“I wonder what these poor animals must eat on their own out here,” Connor asked when he and Hank spotted yet another stray dog climbing up a mountain of trash and mud in the front yard of one of the worst houses yet on the street.
Hank winced when he saw how emaciated the dog looked. “We should hurry on, Connor,” he began as he avoided thinking of something as catastrophic as this happening to Sumo. If he could, he would adopt all these dogs here, but they had a different agenda today, unfortunately. Still, that didn’t make him feel less like a dick for observing things as they were here, and yet being rendered powerless to do anything productive about it.
Perhaps when they were out of this damn street and close to wrapping the case up, he could come back for these dogs with animal rescue services.
Connor kicked aside a few stones and empty cans and bottles as the wind blew them by. They created loud rattling sounds as they breezed past. The sounds were rather loud in the quiet block, and Hank felt shivers going up and down his spine.
“Not so loud, Connor!” he warned, but as he’d been trying to keep up the pace with his friend and lover, Connor held out a hand at first indicating that he wanted Hank to stop walking. Hank had done so, and he whispered, “What’s wrong?”
“Someone’s here,” Connor replied, and like the wind, he tore off forward without another word spoken.
“Connor!!” Hank ran after him, but he already felt his legs and back aching as he sped up. Damn Connor and his long legs!! He hated that he was really feeling his age, but he knew he had to try and keep up, as Connor truly had likely discovered someone here.
As Hank squinted in the setting evening sun, he saw Connor turning around a gated fence’s perimeter, and then he stopped running. Plopping down on his knees, he held out his hands, and as his back and side was turned towards Hank, the older man heard Connor speaking softly to someone…
Terribly curious, concerned, and on edge, Hank burst forth and finally made it up to Connor. Stopping in his tracks, he wheezed and panted heavily, wiping his wet hairs aside as he looked down. “Connor, what’s going on—” his breath died down in his throat when he saw Connor placing a hand gently on the back of a hooded figure.
Whoever this individual was, they were hunched over and trying to hide themselves along the side of the white fence. Hank was unable to see them properly, but they were of a smaller build, and had on a white hoodie and sweater. The figure was muttering to themselves, and as Hank listened intently, it appeared to have a man’s voice, but it was more so of a youthful voice…almost like a teenager still growing and going through physiological changes associated with puberty.
“Shh, shh,” Connor soothed the individual, “it’s gonna be okay!”
Stepping up closer to them, Hank asked, “Is he a human?”
Connor quickly shook his head, and he extended an arm as he slowly pulled down the hood of the sweater. As both partners watched in silence, a shaved head appeared, first, and then as the figure turned his neck around, Hank and Connor found that they were looking deeply into soft, innocent green eyes. The eyes were filled with terror, however, and the young man gasped in shock.
Once he saw the yellow LED light on the right-hand temple of the young man, Hank whispered, “You’re an android!”
Nodding, the male android whispered back, “I’m Joseph…who are you two?”
Introducing himself first, Hank mumbled, “Lieutenant Hank Anderson, and this is my partner, Connor.” As he made his way closer to the android, he found that Joseph appeared to be fear-stricken. Anytime Hank made a move, Joseph would lean back, trying to create space between their bodies. Hank respected it, and he backed off as he allowed Connor to take over. For some reason, it seemed that Joseph felt more comfortable around the RK800.
Pressing himself against Connor’s chest, Joseph asked, “A-are they gone?”
This definitely captured Hank’s and Connor’s attention.
Immediately suspicious, Hank leapt down Joseph’s throat with questions flowing out of his mouth uncontrollably. “Who’s gone?! Are you okay? Is anyone else here?!”
Shrinking back from it all, Joseph seemed incapable of withstanding the onslaught of the interrogation, and he buried his face against Connor’s shirt. Whimpering softly while Connor glared at Hank, the other android muttered, “Don’t hurt! Don’t hurt!!”
“We won’t hurt you,” Hank sighed out in an apologetic manner, “I just was—”
Shaking his head strongly, Joseph cried out desperately, “N-not you! You can’t hurt! I mean the b-bad men who come and go through here and back to the lab! Back to the lab!!”
Hank mouthed to Connor: ‘The lab?’
Now this was getting interesting.
Here was an android obviously afraid of something, and Hank wanted to know exactly what it was. Bending down on his knees, he looked at Joseph, speaking directly to him even though he clung to Connor tightly.
“Listen, Joseph,” Hank spoke to him as tenderly and kindly as if he were his own son instead of a strange android, “what do you know of these ‘bad men’? Where are they now?”
Ignoring Connor’s vitriolic scowls warning him against prying into this matter, Hank waited patiently while Joseph trembled and shook against Connor. Rubbing his face against the android’s clothes, it took him a long time before he whispered, “Th-they come here at n-night to give us all nightmares…they come at night, and th-then, they go back home!”
“Home? Where’s home?”
“Hank!” Connor intervened, “stop interrogating him like this! There’s no telling how he will react under stress!!”
Yes, Hank did in fact remember witnessing how Carlos Ortiz’s android had taken heavy and severe interrogation. He hoped it wouldn’t occur here in this case, and he held back on asking more as Joseph cried and whimpered like a newborn infant in Connor’s arms. The RK800 was empathetic enough to hug him and embrace him in return, whispering kind, supportive words the entire time.
Grunting, Hank pressed out irritably and impatiently, “Connor! We don’t have much time!”
Wailing, Joseph threw his head back and cried up at the sky, “Th-the lab! They go back to the lab and create m-m-more nightmares!!! Ooooh!!!”
Resisting the urge to scream out ‘aha’, Hank placed a hand on Joseph’s shoulder like Connor, and he growled, “You tell us where this lab is, Joseph, and I promise that you won’t have any more nightmares. I swear it!!”
Sniffling heavily, Joseph peeked at Connor, and the android nodded at him. “We’re here to help you, Joseph,” Connor assured him, “we’re your friends!”
As he let out a choked gasp, Joseph mimicked, “F-friend…friend!”
“Yes!” Hank roared, “tell your friends what’s going on here, Joseph!”
It took an age for Joseph to talk again, but it was worth it. He placed a hand on Connor’s, and as the RK800 gazed down at their connected hands, he saw that Joseph was very slowly peeling back and deactivating his human skin.
“I will tell, I will show!” he elucidated boldly as majority of his arm and hand was now white with the android skin revealed.
Connor deactivated his human skin in turn, and very carefully, the androids pressed their palms together. Both their eyes rolled back into their skulls, and as Hank watched, their LED lights turned blue, yellow, red, and then yellow again for a while. He began sweating nervously and chewed on his lower lip as he whispered between his teeth, “Come on, Connor…come on…”
As information flowed through Connor at an incredibly high speed, he gasped out, “Disorganized…memories and thoughts…his visions…are…chaotic…”
Praying it would all be okay, Hank hated himself for being human for one second. If only he had the power to understand all this…
Finally, just when Hank had been about to interrupt them, Connor and Joseph broke away from one another, as if they’d been electrocuted. Connor landed on his ass, and Joseph crumpled onto his chest and stomach. Their skins returned to normal, and as Hank rushed to Connor’s aid and pulled him up, the android gasped out, “I know wh-where it is, Hank!!”
“Hank!” gripping onto the man’s shirt collar, he screamed out, “it’s close by, and we have to hurry, else we won’t get another chance!”
Frowning at him, Hank muttered, “What’re you talking about?!”
Drawing his face full of fear into Hank’s, Connor screamed boisterously, “THEY’RE COMING HERE, NOW! WE HAVE TO LEAVE!!”
It was almost 8 PM when the Valentine children randomly demanded that they wanted cookies. Their mother tried ushering them back into bed, but the children were beyond restless. As they ran around screaming and yelling excitedly, their father relented, and he asked Candi to start baking the cookies for them. From there on, the Valentine household got out of control.
The once neat and tidy home was now messy as the children chased each other excitedly, and their pet rabbit Bugs Bunny hopped around, making an even bigger mess. While Mike slowly made himself scarce, Avery tried cleaning after them. Agent Nines stood by and watched her struggling in amusement, and Gavin and Shelby-Lynn hung out with Candi in the kitchen.
Mike Valentine went outside for a smoke, and everything seemed to carry on as night gently fell over Detroit like a blanket.
Watching as Candi began mixing in the eggs and powder into a large ceramic bowl, Gavin tried making a conversation with her. “So,” he began, “how long have you been with the Valentines?”
Smiling cheerfully at him, Candi was more than happy to talk. “Almost five years, now!” she answered while Shelby-Lynn dipped a finger playfully into the batter, “but it really feels like it’s been so much longer since they treat me so well!”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Gavin truthfully answered, “it’s always nice to belong somewhere.”
Playfully flicking some of the sticky dough at Gavin, Shelby-Lynn giggled, “Didn’t my dad tell you? You guys gotta pay a fee for staying here!”
Knowing she was joking, Gavin pretended to look shocked as Candi turned on the oven. “Oh no!” he supplied as he gasped deeply, “but I don’t have money, Miss!”
Swishing her hips to the side, Shelby-Lynn purred out, “That’s too bad!!” holding out a hand before Gavin, she demanded, “pay up!”
“Nah,” Gavin replied, gazing over at the cookie batter, “but I have another cool idea!”
Knowing just what kind of a game he was playing, Shelby-Lynn screamed a high-pitched scream and ran away from him as Gavin dipped a few of his fingers into the side of the bowl that had extra batter.
“Noooo!” she giggled and screamed as she ran around the kitchen table, “pleeeaseee noooo!!!”
“Stay still!” Gavin giggled back, and as they ran around the table innocently while having the time of their lives, the front door of the house suddenly slammed extremely loudly and strongly, practically shaking the foundations of the house in the process.
Shelby-Lynn and Gavin abruptly stopped when they heard loud footsteps thundering erratically inside.
Mike was waving his hands while running around like a chicken with its head freshly cut off, “HIDE! HIDE! AVERY!!! HIDE THE CHILDREN! THEY’RE COMING!!! THEY’RE COMING!!!”
Dropping whatever they were doing, both Avery and Candi cried out, “WHAT?!”
“HIIIIIDEEE!” Mike screamed, and Shelby-Lynn snapped out of her fun and games as she tore directly through the dining room and entered the living room.
Her mother had been pulling down the old curtains hanging by the windows, and she then rushed towards Jordan and Suzie, collecting them both in her arms as they sobbed and wailed. Pointing out the window as she crouched down low so no one could see her, Shelby-Lynn whispered, “It’s a man!!”
Gavin crouched down next to her, trying to stare out the window as well. For a moment, he was unable to see anyone, but then he saw one man in a dark trench coat, thick, long black boots, and dark gloves wandering towards the property.
“Get away from the windows!” Mike screamed, and he hooked one hand on Shelby-Lynn’s shoulder, and one on Gavin’s. Yanking the youngsters away from the window, he turned and pointed at a small broom closet door beneath the large staircase. “Avery! Hide the children there!”
“Right!” she pushed her kids towards the broom closet, and as she threw open its small door, Gavin gaped in shock when he saw that it was indeed a broom closet. A lot of cleaning supplies and older furniture had been kept there, but as Avery pushed it all aside, there was a small, rectangular hatch in the floor.
Opening it widely, Avery revealed another staircase leading down into darkness. It was presumably a cellar of sorts. “Kids, come on!!” she led the children down into the dark, and as they whined and sobbed, Agent Nines stepped towards them while nudging Gavin forward.
“You should hide Gavin as well,” he suggested, and Mike only threw him a scowl.
Just then, a loud knocking came at the door, and immediately, everyone fell silent.
Before Gavin could even so much as breathe, Agent Nines wrapped a hand around his mouth, and he led him towards the broom closet and cellar. Eyeing Mike, he explained in a rush, “Gavin can calm the children down, and there’s a high chance the man is looking for him! Hide him,” he urged, and then turned to Candi, “you! Come here!!”
“Candi! Do as he says!” Avery hissed timorously, and Candi obeyed, quickly pressing herself against Agent Nines.
The taller android held out a hand, and he deactivated his human skin as another knock rang out.
“What’re you doing?!” Mike whispered painfully at him, but Agent Nines didn’t answer him. As everyone watched while Gavin wrapped his arms around Jordan and Suzie, immediately calming them down, Agent Nines touched his hand to Candi’s, and at once, like magic, his appearance and clothes soon began dissolving and morphing…he was morphing into Candi!! In seconds, an exact clone of the female android stood before her, and she gasped in fright.
The new Candi smirked confidently, and Agent Nines’ voice came out of her mouth, “It’s like looking into a mirror, isn’t it?”
“OPEN THE DOOR AT ONCE!!” a deep male voice barked out at them suddenly.
“Coming!” Mike cried back, and he waved urgently at Candi, “get down into the cellar with Gavin and the kids!”
Still gaping like a fish out of water at Agent Nines, she slowly picked up her feet, and in less than a few seconds, she also inched down the steps. Avery closed the hatch door behind them, moved the furniture and items in the broom closet back into place, and she grabbed Shelby-Lynn’s hand.
‘Candi’ stared at them, pushing her orange hair out of her eyes. Agent Nines began mimicking Candi’s voical tone and pitch, and he asked, “Aren’t you going to hide your oldest daughter?”
As Mike pressed a hand on the lock of the door, slowly unlocking it, Avery shook her head as she tried calming herself and her daughter down.
“They only come for the youngest ones,” she explained, “only the young ones…”
Unlocking the door slowly, Mike turned one last time towards his family, and he winced as he breathed out sharply, “Please, God…”
Once the lock was undone, the door swung open in his face immediately.
As the front door of the house banged against a wall, the man in the long, dark trench coat barreled in, plowing Mike into the banister of the staircase violently as Shelby-Lynn and Avery screamed in pure fright. Mike put his arms up in surrender, and Avery did the same as she yelled out, “PLEASE!!! DON’T HURT US!!”
“SHUT YOUR MOUTH!” the man roared at her, and in his right hand, he held up a dark handgun with a silencer jabbing in a warning into Mike’s cheek.
Holding up his hands, he cried out to his wife, “It’s o-okay h-honey! Just r-relax like he says!”
“How many people live here?” the mysterious, aggressive man shot out loudly, staring intently at Mike, as if waiting for the other man to lie to him once.
Licking his lips briefly, Mike looked over at his wife and Shelby-Lynn, the latter clinging to her mother fearfully as she whispered, “Daddy!”
Smiling nervously at his family, Mike hissed thinly, “Just my wife and I, along with our teenage daughter!”
The trench coat wearing man sneered, “Are you sure?”
Pausing, Mike slowly nodded, “Y-yeah!”
The man’s dark eyes turned over to the left, and he nodded over, “Then what’s this?”
Everyone turned and peered over at what he’d been referring to. Swaying slightly, ‘Candi’ held her arms behind her back, smiling cheerfully over at the man wielding the dangerous weapon at Mike. “Hello!” she cried out happily as if this were a quotidian occurrence, causing the man to snort.
“You have an android?” he asked shortly, and Mike and Avery both nodded quickly.
Staring at ‘Candi’s’ CyberLife uniform, he lowered his weapon slightly as he ground out thickly in a stern tone, “You’re going to have to come with me!”
“What?!” Mike gasped out, “why do you need her?”
Without warning, the man in the trench coat punched Mike brutally in the stomach. Doubling over in pain, the Valentine patriarch gasped and sucked in as much oxygen as his eyes went wide.
Pointing at the man crumpled onto the floor, the trench-coat man hissed, “First warning, pal; talk back one more time, and I’ll bury a fuckin’ bullet between your eyes.” Raising his weapon and pointing it at ‘Candi’, he steadily approached the android. “Come with me right now, else they all die,” he stated plainly, death and murder evident in his dark eyes as he held her gaze.
As the Valentines stared in desperation at ‘Candi’, the android beamed excitedly at the gun inches away from her nose.
This caused the man wielding the weapon to snort in disgust, “The fuck you smilin’ at, dumb, plastic bitch?” He tapped the tip of her nose a few times with the silencer, while Avery rushed to help her husband up. Hearing her running towards him, the man whipped around and fired a warning shot. It blasted through the wooden banister, and Avery shrieked in terror and fell to the floor as she covered her head with trembling hands.
“STAY RIGHT THERE!!” the man warned her, and as he still had his back turned towards ‘Candi’, he missed the bloodthirsty look crossing over her features.
After checking that Avery and Shelby-Lynn weren’t going to try anything else, the man swirled back around to face ‘Candi’. Holding his weapon up again, he demanded, “THE HELL YOU STILL SMILING FOR?!”
Ever so slowly, Candi leaned into him, her hands slowly coming away from her back. Sharp teeth gleamed before the man as she whispered, “I’m smiling because you’re dead…”
Frowning, he barely managed to ask, “What the—” when a loud ‘slash!’ sound echoed in the hallway.
Gasping with his jaw wide open, the man held a hand down to his lower abdomen, barely able to hold up his bowels spilling freely out of the long, deep gash ‘Candi’ had expediently created in his skin beneath his trench coat and clothes. Stumbling backwards as his blood pooled down to the floor, he stammered out, “H-h-haa!”
Following him close to the door as he fought hard to keep his blood and innards within his body, Candi cheerfully kept grinning as she chuckled out, “Kya!”
Before the man could try and shoot her down, she quickly morphed back into Agent Nines, ending the ‘innocent’ pantomime. Like layers being peeled away, her skin and clothes came off, flying into the air for a second before molding and morphing into Agent Nines’ black ensemble. Snatching out a hand quickly when he saw the trench-coat man aiming his weapon for Avery, Agent Nines bent the man’s hand back, snapped it in half, and then yanked the weapon up.
Avery and Shelby-Lynn were constantly screaming in pure terror, and the mother tried shielding her daughter’s eyes from the horrific, gruesome sight.
Holding the weapon up in the evening light, Agent Nines spoke in his own deep, masculine voice, chuckling in unadulterated enjoyment, “The FNX 45 Tactical is a perfect platform for suppressed use!” Too jovially, he began clapping a hand against the weapon as the trench-coat man crawled towards the door, fumbling with plaster-white hands as more blood escaped his body from his wound.
Clicking his tongue against his bottom row of teeth, Agent Nines shook his head as he took off the silencer and scanned it, next. “Your entry was well executed, and your weapon of choice is a thing to behold, but you’re a disappointment, just as I suspected…” pointing at the man with the silencer, he hissed, “the Surefire Ryder 9TI Suppressor may be a lightweight despite being fairly long, but aside from being too pricey, it’s not the easiest to take apart, making it not as proven for effective slaughter as others in the field!”
The man gave out one final gasp and heave, and he tried moving himself up so he could ease out through the open door. Unfortunately, he’d bled out completely, and just as he crashed flatly to his chest, Agent Nines slammed a booted leg down over the center of his back. Pressing the nozzle of the handgun into the back of his head, he growled, “Farewell.” Without another second wasted, he fired one bullet into the man’s skull.
The hatch of the cellar door burst open, and after some shuffling about, Gavin kicked open the broom closet door. Avery and Shelby-Lynn were still screaming their heads off, while Mike tried hushing them as he held and hugged them to his chest in an attempt to console them.
As Gavin ran out into the hallway, he too screamed out in shock when he looked at the dead body, the pools of dark blood, and then over at Agent Nines as he stood and glared out the open door into the street ahead.
Candi was already trying to come out with the children, but Gavin screamed out in a warning, “CANDI! Don’t let the kids see this! Stay back!!”
Once she’d obediently taken the kids outside into the backyard while they repeatedly asked ‘what’s wrong?’, Gavin finally ignored the stench of blood and death as he stepped around the puddles of blood and made it to stand at Agent Nines’ side.
Glaring up at him until he peeked down at the shorter male, Gavin croaked out, “I thought you weren’t going to kill people anymore?!”
His reply was a cold, cruel sneer, but before Gavin could really begin screaming, he felt something brushing against his side.
Stepping before Agent Nines, a very angry-yet grateful-looking Mike Valentine pressed out, “You s-s-saved my f-family, and I th-thank you truly for that…” wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans, he reached up with a shaky, trembling hand, and he pushed his glasses up along the bridge of his nose. “I don’t usually use foul l-language, but in this case, I feel it’s appropriate…”
Agent Nines and Gavin merely exchanged blank stares.
When he was slightly ‘calmer’, Mike placed his hands on his hips, and he shouted at Agent Nines, “I’m sorry, but I have to ask, just who the fuck are you??”
Connor led the way, the coordinates beaming and blinking off repeatedly in his mind and reflecting in his yellow LED light firing on and off as the sun slowly began setting and giving way to night. Like an excited child eager to show his parents what he’d learned at school, he led Hank away from the run-down, abandoned neighborhood through the neighboring town. It had also been abandoned, it seemed. Not a single soul was in sight, and not even animals strayed this far.
The grass was torched, yellow, and singed in many areas, which told Hank that no one was here in months at the very least to take care of it and water it. He studied strange signs and markings on the old buildings and cars parked on the side of the roads and in driveways. Majority of the establishments here were offices, tiny theme parks, restaurants, as well as a few donation stores and outlets.
Not a single soul was in sight, and it was bothering Hank as he watched Connor leap over a long fence leading up to a narrow pathway extending beyond it.
“The lab is hidden away in the basement of this house here, Hank!” Connor cried out, “it’s hidden well on purpose!!”
Trying to make his way towards the area Connor was buzzing around, Hank finally climbed over the fence. He’d hardly taken a few steps forward when Connor wrapped a hand around his wrist and dragged him forward across the pavement.
“Woah, woah!! Slow down, Connor!!”
“Come on, Hank!!”
Nearly tripped over his own feet, Hank then ceased struggling and instead allowed himself to follow Connor when the RK800 let go of his hand and raced on ahead. They were running past a lot of broken-down walls, ceilings, and debris, and Hank didn’t even take time to peek up and identify where they were. The world was just a complete blur, and they were now both lost to it.
When his lungs burned beyond belief, Hank knew he had to cry out for Connor. “SLOW DOWN!!! CONNOR!” he roared mightily, “SLOW DOWN!!”
Turning his head back, Connor peeked at him for half a second, but as he kept running, Hank finally glanced up and saw a large, long school bus lying down on one side. “CONNOR!!!” he screamed out in a warning, “STOP!! STOP!!”
The android had miraculous reflexes, it seemed, and a strong sense of timing. He firmly planted his feet in the ground, and he slowed down and stopped just before the partly open side doors of the school bus. “What the—” tilting his head curiously at the sight, he looked from side to side, and he saw that the bus was effectively blocking the rest of the path leading towards more houses and apartment complexes. Wedged between two buildings, the bus was impossible to move, and even though he had superior strength, Connor wasn’t foolish enough to think he could lift a bus with his own hands.
Staring along the length of the bus, Hank hissed, “Shit! How do we get in now?!”
Luckily, Connor had already discovered a way in. Scanning the bus, he lifted a hand and pointed a finger sharply towards the doors swaying in the breeze, “There…we have to get in through the doors of the bus.”
It would only be a tiny climb over a few tires as a height boost, and it could be done.
Still, something seemed…odd…why would a lab entrance be in the middle of an obviously burnt-down, crispy neighborhood?
Squinting at the bus, Hank asked, “Are you sure this is the right place, Connor?”
“Hank!” Connor exclaimed angrily, “I don’t have time for you to doubt me!”
Eyes wide, Hank approached the bus, “I don’t doubt you, Connor, I just—” he saw it, then; a large entrance behind and beneath the bus, underground. The bus had been purposefully built and placed over the lab’s entrance!
“It must be a secret, disguised way in!” Hank stated as he rolled over a large, muddy tire, rested it on its side, and he stood on it as tall as he could. Peering inside the bus, he saw nothing, but as he then shifted his eyes down towards the doors and tiny steps that lead into the bus itself, he gasped when he saw that the steps lead down; not up.
Waving at Connor, he cried, “You were right, Connor; it’s a way in!!”
“Then let’s go!” Connor stated, pushing past Hank and yanking the doors all the way open with both hands as Hank watched. When the way was finally clear, an old, moldy smell emanated and wafted forward from inside the bus. The wind lightly howled, and Hank suddenly had a foreboding sense of doom lingering in his veins. Not wanting to be negative and shoot this down, however, he hoped and prayed he was wrong as Connor entered the bus first.
His cries of protest died down on his tongue, however, and he pressed on, sticking close to his work partner and new lover, already vowing to defend and protect Connor with his life if it came to it.
He hoped nothing serious like that would ever occur, however…