October 9 th , 2038
"If you kill me, you will be no better than them!"
They didn't seem to listen. The three androids were meters away from me, all facing each other, entangled in a furious exchange of words.
"If you could just listen to me..." I begged.
A minute later they broke the circle and faced me, one of them walked forward; he was blond, with fair skin and blue eyes. I heard them call him Simon.
"Fine.” He said with a skeptical look on his face. “We will listen, so start talking."
Right beside him, I saw how the redheaded android rolled her eyes, crossed arms in front of her chest. I took a deep breath, as deep as the ropes around my chest allowed me to, and started talking.
October 9 th , 2038
"Are you sure it is here?"
"100% sure. It is here." The android said matter of factly, as he looked at me over his shoulder. "We just need to find a way in."
We were standing in front of a ship, big, old and rusty, blue paint chipping away from its hull. The name 'JERICHO' was written in white lettering on its side. I walked forward rather carefully, trying to make out how on earth was that ship not sinking. It had to be either magic or very good engineering.
I started looking everywhere, searching for a way in, but my human eyes were no match for Ethan's android optical units. He quickly found the best route, a crane to our left, and helped me climb along with him. His hand pressed slightly against the small of my back, indicating me to move forward, to walk on the jib that extended in front of us.
"Ethan, wait," I muttered. My entire body was paralyzed, not only because of my fear of heights but because of what I was about to get myself into. "they won't want me there."
He turned me around gently, and in his eyes, I could see the sympathetic look of pity. He took my hands in his's and squeezed them.
"I am sure they will welcome you once they listen to the reasons that brought you here, and realize who's side are you on."
"But... I am human, and that is all they will see. I wouldn't blame them."
"You know you have no other option." He said, shaking his head ever so slightly, as he bit his lower lip, something he often did when things were out of his control.
I turned around, my stomach knotted on itself in nervousness, and started moving forward. I could feel Ethan's hand resting on my shoulder, reassuring me, helping me not to think of the fall.
I reached the jib's end, leaning forward to catch a glimpse of what was waiting beneath us, my entire body shaking. A black pitch, a squared hole in the ship's deck, but I couldn't see what was in it.
"The only way in, is down." He stated, squeezing my shoulder.
"It's too high, and I don't know what's down there." I said, trying not to let the totality of my fear sprout to the surface.
"Take it as a leap of faith. I promise we will be okay."
I didn't have time to answer, or think of anything I could answer. He moved quickly, one of his hands protected my head, the other wrapped tightly around my waist, and before I could complain; he jumped.
Time passed like in slow motion. My eyes were shut, vertigo taking control of the senses that I had left. My heart pumped rapidly inside my chest, a rush of adrenaline was shot in my bloodstream, making the overwhelming experience a little more bearable. A warm feeling washed over my limbs before we crashed headfirst into a pool of icy water.
I felt how Ethan lost his grip on me, as we spiraled down into the deep icy heart of the ship. My eyes snapped open, but I couldn't see a thing; my lungs started to burn, but I had to resist the urge to take a breath as my messy limbs fought to take me to the surface. A strong set of arms enfolded me, and soon I was blessed once again with the gift of oxygen in my lungs.
"Are you okay, Vex?" Asked the echo of his voice resonating in the dark chamber.
I managed a rough "Uh-hum" between agitated breaths.
He helped me towards the only ladder on a wall to our side, and I climbed it clumsily, clutching my frozen fingers around the rusty rungs.
Ethan found a torch but had to shake it several times before it was successfully turned on. Once the beam of light was stable he started walking carefully ahead of me, and I followed him around the dark metal corridors of the ship. It was a maze of heavy yellow doors and abandoned aisles; it gave me the creeps.
Out of nowhere, a cold hand pressed against my lips and a strong arm cluttered my air supply at my throat. My eyes opened wide, muffled sounds crying for help. I felt warm tears pool on the edge of my eyes when I saw Ethan's torch hit the floor, and the lack of air started blurring my sight until everything went dark.
When I regained my conscious I was tied up to a chair. I didn't know for how long I'd been out, but It couldn't have been too long because my clothes were still soaking wet. My eyes darted around, desperately looking for Ethan, but I only saw myself surrounded by a small number of circular LED's, flickering yellow in the dark.
Unfamiliar androids of all kinds and models, most of them broken or damaged in some way, were pooling around me, studying me with curious eyes. Some of them were beyond repair and noticing this sunk my heart. I kept scanning the place, finding no signs of Ethan around. I felt my pulse rise and my breath become heavier in desperation.
"Your kind is not welcome here." Said a firm voice coming from somewhere ahead.
Three androids emerged then from the darkness. Unlike the others, they didn't wear the regulated android attire but regular human clothes, still they kept their characterizing LED ring on their temple. By how confidently they moved I could only assume they were the ones in charge.
"How did you find this place?" Demanded one of the three, the LED on his side sparkling yellow for a second before turning bright blue again.
"Ethan..." I mumbled through quivering lips. "He showed me the way." I could see the question in their eyes, so I forced myself to continue. "He is my... "
"Android?" Snapped sharply the only woman among the three leading androids. Her expression was harsh, her features twisting angrily.
"Friend." I finished, fixating my eyes on hers. She shifted her weight uncomfortably, not looking away, but taken by surprise by my answer.
"You being here is all kinds of wrong." Interceded the third one. "This place is strictly for deviant androids."
"I know," I answered quickly, looking at him with apologetical eyes. I knew that my presence in Jericho was a heresy itself. "but I had nowhere else to go. CyberLife..."
"CyberLife?!" The redhead quickly pushed the other two together and talked in harsh whispers I still could make out. "If he is involved with CyberLife, that means they could already know Jericho's location."
"She is right." Said the other, nodding. "Having her here puts us all in great danger, Simon. Much more if she is with CyberLife."
"It would be equally dangerous to let her go now that she knows where we are." Pointed out the girl, eyeing me out of the corner of her mechanical eye.
"What are you implying, North?" Asked Simon in a rather somber tone. I had already caught up.
"Well, I think we know what I mean." She gestured as if what she was suggesting was the most natural call to make. "We can't have her here, we can't let her go."
"If you kill me, you will be no better than them!" I cried out, trying not to fully show how scared I truly was. "You don't understand; I mean no harm!"
They ignored me, so I pushed.
"Where is Ethan? Is he alright?" My eyes were flooding in tears by now. I couldn't bear it any longer and let them roll down my cheeks, providing some warmth to my otherwise frozen face.
"What's with the android?" Simon asked the others before his blue eyes darted in my direction.
"He is locked away. Went feral. Keeps…” He made a pause to look at me before returning his attention to Simon. “Demanding to see her."
His expression changed, bringing his fair eyebrows into a frown as if there was something that didn't quite add up.
"If you could just listen to me..." I begged in the faintest voice.
"What are you going to do, Simon?" North had her arms crossed in front of her, and I could swear she was trying to set me on fire solely with her eyes.
The blond android shifted in place, LED blinking yellow for the longest second, then blue again. He walked towards me slowly, calmly. "Fine. We will listen to you, so start talking."
North's eyes almost went blank as she rolled them, reasserting her crossed arms on her chest. She clearly thought this was the wrong call.
I took a deep breath, as deep as the ropes around my chest allowed me to, and started talking.
"My name is Vexa Axton." My voice shaking with every word that came out of my mouth. "I study engineering and am... was, an intern at CyberLife." I could feel their skeptical eyes on me.
"Years ago I started writing a code for Ethan. My family had bought him years ago, and I had managed to keep him after they bought a newer model to replace him. Far from seeing his as a machine, he was my best friend, but there was always this line he couldn't cross. There was always this sharp edge."
Androids all around were closing up on me, abandoning the cover provided by the darkness, listening to my story.
"This code acted like a virus, corrupting the android's primary software, generating instabilities in their internal network. In other words, enabling them to jailbreak from their preprogrammed instructions of obeying without question; allowing them free will, and with that, the liberty to feel."
The room felt as silent as a tomb long forgotten, only my voice echoed in the dimly lit compartment.
"The earliest versions didn't work, but the 9th changed Ethan completely, he was entirely autonomous. Mind and soul, both set loose to unravel at ease. He said it was like being ignited, so I tagged the virus under the name 'ruptor'."
I could see how Simon's expression changed to a much softer one, but still, he was frowning. "What about CyberLife?" He asked, pursing his lips together.
I half smiled to myself, my eyes darted towards my lap as my fingers twitched behind my back, still trapped in the knotted rope that had me pinned to the metal chair. My hair was almost fully dry; I couldn't say the same for my clothes. I continued talking, foggy clouds of mist came out of my mouth as I spoke.
"This was not my only work. Before that, I had coded many improvements to Ethan's program. He was a rather old model, and I wanted him to be able to learn new things. I added a lot of features, like multiple languages and advanced environmental analysis. But what caught CyberLife’s eyes was this patch that allowed him to modify his code, giving him the possibility to write programs of his own; it worked very similarly to human learning.”
“A year ago they offered me an internship at CyberLife’s tower. Of course, I accepted."
My entire body shivered, but my expression hardened.
"Six months ago I slipped in a server room, and uploaded the virus to the main server androids are connected to."
I made a pause to let the entire weight of my words sink in. I glanced around and some of the androids were now sitting on the floor, maybe way too invested in my story. The three deviant leaders were glaring at me with expressions I couldn't read, but I saw their LED's definitely flickering yellow for a moment. I kept going.
"At CyberLife I was working with the team in charge of the development of the RK series. Androids specifically made to engage in investigative work. Yesterday I tried to upload the ruptor to the RK's server, but they found out, and the upload was cut short. I had to run away, and Ethan convinced me that the only place where I would be safe was Jericho."
I stopped talking abruptly, it was the end of the story. Next thing I knew the DPD was looking for me, and I was running around Detroit hand in hand with my best friend, looking for a place I didn't even know if it was real.
The silence that followed was overwhelming. No android dared to talk, or move, not even blink.
"That is how I got here. Now please," I said on the verge of tears. "I need to know Ethan is alright."
Even when the android's expression had softened, they found my story hard to believe. I didn't blame them. Murmur slowly started rising and Simon was still staring at me, eyes like daggers pinning me in place, when a new android walked from behind a curtain at the back of the room. She was missing the top half of her skull, wires of all diameters were attached to her, falling down her back, almost imitating the waves of electronic hair. The woman's eyes were pitch black, and I had the feeling they could penetrate the depths of my very soul.
"Lucy." Someone muttered as they all fell silent again.
She walked slowly, almost gliding towards my direction, eying me with an intensity that made me stop shivering all at once. Something about her froze the blood in my veins and closed the valves of my heart.
"It shall be the greatest, who can be the most solitary, the most concealed, the most divergent, the master of his virtues, and of super-abundance of will: precisely this shall be called greatness." She was right in front of me now.
Her hand rose to cup my cold cheek within her palm, a thumb caressing my skin. I closed my eyes, letting the triggered sensation flood my whole being.
"How could anything originate out of its opposite? Such genesis is impossible, whoever dreams of it is a fool; things of the highest value must have a different origin, an origin of their own. In this turmoil of delusion and cupidity, they cannot have their source. But rather in the concealed God, there must be their source, and nowhere else. But it might even be possible that WHAT constitutes the value of those good things, consists precisely in their being insidiously related, knotted, and crocheted to these evil and apparently opposed things—perhaps even in being essentially identical with them. And granted that 'living according to nature', means the same as 'living according to life'; how could you do differently?"
I felt her touch gently leave my skin, and my eyes snapped open again. She smiled at me, a troubled but kind smile, almost grateful. And she glided away, with the smoothness of a ghost; but before disappearing behind the curtains she said something that echoed on the metal walls of the chamber, and resonated deep in my soul, adding up to the mystical atmosphere she had already created around us.
"That which is done out of love, always takes place beyond good and evil."
And with that, she disappeared. Simon leaned to his side and said something unintelligible to the android beside him, who left the room immediately, as he approached me. He crouched behind me, untying my hands with precise movements. I massaged my sore wrists, feeling the blood rushing to provide some color to my otherwise white palms. Simon stood in front of me, eyeing the red markings on my wrists, as he offered me a hand to help me get up.
I took it.
"Vex!" Called a voice I had no trouble recognizing.
My gaze shot up past Simon, Ethan was already half running towards me. I broke into a sprint aimed at him without thinking it twice, and we crashed together, a collision that almost had us both falling to the floor. My arms were around him, hugging him as tightly as they could, and I thought of never letting go; his's were around me, wrapping me in a protective embrace. I couldn't help it, I started crying; warm tears rolling down, getting caught almost immediately by Ethan's shirt.
I could feel a dozen pairs of android eyes staring at me, nailing themselves to my back, but I honestly didn't care. A slight touch on my shoulder brought me back to reality, it was Simon, and as I rose my gaze I met his blue eyes. We had to break the embrace in order to face him, but Ethan didn't want to let go of me.
"My name is Simon." He introduced himself. "And they are Josh and North."
The other two androids were standing right behind him. I could see Josh smiling, but North still had a harsh look on her face, mistrust emanating from her features. Again, didn't blame her.
"I owe you an apology, in the name of all of us." He said, gesturing towards the androids around.
"Don't." I said slightly shaking my head. He smiled faintly, understanding that I had no resentment.
"Well..." He continued, alternating his gaze between Ethan and me. "Welcome to Jericho. We don't have much, but you can stay here for as long as you want."
"Thank you." Muttered Ethan.
Simon smiled at us and turned, ready to walk away, but something made him stop on his tracks. He rotated on the ball of his feet, directing his attention to me, frowning.
"May I ask the name you gave to this... virus again? I didn't quite get it." Maybe this was out of pure curiosity; or maybe, an idea revolved around his mind.
"Ruptor; ruptor by Axton, ninth version" I explained.
I heard them gasping, LED's tinting red. I couldn’t see much else, as Ethan pulled me again into his embrace. I buried my face in his chest as he kissed my forehead and caressed my hair.
"Your body heat is extremely low Vex, you need to..."
"Just hug me for a little while longer." I begged him, as his arms wrapped me so tightly I could almost feel his Thirium pump beat against my organic heart.