Sumo led the way along the familiar route, eager to reach their destination. Hank plodded along behind him with much less enthusiasm. January weather wasn’t anything to smile about.
The park was little more than a pond surrounded by a pebbled walking track. Benches in various states of disrepair were scattered around, and everything was dusted with a light layer of snow. Hank made a beeline for the bench least visible from the road and after a halfhearted attempt to clear off a spot, he plopped down with a groan.
"C'mere, lemme get that." Sumo waited patiently until the leash was unclipped before lumbering off. Hank leaned back and inhaled deeply, letting the morning air sting its way down to his lungs. He shuffled around on the hard bench, trying in vain to warm it up. The movements seemed loud and obtrusive in the stillness of the park. Everything, including himself, was trapped in a state of unsettling quiet.
Back before the shit hit the fan, Hank had balked at being assigned the deviant cases. He’d felt out of his depth and being partnered with an anti-android asshole like Reed hadn’t made his job any easier. Reed was dismissive at best, but downright hostile during interrogations. Hank couldn’t say he was much better when it came to androids. He hated the fuckin’ things and avoided them when he could. He felt vaguely guilty for failing to solve those cases. There had always been something he was missing, some angle he hadn't worked.
Not that it mattered. Public opinion was overwhelmingly sympathetic, and when the deviant leader held one last peaceful protest at the camps less than a week later, history had been made. Freedom, equality, recognition. Androids were getting what they wanted, slow going as it was.
Change, real change, didn't happen overnight. While the President had granted temporary personhood to all currently functioning androids, establishing their basic rights and reworking labor laws was taking much longer. Mass lynching was a major problem across the US, and Congress was focused on instituting laws criminalizing violence against androids. For now, Detroit was a human-free safe zone, one of the only ones. Thousands of androids poured into the city in the weeks following the evacuation and more came every day. Despite the steady rise in the android population, Detroit had become a husk.
For Hank, life ground to a halt. He’d scoffed at the evacuation order and opted to wait it out. The days bled together. Just variations of getting drunk, snacking, watching tv, caring for Sumo, and passing out. The biggest difference was not having to stumble into work. After the first week, he’d blown through most of his liquor.
It was easy enough to dodge the occasional military patrol. The main issue now was food. There were a few grocery stores that still operated at night, but with the evacuation order in place there were no new shipments coming in and stocks were running low. The remaining diehards would eventually be forced to leave the city if they didn’t want to starve. He figured he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.
The boredom had gotten to him, like he knew it would, around the two-week mark. It took him three days to clear out the shitshow in his garage, leaving him a less conspicuous place to park the car. The house was much easier; he knocked it out in a less than a day. He was a little disappointed that his burst of productivity had petered out after that. The yard would just have to be a project for the next revolution.
Not for the first time, Hank sat huddled on the cold bench and wondered: what next? How long would it be until next happened? Did he want to be around when it happened?
Maybe this was as good a time as any to let go. While everyone was gone and things were quiet. He could leave Sumo with the nice lady from the grocery store who always asked after him, send an apology letter to Jeff for being a drunk shit these last few years. A new day was dawning, and he was too tired to greet it. He just wanted to go to sleep and stay asleep. The future didn't have a place for people like him. And what else did he have to look forward to really? Retirement? What a joke. Fuck if he knew if he'd even have a job after all this.
Hank closed his eyes and saw
the glow of a dinosaur-shaped nightlight coming from the darkened room down the hall
countertops covered in pancake batter on Saturday morning
a tiny hand clutched in his-
Sumo’s happy bark roused him from his thoughts.
Hank spotted him at the far end of the park. Someone was kneeling down trying to pet him. Every time they reached out, he’d bark and skid away, only to romp back into reach.
Chuckling, he pushed himself up from the bench and made to join them. He hadn't expected to see anyone out this morning, not with it being so cold. As he got closer, his smile slowly faded. The clothing should’ve tipped him off right away. Hell, he should’ve just known anyways, what with most folks staying indoors to avoid the patrols.
Kneeling in the frosted grass was an android. Its uniform was unassuming, but distinguishable. It was dressed in plain jeans, simple white sneakers, and a dark grey sweater with softly glowing blue appliques indicating its android status. Hardly adequate given the weather. Dark brown hair was combed back from a youthful face and a stray curl fell over its forehead. Its LED spun blue as it attempted to pet his dog.
When Hank was close enough to see the freckles on its synthetic skin, it turned and directed its attention to him, ceasing the game.
It smiled unevenly. “Hello. My name is Connor. This… Is your dog, isn’t it?” It rose quickly and brushed off its knees. “I like dogs.”
Hank eyebrows shot up, but he didn't reply as he clipped on Sumo’s leash and began walking away.
“I’m sorry. I thought maybe he didn’t have an owner since humans had been ordered to evacuate.” The android’s steps quickened until it was abreast with Hank. “I've never pet a dog before. I've seen them around but-" It paused, smile faltering. "Are you aware of the mandatory evacuation order?”
Hank stopped abruptly and rounded on it, ready to rip it a new one. Its expression caught him off-guard. It seemed concerned, brow furrowed, brown eyes searching. Before he could tell it where to shove the evacuation order, it continued:
“The city isn't safe for humans right now. A lot of deviants are still angry, and they'll take it out on any human. Walking about like this could invite an attack.” The words were delivered carefully, quietly. Its head tilted just so as it looked up at him.
Shit. If it reports me, I'm fucked.
It was watching him closely, waiting for a reply.
Hank clutched Sumo's leash and weighed his options. He couldn't lie, it would probably know. If it reported him to the one of the patrols, he'd be escorted out of the city. None too kindly. It was a weak move, but he had to try.
"Whaddya mean you've never pet a dog? Here, pet him and don't say I never did anything for you." For a moment Hank didn’t think it would work.
Its LED stuttered yellow, face blank as it became eerily still, processing.
Did it short circuit or something?
He eyed it warily, fully expecting it to start smoking from the ears. A moment later its face broke into a wide grin and it dropped to its knees, hands clasped to its chest. Its LED fluttered between blue and yellow as it hesitated, glancing up at Hank. "What’s its name?”
“I call him Sumo. Go on and pet him. He won't bite.” Hank gave the leash a light tug, bringing Sumo closer.
The android’s smile grew wider, eyes crinkling at the corners, as it ran a hand over the dog’s head reverently. “Hi, Sumo. You are very soft.” Sumo nosed the stranger’s chest, hands, and face before flopping down.
“I didn’t know dogs would be so soft.” The admission was quiet, probably more to itself. Hank indulged it for a few more minutes before clearing his throat. It looked up, carding its slender fingers through Sumo’s fur. Hank wondered why Cyberlife bothered giving it freckles.
“Dunno about you, but this cold is kickin’ my ass. Should probably head on back.”
Its smiled faded. With one final pat, the android stood. Hank didn’t give it a chance to bring up the evacuation again. He stuck a hand out.
“Connor, right? Name’s Hank. We come by here every mornin’, in case you feel like playing with this big oaf sometime.”
The smile returned as it reached forward to accept the handshake. Its hand was smooth and cool to the touch, though not as cold as Hank was expecting. He gave it a perfunctory pump before attempting to pull back. The android was slower, letting go a moment later as it studied his face, LED spinning yellow before settling on blue. It tugged at its sleeves before speaking.
“I’d like that. It was good to meet you both.” It took a small step back. Relieved, Hank mumbled in agreement as he led Sumo away.
When they reached the road, he looked back.
The android hadn’t moved. It stood there watching them leave, expression unreadable. When Hank met its steady gaze, it raised a hand and waved goodbye.
With one final nod in its direction, Hank turned and left.