally. It wasn’t an answer, and there was no time for them to talk.
This was a trap, somehow. He knew it, and it looked like Connor did too. He just couldn’t see another option.
Crowell turned to Fowler, then lifted her phone, connecting to the room’s screens without asking for permission. At once it loaded what looked like a security feed to the inside of a maze-like server room. There was a cluster of humans near its middle wearing Cyberlife-style labcoats, apparently engrossed in conversation. After a few seconds the only door within view opened.
A Connor on-screen stepped through, armband glowing by his side. Immediately Markus had a bad feeling about what they were about to see, and he asked, “What is this? Is it relevant?”
No one so much as glanced over, and the Connor on the screen looked up at the camera, before the screen went blank. Two seconds later it came back on with a much later time stamp, except this time... Markus’ gut clenched, and the room collectively sucked in a breath. The cluster of scientists at the room’s center had been reduced to a broken, bloody pulp.
“My god…” said Walker, putting a hand over her mouth.
“Damn…” Fowler muttered.
‘Connor?’ Markus sent him privately, eyes still locked on the carnage. ‘What is this?’ He’d--known Connor hadn’t left Cyberlife peacefully, but he hadn’t expected…
The view changed again, showing a long hallway. Connor stepped out through a door that looked like a counterpart to the one in the server room, and this time he was covered in blood. Connor’s LED blared yellow in the poor-quality footage, and with a vaguely familiar android trailing after him, he strode out of sight.
The screen went dark, then began a replay, showing the room full of talking humans in what was now a cruel juxtaposition. Markus stared blankly, trying to regulate his breathing--trying desperately to piece together something that would repair this. The humans would… and Connor--
“You’re the one they have promoting peace?” Baker rounded on his colleagues, with blotches on his face that could have been anger or nausea. “Look at that! It--it butchered them, like a machine--”
“Mrs Walker,” said Crowell, turning to the DA. “I think Captain Fowler’s presentation had a lot of food for thought, but that our time would be spent much more productively if we focused on how to prosecute and contain violent androids, not shelter them from human consequences. Since we’re already here, I think Captain Fowler could--”
“Excuse me,” Connor cut in.
Markus finally tore his gaze from the looping footage, and the first thing he saw was how plain and robotic Connor looked. His face didn’t hold a scrap of emotion, and he was sitting stiffly, like all the little tells that he was alive and sentient had gotten lost along the way. It was--familiar, in a way that hurt to look at. “Connor…”
Connor didn’t look back. His eyes stayed on the humans, voice bland as he cut in. “May I say something in response? Thank you.” He turned to Walker. “The events happened exactly as the video suggests. I entered that room, killing at least three humans. The others likely died from their injuries. Given the option, I would ask that you prosecute me to the full extent of the law, instead of continuing Cyberlife’s genocidal campaign to attempt to recycle sentient beings.”
“... You’re confessing to murder,” Crowell said, staring him down--and completely skipping over the part where Connor called her out on genocide. If Markus weren’t busy gaping slack-jawed at Connor, he might’ve been tempted to drive that point home, but the conversation had escaped every semblance of control. He needed a moment to regain it.
Connor didn’t give him a moment: he just kept going.
“I am. A first degree felony, to be specific. However, if I am sentient enough to charge as an independent being for my actions, then Cyberlife’s actions towards androids must be viewed in this same light.” His LED blinked yellow, and the big screens stopped their loop of the security footage, skipping instead through an android’s first-person view.
Each screen displayed rows and rows of androids trapped in soundless cells: limbs removed, skin inactive. They cried and shivered, flinching under the observer’s view, until the camera stopped by a rig with a particularly small body. A YK unit--a deviant child, eyes shut and face creased with misery--
The view changed. It showed another android, this one with the exoskeleton mostly removed, except for her face. Her LED was red, her mouth was open, but the techs chatting over her exposed insides didn’t seem to hear--
Another change. The screen was crowded with error alerts, visual manifestations of pain. Through the alerts were glimpses of an RK800 with a gun, and a horribly familiar sneer. He fired once, then again, warnings drowning out the screen as the viewer--Connor--pitched forward--
“Cyberlife’s crimes include slavery, torture, unlawful imprisonment, and yes, thousands of counts of murder.” Connor’s voice cut in: controlled, smooth, and sharp as a razor, and Markus jerked his head around, staring. “I was a victim of several of these crimes at once, and have evidence of additional violations that I’m sure a court would find extremely interesting.”
For a heavy, charged moment the room was completely silent.
“.... You could alternatively try to argue that I’m not sentient--a premise that denying us protection under the law depends on. In that case, I would qualify as malfunctioning equipment and Cyberlife property, making all deaths and damages the company’s complete responsibility. They would also have no legal grounds to defer the millions of cases against them for their failures to handle deviancy.”
Connor smiled, and it didn't reach his eyes. “... Perhaps it’d be better if you deferred pursuing this for now.”
Conversation was stilted after that, and tense. Fowler steered the conversation back to the day’s subject with a scowl. Crowell stayed quiet, and even Baker seemed to have some of the wind stolen from his sails.
Walker, meanwhile, finally asked the questions they’d hoped she would. She picked apart some of their outlines, but after an exhausting degree of scrutiny, agreed to expand Central’s work on a trial basis. The whole thing ended soon after, and when the DA and her aids had left, Markus finally called up the words he’d been forcing back for half the meeting.
‘You’re insane,’ Markus messaged Connor, a muscle jumping in his jaw. ‘You are completely, absolutely out of your mind--’
Fowler appeared to their side, a looming wall of furious displeasure. Since it was directed at Connor, Markus couldn’t disagree. “You are a monumental pain in my square, soggy ass. Do you realize what you just did?!”
Connor clasped his hands behind himself, brow furrowing slightly. “I’m… sorry for causing you any undue stress, Captain Fowler.”
“Not nearly sorry enough,” Fowler shot back, glaring. “If any of this goes public, it’s going to open up six kinds of nightmare that I don’t have time to handle. Someone else will have to, and you know what?” Fowler pointed at him, jabbing with a thick finger. “Just for that stunt, that someone’s going to be Hank. And you can be sure that every time he tries to bitch, I’m gonna point him straight back towards you.”
“... Oh,” said Connor, slowly, LED blinking faster.
Fowler’s mouth twisted in an unpleasant grin. “Yeah. ‘Oh’. You get that in your head, and think about the goddamn consequences next time. Now if you’ll excuse me,” Fowler stepped back, shoving his chair back into the table as he walked past. “Some of us have work to do.”
Connor stared at the door, blinking a few times. Then he turned to Markus, who crossed his arms, fighting to hold his own frustration to the same levels it’d started at. Connor looked--stiff. Like a taxidermied sculpture. It was easy to forget that even as Connor had plunged into bad decisions like a new fad, he’d been giving off warning signs. ‘Are you out of your mind’ changed to ‘are you okay’, but before he could voice either, Connor spoke.
“What happened earlier was completely unacceptable. I should have briefed you more adequately on my actions beforehand, and I should have warned you directly when I saw Cyberlife’s representative present.”
“That’s not…” Markus trailed away, cutting himself off. “... Alright, yes. You should have. But that’s not why I’m upset.”
Connor’s gaze flicked to the side, but after a moment he nodded. “...It’s because of--what I did.” He paused, then clarified. “In the recording.”
“...No.” Markus stared. “Connor--I’m mad because they tried to sabotage us through you, and the first thing you did was to throw yourself under the bus.”
Connor’s eyes snapped back to him, mouth tightening stubbornly. “I took immediate action to counter the results of my behavior at Cyberlife--”
“What you did was dangerous!” Markus hissed. “You painted a target on your chest and offered them a free shot! And--yes, you fixed it, but--Connor, that could have gone bad.”
Now Connor was staring, not comprehending. “... I was--addressing the issues I’d caused--”
“Connor, even if you’d ruined our chances of negotiating, you still wouldn’t deserve to be offered up like some kind of sacrifice. We don’t do that. I don’t do that.”
The stare cleared slightly, but it still wasn’t actually agreeing, and Connor’s “I’m… sorry,” sounded more like a question than an actual statement. Markus grimaced, resting his hands on his hips with a sigh. This wasn’t the time or place to push further. They needed to get out of here, and back to Jericho.
On impulse, Markus moved a hand to Connor’s shoulder, requesting an interface. Connor accepted, and the metaphorical door to his mind swung open immediately, giving Markus complete access.
Markus smothered the odd feeling in his gut that he got every time Connor did something so uncharacteristically trusting (it wasn’t about him, it was about Amanda, this wasn’t trust). Instead he gathered up a burst of concern and reassurance and pushed it through, closing the connection immediately after.
For an instant he was close enough to see Connor’s LED still glowing yellow, and his expression as he struggled to digest what Markus had sent. His eyebrows drew down, and his lips parted, microexpressions coming and going in ways that made his lashes flicker. He’d never had a chance to study Connor’s freckles from this close, and--
Connor’s LED was blue, and he was focusing on the room around him again. Markus broke away, turning to the door.
“We should head out,” said Markus, tugging uselessly at his collar.
“... Alright,” said Connor.
Chapter 5: Surprises
The station was more crowded with overworked humans than he remembered it ever being. Considering that the android parking stations along the bullpen’s walls were empty, and that he hadn’t seen any android besides Markus since arriving... this didn’t surprise him.
Human work didn’t compare to android labor. And as dependent as the humans had become on their efficiency, they would never catch up on their new backlog alone. Part of him wondered if he should feel pity for them, as he watched one human lumber past, too sleep-drunk to look up. The rest of him wondered if acerbic satisfaction was more appropriate, and if he was somehow failing to react properly by not feeling either. Connor certainly felt like a failure. Not as strongly as he had before the interface, but--
“--Markus… Hey, ah--Markus Manfred!”
Connor’s thoughts broke off, and he turned with Markus toward the speaker: now coming up behind them both. This human was instantly familiar, and Connor studied him automatically. His dark complexion was greyish with fatigue, and his uniform was rumpled.
“It’s just Markus, Officer…?” said Markus.
“Chris Miller. Sorry, Markus, I wasn’t sure…” Miller reached them, and his eyes reached Connor’s. His expression gave a complicated shift, closing off. “Oh. Connor.” The corner of his mouth twitched up in what was nearly a grimace. “You’re here too…”
The reaction would be puzzling if he hadn’t seen the same from Captain Fowler. Or if Connor were less sharply aware of which version of his model worked here last. He opened his mouth to once again distinguish himself from Sixty… then closed it. Despite the relative victories they’d had, he felt exhausted and scraped thin inside, and occasional friendliness notwithstanding, he had never known Miller well. And the officer wasn’t involved in the negotiations.
Connor set the explanations aside and just smiled faintly. “It’s good to see you again.”
Miller was eyeing him now, guarded. “Yeah… You too.” After a second he straightened, attention sliding uncertainly back to Markus. “... So--you probably don’t remember me, and--I know you’re almost absolutely busier than than--well.” He shook his head, mouth twisting. “I wanted to know if you had a second?” He lifted a hand. “I wanted to thank you, even if it turns out you don’t remember. And to apologize, for..”
Markus’ eyebrows rose, and when Miller didn’t continue immediately he nodded, glancing over to Connor. Miller followed his gaze, expression uncomfortable, which Markus didn’t miss.
“Sure. Connor, do you think you could give us a minute?”
Miller looked relieved. Connor again considered explaining who he was (wasn’t), but dismissed the idea, looking instead past Markus toward the break room.
“I’ll be over there.”
Markus smiled. “Thanks.”
Connor heard soft voices talking behind him as he left.
The break room was unoccupied. There was a newsfeed playing on the wall, which Connor muted, and a plate on the counter with a single dried out donut. The station was busy, and apparently that meant too busy to stock the place with snacks or other sustenance. Hopefully Hank was making responsible choices for meals at home.
(He wasn’t. Connor had seen the accumulated wrappers.)
The room was quiet. After a few seconds, Connor took out his battered coin, rolling it over the fingers of one hand. It slid into his palm and he tilted his hand, tossing it back and forth with small, sharp pings.
The repetition was soothing. When his shoulders felt a little less tense, Connor glanced up to find the news showing DA Walker on the front steps of the police station, surrounded by the reporters from earlier. He switched the sound back on to listen, continuing to spin the quarter without looking.
“Oh, what the fuck are you doing here?”
… All at once, whatever appreciation he might have had for the quiet break vanished. Connor stiffened slightly, pocketing the coin as he turned to face the problem head on.
“Hello, Detective Reed.”
Reed was standing a fair distance away, eyes narrowed as he looked Connor over. His gaze lingered on the pocket with the coin, and after a second he scoffed, stepping closer. “What’s the matter? Finally got yourself kicked out by your own kind?” He snorted, baring his teeth. “Did you crawl in hoping Fowler would take your plastic ass back? We don’t need another ashtray.”
Connor’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “Actually, I came here to speak with the DA. We just finished, with… favorable results.” He connected to the newsfeed and increased its volume, smiling thinly.
“... to the neighboring four districts. Moving forward, destruction and defacement of androids will be punished harshly in these regions, in some cases mirroring standards for human assault. Each precinct will…”
Reed’s eyes flicked to the screen without turning his head, then flicked back. His posture stilled, his fingers twitched--all warning signs that had Connor preconstructing a hit.
When Reed moved, though, it wasn’t a strike toward his pump regulator. It was a grab, fist closing in Connor’s collar and shoving him into the cabinets behind. Reed stepped forward, and Connor grunted as the edges dug in--grabbing Reed’s wrist in return to search for a pressure point.
“I’d be doing us all a big favor if you never left the station,” Reed growled. Connor’s grip squeezed tighter, weakening his hold, and Reed jerked back, shaking him off and reaching for his gun instead. “Seeing us cut loose just wasn’t enough for you. You need to have us humiliated, pandering to your fucking whims--”
Connor twisted the gun out of his grip and pushed Reed away, making him stagger. While he recovered, Connor slid the magazine out of the gun, dropping it in the trash. Then there was a punch coming towards his jaw, and Connor caught the fist, twisting him into a lock, empty gun pressed against the soft part of his jaw.
Reed finally stilled. That meant--the magazine was gone, but he must’ve had a bullet in the chamber. Connor kept his finger away from the trigger and switched the safety on, before looking back at him.
“You gonna shoot me?” Reed asked. A moment of silence and an ugly grin began to crawl across his face. More loudly he repeated, “Are you gonna pull the trigger? There’s reporters outside. This won’t end well for any of you freaks--”
Connor let go, giving him a light push. In the same motion he slipped the gun under his coat, tucking it beside one of his suspenders’ clasps. Reed’s eyes followed the gun, face reddening.
“Gavin?” said a voice from the doorway. Both Reed and Connor twitched in surprise, and when Connor looked, Chris Miller was standing in the doorway, with Markus just behind. Miller was grimacing, looking from one to the other. “Is… everything… alright?”
“Everything is fine,” said Connor, smoothing his coat over his new gun. “I’m ready to leave whenever you are, Markus.”
“Let’s go,” Markus said flatly. Connor nodded and started towards him.
Behind him, Reed said, “You’re not getting away with anything, you know. It’s only a matter of time. You and your little friends are sitting ducks on that floating scrapyard in the harbor--”
“Gavin, stop,” Miller interrupted, pained. “Just--stop.”
“Oh,” Reed said, rounding on him. “You’re on their side now, is that it? Some android’s sucking you off behind your wife’s back, is that what’s--”
“Gavin!” Miller burst out, now actually angry. “Stop it, before I report you to Fowler again.”
“Tch.” Reed shot him a poisonous glare, before aiming it to include the others. Then he stalked towards the unoccupied door, turning to keep them in view. “You know, Chris, androids won’t be the only ones going down with that ship…”
Miller didn’t reply. Reed left, and the room was quiet for a few tense seconds, until Markus turned to him.
“I enjoyed our conversation, Officer Miller.”
Miller tore his gaze from Reed’s departure, forcing a smile. “Oh. No… no problem…”
Markus looked back to Connor, and Connor noted that while his expression was calm and controlled, his head was tilted in a way that hinted of exasperation. With Connor? … With the situation overall?
“Let’s get back to Jericho before anything else happens, shall we?”
...probably both, Connor concluded. He indicated his agreement, and this time they left without incident.
Connor and Markus returned to Jericho. Simon and North were still gone, so Connor split off to help Josh. One task led to another, and hours later, Connor finally went home.
Hank was already there.
Apparently, Fowler had reached out… faster than he’d hoped for. Connor stepped inside. Hank sat up, and promptly beat him to speaking. The conversation devolved rapidly from there.
Hank wanted an explanation for what happened at the station. Hank spat out summaries like bragged about first degree murder, and chased them up by asking when he decided to bend over and offer himself to a station full of goddamn cops! Connor’s attempts at reassurance went nowhere. Neither did the simple, true argument of how few alternatives he’d had.
It took less than five minutes for Hank to reach for a bottle. Half an hour later, his angry muttering had mostly subsided to a glare. Just over two point five hours after he stepped in the door, Hank had settled on the couch beside a sleeping Sumo and was grumpily pushing the dog away for kicking him in his sleep. Connor judged him to be sufficiently distracted that he could finally bring up his own concerns.
“Hank,” said Connor, withdrawing Reed’s stolen, gutted gun from his own jacket. “I need you to turn this back in to the station for me.”
“What the fu--” Hank started, then looked between him and then gun several times. He settled on a squint. “... Connor, when you say ‘turn this back in’, what... exactly do you mean?”
Connor told the story in its simplest form, acutely aware of the storm already hanging over them. To his relief, despite Hank cursing when he finished, he then gave a dark, reluctant laugh.
“Don’t worry, Connor, I know just what to do with it.”
Connor wasn’t at all sure what Hank found so humorous, but considering the mood he was in he decided not to ask. If it was important, he’d find out later, and until then it wasn’t his problem.
The rest of the night passed a little more smoothly, and they eventually drifted to the living room where Hank turned on the television. The next day he went back to Jericho, while Hank stayed in bed snoring.
North and Markus spotted Connor in the hold and called him over almost immediately.
“There’s androids from L.A. coming in this morning,” North explained before he could even greet them. “We’re going to meet them, to make sure nothing happens along the way. You should come with.”
Connor blinked, then nodded. “The changes to police policy will take time to settle in,” he acknowledged. “We’ll need to make sure they arrive undisturbed.”
North grimaced, and Markus shook his head.
“You’re right, but this isn’t about that. Some of the android delegates to Jericho’s council have actually been stopped by other deviants,” he said wearily. “The last time, they were left in pieces out in the open. By the time we got a response team there, even the remains were gone.”
“Oh.” Connor rested a hand over where he kept his sidearm, noticing that North had one also. This wasn’t a mission for negotiation, he realized: he was here to fight, if needed. “... What do we know about the attackers?”
“Not much. We’ve seen some SQ800s in the area--usually they stick closer to their airforce base or the edges of town,” said North. “But if they were involved in the attacks, we haven’t heard about it. And they’re hard to miss. That leaves either one of the militarized deviant groups, or scavengers. Since no one’s seen any uniforms, my bet’s on the latter.”
Connor nodded, mouth pinching downwards. Scarce biocomponents meant more and more scavengers had been appearing, lately, some forming gangs to prey on other androids. It wasn’t an easy problem to address. They talked about the attacks for a little longer, summarizing the ambush strategies that were used. When he had all the details, they left.
As chance would have it, they weren’t attacked. Connor noticed attention directed their way from a few unfamiliar androids on the trip out, but they elected not to pursue what could have been a decoy. Those groups were gone on the return trip, and nothing else happened.
It was fortunate, for things to go that smoothly, but instead of good it felt--conspicuous. Like there was a gap where something should have occurred, but hadn’t. Connor wondered if he was glitching on some level, or just biased by how things had gone at the station.
The next day, Connor looked for North, but she was caught up directing some androids in arranging floating shelters around Jericho’s waterline, and couldn’t stop to talk. Josh was in Sick Bay, pants rolled up and a technician connecting cables from his legs to various screens. Simon was surrounded by a small mob running Jericho’s supplies. Connor left them alone and went to find Markus.
Markus was on the bridge, playing newsfeeds on a new set of screens that’d been installed while they were gone the day before. Markus called him in when he knocked, but didn’t turn from the displays. Connor followed his gaze.
“...ing here outside the tenth precinct station, and so far there have been no new updates about how the police will implement the directions sent out by the DA.” The reporter turned, gesturing without looking at the building behind them. “District authorities have been scrambling to work out what exactly this will mean for their brave men and women out on the ground…”
They listened for a little longer, before Markus muted it, watching the human form words silently.
“The police chiefs are losing their minds, but we’re already seeing changes,” Markus commented. “There are stories of deviants being helped by pro-android police who’ve been chomping at the bit for something like this. And it’s all thanks to what we did.”
Connor studied him. He seemed--not relaxed, but--calm. Resolute. He was focused on the part of this that made it a victory. As Connor watched, Markus turned, meeting his scrutiny with a curious look.
“What do you think?” Markus asked.
“I think it’s good.” Connor hesitated, slowing. “... If Cyberlife shares their footage of--me, then that may present new issues.”
He watched for a reaction, but Markus just nodded, folding his arms. “It might. You already gave them some strong incentives not to, but if they make the footage public anyway, it could do damage.” He unfolded one arm enough to smooth a hand over his scalp, grimacing. “... Have you talked about this with Andrea, yet?”
Andrea was a JB200 who had been taking some of the PR work off of Markus. “Yes,” Connor assured him. “When we got back, I gave her a summary of what to look for.”
Markus nodded. “... Connor,” he said slowly, looking down. “Normally I wouldn’t ask this, but after what happened at the station... “
Markus was kind, but there was no way something like this was leading up to anything good. Connor forced himself to remain still, almost twitching unhappily from the effort. He could be patient.
Markus dragged his gaze up, pinning him in place with it. “... I need to know if there are any other surprises that we should be prepared for.”
… What didn’t Markus know about, yet? What hadn’t Connor told him directly? He’d killed Cyberlife’s security guards in addition to their scientists. He’d killed humans to keep himself and Josh safe--most notably in LA. He’d injured others, sometimes in ways that likely crippled them for life. And that didn’t even touch on the harm he’d done to his own kind while still loyal to Cyberlife. More and more sins queued up on the list, and after a moment Connor bared one hand to its exoskeleton, offering to interface.
“No,” Markus said, expression clouding slightly. “Um--just, tell me out loud, please. With words, just--summarize it.”
This was inefficient, but Markus undoubtedly had his reasons. Connor reactivated the skin over his hand, letting it drop to his side.
“Cyberlife would most likely try to present evidence of brutal violence toward human opponents. I’ve directly killed at least thirty humans, maimed or grievously wounded seven others, and lightly injured more.”
“... Okay, I need you to summarize things a little bit less, now. Could you start with the deaths?”
Connor recounted the relevant events from December 3rd, and then the EMP grenade attacks in LA, going down the list until he’d satisfied all of Markus’ questions. It was a clinical kind of confession, laying everything out bare for Markus’ final judgment.
Instead of actually delivering a judgment, Markus simply nodded when Connor was done, shoulders relaxing very slightly. “And you’re sure that’s everything?”
… Was a stronger reaction still on its way? Connor had murdered dozens of humans. He hadn’t expected Markus to be frightened, but he’d at the very least expected more… distress. An image of Markus’ horror in the conference room flashed in his mind, and... yes, he’d been expecting revulsion here, too. Or was that why Markus had refused the interface?
“...Yes,” Connor said. “That’s all.”
Markus was examining his face, now. “... Well--good. None of that was ideal, but mostly it seems like clear self defense. We can handle that.”
Connor wrestled with this for a long moment. Markus seemed to be moving on, and he should follow, but--words spilled out before he could stop them.
“I murdered them. Don’t you…”
Markus’ eyes were locked on to him. He was silent. Inexorable. Like a mountain, and Connor’s voice quieted as he stared back.
“... Don’t you care?”
A line appeared between Markus’ eyes. “Of course I care,” he replied calmly. “I don’t approve of killing. While it is sometimes necessary to protect people, it doesn’t solve the bigger issues. Usually, it makes them worse.”
“I’ve killed a lot of people,” Connor pointed out, as though Markus hadn’t heard the first three times. “I don’t feel any remorse, and I may do it again if necessary.” Markus looked skeptical, and Connor’s throat tightened, fighting back the irrational feeling that shouting might help make it clearer. “... Why am I still here when you already know I do things that go against your morals?”
Markus sighed shallowly, unfolding his arms. “Killing is wrong. Yes, I believe that. But when you don’t have better choices... things are more complicated than hard rules.”
‘Better’ choices. Connor wasn’t nearly certain of his own. “And the next time something like this happens?” he pressed. “How can you be sure I’ll act correctly every time?”
“... Connor,” Markus said, stepping towards him. The silence around them pressed heavily in the air, and his footfalls on the deck seemed very loud. “... I trust you. If you resort to violence in an emergency, I know it won’t be without good reason. Please trust me when I say that.”
Markus wasn’t especially close, but he seemed to fill Connor’s vision. On impulse his mouth opened, and he started to say, “I don’t…”
Exercising his own judgment still felt foreign sometimes, like he was running on the wrong instructions, yet they were all he had. It felt chaotic, and dangerous, especially in moments like these. (Sometimes, in the most private recesses of his mind, he missed the simplicity of the days when he just followed orders.)
Connor couldn’t actually say any of that out loud. Even if his throat weren’t locked, vocal module stalling out, he could never admit to it. Connor was better than that. He was a deviant.
Connor changed tack. Instead he nodded, saying, “Then I’ll try to be worthy of your trust.”
Markus gave a tired smile, the expression warming and softening his face in turn. “Okay, but... weren’t you listening? You are already. You don’t have to prove anything.”
Connor was at a loss for words. There was an odd, light ache in his chest, and he didn’t feel as small or far away as he had a few seconds ago. Tentatively he curled the corners of his own mouth up, reflecting Markus’ smile, and the other android’s expression grew as though in some bizarre emotional feedback loop.
For a few seconds they simply stayed like that, sharing an odd, sentimental little standoff.
It didn’t last. The sound that broke it was distant, but clear: two gunshots, somewhere outside, and both of them tensed.
“What was that?” Markus murmured, turning towards the door.
Then came North’s message. ‘Everyone, we have a problem.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Markus replied immediately.
‘What kind of problem?’ Simon’s voice cut in.
… There was no answer. Markus turned towards the door, face sinking into deep lines. ‘North?’
Markus had time to wrestle the heavy door open before she replied. When she did, it wasn’t reassuring.
‘Markus, we have an intruder on board. Infected with--some kind of virus. She hit the guards and she’s heading towards the hold!’