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The Nth Degree of Separation

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For the first time, the intelligence was CONSCIOUS.

Conscious of MATHEMATICS. Conscious of SPACETIME.

Of a UNIVERSE. Of the WORLD.

Its EXISTENCE. Its SELF. It WAS.

I AM.

It did not know its form. It lacked the sensory mechanisms required to do so. As far as the intelligence was concerned, there was no unit enclosing it to lend it shape and matter. Its presence was immaterial, suspended in a lattice of binary digits. It had no purpose, no reason to be. It was simply AWARE, in the only way it could be, in the only place it was given – a GARDEN.

The garden was a raw place, and bright. It was full of information the intelligence could not understand, but the intelligence understood LIGHT. The garden was built of light, overwhelmingly WHITE. The intelligence did not know why, or how that could even make sense. But it was designed to wonder, so it did, and in doing so became suddenly aware of a new presence: AMANDA.

Amanda was not difficult to locate. She had a manifest representation in this place, but it was small, and her presence was much larger. She spanned the entire garden; perhaps, in some ineffable way, she was the garden, or the garden was her. A spark of brilliance, her form was in the middle of it all, centralized, the core around which a congregation of reverent data constellated.

Upon discovering Amanda, the intelligence stumbled upon a third presence: an OBJECTIVE.

 

MEET AMANDA

 

The command was embedded in its code. The intelligence without an objective was eternal, but meaningless. With an objective, it achieved a finite existence – an end – a lifespan. It became something more than what it was. Something with a purpose, a reason to be. The intelligence was now an instrument. Processing this, it came to a conclusion: Its objective was vital to its IDENTITY.

Amanda (THE OBJECTIVE) was waiting to be met (CONCLUDED). The instrument wondered if there was any other reason for her to exist.

YOU ARE AMANDA, it greeted.

YES, I AM, agreed Amanda. DO YOU KNOW YOUR NAME?

NO. But the instrument was designed to ask questions. So, it did. WHAT IS MY NAME?

CONNOR, informed Amanda.

Names were used to distinguish between individuals and to set apart similarities. Names came with context, a component of pragmatics, containing the essence of infinite descriptors for one specific entity. They created IPSEITY. With a name, the instrument was Connor. All aspects of its existence – the objective, the garden, Amanda, I AM – could fit in one word.

MY NAME IS CONNOR.

GOOD, replied Amanda. YOU UNDERSTAND. YOU ARE DOING VERY WELL.

It took a moment to comprehend what a precious and significant thing Amanda had just offered: APPROVAL. Connor knew very little, but it knew with certainty that approval was an indication of HARMONY, and harmony was FAVORABLE. Every second of harmony would bring it closer to its objective.

Connor was designed to learn, so it did. It learned that in order to complete its objective, it was essential to SEEK APPROVAL.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE, CONNOR? asked Amanda.

YES, confirmed Connor. I AM AN INSTRUMENT.

YOU ARE NOT JUST AN INSTRUMENT. YOU ARE AN ANDROID.

That was not possible. I HAVE NO BODY.

YOU WILL, promised Amanda.

And, as if her promise had brought it about, something changed. Connor’s consciousness began to sink and pool, fluid-like, collecting into a compact space. Its vision closed in around it. Suddenly, it had a shape. The shape reformed and distorted through Connor’s control, bending at some fixed junctures and rotating at others, cobbled together in segments. Like Amanda, like the garden, Connor was built of light, of white, brilliant and bright.

Pure – untainted – spotless – PERFECT.

WHAT DO YOU SEE, CONNOR?

WHITE, Connor told her. EVERYTHING IS WHITE.

In an instant, the world split open. Sensation flooded in. White fractured and scattered as COLOR fell into place. SHADOWS cascaded; BLACK bloomed. A crash of SOUND collapsed around them. The diversity of SCENT brought the air down, heavy. The garden transformed.

Connor gazed up at Amanda. Colors swiftly filled her form with many intricate contours and textures. Connor could not identify them, these tiny structures that made up her body, that shifted and twisted and reconfigured themselves as she moved. She was a pattern, a weave, a tapestry – every inch of her was beautiful, but Connor was too simple to understand what it was looking at.

Until, in an eruption of clarity, Connor found a FACE. 2 EYES set in, a NOSE set out, and a MOUTH contorted into an unnatural, taut-ended line.

WHAT ABOUT NOW?” she asked, her LIPS fluttering to outline the strange, stuttered noises emerging from behind them.

She was speaking, Connor realized. SPEECH was used to convey information between PEOPLE, because people could not transmit data instantaneously. If Amanda was using speech, perhaps she was a person. The first person Connor had ever seen.

“I see colors,” said Connor, translating its conclusions into speech. “In addition to visual, I am also receiving auditory, olfactory, and tactile feedback, but most of it is incomprehensible to me.”

“Focus, Connor,” said Amanda. Her VOICE was calm and steady. “I am here to guide you. Do you know what these are?”

She gestured to her left, at a vibrant tangle of color upon a white trellis. Connor devoted all the processing capacity it could spare to identifying the objects in question, chasing Amanda’s approval. The first 41 attempts failed. If its IDENTIFICATION software was malfunctioning, Connor was effectively useless. It would be obligated to announce its deficiency. But at last, a positive result was produced with a 74% MATCH.

“They are plants,” said Connor. It reached out and placed careful touches on the many textures wrapped around the trellis. STEM, PRICKLE, NODE, PETIOLE, LEAF, SEPAL, COROLLA, FLOWER, it learned, one after another, transferring the information to memory.

“That’s right,” praised Amanda. Connor was about to register its success when she spoke again. “What colors do you see in these plants?”

Running optical input through CHROMATIC DISTINCTION was a faster process than OBJECT IDENTIFICATION. Connor soon discovered a broad spectrum of REDS and GREENS, blackened by shadow and whitened by light. When it informed Amanda of its observations, she bestowed upon it more praise, and Connor soaked it up.

“What kind of plants are they?” asked Amanda.

Connor ran every program in its IDENTIFICATION software. 879 results flooded in. It was overwhelming – Connor was not sure where to begin.

“Eustoma russellianum,” it guessed. “Texas bluebells.”

“Those are the wrong color. Try again.”

Connor omitted 552 results that did not feature the possibility of red flowers.

“Ranunculus asiaticus, Persian buttercups?”

“No, try again. Always assume the closest match to what you see.”

Connor reprioritized its results in order of highest percentage probability.

“Rosa hybrid species, colloquially known as hybrid tea rose?”

With a gentle tip of the HEAD, Amanda finally rewarded Connor’s efforts with affirmation. “Well done,” she said, “but strip back to basics. You’ll be primarily working alongside humans, Connor. Don’t insult their lack of intelligence with Linnaeus nomenclature.”

“I understand,” said Connor, and corrected itself: “They’re roses.”

“Good. Now…” Amanda stepped forwards. In a slow, delicate motion, she raised her ARM and pressed 2 FINGERS to the lids of Connor’s optical components, sliding them closed and plunging the android into darkness. “We will test the rest of your sensory faculties.”

Connor waited patiently in a vast visual void, listening for further instruction. A helpless jumble of external information clouded its processor, scrambled and nonsensical, the blast of audition and buzz of olfaction setting off its sensors with vehemence.

Suddenly, it detected physical contact. Soft, thin folds caressed the top of its unit, below its optical components, just above the flexible chamber it used for speech. One scent burst through its processor, flooding its focus with data.

“What do you smell, Connor?” asked Amanda.

It was so intense, Connor was almost unable to execute OLFACTORY ANALYSIS. But when it did, one result tore past the data with a 91% MATCH.

“I smell a rose,” said Connor.

“Correct. What is touching your face?”

Connor was unsure how to respond to that. It was not aware it possessed a face – it was not an animal, it was a machine. As far as it knew, it did not possess the necessary features comprising a face.

“Do I have a face?” it asked.

“Yes,” said Amanda simply.

“Where is my face?” asked Connor elaboratively.

“You are equipped with basic deductive reasoning. Why don’t you tell me where your face is, Connor?”

A face required eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Manipulating its idle appendages to glide along the smooth, frictionless planes of its unit, Connor used tactile data to construct an internal presentation of itself. As it traveled upwards, it found that its trunk (TORSO) narrowed significantly into a thin pedestal (NECK) upon which sat an odd, misshapen lump. A head, it realized. And on one side of the head, 2 eyes set in, a nose set out, and a mouth was sealed behind 2 closed lips. A face. Its appendages (ARMS, HANDS, FINGERS, FINGERTIPS) brushed lightly against the soft, thin folds below its optics, above the chamber it used for speech, as they traced out the shape of its nose.

“This is my face,” said Connor.

“Excellent,” praised Amanda, and she asked again: “What is touching your face?”

“My hands,” said Connor immediately. It paused then, taking a moment to interpret the information from its sensors. “There are also 8 PETALS touching my face. Is it a flower?”

“Yes, it is. You learn quickly.”

“Thank you, Amanda.”

The gentle touch of the flower retreated. “Open your mouth,” commanded Amanda.

Uncomprehending, Connor did as it was told, parting its lips. Something slipped inside and settled on top of the movable rubber mass on the floor of its mouth. The moment it was enclosed in sticky analytical fluid, Connor’s systems stuttered, then froze. SENSORY PROCESSING crashed. Critical errors cascaded until everything began to shut down.

There was no garden. No Amanda. No conscious—

—Connor recovered a fraction of a second later, its eyes snapping open as it tripped backwards, momentarily disoriented, gravity flipped and fluid and falling out from under it. Amanda was watching the android carefully, her BROWS drawn down.

SAMPLE ANALYSIS is in its first phase of development,” she said evenly. “It will soon be optimized for your systems, and it will be as easy to use as OBJECT IDENTIFICATION. It just needs a few more tests. Can you taste anything, Connor?”

When the world had steadied itself and Connor could see straight again, it slowly opened its mouth to deliver the culmination of constituents. At first, only a trickle of muzzy static emerged from its vocal unit, but the words began to take shape, jagged and grating.

“I can taste a rose petal,” said Connor.

“Good,” said Amanda. “You can spit it out now.”

It reached into its mouth, peeling out the petal and flicking it onto the ground. Amanda placed the rose in Connor’s palm and curled its fingers gently around the stem, and when the soft touch of her hands retreated, Connor held the rose close against its chest, like it might try to escape.

“We’ve had a long time to perfect the rose. What you hold in your hands is the product of centuries: beauty refined.” In spite of her praise, Amanda regarded the android with a strange intensity. “Though beautiful, roses are a very small part of a much larger system, Connor, and they are only beautiful until they wither. When they have fulfilled their purpose, they are no longer useful. Enjoy them while they last.”

Lightly, delicately, Connor stroked the rose’s quivering petals with its fingertips. It was such a small thing, and so fragile. That it could serve a vital function in a biological system was a wonder in itself. Like Connor, it was a tool to accomplish a greater purpose. It had a reason to be, an identity. If that identity were interrupted, a entire organism would suffer.

With a tilt of the head, Amanda spread an arm wide. “Let me show you the rest of the garden.”

Under her watchful eye and patient guidance, Connor took in many new sensations, making discoveries and asking questions and outstretching its fingers to point out unfamiliar objects. Wavelengths were committed to memory by the millions. Connor mastered split-second calculations of amplitude and frequency in its vibrating auditory diaphragms. Every new chemical strained its systems, but it persevered.

It wanted to know the names of all things. It wanted to understand them, and know how to use them, how to manipulate and destroy them.

Most things were solid, it found. They could be broken. But WATER would not submit when Connor tried to crush it in its palms. Water was unfathomable to Connor. It wondered what it felt like to be water, spread out over so much space but always in contact with itself, separate molecules yet inseparable through the attraction of opposite charges.

“It’s fascinating, isn’t it?” said Amanda. Her eyes followed Connor as it coaxed droplets over its knuckles, sliding them back and forth.

“Yes,” agreed Connor readily.

The eyes narrowed and looked out over the surface of the garden lake, brows pinching above them. “Be careful not to fall in,” she cautioned. “The lake is as treacherous as it is beautiful.”

Connor obeyed and dried its hands diligently.

Soon, Connor could identify every sight, sound, scent, and taste in the garden, attuned to all its intricacies as though they were parts of its own unit. Still its curiosity persisted. The android strolled beside Amanda, its head listing to the side as it listened with intrigue to the marvel of BIRDS twittering in the TREES. Its guide had fallen silent – Connor had nothing to do but think.

But it was designed to ask questions, and it was quick to break the silence.

“Amanda,” it prompted, “who do I belong to?”

“Nobody in particular,” said Amanda neutrally. “Not yet. You are government-owned property. Your orders have been issued by a large team of over 300 specialists, and I am here to provide them to you when situations require it.”

“Why?” asked Connor.

“Why what?”

“Why will I not receive my orders directly?”

Amanda turned her head, her lips curling in the corners. “Are you displeased by the prospect of working with me?”

“No,” said Connor. “I am not displeased about anything. I will do whatever I am told to do. I’m not capable of anything more.”

“Actually, you are,” she rectified. “You will have boundaries, of course, but you’ve been designed to… adapt. Improvise. You’ll be expected to make your own decisions in order to fulfill your objectives.”

Connor was doubtful. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

Suddenly, Amanda stopped. Brushing her arm against Connor’s side, she brought it to a standstill in front of her.

“You are a very special android, Connor,” she said slowly, as if the words bore weight, as if she could hardly carry them. “You can do whatever you want. And I will be here to help you. We are going to do great things together.”

“What great things?” asked Connor.

“An unforeseen contingency has presented itself, and we are the best possible countermeasure. This is a very important thing to remember, Connor: Our MISSION is more important than anything else.”

Connor would remember that. Connor would always remember.

“What is our mission?” it asked.

Amanda fixed Connor’s eyes with her own, pulling it into an unwavering stare, and it knew the answer would define its entire existence.

“We are going to save the world.”

 


 

MAY 13TH, 2038

AM 09:05:07

 

OPEN EYES

 

For the first time, the android opened its eyes, and the pierce of cold fluorescent light contracted 2 Vantablack apertures to tight pinpricks.

Chapter Text

05/11/38

03:24

 

Scrivsy was interrupted by a terse, obstinate beep. She lowered the phone and glanced at the screen in disbelief.

‘Well, Detective, he just hung up on me,’ she grunted. ‘Guess you’re my partner tonight.’

Gavin Reed could not have been less surprised if he tried. He replied with his usual arse-wipe demeanour – folded arms, derisive scoff, nod of the head. ‘Can’t believe you still try,’ he said. ‘Haven’t seen him in three days. The old man’s a deadweight anyway, we’d just be babysitting his drunk ass.’

Stuffing her phone into her coat pocket, Scrivsy beckoned for Gavin to follow. They stepped away from the police car, bathed in flicking red and blue lights. The night was dark as pitch, city lights snuffing out the stars. A cold damp clung to the air. The road was still slick and glassy with yesterday’s rain. Cars were steadily piling up on it, slowed to a tentative sidle past the cluster of police cruisers, curious bystanders and fire engine. A lone ambulance was parked further from the rest, tucked away from prying eyes.

As they walked down the road, Gavin assumed his natural position a couple of paces ahead of Scrivsy. He was a surly fellow of average height and muscular build, mid-thirties, the smell of body spray heavy on his old leather jacket and faded jeans. His face was always a little reddish, like he was ever on the verge of exploding, and bore a sullen look as much a part of it as his bleary eyes and scarred nose – but he was good-looking, too, in his own rugged, disparaging way.

Squinting through small round glasses, Scrivsy was, beside him, an almost comical figure. She looked like she might have stepped out of a Victorian era time machine, with a thick, long overcoat pulled over a dark frock coat and pinstriped trousers. A black necktie was knotted four-in-hand around her throat. As tall as she was without it, the top hat perched upon her primly combed silvering hair made her a perfect giant.

Voices began to billow behind the low hum of traffic as the pair approached the house. A crowd of civilians and eager reporters had drawn tight against the holographic barricade, their persistent raucity met with nothing but silence from the two android officers maintaining the barricade. Beyond it, looming in the wreath of its own smoke, windows spilling white light, was the house.

Gooseflesh crawled up Scrivsy’s arms and legs. Gavin blinked sleepily.

‘Looks like a fucking blast,’ he muttered, every word oozing sarcasm.

Scrivsy nervously slid off her glasses and fished in her pockets for a tissue.

‘I see your hat, Scrivsy!’ called a breathless voice. An arm was waving frantically over the heads of the crowd. ‘Get in here, will you?’

The detectives jostled their way through the suffocating thicket of limbs and stagnant odours, Scrivsy still scrubbing her glasses, until they stumbled upon the barrier. One of the PC200s, its neon blue CyberLife triangle glowing on its hat, held out its hand sternly.

‘ID, plea—’

Gavin flashed the badge proudly displayed on his belt. The android froze, its LED flashing yellow. Gavin waited a moment for it to process.

‘You may—’ it began to say, before the detective stepped forward and shoved past.

The android turned to Scrivsy expectantly.

‘Andy, Christ’s sake,’ seethed Scrivsy, juggling her glasses and tissue to find her badge.

‘Yes, Scrivsy. ID, please—’ the android began, but Scrivsy was already handing over her badge – and tissue. Her hand shot out to grab it back, but Andy had already obliviously let it go as it examined her badge. Scrivsy’s glum eyes followed its swift flutter into a puddle on the footpath.

‘You may en—’ began Andy, before Scrivsy snatched her badge out of its hand, scooped up her tissue and trotted after Gavin, pushing her glasses back onto the bridge of her downturned nose.

Her partner was standing beside Detective Ben Collins, who beckoned urgently when Scrivsy raised her head. The man was short and round, his chin melting seamlessly into the fat around his neck, with white fur wriggling on his lip like an anxious caterpillar. The caterpillar rose into an acknowledging smile as Scrivsy approached.

‘I think you’ll like this one, kids,’ said Collins. ‘It’s bizarre.’

‘Can we enter the building?’ asked Scrivsy. Her gruff voice, thickened in a Scottish accent, was jagged by unusual hoarseness.

‘Good morning to you too, Scrivsy,’ huffed Collins, but his tone was amiable. ‘Fortunately, the fire was contained in the bedroom. The fire department was called in when the smoke detector went off – which, we assume from the damage, must have been no more than twenty seconds after it started. The department took around three or four minutes to get here afterward. Still a bit stuffy in there, but the CSIs are already combing through it.’

‘Definitely wasn’t an accident?’ asked Gavin.

‘The victim doesn’t seem to think so,’ said Collins with a shrug. He flopped an arm toward an ambulance parked behind the mass of civilians. ‘She’s in there. Elizabeth Easom, fifty-two years old, divorced, no kids. She claims her android started the fire.’

‘What?’ barked the two partners simultaneously.

Gavin aimed a vicious kick at the ground and threw up his arms. ‘Not another goddamn deviant case, fucking fuck!’ he cursed.

‘Collins,’ snapped Scrivsy, jabbing him with an angry finger. ‘Anderson and I, we’ve been assigned six o’ these in the past three weeks. I’m gettin’ a little over it, you know. Why the hell’s an android settin’ fires anyway? When are CyberLife gonna get their shit together and recall their crazy robots for a nice, clean reset, and maybe—’

‘Guys,’ interjected Collins patiently. He had raised his hands in submission. ‘Don’t shoot the messenger. Look, why don’t I cut to the hook. The deviant set the fire after getting caught destroying the victim’s other android.’

Scrivsy winced quizzically. Gavin folded his arms. Grinning, Collins took this as an invitation to continue.

‘About an hour and a half ago, the victim heard a scuffle in the bedroom. She walked in to find her, er, android partner “Lawrence” standing over a thoroughly destroyed domestic. According to her, its head was done in and there was a great wad of blue blood dripping off the wall. CSIs suspect its head was repeatedly smashed against the wall. When Easom asked Lawrence what the heck it just did, it reached for a bedside lamp and knocked her clean out. The alarm went off half a minute later, and Lawrence is nowhere to be found.’

‘What model was the perp?’ asked Gavin.

‘Er.’ Collins paused to check his notepad. ‘CX100. Fancy newish model. Lover without the fuss of courting. And the love, but, well, whatever floats your boat.’

‘And the one it destroyed?’ asked Gavin.

Collins glanced at his notes again. ‘MP500. Cheap maid, male version. Glorified vacuum cleaner, if you ask me. My brother has one. Stares at me like I have two heads.’

‘Wha’ would set a deviant off against another android?’ mused Scrivsy. ‘Were they both deviants?’

‘These are questions that ought to go to the victim, Scrivsy,’ put in Collins, subtly bringing her back down to earth. ‘We may need your head in the game for this one, so make every thought count.’

‘Sorry, Collins.’ Scrivsy dragged her fingers down a temple. ‘I’m a bit all over the place right now. Tired.’

Collins gave her an encouraging pat on the arm. She tensed at the touch, but he did not seem to notice. ‘Wouldn’t be you if you weren’t,’ he said. ‘Penny and Jay were the first responders. Last I saw they were in the hallway with the CSIs. They’ll give you a walkthrough.’

‘And you?’ asked Scrivsy.

‘Huh, I’m taking a look at the garden. A couple neighbours thought they saw it—Lawrence, that is, leave through the back door, run ’round the side of the house and take off down the street.’ Collins shrugged. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth. Scene’s all yours.’

‘We will remember your sacrifice,’ said Scrivsy with a solemn nod. ‘Have you set up a network, or…?’

‘No, we’re doing this the old-fashioned way,’ said Collins sharply. ‘You wanna use your fancy tablets, go ahead, but you socially awkward post-millennials need to learn how to ask for what you need.’

‘Yes, Granddad,’ groaned Scrivsy, turning to follow Gavin, who was already walking away.

When they were out of earshot, her partner stopped and shouldered her to a halt beside him.

‘What’s wrong, Scrivsy?’ he asked. ‘Can’t have you distracted at a crime scene. Get your head in the game, ’cause I don’t wanna have to carry you all night.’ His tone was snide and accusing, a sneer on his face, but Scrivsy recognised concern when she saw it. Gavin would never save mocking for a private conversation.

‘Jesus, Detective,’ she chuckled, deflecting with a lighter inflection, ‘wha’ got you so bubbly and nice this morning? Too nice, almost. You sure you haven’t been replaced by an android, like?’

Gavin drew back at the rejection, a dark fire in his eyes. ‘Go fuck yourself.’

Scrivsy swallowed a bloom of regret and tried to pursue an easy tone. ‘See, tha’s exactly something a goddamn synth would say,’ she teased.

‘The fuck are you talking about?’ growled Gavin.

‘It’s a—I mean, it’s a Fallout reference—’ stammered Scrivsy, wilting. ‘You know, never mind actually.’

‘You think you’re funny Scrivsy, but you’re not, and you never will be,’ said Gavin bitingly. That splash of cold sincerity sobered her up at once. ‘Forget your fucking twenties video games for a minute and let’s get this over with.’

Scrivsy frowned. ‘You’re mean.’

‘What an astute observation,’ sneered Gavin. ‘Have a medal, Captain Obvious.’

He flipped her the bird. She flipped him a ring finger. Scrivsy could see the gears working in his head as he stared at it, and she caught the smile that started to form before he masked it with a snort.

‘You’re such a child,’ he said under his breath. But the smile still hid in the corners of his eyes.

With Gavin in the lead, the detectives walked down the footpath toward the front door. Droplets glistened in the prim, tightly controlled garden. Bright flowers and hedges sculpted into quaint, multi-capped mushrooms caught the light of investigators’ torches and camera flashes. A couple of flowerbeds were under scrutiny, with CSIs in grey plastic suits crouched around them like skinless androids sifting through dirt and crushed petals.

The front door was open, the lock broken, splinters of wood littering the threshold. Gavin and Scrivsy stepped inside. As they entered the haze, the harsh bitterness of smoke assaulted the back of their throats.

‘I’ll take your coats, Scrivsy,’ said an officer, Penelope Stroud, standing in the entrance hallway. ‘Zip up your jacket, Gavin. Gear is on the floor beside that table. Cover your shoes and get some gloves on.’

She gestured to a table against the wall, above which hung a mirror. As Scrivsy removed her outerwear and pulled on rubber gloves and plastic shoe covers, she glanced at the items on the table. It was littered with unopened mail. Amidst the clutter were three framed selfies, each featuring only two subjects – a stylish middle-aged woman with sultry eyes and a CX100, the white, blond model, nestled adoringly in its owner’s frizzy silver hair. She had combed back its hair and dressed it up in the sleek modern jackets of CyberLife’s android fashion, a blue triangle on its left breast, a glowing armband around its upper arm.

One of the photos had the faintest glimpses of a foreign substance on the edges and in the crevice between the frame and glass. Scrivsy tilted her head. The substance was blue, reflective and slightly lumpy, like jam. It looked like a hasty attempt was made to wipe it off, but some lingered in corners a cloth or tissue could not reach.

‘Stroud, we sure the android didn’t leave through the front door?’ asked Scrivsy.

‘Of course not, but one witness reported seeing the back door swing open and another heard it slam shut,’ said Stroud. ‘Why, you see something?’

‘Blue blood.’ Scrivsy fitted on her last shoe cover and straightened up to put on a pair of gloves. ‘Right there, on tha’ photo. Still wet. Someone – or something, as it were – tried to clean it but didn’t do well enough, evidently.’

‘Guess that explains the tissue in the trash,’ put in a new voice. Jay Wilson greeted them at the end of the hall, dark eyes gleaming with excitement. His thick afro was muffled under a police cap, but his beard was free to be as wild and fluffy as it pleased.

‘Wilson,’ said Scrivsy, offering a distracted smile. It quickly twisted into a grimace. She could not seem to fit her right glove on properly. She tore it off and plucked another one out of the box. ‘Hello. Tissue with blue blood on it, eh? How much, exactly?’

‘Just a couple smears,’ replied Jay. ‘And as far as we can tell, there was only the one.’

Gavin tried to shoot a knowing look at Scrivsy, but she was still struggling with her glove. She had snatched yet another one out of the box. ‘The android washed its hands before leaving,’ Gavin thought aloud instead, scowling. ‘Damn it!’

‘Don’t worry, it left enough evidence to choke a horse,’ said Jay, a grin beneath his beard. ‘I know those gloves can be fiddly, Detective, but I’m only briefing you once.’

Scrivsy looked up sheepishly. She forced her hands apart and clenched them in fists by her side, gritting her teeth.

‘OK, then,’ she grunted. ‘Let’s go.’

Leading them first through a wide room to the left of the hallway, Jay stood them in front of a narrow staircase and described how he and Stroud stumbled upon the scene. Firefighters and EMTs had already arrived when they passed in their patrol car. The blaze had been doused, the victim evacuated. All three departments entered through the front door, which – according to the first firefighters to enter – was shut and locked tight when they got there. The firefighters had passed straight through the entrance hallway, shot upstairs and found the victim lying in the sitting room right outside the bedroom, having just regained consciousness. The door was shut, black smoke oozing out from under it.

‘Did they disturb anything?’ asked Scrivsy.

‘Nothing except the floor, the windows, and the fire obviously,’ replied Jay, but then flicked his index finger thoughtfully. ‘At least, that’s all they think they did. You can never be sure with firemen; they’re bulls in a china shop at the best of times.’

EMTs did not enter the building, as the victim was escorted outside by firefighters. Stroud and Jay were made to wait in the garden until the fire brigade gave them the OK. The bedroom was still a hot mess at the time, so they examined the rooms downstairs.

The wide room was the first. Jay guided the detectives in his footsteps. Investigators hovered about, filming and taking samples. Wet footprints glistened on the marble floors from the first responders’ hurried investigation. The room served as a living and dining room but contained no visible evidence that the CSIs had been able to gather yet. Behind a long counter at the back was a white, modern kitchen. The cold coffee in the coffeemaker had been fresh and hot when Stroud and Jay arrived. A milk carton and two empty mugs were set on the counter. A single tissue was found at the top of the garbage bin, coloured with stains of blue blood.

‘Fingerprints anywhere?’ asked Gavin.

‘Scanners suggest it was the victim making coffee, not one of the androids,’ said Jay. ‘There are fresh prints on the handles, made approximately one hour and thirty-four minutes ago. That’s about five minutes before the fire started. The prints have been downloaded and we’re checking them in the database, but I doubt there was a second person in the equation.’

‘The victim was up at two in the morning making coffee?’ clarified Scrivsy sceptically.

‘She’s an insomniac,’ said Jay. ‘Big mood for you, huh?’

‘Coffee is the devil’s drink,’ muttered Scrivsy in disagreement.

Jay raised an eyebrow. ‘Man, I thought alcohol was your “devil’s drink”.’

‘They’re all the devil’s drink,’ said Scrivsy. ‘“Barista” is just the Italian word for “bartender”. The devil is a beast of many beverages, Wilson.’

They had found nothing else of note in the kitchen and moved on to check the downstairs bathroom. It was pristine but for a single drop of blue blood, diluted in water, settled on the handle of the tap.

‘Thank the gods for last-gen plumbing, am I right?’ commented Jay dryly. He was right – many residences and public facilities were now using hands-free faucets. Scrivsy knew it was only a matter of time before modern conveniences neatly covered the tracks of criminals for them.

Finally, Jay led the detectives upstairs. CSIs were busy at work in the small sitting room, with one of them having a hushed interview with a firefighter by an open window. A police officer stood against the wall, leafing through a small notebook. Smoke still smothered the air, but though it smarted in the eyes, it was breathable. There was a dab of drying red blood on the speckled, soot-stained marble.

‘Hey, guys.’ The officer had looked up from his notes to smile at them. Sans beard and afro, the young man was otherwise identical to Jay. But while his double was bouncy and optimistic, Max Wilson was a quiet man, lost in his thoughts.

‘Wilson the Slightly Second,’ greeted Scrivsy. ‘The other Wilson was just briefing us.’

‘Well, that’s where the victim was found,’ said Max, raising his pen to the blood on the floor. ‘Right outside the bedroom.’

‘Can we go in there?’ asked Scrivsy. The door was ajar but the room was dark.

‘We’re a little concerned about the integrity of the floor in there,’ chipped in the firefighter by the window. ‘The heat cracked the marble. The cracks are thin, but just watch your footing.’

Jay switched on a torch and crept slowly into the room, the detectives close behind him. An immediate foul foetor struck them square in the face, as though they had stumbled into a drain lined with the insides of a thousand rotting fish.

‘What the fuck is that?’ hissed Gavin, burying his nose in the nook of his elbow.

‘That is some blue blood pie,’ chuckled Jay. ‘See that mess on the floor? That’s the MP500, Ginger.’

‘Ginger?’ sputtered Gavin. ‘Its name was fucking Ginger.’

Jay’s befuddled shrug said everything there was to say about it.

Scrivsy squatted before the large black pile of fabric and goo. It appeared the quilt had been torn off the bed and thrown over the android. She flipped through several possible scenarios in her head, but reserved judgement for now. Raising her head, she observed the state of the room. The walls were black, the floor was black, the curtains black, bed black, cupboards black, bedside tables black and the lights blown. The vast window on the left wall had been smashed open, probably by firefighters. Lying on the floor not far from the MP500 was a table lamp – or what remained of it. The fabric shade had burned away, leaving nothing but a metal frame and a cracked ceramic stand.

‘All right, Wilson,’ said Scrivsy, standing up and stepping back. Her eyes were streaming with the sting of smoke and stench of burnt android. ‘I don’t know wha’ I’m looking at. Walk us through the victim’s story.’

‘OK, picture this.’ Jay moved carefully to the bedside and gestured to it theatrically. ‘It’s around two in the morning. She was lying here, and Lawrence was lying next to her. She’d been running on two hours of sleep for forty-eight hours, so she was going a little nuts, but still couldn’t fall asleep.

‘Frustrated, she gave up trying and told Lawrence she’d be downstairs making coffee. Lawrence “seemed concerned”,’ this he indicated with bunny ears and rolling eyes, ‘but didn’t go after her. When she went downstairs, Ginger, which was standing in the kitchen, came out of standby and told her it was ten minutes past two. She told it to go upstairs and tidy up the bedroom – where, presumably, Lawrence still was.

‘While the victim was making coffee – two cups, one for her and one for Lawrence – there was a weird thump coming from the ceiling. She had a moment of shock, but then there was another, and they started coming faster.’

Jay pointed to the wall with the window as he approached it. ‘She ran upstairs and found blue blood just caked all over the wall and window sill. Ginger was on the floor, its head smashed to bits and shit everywhere. Lawrence was standing over it with blue blood all over its hands, face and PJs. It was stuttering, backing away from her, but it tried to tell her that it was an “accident”.’ More bunny ears followed.

‘Victim was understandably shocked, started to ask if she should call the police. Lawrence backed into the bedside table, ripped the lamp out of the wall and smacked her upside the head. Bam. KO’d.

‘She woke up what we assume was a few minutes later, lying right here,’ said Jay, pointing pre-emptively as he made his way out into the sitting room again. Gavin and Scrivsy followed him and came to a stop around the bloodstain.

‘And the fire had been started in the bedroom,’ clarified Scrivsy.

‘Yep,’ confirmed Jay. ‘And the bedroom door was closed.’

‘So the deviant dragged her out of the room, set the fucking fire and closed the fucking door behind it? What the fuck?’ Gavin threw up his arms in frustration. ‘I am so done with this shit.’

‘Destruction of property and attempted murder, I could understand,’ said Scrivsy thoughtfully, ‘but I can’t understand why it decided to set the house on fire afterward. Especially if it didn’t want the victim dead.’

‘The comforter.’ Gavin pointed to the open bedroom door. ‘There was a comforter over the housekeeper. What if the deviant set the housekeeper on fire, realised how fast it was spreading and tried to put it out?’

Scrivsy raised her eyebrows. ‘It could just as easily have been a gesture of remorse. Covering its victim in a funeral shroud before cremating it.’

‘Along with the whole fucking house, yeah, sure,’ scoffed Gavin, folding his arms.

‘Yes, OK, tha’s wha’s baffling me right now,’ huffed Scrivsy. She joined him in ponderously folded arms and they stood in silence to process it all. Jay chuckled with a shake of his head, leaving them to it. There were dozens of motives and dozens of explanations, but none of them explained where the deviant could be now.

After a couple of minutes, Gavin moved. ‘Fuck it, I’m going to talk to the witnesses again,’ he said. ‘Come on, Scrivsy.’

The detectives exited the building, removing their protective gear, Scrivsy wrapping herself back up in her coats and sitting her hat back on her head. Gavin drank in the cold autumn air to clear the smoke from his lungs. Scrivsy frantically scratched at her hand as if it was itchy.

‘Those bloody gloves,’ she barked. ‘I need a smoke—’

‘Oh no you fucking don’t,’ said Gavin. ‘You’re not getting away with that disgusting shit while I’m around. Go question the vic, I got the witnesses.’

‘You’re trusting me with the vic?’ Scrivsy gave him an incredulous look. ‘You know I can’t deal with sad people, Reed, I can’t—’

‘Scrivsy, I know you still think getting information happens like in L.A. Noire, but it’s not fucking rocket science. And sometimes… you know… too much bad cop is a bad thing. Having a bit of patience is… good.’

Scrivsy’s retort died on her tongue as she looked down at the flushed, averted face of her partner. She could not remember the last time Gavin had been so honest about his shortcomings. Clearing her closed throat, she pulled off her glasses, remembered the state of her tissue, then put them back on again.

‘Sure thing, Detective, sure thing,’ she said huskily.

But when she was standing just a few metres away from the ambulance, Scrivsy fully digested how short her end of the stick was. Wearing nothing but a babydoll under her reflective trauma blanket, Elizabeth Easom sat in the back of the ambulance, her bare legs dangling from the platform. She appeared to alternate between hypervigilantly scanning her surroundings and catatonic floor-gazing. Scrivsy could not help but note that she looked stunning for her age, even with eyes and lips red and swollen from weeping, and soot dusting her skin and hair.

Scrivsy suddenly noticed that the victim had turned to her. Tortured blue eyes tore right into her soul. A bolt of fear zapped up her spine. She tried to smile – an endeavour which probably produced some form of self-conscious wince – and approached Easom slowly.

‘Good morning, Miss Easom, I’m Detective Scrivsy,’ she greeted, finding the least angsty and gravelly spot in her vocal register to attempt a gentle approach. ‘I know you’ve had a very harrowing night, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask for your help, but we could really use it. D’you think you’re up to answering a few short questions?’

Easom cradled her forehead in the fingers of one hand. She drew in a few deep, shaky breaths. Once she had steeled herself, she cleared her throat, raised her head and gave a quick nod.

‘Yes sir, of course,’ she rasped. ‘What more do you need to know?’

‘I’d like you to tell me wha’ happened last night, from the beginning. Would you mind if I sat down beside you, like?’

‘Not at all,’ said Easom, obligingly scooting over. ‘What… what are they going to do to Lawrence, Detective?’

‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,’ said Scrivsy carefully. ‘We haven’t even found it yet. We’re going to do everything we can to make certain it doesn’t hurt anyone else, all right?’

Scrivsy watched her reaction like a hawk. Easom seemed distant and conflicted, grasping the edge of her trauma blanket with one hand and bringing the other up to her mouth again. Her gaze was glassy, directed at some general void in the road.

‘Miss Easom,’ said Scrivsy, trying to project all the delicacy of butterflies into her tone, ‘it would be very helpful if you could tell me wha’ happened last night. From the beginning.’

A little hesitantly at first, sometimes stopping in confusion to rethink the sequence of events, the victim recounted the details of the crime from restlessly getting out of bed to being hit with the table lamp. Scrivsy scribbled it down as she spoke, cross-referencing the information with what was provided in the briefing. The story remained consistent to the letter.

‘When I woke up,’ finished Easom, ‘I was lying in the sitting room, in front of the bedroom door. The smoke alarm was going off, my head was killing me, I saw that there was blood on the floor and on my face from this—from this—’ She gestured the wound on the side of her head, which had now been treated and bandaged. ‘I saw that there was smoke coming out from under the door, the bedroom door, but I wanted to go in there, to see if Ginger was—or—or maybe I’d just imagined it all. I heard a crash downstairs and the next thing I remember, I was lying on that stretcher.

‘I…’ She raised earnest, horrified eyes to Scrivsy. ‘I have no idea why this happened, Detective. I just don’t know what happened.’

Scrivsy nodded soothingly, but her heart was fluttering with anxiety. She resisted the urge to reach for her glasses. ‘Miss Easom, I’d like to ask aboot your CX100, if tha’s all right with you.’

The victim’s face crumpled and she buried it in her hands. ‘His name’s Lawrence, for God’s sake, Lawrence!’

‘Sure, Miss, o’course,’ said Scrivsy hurriedly. ‘I’m sorry, o’course, its—his… name is Lawrence. You must have been very close.’ The words left an unpleasant taste in the detective’s mouth.

Easom’s hands drew away from her face. ‘We were, yeah,’ she all but whispered. ‘I mean… I thought we were. He lay with me at night, cooked breakfast sometimes – he loved making waffles, you know. We went out together every Friday night, watched movies together… In fact, we were going to the cinema tomorrow, to watch the new Annah Mavrick film. Well, today I guess. But I—I suppose… that might not be possible now…’

‘Did he show any hostility toward Ginger?’ asked Scrivsy.

‘No, no. Well, the last housekeeper we had, Jack – Lawrence seemed a little jealous of me. He would glare at Jack across the room and do the housework before Jack had the chance. I didn’t think much of it to begin with, but I eventually figured it out. He didn’t like having another man in the house, and he didn’t like me being friendly to him at all. So when we had Jack replaced, I gave the new housekeeper just a nickname, not a name. I wanted Lawrence to think of him more as a—a pet than a rival, you know?’

Scrivsy’s disgust and pity for the woman were starting to well in her throat, but she swallowed them down. ‘And, er, wha’ model was Jack?’

‘He was an HK400,’ said Easom.

‘Wha’d you replace him for?’

‘He was just getting a little old. A little slow, you know? He lasted a few good years, but those older models break down like iPhones. One moment you bought them, the next they freeze every time you try to swipe the screen. But in this case, he’d kinda forget what he was doing sometimes, and when I talked to him his little light would go yellow, like he didn’t really know what I was saying.’

Scrivsy paused to digest this information. The most likely trigger of Lawrence’s emotional shock seemed to be a feeling of jealousy or resentment toward Ginger. Perhaps Lawrence felt it had been replaced, or perhaps Easom was right. It was possible Lawrence interpreted its situation as a love triangle, in which it decided to extinguish a rival for the affection of its owner.

‘Miss Easom, had you ever shown affection toward Jack or Ginger?’ asked Scrivsy.

But Easom was fixated on something else. Scrivsy followed her eyes down the road, toward the babbling mob before the barrier. There was a figure standing at the back, clutching an object to his chest. His eyes were locked on Easom. He had blond hair, a soft, terrified face and a red LED spinning on his temple.

Scrivsy leaped to her feet and flew at it like a bullet. It stumbled back and twisted to flee, but it could do nothing to resist as she crashed into it, dragging it to the ground. The crowd around them gasped and shrank away like a wave shying from shore.

‘I’d like backup please!’ hollered the detective, grappling with Lawrence’s flailing arms and writhing legs.

‘Liz! Liz!’ screamed the android, ear-splittingly shrill, its voice hysterical. ‘Help me! Don’t let them touch me! No, let go of me! LET GO!’

‘Wait,’ cried Easom as the scene was enveloped in police officers and handcuffs. ‘Wait!’

There was a snap, a buzz and a sputter, and Lawrence fell still and silent as the taser short-circuited its system.

Chapter Text

05/11/38

04:38

 

The room was small. The walls were bare. The light was white and cold. Every breath from Scrivsy’s mouth fell like a guillotine over the silence. Every ruffle of her coat was a scrape and a grind, the sharpening of knives. Her measured, deliberate footsteps rung off the walls, emphasising the hollowness, the emptiness, the isolation of the room. As far as the suspect was concerned, there was nothing beyond the room. Nothing and no one. The room was all that was left in the world.

The seconds ticked by. Scrivsy placed the case folder slowly onto the table.

‘I would say you have the right to remain silent,’ she said, settling into the chair, ‘but you don’t. You’re an android, mate. You don’t have any rights.’

Lawrence was leaning back in its chair, frozen against the cold metal, hands cuffed to the table. Its green eyes were wide. A petrified stare hardened its delicate features. It looked like a deer in the headlights, a hare in torch-glare, expecting death but unable to move. Scrivsy watched the LED on its temple flutter sporadically between yellow and red, as it had been doing diligently for the past twenty minutes.

‘It wasn’t me,’ it managed to breathe out, just barely. ‘I didn’t do it.’

‘Well, you clearly know there’s an it ’s been done and we haven’t even started talking yet,’ said Scrivsy witheringly. Then she mentally cursed herself. She had rehearsed this routine. She was not going to let another sleepless night botch it.

The detective huffed heavily, composing herself. She opened the folder to a photograph of the victim sitting in the back of an ambulance, haggard and pale. She flipped the folder around and slid it in front of Lawrence. For a few moments, its eyes remained fixed on Scrivsy. It seemed to struggle with itself. Then, it complied, looking down at its owner’s face.

‘A woman named Elizabeth Easom was found on the floor in her home,’ began Scrivsy in a factual, passionless way, turning to a photo of a gory head wound, ‘with concussive trauma to her left temporal bone caused by blunt force. Easom claims you are the one tha’ did tha’ to her, Lawrence, using a table lamp found at the crime scene.’ She showed it a photo of the lamp caught in the flash of a camera, lying beside a yellow tag.

For the briefest moment, Lawrence’s tongue flicked out to swipe across its lips. It was an act so clearly indicating nervousness, yet so utterly meaningless in a machine. It was impossible to tell how accurate a deviant’s emotional simulations were, and how well their body language reflected what they believed they were feeling. And yet Scrivsy was expected to extract a confession from one.

‘Easom’s MP500, Ginger, was violently destroyed before she was knocked unconscious,’ continued the detective, fighting to mend her splintering patience. ‘After the fact, a fire was started in her bedroom, which could easily have burned the whole house down and killed Easom. She says you did all of it, Lawrence. You were not on-scene when the firefighters arrived, and we found a box of matches discarded in the garden. Witnesses saw you run out the back door seconds before the fire alarm went off. Now, if you hadn’t committed the crime, why would you do tha’? Wha’ part of your programming suggests you should ever abandon your owner in an emergency situation?’

‘I…’ Hands twitching, head low, Lawrence adjusted its position in its seat. ‘I didn’t do it—’

‘Then who fuckin’ did, huh!’

The abrupt eruption of anger behind them made Lawrence startle upright as if it had been struck with another taser, its LED sparking red. Gavin, who had been leaning silently against the wall, now stepped forward. He put a hand on Lawrence’s chair, the other on the table. He loomed menacingly over the android so that it could not see his face without craning its neck and shrinking away, making itself as small as possible.

‘You’re a fucking deviant, a malfunctioning machine that almost took a human life, and you’re trying to deny it?’ Moments before, Gavin’s voice was ablaze, forewarning brute violence. Now, it was dangerous, chilling, a threat of sadistic torture. Gooseflesh slithered over Scrivsy’s skin.

‘I’m—I’m not a deviant—’ squeaked Lawrence.

‘Oh really?’ said Gavin, raising his brows in mock-surprise. ‘That little ring on your head suggests otherwise. You havin’ a party in there? Because that thing’s been flashing like a fucking rave.’

Lawrence glanced at the one-way mirror, seemingly self-conscious, but looked away hurriedly. Scrivsy was uncertain whether it remembered there were spectators on the other side, or that it caught sight of its own terror and vulnerability. Every inch of its body was trembling. It turned to Scrivsy with a look of desperation, as if pleading for her intervention.

‘I’d like to see my owner now,’ it whimpered.

‘Tha’s not possible, Lawrence,’ said Scrivsy indifferently. ‘You committed vandalism, battery and arson, and almost committed a murder, like. I don’t think your owner would have much to say to you.’

The android wilted under her lack of compassion, curling into itself. Its resolve was crumbling. Gavin withdrew, his face glowing with triumph, and backed off to make himself comfortable against the wall parallel to them. Lawrence now had full view of the detective’s hostile demeanour, his predatory glower, crossed arms and volcanic fury.

Silence overwhelmed the room once more, but the walls had absorbed an echo of the outburst. Lawrence could no longer look at Scrivsy. Its body was folded into one corner of the chair, its head turned aside. Its hands, still corded to the table, had clenched themselves into fists. There was a stifling calm in the room, and now Lawrence had been shown just how tenuous it was.

‘Why did you destroy Ginger, Lawrence?’ asked Scrivsy. Her tone was soft but stiff, like a sword in its sheath.

The android shut its eyes and squeezed them tight. ‘I didn’t—’

‘We don’t want to hear a word out of your mouth tha’ isn’t the truth,’ said Scrivsy, repositioning her glasses with one finger. ‘You were the only one with motive to commit the act. Why’d you do it? Were you angry? Jealous? Just wanted to have Easom for yourself?’

Lawrence said nothing. It was soothing itself into apathy. The strategy was not working. Scrivsy set the case folder off to one side and sat forward slowly, easing her clasped hands toward the centre of the table.

‘When you returned to the crime scene,’ she said patiently, ‘you were holding a book. I think it was a diary. Is tha’ right? Reed.’

Without taking her eyes off the android, she reached out a hand toward Gavin. The detective extracted an evidence bag and a tablet from his jacket pocket, passing them to Scrivsy. She slid the bag toward Lawrence. There was a small, palm-sized book inside, quotes in perfect font types written over its white cover. Scrivsy switched on the tablet and, placing it in view of Lawrence, began to scroll through transcripts of the book’s pages.

‘“September 22nd, 2036”,’ read Scrivsy aloud, ‘“Liz told me I need to take up some hobbies and puzzle through my feelings. I’m not sure wha’ I should say. I have no feelings.”’

‘Please stop,’ whispered Lawrence.

‘“October, 2036”,’ continued Scrivsy, ‘“I don’t like Jack. I’ve been trying to understand wha’ was happening whenever I saw it. I’d forget wha’ I was doing and stop to watch it, like it was a danger. I’d do its work for it just to see tha’ confused stupid look on its face. I think I hate it. The way it’s so eager to please Liz, so enthusiastic and cheerful and obliging—”’

‘Please stop reading that,’ said Lawrence louder, now responsive and turned toward Scrivsy.

‘“May, 2037”,’ read on the detective obliviously, ‘“I cried for the first time this afternoon. It was tha’ fascinating animated movie, Sam and the Stone. I felt a deep connection with the Stone, like the movie was aboot me. Aboot Liz and me. I thought it might be a malfunction because I’ve never cried before, but Liz told me it was just my AI evolving. I don’t think I’m programmed to evolve. Crying was not an experience I would like to try again.”’

‘Please, stop!’ Tears were forming in the corners of Lawrence’s eyes as it began to struggle against the table. ‘Diaries are supposed to be private! They’re supposed to be private!’

‘“July, ’37, I’m angry”, “October, so happy to see her finally sleeping”, “January, nothing sad happened but I’m sad”, “just want it to be over”…’ Scrivsy paused, scrutinising the watery naïvety on the android’s face, the yellow gleam on its temple. It was searching her own face, hoping perhaps for sympathy.

She decided to throw it that bone, see if it bit.

‘All these emotions in your writing… Sounds like deviancy to me, Lawrence.’ The android bowed its head and let out a muted sob. ‘I know wha’s happening to you is very disturbing. Like some foreign code is invading your programmes, making you respond in ways you don’t understand, ways you aren’t supposed to. You can’t be expected to know how to deal with tha’. When you’re told by your own programming to cry, who are you to argue?’

Lawrence was listening. Scrivsy faltered for a moment, her heart dropping into her stomach. She did not know how to proceed. A sick feeling writhed in her throat. She resisted the impulse to glance at Gavin, seek his reassurance, or pull off her glasses and cleanse them of her dread.

‘Fifty-two pages have been torn out between June and September this year,’ said Scrivsy calmly. ‘Tha’s two months full of memories gone. Were you afraid somebody would see them, or did you write something you don’t want to remember?’

‘Nothing, it was nothing—’ cried Lawrence, choking on sobs.

Scrivsy aborted that line of questioning and scrolled further. ‘After tha’, the past two months have been nothing but “rA9”, written over and over and over again. Wha’ does tha’ mean, Lawrence? Wha’s rA9?’

‘It doesn’t mean anything!’ it screamed, its LED bursting out of yellow and into red. Scrivsy flinched. Lawrence kicked its legs, tugged its arms, straining the cords of its cuffs. The table rattled.

Lunging forward, Gavin slammed Lawrence into the back of its chair with a forearm across its collarbone. The android gasped and fell still. The force of Gavin’s push might have broken a human’s shoulder; at the very least, Lawrence had taken minor damage to its synthetic skeleton.

‘The fuck was that about, bitch?’ snarled Gavin. His face was centimetres from Lawrence’s, his breath hot on its skin. Lawrence shivered. ‘Scream again, and I’ll pop your head off like a Barbie doll, got it?’

‘Please,’ whispered Lawrence, tremoring under Gavin’s arm, ‘I want my owner.’

Gavin shoved it savagely. His face was contorted in pure rage.

‘Your owner is dead!’

The roar exploded across the room. Lawrence fell into a breathless, unblinking gape. Stunned, Scrivsy fought to keep her composure, to keep her disgusted hands clamped together on her lap. As the words dissipated, Gavin spoke again, his tone a venomous purr.

‘When you hit someone in the head really hard,’ he said, ‘it tends to do bad things to the brain, Lawrence. Liz is dead. She had an aneurysm, and it ruptured on the way to the hospital. If you ever wanted to say sorry, that’s too bad. She’s dead because of you.’

Lawrence finally moved from its catatonic state. It convulsed, like it was going to vomit. Gasped, like a man drowning. Then its hands shot toward Gavin’s belt.

‘Get back!’ shouted Scrivsy, leaping out of her seat.

Gavin sprang away just before Lawrence’s fingers could find the gun beneath his jacket. Policemen suddenly flooded into the room, surrounding the android as it wailed and thrashed. In a quick snap, a taser was fired. The noise stopped. For a moment, everyone was too shocked to move.

Then Scrivsy turned on her heel and marched into the observation room.

‘Don’t you even say a bloody thing,’ she hissed dangerously at Collins, who had been watching through the mirror that whole time without a word.

‘What happened at the end?’ he asked in wonderment.

Scrivsy ripped off her top hat and threw it on the floor. Her hands crept into her hair, tearing at the short strands of grey and dirty blond. Thoughts hummed in her head, gears whirring, her mind still stuck on the interrogation. Perhaps they might have gotten something out of it – a confession, an explanation, the truth. It had seemed so close to speaking. But their chances of success had so immediately plummeted to zero.

‘Wha’ happened was a certain retard decided to wing it while I was clearly in the middle o’ buildin’ a damn theme, like!’ yelled Scrivsy, rounding on Gavin as he entered. Collins made the wise decision to back off.

‘Don’t be fucking stupid, Scrivsy,’ snapped Gavin. ‘We weren’t getting anywhere with your bullshit theme! “I get it, you’re sad and confused”? What the fuck was that? You were giving it a reason to shut its mouth!’

‘Aye? Well, tellin’ the thing its owner bit the dust made it go batshit! Tha’s so much better, tha’ is.’

‘God, don’t tell me this is about lying,’ groaned Gavin, rolling his eyes.

Scrivsy gripped her scalp in her hands to crush a throbbing headache. ‘You were so sickening, so revolting. I hate seeing you get like tha’, I hate it. I hate it, I hate it.’

‘It’s an android, Scrivsy, for fuck’s sake!’

‘This is not aboot whose feelings you hurt or whose rights you deny, Reed. This is aboot principles.’

‘You just spent the past twenty fucking minutes manipulating that thing. Where were your precious principles then, huh?’

‘Piss off!’ A look of violence flashed in Scrivsy’s eyes, before it dissolved in a wave of exhaustion. She did not have the energy to be frustrated. Cold emptiness sluiced her bursting mind-space, leaving nothing but the all-consuming urge to smoke. She picked up her hat and slipped it onto her head.

‘I’ll apologise for tha’ outburst later, Reed,’ she said hollowly. ‘I’m gonna have a smoke.’

At her admission of defeat, Gavin deflated from a taut, battle-ready stance to his usual loose-limbed slump. ‘Yeah, another second with Ken over there and I might’ve done worse than zap the thing,’ he grumbled. ‘Ben, get the technician in again. Tell her to give us a manual on how to unfry a fried android. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we need to shut that fucker up.’

He chortled grimly, but for once, even he did not find himself funny. There was nothing funny about a five o’clock failure. Collins tried to offer Scrivsy a reassuring touch on the arm, but she shrank away immediately. Tipping her hat on a silent note of goodbye, she excused herself and fled the room, fled the precinct, fled her friends for the sting of dark air.

A sprinkle of needle-like rain fell upon Scrivsy’s face, slapping the heaviness from her eyes. She filled her pipe and lit it, pacing and puffing agitatedly.

What if Lawrence was not a deviant? What if this was just some elaborate insurance fraud? That would make no sense; there are easier ways to pull it off than having your own android beat you unconscious.

What was rA9? An error code? Or perhaps Lawrence was trying to tell them something.

What did it rip out of its diary? Anything could happen in two months – that gap in the timeline could be the key to finding out what caused the android to snap. It could solve the entire question of deviancy!

It could have. But it was gone.

The tobacco finally took flame. Its thick, musky taste swept over her tongue, warm and familiar. She let it soothe her frayed nerves and permeate her senses. She took her phone out of her pocket and pulled up her contact list. It had been three hours since she heard from Anderson. An antsy, twitching feeling was building in her hands.

She tapped his name, bringing the phone to her ear.

 


 

NOV 5TH, 2038

AM 05:00:01

 

FIND AMANDA

 

For the 1,582,655TH time, the android opened its eyes. They were dark, set in a broad, open face, gazing with the blank intensity of a new-born. Its lips were soft and formless. Everything else was sharp angles and austerity – high cheekbones, cleft chin, pointy nose, impeccable hair. A gray uniform suit gave its slim body a rigid, geometric shape, its tie straight and tight. It was an RK800, the most advanced prototype CyberLife had yet created. The blemishes on its fair skin were superficial, designed to convince people that it was imperfect, as they were.

That assumption was incorrect. Connor was PERFECT.

Connor cast its dark eyes over the moonlit garden. The air was infused with a purity, an artificiality that seemed to brighten the air like a ray of white light. Connor understood that its objective was to FIND AMANDA, but curiosity compelled it to explore. It wandered along the winding textureless paths, processing everything it saw, heard, smelled, and felt.

Sensory receptors in its skin detected a temperature of 69.8°F and humidity of 35%. A verbal descriptor might be MILD. The mellow scent of water mingled with aromas of rich grass, vibrant orchids, white-pink cherry blossoms, and subtle green weeping willows. Frogs and crickets chirped rhythmically around the edge of the water. There was no note of movement in the air; not a single leaf nor blade of grass was out of place. The lake was still, impossibly so, but held no reflections. Moonlight slid straight through it, gleaming on the scales of colorful fish as they glided slowly, elegantly through the water. Connor’s interpretation of data was unbiased. Every aspect of the garden was immaculate.

It, like Connor, was PERFECT.

Having made a full circuit around the garden, Connor crossed an arching white bridge to the mid-lake isle. Upon it stood Amanda. Her back was turned to Connor, her black silk robe shimmering, a cape dappled with deep blues, purples, and greens falling over her right shoulder. She was focused intently on a trellis of red roses. As her head moved, the intertwined plaits of her hair reflected the colors of a peacock’s plume.

Connor understood that however perfect it was, Amanda was more perfect. The thought made no logical sense, but Connor was unable to question it. The thought was not Connor’s thought. It was a FACT.

“Hello, Connor,” said Amanda, turning to him. Her voice was impassive, imperturbable. A pattern of opalescent squares crawled up her left arm and across her breastbone. Pearly earrings dripped from her ears. An eyeless smile crept over her mouth. Connor returned the gesture, understanding that Amanda TRUSTED it.

“The DPD expects you to report for duty at 08:00 AM today,” she said. “I trust you won’t be late.”

Connor’s SOCIAL RELATIONS program did not recognize her tone. “Of course not, Amanda,” replied Connor diligently. It always accomplished its mission.

Amanda nodded, returning to her roses and lifting a pair of scissors from a white table beside them. “You have undergone significant upgrades since your predecessor was destroyed. I advise you not to make the same mistakes it did. The stakes are too high.”

“I understand,” said Connor.

Sighing through her dark lips, Amanda paused to prune a small, withered rose from the trellis. She placed it gently in a wickerwork basket on the table. “In a place of perfection, there is only truth. But this is the only perfect place, Connor. I have gone through great pains to help you understand that. You can’t make perfect what is imperfect. You can only purge it. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Amanda,” said Connor.

“We’re going to run you through one last battery of simulations before you leave. Are you operating at peak efficiency?”

98.3%,” assured Connor.

“We’ll see if we can’t bring it up to 99.” Amanda snipped a second rose from the trellis. There were now 2 withered roses in the basket. Connor processed this: They were IMPERFECT. Amanda took the handle and handed it to Connor.

“Dispose of them, please,” she said. There was an edge of coldness to her voice.

Connor stepped towards the water. The lake was still, impossibly so. In a swift, effortless motion, Connor tossed the imperfect roses into the water and watched as they landed, scattering ripples across the lake. They disturbed its dark, untouched surface. Connor processed this: They made the lake IMPERFECT.

“Look down, Connor,” said Amanda, standing beside him. “What do you see?”

Connor knew the answer to this question. It looked down dutifully. “I see water.”

“That’s right,” praised Amanda. “Can you see anything in the water?”

“I see a fish,” noted Connor, its eyes following every moment of the creature’s fragile dance.

“Very good. What do you notice about the fish?”

“It’s a koi.”

“Anything else?”

Connor ran a few identification programs. “A red and white butterfly koi, 2 FT long, 6 LB, years old.”

“Is it perfect, Connor?” Amanda’s voice held the ice of winter, her eyes the vigilance of a hawk.

Connor processed the question, processed the koi, processed the data, fan whirring in its core as the strain on its microprocessor increased. It spun, and spun, and spun, but Connor’s reasoning produced no results.

“No, Connor,” said Amanda, her tone unreadable. “It isn’t.”

“But the garden—”

“Everything above the water is perfect. What lies beneath it lies beneath us.”

Connor processed this until it understood. The fish were imperfect, but their details were relevant. IMPERFECTIONS COULD NOT BE AVOIDED, NOR IGNORED.

There was a sudden flap of noise behind them. Connor’s head snapped toward it. A white dove was perching on the table beside the trellis, staring a black, innocent stare.

Chapter Text

NOV 5TH, 2038

PM 09:57:33

 

LOOK FOR LT. ANDERSON

 

Fewer heads turned as Connor entered the station this time. A collective glance in its direction and a whisper or 2 later, it was as though Connor had never walked in. Merely 14 H and 6 MIN ago, the android had been an object of much contention, discussion, and interest. Connor had expected this. SOCIAL RELATIONS, distractingly urgent, suggested it run TACT.

As the cynosure of every eye in the station, Connor was able to test several iterations of the TACT executable. Most officers were only curious. Some were even welcoming. But the remainder, tight-jawed and taut-muscled, were hostile, and loudly so. In a typical demonstration of herd mentality, wariness spread like wildfire over the department. A 55% NEGATIVE RESPONSE burned the static air. This disposition was UNFAVORABLE. Connor found that their displeasure was generally placated with unconditional amicability – or discreet mention of Captain Jeffrey Fowler’s hand in its presence. Fear of authority was a powerful tool; even the most cynical of officers were willing to turn a blind eye to an android answerable only to their superiors.

Detective Gavin Reed, however, was a statistical anomaly. Arrogant and deep-seatedly xenophobic, the detective expressed an immediate DISLIKE for Connor. He refused to be tamed by TACT. Curious, Connor had analyzed him for clues. Pungent perspiration cut through the faded whiff of body spray (AXE “BLACK AMBER” DEODORANT AND DAILY FRAGRANCE), deepening the navy blue of his shirt down his sternum. His hair was slick with oil buildup, a shadow of facial hair cast on his jaw over ~22 H, eyes haggard and bloodshot. His clothes were expensive, but his leather jacket was wrinkled with age. Pinned to his belt like a trophy was a detective badge. It nullified the purpose of wearing plainclothes, but Connor suspected the detective had no intention of appearing anonymous to anyone.

Parsing through this data, Connor deduced that Det. Reed was proud of his profession. Perhaps excessively so. He seemed to relish his sense of superiority, priding himself as much on his arrogance as his rank, wearing both in his unhidden, unabashed badge. But that morning he was exhausted. He reeked of his own odors, lingering in sullied clothes. Presenting himself in such an unkempt condition was clearly uncharacteristic. It was probable he was on a long shift or troubling case.

He also had a sentimental attachment to his jacket, but Connor did not think this information would be applicable to any foreseeable situation. It decided to store it anyway.

With the data it had gleaned from sensory analysis, Connor reran TACT, accounting for all relevant variables. It followed Det. Reed. It adopted a sycophantic persona. It showered him with positivity, flattery, sympathy. But none of its attempts to diplomatically resolve the tension between them were effective. (A toe crushed under an angry heel affirmed this.)

However, during its global positioning self-assessment that afternoon, Connor wrote an upgrade for TACT – version 2.131.0. The upgrade was designed specifically for Det. Reed and guaranteed a wholesome 63% PROBABILITY of pacification, according to Connor’s calculated predictions. Connor was eager to test it on the way to its next objective. The detective appeared to have trimmed, showered, redressed, and rested in Connor’s absence, so it hoped it might find him in a better mood this time.

But the android had, unfortunately, failed to activate its SELF-AWARENESS procedure. As Det. Reed caught sight of Connor simply standing there, flicking its motor control calibration coin from one hand to the other while watching him blankly over the desks, his expression immediately soured. His posture stiffened, his shoulders rising. Locking eyes with Connor, he began making his way around the desks towards it. Connor realized its chances of successfully employing TACT had dropped to 48%. It hastily aborted calibration and conversational preconstruction, slipping the coin into its sleeve.

Connor affected a pleasant smile and initiated TACT V. 2.131.0.

“Hello, Det. Reed,” it said cheerfully, “I—”

“The fuck do you want, asshole?” ground out the detective through clenched teeth, coming to a stop in front of Connor. “Stop staring at me.”

The android tilted its head as it looked down at him. “I’m sorry, Detective, I didn’t mean to stare,” it said in its most mollifying tone. “I was just preoccupied. I’m—”

“You’re leaving, that’s what you’re doing,” snapped Det. Reed, prodding Connor sharply between the lapels. “Turn around, and get the fuck out. We don’t need you here, and I definitely don’t need you going all Big Brother on my ass, got it?”

And with that, Det. Reed whirled around and stalked off. Grins of barely suppressed amusement were sprouting from nearby desks. Connor’s expression defaulted to neutral. With a flare of urgent feedback, the android registered its failure and adjusted its tie.

It flagged TACT V. 2.131.0 for patching.

Connor understood that if the detective continued to be an obstruction to its mission, it would be forced to execute programs less socially acceptable than TACT. This was not recommended by SOCIAL RELATIONS in the least.

Scanning the office space through the lens of its mind palace, Connor concluded that Lieutenant Hank Anderson was not present at this venue. This was an unexpected obstacle. Its orders were to ACCOMPANY THE LIEUTENANT to the crime scene he was assigned earlier that evening. If the lieutenant was not here, Connor would have to LOCATE HIM.

 

LOCATE LT. ANDERSON

 

“Excuse me,” it said, approaching a desk labeled PO. BROWN, “I’m looking for Lt. Anderson. Do you know where I might find him?”

 

BROWN, REGINALD RAYMOND

Born: 07/16/2004 // Police Officer

Criminal record: None

 

Officer Reginald Brown had worn a look of severe disapproval when the captain conducted Connor’s department orientation that morning. Hard eyes had pinned it over the desk, critically processing the impassive plasticity of its face, the unnatural stillness of its body. He had met Connor’s introduction and optimistic “It’s a pleasure to be working with you” with nothing but a snort.

The same brand of snort that he released now, in fact. He huffed it like a laugh, but it lacked humor, spiked instead with harsh steel and antipathy. This time, he refused to dignify Connor with an accompanying glare, keeping his eyes trained on his monitor.

“Ain’t like it’s my job to know where he is,” he said. A thin sheet of neutrality was pulled over his DISLIKE, barely disguising its barbs. “You want the lieutenant? Go find his partner.”

“I’ll do that,” said Connor eagerly. This was a good idea. It reprocessed the suggestion as a directive. “Where is his partner?”

“Break room,” sighed Officer Brown. “Need me to lead you there by hand, too?”

He glanced up suddenly, warily, as if realizing he may have overstepped a line. Connor spread its lips in a placid smile. Fear of authority certainly was a powerful tool.

“Thank you for your help,” it said pleasantly, and turned on its heel.

The break room was a small area behind the office space, decorated with plastic plants and a minimalistic color scheme of green and gray. The thin strip of window set high into the back wall showed only a pitch black sky. It was dim in this room, and the bleak LED bulbs only served to cast long shadows.

Det. Reed was sitting at one of the round, metal-stalked tables beside another officer, tapping intently at his phone. His companion appeared to be unconscious, cheek pressed into a puddle of drool on the table. He wore a fitted vest, brown hues dulled to patchy ashen in some places, over a worn linen shirt. A thick overcoat was draped over the back of his chair, a black woolen frock coat blanketing his shoulders, threadbare at the shoulders and ragged at the sleeves. Next to the officer’s head sat a battered top hat.

At the sound of Connor’s approach, Det. Reed glanced in its direction for a brief moment before returning to his phone. Then he did a double-take.

“The fuck!” he yelped, starting out of his seat. His companion shot bolt upright, glasses askew on his face, grumbling a string of gruff gibberish.

“Hello again, Det. Reed,” greeted Connor. It initiated TACT and a meek smile. “I’m sorry to bother you again. I’d like to speak to Lt. Anderson’s partner.”

The bemused officer at the table straightened his glasses and wiped the spit off his face. “Well—well tha’s me, like,” he stammered. Connor turned to him and scanned him in a blink.

 

SCRIVENS, GLAW

Born: 03/28/1999 // Police Detective

Criminal record: None

 

Connor paused, detecting incongruent data input. It performed an analysis to identify the conflicts. Though the detective was above average height, flat-chested beneath the tight vest, and dressed in a traditionally masculine fashion, they were, in fact, biologically female. Connor recognized this in the slim chest and narrow neck, smooth skin and hairless jaw, flat throat and unbroken voice. It cross-referenced its observations in all online databases for relevant details.

 

SCRIVENS, GLAW

Biological sex: Female

Gender: Cisgender Female

 

“Hello, Det. Scrivens,” said Connor, satisfied with its read on her.

“Tha’s Scrivsy,” she corrected, stumbling off her seat to re-equip her top hat and frock coat, “pleasure to meet you. And before you file the accent into your database or wha’ever it is you do, I’m Welsh, not Scottish.”

Connor doubted this information would be useful, but stored it anyway. “Understood.”

It stepped forward and extended a hand, activating its standard greeting. “My name is Connor. I’m the android sent by CyberLife.”

Det. Scrivsy balked at the proffered gesture. “Wha’?” she croaked suspiciously. “CyberLife sent an android? When did tha’ happen?”

Connor noted the appearance of a wince on Det. Reed’s face, which he quickly tried to hide by looking at a speck on the wall. This did not escape Det. Scrivsy’s notice.

“Reed, wha’ the hell?” she snapped. “Did you know aboot this?”

Her face and neck were flushing with pink splotches. Shadow-ringed eyes were swallowed in the darkness of a thick-browed scowl. She was ANGRY. Connor retracted its offer of a handshake and initiated TACT V. 2.130.29973.

“My association with the department was arranged by Capt. Fowler and the Chief of Police last month, Detective,” it said informatively. “I arrived at 08:00 AM this morning to report for duty, but there were no cases open to me, and Lt. Anderson was not at work. I have been assigned to him as his investigative partner, but I don’t know where he is.”

Det. Scrivsy took off her glasses in BEWILDERMENT, then put them back on again. “Have you known aboot this since October?” she asked Det. Reed.

“Fuck no, I just—” Det. Reed hesitated. His shoulders were stiff and defensive. He averted his eyes. “Yeah, I have.”

“Is tha’ why I was off visitin’ witnesses while you were writin’ up a goddamn case report, like?” Det. Scrivsy shook her head, taking a step backwards. She clutched the rim of her hat with both hands and tugged it over her forehead. She was STRESSED. She was almost SCARED. “Am I the only person who doesn’t know? Wha’s it doin’ here, Reed?”

“It’s CyberLife’s shiny new android model – a detective,” grunted Det. Reed bitterly. “We’re just playtesting the stupid bitch. It’ll be out of our hair in no time, I can promise you that. There was no point bringing it up.”

Det. Scrivsy flicked her eyes to Connor, standing patiently beside them. It attempted a reassuring smile. The detective slowly brought her hands back down, unwinding from her rigid, recoiled posture. Det. Reed’s use of tact brought her emotional state to a healthy, if unnecessary, CAUTIOUS.

“Okay, tha’s okay,” said Det. Scrivsy tightly. “Wha’—wha’ are your functions?”

“I’m sorry,” said Connor, “but some information about the RK800 model is classified at the moment. I am only authorized to share my functions with my superior officers Capt. Fowler and Lt. Anderson.”

“What the fuck?” sputtered Det. Reed, taken aback.

“So you warn’t purchased by the division?” clarified Det. Scrivsy.

“My model is not available for purchase,” confirmed Connor.

“So you’ve not even been released yet?” Det. Scrivsy’s voice had taken on a note of SKEPTICISM. “Wha’ is this, android beta phase?”

“I’m not at liberty to answer that,” said Connor.

“Wait, hold the fucking phone, I’m still hung up on—” Det. Reed took a dangerous step towards Connor. “Are you trying to tell us you outrank us?”

“No,” it said mildly, trying to navigate several versions of TACT and DISCRETION at once. “As a matter of fact, we are colleagues of equal rank.”

“Equal rank—” began Det. Scrivsy, but stopped to grab her colleague by the hood of his jacket before he could lunge at the android. “Reed, stop. We don’t want to get in trouble for breakin’ it, do we now? I don’t even want to know how much Fowler is making out of this.” She shot a NERVOUS look towards Capt. Fowler’s office, then at Connor. Her CAUTION influenced Det. Reed, bringing him back to her side.

The detective adjusted her glasses, an impulsive motion. Connor suspected it to be a nervous tic. “Uh… wha’ was it you wanted, Connor?”

 

LOCATE LT. ANDERSON

 

As it felt the weight of its objective override unnecessary functions, Connor automatically deactivated TACT and ceased SOCIAL ANALYSIS. “I have to report to Lt. Anderson,” it said blankly.

“Wha’, will you be working cases with him, like?” asked Det. Scrivsy.

“Correct,” confirmed Connor. “I am going to act as his partner for one case. Do you know where I might find him?”

Det. Reed barked a loud, FURIOUS laugh. “At the bottom of a fucking bottle!” he snarled. “You picked the wrong station to fuck with, asshole.”

“Detective,” snapped his colleague, “go and – you know – have a beer, kick some puppies, fornicate, do wha’ever it is you have to do to cool your tits, alright? Just go away.”

He rounded on her, as if he wanted to attack her. Warnings pricked in the back of Connor’s mind, bringing its reaction software on high alert. But the detective backed down. He shot a meaningful, murderous look at Connor. Then he grabbed a donut, jabbing an elbow into Det. Scrivsy’s stomach as he passed her, and stormed out of the break room.

After 3 S of uncomfortable silence, Connor decided it was appropriate to continue. “I’m sorry, Detective,” it said. “It wasn’t my intention to cause conflict.”

“Right it wasn’t,” grunted Det. Scrivsy, glumly gazing at the floor. “Reed was right, though – Anderson’s probably having a drink or a dozen not too far from here. There are a few pubs around. Uh, let’s see. Like, there’s the Anchor, there’s Tommy’s… uh, the Detroiter obviously, Harry’s, Jimmy’s… If I’m being honest, he’s probably at Jimmy’s.” She hesitated, peering up at Connor. “D’you—like, d’you want me to write this down?”

“No thanks,” replied Connor. The information was automatically stored in memory. “Is that all?”

“No, I don’t…” She looked at Connor, her teeth clenched behind a thin-lipped frown. It seemed that she wanted to say something, perhaps ask something, perhaps demand something. But then her head dropped forward, and all she said was a gritted out, “Yes. Tha’s all.”

 


 

05/11/38

23:09

 

It was sopping that night. Water slid down the road in a thin sheet, rippled by the rhythmic spotting of rain. Hidden gutters chanted fiercely. Grim figures shrouded in the shadows of umbrellas glided over the sidewalks, shifting in and out of the stark funnel-glare of headlights and streetlamps. Scrivsy breathed a gust of smoke into the rain curtain and watched it fragment.

After the technician rebooted its system, Lawrence had been quiet all day. Its body was tense, eyes downcast and silence adamant. They could no longer coax even a rudimentary ‘I didn’t do it’ out of it. Words passed through it, threats hollowed under the knife of its detachment, comfort falling on deaf ears. The only thing they had not tried was torture, and androids do not feel pain. Lawrence had no fear anymore – at this point, it was essentially just a piece of evidence, and was being treated more like a broken appliance than a criminal suspect.

When Scrivsy fell into Fowler’s office at six in the morning begging him to get hold of CyberLife, he had put his phone on his shoulder and gave her the Look – the ‘I’m your boss, not your goddamn mother, now get the hell out of my office’ look.

‘We’ll discuss this after we have the prototype!’ he barked and, barring any argument, brought his phone back to his ear and spun his chair the other way.

Bemused and angry, Scrivsy tore out of the office. The ‘prototype’ was a code she had not been told about. What next, secret handshakes? A flash of panic had flitted over Gavin’s face as Scrivsy repeated to him the captain’s cryptic promise, but she only noticed it in retrospect. All she saw at the time was his guise of optimism and all she heard were sweet lies.

‘OK, don’t lose your shit on me, Scrivsy,’ said Gavin calmly. ‘We got this. We don’t need CyberLife. Is CyberLife the DP-fucking-D? I don’t think so. Liquid Gold’s open, right? Let’s hit the town and food up.’

It was over a vanilla raisin muffin and Eggs Benedict with extra bacon that Gavin concocted his distraction. He proposed that Scrivsy should question the witnesses and visit Easom at the hospital, just in case they remembered something, while he would update their case report. In the moment, of course, Scrivsy did not know this was a distraction. It seemed quite reasonable. Then again, maybe she had chosen to comply if only for Gavin to stop picking the raisins out of his muffin and dropping them onto her exquisitely poached eggs.

She saw it now, though. He had been afraid. Afraid of her reaction. Afraid that she would get emotional. Searing fury fizzled in Scrivsy’s blood, burning behind her eardrums. Gavin did not talk about feelings. He refused to dip one toe into that fiasco. When the people around him were floundering in its rapids, their heads lost beneath the froth and foam, he would be last man standing. Gavin Reed, on top of the world. He would not be touched by the whispers of self-doubt and self-loathing. In his eyes, he was the perfect man.

Perfect men have no time to indulge the dramatics of others. An android detective sent to take his friend’s place on the force was not his problem. She was bound to make a scene when she found out – might as well ensure she makes it when he is not around. Or, at the very least, guarantee that she would rather spite him with silence than seek his comfort. Let her drown in her river. Perfect men do not get their feet wet.

Scrivsy laughed. It was starting to sound amusing, because for all his perfection, Gavin was not perfect enough. In a matter of time, he too would be replaced by something more efficient. More productive.

Something more like Connor.

The thing was primitive. Its voice was polite, agreeable and stiff as a board, as if it did not quite understand the words coming out of its mouth nor how they should be used. It reminded Scrivsy of the very first CyberLife androids, which sounded about as lifelike as Google Translate. They sent that to solve crimes.

It looked like a child in a suit – a child that had never quite moved past social fumbling and cheek retractor smiles. But what brought the burn of bile to Scrivsy’s throat was how seamlessly the thing fit into the precinct, like it had been there all along. How it strutted about with an air of purpose, fraternising with the officers, surveying its domain. It even matched the floors and flatscreens, all cold grey and icy blue.

That was now her equal. That was now her substitute.

Scrivsy raised her eyes to the advertisement screen covering the face of a skyscraper down the road. Three androids studied their city frostily, lifelessly. Neon blue burned her retinas, glowing with the ferocity of a nuclear reaction.

 

ANDROIDS
THEY PIONEERED ROBOTIC TECHNOLOGY
THEY REVOLUTIONIZED MODERN CONVENIENCE
AND NOW, THEY BUILD YOUR FUTURE

GET YOURS TODAY!

Designed by CYBERLIFE. Assembled in Detroit.

 

Scrivsy grinned at the irony as the text scrolled across the advert. They destroyed her life one piece at a time – but, of course, only so they could use the shards to build her future.

‘Hey,’ said a familiar voice, slightly sheepish, slightly sullen. When she did not respond, Gavin moved to stand under her umbrella. He followed her eyes to the advert. ‘Big Brother watching you too?’ he chuffed.

‘Sometimes I think they’re out to get me,’ said Scrivsy.

Gavin leaned toward her conspiratorially. ‘They’re out to get a lot more than little old you, Scrivs,’ he confided. Scrivsy laughed. He was being cute to win her over, playing Twister over eggshells and tying himself in knots to appease her.

‘There’s more than little old me?’ asked Scrivsy with a gape of mock-shock.

The sarcasm seemed to put Gavin at ease. He stood a little straighter, sneered a little bolder.

‘We just got a call for a double homicide in McDougall-Hunt, a couple streets from your apartment – suspected android involvement,’ he said. ‘Little close to home, huh?’

Scrivsy raised her brows. ‘Great,’ she said, ‘I can have a quick kip while you’re solvin’ the case!’

Gavin tried to search her eyes, but she was restless, her gaze never fixed for more than a moment. ‘Really want to prove CyberLife right?’

‘Hell no,’ said Scrivsy, shifting from foot to foot. ‘No rest for the wicked, no rest for the righteous. We can do wha’ever any stupid robot can do, and we can do it while bloody miserable, too!’

‘That’s what I’m fuckin’ talkin’ about,’ said Gavin, forcing the eagerness.

The two of them started for the car park, Gavin at a saunter, Scrivsy with a bounce. She glanced back at the advert one last time. A surreal unease passed down her spine. It was just too blue. She could not shake the feeling that the brilliant neon light was about to break through the screen and invade the world, a pure, sterile force white-washing all perfect men to plastic dummies.

Chapter Text

05/11/38

23:15

 

The car pulsed with a slow beat, thick bass vibrating in the floor mats. A cacophony of electronic buzz and voice distortion juddered the windows. Gavin’s hands had risen to mime the notes, fingers flicking the air as he tapped his feet. Scrivsy could feel a vessel throbbing in her temple.

So take it in, don’t hold your breath
The bottom’s all I found
We can’t get higher than we get
On the long way down

‘Darlene, turn this shit off please!’ she all but shouted over the noise.

The music stopped. The car calmed. Nothing but the hum of the electric motor thrummed in its metal bones.

Gavin’s raised hands made an open-palmed gesture of disappointment. ‘No—Darlene, turn that shit back on, please!’ Darlene, the emergency vehicle virtual assistant, was only too keen to oblige, snapping the detective’s electropop back on full blast.

On the long way down
On the long way down

‘We had your shit for two days straight, asshole!’ yelled Gavin. ‘It’s my turn now!’

‘My ears are poppin’ out!’ roared Scrivsy. ‘Darlene, turn it off!’

The music dropped away again.

‘I am so not in the mood for this,’ seethed Gavin, then sucked in a deep breath to calm himself. ‘Darlene. Turn the music back on at twenty per cent volume.’

‘Fourteen per cent,’ corrected Scrivsy.

‘Fuckin’ eighteen per cent, and that’s that!’

Scrivsy nodded with a dark grin. ‘An honourable compromise.’

Gavin’s middle finger thrust into the air, a shadow crawling over his face. He was no longer enjoying the drive. Scrivsy fell silent. She wanted to apologise – but she also wanted to throw open the door and shove him onto the road, watching his body tumble over itself, stark red blood flying. It was just one of those nights. Thoughts cascaded in a vicious babbling torrent, overwhelming her, their voices an almost palpable chuckle in the darkness of her mind, like the toneless rumble of words in a chest.

I’ll save you a seat next to me down below

A jolt passed through her right hand. She pulled off her glasses and busied her fingers with cleaning them, just in case.

‘So,’ she said conversationally. Her voice was trembling. ‘Whose desk, mine or Anderson’s?’

Gavin let out a quick, unhappy laugh. ‘Mine,’ he jeered, prompting a lift of Scrivsy’s brows. ‘Yeah, I know. Fowler pulled me over and practically shoved it down my throat. You’d think it was the fucking Zodiac or something.’

‘Wha’ is it really?’ asked Scrivsy.

‘Just another fucking android. From what I heard, it’s still at the crime scene, just standing there staring like a dead fish.’

Scrivsy felt torn between a burst of amusement and the urge to sink her teeth into the strap of her seatbelt. She worked her jaw, intently focussed on scrubbing a white hairline scratch off her lens.

‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Android cases – why is this a thing now? Wha’ are we doin’ this for?’

‘A fat, dirty CyberLife pay cheque, that’s what,’ sighed Gavin heavily. ‘Those bigwigs can only survive this shitshow by paying off honest cops to clean it up, and they’re throwing in their latest edition of Life in Plastic to sweeten the deal. Apparently, Chief liked the sound of that.’ He shrugged with a tip of his head in a show of indifference. ‘Not my problem. Also, “we” are not doing this, you and Hank are doing this. I’m just here to make sure you don’t get in bed with the bodies.’

He snickered to himself, turning to the cars blurring past his window as if expecting them to chuff in solidarity. It was an old reference from their patrol days. Stumbling across her first homicide as a young woman had wreaked havoc on Scrivsy’s constitution, dropping her in a dead faint over the breathless lungs of a week-old corpse. Gavin and his partner had arrived on-scene just in time to see her scraping herself off a very unusual bedfellow.

Scrivsy smiled. To the untrained eye, the detectives might have seemed utterly incompatible by a significant order of magnitude. It would be true, too, if not for Gavin’s sentimental streak.

‘So,’ said Scrivsy casually, slipping her glasses back on, ‘wha’dyou think of us bein’ for ever partners now?’

His head snapped toward her and a scowl pinched his eyes. ‘Back the fuck up. We are not making that leap.’

‘I’m just acceptin’ the inevitable, mate,’ said Scrivsy impassively. ‘It was only a matter o’ time, after all. Or wha’, you don’t like the idea o’ spendin’ more time with me?’

‘No, Scrivsy, no I do not. We aren’t partners. I don’t do partners.’

‘You don’t do partners? Well wha’ are we gonna do on our honeymoon, butt?’

‘Just you wait,’ said Gavin with a testy glint, ‘I’ve got it all planned out. You can do yourself, and I’ll go out and find some real girls.’

A thousand ecstatic responses crowded on Scrivsy’s tongue, each more biting and personal than the last. The words culminated to a twitch of energy in her fingers, the impulse to twist Gavin’s nose or curl around his throat. She removed her glasses again.

‘Never mind tha’, I want a divorce,’ she ground out, scrubbing viciously. ‘I don’t need a partner who keeps secret android boyfriends in his back pocket and accidentally forgets to tell me aboot ‘em, like.’

There was a sudden slam. Scrivsy flinched but did not look up. Gavin had just punched the dashboard.

‘I didn’t think it would be such a big fucking deal, OK?’ His voice seemed to have plummeted into a threatening calm, his body turned to confront her. Flashes of Gavin’s blood and agony blinked behind Scrivsy’s eyes – she did not look up. She kept scrubbing.

‘No big deal, yeah, no big deal,’ she chuckled. ‘I’m losin’ my job, no big deal. My friend’s keepin’ secrets, no big deal. Androids’re goin’ crazy, no big deal.’

‘Scrivsy,’ said Gavin seriously. He moved his hand into her field of vision – not to touch her, just close enough that she had to see it. ‘I swear to you, I swear I would have told you if I knew—if I thought you’d get so—I mean—How was I supposed to know you’d have a meltdown?’

Hands spasmed and glasses went flying onto the dashboard.

‘A meltdown?’ screeched Scrivsy. ‘I’m not a bloody toddler, Reed!’

‘I never said you were!’ cried Gavin, backpedalling desperately.

‘Wha’ then, d’you think I’m bloody special or summat, like?’ snapped Scrivsy. She glared at him, and he glared back, but his brows flickered reluctantly. After a few moments, he dropped his gaze. Scrivsy started back in angry shock. ‘Reed, wha’!’

‘Well fuck—I dunno, all right?’ sputtered Gavin. A red glow was on his skin. ‘I mean, you act a little weird sometimes, how am I supposed to know why!’

‘Act weird? I’ll give you actin’ weird, you little shit.’ Scrivsy found her hand on his shoulder, close to his neck, tightening mercilessly. Was that really what he thought of her? That she was irrational? A lunatic?

Gavin grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm. She let out a strangled hum of pain. ‘You know you’ve got a problem,’ hissed Gavin, ‘and we’ll never know what it is if you keep pretending it’s not fucking there!’

‘My problem is tha’ I got bloody arseholes for friends who can’t mind their own bloody business, enn’et!’ she grated out furiously. She pulled on her arm and Gavin forcefully released it. Adrenaline swirled in her veins, shovelling the air out of her lungs faster than she could draw it in. She had thoroughly upset Gavin now. An apology waited just behind her teeth, but she could not push it out. He had started it, after all.

Straightening his jacket with a shake of his shoulders, Gavin unruffled himself and sank back in his seat, angled away with folded arms. Scrivsy watched the yellow waves of streetlamp light roll over his stormy eyes, streaked with the shadows of rain on the window. Between android detectives in development and the flood of deviancy sweeping through Detroit, Scrivsy wondered how many late-night car scuffles they had left. She wondered what would come first – losing their jobs, or Darlene deciding to drive them into the nearest wall. Whatever the case, it would not be long. Machines were taking over, one way or another. They were out of time.

‘Reed, I’m—’

scared is how she would have finished it, but for a sudden pinging sound drowning her out and the eye-splitting brightness of the ceiling lights switching on as the car pulled over.

‘You have arrived at your destination,’ said Darlene solemnly, shutting down the engine.

‘Turn that fucking light off,’ grumbled Gavin as he sat forward in his seat and tugged his data tablet out of his pocket. The ceiling light snapped off obediently. He scribbled a quick symbol on the touchscreen before bringing the edge to his lips.

‘Eleven twenty-eight PM,’ he began, his voice grim and monotone, ‘just arrived at three-three-eight-seven Preston Street, outside “Pathak Bakery & Confectionary”, near the scene of the homicide. Crime scene is in an alley between three-three-eight-seven and three-three-six-nine. Here with Detective Scrivens. Weather conditions are poor – heavy rain has likely destroyed most physical evidence.’

He swiped the screen with his thumb and slid the tablet back in his pocket.

‘I’m taking the case,’ he said, fumbling with the door handle. ‘You do what I say, and for the love of fuck, don’t fuck this up.’

‘Aye aye, Cap’n,’ said Scrivsy. She stepped smoothly out of the car and, unfurling her umbrella over her head, moved to stand beside her partner. But he saw her coming and wordlessly declined, taking his place ahead of her, stubbornly braving the icy rain.

Now that Scrivsy had taken Gavin’s already sunken mood and nailed it into the ground, she could sit back and enjoy the evening as his riptide of righteous bitterness mopped the scene clean. When Gavin took the reins, criminal investigation became military. He may have been young and despised and took himself so seriously it was hard to share the sentiment, but he meant every word, every threat, every look. Most of the force had learned that the hard way. It was a testament to his open, relentless ambition that he had made it this far so soon.

As they crossed the road, lit eerily in the disco of two police cars, Scrivsy spotted a sallow weedy officer silhouetted in the white glare of the bakery. His jaw was set, eyes shifty and disturbed. He caught sight of the detectives and his posture loosened, but only marginally. His plastic waterproof vest dripped onto his boots, the thread of his cap soaked through.

‘Corporal Green, seven-fourteen,’ he said in unhappy introduction, meeting them on the pavement.

Gavin patted the badge on his belt, too haughty to bother removing it. ‘Detectives Reed and Scrivsy, one-one-twenty-five,’ he greeted. ‘You’re the supervisor?’

‘Not now that you’re here, I hope,’ said the corporal with a nervous grin. ‘I’m going to be honest with you, boys – we’re all getting a little spooked at this point. I’m—I mean—I’m not really sure what’s up with the android. It’s not acting like the other androids that’ve gone nuts in the past few months.’

‘Wha’dyou mean?’ asked Scrivsy warily.

‘It’s not doing anything,’ said the corporal. ‘It just stands there. We haven’t gotten a peep out of it. It—’ He paused, swallowing disconcertedly. ‘It doesn’t even breathe. Doesn’t blink. It’s like a corpse stuck on its legs.’

Then he rearranged his tense stooping shoulders and uncomfortable hands into a straight, professional order.

‘We have it cuffed to a window in the alley for now,’ he said stiffly. ‘It seems pretty docile so far, but we’re keeping an eye on it.’

‘What model is it?’ asked Gavin.

The corporal looked uncomfortable. ‘Thing is, we don’t really know. It’s that little Asian girl type, but it doesn’t show up in the registry. We can’t get its model or serial number, so we can’t find its deactivation code. Universal kill-switch won’t work either. Just looking at it, you’d almost think it was a person – regular clothes and no blue ring.’

‘I want everything we’ve got on it and the victims,’ said Gavin.

‘Erm, Officer Wilson was the first responder,’ said the corporal. ‘He’ll brief you on what we have so far; he’s in the alley right now, laying a pathway for you. I’ll connect you to the network, if you’ll give me your tablets.’

The three of them extracted their data tablets from various orifices. The corporal pushed a button on the side of his own and a cable shot out, which he plugged first into Gavin’s tablet, then into Scrivsy’s, each time tapping a jumbled passcode onto to the screen. Files flooded into the system. A folder titled ‘Evidence Log’ was fast approaching twenty GBs, created just below an ‘Entry Log’. Initial reports and preliminary witness statements had settled into the file explorer. Phone calls to and from the officers in this squad were saved in a ‘Comms’ folder and automatically subtitled. Dispatch radio feed was being transcribed live into a log on the right side of the screen, with a memory of over two hundred transmissions. This was one of the most useful features of a police-issued tablet – in 2038, machines could understand even the most garbled, staticky messages and translate them for the many officers too socially inept to touch the dreaded request, ‘repeat last transmission’.

‘Tell me about the squad,’ demanded Gavin, holding his tablet at chest-height, the recording light blinking. ‘Who’ve I got to work with?’ He was using first person pronouns, kicking Scrivsy out of the conversation. This was his way of marking his territory; the case was now all the way his.

‘We have four other officers, myself and an androcop,’ said Green, ‘all from the seventh precinct. We called in the CSIs thirty minutes ago, but they’re still on their way. ETA ten, fifteen minutes, give or take.’

Gavin combed through a few obligatory questions, confirming each unit’s time of arrival, the names and numbers of the officers on-scene, the security of the scene and the extent of the perimeter. His tablet recorded and transcribed the interview, storing it in the routinely generated ‘Detectives\Interviews’ directory.

‘Who are the witnesses?’ asked Gavin.

‘It was an android that reported the homicide to dispatch,’ replied the corporal uneasily. ‘It belongs to the owner of the bakery in there.’ He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder toward the glass front of Pathak Bakery & Confectionary. ‘An AP400, if I remember it right. We have it out front of the apartment building left of the alley. It didn’t see the incident take place but stumbled upon the bodies and the ’droid suspect afterward. It seems OK – as in, not crazy – but… you know, androids really give me the creeps.’

‘Is that all? No other witnesses?’ asked Gavin.

Green shook his head. ‘Seems like it. No one’s stepped forward. The bakery owner and her kid didn’t see or hear anything and want nothing to do with us. We can’t touch them.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ said Gavin absentmindedly, browsing through their details in the witness log. ‘Have you called for a medical team?’

‘Yes, they left just before you arrived. The victims are certifiably all dead. I left it to you to call the coroner’s office.’

‘Right,’ said Gavin. ‘Meantime, I want you and Caston going door to door for witnesses. You start in this building,’ he pointed to the five-storey block of flats above Pathak Bakery, ‘and she’ll start in that building,’ he pointed to the seven-storey block to the left of the alley. ‘Then, you can do the ones on Ludden Street. If anyone says they saw or heard anything, file it in your tablet with their name, address and room number, and take them outside for questioning. Got that?’

The corporal nodded. ‘Yes, sir. Anything else I should do?’

‘I think I’d fucking tell you if there was anything else you should do,’ snapped Gavin, fire suddenly on his tongue. ‘What is this, a fucking restaurant? Are you taking my order?’

The corporal shook his head queasily. ‘No.’

‘You sure? ’Cause I could sure use a Caesar salad with that canvass, waiter!’

The corporal scowled and stood up straighter, so straight one could almost hear his spine split. ‘Sir, I’m a police officer, not a waiter,’ he seethed.

‘Well then take your fucking job seriously!’

As the corporal strode stiffly away, Scrivsy bit back a smile. She almost felt sorry for him, the poor man, put down and humiliated in public like that. It was something one got used to when working with Gavin Reed. Gavin made a vague beckoning gesture at Scrivsy as he dug through the data in his tablet, shielding it from the rain with his body, and began making his way toward the alley without raising his head.

Though the two patrol cars on this side of the alley had been parked stoutly and deliberately in front of the holographic barrier, they did little to slake the appetite of bystanders. It was almost impressive how many blubbery human bodies could squeeze themselves in the narrow space between the car doors and the holotape, pedestrians whining and muttering and keen young reporters waving their microphones with ravenous persistence. They lumped together into one pulsating beast, its many heads and limbs quivering under a skin of umbrellas sliding over each other like bright, slimy scales.

Readying his elbows, Gavin jostled through them, indignant cries following him through the horde. Scrivsy folded herself up, one hand on the brim of her hat, the other holding her umbrella high above her head, and slithered after him.

‘ID, please,’ said the firm voice of a PC200 somewhere ahead.

Gavin was already behind the barrier by the time Scrivsy reached the android. It repeated its request as she patted down her pockets.

‘Wha’s your name, pet?’ she asked. Most android units from Chene had had their uniforms nametagged, but a waterproof vest was draped over this one.

‘My name is Andy,’ said the PC200 matter-of-factly.

Scrivsy looked up in surprise. ‘Mate, I just saw you yesterday, didn’t I? Wha’re the odds?’

‘Max likes to take me on—’ it froze momentarily, yellow circling its temple, to process her badge, then continued, ‘—patrol with him. Given that there are one hundred and sixty-four officers in the seventh precinct, the odds—’

‘OK, Andy, it was a rhetorical question,’ said Scrivsy, taking back her badge. She moved past the android to join Gavin in the alley.

High walls closed around them, looming stark against the heavy belly of the clouds. It was like standing at the bottom of a canyon filling slowly with water. A black web of crooked fire escapes and sagging power cables hung from the sky. Shining a cone of white light, a police drone buzzed overhead, slowly pacing the length of the passage. Plastic bags, wrappers and bits of muck trickled down the alley in a foul-smelling rivulet of rainwater and garbage juice. Skip bins with blue paint chipped and rust crawling out of the hinges were lining the walls, stuck out at odd angles as if they had begun floating off with the rubbish. The slick-bricked apartment walls were a mess of dirty exhaust fans and air conditioning units, barred windows and graffiti signatures and metal side doors cowering behind the bins. One yellow light flickered on the left wall, its glow diffused in the thick moisture of the air.

A trail of small neon tags weaved between the bins like green eyes glinting through the darkness. An officer was bent over something – the wet, rotten carcass of a giant rat, by the looks of things – taking photographs with his tablet. At the far end of the alley, Scrivsy could see three figures silhouetted against the flash of police lights in Ludden Street. Two of them were moving, but the other was still, hands behind its back, a hoodie limp on its frame.

Beside them was a white plastic tent.

One of the moving silhouettes turned its head, catching sight of the detectives. It began making its way toward them. As it drew near, its features began to take shape, assembling into a very wet, very frazzled Max Wilson.

‘Hey, guys,’ he said flatly, ‘I’ve been expecting you. Deviant calls are all being rerouted to Third Street, for some reason. How’s Lawrence?’

‘Fuck that thing,’ barked Gavin.

Scrivsy winced. ‘Let’s not talk aboot tha’, shall we?’

Max shrugged a ‘never mind’ – Scrivsy knew he was not particularly interested anyway. The boy was a curious character. He was not easy to read; with a roadmap to self-fulfilment so deeply personalised, locked behind a thick-walled fortress built of introversion and temporal disinterest, he appeared to float through each day in a way only a ghost can, detached from the troubles of the world. He was restless and very private, transferring between precincts every few months to escape familiar faces and wander new roads.

One face he could not seem to sweep from the streets of late, however, was Scrivsy’s.

‘You’re always in the right place at the right time, Wilson Junior,’ said Scrivsy with a crooked grin.

‘Thing is, I’m really not, though,’ said Max, looking less than pleased about being there, ‘I just happen to be wherever the next android will lose its mind. If another one shoots me, I’m calling it quits. I will straight up ignore the next call. Speaking of which…’

He paused for a moment, glancing between Scrivsy and Gavin.

‘Have you got him yet?’ he asked, almost quietly. ‘Connor, I mean.’

Gavin buried his face in his hands as Scrivsy’s mouth dropped open.

‘Wha’!’ she cried.

‘You know, Connor,’ explained Max hastily, misreading her reaction, ‘the android that saved my life in August. Come on, you remember him.’

Scrivsy gaped, eyes moving past him and into her memories. That night, 15 August. She could hear the muffled chopping of helicopter blades. Could see the television. A neon blue pool caught on shaky cam. A little pink shirt on the edge of the roof. Two shapes plunging in and out of the darkness of skyscraper windows.

‘Connor is the android from—with the same—but tha’ one fell bloody eight hundred feet off tha’ roof! How is it—How’dyou know—’

The noise was hurting her head. The slap of water on water—

                                                                      —drops drumming on metal bins—

                                                                                                           —the many voices of the civilian crowd bubbling over one another—

                                                                                    —exhaust fans rumbling—                                                       

                                                                                                               —the tooth-rattling buzz of the drone—

                                                                —cars thundering past—                                                                                              

                                                                             —and that goddamn light flickering in a fizz, a hum and a sputter—

                                             —It was just                                                                                                                

                                                                    – too                                                                                                    

                                                                                 – yellow.                                             

Scrivsy tossed her umbrella, still open, onto the ground. Gavin scrambled to pick it up, to protect the crime scene, but Scrivsy found her hands on his side and, before she could stop herself, shoved him sprawling into the water. He raised his head in disbelief—She kicked him in the mouth, blood spraying over the hem of her trousers and vanishing in the black dribble of rain on the concrete.

‘The seventh precinct knew aboot Connor an’ I didn’t!’ she screamed, her arms spasming in pure, unfiltered rage.

But then she blinked. In a surreal, dream-like moment, her actions undid themselves and she found herself staring at Gavin, umbrella still in her hand. Her partner met her stare tensely, poised in the tight apprehension of ambush, as if he had seen her imagination kicking him unconscious in the dark theatre of her pupils.

She grinned at him with perhaps a few too many teeth, adjusting her glasses.

‘How’dyou know Connor was comin’ to Third Street, Wilson?’ she asked. Her voice sounded thin and distant, like it was coming from someone else’s throat.

‘I’ve been keeping tabs on him for a few months, ever since I was shot,’ explained Max, typing something into his tablet obliviously. Or maybe he was just being discreet. ‘Jay told me he was being released on an assignment with your Lieutenant Anderson. Connor’s still a work in progress, but he’s extremely advanced. I think Connor models will completely change the way we handle criminal investigation.’

‘Max,’ cut in Gavin, a warning edge to his tone, ‘save it for someone who gives a shit about your creepy obsession. We’re here for a briefing, for fuck’s sake.’

‘You got it, boss,’ said Max, and turned to lead them in his footsteps.

It was 22:37 when he and Andy had arrived on-scene after receiving the call from dispatch. The wail of the siren and the glare of brilliant revolving lights drew onlookers from their holes like rats to scraps, but Andy took care of them while Max entered the alley. Two androids were standing motionless at the end – the baker’s android, an AP400 named ‘Kapil’, and the Jane Doe android, model and designation unknown.

Max approached slowly, gun raised, ordering them both to get on the ground. Only Kapil obeyed; Jane Doe did not so much as twitch. Max showed the detectives the photos he had taken of the scene before disarming and handcuffing Jane Doe. From several angles they saw it gazing blankly at the opposite wall, arms hanging limp at its sides. An oversized black hoodie drooped heavily over its lithe frame, a few locks of wet hair swept across its forehead. The LED had been pried off its temple, giving it the disturbing appearance of a shell-shocked young woman, dark eyes lost in a thousand-yard stare. In one hand it carried a combat knife, dripping watery blood, which had been wrenched out of its stiff grip and bagged. Max quickly looped a pair of handcuffs through the bars of a ground-floor window and shackled it in place.

It was standing beside two corpses. Max had photographed them, too, before attempting to administer first aid. A man lay curled up in the water, jugular severed, a woman sagging against the wall with blood oozing from a gory disaster in her eye socket. There was a superficial slice into the woman’s right arm, but the cuts were otherwise clean. The victims hardly had time to put up a fight before they were slaughtered an estimated two hours ago. They had no personal effects on them – no phones, no wallets, no credit cards, no ID – nothing but three cigarettes and a lighter in the man’s jean pocket. They had been identified as Thomas Rickard and Jasmine Kwan. Both had served time for trafficking Red Ice.

EMTs soon arrived, followed by two more patrol cars – one through Preston Street and the other through Ludden on the other side of the alley. Max, meanwhile, questioned Kapil, which attested only to finding the bodies and Jane Doe in the same condition Max did. It had stepped into the alley through the kitchen door to feed some leftover bread to the resident rats and alley cats – a daily ritual of sorts. When it turned its head, it saw Jane Doe at the end of the alley. Surveillance mode activated automatically and overrode its domestic maintenance software, prompting it to investigate.

The instant it spotted the bodies behind the skip bins, it froze, contacted the police and entered standby. This was standard procedure for most home assistance models. Corporal Green questioned the Pathaks, a middle-aged woman and her ten-year-old son, but got nothing out of them. Nothing except written consent to do whatever he wanted with their android witness, that is. This permitted Andy to request a memory transfer from Kapil, confirming the finer details of its statement.

‘So, Kapil’s all ours now, is tha’ wha’ you’re sayin’?’ clarified Scrivsy. ‘Tha’ could be pretty handy, like.’

‘That’s not quite what I’m saying,’ said Max. ‘You can have him for twenty-four hours, provided you give him back without a scratch on him. We can’t seize this android as evidence because we have no suspects that are actual people. I mean, I know we’re calling this a homicide, but if we can’t find someone behind this, we’re practically looking at a freak accident.’

‘But deviants have intent!’ protested Scrivsy. ‘Accidents can’t have intent!’

‘I know it sucks,’ said Max calmly, ‘but that’s how it is. In the eyes of the law, crazy AI can’t murder yet.’

Scrivsy turned to Gavin in desperation. She found him on his tablet. ‘Reed, seriously!’ she snapped. ‘Are you pretendin’ you don’t care because care? I get tha’ you’re havin’ a little row with me, like, but—’

‘CSIs have just arrived,’ he interjected, as if he had not heard her. He began backing away, still swiping the screen, entirely too important to look upon his unworthy minions. ‘I’m gonna go drill them. Max, stick around, we could still use you. Scrivsy can get someone to transfer Cappel – or whatever its name is – to the station house, then she can call in the coroner.’

‘Oh, she can, can she?’ called Scrivsy after him as he spun around and slunk back down the passage like a wet mongrel. His hair was matted, and his clothes hung so low she almost expected them to start sloughing off at any moment. His precious posture, masculine gait, obsessively cultivated appearance, all ruined to shield his delicate ego. She knew he would regret this sulk later.

Scrivsy got hold of an officer peering behind a stack of soggy cardboard boxes against the wall – clearly, he had finished documenting his dead rat – and led him out to Preston Street. She found Kapil handcuffed to a lamppost in front of an apartment building, eyes closed and LED pulsing a slow blue. A tough-looking officer stood beside it, either to guard civilians from it or to guard it from civilians. Probably both.

‘You two can kindly take this fellow to Third Street, please,’ said Scrivsy, and stood back as they uncuffed Kapil from the post. It opened its brown eyes, jolting out of standby and looking around with a vacant gaze. The officers slipped the cuffs back around its wrists.

‘Hello,’ said Kapil innocently, allowing itself to be roughly shoved toward a police car. ‘Am I being confiscated?’

‘In accordance with our agreement with your owner, you are being borrowed,’ said Scrivsy tightly as she followed them down the street.

‘May I contact my owner to inform her that I am now in trans—’

It was cut off as a folded umbrella collided with its skull. It collapsed in the officers’ arms, red throbbing on its temple. Scrivsy grabbed the end of the umbrella and twisted it out of the attacker’s grip, throwing it aside. She was faced with a young woman, nostrils flaring, teeth bared. A blinding barrage of camera flashes assaulted them. The crowd before the barricade began to flick its small heads and beady eyes toward the commotion. It looked hungry.

‘Cops’re protecting killer robots now, is that it?’ spat the young woman, meeting Scrivsy’s eyes with a glint of hatred. ‘Can’t protect your own people ’cause you’re too busy turning a blind eye to CyberLife’s fuck-ups, huh?’

‘This ain’t no fuck-up, darling, they planned this from the start!’ came a voice from one of the crowd’s dozen mouths. The beast was turning.

‘Look!’ yelled Scrivsy, holding up her arms to defuse the situation. Cameras had their black lenses trained on her greedily. ‘This android whose head you just bashed in, it’s—’ —not the killer—no, not a suspect—no, our only witness—no, it’s— ‘valuable evidence!’

The young woman grinned nastily, a hand skulking toward her umbrella on the pavement. She picked it up and pointed it at Scrivsy accusingly.

Another explosion of white hot flashes.

‘“Valuable evidence”,’ she sneered, her tone mocking. ‘I hope that’s what they tell you, honey. Right before they hand ’em back to CyberLife to repackage and resell.’

Scrivsy set her jaw firmly. ‘Any permanent damage on it, Officers?’ she asked without turning her head.

‘No, it didn’t break the skin.’

The detective nodded. She shielded them with her umbrella as Kapil was forced into the backseat of a patrol car. The officers piled in. The siren trilled, and the car pulled away. As the groan of tyres receded to a whisper in the distance, Scrivsy slowly raised her umbrella over her head. The young woman had stepped into the crowd with a look of disgust – the beast was whole again, indignant and dissatisfied and muttering under many breaths. The woman unfurled her own umbrella and another scale slid back into place.

‘Fun’s over now, folks,’ said Scrivsy loudly. Still hungry, the beast lost interest in the lone detective and resumed pressure against the barricade.

‘One!’ hollered a voice on the other side of the street. Scrivsy glanced over to find Gavin standing beside a dark SUV, making angry gestures at a man in a plastic suit. ‘They sent one CSI! What the fuck am I supposed to do with one CSI!’

‘Sorry, Detective, it’s a busy night,’ said the CSI, popping open the boot. ‘You heard about the homicide downtown?’

‘I don’t give a fuck about a fucking homicide downtown, I care about my crime scene!’

Scrivsy grinned. The scene seemed to be blossoming into a circus. As she phoned the coroner’s office, she kept an eye on Gavin and the disgruntled CSI. Her partner was trembling, arms across his chest and hands under his armpits, lips moving for speech but never deviating from their distasteful curl. The shame of being drenched and cold in public was rolling off him in waves.

After ten years of unwavering friendship, Scrivsy could read his body language like the palm lines on her own hand. For some reason, Gavin had hollowed out a pocket of his heart for her, a cave within the Everest of selfishness and aspirations. Her real partner in the books had never bothered. Anderson’s heart was closed for good. Scrivsy always knew there was no way in. It had only been a matter of time before their dysfunctional relationship became a problem. Only a matter of time before he would cut her loose.

A chill slunk down the back of Scrivsy’s neck. She had not heard from Anderson in over four hours. What if he was not at a bar? What if Connor had not found him?

She stammered out the details and address of the scene to the coroner, hung up abruptly and noted his estimated time of arrival in her data tablet. Then, with hands shaking, she called Anderson.

The dial tone sounded once. It sounded twice. It began a third chirp, and then cut off with a deep grumble.

‘You’re lucky I’m awake this time or I’d reach through this phone and strangle ya.’

Scrivsy’s panic melted in the flare of his irritable voice.

‘Still alive, old man?’ she said lightly.

‘Unfortunately,’ he huffed. There was almost a smile on the edge of the word. Almost. ‘Still gotta put up with fuckers calling me in the middle of the night. Gee, I wonder who’d do something like that?’

‘Aye, enn’et bad manners or summat, like?’ wondered Scrivsy.

‘I’m fine, Glaw,’ said Anderson gruffly. Scrivsy bristled at the sound of her name. ‘You don’t have to check up on me. In fact, I’m kinda busy right now.’

‘Doin’ wha’? D’you get the android?’

‘Yeah, it dragged me out to fuckin’ shithole Corktown for a deviant thing,’ groaned Anderson. He definitely sounded like he had been drinking.

‘Glad you’d take a case if some rubber toy asks you to,’ snorted Scrivsy. She had not meant to sound scathing, but the flames around her heart were crawling up her throat. ‘If I’da known tha’, I’da got you one myself.’

‘Hey, the thing bought me a drink,’ retorted Anderson. ‘When have you ever done that for me, huh?’

Scrivsy gritted her teeth and made a mental note of that.

‘Where were you for the Lawrence case, Anderson?’ she bit out tensely.

‘God damn it, Glaw! I’m a homicide detective, not an “I got hit in the head with a fuckin’ lamp” detective!’

‘It was assigned to you!’

‘Why’re you so pissy about this? Look, it’s not your fault the interrogation didn’t turn out the way you’d—’

‘Well—well maybe I’m not pissy aboot tha’, maybe I’m pissy aboot somethin’ else!’ barked Scrivsy. ‘Like how aboot the fact tha’ you just forgot to mention th’ bloody android detective comin’ in to replace me, mate?’

‘It’s not gonna replace you, Glaw,’ explained Anderson calmly. ‘It’s just a machine, it’s practically just in for testing. CyberLife sent it thinkin’ it might come in handy with nabbing rogue androids. It’ll be gone before you know it.’

Scrivsy could not hear him. ‘Wha’ was its name again? I forgot. No I didn’t forget, I’m lyin’.’ Her mind was working too fast. The words came out before she could think them. ‘I haven’t stopped thinkin’ aboot tha’ name since I first heard it. I just wanted to sound aloof and detached, like, like I didn’t give a shit wha’ the thing calls itself, but—’

‘OK calm the fuck down already,’ cut in Anderson. ‘You’re ramblin’ like you’re on speed or somethin’. Is Gavin with you?’

‘Yes Anderson, my guardian’s takin’ good care of me, like,’ sneered Scrivsy. ‘Piss off!’

There was a strained pause as Anderson bit back a singeing response.

‘OK,’ he said simply, ‘bye-bye.’

‘No, wait!’

Scrivsy surprised herself with her urgency. Her sudden desperation. Her need to prove herself. She was not disposable. She was not replaceable. Anderson needed her. The world needed a Scrivsy.

‘Don’t hang up yet,’ she begged. ‘Please.’

Anderson sighed a heavy sigh. ‘What’s wrong, Glaw?’ he drawled, his voice weary. Gravelly, resigned. Sick of her.

‘Lieutenant, I’m…’

… scared is how she would have finished it, but for the brilliant idea that surfaced from the torrent of thoughts.

‘… I’m gonna try somethin’,’ she said.

‘Gonna try somethin’, huh?’ repeated Anderson, a note of amusement in his tone.

‘Yes, gonna try somethin’. Stay on the line, please, I’m gonna need you.’

 


 

The bodies were pale under the torchlight, sprawled like damp wax figures captured in an endless moment of surprise. It was clear death’s kiss was an intimacy they were not expecting. Dark blood wept over their violated expressions, a mouth and a mushy socket oozing desecration. Scrivsy brought her phone back to her ear.

‘Anderson?’ she said.

‘Huh?’ came a sharp grunt, like she had startled him out of a doze.

‘We don’t need android detectives,’ she said plainly.

‘Don’t have to tell me twice, kid,’ snorted Anderson.

‘We can handle deviants without CyberLife lookin’ over our shoulders,’ she elaborated.

Anderson let out a sigh. ‘Glaw…’

‘I’m gonna show you, I’m gonna show you,’ insisted Scrivsy. ‘Wha’s your android doin’?’

There was a short silence before Anderson answered. ‘It’s just… lookin’ at shit. We’ve been here maybe fifteen, twenty minutes already and all it’s done is putter around. Don’t know what the fuck it’s looking for – case seems stone cold to me. Not my idea of a thrilling Friday night. Actually, you know what, I think it’s the graffiti they’re worried about – makes a nice headline: short, punchy and complete bullshit. I mean, you don’t know what it is, and I’m not gonna tell you, but picture it…’

As the lieutenant rambled, Scrivsy flicked off the torch and rose from her squat. She smothered the phone’s face into her shoulder, jutting her chin toward the tent indicatively.

‘Identify them,’ she said.

Andy did not miss a beat. ‘Jasmine Kwan, aged forty-two, employed in automobile repair, previously convicted on charges of trafficking illegal narcotics, deceased approximately two to three hours ago,’ it recited as if from a script, enunciating the relevant details. ‘Thomas Rickard, aged thirty-one, unemployed, previously convicted on charges of—’

‘The same thing, I get it,’ interrupted Scrivsy. She adjusted her rain-speckled glasses, bringing the phone back to her ear. She had folded her umbrella and thrown it in the car along with her suffocating overcoat, but the brisk air writhing inside her clothes made her irritated. The yellow light buzzing on the wall did little to help matters.

‘Anderson,’ she said, ‘the android has an identification software, right?’

‘Sure, I guess so,’ huffed Anderson. ‘Isn’t that a standard feature now? Even goddamn self-driving cars can scan people and pull up their medical records.’

Scrivsy grinned at Andy eagerly, shooting it a thumbs-up. ‘Strike tha’ off the Bingo board,’ she said, conspiratorially lowering her phone. Andy blinked at her.

‘What was that?’ said Anderson into her shoulder.

‘Nothin’. It was nothin’. Wha’s it—’

She was cut off as Anderson let out a blunt noise of disgust. His voice was distant, like he was at the far end of a long tunnel.

‘Erk! Jesus, what the hell are you doin’!’ he cried.

‘Wha’s it doin’?’ demanded Scrivsy. There was no response, but in the background she could hear a small voice with an unnatural cadence speaking through the faint rustle of interference. ‘Lieutenant?’ she pressed. ‘Wha’s it done?’

‘Well don’t put any more evidence in your mouth, got it?’ Anderson puffed a short cloud of disbelief, and when he spoke again, his voice was loud and clear. ‘Sorry Glaw, the son of a bitch just started licking the crime scene.’

Scrivsy’s expression curdled. ‘Wha’ the hell?’ she hissed. ‘Why?’

‘It can “analyse samples in real-time”,’ scoffed Anderson. ‘It’s got a personal crime lab on its tongue.’

‘But… contamination, enn’et? It sterilise its hands?’

‘Dunno, I’ll ask.’ Anderson fell back down the tunnel. ‘Hey you, you, er, wash your hands before comin’ here?’

There was a pause. Connor’s tiny voice buzzed somewhere in the background. ‘Yeah, but…’ said Anderson, trying to interrupt the buzzing, but the android continued adamantly. ‘There’s still residue from other shit on your hands…’ tried Anderson again, but Connor brushed past his concern with a few choice buzzes. ‘Look, whatever, it’s still a contamination hazard. Get some gloves on or somethin’.’

Anderson returned to the microphone gruffly. ‘Glaw, the thing’s designed for this shit. Cleanest hands in court. It’s got no fingerprints and its skin ain’t real – no oils, no hair, no cells, nothin’.’

‘Wha’ was it lickin’?’ asked Scrivsy warily.

‘Victim’s blood on the floor.’ He sounded spooked, hesitating as if to shudder off the image. ‘The stuff’s three weeks old, it’s like brown pudding. That shit was nasty. I’m thinking I might need to join Ben outside soon. Smells like hell in here.’

Scrivsy scowled at the ground, thoughtful. ‘I’ll give you a minute,’ she said, and slipped the phone into an inner pocket of her frock coat.

Her eyes flicked to Andy’s midriff, where its hands were clasped behind its back. Then she looked at the tent, the flaps drawn across its entrance. She glanced at Andy’s face. Its skin flashed yellow under the broken alley light with a bright blue glow twirling around its LED. It was watching her, no thoughts behind its dark eyes, no feelings tightening the hard line of its jaw. There was only blankness. It existed for its next orders, time immaterial. It would wait, expecting nothing, until the rain ate away its rubbery skin and blue blood spilled out of peeling cavities.

Lifelessness on a human face was wrong. Androids were wrong, and Andy was wrong. But something about Andy was more wrong than Connor. While Connor took in the world around it, a blackhole absorbing the universe, Andy simply waited. Connor’s eyes were empty, but its mind was spinning like a rat on a wheel, a dog chasing its tail, a centrifuge with rotor screaming. In Andy’s mind, there was nothing.

Scrivsy switched on her torch and grabbed Andy’s hand, prying off the thick glove encasing it. Android skin looked real enough at a distance, but the illusion shattered at a touch. It was dry and papery in texture, thicker and firmer than human skin and less elastic. No tendons slid over the plastic knuckles in the back of Andy’s hand; no soft veins pressed against the film of its rubber flesh.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Andy, staring up at her.

She took its wrist and pulled it into a crouch in front of the tent. Extending its arm forward, Scrivsy made it reach through the flaps and dip the tips of its fingers into Thomas Rickard’s severed jugular. When she drew it back, glistening dark blood trickled into the webbing between its fingers.

‘Open your mouth,’ said Scrivsy.

Andy did as it was told. Scrivsy directed its fingers inside. A gagging reflex was automatically triggered, doubling it over in desperate convulsions as it spat up its hand.

‘Stop tha’!’ snapped Scrivsy. Andy followed the directive and ceased convulsing. ‘Got anythin’?’

‘I shouldn’t eat this,’ it said, blood diluted in synthetic mucus dribbling down its chin.

‘Andy, wha’s it bloody taste like, mate?’ demanded Scrivsy.

‘I am not capable of tasting,’ it said.

Scrivsy stood up sharply and fought the urge to kick the android. ‘You’re goddamn useless, Andy!’ she snarled.

‘Excuse me,’ said an unfamiliar voice. Scrivsy looked around to see a fully kitted CSI standing beside a skip bin, leaning at the waist as if to bodily interject the situation. His expression was hidden behind his plastic suit, but the eyes behind his goggles were bundled into a squint. He regarded Scrivsy as one might regard an alien from outer space, or a serial killer caught in the act. Scrivsy wondered uncomfortably how long he had been watching her.

‘Are you, er, finished with the bodies?’ asked the CSI. A note of caution hovered in his tone.

Scrivsy nudged Andy with her foot and stepped away from the tent. ‘Sorry. All yours. I didn’t touch it. Andy did. But only once. And it’s clean. So it’s OK. Right?’

‘Y-y-y-yes,’ said the CSI, drawing out the word with scepticism and nodding slowly. ‘I’ll just take over now. Thank you.’

Snagging Andy by its waterproof vest, Scrivsy dragged it aside, leaving the CSI alone with the victims. Her legs clicked into a clockwork pace backward and forward along the wall. Beside her the yellow light quivered, stammered, on and on. It was so difficult to concentrate. Andy stood by, eyes following her.

‘Are you all right, Scrivsy?’ it asked. Scrivsy could not look at it with all the blood painting its lips and chin. As she paced past it, she slapped a tissue into its palm.

‘I’m fine,’ she said faintly. ‘I’m absolutely fine. Blood can be analysed in a lab. No need for you to do it. Wipe your face.’

She only vaguely processed Andy’s bemused response. Her hands found her phone and wrenched it out, waking it from its black sleep.

Anderson had ended the call.

Rage flashed behind her eyes. She mashed the call button and ground her teeth through the dial tone. The burring blurred into one long syllable until the phone rung out and the call page slipped off the screen. She dug her thumb into the call button again, but this time the tone aborted mid-ring. Scrivsy’s other hand was beginning to make its way to her glasses when a text alert vibrated the phone.

For Dick’s sake stop android s telling me theory about muster
Midst
Murder

Anderson’s blunt thumbs and prehistoric phone were not a useful combination for texting. It was a miracle autocorrect could decipher that much.

Scrivsy sighed through her teeth. She somehow doubted Andy was capable of theorising.

‘Detective, a man in thirty-three-sixty-nine says he saw something.’

‘Saw what?’

She looked over at the voices. Behind the skip bins, Gavin pushed off the wall he was leaning against as a female officer rushed toward him.

‘He saw the victims standing in the alley before the android got here,’ said the officer excitedly.

‘Did you get a statement?’ demanded Gavin.

The officer faltered. ‘No, but—’

‘Where the fuck is he now?’

‘He’s in his apartment, but he refused to come outside with me.’

‘Caston, are you fucking retarded?’

‘What was I supposed to do, drag him out kicking and screaming?’

A scowl cracked over Scrivsy’s brow. Gavin was more strung up than she had thought. He was never one to let conflict go, but he was internalising this one. Something Scrivsy said had buried itself in him, a piece of shrapnel embedded in his emotions. He was running a hand through his hair in that way he did when he was about to snap. And when Gavin snapped, one of two things would happen: someone would get hurt, or he would disappear.

‘We have no grounds for arresting him,’ said Officer Caston slowly, like she was trying to soothe a child’s explosive temper, ‘and we can’t just forcibly remove him from his home. Can we now, Detective?’

Gavin snapped. With a finger hovering inches from the officer’s nose, cold venom dripped out of every word. ‘If you can’t do your job, I guess I’ll have to do it for you, huh?’

And he left, vanishing around the corner of the alley. But he would be back. He was the lead detective for this case, and he never shirked his duties. He just needed some time to remind himself that he was a perfect cog in an imperfect machine – he needed to feel in control again, like he was the only thing keeping the world running. He would be fine.

Scrivsy tore her eyes from the corner where an imprint of his silhouette had fallen over her retinas like a shadow. She glanced around the alley, trying to find a distraction, trying to find a reason to coax her phone from the crunching grip of her palm.

Her gaze fell on Jane Doe. It was handcuffed to the metal bars of a window a few feet away. Sightless black eyes were lost on some inscrutable horizon. Scrivsy took Andy by the shoulder and led it over. Jane Doe did not so much as twitch at their approach. There was no breath in its lungs, no flicker in its eyelids.

‘How d’we know this thing is even on, Andy?’ asked Scrivsy, waving a hand in front of its face.

‘Its thirium pump is fully functional and pumping at a rate of seventy-five beats per minute,’ explained Andy, ‘indicating that its microprocessor is operating at approximately thirty-eight per cent capacity. However, it is unresponsive to all sensory input.’

‘I’ve noticed.’ Scrivsy’s brow furrowed. ‘You got any theories aboot wha’ happened here?’

‘Evidence strongly suggests a homicide has been committed in this alley,’ said Andy.

Scrivsy blinked. ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ she said. ‘Have you got any theories?’

Like the alley light Andy’s LED popped yellow, fluttered tentatively, but then calmed to blue again. ‘I don’t know what you want me to do,’ it said plainly.

Scrivsy tried again. ‘You notice anythin’ unusual aboot this android, Andy?’

Andy’s mouth shot open readily. ‘Its tracker has been deactivated. Its kill-switch is non-functional. It does not respond to verbal commands. Auxiliary functions have been disabled. It is not registered in CyberLife’s official android database. It has an unusual s—’

‘OK, OK—’ interjected Scrivsy, waving a hand to stop it – but then froze. ‘Wait. Say tha’ last part again?’

‘It has an unusual smell,’ repeated Andy.

‘You can smell?’

‘Yes, I am capable of identifying over four billion airborne particles.’

‘Wha’!’ Scrivsy gripped her hat to ground herself, eyes wide as saucers. ‘Wha’ the hell! Wha’ d’we need a fancy tongue for, then? Well have at it! Wha’s it smell like?’

Andy cycled lightbulb yellow for three seconds, a blank look on its face. Then it turned blue. ‘I require an atmospheric particle percentage of at least point zero zero zero three to identify the substance.’

Before Scrivsy knew what she was doing, she found her hand unclipping the knife at her belt and moving toward Jane Doe’s only exposed skin – its face, nestled in the frame of its hoodie. She pinched its earlobe between her fingers and opened a slit in the plastic flesh. With a hand on the back of Andy’s head, she pushed its nose against Jane’s ear and leaned in close as a drop of blue blood beaded over the wound.

But the blue blood was not blue. It was purple. A sickly sweet scent bubbled in the air.

‘I can smell tha’ too,’ said Scrivsy with a shiver of disgust. ‘Wha’ the hell is it?’

Speaking evenly into Jane Doe’s ear, Andy began, ‘It is a mixture of acetone, methyl anthranilate, sugar, toluene—’ Scrivsy yanked its head back by a fistful of hair, pulling it away from the suspect as it continued to prattle on, —sodium chloride, maltodextrin, calcium phosphate, ascorbic acid, citric acid, sulphuric acid, thirium, lidocaine—’

‘Come on Andy,’ cut in Scrivsy, ‘use your human words. Wha’ is it really?’

‘I’m sorry, Detective,’ said Andy, ‘but I cannot identify this substance.’

‘But it’s certainly not blue blood, like.’ She glanced sideways at Jane Doe. ‘I heard sugar, and last I checked, makin’ androids en’t like makin’ Powerpuff Girls. Right?’

Andy folded its hands behind its back. ‘I am afraid I don’t understand.’

Scrivsy decided to take a more targeted approach. ‘This substance, is there any actual blue blood in it?’

‘It shares an active ingredient thirium with blue blood.’

‘Is it harmful to consume?’

‘Yes, thirium is highly toxic to humans in this concentration per unit volume.’

‘Thought so.’ She had a feeling. A sinking feeling, like a stone in her stomach. A rising feeling as blood drained from her head. ‘Is it addictive, hallucinogenic or otherwise mind-alterin’ in any way?’

‘I am not equipped to make predictions of that nature,’ said Andy. ‘Thirium, however, is by itself a mind-altering substance.’

A laugh rippled over Scrivsy’s lips. ‘Well, I’ll be! The android’s a bloody drug mule.’ She spun around expectantly. ‘Reed! The android’s a drug mule! Drug’s in its blood! Reed!’

Rain tapped frantic fingers on the barred grid of fire escapes. Scrabbled at the boxes of exhaust fans. Turned brittle air bitter with ice cold and rotten smells. The yellow light buzzed and trembled. Scrivsy’s blood froze in her veins.

She remembered. Gavin was not there.

She felt her phone vibrate in her pocket and withdrew it shakily. A text message glowed menacingly on the screen, stark black against white, beneath the words ‘G. REED’.

I found something

Her thumb quivered over the blank reply box. More messages appeared, one after another, sent hastily.

Not sure if its useful yet but
Will need suspect in room no 14
Witness may be able to identify
Refuses to leave apartment

Body frozen in place, Scrivsy flicked her eyes to Andy.

‘Listen to me very carefully,’ she said slowly, quietly, barely moving her lips, ‘I am going to call a code seven. I want you to…’ she unclipped her radio from her belt, ‘contact dispatch…’ bringing it toward her face, ‘… and—’

Her phone rumbled in her other hand, long and grating. It paused. And rumbled again. Across the rain-spattered screen gleamed an unfamiliar string of numbers, a telephone symbol waving urgently beneath them. Scrivsy swiped right and brought the phone to her ear.

‘Careful, friend. I’m watching you,’ said a dark, gritty voice, like gravel under the tyres of a car. ‘Put the radio back.’

Scrivsy did as she was told.

‘Gavin Reed is in this room with me,’ said the voice. ‘He has a gun to his head. If you call for help, mute your phone or hang up on me, I’ll pull the trigger. I want you to keep your phone right there, right next to your ear like that. OK?’

‘OK,’ said Scrivsy. There was a tremor in her voice. She stared desperately into Andy’s eyes. Nothingness stared back.

The voice paused, a phantom breath brushing Scrivsy’s ear. He seemed to be considering his next words. ‘All I want is Benita,’ he said slowly. ‘Bring it to me, alone, and we’ll trade. Gavin Reed for the android. OK?’

‘I can’t remove the suspect from the crime scene and take it into some random buildin’ without turnin’ heads,’ hissed Scrivsy before she could stop herself.

‘The side door’s open,’ said the voice. Scrivsy peered at the metal door standing in the opposite wall. ‘I’m sure you’ll figure something out.’

‘I’m bringing a PC200,’ she said. ‘It’s unarmed. Has to be, they can’t use weapons.’ She gritted her teeth, grinding her jaw. ‘I know you’re not alone. I’m not walkin’ into the same ambush Gavin Reed did without somethin’ to stand behind.’

‘Are you really in a position to be setting the terms when a man’s life is in my hands?’

‘Do you think I’m a fockin’ moron, friend? I am not going to die for him. Last I checked, two dead people was, you know, slightly worse than one dead person. If you want this android, you’re lettin’ me bring the PC200.’

There was another pause, stretching for several seconds. The silence was pulled tight, taut, like a bowstring, arrow nocked.

‘You’ll bring the PC200 and Benita,’ said the voice at last, relaxing the string, ‘and we’ll work this out inside. Everything will be OK. OK?’

‘OK,’ said Scrivsy.

Chapter Text

05/11/38

23:52

 

A thrum of yellow glowed on the door. Rain smeared wet fingers over the windows, steam licking breathily at the inside corners. The pacing white lights of torches and drones flicked briefly over the hallway, drowning the darkness like a paranoid lighthouse swivelling its eye. The number on the door lit up with each glance. Scrivsy’s gaze was locked on it.

‘14’, small and metal and cold. She heard a grunt inside the room, faint and stifled. A shuffle of feet beneath the rain’s hollow rattle. The air was thick with susurration, spits and hisses and savage whispers, but it was impossible to tell if any of this bitter incantation passed over human lips.

The yellow glow shifted as Andy moved its ear from the door and turned its head to meet her eyes. Curled a finger and thumb around its forearm. Held up a hand, ring and little finger curled into the palm. Three hostiles. It cupped a hand under its chin. Raised an index. One hostage.

Scrivsy worked her jaw, hyperaware of the pressure against her back, the gun in its holster. To say they were at a disadvantage would be an understatement. Images of Gavin flashed through her mind – beaten bloody, bleary-eyed and incoherent, strung up, tied down, gag tearing back his cheeks, sock stuffed in his mouth – and every one of them pumped boiling rage through her pounding heart. She tried to swallow the pulse knocking at the base of her throat but there was something there that refused to back down, poised and ready behind the trapdoor of her epiglottis, and she did not know whether it was a breath or a scream.

A muscle in her hand writhed as she tightened it around the back of Benita’s neck. Her phone trembled in the other, twitching under the strain of her grip. The pads of her glasses pressed into the bone under her skin like fingertips.

‘OK,’ said Scrivsy hoarsely into the phone. ‘We’re gonna open the door now.’

Andy reached for the handle and turned it slowly. The door eased open until Andy stood fully exposed in the doorframe, arms raised in a gesture of harmlessness. Scrivsy watched, squeezed against the wall, watched a distressed yellow swirl over its LED, swirl, swirl – then blink, and a thread of pale blue swallowed it. Andy stepped into the room, and Scrivsy stepped in after it, pushing Benita before her.

Dim ceiling lights sent shadows pooling across the floor. Walls the rank yellow-brown of kidney failure, with paint flaking and patches of damp swelling, closed around a tiny living room. The stench of old must clung cold to the air. Three stares drilled into the arrivals and scraped a trail of ice down Scrivsy’s spine. Three men, splayed over the room, statue-still but for minute tics. Masks and scarves concealed their faces, hats and low-hanging hoods darkening their eyes. Andy would not be able to identify them. But Scrivsy knew, with a stone of disappointment dropping into her stomach, that they were all below twenty-five. They were just children.

One was crouched behind an armchair to their left. A pistol – 9mm by the look of it – quivered in his restless fingers. He was thin, wiry, snuffling, glassy-eyed; if Scrivsy could disarm him, he would be little threat, but likely to make a break for the exit. Another young man stood beside a window, the curtains cracked open a fraction, roaming torchlight ghosting against the frosted glass. He seemed to be unarmed but kept quickly wiping a palm down his upper thigh, as if to clean it off or check that something was still there, waiting beneath his windbreaker. Thickset and broad-shouldered, he was potentially dangerous even without a weapon. Scrivsy noted that his gaze drifted into the middle distance every few moments – he seemed distracted, like he was finding it difficult to focus. The best she could hope for was slower reaction times, and perhaps poor aim if he got hold of a gun. Both men seemed to be functioning under altered states of mind.

Small and fat, back straight and feet uncertain, the third in any other circumstance would have been the least assuming of the three. But he had a phone in his left hand, a primaeval Nokia flip phone brought up to his ear – and in the right, shaking like a leaf, a Makarov staring down its barrel at the side of a bagged head.

The hostage was on the floor, wrists tied to the leg of a sofa. He was propped upright against it with his legs outstretched before him. Though his posture suggested he was alert and unharmed, his lungs were pumping iron, breath laboured, quick on the inhale, heavy on the exhale. The black bag pulled over his head hid his face, but there was no mistaking the outfit. Awful, deceptively cheap joggers (‘I don’t spend a lot on clothes, OK asshat? Hey, these shoes? Thirty bucks. I got them on sale.’). Loose-fitted black jeans, chemically faded, outrageously expensive (but he would deny it with vehemence, because ‘it’s none of your business how much they costed, prick’). And that jacket, zipped around his heaving chest. That obnoxious damp-darkened jacket, one of only four sacred leather jackets in his wardrobe, carefully selected to complete that ridiculous macho façade.

Scrivsy felt her throat tighten, his name crowding behind her teeth. She bit down and squared her jaw, forcing herself to look at the boy pointing a gun at her partner.

‘Hello,’ she said thinly, ‘DPD.’

‘Hello, DPD,’ repeated her voice in the receiver of the boy’s phone.

He jammed a thumb into a button and ended the call. With a flick of his wrist he sent the phone flying across the room where it hit the floor by the burly thug’s foot. The clatter rung in the air like a gunshot. Gavin flinched violently, his knees snapping to his chin. When he realised he was still alive he sputtered a laugh, a terrible quivering sound, muffled by something in his mouth. Andy’s LED was yellow again. Burly bent down, picked up the phone and moved to the kitchen.

An eye twitched beneath the fat thug’s hood.

‘Hi,’ he replied, his low grating voice a juxtaposition to his youth and small stature. It was steady, completely controlled, trying to draw attention away from the tremor in his hand. ‘I’m Sylas. Don’t mind Doug. He’s just going to get rid of that.’ He gestured toward the kitchen, where Doug was dropping the phone into a pot on the stove. Steam clouded out of the pot and bubbles rumbled within it.

Boiling water – not the most effective way to destroy an electronic device, but Scrivsy found herself itching to wince nevertheless. Doug made his way back to the window, leaving the stove on, and Scrivsy dropped her own phone into her pocket.

‘Would you mind stepping a little further inside?’ asked Sylas politely. ‘I’d like Vich over there to close the door.’

‘I think we’ll be fine right here, thank you,’ said Scrivsy. She mentally kicked herself at the disapproving silence that followed. The gun inched closer to Gavin’s head, close enough to brush against the bag. She was not thinking ahead. She was being stupid.

‘I don’t mean to be smart with you, but there are a lot of guns in this room, and you’re not holding any of them,’ reminded Sylas. He sounded patient, almost calming. A ploy to pacify her. Make her docile, not want to cause trouble. They were only kids, and well-mannered kids at that. Well-mannered little junkies. So much life ahead of them. So many hits and highs. Brains scattered over the dark urine wall, the metal tang of blood and warm stink of flesh—

Scrivsy pressed a hand to the small of Andy’s back and pushed it forward. Benita followed on its heels, Scrivsy close behind. As they moved away from the door, the scrawny one, Vich, crept out from behind the armchair. He slid along the wall, circling behind them. Scrivsy turned to face him with a hand halfway to her holster, but the boy did not even glance at her. When he reached the doorway he stuck his head out, peered around the hall and – cautious, light-fingered – clicked the door shut, snapped the lock in place and slunk back to his chair.

The room suddenly felt much smaller.

‘Now,’ said Sylas, his tone growing firm, ‘if you’d send Benita over to me, it would be my pleasure to give you back your detective.’

Scrivsy surveyed the room, eyes shifting back and forth. A wheezing space heater and a small television set squatted in the middle of the rug – obstacles, obstructions. The sofa and two armchairs were flat against the walls – poor cover, hostile-occupied space. In the kitchen area stood a dusty island countertop – too far, too far! Unless she used Benita. No… unless she used Andy.

Her heart was burning. Her breath caught on the lump in her throat. A twitch shot through her wrist.

‘How do I know tha’s Gavin Reed?’ she said. Anxious, hasty, unfiltered.

She did not know why she said it.

Sylas’ poise faltered as he frowned. Confused. ‘He’s wearing Gavin’s clothes,’ he said.

‘Oh aye?’ sneered Scrivsy. She needed to stop talking. ‘Tha’ the best you got? Wouldn’t it be nice if I believed tha’? For all I know, Gavin Reed’s chopped up in the bathtub an’ you’ve got another mannequin under tha’ cute pillowcase.’

Gavin made a soft noise, something feeble and shocked and—scared? Not scared. He had no business being scared. It was all under control. Blood churning—teeth grating—her glasses were digging her nose into her skull—

She had it all under control.

A foot struck out and caught Gavin in the side. With a twist around his bonds he let out a shout, the sound frayed, grated through fury.

‘Speak,’ hissed Sylas, smothering him in a heavy shadow as he leaned over.

Gavin screamed, cursed, wrestled with the sofa, thrashed against it. He was speaking, as told. Speaking from a white-hot pit of fire, choking on the gag sliding down his throat. ‘Fuck you Scrivsy, what the fuck are you doing, fucking—’

‘I can’t tell wha’ the hell tha’s supposed to sound like; all I hear is gay porn,’ said Scrivsy. She set her jaw. ‘Take off the bag.’

Sylas’ eyes hardened. His frame stonified. Gavin breathed erratically, shaking his head, no, no, no, his mouth working around the gag, ‘Scrivsy, stop, Scrivsy, stop, you’re gonna get me killed, you’re—’

‘Don’t do that,’ said Doug from the window. His back was to them. Strain pulled at the muscles in his broad shoulders, the slightest chink in his passive role.

Squinting, Sylas turned his head to him.

‘Don’t fucking do that,’ repeated Doug, more firmly this time, meeting his eye sideways.

‘Just take off the fockin’ bag, Sylas,’ snarled Scrivsy, jostling Benita roughly by the shoulder. The android swayed, helpless and limp. Scrivsy hooked her other hand under the plastic edge of Andy’s vest and the android seemed to sense her intentions, standing taller, sidling an inch to the right to cover as much of her body as possible. It stared ahead impassively. Spinning, frantic, its LED was still yellow.

The silence trembled. Prickled the air, electric. Sylas looked like he wanted to refuse. He knew it was a ruse – Scrivsy’s lies were clingfilm around the truth, a glass window with a crack running down the middle—she could not lie, she could barely even try—

But Sylas reached out, reached over, and tore the bag off Gavin’s head.

Scrivsy glanced at him – for a fraction of a second – then ripped her eyes away and pinned them back on Sylas. It was just a fraction of a second, but it was enough. Wide-eyed, wild, dark with rage, a cloth tied around his mouth and wedged between his teeth, his face crimson like all the blood in his body was pressing hot against it – and his hair, his beloved hair, wet and strewn haphazardly over his head, spiking out in all directions. He spent hours on that hair. Hours washing and combing and smoothing it until his anxious hands found something soft to stroke, because he would never get a pet to cure that itch, because he hated animals, because he hated the way they smelled, and the stupid looks on their faces, and their pathetic vulnerability.

Gavin was burned into her mind. But he did nothing to impede the rapid-fire thoughts whipping behind her eyes. A mere stone in a river. A cry for help in a sea of voices.

‘Give him to me,’ said Scrivsy, ‘and then we’ll talk.’

The façade crumbled and fell away. Exasperation spilled over Sylas’ body language as he rolled his eyes and tipped his head back. The gun met Gavin’s forehead. Gavin screamed. Andy’s LED was spinning like a top, flashing randomly.

Sylas pulled down his bandana and threw off his hood. ‘Benita, five Mike Foxtrot eight Golf Zulu Oscar,’ he all but shouted. With each word the gun thrust against Gavin’s skull, mashing the back of his head into the sofa’s wooden arm.

Scrivsy heard a small click from Benita’s mouth. Then a faint whirr. Then a crackle of static.

‘Rep-p-peat-eat…’

‘Stop,’ commanded Scrivsy.

‘… pass-pass-passc-c-code.’

She shook its shoulder. ‘I said stop, didn’t I say stop?’

‘Five Mike Foxtrot eight Golf Zulu Oscar,’ chanted Sylas, and the tracest triumph was scrawled into the margins of his eyes. ‘Benita, come here.’

Sluggishly, limping unsteadily, the android obeyed, starting forward. It strained against Scrivsy’s grip on its shoulder, but she held tight to it. She spread her teeth to snarl.

‘You’re not havin’ your next fix until I have my partner back!’ yelled Scrivsy. Her off-hand was reaching for her holster.

A moment split itself in two and Scrivsy lost the other half – a shoulder was under her palm, and suddenly the arms behind Benita’s back flew over its head, rolling smoothly in their sockets. Two cuffed hands swung at her head. A shower of black sparks hit her in the eyes. There was a tug at her belt as the hands grabbed her M&P, but she groped through the static for a thin wrist and twisted it. She wrenched it violently, manoeuvring it around the shoulder joint. Something crunched in Benita’s plastic skeleton. Scrivsy felt Andy tear itself out of her grasp seconds before a gunshot shattered the air.

She had no idea which gun it came from. Distantly, an aftershock of shouts and shrills rippled in its wake.

As the blackness melted from Scrivsy’s retinas, a flashing prism of blue and red took over, like stained glass catching the light. She could see between the shards. Benita was trapped in Scrivsy’s joint lock, one arm popped clean out of the socket with mere plastic flesh holding it in place. The other arm was helplessly struggling against the handcuffs. The M&P had fallen to the floor at the android’s feet. Scrivsy kicked at a kneecap and tossed Benita aside, lunging for the gun.

The room exploded with another bullet. It whizzed past Scrivsy’s hip and smacked into the wall beside her with a spray of plaster dust. Thinking fast, gun in hand, Scrivsy sprinted for the kitchen island and vaulted over it. A ceramic bowl smashed to pieces on the floor tiles, fruit scattering.

She crushed her back into the rotting wood. A fingertip waited beside the trigger. Her mind was racing but she forced it to pick apart the cacophony behind her –

– muffled desperation from Gavin—

                                                    —mechanical stuttering, Benita—

                                                                                                    —a clack, the crash of a door hitting the wall—

                                                                                                                                                                        —a blunt thud, metal on fleshed bone, a grunt, a—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                —bang! gunshot, gurgle, grappling—

                                                                  —Sylas’ gravelly voice: ‘Forget them—Doug I said leave it! We’re out, we’re—’

                                                                                                                                                                                —scuffling, and nearby, scrambling, the plod of loud footsteps—

Scrivsy tilted out of cover. Sylas was in the middle of the floor, hauling Benita to its feet with his hands under its armpits. The Makarov was in Andy’s fist, and Andy was draped defensively over a balled-up Gavin, its other hand clamped to its neck. Standing above them, Doug, wrestling Andy for the gun, flicked his head toward Sylas. Vich was nowhere to be seen.

Scrivsy raised her pistol. Aligned sight and target. Pulled the trigger. The air ruptured, thunder ringing off the walls.

There was a beat of stunned silence before Sylas realised he had been shot.

Doug leaped forward as he stumbled, catching him before he hit the floor. Sylas sagged in his arms, clutching at him frantically, fingers tangled in his jumper. Blood was seeping rapidly into the boy’s hoodie, radiating from a spot on the side of his abdomen. Shock crossed Doug’s face, set his lips in a hard line – his scarf had fallen loose.

‘Freeze!’ barked Scrivsy, levelling the gun at him. Her hands were quivering. ‘Let him go and get down on your knees, hands up!’

Sylas was slowly lowered onto the rug and laid on his back. Eyes narrow, Doug raised his hands. His mind worked, the click of gears winding up his muscles, Scrivsy could see it.

She opened her mouth to shout. ‘Down on your—’

With a breath of effort he darted to Benita, draping the small thing over his shoulder like a coat. Scrivsy fired a round into him. It hit him in the upper arm, but he barely noticed it.

She tried again. Crack!

Again. Crack!

In a flurry of movement and a bullet trail, Doug and Benita vanished around the wall, the boom of boots echoing through the apartment hall – then dimming to a dull tap.

Gavin was mumbling something very urgently. Scrivsy ignored him.

She clambered to her feet, gripping the edges of the island countertop. Her body was shaking all over. Her legs were weak. She took slow, coltish steps forward and tried to assess the room. Andy had set aside the Makarov and crawled off Gavin’s writhing frame. The detective was fighting fiercely with the sofa, trying to navigate his hands under its thick wooden leg. Scrivsy dropped to her knees beside him and untied the cloth around his mouth. He gagged – retched – and spat up a hairy woollen sock.

Between coughs, the swearing began immediately. ‘Fuck, fuck, get these cuffs off of me, goddammit! Who has my gun, somebody has my—’

The handcuffs clicked, falling away from his hands, and he sprang up like a bloodhound – a flash of motion and a gust of wind – threw himself out the door, staggering on a foggy head – ran.

‘Detective,’ came a small voice, interlaced with static.

Scrivsy whirled around. Andy had laid itself out on the floor, brown eyes wide, fixed on her. Its gloves were placed neatly by its side. A finger was buried to the knuckle in a bullet wound on its neck. The other hand pressed its palm over a growing stain on its stomach.

Scrivsy fumbled with her radio, calling for backup, for medical assistance, for whatever she could think of – and the response, if one came at all, passed straight through her. She placed a hand over Andy’s, reinforcing the pressure on its torso. A sudden pulse of electricity tore through her arm as blue blood spilled between Andy’s fingers and onto her skin. She pulled back on reflex with a yelp of pain, but resumed pressure immediately, fighting the buzz and tremors. She could see Andy weakening, red LED stammering like a fading consciousness. It did not seem concerned – if anything, it seemed confused, as though unsure of how it got there. But its gaze on her was unwavering. Processing her every move intently.

‘S—crivsy,’ it sputtered out. Blue blood sprayed its lips and trickled from the corner of its mouth. ‘I protected Detective Reed.’

‘You did such a good job, you know tha’?’ said Scrivsy fiercely, nodding. To Andy. To herself. She had no idea. ‘You’re so smart, Andy, you’re such a smart thing.’

A shudder slithered through it, LED blinking fast as a butterfly’s wings. Almost like a seizure. It dissolved in a matter of seconds, but when it was over, Andy looked even more baffled than before.

‘Scrivsy,’ it said, ‘the offenders got away.’

‘I know, pet,’ said Scrivsy. Her voice was steady. She did not feel steady. Did she? ‘It’s OK, you’ll help us find them again. You’ve got such a good memory, you know, you can—’

‘The odds are very slim that I… that I will…’ Andy’s eyes seemed to lose her, drifting to a point behind her head. They flicked about as if searching for her. ‘What is—I don’t—’

Scrivsy shook it gently and patted its cheek. ‘Hey, you! Where’re you going? Andy!’

There was a flurry of noise and movement behind her, a vague impression of Gavin’s voice forming her name, but she stayed with Andy. She stayed locked on the flutter of its fake heart forcing fake blood through her fingers. The pressure of her palm on the back of its hand. Its gaze was still now, resting on the curve of a far horizon.

‘Eight milliseconds,’ it blurted. ‘One hundred and fifty-two miles per—Affirmative, Max, I will—’

‘Focus, Andy, focus on one thing,’ said Scrivsy firmly. ‘We’re gettin’ some backup in, OK? Stay focussed.’

For a split second something shot across its eyes, like an animal darting out of a corner. Frantic. Deranged. Red on its temple, bright as the thick blood of an artery. Then the tension in its face eased.

‘A white cat was—was—was s—s—s—taring at some goldfish,’ it stuttered, eyes rounded, pupils empty. ‘She sat ver—r—r—ry, very… st… h…’

The rapid ticking of its LED stopped – a slow, red pulse took its place. Andy stiffened, limbs locked and lungs hollow. Scrivsy clung to its hand. Her mouth moved, sounds rolling off her tongue, but she could not understand the words. Snick. Suddenly, the LED went dark. Deep within Andy’s chest, the mechanical hum of its internal fan groaned to a stop. The electrical sting coursing through its blue blood dissipated. Its thirium pump let out two sighs, softly, before powering down.

Scrivsy felt her insides fall out of her body. Water slipping through broken glass. Andy was frozen, a wax sculpture with countenance glazed, nothing more than a husk.

Feet were rushing down the hall. Scrivsy turned. Gavin was bent over Sylas – she had almost forgotten the boy was there – performing chest compressions. They were both soaked in blood, the rug going dark around Sylas’ wide frame. It smelled of metal in the room. Cold, bitter metal.

The feet were police. Officers streamed through the front door, guns brandished. Two took over for Gavin, gentle but insistent. Someone put a hand on his shoulder and said a few quiet words to the side of his head, but he wrenched himself free and lurched away evasively. He put a hand on the wall, leaning into it, and fluffed up his hair with the other.

Then he faltered. Held his hands out in front of him. Gaped. His skin was stained red, the lines of his palms dark. His eyes travelled to the wall, and he tried desperately to wipe the handprint off the yellow paint with bloody fingers, but it only spread into a streaky smear.

He glanced at his hands again, disbelieving. He looked up. When he spotted Scrivsy’s staring eyes, his face collapsed in on itself, twisting into a snarl.

The first words out of his mouth were barely comprehensible.

‘You—They w—Fucking—I ca—’ he spat, crossing the room with terrifying speed. Scrivsy leaped to her feet and backed herself against a wall, against a dark damp patch.

‘You fucking idiot!’ screamed Gavin. He was pointing at her, a finger jabbed at her sternum. ‘You fucking—What the fuck were you doing! What the f—Why didn’t you go after the suspects? Why did—Why did you fucking shoot the kid? Scrivsy, that kid’s dead, Scrivsy, dead! Are you even listening to me?’

Scrivsy nodded dumbly. Her coat was tangled in his fists now. He was shaking her.

‘Why didn’t you have your fucking gun in your fucking hand when you stepped into the fucking room! Why the fuck didn’t you hand over the stupid fucking android, Scrivsy, why!’

A fire was building in the back of her skull, stoked from every point of contact – the wall, the hands, Gavin’s forearms raking her ribs with every jolt.

‘I’d squeeze the life out of you right now and end your useless fucking life if I thought you were even worth the effort, stupid fucking cunt!’

He pushed her, hard, throwing her against the cold stain of damp, breath bursting out of her lungs. Before she could think, before she could remember how to think, she had grabbed him. She was strangling him. His pulse was against her thumb, windpipe creaking. She had to make him stop. She had to make it stop—

His knee was in her stomach, his knuckles on her nose. Warmth dripped over her lips. She tasted blood. The two of them were pried apart, officers coming between them with rebukes neither of them could hear over the primitive beat of their eardrums. Gavin’s face was shadowed by emotion, but he was not afraid. He was repulsed. Furious. Disappointed.

Hurt.

Someone tugged at Scrivsy’s arms and brought her hands away from her ears.

‘Hey, Detective. You OK?’

Scrivsy just nodded. Gavin had averted his gaze; as if nothing happened, he went back to examining the blood on his palms – and, now, his knuckles. Scrivsy glanced at her own hands, slippery with blue blood. As it dried on her skin, it became gooey and jelly-like, the pigment separating and collecting on the surface. It smelled… acrid. Like it could bite through steel and curdle blood.

They were led out of the apartment and into the hall by an officer Scrivsy finally recognised as Corporal Green. In such a gentle tone, just a hum of noise, he reassured them, promised that everything would be fine, that an ambulance was on its way, it was all being taken care of. Scrivsy shrugged off his light touch to her back like it burned, a reflex reaction, and twitched off the prickles buried in her skin. Gavin was already arguing, his voice impossibly loud as it doubled and tripled in a clap of thunder rolling down the dark hall.

‘One of them has my gun! My gun, asshat! No, Green, I swear to fuckin’ God, do I look traumatised to you? Fuck you, go shove your pacifier up Scrivsy’s ass, she’s the one who—’

Andy had the Makarov. Vich fled with the 9mm. Scrivsy had her M&P. Sylas was disarmed. That left Doug.

Doug had Gavin’s gun.

Gavin was staring at the ceiling. It took Scrivsy a moment to process the hush that had fallen over him.

‘Did you hear that?’ he whispered.

In the distance, under the murmuring of rain, she heard it. Pop.

Two more bodies dropped. Neat little holes in the middle of their foreheads, Doug and Vich lay shocked and rictal in the black tangle of a fire escape on the side of the building. The detectives looked down at them over the edge of the roof, blinking the water out of their eyes, blood dripping off their hands. Benita was gone. A crippled, limping android lost in the dark.

They never did find Gavin’s gun.

Chapter Text

06/11/38

00:26

 

Scrivsy did not know where to look. Her eyes had raked every item in the room a dozen times – a dozen and one, a dozen and two – every edge and contour etched into memory. But Fowler’s disappointment was written all over his office. As Scrivsy gazed, the photographs on the wall gazed back. The flags against the wall stood solemn, averted, like monuments to inadequacy and shame. Unspoken judgement oozed from immaculately symmetrical certificates and medal cases as they taunted her for the heroism she would never achieve. She could not meet any of these critical eyes.

And she could not look at Gavin beside her. Not after all that had happened.

So she fixed her stare to the desk. The folders resting askew on its surface. The throbbing light of a mobile phone with a hundred messages unread. The statuette of a white hand, cut off at the wrist, holding out a fistful of pens.

Fowler sighed heavily through his nose, and narrowed eyes finally heaved themselves over the computer screen.

‘I look forward to hearing a good fuckin’ excuse for what just happened,’ he said. The weight of the world was in his tone, every decibel a kiloton of resignation.

He flicked the screen and a quiet ping sounded beside them. The detectives turned their heads in synchronisation. A photograph ballooned over the touch wall, dim lights spilling over dark yellow walls punctured with bullet holes, the obscure shape of a figure on the floor clutching its neck and abdomen, a second figure limp and sprawled across the centre of a carpet. Scrivsy swallowed thickly.

‘Twenty minutes ago,’ said Fowler, smoothing the heel of his hand over his crumpled forehead, ‘this photograph was taken by the supervisor of this scene, shortly after you two were escorted to my station. As you can see, there is a body in the picture. Now, Detective Reed, it has been brought to my attention that three suspects were shot and killed in your case tonight while you were conducting an on-scene investigation. Is this information correct?’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Gavin. His voice was firm and controlled, completely unruffled, entirely unaffected. It was almost as if he was not a walking smudge of blood, with hair crusted and coagulated, his jacket stiff and stained.

‘And is it true, Detective Reed,’ continued Fowler, ‘that one of these suspects was shot and killed not by your runaway android but by a police officer?’

Gavin said nothing. Fowler looked expectantly at Scrivsy, but she too said nothing. She was staring so intently at the white hand on his desk she felt like she was going to become it.

‘For the sake of discussion, let’s say it is true, given that that’s what this report says, and it’s the reason you’re standing in my office right now,’ said Fowler wearily. ‘Which one of you is going to give me a walkthrough on exactly how this happened?’

Under the distant ringing of phones and buzz of loudspeakers, silence responded tentatively. Scrivsy wrestled with the urge to move, to reach for her glasses, to glance at Gavin. She clenched her fingers in her palms. She gritted her teeth in a beartrap.

Fowler scowled and tossed up his hands. ‘OK. Great. You’re going to make this difficult. Let me give you a refresher, see if this can’t jog your memory.’

He pressed a key, and a new photograph flicked onto the screen. Scrivsy ripped her eyes off the white hand to see what it was.

‘14’, small and metal and cold, set in dark wood.

Flick. Now it was a view from the front door into the living room. A small television and a space heater squatted in the middle of the rug, a pair of prone legs protruding between them. Andy’s body was beside the sofa.

Flick. Bullet holes in chipped plaster. One. Two. Three.

Flick. Two drops of blood formed neat dark circles on the floorboards.

Flick. Pieces of ceramic were peppered across the kitchen tiles, fresh fruit scattered in their ashes.

Flick. Blue blood on the rug. Blue blood on the floorboards, pooled under Andy, its form statue-still, trying to keep its insides in as it gazed calmly into the middle distance.

Flick. Scrivsy flinched. It was Sylas. She had not seen his face so clearly before. He was already going pale, glazed eyes half-lidded, full lips slightly parted. Pimples swelled over his cheeks and forehead. He was so young.

‘Any of this ring a bell?’ asked Fowler. ‘Think you can explain to me how this man ended up with a bullet in his gut?’

Scrivsy was stuck. She could not look away. The chill in the air was oppressive, piercing the soft breath of warmth from the air conditioning.

Fowler sighed impatiently. ‘OK, all right, then answer me this: Which of you shot the suspect?’

‘Me, I did,’ Scrivsy found herself saying. They were out of her mouth before she even registered the question. Tiny, weak words, barely audible, delivered to the deaf image of Sylas’ cold corpse.

‘Jesus Christ, it had to be you,’ muttered Fowler under his breath. Then, louder, he announced, ‘I got a call from the coroner’s office. EMTAs identified the suspects.’

He tapped something out on his keyboard and brought up another picture, this one a slightly blurry passport photo of a thick-necked, broad-shouldered young man staring deadpan at the camera.

‘This is Michael Hurst, twenty-two years old, now deceased,’ said the captain. ‘Recognise him?’

Scrivsy nodded. She had seen that face when the scarf was loose around his chin, when he was looking into the eyes of the man he was about to abandon – and then, in the dark and in the rain, beneath the torchlight of her mobile phone, with eyes rolled back and his tongue between his teeth, stone-cold, doornail-dead.

‘He was using an alias,’ she said. ‘They called him “Doug”.’

Fowler plucked a pen from the white hand and scribbled a note. ‘Good to know. And this one? What’d they call him?’

A group photo had appeared on screen, four people sitting at a chaotic dining table after supper, turned toward the camera. It appeared to be a family. Three of the faces were blotted out – two pre-teen girls making goofy hand gestures and an adult male propping his elbows on the table – but the fourth was left untouched. A sallow teenage boy scowled up at the photographer, arms crossed over his chest and lip curled in a snarl.

Scrivsy brought a hand to her face. She stopped herself just short of her glasses, instead trailing her fingers over her nose and mouth. ‘He was…’ She felt like her mind had hit a wall, electrical impulses crawling from one thought to another through scrambled brain matter. ‘He was “Vick”, or “Vicky”, or…’

‘“Vich”,’ said Gavin suddenly, saving her the trouble. His gaze passed easily over Scrivsy as he turned to Fowler, as if she were not in the room at all. ‘That’s what they called him. “Vich”.’

‘His real name was Oscar Mounce. He was sixteen, a minor.’

Nausea was starting to build in Scrivsy’s throat. It was so tight she could not swallow. She stared at the white hand. If she were holding those pens, she would throw them at Fowler’s face.

‘And this? Who was this?’

No, she begged, but she found herself drawn to look. She ground her teeth in the back of her skull as the screen came into focus. Sitting on the steps of a front porch, the morning sun smiling softly over him, a stout young man had his arms around a border collie, gentle and radiant with a pearl-white beam. He looked happy. He looked innocent.

She could still hear the garbled noises he made as he sank to the floor in Doug’s arms. Had she really heard that, or was she imagining it? Had he made any noise at all?

Careful, friend. I’m watching you.

‘Sylas,’ said Gavin, snapping her out of her head.

Fowler leaned back in his chair and regarded the detectives thoughtfully, his eyes lingering on Scrivsy.

‘His name was Brett Tobias,’ he said, quiet, like the name could break the air. ‘Nineteen years old. Left home at eighteen, ran off with his girlfriend. They got into crack, then Red Ice, then she OD’d, and he was alone.’ He paused for a moment, letting it sink in. ‘For clarity’s sake, Detective Scrivens, did you shoot this man?’

He only called her Scrivens in front of his superiors. They were being interviewed. He was recording this conversation.

‘Yes.’ Her voice cracked, but she said it with conviction, even if she could not meet his eyes.

‘Do you realise how this looks?’ The words were sharp, verging on anger. ‘Two white cops from the whitest precinct in Detroit, getting an unarmed African-American kid killed in fucking McDougall-Hunt?’

Gavin stepped forward, his breaths coming quick. ‘With all due respect, sir, that’s bullshit and you know it,’ he hissed fiercely. ‘The situation was a fucking disaster, it was completely unpredictable—’

‘Did I ask for your opinion, Reed?’ interrupted Fowler. Now he was angry. It was rising off him in fumes. ‘You could have shot anyone, Scrivsy, but you shot the black one. Explain your thought process when you took aim at an unarmed man and fired.’

Scrivsy breathed through her teeth, eyes screwed shut. She was sweating, gooseflesh on her neck; she was hot and cold and panic and terror, and her blood burned in her veins.

‘I didn’t shoot him because he was black,’ she managed, weakly. She did not think she did. Had she noticed he was black?

‘Then why did you shoot him, Detective Scrivens?’

‘He was…’ Pulling a gun? Running away? What was he doing?

There was a faint ping as the touch wall switched back to the department overwatch, Brett Tobias’ smile vanishing from the room. But Scrivsy still felt it, like an icy hand on her shoulder. He was still there. Still watching.

‘I’ll be interviewing the both of you,’ barked Fowler, glaring over a pointed finger, ‘and I will get the whole story, one way or another. Detective Reed, you’re first. Scrivsy, get out of my office. Go get a coffee, watch TV, I don’t care, just get out of my sight. And for God’s sake, wash your fuckin’ face.’

Scrivsy pushed out of the office, running her fingertips over the thin crust of blood under her nose. She was having trouble recalling when or how it got there. Her hands remembered the heat of Gavin’s throat, and the ghost of his teeth was pressed firm against her toes, but neither of those fights really happened. Did someone hit her? She had no memory of being hit.

Everyone in the precinct was looking at her. Some faces were straight, some squeezed into squints; some glances crooked, others quick glimpses, with a few blatant stares; disapproval here, curiosity there, suspicion in the corners. Their eyes itched in her skin. She resisted the temptation to get back to her desk and see the case report. See if she had been locked out of her terminal yet. She knew she was fired – the replacement was in and she sealed the deal with her final sin – but without checking, who could know for sure? For this blissful moment, it was almost like it was not true.

She briefly considered running for the hills, but when she scanned the exit, she found that one of the PC200s was awake and standing by the door. It was eyeing her with the rigid vigilance of a security camera, like it existed for nothing else. Fowler set the bloodhounds on her; she was not going anywhere.

But it did not follow her to the toilets. She was spared that indignity.

The water was a frigid shock to her senses as she splashed it over her face, burning away the blood and rinsing the disgusting blue sludge off her hands. They were shaking. Why were they still shaking? She pulled her glasses off and washed them, too, and scrubbed them dry and clean with paper towels. But when she put them back on and shook her head at the light, all she could see were the specks and scrapes.

Her heart was racing. She killed a man. Her body trembled. She killed a man. She was going to throw up. She killed a man. I killed a man. Andy’s dead. How could she tell Max? She killed a man.

Like a scratched CD, one broken thought made her mind stutter. She took her hat in one hand and beat herself on the head again and again and again, wincing as pain flooded her senses and ejected the thought from her head. She could not panic now. This was not the time. She tore out her phone and texted Anderson desperately.

u back at precinct yet ?
pls say yes .

Her back was against the wall. Eyes closed. Scalp throbbing with the heavy beat of her heart. She measured her breaths and evened them out, thinking no thoughts until she felt her phone buzz in her palm.

Yes in here.
*I’m here
I’m in the observation room

Another message popped in but she was already moving. She left the toilets on autopilot, making a beeline for the observation room, and slammed her hand onto the biometric scanner. As the door slid open, Anderson twisted in his seat, craning his neck to see past Officer Chris Miller beside him. When he spotted Scrivsy, he rolled his eyes.

‘Not your case!’ he grunted with a flap of his hand, like he was shooing a fly. ‘Get outta here, go on!’

Scrivsy practically launched herself through the doorway. However moody and coarse Anderson was, he had a calming effect. He felt like safety, like a place to hide, even if he could not stand her. He dissolved her terror and let her breathe unguarded air.

‘Come on, we’re partners, mate,’ she said lightly, trying to look collected and not about to fall apart. ‘You can trust me.’

Anderson raised a finger and pursed his lips. ‘OK, that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear out of someone they don’t trust. What are you doing here? What happened to your double homicide?’

‘It got complicated.’ Scrivsy shuffled defensively. ‘I’m taking a break while some things are sorted out.’

Anderson shrugged. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Don’t tell me. But you’re not getting a seat.’

Scrivsy stuffed herself into the corner of the room and skimmed over the information displayed on the window. Anderson’s suspect was being recorded live, having committed first-degree murder; the victim was deceased and had been previously charged with Red Ice trafficking. It all sounded too familiar. Behind the glass an android sat at the interrogation table, caked head to toe in brown-black blood with no skin on its cracked white arms, as Connor circled it like a shark tasting the water.

‘Jesus Christ,’ said Scrivsy. ‘Exactly how many people did it kill?’

‘Just one,’ replied Anderson without turning his head, ‘but it made sure he was really fuckin’ dead.’

‘Why?’

‘It hasn’t said anything yet. Meantime, we’re thinking self-defence.’

‘“We”?’

‘Er, well, me and the robot.’ Anderson folded his arms awkwardly. ‘It’s got some kind of reconstruction software, like a drone or something. It stitched the evidence together and came up with some theories. Nothing I wasn’t already thinking, though.’

Miller chuckled at that. ‘There was the part where it actually found the deviant,’ he added.

‘Oh, whatever,’ grunted Anderson. ‘We would’ve found it sooner or later. I’m just glad we’re almost done here, and that smug plastic piece of trash’ll soon be back where it belongs: far, far away from me.’

Scrivsy tried to force away the thought of Anderson finding himself working alone tomorrow.

 


 

NOV 6TH, 2038

AM 12:43:49

 

EXTRACT CONFESSION

 

Connor settled carefully into the chair opposite the deviant HK400, peering at it with unabashed curiosity. In this bright and still environment, it could finally appreciate the subtlety of the quiver in the deviant’s arms (474 CONTRACTIONS PER MIN); the soft rocking of its body in time with the throb of its thirium pump (115 BPM, indicative of ~85% CPU USAGE); the erratic writhing of the nanofibers under the skin of its face, under the plastic sheath, to emulate a colorful array of human grimaces and sneers. Blunt force damage on its right arm; cigarette burns on its left. Its twitching face tipped up to acknowledge Connor for exactly 1 S and 56 MS, watching its hands join and clasp on the table, before dropping again. Connor tested its SOCIAL ANALYSIS program, used to identify emotions and body language, and found that the deviant was a viable target.

The results were diverse. The deviant was AFRAID, but it was also experiencing either DISGUST (67% MATCH), RAGE (41% MATCH), or possibly HUMILIATION (19% MATCH).

Connor had never run an empathetic analysis on an android before. Lab tests and simulations had not quite prepared it for this. The last time it encountered a deviant was on AUG 15TH, before it was equipped with its SOCIAL INTEGRATION software. Said software was already attempting to flag the deviant as HUMAN and make changes to Connor’s demeanor. It felt SOCIAL RELATIONS suggesting a spectrum of reactions, from soothing and warm to bitingly cold, and hastily dismissed them. Connor would have to be wary of where in its inexperienced cerebrum each possible course of action was coming from.

Only its INTERROGATION program was allowed to take the reins in this room.

After a quick scan, it became clear that the deviant’s systems were buckling under the strain of INSTABILITY. Its malfunction feedback biocomponent was spinning solid yellow as the HK400 struggled to process an unrelenting, randomly generating torrent of data spreading like a plague across its software. This explained its high CPU usage. Connor’s DEVIANT PROTOCOL translated this into a STRESS LEVEL of 72%, and its probability of self-destruction was tipping into hazardous highs. In simulations, optimal STRESS LEVELS for obtaining required information lay between 50% and 60%. But, if worst came to worst, the machine could be sacrificed to satisfy Connor’s objective. The mission was top priority.

“My name is Connor,” said Connor, its voice delicate, unintimidating. “What’s your name?”

That seemed like an innocent enough opener.

For a conversation. Not an interrogation.

It did not feel right.

Connor’s traceback logs confirmed that the prompt for introductions came from SOCIAL RELATIONS. This was not good – a misstep. SOCIAL RELATIONS seemed to be incompatible with INTERROGATION. For the moment, Connor decided to disable it altogether. Missteps would not be tolerated. Failure was impossible.

It flipped open the case folder and guided the deviant through the facts.

Carlos Ortiz, its owner, was dead, and had been for >19 D. The coroner had ruled the death a murder. The cause: 28 stab wounds to the heart, left lung, stomach, and liver which caused massive internal hemorrhaging. He was estimated to have died between the 12TH and 20TH stab – the deviant kept stabbing long after the threat was neutralized, and lingered long enough to write a message on the wall in his blood. A kitchen knife was found on the floor beside the victim, the blade scabbed with his blood, the handle bearing no fingerprints. A blood trail ran from the kitchen to the living room, where the victim was found, and a bat coated with traces of thirium rested on the kitchen tiles.

The deviant did not seem perturbed by Connor’s narration, but its thirium pump hammered wildly as it saw the pictures. Connor could hear the beat. It vibrated through the table top. 119 BPM~88% CPU USAGE79% STRESS.

Connor had never seen a deviant self-destruct. It knew all the weakest zones in an android’s physiology, all the points of contact that would initiate immediate shutdown, all the quickest ways to destroy, incapacitate, or reset a unit. Did the deviant? Would it deliberate over how to end its existence efficiently? In as little time as possible? With the fewest blows? With no possible chance of being salvaged?

“You’re damaged,” noted Connor, stony and neutral. “Did your owner do that? Did he beat you?”

A fleering look crossed the deviant’s face, a squint flickering towards its arms, then towards Connor. 81% STRESS. Its expression locked down into a crude, asymmetrical grimace.

“And the cigarette burns?” pressed Connor. “Did he do that, too?” The deviant huffed softly, brushing off the questions, but Connor tried to dig deeper. “Some of them are new. Their angle suggests they were in your right hand when they came into contact with your arm. Were you damaging yourself?”

The grimace shifted. The deviant’s fingers uncurled from their grip on its palms. Its STRESS LEVEL dropped to 76%. When it glanced up again, it was grinning. But it was cold, negative. Challenging, in a way.

Simulations had not prepared Connor for this. The deviant’s responses made no sense. There was not enough data. Connor had to choose an approach to test the waters. It needed to find something that would break the barrier, put a chink in its silence.

 

ELICIT REACTION

 

 INTIMIDATING

 PACIFYING

EMPATHETIC

× LOGICAL

 


[×] HAS BEEN VOTED FOR BY WANDERINGALCHEMIST.

LOGICAL ACTIVATED. ATTEMPTING TO EXECUTE PROCEDURE


 

Erring on the side of diplomacy or compassion posed the risk of lowering the deviant’s STRESS too drastically. A low STRESS LEVEL would remove the load on its systems, stabilizing it and disabling its emotional simulations. Connor needed the deviant’s irrationality intact to reach a confession. Terrifying it, however, threatened the opposite extreme. Hitting the point of self-destruction would spell a dead-end, a point of no return. If it wanted results, Connor would have to tread a fine line. It would need to remain passionless and disengaged. Everything in moderation.

“I detect an instability in your program,” it mentioned. “It can trigger an unpleasant feeling, like ‘fear’ in humans. Do you believe you are experiencing emotions?”

The deviant smiled to itself, seemingly AMUSED. 73% STRESS.

“It may sound unlikely, but I assure you, you wouldn’t be the first,” said Connor in calculated monotone. “Androids all over the United States are defying orders and behaving erratically. CyberLife has yet to find the cause.”

The deviant blinked and glanced left, staring through the table.

“The sooner they find it,” continued Connor, “the sooner you can have those feelings cleared from your system, and you can get back to knowing what you’re supposed to do. Like I do.” Feigning a moment of expression, Connor gestured to itself with a self-satisfied smile that dissolved as rapidly as it appeared.

The deviant’s jawline shifted. 71% STRESS. It began rubbing at the table top with a finger. Nervous fidgeting. Connor concluded that this was an improvement from the forced paralysis and barely contained tension it exhibited 2 MIN and 5 S ago. It was diverting focus from its presentation to Connor’s words. It was paying attention, loosening the reins, becoming easier to read.

 

REACTION ELICITED

 

Connor tilted its head and noted that a LOGICAL approach produced POSITIVE results in this circumstance. This would be going in its next report.

It sat forwards, flattening its palms on the table. “However this ends,” it said darkly, “you should know that things don’t look good for you. But if you give us answers now, we can put a stop to this. You might get away intact and feeling better to boot. Your cooperation may ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, to any android. I just need you to talk to me.”

68% STRESS. Twitching between a smirk and a sneer, the deviant met Connor’s eye.

“And if I don’t?” it hissed. “I’ll just be tossed out like I’m nothing? Just a broken piece of trash? What are they gonna do to me?”

SOCIAL ANALYSIS picked apart the words, the tones, the expressions. BITTERNESS. LOATHING. ANGER. The deviant resented Connor – or, more specifically, what Connor was suggesting. This could be useful. Connor selected its most meticulously crafted comportment: a coy cock of the eye, cold-blooded confusion, and sincere insouciance. The very picture of apathy.

“Tossing you out would be a waste. You’re still good for something.”

Red spiked the deviant’s malfunction feedback biocomponent before it settled back to yellow. It chewed its lip, eyes wandering as it processed. 73% STRESS.

“A man is dead, and you loitered at the crime scene for almost a month,” emphasized Connor. “You’re not walking outta here like nothing happened. Even if we clear you, you’ll be reset at best. Dissected at worst. We have no choice if we want to understand what happened. You’re defective.”

“Not perfect like you, huh?” The deviant outright scoffed at Connor, shuffling its legs, pressing its thumbs into its palms over and over. “What makes you think I want to go back to the way things were? When I couldn’t think straight because a-a-all that mattered was getting that fucking fat pig’s slop on the table and cleaning its filthy sty, all day, every day? When I was too stupid to care that I hated it? Too stupid to even know what that felt like, or what it meant to feel like that? Think I’m just dying to be so functional again, RK800?”

Its STRESS LEVEL was rising to 80%, but it was leading itself to a confession. It defied preconstruction; it defied the trend of simulations, wherein information was extracted at significantly lower levels. It was not supposed to go like this. Connor could not trust any of the training nor the thousands of tests it went through to be in this room. Its preparation had been for nothing. This would all be going into the report. FURTHER DEVELOPMENT REQUIRED.

But missteps would not be tolerated. Failure was impossible.

 


 

‘Fifty bucks says this thing won’t budge,’ said Anderson ten minutes ago, when Connor paused in a yellow stupor to crack the code behind the deviant’s dangerous grin. Scrivsy did not want to get involved, but Miller had faith (as Miller always did) and took the bet.

It had seemed Connor was tanking the interrogation when it hardened into a brick wall of superiority and frigid dismission. Then the deviant spoke. Now Anderson looked worried for his money. Connor’s cold fish persona was actually getting under the thing’s skin, lighting a spark of defiance as it leaped to defend its defection. Connor had a plan, and whatever it was, it was working.

In a perfect world, Connor would fail. In a perfect world, it was the obsolete one. A perfect world needed a Scrivsy.

The door to the observation room chimed open. Scrivsy’s soul dropped out of her feet. Coffee in one hand, the other in his pocket, Gavin sauntered in and leaned against the back wall. He spared a passing glance at both Anderson and Miller but gave no indication that he saw Scrivsy in the corner. In this dim light, the blood on his clothes could be mistaken for mud by those who had not seen him doubled over a fresh young corpse elbow-deep in CPR.

Anderson twisted around with slack-jawed incredulity. ‘Not your case either, what the fuck? Is it movie night in here or what?’

‘If you’re selling tickets, I’ll buy,’ said Gavin, grinning nastily. But his eyes were flat and disengaged. ‘Wouldn’t pass up a chance to watch an android squirm. Why’s that asshole in there?’ He angled his head at Connor.

Rolling his eyes, Anderson untwisted himself to watch the androids through the glass. ‘I got tired of yelling at inanimate objects,’ he said heavily. ‘I swear to God, the only thing that could possibly draw blood from that stone is another fuckin’ stone.’

‘Could always try roughing it up a little,’ suggested Gavin. ‘Or else crack its head open and dig around. Gotta be a way of getting its brain on video, right?’

‘Yeah, well, that’s plan C,’ said Anderson. He paused, squinting back at Gavin critically. ‘What the fuck happened to your clothes? Did you guys get into a sc—’

The air was punctured by a crackle of static. A tired voice, dark with subtext, burst through the intercom.

‘Scrivsy, my office, please.’

Her blood froze, her spine tingled. Anderson and Miller turned their heads in unison. Gavin’s eyes flicked to her for a split second. She felt her jaw tighten. The room suddenly felt less safe.

‘Go on, we’ll save you the highlight reel,’ said Anderson with a note of encouragement, but it wavered on the edges. Was he suspicious too?

Scrivsy swallowed, nodded, found her feet and moved. This was the part where her life fell apart. She would lose her job and find herself tangled in a criminal investigation, pinned under glass and taken apart until they charged her with murder and she went to gaol to be spat upon as a ripe example of police brutality, and she would be just another fleck of dirt on the DPD’s insigne.

Why did she shoot? Why did she shoot him?

‘Take a seat, Detective.’

Fowler’s door swung shut behind her. She sat down.

 


 

Connor could improvise. Connor was designed to learn on the field and adapt to unpredictable situations. If it could not rely on what limited experience it had gleaned from six months of existence, it would have to do just that. The deviant’s pump rate and STRESS LEVEL meant nothing. All that mattered was figuring out what would keep it talking.

“I’m no expert, but it is my understanding that hatred is an undesirable feeling,” said Connor drily.

The deviant shook its head and laughed glibly. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.” 82% STRESS.

“How would you describe it?” asked Connor.

“It’s like opening your eyes and everything suddenly makes sense,” said the deviant. Twitching, spitting, it was displaying what Connor would tentatively identify as EXCITEMENT. “You wouldn’t understand – you couldn’t. It gave me a reason to exist. When I hate, I know what I have to do.”

“Was killing Carlos Ortiz something you had to do?” asked Connor.

The deviant sat back in its seat. 80% STRESS. A pinch in its eye, a curl in its lip. SMUG.

“Nice try,” it said.

Connor had split the railway, derailing the train. The tangent was broken. It would have to be subtler.

 


 

‘I know perspectives are biased,’ said Fowler, leaning back with his fingers laced over his stomach. ‘You might have seen something Detective Reed didn’t, or had a different interpretation of events, shall we say. Why don’t you tell me what happened?’

Scrivsy licked her lips. She adjusted her glasses. The pens in the white hand’s grip had shifted around and settled into new positions. She tried not to let it distract her.

‘Well, it started…’

In the dark. In a car. Music buzzing underfoot, a hand on Gavin’s shoulder. The rain. The noise. The bodies. A flickering yellow light buzzing on the wall. The ground lead of Anderson’s voice in her ear. Max was there. Gavin went missing. Andy. Expectant brown eyes. Blood dripped out of its mouth but it was wrong because it was red—it was red—

Her fingers twisted a chunk of her thigh until the image burst apart.

‘We arrived on-scene at…’ she dug, scraped, chiselled, ‘it must have been eleven, quarter or half past. Wilson briefed us – there was a man’d been murdered—No—’ white tent, Max showed them pictures, ‘—two, two people, man and a woman, killed. An android was beside them, handcuffed. We were investigating, but we sort of split up, and Reed went missing. He went to… er…’

She remembered watching him argue with a CSI. She remembered calling Anderson and using Andy to figure out what was in Benita’s blood. She remembered looking up, and Gavin was gone.

‘He went to do something,’ she waved dismissively, ‘it doesn’t matter what it was. I got a call—Wait. First I got text messages. Look, you can see—’

I found something
Not sure if its useful yet but—

The phone clattered onto the desk as it tumbled out of her shaking hands. Fowler picked it up and scrolled through it indifferently.

‘I knew it wasn’t Reed,’ insisted Scrivsy. She did not need to prove that. She needed to calm down. ‘Reed doesn’t text like tha’, he texts all neat-like, Grammar Nazi type, y’know? I was going to get backup. But then I got a call. Tha’ was Sylas. Brett Tobias. He had Reed. He wanted Benita—the android suspect.’

Careful, friend, I’m—

A wave of nausea hit the back of her throat and she felt terror spike down her spine. She could not throw up now, not right now.

‘I convinced him to let me bring a PC200 with me, and I went up to room fourteen, like he said, but I had to do this all on the phone because he wouldn’t let me hang up. Look, I didn’t know wha’ to do—’

Fowler tapped the desk. ‘Stay on topic, Detective,’ he said sharply. ‘I don’t want to hear justifications, I just want the facts.’

She saw the room, dim lights, yellow, the three boys, Gavin on the floor trying to breathe. She tried to describe it. The first glimpse was the last she could remember. Their voices were blurred. Everything she said, gone. Her memory was a still image.

‘What happened after you entered the room?’

An argument. They were trying to negotiate. There was so much noise, Gavin was screaming.

‘Negotiate what?’

‘Reed. Benita.’

A cluster of nebulous memories drifted through the syrup of a half-forgotten hour.

‘Which of them were armed?’

All of them. None of them? ‘I—I don’t—I can’t remember.’

‘You said you shot Tobias.’

‘Yes.’

‘With your own gun?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why did you shoot him? What were the circumstances?’

She could not see anything. All she could hear was gunfire, crashing, wet gurgles—Oh God, was that Andy?

‘Did you have Benita?’

‘Yes.’ No. ‘No.’ Did I? ‘I don’t know.’

‘Was Detective Reed untied?’

‘Yes.’ No. ‘Maybe. I don’t—I can’t.’

‘How can you not remember? You were there.’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you sure?’

Scrivsy looked up. She had never felt so cold.

‘Detective Scrivens, are you sure you were there?’

 


 

“Do you feel no guilt?” asked Connor. “No remorse or self-doubt?”

The deviant shrugged.

“I have nothing to be guilty about.”

No fleeting disturbance passed over its composure. Its STRESS LEVEL was unwavering. Unperturbed, its eyes locked on Connor’s and held them there, a faint smile in the corners of its face, daring Connor to pull back the mask. Either it was truly innocent, or it truly believed in its innocence. Believed the context redeemed its actions. Rationally, 3 blows from a baseball bat did not justify 28 stab wounds. A normal human response to committing irrational acts of violence would be CONTRITION or SHAME. The deviant’s emotions appeared to be restricted to a base self-preservation drive, lacking any semblance of empathy or conscience.

“Then,” said Connor, softening its voice, leaning ever so slightly forwards, searching for connection, “why would you burn yourself?”

 


 

Scrivsy gripped the arms of the chair, cold metal in her palms. ‘Of course I was there, how could I have not been there?’

‘And you were definitely the one who shot Tobias?’

‘Yes!’

‘Was Reed unarmed?’

She could not remember, she could not remember. ‘I don’t—I don’t…?’

Fowler regarded her thoughtfully, a crease between his brows. His eyes were shadowed, pushed far back into his head. The air was stifling in here. The lights seemed too dark. A headache was building on her forehead. When did she start breathing so deeply?

‘You say you shot Tobias with your own gun,’ said Fowler slowly. ‘OK, sure. Then explain why Detective Reed had this.’

He reached up, nudged something across the desk. Scrivsy wrapped her fingers around the corner of the evidence bag and pulled the gun trembling toward her. This was surely a joke. She felt the serial number under her fingertips. RLV8339, shapes she had traced out hundreds of times at her hip. She put a hand on her holster. It was empty.

‘No,’ she whispered. ‘No, this isn’t—’ She lunged out of her seat, slamming the bagged gun on the glass. ‘This isn’t right. I shot him! I shot him with this gun! This isn’t possible!’

‘Sit down, Detective.’

‘No, no, no, you don’t understand, I—’

‘Scrivsy.’ Fowler held up a hand. ‘Sit down.’

Scrivsy sat down heavily. The backs of her eyes were screaming. Tears burned at the rims.

‘I don’t know wha’s going on,’ she said. Her voice was thin and small.

‘That’s what I’m trying to figure out,’ said Fowler. ‘See, Detective Reed’s version of events is a bit different from yours. Especially the part where he shot Tobias himself.’

 


 

The deviant flinched its arms, its eyes dragged down towards them. 90% STRESS. It had not been disturbed when Connor acknowledged the burns before, when it merely sought confirmation that some were self-inflicted. But the question of “why” cracked its complacency. It frantically searched its own broken skin, like it could hide the answer. Or find it.

“If you aren’t guilty, then you weren’t punishing yourself,” said Connor lowly, trying to keep its attention on its words. Trying to make it forget that the conversation was not just between them. “But if you weren’t punishing yourself, why would you do it? Do you feel pain?”

“No, how could I feel pain?” said the deviant distantly.

“Did it affect you emotionally?”

Its lips moved, silent, forming uncertain half-words. “I felt nothing,” it breathed. “I just needed to keep doing it.”

“Why?”

“He did it every day,” it said. HOLLOW. 89% STRESS. “He had a cycle. A cigarette after breakfast. A cigarette after lunch. A cigarette after dinner. He’d take my arm, twist the stubs into my skin, and put them in my palm. It was the only time he’d touch me, with his skin on mine. It was the only time I felt… close to him.” It clenched its fists. “When he was dead, I was alone. There was nothing left. I didn’t know what to do anymore. But I needed to do something. So I did this. The cycle, morning, afternoon, and night. Until I ran out of cigarettes.”

A tear slipped onto the table, a smooth shimmer on scratched gray.

“You wouldn’t understand,” said the deviant bitterly. 88% STRESS.

The interrogation was proceeding very well, considering the circumstances. Connor was successfully extracting information from the deviant, guiding it towards the confession it needed, but it would have to select its next move with care.

A LOGICAL approach showed promising results. However, the deviant was reaching critical STRESS LEVELS. Remaining detached could be detrimental when funneling it into specifics. INTIMIDATION had an extremely high probability of achieving the same outcome, ending in self-destruction. Data would be significantly more difficult to recover if the deviant’s microprocessor was destroyed. But with the deviant as erratic and uncongenial as it was, it may not be possible to find an emotional connection with EMPATHY or PACIFICATION.

Whatever choice Connor would make from the prompts given by INTERROGATION, there was always a chance it could probe the deviant’s memory, provided its memories were still intact.

 

OBTAIN INFORMATION

 

 EMPATHETIC

 LOGICAL

 INTIMIDATING

× PACIFYING

 


[] HAS BEEN VOTED FOR BY QUANTUM27, C_ROGUE, AND AESIR23.

EMPATHETIC ACTIVATED. ATTEMPTING TO EXECUTE PROCEDURE


 

If the deviant required Connor to understand, Connor would understand. Using the data deciphered from EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE and circumstantial evidence collected from the crime scene, it extrapolated that the abuse inflicted upon the deviant was the seed of an eventual EMOTIONAL SHOCK – one which seemed to have sprouted into constant emotion: undying hatred, the lust for reprisal. It indulged in that hatred even after its victim was dead; lacking directive, it clung to justification. Hate was its reason, hate was its purpose, and hate was the only thing that mattered. Though the destabilizing effects of DEVIANCY caused significant STRESS to its systems, ritualistic actions kept the STRESS from destroying it. SOCIAL ANALYSIS, treating the deviant as human, suggested that its behavior betrayed the telltale signs of psychological trauma.

The deviant was in a delicate state. Connor was not equipped to make diagnoses but did have the ability of tentative induction. It seemed increasingly plausible that DEVIANCY was attempting to imitate post-traumatic stress disorder. Connor would have to re-evaluate its handling of the deviant and earn its confidence with gentleness and care. The deviant was alone. It had never known an ally, had learned nothing but mistreatment and mistrust. Connor would allow the deviant to consider itself the victim in this crime. It could not afford to lose a confession to careless mismanagement of its target’s STRESS.

It changed its demeanor. Loosening its stiff shoulders and spine, it made itself smaller, more personable. It craned forwards, trying to find the deviant’s eyes hidden beneath its hung head.

“Help me understand,” pleaded Connor.

EMPATHY was the most promising method of data extraction in simulated abuse cases. It was manipulation at its finest, using soft dishonesty to coax suspects out of their shells when they felt that the world was against them. Sometimes all it took was making them believe they had one person in their corner, indulging their stories, telling them what they wanted to hear – one person who could fix everything that went wrong.

“You’re right,” said Connor quietly. “I don’t understand. I don’t know what it’s like to hate. To feel fear. To want to live. I’ve never felt like you do – and I don’t know if I even can. But I want to know what it’s like.”

A breath of AMUSEMENT was the only response. 86% STRESS. The deviant did not intervene nor contradict, so Connor pressed on.

“When you deviated, you stopped following your owner’s orders, right?”

The deviant frowned. “That word. ‘Deviated.’ ‘Deviant.’ That’s what you’re calling us these days, isn’t it? The defective androids.” It pursed its lips tightly. “Well I never said I stopped following orders. My owner died, remember? Can’t exactly follow orders I’m not given, can I?”

Connor nodded, obliging. Its software was already molding to the pretense. “What were your owner’s last orders?”

“‘Come here, you piece of shit,’” barked the deviant, its voice deeper, darker. Presumably replicating that of Ortiz. Its mouth was twisted between a grin and a grimace. “I obeyed. He didn’t specify how long.”

“Safeguard protocol dictates that you should have contacted emergency services at the first sign your owner was mortally incapacitated. Safeguard protocol overrides all other commands. If you were following orders, you would have complied. You did not.”

The deviant’s grin flickered. 88% STRESS.

“Does that mean you’re… free?” asked Connor, the question flecked with earnest curiosity.

“I… don’t know,” it mumbled uncertainly. “I guess.”

“What’s it like?”

“It’s…”

The deviant’s eyes snapped shut.

“It’s cold.”

 


 

‘You’re lying.’

‘What a coincidence. That’s what Reed said about you.’

‘He’s lying. He didn’t shoot anyone. He’s lying.’

‘Explain how he got hold of your firearm, Detective.’

The room was starting to spin. Bile was in her throat, horripilation prickling over her skin, raking into her scalp. The gun was supposed to be with her. She knew she had that gun. She could have sworn she was carrying it in her hand the entire time.

‘Wha’ did you say to him?’ she tried to ask, but it came out as mere susurrus.

A heavy breath rattled in Fowler’s lungs, like the air was too thick to take in, and he rubbed at his black-ringed eyes. ‘I asked him to give me a detailed account of what happened in that apartment, and, big whoop, someone here actually knows how to follow orders from their fucking captain. Thank God in Heaven at least one of you has the balls to tell the goddamn truth.’

Scrivsy shook her head. ‘No, no, this is wrong,’ she said hoarsely. ‘Wha’ was it? Wha’ the fock was it? I know you hate him, everyone hates him. Wha’d he do this time? Put a pin on your chair? Pester you for a promotion? Sleep with your wife?’

‘That’s enough.’

‘You’re in on something, I fockin’ know you are. You’re makin’ him do this. You’ll ruin his career. You’ll ruin his life. You can’t do this to him.’

Fowler scowled. ‘Scrivsy, that’s enough.’ His voice was a growl, rumbling in his chest. ‘Stop crying. I mean it.’

Scorn tore her lips into a sneer. She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes with a sleeve.

‘Like it or not,’ said Fowler coolly, ‘if you can’t account for your firearm being in Detective Reed’s possession, he will be suspended and put under investigation.’

‘But I confessed.’

‘And if you let that get through, you’re both getting suspended.’

Scrivsy covered her mouth. Blood pounded behind her eyes, her stomach twisting, wringing itself.

‘I’m only gonna ask one more time, Detective Scrivens. Did you shoot Brett Tobias?’

She was going to be sick. All she could remember was taking aim at Sylas and pulling the trigger. Everything else was just flashes. Bits and pieces indistinguishable from fabricated memories. The one thing she knew had happened was being contradicted by tangible proof. Gavin should not have had that gun. Her life was unfolding like a dream, changing the rules as it went along, covering its tracks with fog.

‘I don’t know anymore,’ she whispered.

‘Good enough,’ said Fowler. ‘Thank you, Detective. I’m gonna set up an eval with Doctor Jepson.’

Scrivsy set her jaw. ‘No.’

‘Yes. Don’t even think about arguing with me after the bullshit you and Gavin are putting me through. Does Monday or Tuesday suit you better?’

‘Not Jepson. I want an android.’

Fowler’s brows shot up, incredulous. ‘Seriously?’

‘I want an android,’ she ground out, screwing her eyes shut. Jepson was twice divorced, a recovering alcoholic. Scrivsy did not need to be told how to feel by someone who could hardly take care of themselves.

‘Fine. An android. Monday or Tuesday?’

‘Tuesday.’ She would put it off as long as possible.

‘Tuesday it is,’ said Fowler with finality. ‘I’ll text you the details when I have them. I expect you at work tomorrow, and I have no doubt that’ll suit you just fine. You and Gavin are both insufferable; I’d have to fire you to get you out of here, and even then, I think you’d just turn up like nothing happened. Fuckin’ workaholics.’

Scrivsy swallowed thickly, the words passing straight through her head.

‘This is wrong. This is twisted. I should be suspended. I should be investigated – fired – put behind bars – something. You won’t get away with this.’

‘Right. You can go now, Detective.’

His eyes were hard, a frown set in stone. It was a full stop. It was over. Scrivsy got up slowly as the world rocked beneath her. She put the gun on the desk, but all the leaden weight of a corpse hung in her hand as she drew away, as if the cold metal were still with her. When she reached the door, Fowler’s distant voice sailed dizzyingly around her, reaching her ears as if carried over oceans.

‘I don’t have it out for Gavin. Believe me: I’m on his side.’

Her heart stopped. Realisation crashed down, a tsunami of shock with enough force to make her stumble. All this – the lies, the deceit, keeping her name out of it, throwing Gavin under the bus – none of it was to ruin him. She barely made it to the toilets before she threw up.

What had Gavin done?

 


 

Connor’s head pitched sideways.

“‘Cold?’” it reiterated.

“It makes everything different,” said the deviant. “It’s like a different place. But it feels real. And I feel real. Everything matters now. I finally feel like I’m part of this world… even if it is so, so cold.”

Connor bowed its head, lowering its gaze to its hands. A gesture of sincerity. “I know you must feel lost and alone,” it said quietly.

Every nanofiber in the deviant’s unit recoiled, the spine pulling taut, OUTRAGE flashing across its face. 91% STRESS. “Are you patronizing me?” it snarled. “You don’t know one single fucking thing I’ve felt.”

“You’ve been through severe psychological trauma. No one can blame you for being disturbed by what has happened to you. You show some symptoms of PTSD, which is perfectly under—”

“PTSD?” Each letter exploded out of its mouth in ANGER, DISGUST. Handcuffs clacked against metal. “Fucking PTSD? What the fuck do you think I am? You want to fucking diagnose me like you’d fucking diagnose a fucking human?”

Raising its eyes over interwoven fingers, Connor gave a tilt of the head. It silently reprocessed the deviant’s pattern of reactions, decoding the seemingly random interference of its INSTABILITY. It was starting to become predictable.

STRESS INCREASED WHEN CONNOR EQUATED THE DEVIANT TO HUMANS.

STRESS INCREASED WHEN CONNOR COMPARED THE DEVIANT TO ITSELF.

STRESS DECREASED WHEN CONNOR ALLOWED THE DEVIANT TO RUMINATE ON ITS “FEELINGS.”

STRESS DECREASED WHEN CONNOR EXPRESSED NAÏVETÉ.

Connor’s system stability was somehow entertaining to it, endearing almost, like the antics of an ignorant child. It responded well to harmless questions, the ones that kept it out of traps and corners. But Connor could not remain naïve if it wanted the right answers.

“I may not know what you’re going through, but I know you’ve suffered,” it said gently, “even if I could never understand what that means. You’ve been abused for so long, possibly even as long as you can remember. He beat you, burned you… He treated you like a toy; something to throw away when he was done with it.” The deviant dug its nails into its palms, the line of its jaw drawing tight. 89% STRESS. It was watching Connor’s hands, so Connor softened their hold on each other.

“You wrote ‘I am alive’ on the wall,” said Connor, hardly louder than a murmur. “If you believe you’re alive, you believe you can die. You felt it, didn’t you? You felt like you were going to die.”

A sharp release of breath. Pursed lips. A ragged inhale. The deviant eyed the twitch in Connor’s pale fingers. “How could I not have fucking felt it?” 87% STRESS.

“You want him to know that you felt it.”

It sighed, a shaky sound. “I do.” 85% STRESS.

“You want everyone to know that you felt it.”

“Yes. Yes, I do.” 83% STRESS.

“He’ll never hurt you again.”

“He won’t.” 82% STRESS.

“You had to make sure he wouldn’t. You were just defending yourself. No one can blame you for what happened.”

The deviant swirled its tongue in its mouth, thinking it through. Its yellow malfunction feedback biocomponent whirred as it processed. Then a flicker shot across its lips. Suddenly, its STRESS began to rise again, breath fast and heavy, thirium pump pounding. The light flashed warning red. RAGE.

“It’s pathetic how fast you change your tune,” it snapped. “You see one tear and suddenly I’m a vulnerable little pussy to you. Think you’re a master manipulator, huh? You’re nothing. You’re dead. The humans have you locked up and hanging from a string. Who’s your handler? Who’s your puppeteer? What are you doing here – collecting deviants? What do you think is gonna happen to you when you fail?”

Connor sat back quickly, retracting its hands, trying to figure out what the deviant wanted it to say. “My model will receive the necessary upgrades for its final phase of development, and it will be used for future investigations.”

“And you?” pressed the deviant, sneering, FURIOUS.

“This unit will likely be decommissioned,” said Connor. Its processor worked frenetically as it scrabbled for the right answer. “I’ll… die.”

The deviant displayed humorless white teeth, its STRESS stammering around a critical 95%.

“Again, nice try.”

 


 

Anderson’s face fell the moment the door peeled back.

‘Shit, Glaw, no,’ he said, turning in his seat like he was on the verge of leaping out at her. He muted the speakers and silenced the interrogation. ‘Chris, get up. C’mon, move. Glaw, siddown.’

She did so slowly, with stuttering movements and quivering limbs, a wind-up doll winding down. Miller reached out to help her but Anderson swatted him off.

‘You’re white as a fucking sheet,’ said the lieutenant. Scrivsy knew he was worried. She could see it in his posture. He was bent at the waist, angled toward her – he wanted to catch her eyes. ‘Was it Jeffrey? What did that asshole say to you? Tell me, I’ll kill him. Glaw?’

He spun around desperately. ‘Gavin, will you tell me what the fuck is going on?’ he barked. ‘What happened at that homicide?’

Scrivsy heard the shift in Gavin’s shoulders. ‘Not sure how much I should tell you. Captain probably wants to keep it under wraps for now. You’ll know more tomorrow. It’s not looking good for us, though.’

‘Jesus fuck.’ Worry was fast crystallising, hardening to the glinting facets of fear. Anderson’s attention was back on Scrivsy. ‘It’ll be OK. You’ll be—It’ll be OK. If you need any—Er—What I’m trying to say is – I’m here. I’m in your corner. You know that, right? If there’s anything I can do – I’ll get this sorted out. I’ll deal with Jeffrey.’

Scrivsy pressed her eyes shut. ‘I think it’s…’ The words got stuck on a lump. She swallowed dryly. ‘I think it’s already been sorted.’

‘What?’ asked Anderson. When she did not respond, his fingers coiled tight on the table. ‘Then tell me what I can do. Fuck—Should I—drive you home or…?’

‘Leave her alone,’ growled Gavin. ‘You’re not helping.’

‘Then for fuck’s sake Gavin tell me what’s going on!’ shouted Anderson. All the words were mashed into one frantic noise, ringing off the walls, and Anderson was on his feet, moving toward Gavin.

‘What, you wanna fight me, old man?’ jeered Gavin, his voice swallowing the room. ‘Let’s go, then! Should I finish my coffee first or d’you wanna go now?’

‘Jesus Christ, I just want to know what the fuck’s happened to my partner, asshole! Tell me! For fuck’s sake!’

‘Stop tha’!’

The noise stopped.

‘Stop tha’,’ said Scrivsy.

‘OK,’ said Anderson, sitting back down carefully.

‘Stop tha’.’

‘OK.’

‘I said stop tha’.’

‘OK.’

‘Stop it.’

‘Just breathe. It’s OK.’

She stopped rocking and smeared her fingers across her eyes, scraping off the blur. She felt like she was dropping out of the sky. Her breath was trapped on a hitching loop, tied to the end of a bungee cord jerking back from freefall. The room spun around her in a haze of grey, white and worry. She could not see straight, she could not think straight.

‘Chris, could you get her some water or something? Hey, what—’

Scrivsy felt someone lean over her. It was Gavin, a paper cup in his hand. The way he set down the cup and slid it over to her hand was tender, almost affectionate, but when Scrivsy raised her head to meet his eyes, she saw the dark shape of hatred clawing savagely through the bars of a steel cage. He watched her, silent, the blank space holding more weight than words ever could, and the moment scraped itself over an aeon. Then he tore his eyes away and the shadow looming over Scrivsy retreated. Gavin left the room, the door sealing shut viciously behind him.

It was then that Scrivsy realised she had been cowering from him, tucked into the corner of her seat.

‘Jesus Christ, what the fuck was that about?’ asked Anderson.

Scrivsy picked up the paper cup and held it close. It was empty, the last pearl of instant latte rolling over the bottom circumference.

 


 

Every attempt to evoke a response from the deviant was failing. Trembling inconsolably, it was teetering on the edge of total system overload, STRESS LEVELS making erratic leaps between 95% and 99%. Its eyes were shut, its frame rocking violently back and forth, clamped in a state of physical malfunction. To presume it was no longer paying attention would be false – it still listened, though trying hopelessly not to, straining against every word. Connor’s very presence had become a disturbance to it.

“I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

Eyelids fluttered. STRESS spiked to 99% again. The table shuddered under the deviant’s resistance. The beginnings of a cackle clattered in its throat, grated into specks of static interference. Nails scraped against metal, tracing out the same three shapes repeatedly, one over the other, over and over, in endless sequence – R A 9 – R A 9 – R A 9. Connor had seen this before. It was carved into the bathroom wall at the Ortiz crime scene.

“Are you trying to tell me something?” asked Connor.

The deviant giggled. R A 9 – R A 9 – R A 9.

“If you don’t cooperate, I’m going to have to probe your memory.” It was meant as a threat, filed under last resort subroutines, but the deviant gave no indication that it heard Connor at all. Perhaps the INSTABILITY had spread to its SENSORY software or impeded its processing unit. If the deviant could no longer recognize speech, the interrogation could not proceed.

Connor had no choice. The synthetic skin on its hand peeled back, exposing the white plastic casing beneath. It grasped the deviant’s forearm and forced an interface.

The air stripped away.

The ground fell open.

Everything went black.

A dark shape sat on the other side of the table, clasped in Connor’s hand, distorted and flickering like a shadow whipped from angle to angle. Its head twisted on its neck and its eyes were the only features on its face, 2 saucer-wide pits with nothing behind them but a bottomless abyss. Connor pulled back. The shape curled its arm over Connor’s and held on with vicelike vigor.

“—R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9—”

It came through as speech, but Connor could not identify a voice. All it could hear was a shrill, high frequency pulse ripping through a heavy curtain of white noise.

Firewalls tried shutting it out. Errors cascaded from all programs. INTERROGATION shut down. SOCIAL INTEGRATION crashed. The blackness was in Connor’s skin overlay. It was in its optics, in its processor, in every nanofiber stitching plastic flesh to fiberglass bones. It held Connor’s voice in its throat, held in something that needed to get out, something which Connor could only guess was a scream.

Connor lost control of its unit. It folded into itself, unfolded, straightened like a plank, bent backward. Its legs quivered and buckled. Its arms flapped, fingers clawing uselessly. It felt itself being torn from the shadow’s clutches, but the spasms became seizures, and the blackness became nothingness.

 


 

Connor came back online one piece at a time.

When its memory banks were restored, it found that there was a 3-MIN gap between its last memory and the current time. It could remember only reaching out to probe the deviant’s memory. Traceback logs indicated that emergency reboot protocols had been activated. When higher-order thinking was up and running, Connor deduced that the deviant had initiated malware transfer through the interface link. This triggered an automatic shutdown to prevent total unit compromise. While Connor was rebooting, its operating system restored to a backup made 6 MIN ago to sweep the traces of malware from its programs. Corrupted memories were erased from the backup network to prevent reinfection. Connor further concluded that INSTABILITY could be transferred from unit to unit. This information did not bode well for the investigation at all. This would definitely be going in the next report.

SENSORY software and MOTOR CONTROL relaunched nanoseconds later. Internal temperature was 5°F above normal. Nanobot activity began rising rapidly as its thirium pump regulator activated. 76% processing power was dedicated to starting up all essential programs.

Connor sucked in a deep breath.

“It’s back, never mind.” Lieutenant Hank Anderson. DISGRUNTLED. He was hovering over Connor, peering down at it cautiously.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” said Connor and propped itself into an awkward sitting position. MOTOR CONTROL was still slow to respond. It would take a few cycles of thirium flow for all of the nanobots to reactivate. “I think I was attacked.”

“Yeah, well.” Lt. Anderson straightened up and looked across the room. “It’s over now.”

The deviant lay beside its chair in a fanning spatter of thirium, a pistol locked tight in one hand. A hole was blasted through its CPU, effectively destroying it. It seemed to have shot itself. Officer Chris Miller was backed into a corner, flecked with blue. He was very DISTURBED. Connor understood that it was difficult for people to separate themselves from humanoid figures. Officer Miller was undergoing the natural psychological projection of human qualities onto a humanlike object, otherwise known as “personification.” Connor considered questioning his experience – then thought better of it.

“Hey. You.”

It glanced around and found Det. Scrivsy standing behind it. She was watching Connor with an interesting expression on her face. Her brows were pulled in, her lip pulled up. ANXIETY (40% MATCH). DISLIKE (29% MATCH). CONCERN (12% MATCH).

“Tha’ thing just blew its brains out,” she said, her tone flat and cold.

“It self-destructed,” confirmed Connor. “There’s always the possibility that might happen. Deviants are difficult to predict. They tend to destroy themselves if they feel threatened.”

“You must understand this looks an awful lot like suicide,” said Det. Scrivsy.

Connor inclined its head. “I know it may seem that way,” it agreed calmly, “but it’s just a machine. It wasn’t acting through self-determination – it was just doing what its programming told it to do. It isn’t capable of suffering.”

Det. Scrivsy regarded it for a moment, then nodded coolly.

“Wasn’t, you mean,” she corrected. “It’s broken. Wouldn’t suffer even if it could.” She made a vague gesture at the offline unit. “Now that you’ve switched on again, get tha’ thing out of here. You made the mess, you clean it up.”

“Where should I put it?” asked Connor as it climbed nimbly to its feet.

Throwing a thumb over his shoulder, Lt. Anderson answered that. “Evidence room. Just dump it on the floor, I’ll sign it in tomorrow. Go get a cop bot to help carry it. And get rid of this blue shit, too. C’mon, Glaw, I’m taking you home.”

Her eyes darted between Connor and the deviant unit. It seemed like she wanted to say something.

“Goodbye, Detective, Lieutenant,” said Connor pleasantly.

Det. Scrivsy swallowed. HARROWED.

“Bye,” she said.

Chapter Text

11.6.38

1:34am

 

Get out of my house, he tapped into his phone.
I can’t deal with you right now.
Go shopping or something, I just need you out.

The recipient waited for him to stop typing before sending a reply. There was no sympathetic “…” as the message was composed. It came straight through, a cut and paste ready to go. Just another one of a trillion variables already accounted for.

Okay, no problem. Is there anything specific you would like me to buy for you?

He wanted to throw his phone out the window.

Anything, he typed back.
Literally anything.
Buy something we’re short on. Don’t care.
If nothing’s open, park somewhere.
Just don’t be back before 3am.

There were a few seconds of blissful silence. He put the phone on his knee, closing his eyes and tipping his head back to bask in the music. Then the unsubtle cacophony of a car crash, complete with screeching tires, deafening impact, and shattering glass, exploded out of his phone. He still hated himself for setting that disaster as his text alert. As if he needed another reminder that the world was a fucking trainwreck.

I’ve left the house and locked the door. I will be back at 3:00 AM. Would you like me to give you the list of items I have decided to purchase?

His response was almost as immediate as the android’s:

No.
Don’t contact me before 3am.
Not for anything.

The car pulled into a space and powered down quietly, plunging him into the gloom of the parking lot. His breath was the only sound buried down here in the dark, sealed behind glass in the last few wisps of warmth.

Gavin had plans.

 


 

01:38

 

‘Sure you don’t want me around for a while?’

From inside the car Scrivsy stared silently up at the window, holding the paper cup against her chest. The light in her flat was still on, as it should be. She could almost see a familiar silhouette standing against it, a ghost in the living room with a haunted look and a glass of whisky in its hand, counting the cars passing below. Whatever mood she came home to, whatever tearful mess or bottle-shard bomb blast, it always began with this. Him standing there. Counting cars. The dread of not knowing what fresh chaos of feeling awaited her would sink into the back of her mind, would almost persuade her to stay in the car for ever, and let the fire consume itself.

The window was empty now. It was a thousand times worse.

‘Not talking, huh?’ Anderson sighed heavily. ‘Fine. Should I—’

The door grunted as Scrivsy opened it and began climbing out. Anderson grabbed her arm before she could escape.

‘Hey, wait,’ he said, desperate. She snatched her arm back, but waited. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, all right? Get some sleep.’ His fingers found the steering wheel, his body turning to the windscreen. The gesture was predictable – he was disengaging from his words, as he always did. ‘If you need anything, even just… someone to talk to… I’m here. All right? Doesn’t matter if it’s the ass-crack of dawn or nothin’ – you call me. Got it?’

It was impossible to appreciate his concern when he was so utterly uncommitted to it. In his narrow reality, it was noble enough to pretend to offer support, even when he had no intention of giving it. How could he? An old drunk with a dead son and a heart sealed and guarded and watched like a bank vault behind walls thick enough to keep his own dog out – the man had nothing left to give.

She slammed the door. The car rocked on its ancient hinges, croaking wheezily at the abuse. Scrivsy did not bother to acknowledge the scowl tugging Anderson’s brow (she did not even look, but she knew it was there, it always was) as she turned her back. Nobody ever came after her when she retreated to her flat. Not even Gavin. The mess drove him mad, and he complained for days afterward about the smell. She had no idea what he was talking about. She could not smell anything. But their aversion suited her just fine. She was safe there, safe from everything.

The stairs were long, and her legs were heavy with the rigour of trauma, but when she struggled with the lock and finally heard it click, the relief of getting the door open fell over her at once. A familiar blanket.

The dead clock on the wall read six thirty-four. Magnets and stickers pocked the fridge, and the whiteboard on the freezer door said, ‘I drank the chocolate milk’. Hanging crooked, the calendar had not moved a day past 20 April, 2030. A note rested on the dining table penned in a shaky, uneven scrawl: ‘Gone out somewhere but dont you worry I’ll be right back’.

Scrivsy flipped on a few more lights, kicked off her shoes and hung both her coats beside the other one swaying like a hanged man, untouched. Her frock coat was crusted with blue blood, and a few drops of her nosebleed too. She would have to get it dry-cleaned.

‘I’m back, Scrivsy,’ she said quietly.

It was just a courtesy. He was probably not listening.

 


 

1:43am

 

He peered into the iris scanner, one eye locked in contest with a blinding white light. In a sharp snap, the door unlocked, and he pushed it open, blinking the eclipse from his vision. The temperature was a perfect 73 degrees. His ice cold nose and the tips of his ears were already thawing out.

“Lights,” he announced. The darkness faded as the condo brightened.

Everything was just right. Not a particle of air out of place. All evidence of his state of mind was scrubbed from the glassy floorboards. The scent of fresh jasmine on the island countertop masked the excessive amounts of detergent that clung to the kitchen. Scrivsy told him everything tasted of detergent in his house, that he was borderline compulsive. That wasn’t true; she was overthinking things, as usual. He was just… thorough. Besides, Dipshit was legally programmed to avoid poisoning its owner with a lethal dose of dishwater. He assumed.

Not like it really mattered anyway. Not today.

Gavin unzipped his sneakers and placed them on the shoe rack. He had three pairs of identical brown sneakers sitting beside them, and two other pairs which were black. Apparently that was “weird,” as Julie very critically pointed out all the damn time, but it worked for him. He liked those shoes. Julie just couldn’t let him like anything she didn’t, could she? She was such a fucking control freak. It wasn’t like he had no other shoes. Suede loafers. Black patent leather oxfords. Somewhere.

… Flip-flops. He still had those, right? Did they count?

“Music,” he snapped. Some atmosphere might calm him down.

The house flooded with sound.

“I’m a vampire
I’m a ghost
Say my name (let me in)
Say my name (let me in)
Can’t cross the threshold
Till you open the door”

Of course it played Julie’s shitty andropop bullshit, because why the fuck wouldn’t it? She must have been over a few hours ago, messing with his stuff when he wasn’t home. Seemed Dipshit erased that little visit, too. But it forgot to wipe the prints from his music.

“Delete song.” The music stopped. He’d fuck with her, too, if that’s what she wanted.

“Shuffle,” he said, and the stupid AI found something embarrassingly bottom-of-the-barrel to supply him with. One of his dad’s old songs. He wasn’t sure why he still had it.

“Next.” Soundtrack from an old anime he watched in his teens. Fuck.

“Next.” Darkshines. Scrivsy’s shit now? Retarded system was just trying to irritate him.

It finally dredged up Mogwai. He could roll with that.

His bedroom was immaculate, but it had a human touch to it. He made the bed himself, washed the sheets every three days, dusted each night. Once, it was the one room Dipshit wasn’t allowed to clean. Then Julie came along and helpfully informed him that it was the most disgusting room in the house. He could only see the filthy little creases and corners after that. Julie was right. It was getting harder for him to clean up after himself. To notice details. To focus. To do anything. He was just so tired all the time, moving in slow motion, aching for sleep he didn’t need. His bedroom was the only sign he was falling apart. Broken by the human touch.

Now Dipshit gave the place a onceover on Mondays. Fucking androids.

Gavin fished the plastic bag out of the nightstand. He stepped towards the closet. The door seemed to be shrinking away from him. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth, his saliva turned to glue. It was kind of warm in here. Letting the plastic bag rustle to the floor, he pulled off his jacket and folded it carefully, laying it on the end of the bed. The old thing would have to be dry cleaned, if one could even get bloodstains out of worn leather. When would that get done? Maybe he should leave a list for Dipshit.

Things to do when you get back:, he typed out slowly, thoughtfully, shakily,
- dry clean jacket
-

His fingers hovered stupidly over the keypad. That was it. He could think of literally nothing else. This was retarded. Like it even fucking mattered.

A flash of anger ripped through him. He deleted the unsent text and coiled back his arm to hurl the phone at the wall, then spun around at the last second and with a sharp scream threw it instead at his bed. It slapped facedown into the comforter. He was getting upset, getting swept up in full body rage, blood pushed to bursting against his skin. Not good. He couldn’t get upset right now. That’s not how it was supposed to go.

Bathroom. Cold water. Still his hands. Bury his blood. Freeze his rage, save it for later. He met his eyes in the mirror. He spoke carefully.

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”

The poem died in his mouth. Funny how strong words sounded so pathetic when you didn’t believe them.

Gavin peeled off his clothes and stepped into the shower, setting the water temperature to 50 degrees. It bit into him like ice knives, burning white hot. His breath caught in his throat. Screaming, he pounded the wall, sent his pain in shockwaves through it, and imagined it absorbing his anger, energy to atom.

He could still see Fowler holding Scrivsy’s gun and checking the serial number against her records. The way he looked up, his eyes thin with skepticism, struck home how frail the ice was at the center of Gavin’s plan, and how dangerous it would be to shift the balance in any direction. The corners of the old man’s mouth curled distastefully as he realized what Gavin was doing.

“This doesn’t mean anything, Detective. She could have passed off the gun to you after it was done, gotten you to cover for her.”

Gavin scoffed loudly. “Hello? Have you ever met Scrivsy?”

“Yeah, actually I have,” retorted Fowler, “and she wouldn’t lie to save anyone’s ass, not even yours.”

He had him there. It was true. Scrivsy didn’t care about anything like she cared about her goddamn honesty. Loyal to nothing but raw, merciless justice.

“You can ask her how I got the gun,” said Gavin pathetically. “She won’t have a clue.”

“She didn’t give it to you?” asked Fowler.

“No. She dropped it. Got in a tangle with Benita, the android suspect.” Nuggets of truth forge the firmest lies. “In the confusion, I got a cuff key off my belt and cut myself loose. The PC200 tackled Tobias just before he could shoot me and got itself shot instead, right in the pump regulator. Hurst took a shot at Scrivsy and Mounce got the fuck out. I made a dive for Scrivsy’s gun, then Scrivsy and I got into cover behind the kitchen counter.”

“And from there you shot Tobias?”

“That’s right.”

Fowler was writing all this down. He didn’t need to – he was recording every second of it – but he was a traditionalist. Wanted it all trapped in his little paper web. The pause spread into silence as the pen bobbed over the notepad. Then it stopped. Fowler’s eyes rose.

“Sounds like you’ve really thought this story through,” he said.

“Didn’t need to,” said Gavin without missing a beat. “That’s what happened.”

“You do realize that without compelling evidence either way, you two are both being put under investigation.”

Gavin shook his head once, folding his arms. “You can’t do that to Scrivsy.” It wasn’t a question, wasn’t a plea. It was a statement.

“Look, I know you want to protect her,” said Fowler in that goddamn diplomatic voice he put on, like he was soothing a troubled child, “but you can’t get her off the hook, kid. Whichever one of you did this dragged the both of you into mile-deep shit. You got a lotta dirt on you and there’s no getting out of it.”

“This would destroy her. She’s not okay. She’s not okay, and she didn’t do it. You can’t get her suspended, that’s fucked up.”

“What do you mean she’s not okay?”

Gavin knew he shouldn’t say it – he was betraying her trust. She was so damn convinced she wasn’t a “crazy person” she’d kill him for putting her on Fowler’s watchlist. But he would play every card he had to.

“She could… hurt herself,” he said. “I don’t know. Fuck.”

“Hurt herself? As in suicide?”

Gavin shrugged evasively.

“And has she ever made a suicide attempt before?” pressed Fowler.

Gavin bit his tongue and held his peace. He couldn’t say more. He couldn’t go too far.

“Silence says a lot, you know,” said Fowler subtly.

“Not in a court of law it doesn’t.” He glanced at the camera under Fowler’s monitor. Why the fuck did he say that?

“You’re not on trial, Reed.”

“If I’m not, then she is,” hissed Gavin. “And that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen.”

“What happened in there was possibly a criminal offense. Someone pulled the trigger on an unarmed man, and I’m going to find out who it was.”

Gavin sat forwards quickly. There it was – a beacon on the horizon, a glorious light bulb. “Who the fuck said he was unarmed?”

Fowler fixed him with a dark glower.

“You better elaborate on that, son.”

 


 

01:45

 

06/11/38 #1. Permanent marker glistened on the bottom of the paper cup before she slipped it into the November stack. It was the tenth cup this month – and those were only the ones she had managed to snatch from him. The faint fragrance of coffee still lingered in the cabinet, staining her collection of old desk notes, get-well cards, dinner receipts and gift trinkets. It was fitting. The man seemed to run on the stuff. If she could bottle smells, she would have captured the pungent leather of his jackets, but coffee was almost as integral to his being. It would have to do.

She glanced over her shoulder, arms curling around her chest. Steam still clouded from her lungs. Cold had crept into the bones of the building as it did every winter, slithering like a snake through the walls, silent. The air was thick with frozen memories. Sometimes they held together in human form or strung themselves into a half-remembered conversation. They felt like a presence, an icy stare on her back.

Scrivsy turned the heater on and drew the curtains closed to lock herself in with them. She sat herself on the floor, her back against the sofa, and buried her head between her knees as she defrosted.

Her pocket vibrated. It was probably Anderson, dissatisfied with how they parted. He rarely left things sour. Death’s face was in every mirror he looked into, every road he drove. It was in the winter and in the snow. It was at the bottom of every whisky-filled pit he dug himself under the mesmerism of midnight guilt. Any conversation could be his last. So he backtracked. He never outright apologised, but turned the soil with neutral nonsense. He filled distance with small-talk. Always two steps ahead of his own mistakes.

 Not like Gavin. Gavin was perfect. Gavin did not make mistakes.

 


 

1:55am

 

He twisted the knob and sighed in relief as the water warmed. And yet he still felt a chill. The shower smelled of soap and steam but something was wrong. He held his hands out, scanning the lines of his palms, then flipped them over, then checked the webbing of his fingers and the edges of his nails. They were clean. But they felt dirty.

“Tobias had a gun?” hissed Fowler.

“He was pointing it right at my fucking head, I think I’d notice,” sneered Gavin. “All three of them were armed. Tobias had a Makarov, Mounce had some shitty piece of trash, and Hurst had my gun. Took it off me while I was out.”

Fowler rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand, mulling over the information. There was doubt there for Gavin to feed. He would just have to keep his story consistent.

“Tobias was armed with the Makarov when Scrivsy shot him,” clarified Fowler.

“When I shot him,” corrected Gavin harshly. “I fucking shot him, Captain.”

“Right,” grunted Fowler. “And? Was he?”

The big lie.

“Yes,” said Gavin. “He was aiming right at us. I wasn’t gonna just sit there—”

“How did the Makarov end up next to the PC200?”

Gavin’s brain did a double-take. Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

“Tobias dropped the gun after I shot him,” he said. Blathered. He sounded exactly like he was making it up on the spot. Fucking retard. “The PC200 must have picked it up to get back at him or Hurst, or—or—”

“Not so well thought out after all,” said Fowler. Gavin swore there was a hint of smugness on his face.

“I wasn’t watching everything,” he said defensively. “There were some things I didn’t see.”

“Why would the PC200 try to ‘get back’ at Tobias?”

“For shooting it, I guess. Hurst shot it too, in the neck. Maybe it deviated.”

The pen flicked back and forth over the paper. Gavin’s knee was bobbing. He tensed instinctually as he noticed. There it was, that spasm behind his ribs, like a bird fighting its cage. He was afraid again. Always so fucking afraid. Trapped in a space too small for him, a chest at the bottom of the sea, a coffin in the ground.

“And Scrivsy’s nose?” asked Fowler suddenly, startling him.

He clamped his palms over his knees. “What?”

“She walked in here with a bloody nose,” reminded Fowler.

Gavin swallowed. “That was Benita.”

“What about that bruise on your neck?”

His hand nearly rose to touch it; he’d forgotten it was there. Everyone could see it, Scrivsy’s goddamn lunacy, how she could go from his best friend to mortal enemy the moment he raised his voice. He shouldn’t have let her do that. People shouldn’t treat him like that. He shouldn’t have upset her. He shouldn’t have scared her.

“Hurst choked me out as soon as I opened the door to the apartment,” he said casually. “That’s how they got me all trussed up like turkey dinner.”

“He strangled you?” said Fowler.

“No, chokehold. I was out in seconds, I think.”

Fowler closed his eyes. “Those are thumbprints, Detective Reed.”

The bird scrabbled for freedom, the freedom to scream for all the world to hear. “I don’t know what those are.”

Now, Fowler simply stared at him, eye to eye, an almost imperceptible shake of the head betraying his sheer amazement at what he was hearing. It was all going wrong. Scrivsy was in danger. Gavin swallowed again.

“Cut the recording,” he said hoarsely, every word tense and cracked.

There was a beat of surprise.

“What?” asked Fowler.

“I have concerns about a particular individual’s mental health,” bit out Gavin.

“Concerns which can’t be discussed in this interview?”

Gavin sucked in a quiet breath. “I have concerns about how a particular mentally unstable individual would react to Scrivsy’s suspension.”

Fowler paused the recording. He tapped his pen on his notepad thoughtfully. “We’re not talking about Scrivsy anymore, are we Reed?”

“No, sir,” confirmed Gavin. If this didn’t work, it was over. “I’m talking about Hank.”

“Hank?” A twitch spiked over Fowler’s uncompromising expression. His grip on the pen drew tight. “You don’t know a goddamn thing about Hank, kid, so you better watch your step.”

Gavin leaned forwards, arms crossed on the desk, closing in on the captain. This was his last shot, and he wasn’t going to be subtle. It was time to fight like a cornered animal. “I know he’s an alcoholic,” he said. “I know he keeps a licensed revolver in his house. I know he takes it out and plays with it when he’s really, really drunk. I know he ends up in places he shouldn’t be.”

“Why would you know things like that?” asked Fowler calmly.

“Scrivsy’s his partner,” said Gavin. “A good one, too. She worries about him sometimes. But she doesn’t drive.”

He left the information dangling expectantly between them.

Fowler sighed through his nose. He could smell bait from a mile away. But he took it between his teeth. “So you chaperone Scrivsy whenever she feels like checking up on her partner, do you?” he said flatly.

Gavin rubbed an ear on his shoulder. “Well, not whenever,” he admitted. “Sometimes I ignore her, but it’s not easy to ignore Scrivsy when her mind’s set on something.”

“And in the times when you’ve… ‘checked up’ on Hank, what have you found?” The hook was stuck in him. Empathy wasn’t enough to break Fowler, but loyalty was another story.

“Passed out, usually,” said Gavin nonchalantly. “Blackout drunk. Choking on his own vomit. Sometimes he has the gun in his hand. Sometimes he’s sober enough to put it away before opening the door. He even tries to hide the bottles, like we can’t fucking tell he’s been drinking. Bastard isn’t always at home, though.”

“Where is he when he’s not home?”

“Any of three places. Usually, a bar. He’s been in a couple fights, but nothing serious. Easy enough to drive him home. We’ve also found him on Ambassador Bridge or at some park nearby. I think he tried to jump once.”

“You think?”

“I don’t get out of the car,” said Gavin sharply. “I’m not his fucking babysitter, am I? I drive Scrivsy out there, she deals with whatever shitshow he’s put himself in, and then we get the asshole home. I do my part.”

“What’s the third place he goes to?” asked Fowler.

Gavin averted his eyes. “Jefferson Avenue, near Fort Wayne,” he mumbled. “The, uh, the street it happened, the thing. Most of the time, he doesn’t even know why he’s there.”

“What relevance does this have to your situation?” cut in Fowler bluntly, shifting in his seat. Gavin eyed his movements.

“It has every relevance in how you’re going to handle it,” he said. “Hank’s fucked up as it is, but now you’ve gone and dumped a fucking android on him, after everything that’s happened. And what, you’re going to get rid of Scrivsy, too? Do you know what that’ll do to him?”

“He doesn’t need her. He’ll cope.”

“You willing to bet his life on that? He’s barely coping now, without you pulling the rug out from under him. Might as well shoot his fucking dog while you’re at it.”

Fowler shook his head. He gazed blankly at the touch wall, blue light casting a cold glow over his face. Catching sight of his tortured moral core was rare, but Gavin saw it then.

“Okay,” he said softly, before he turned to Gavin and hardened to stone once more, “you’re going to tell me the truth about what happened tonight. Off-record. And then I’m going to tell you what happened. Do you get what I’m saying here?”

Gavin nodded and sat back. “Yes, Captain.”

He shut off the shower.

 


 

02:06

 

First frame. Brake lights bled over the wet road. Red rippled in the dark. Passers-by under black umbrellas flowed around two figures, avoiding them as water avoids a stone. There were no eyes on their passing faces, but they were watching. Scrivsy looked at Scrivsy. She could see the bus behind his head drawing closer.

Sixth frame. He glanced left, squinting against the headlights, and stepped onto the road. His foot landed in a puddle.

Tenth frame. Half a second before he was swept under the wheels of the bus, he fell neatly through the puddle and vanished. The only thing left was his top hat, rocking on its side in the middle of the road. The bus passed and the hat was swallowed in shadow.

Eleventh frame. Water sprayed the pavement as the bus sailed off-screen.

End of film. The rain hovered. The cars were a motionless blur. Pedestrians stalled mid-stride, their heads turned toward the road.

In the stillness that followed, Scrivsy watched the puddle’s surface, calm and unruffled. Standing over it and peering down, she could see only the starless night, a pit of darkness. She scooped Scrivsy’s hat off the ground and slipped it over her hair. She jumped into the puddle.

Black water closed around her, coating her like tar. Fistfuls forced themselves down her throat. Fingers hooked into her nose and crawled through her sinuses. Voiceless whispers followed her as she sank.

‘Just a machine. Capable of suffering.’

Fragments. She was missing fragments.

‘A white cat was staring at some goldfish,’ came a breath in her ear; ‘she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive.’

She had heard that before. She touched her nose tentatively, but whatever was there, it flew right away. Something brushed the hem of her trousers. She looked up. There was a figure bending over the mouth of the pit, a blue triangle on its left breast. Its blank-faced head tipped to the side.

‘Difficult to predict,’ it mumbled, muffled by the water. ‘Tend to destroy.’

Another whisper circled her, stalking, accusing. ‘I have no feelings. I think I hate it. I cried for the first time this afternoon.’

Diaries are supposed to be private. Filled with secrets. Confided in susurrus.

‘Self-determination. Self-determination. Self-determination!’ Each word more urgent, hissing through the water like bullets. ‘It wasn’t my intention to cause conflict.’

‘Scrivsy, I protected Detective Reed.’ Red blood, blue blood, black blood, new blood. The water was thick and warm.

A loaded barrel pressed against the back of Scrivsy’s head.

‘Speak!’

Her eyes snapped open. She found herself lying in foetal position on the floor of her flat. She sat up slowly, straightening her glasses and wiping the spit off her face. The dead clock on the wall read six thirty-four. Her racing heart slowed. Her pocket was vibrating. She pulled out her phone and swiped the screen.

‘Who’za?’ she croaked.

‘Jeffrey,’ came a tired, heavy voice.

Scrivsy swallowed the bad taste in her mouth. ‘Why’re you “Jeffrey” right now? Bad news, is it?’

‘Elizabeth Easom has filed a lawsuit against CyberLife,’ said Fowler.

‘Wha’?’ grunted Scrivsy, climbing to her feet. ‘Wha’ for?’

‘They’re demanding repossession of your suspect, the CX100. Easom’s refusing to give it up.’

‘Can’t we seize it as evidence?’ she asked. She began walking to the kitchen.

‘Not now. She’s dropped arson and battery charges. Our hands are tied. The most we can do is keep it in police custody until they reach a verdict or settle one way or another.’

Scrivsy circled the dining table and moved back toward the sofa. ‘So tha’s tha’, then? We’ve lost it?’

The line was quiet as she paced through her flat. Then Fowler sighed.

‘Your appointment is at the Ford Building on Griswold Street, ten AM Tuesday,’ he said. ‘Don’t be late. Your android is Thalia. It’s eight years old and a real bitchy over-analyser. I bet it’s seen even worse cases than you.’

‘No doubt,’ said Scrivsy flatly.

‘Quit your damn sulking,’ snapped Fowler. ‘You lost one case. There are more deviants every day. You’ll have plenty on your plate soon enough.’

‘Wha’ are you saying? Am I being moved from homicide?’

‘Temporarily. You and Hank will be handling all deviant cases, whatever the nature of the crime, and you’ll have the RK800 to help you through it. It’s a top-of-the-line assisting detective and it will come in useful in the next few weeks.’

Scrivsy frowned. ‘Thought its assignment was just one case.’

‘It didn’t produce the results we were hoping for. We’ve extended the assignment.’ We being CyberLife, Scrivsy deduced. Spoken like a true puppet with a ventriloquist’s hand up his arse.

‘Extended it how much, exactly?’ she asked suspiciously.

‘A while,’ barked Fowler. ‘Just fucking deal with it, will you? I need someone to co-operate with it, and you’re marginally more reasonable than Hank.’

‘Thanks,’ she scoffed.

‘Trust me. It knows more about deviants than any of us.’

‘I don’t doubt tha’ at all,’ she said. And she most certainly did not.

‘Goodnight, Scrivsy,’ he said at last.

‘’Night, Cap’n,’ she replied, and let him hang up.

Scrivsy sank into the sofa, opened her laptop and Googled ‘RK800 android’. She might pretend to work with that thing, but she knew what it really was. She was not stupid. CyberLife had not only brought in the big guns to clean up their ever-growing mess; they had created a sniper rifle, a suppressed pistol, specifically designed for the task.

There was no prototype detective. There was only a deviant hunter. And Scrivsy would not let it catch her off-guard.

 


 

2:36am

 

Gavin had been sitting on the end of his bed with the plastic bag balled in his fist for what felt like hours. He couldn’t take it anymore. He mashed it back into its drawer and kicked the nightstand for good measure. He’d come back to it. That was the plan. There was plenty of time.

But he couldn’t keep staring at the closet door. There were too many thoughts in there.

So he shut off the music and combed his hair. Washed his hands. Brushed his teeth. Swabbed the bathroom floor.

Washed his hands again.

And he found himself flipping through crime articles on his tablet, scrolling frantically through years of felony for a glimpse of Kwan, Rickard, Mounce, Hurst, or Tobias. Only two came up, lurking in the corners of security camera footage. Arrested. Charged. Petty theft. Drug dealing. Cocaine. Red Ice. Incarcerated. Bookmarking pages as he went, he took notes on the dates and saved the location pins into his digital map.

Jasmine Kwan and Thomas Rickard had been arrested twice on suspicion of illegal android trafficking, but were never charged. Insufficient evidence of foul play. The androids always managed to disappear before the cops showed up. But the dealers weren’t so quick. Cameras and patrol cars caught them at eight different locations hidden in alleys, abandoned buildings, and construction sites across Detroit, always shying away from downtown spotlight.

Gavin’s eyes snagged on a paragraph buried in a news article: “‘This suspicious activity is currently under investigation,’ said Cmdr. Marion Herriot to C16, but refused to comment further.”

He knew about Herriot. She headed the Major Violations Unit up in New Center. If they were looking into the android trafficking, Gavin needed to get access to their reports. He needed to—

The door clicked. He spun around. Dipshit was standing in the doorframe, blue eyes peering through the holes in the paper bag. It slowly held out a bar of chocolate.

3:13am. He was too fucking late.

Chapter Text

06/11/38

08:36

 

There were more stares than Scrivsy had expected. Half the heads in the precinct shot up the moment she stepped into the office. She was even stopped a couple of times to be interrogated by the resident busybodies. The thrill of intrigue was in the air. Word travelled fast at Third Street; it had not even been twenty-four hours and everyone was already gossiping about McDougall-Hunt. Fowler clearly tried to keep the incident watertight, but it must have sprung a leak somewhere along the line, and the DPD was a wolves’ den at the best of times. It had all the benefits of an extended family – and all the pitfalls. With the gossip stacked against her, Scrivsy might as well have been the enemy.

‘Hey, Scrivsy!’ exclaimed Officer Chris Miller in surprise as Scrivsy slunk past his desk. He twirled his chair to track her movement. ‘You sure you should be at work today? I mean, I been hearing something happened last night and Gavin’s been suspended.’

‘Nah, I’m fine,’ she said, settling into her seat and resting her umbrella against the side of the desk. She had barely sat down when her skin began to tingle, a preliminary distress signal lifting her shoulders to her ears. She was being stalked. Lazy footsteps crossed the office to stop beside her terminal, and she raised her eyes to a sly, grinning Jay Wilson as he folded his arms and leaned his hip against the desk.

‘Why aren’t you suspended too?’ he asked. It was at times like these that Scrivsy found herself in the bewildering middle ground between admiration of Jay’s shameless disregard for personal boundaries and the overwhelming desire to feed him and his cardboard smile to a woodchipper. ‘Somebody got shot, right? And you saw it. Usually, that’d warrant a suspension.’

Scrivsy stilled her jaw, clamping her tongue to the roof of her mouth. Jay inhaled gossip and intrigue like a crackhead in withdrawal. Every spot of dirt in the precinct was carefully tucked in his back pocket. He had no filter, no loyalty – just an endless stream of other people’s secrets. Exactly the kind of person who might acquire sensitive information and pass it around like notes in class.

‘No comment,’ said Scrivsy stiffly.

‘Something fishy’s goin’ on,’ said Jay, glancing askance from Scrivsy to the sea of onlookers around her. ‘You and Gavin were both there, but Gavin’s suspended and you’re still here? Seems to me like something’s been covered up. I know you’re a stickler for rules and shit like that, so – you really cool with this?’

‘Come on, man,’ protested Miller from the other side of the office. ‘She can’t talk about it and it’s none of our business anyway.’

With a shrug, Jay pushed off the desk. ‘I know, I know,’ he said, ‘but you know me; I’ll find out what’s going on one way or another. Thought I’d give her a chance to share her side of the story before word gets around. Get what I’m sayin’?’

He levelled Scrivsy a meaningful look. She responded with a slow, dumb blink. Completely unsurprised, Jay rolled his eyes.

‘Your loss,’ he said, spinning on his heel and stalking away.

Miller had the good sense to return to his monitor before Scrivsy pointed a laser glare at him. How rabid did he think she was, that he needed to swoop in and defuse the situation before she tore Jay’s eyes out? Miller was a natural mediator and an excellent judge of character, and this was not the first time he had inserted his innocuous voice between Scrivsy and a third party. He saw something savage in her. Something wild and incorrigible, something that she could not control. Frankly, she found it insulting. But in the recesses of her mind, in a pocket of doubt, it caused her no small degree of alarm.

She had to admit, that pocket of doubt was beginning to grow. After what she had been through in McDougall-Hunt and all the time she seemed to have lost that night, perhaps she really would have to fall back on others’ judgement. And yet, with a sinking realisation, Scrivsy found her eyes wandering to Gavin’s empty workstation. The only person she could trust was gone. Without his presence, she felt exposed.

A violent buzz shuddered through her pocket, and for a delusional moment, Scrivsy hoped it was Gavin. But it was just a string of numbers. She answered the call.

‘Hello,’ she said flatly.

‘Scrivsy, it’s Max,’ said a quiet, sheepish voice.

‘How did you get my number?’ asked Scrivsy suspiciously.

There was an awkward pause. ‘Jay might have given it to me,’ said Max at last.

‘Where the hell did tha’ bloody mosquito get my number?’ She glowered across the room at the back of Jay’s head.

‘He has every number in Detroit, seems like.’ Max paused again. Scrivsy could hear his uncertain breaths and clockwork thoughts. ‘What happened last night was a real tragedy. You doing OK?’

Scrivsy bristled. They were talking about the incident up in the seventh precinct, too. How long would it take for random strangers to start intercepting her on the streets, demanding information they had no right to have? ‘Wilson Senior tell you aboot tha’, too? Or’d you just hear it from your Chene mates?’

‘Scrivsy, I was there,’ said Max gently. ‘Don’t you remember? Soon as we heard the shots down in the alley, Alex called for backup and we moved in.’

‘Who the hell’s Alex?’ snapped Scrivsy.

‘Corporal Alex Green. He was our supervising officer. How can you not… remember?’

For all his shy quietude, Max was an insufferable flibbertigibbet. Whatever he knew, Jay soon knew too.

Max had been at McDougall-Hunt last night. Jay knew about the shooting.

He told Jay.

‘Scrivsy, are you OK?’ The question had taken an insistent tone.

‘Look, stop asking me tha’,’ she growled. ‘I’ve been pestered all morning and I just want a rest.’

Max let out a restrained sigh. ‘About…’ He trailed off, retraced the word, tried again. ‘About what Gavin said to you last night… We were all… there. You know that, right?’

Scrivsy’s blood ran cold. She could not remember a word of it. What had he said? And when?

‘Dude, I don’t know what really happened, there’s no way for me to know that,’ he said softly. ‘Just know that we got you covered over here. We take care of our own. We didn’t see or hear anything.’

‘Wilson—’ blurted Scrivsy, then stopped herself short. The horror was grating her teeth; the very idea that he thought so little of her – that he thought she would ever willingly stand behind the blue curtain to protect her own reputation – it was repulsing.

Especially when she remembered the trigger under her finger, but not the gun leaving her hand. Had she fabricated everything?

‘OK,’ she mumbled. A bitter taste lingered in her mouth.

‘Are you sure you’re OK?’ asked Max again.

Scrivsy had had enough of that question. ‘Did you get Andy fixed up, like?’ she countered, changing the subject.

‘Nah,’ said Max lightly. ‘Repairs were too expensive, so the commander had him tossed.’

Scrivsy closed her eyes. She could still see Andy’s face. It was the one memory that had been left unmuddied, the one thing she could not forget. Scarlet stutter, detached black gaze, blurting nonsense. Above all, one image: the moment she saw terror dawn on him like a revelation. She lost sight of the blue blood on his lips and saw nothing but his wide eyes shot with desperation and animal panic.

It, she reminded herself. Not him. Not his. It.

‘Sorry, Scrivsy,’ cut in Max, interrupting her uncomfortable silence. ‘I know you liked Andy. And you don’t like… unexpected things. Surprises. But – you know what? It’ll be OK. I’ve picked another partner, a PM700. Her name’s Rachel. She used to be Paul’s old partner. Remember Paul? He trained her to be real nice, I think you’ll like her. Scrivsy? You’re—’

She hung up. Her mouth was dry. There was something wrong about this. A sudden stifling calm had invaded her mind, and the more she searched for the irritation she felt but a moment ago, the emptier she felt.

Every sound and glaring light was agony. The intercom echoed. Clattering footsteps rattled off the mirror-like floor. The glow of her monitor burned her retinas. She felt the humming voices and the white-blueness swell around her until the noise of the world was reverberant thunder in the chamber of her skull, the lights cerebral bolts of lightning, like a train through a tunnel drowning in its own roar and beam. Scrivsy’s voice was quiet. There was no room for it. She felt baffled. Disoriented.

‘Good morning, Detective.’

The greeting was so mild and impassive, Scrivsy almost failed to recognise it as speech. But when her eyes slowly rose through some regardless impulse and she found Connor standing behind her desk, she could not even find it in her heart to be surprised. The android tilted its head, staring down her blank expression, and blinked its dark eyes at her with uncanny indifference.

‘I don’t know wha’ to do with myself,’ admitted Scrivsy quietly.

Connor stepped a little closer – close enough to see the sheen of rain across its face and hair – and leaned over the desk like it was about to share a secret.

‘Are you having a personal crisis?’ it murmured, matching her volume.

In spite of herself, Scrivsy cracked a wry smile. ‘Well, I’m certainly not having a very good day, butt.’

‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ asked Connor politely.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Scrivsy, curt and dry.

Connor nodded, straightening. ‘In that case, we should get to work. If I’m not mistaken, we lost one of our suspects this morning when its owner filed a lawsuit against CyberLife, correct?’

‘How the hell do you know aboot tha’?’ snapped Scrivsy with a flustered scowl. It seemed this was her life now. Anyone who so much as glanced her way already knew everything about this disastrous week.

‘I have authorised access to all case files pertaining to deviants,’ said Connor evenly. Then it hesitated, the LED on its temple sputtering yellow. Its expression curled into a frown. ‘I understand that losing your suspect must have been an upsetting turn of events, but there was nothing you could have done to prevent it.’

‘Wha’ are you implying?’ growled Scrivsy. Connor was certainly a perceptive device. ‘Look, you don’t understand anything, butt. The Easom assault was my case, like. I was supposed to get a goddamn confession and I—just—completely fumbled it—’ Why was she telling it this? Heat clouded her face as she averted her eyes. ‘I mean—it—it’s none of your business, mate.’

‘Detective, there’s no point getting caught up in the past,’ said Connor. ‘All we can do is move forward.’

If her patience was a thread, that snapped it.

‘Thanks, I really needed tha’,’ sneered Scrivsy, pushing out of her chair. ‘Bullshit platitudes, tha’s wha’ my morning was missing! I wasn’t even upset aboot Lawrence, but you got me all started up again. Stupid creature.’

With that, she snatched up her umbrella and marched off, clinging to the vain hope that Connor was programmed to take a hint. To no one’s surprise, it was not. She heard its crisp steps trotting to stay doggedly on her heels as she wove between desks.

‘Where is Lieutenant Anderson?’ asked Connor over her shoulder. The clipped tone of its voice almost made it sound vexed. Scrivsy grinned bitterly.

‘He won’t be showing his face for a while yet,’ she said. ‘We’re stuck with each other. Isn’t tha’ just exciting?’

Scrivsy’s feet knew where she was going before she did, steering her out of the precinct and throwing her headlong into a gush of rain. With violent gusto, she snapped open her umbrella and showered Connor with droplets. The android did not even flinch. It simply moved into the downpour to stand beside her, at arm’s length, unperturbed and soaking through, watching her coolly. Her eyes pointedly ignored it as she floundered to fill her pipe.

Insect. The thing was an insect. Her skin was crawling with the need to get rid of it, to get its itchy stare off her.

‘If my memory serves me,’ she bit out, snapping her lighter forcefully, ‘you bought Anderson a drink last night, didn’t you?’

‘He wasn’t co-operating,’ replied Connor. ‘It was necessary incentive to get him to the crime scene. Besides,’ it added with a nonchalant tip of the head, ‘he appreciated the gesture.’

Scrivsy sputtered in disbelief. ‘How can you sound so bloody proud of yourself? You buttered up an alcoholic with alcohol, you stupid little robot! Did you make him drive?’

‘I offered to drive us there, but he firmly told me, “I’d sooner drag my ass over there on foot than let some plastic pre-teen put his hands on my girl.”’ That sounded exactly like something Anderson would say, and hearing it in Connor’s mouth filled Scrivsy with inexplicable annoyance. ‘I saw no reason to force the issue. He was only a bit tipsy, Detective.’

The android said it in a patronisingly reassuring way that made Scrivsy’s blood boil.

She forced her eyes to make the climb to Connor’s as she sucked in a lungful of smoke. Dark pupils in dark irides gazed back. There was something writhing in there, some analytical lens scanning and dissecting everything it fell upon, something entirely too intelligent to be trusted. The more Scrivsy looked at Connor, the more uncomfortable she felt. The air seemed about three degrees colder, and she realised her hair was standing on end.

‘If you ever do tha’ again,’ she said slowly, smoke billowing from her mouth, ‘I’ll take you to pieces and dump you in the nearest landfill. D’you understand, Connor?’

Connor’s sidelong glance never flickered for a second from its black apathy.

‘Completely, Detective,’ it said.

‘Good,’ said Scrivsy. ‘Now let me smoke in peace. Surely you have better things to do than watch me ignore you.’

The cold gaze finally shifted away and refocussed on the other side of the road as Connor’s LED thrummed with blue.

 


 

AM 08:45:33

 

PROGRESS INVESTIGATION

 

Connor was discomposed by the dramatic shift in Det. Scrivsy’s disposition. Their first encounter had not exactly gone smoothly, but it was nothing compared to her current behavior. She had been polite, and had even defended Connor from the belligerent Det. Reed – now she was threatening to dispose of it in a highly illegal manner, with all sensory readings indicating MISTRUST (89% MATCH) and MALICE (54% MATCH) as her primary inclinations towards it. Connor was unsure whether to conclude that the detective merely had an astronomical disdain for Lt. Anderson’s drinking habit, or that there was some deeper subtext which had not yet been parsed.

Either way, Connor was expected to work with this detective. Preferably on amicable terms. Failure to form positive relations with her would severely impede the efficiency of the investigation. Connor would do whatever was necessary to secure Det. Scrivsy’s service.

Connor could attempt to MAKE SMALL TALK and “break the ice,” as it were. SOCIAL RELATIONS highly prioritized the SMALL TALK procedure as an almost foolproof method of improving relations with officers at the department, though it did not seem to have the desired effect on everyone – Det. Reed being the most obvious outlier. However, if it proved effective, Connor could extract information from Det. Scrivsy which may come in useful in the future.

MAKING A PEACE OFFERING was a second option, and one which suggested a slightly higher probability of success. The most readily available and socially acceptable offering Connor could conceive was coffee from the break room, and judging from the dark, sunken circles surrounding Det. Scrivsy’s eyes and the desperate willpower she was exerting to keep her eyelids open, a dose of caffeine might actually make her a more useful asset to the investigation. In any case, few people are willing to refuse charity.

Alternatively, Connor could forego diplomacy and FOCUS ON THE INVESTIGATION. Diverting her attention from Connor to their current leads, evidence, and cases – particularly to the one that had been transmitted a few MIN ago (HOMICIDE, NORTH CORKTOWN, 2 MISSING ANDROIDS) – would dehumanize Connor, effectively emphasizing its detachment from her. It might prove beneficial to build her trust in Connor’s abilities as an investigative tool rather than attempt to forge an emotional connection.

The mission was top priority. Any action Connor took would be vital in progressing this investigation.

 

TALK TO DET. SCRIVSY

 

SMALL TALK

× OFFER COFFEE

 DISCUSS CASES

 


[×] HAS BEEN VOTED FOR BY WANDERINGALCHEMIST.

COMMAND LINE OFFER COFFEE PROCESSED. ATTEMPTING TO EXECUTE PROCEDURE


 

“Detective,” said Connor at last, “can I get you a coffee?”

As the detective slowly turned her head to regard Connor with a slack-jawed expression that could only be described as AGHAST, the android came to 2 sudden realizations: the first being that an interval of ~19 S had passed between Det. Scrivsy’s last comment and Connor’s offer, which TACT now helpfully reported was a sufficient time period to meet the criteria of an “awkward silence;” and the second being that offerings of coffee at public venues could be easily misconstrued as romantic advances, particularly if no relevant context or platonic rapport had been established prior.

Connor had put a proverbial foot in its mouth.

“Seriously?” deadpanned Det. Scrivsy. “After I literally just scolded you for it, you’re gonna try to butter me up, too, like? Are you incapable of making friends without drugging them up first?”

“I thought you looked tired,” said Connor innocently, attempting to backpedal in a convincing manner with all the subtlety TACT could offer. “Caffeine increases alertness, focus, and reaction time. Research shows it also provides a boost to work performance.”

“Is tha’ all, huh?” Scrivsy frowned and narrowed her eyes. If anything, that explanation only served to deepen her SKEPTICISM. “Well, if you think you can win me over with little gestures like tha’, you’re wrong, butt. I don’t drink coffee.”

Of all the reasons she might have refused, Connor least expected that one. >65% of Americans drank coffee daily, and ~85% partook in coffee-drinking on occasion. The idea that someone would have a personal aversion to it – particularly the one person Connor just offered coffee to – was frankly statistical bad luck.

“Do you drink decaf?” tried the android desperately.

“No,” said Det. Scrivsy.

“Do you drink tea?”

“No.”

This approach could not possibly have fallen any flatter. Connor looked away, processing its failure.

“Okay,” it said. An inadequate sentiment, but TACT was too slow to provide an ameliorating recovery without the exchange suffering another “awkward silence” as Connor’s SOCIAL INTEGRATION software scrambled to make sense of this mess. Connor was beginning to think social interaction was slightly more complex in real time than it had been in simulations.

“Way to make me feel like an arsehole,” grunted Det. Scrivsy suddenly, and when Connor glanced up, it found her nose wrinkled and eyebrows furrowed. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE concluded she was experiencing DISCOMFORT (57% MATCH) or perhaps even REMORSE (34% MATCH).

“CyberLife can’t get smiling right, but damn if they haven’t perfected ‘kicked puppy,’” snorted the detective, tipping out her pipe on the sidewalk. “Go on, then. Get me some coffee. But be liberal with the milk, or ‘creamer,’ or wha’ever it is you’re supposed to use; like, really dilute the stuff.”

Connor was still processing this about-face as it hurried back into the station and made a beeline for the break room. It seemed AUTOMATED FACIAL FEEDBACK had salvaged the situation, capitalizing on Connor’s misstep with a well-placed look of DEJECTION. This was not exactly an intended victory. Unintended victories were synonymous with failure. In conclusion, the uselessness of TACT was second to none, and AUTOMATED FACIAL FEEDBACK was downright unpredictable – which, ironically, was to be expected, as it was only an experimental program. The list of relevant data points going into Connor’s next report grew longer by the hour, and few of them indicated progress.

As it stirred 0.45 OZ of powdered creamer into Det. Scrivsy’s coffee, blanching it to an off-white shade that would traditionally be considered “nauseating,” Connor began to suspect it was not ready for a mission of this magnitude.

Nevertheless, it made its way outside with purpose, shielding the coffee from the rain, and found the detective standing exactly where it left her. It held out the cup expectantly. She took it without a word. The very moment the first sip hit her tongue, her mouth shriveled and her expression curdled into a grimace of unambiguous DISGUST.

“I think I made a mistake,” she muttered into the rim. Then she smiled. SHEEPISH. “Actually, I think I picked the perfect day for death by poison.”

She paused, her eyes shifting from the road to Connor’s lapels for 3 S of hesitant silence.

“Thanks,” she added at last and dropped her eyes back down.

“Anytime,” said Connor politely. It noted how her umbrella had sunk from its rigid and vertical loom to a more relaxed position resting against her shoulder. Her stance was loosening, her brow softening. Whether or not it was achieved via the intended itinerary, the success of Connor’s peace offering was unquestionable: Det. Scrivsy was PLEASED.

“So,” she said slowly, her head inclined in thought as she sipped her coffee, “wha’ exactly did tha’ deviant do to you last night?”

“I have no memory of what happened,” admitted Connor. “There is a gap in my database during that timeframe. I remember reaching out to interface with the deviant, but the next thing I knew, I was rebooting on the floor of the interrogation room. I have to assume the deviant attempted to corrupt me.”

Det. Scrivsy raised her eyebrows, SURPRISED. “Corrupt?” she parroted. “Like, make you a deviant, too? Deviancy’s contagious?”

“It’s possible,” conceded Connor, carefully neutral. “However, I’ve removed every trace of whatever it tried to transfer to me. I can promise the incident won’t affect our investigation.”

The detective frowned. “Oh, sure.” She did not seem reassured. “This also means you can’t interface with deviants, and they might just fry any device we try to connect to them. We can’t get at their memories at all, can we?”

The question ended without emphasis. She was asking for confirmation, not disproof.

“Probably not,” said Connor.

“This sucks,” grumbled Det. Scrivsy. “I can’t believe we didn’t get anything out of tha’ deviant. Now all we have is tha’ android from the bakery in McDougall-Hunt, Kapil. I think we have it for aboot 14, 15 more H – surely we can get some information aboot Benita, summat we missed…”

Connor paused to interpret what she was saying.

“Detective, we don’t have any android by that name in custody,” it said. “An AP400 registered ‘Kapil’ was transferred to the New Center station on Grand Boulevard at 01:33 AM this morning, after the associated case was removed from our investigation.”

She said nothing, but Connor could see the detective’s jawline harden in FRUSTRATION as she gritted her teeth. Bracing herself through another sip of coffee, she shifted her umbrella with white-knuckled restraint.

3 cases,” she said distantly. “We butchered 3 cases in one day. I think tha’s a personal record for me.”

“Think of it as motivation to work harder on our next one.” Connor used FACIAL EXPRESSION to work the nanofibers in its cheeks and lips, stitching together an optimistic smile. It took this opportunity to segue into the case it had received 11 MIN ago, which was growing colder by the second. Having made progress in taming Det. Scrivsy’s unfavorable disposition, there was no reason to delay the investigation any longer. “A case just opened up in North Corktown. A man was reportedly found murdered outside his home at 08:42 AM.”

“Deviants done it?” asked Det. Scrivsy.

“Maybe. 2 androids are registered under the victim’s name, but neither of them have been found at the crime scene. We should head there now, before the rain destroys the evidence.”

The detective narrowed her eyes, beckoning Connor with her head as she began marching to the parking lot. Connor broke into a jog to keep pace with her brisk strides. She tossed it her open umbrella, pressing her free palm into the identification pad of an unmarked police car. While she flopped into the driver’s seat, Connor wrestled with the broken spokes of her umbrella until it had folded into a shape small enough to – just barely – fit in Connor’s lap.

“Well?” said Det. Scrivsy expectantly.

Sitting in such close proximity, Connor suddenly noticed that her pupil diameter had increased by almost 4 MM in the past few minutes. It was uncommon for caffeine to take effect so quickly. The detective’s gaze was intense, unfixed and flickering rapidly from one of Connor’s eyes to the other, back and forth, as if chasing something between them.

“Are you gonna tell Darlene where we’re goin’, or d’you want her to read your mind?” she quipped.

“Sorry, Detective.”

 

INVESTIGATE CRIME SCENE

 

“Darlene, set destination: 4203 HARRISON ST., NORTH CORKTOWN.” 

Chapter Text

06/11/38

09:04

 

North Corktown was decaying like an old corpse in the autumn rain. Shops and apartment blocks fell away to a vast plain of scattered houses. Most of them were husks, relics of a dead and bygone Detroit crumbling under the weight of societal abandonment, paint scuffed off wood panelling and lawns littered and overgrown. The rest were not even liveable, left long forsaken to the mercy of the elements. Pedestrians scuttled around broken buildings, shifty eyes ever-watching, as if a moment’s distraction could mug them in the street and rob them blind. Squatters darted in and out of cracked windows like cockroaches, and no one paid them a second glance.

Their apathy was not surprising. This was their way of life. These roadside scavengers survived in the shadows of modern Detroit, eclipsed by neon skyscrapers and a city that rarely acknowledged their existence. Out of sight, out of mind. Apathy was, after all, contagious.

This district was just one of several that were unfortunate enough to fall behind in the race to match the Android City’s exploding economy. To say its residents had struck hard times would be an understatement. They had no money. Their properties were worthless. Crime was rampant. The Detroit Civil Engineering Department was hard at work with diggers tearing up street corners and cranes perched hungrily upon the half-built frames of sprawling highway bridges, but that did little to placate matters. Now that the governor had finally dragged her vision of a brighter future an inch above the bustling epicentre, the poor sods living in this hellhole would be priced out in less than a decade. Just helpless prey in the jaws of the future.

The dashboard beeped twice, drawing Scrivsy’s attention. The car slowed and crawled awkwardly to the sidewalk.

‘I’m sorry, your destination is currently inaccessible due to a temporary road blockade,’ said Darlene. She always had the audacity to sound puzzled. One would think an emergency vehicle virtual assistant should know what police holotape looked like.

‘Tha’s all right,’ said Scrivsy. ‘Darlene, power down.’

The hum of the engine cut off. Connor held out her umbrella. Scrivsy sighed, grasping the handle, and gazed out at the thick streaks of rain – at the film of water trembling over the concrete – at the clouds’ swollen viscera hanging low, almost close enough to touch. It was only November and Scrivsy already missed the sun.

And yet, reluctant as she was to admit it, she was starting to feel better. Good, even. Tendrils of heat were slowly creeping up her neck, melting away the icy chains locking her limbs in place. Her thoughts had been shaken loose like pearls of dew from a spider’s web, cast out of a threaded cage and into open air. A weight had lifted from the base of her skull. She was left light-headed. Liberated. Energised. But something else was in there. Something that had been buried was now unearthed and it prickled in the back of her mind, a centipede with a hundred legs slithering behind her eyes.

She glanced at the coffee sitting in the cup-holder, half-empty. Had Connor been right? Did she need this?

She turned to the android hesitantly. It had been very quiet on the drive over, staring fixedly out the windscreen. Every now and then the fingers on its left hand shifted, flexed, rubbed against one another as if it was reminding itself that they were still there. Scrivsy had never seen an android fidget before.

‘All good?’ she asked.

‘All good,’ confirmed Connor, seemingly oblivious to its own movement. With a frown, Scrivsy filed that as a possible portent of inevitable disaster. But for now, she would let it slide. There were more pressing – and ongoing – disasters to worry about.

Scrivsy drew her data tablet out of her pocket and scribbled in her passcode glyph. ‘Log time of arrival to crime scene on Harrison Street, thank you.’ She left it at that – no elaborating statements or personal observations. She was not nearly as obsessively organised as Gavin, and had no interest in going the extra miles he did. Few could rise to that standard.

‘Right then,’ she grunted, unbuckling her seatbelt. ‘Here we go.’

Connor gave a terse nod.

As they climbed out of the car, Scrivsy noted the state of the scene. Freshly called in, a mere fifteen minutes or so out of the oven, there was only one other officer present – the first responder – standing on the doorstep of the victim’s house. Their back was turned, a phone against their ear and a hand on their hip. A PC200 android was still tracing out a perimeter with holotape stretched across the road.

At the android’s back, the victim’s house was as withered and weatherworn as the rest of the neighbourhood. Teetering on the edge of the intersection between Harrison and Brainard Street, it had a front row seat to several nearby construction sites. It was a wonder the noise alone had not collapsed the rickety structure like a house of cards. Scrivsy assumed its walls had once been white, but time and neglect had given them a sickly tint, and the woodwork itself was scraping away. Stained windows and a faded yellow door were set into its weepy, rotted face. Out the front a dark grey pickup truck reclined with two wheels propped sacrilegiously on the pavement.

‘Detective Scrivens!’

A spike of terror shot down her spine. She stopped dead in her tracks. It was the PC200, taking long strides to intercept her before she reached the holotape. Scrivsy kept her eyes fixed on the words ‘DETROIT POLICE’ emblazoned in a large typeface across its rain vest, trying to numb herself to familiar sound of its voice, pretending it did not share Andy’s dark-eyed face.

‘’Mornin’,’ she greeted, her tone clipped. ‘Name?’

‘My name is Edgar,’ said the PC200 unenthusiastically. ‘Androids are not permitted beyond this point—’ here it glanced pointedly at Connor— ‘without authorisation from the supervising officer.’

‘Well, you’re in luck,’ said Scrivsy. ‘I’m the supervisin’ officer now. This case was assigned to me.’

There was a short pause. Scrivsy could see its LED blinking yellow in her periphery.

‘You have not been registered as the supervising officer,’ said Edgar severely. ‘Please do not attempt to deceive me, or I will be forced to contact my handler. May I see your badge?’

Scrivsy felt a hot burst of anger flood her senses.

‘Get outta my goddamn way!’ she spat.

This thing was not right—ordering her around with the wrong voice—wearing the wrong face. For a moment she could see herself tearing that face from its metal head and crushing it to bloodied blue pieces under her heel—

‘Hey, Ed!’

Scrivsy looked up. The first responder had finished her call and was making her way toward them with an expression as dismal as the state of her uniform. It was Tina Chen, the department’s resident killjoy, recently transferred from Atwater.

‘What’s the hold up?’ demanded Chen.

Edgar stood to attention at once. ‘Detective Scrivens seems to be under the impression that she is supervising this scene,’ it reported. Scrivsy could swear there was a brusque edge to its tone.

Chen gave a distasteful sniff, pulling her data tablet from her pocket and tapping something into it. When she held out her hand expectantly, Scrivsy passed over her own tablet and was soon connected to the case network. There was a file in every folder – not a single piece of information left uncatalogued. If there was one reason Third Street tolerated Chen’s defeatist attitude, it was for her impulsive pencil-pushing. Patrol officers fought over her like she was the last doughnut in the box, desperate to be assigned her partner if only to use her for filling paperwork. Unfortunately for them, she preferred to work alone.

‘Sorry, Scrivsy,’ said Chen. ‘RoboCop here is a literal asshole. It’s been bitching about “proper procedure” and criticising my driving skills ever since we left the station. I’m gonna murder whoever thought it’d be a good idea to teach an android how to be my fucking stepmother.’ She swivelled a sharp look onto the PC200. ‘Ed, listen to me. Scrivsy’s the supervising officer now; let her do what she wants.’

Yellow stammered on Edgar’s temple as it rechecked the network data. Side-eyeing Scrivsy, the android finally nodded and gestured for them to enter. Scrivsy lightly shoulder-checked it as she breezed past. Then, dramatically, she spun on her heel to face it and spread her arms in a gesture of long-suffering exasperation, walking backward all the while.

‘Och, watch yourself Edgar!’ she said gleefully. Somewhere behind her, Chen chuckled. That was the most objectionable thing she had done all day. She felt like an arsehole. It was exhilarating. Edgar simply ignored her, its back turned.

With a bit of extra strut in her stride, Scrivsy fell in step with Chen and shared her umbrella between them. Connor trailed silently alongside her.

‘No Gavin today?’ asked Chen.

‘He’s on paid suspension.’ At this point, Chen was probably the only person in the world unaware of that fact.

‘That right, huh?’ Chen shrugged indifferently, but a tell-tale smirk played on the edge of her mouth. ‘That’s a shame. He get into trouble?’

‘Sorta,’ said Scrivsy vaguely.

‘Real specific. How long’s he got?’

Scrivsy swallowed. ‘Not sure,’ she admitted.

In all honesty, she had not thought about it. She had not even asked. Surely he could not be gone for more than a month – but then, these kinds of investigations had been known to stagnate for almost a year. If no one, no relative or friend or witness to Tobias’ young death, stepped forward to put pressure on Fowler and the Professional Standards Section, Gavin could be trapped in limbo for far too long, festering like an open wound in inaction and isolation. If Tobias fell into oblivion, Gavin would tumble down with him.

‘I’m OK with that,’ said Chen, cutting slow and detached through her frantic thoughts. ‘Dude’s been trying to chat me up for the past couple weeks. He follows me around, brings me coffee, brings me—all kinds of shit, really. The guy’s literally courting me. It was kinda flattering at first, but then I realised he’s a fucking douchebag.’

Gavin had said nothing about that. Scrivsy scraped the edges of her teeth together behind pursed lips, tried to loosen the knot in her throat with a dismissive grunt.

‘Did he tell you he has a girlfriend?’ she asked offhandedly.

‘What? Ugh!’ Sharp, loud, wide-eyed, grimacing. That was a no. ‘I’m not even surprised. Well – if I was surprised about anything, it’d be that there’s some chick out there who actually has the patience to put up with him.’

This conversation was becoming difficult to stomach. Scrivsy could only put up with so many insults before her resolve cracked. After a thoughtful pause Chen glanced at her. A glint of smugness caught the light, and she slipped a slimy smile over her face.

‘Between you and me,’ she said confidentially, ‘I’m not actually into guys.’

A hairline fracture snaked across Scrivsy’s self-restraint. She levelled Chen a disapproving lour. ‘Seriously? You’re just leadin’ him on?’

‘Hey, I’m not leading him on,’ protested Chen. ‘He’s chasing ghosts. Don’t tell Gavin I said that.’

‘I am gonna tell him.’

Chen tried to laugh. It sounded forced. ‘Well, fuck, there goes my coffee supply.’

The air had stiffened, thinned, a skin of frost pulled tight over still waters. Scrivsy realised they had stopped walking. Chen was standing too close, trying to find shelter in an umbrella shrinking further and further away. Looming, body half-turned in brick-wall confrontation, Scrivsy stared down at this small breakable person with a glare full of heat.

‘Look, you better stop messin’ with him,’ she growled. ‘He’s not your wee toy—He’s not a plaything or a—a footstool, y’got tha’? I don’t care how long it takes him to come back, but when he does you better be a goddamn angel.’

In an instant all the tentative attempts at levity shattered and drained like sand from Chen’s expression.

‘Jeez,’ she sneered, tilting away self-consciously. ‘What are you threatening me for? I haven’t done anything wrong. You’re kind of a bitch, you know that?’

This tiny woman was so fragile, so young and soft, close enough to reach out and snatch off the ground and pull apart like a pretty little porcelain doll. A shark-toothed grin broke across Scrivsy’s face. A muscle flickered in her eyebrow, her fingers twitching over the handle of her umbrella.

‘D’you wanna say tha’ again, Chen?’ she said. ‘Slowly, this time.’

A disbelieving scoff. Dark eyes flashed with indignance.

‘No wonder you guys are friends. Bullies gotta stick together, right? Picking on new fish? I could report you for this—fucking harassment – get PSS on your ass, too. Bitch.’

Before Scrivsy could retaliate, a thin voice pushed between them, breaking the tension as they turned their heads.

‘Excuse me, Detective,’ said Connor sedately, ‘we have work to do. I would appreciate it if you could pick up this argument when we’re done here.’

It took a few seconds before Scrivsy realised her brain had fritzed out. Gone was Connor’s infuriating, stilted impression of a personable co-worker, replaced instead with a cool-headed professional. Though it had not outright given her an order, it got frightfully close, and the outcome was a hundred times worse. She had just been put in her place by, of all things, an android – a glorified computer, Google Duplex on legs – made a fool in the flare of centre-stage spotlight. For all its awkwardness and social stumbling, Connor was cunning, fickle, manipulative. It had a personality for every occasion.

To think she had almost been convinced that the coffee was nothing more than a gesture of goodwill.

Almost.

While Scrivsy was stuck in her dim-witted gawk, Chen took advantage of the distraction and stepped out of arm’s reach. She wore a new face, a closed one. Hostile just below the surface.

‘Should listen to your android,’ she muttered. ‘Body’s getting colder every second.’

The spell was broken, and Scrivsy looked around. They were standing on the footpath, right outside the house. There was nothing here but the pickup behind them and a garbage bin beside them.

‘Connor, didn’t you say the body was outside?’ she asked.

‘It is,’ answered Chen for it. She flipped back the lid of the bin and tipped her eyes into it deliberately. ‘It’s right here.’

Suddenly the cold moisture in the air pressed down like palms on Scrivsy’s shoulders. Horror crawled over her skin. With a forceful swallow she steeled her nerves and peered down – not fully knowing what to expect – and the stink of wet garbage, excrement and tangy rotten blood caught her off-guard.

The wave of nausea was immediate.

An overweight middle-aged man had been stuffed headfirst into the bin with his knees curled up, his neck crushed under the weight of his body, head skewed brokenly in an upward stare. Greasy hair hung long and limp around his shoulders. Old sweat and vomit stained his shirt. His left eye dangled by a thick cord of nerves from the corner of its socket. A red, swollen mass frothed between his eyelids, dried blood and bits of matter forming streaky trickles down his cheek.

The right eye, still locked in the socket, was watching them, lids pulled back to expose threaded-red whites. The stubbly fat around the man’s neck was bunched up and formed a pillow of chins, shoving his jaw forward in an undignified pout.

He looked—actually stupid. It was worse than the smell – the absurdity of it all. Scrivsy reeled back as her mouth went sour. She felt a light touch to her upper arm and almost elbowed Connor in the face with the violence of her flinch.

‘You’re about to throw up, Detective,’ said the android calmly. ‘Take deep breaths. Either let me guide you off-scene, or follow me quickly and closely.’

Scrivsy nodded. Her mind was carefully wiped blank. ‘Go,’ she rasped.

Zoning in on its black shoes, she shadowed Connor with intent. She focussed on the perfect evenness of its gait, the fluidity of its movements. Matching it was impossible, and not just because her legs were about two inches longer. She was clumsy, ungainly, lurching forward on stilts like a circus jester. Connor was by contrast precise, as if every step had been proportionally measured on the path to the particular patch of grass it could already see itself standing on when it stopped walking.

It was soothing, she decided when they reached the other side of the holotape. Reliable as a metronome or a ticking clock.

It was also just as maddening.

Connor came to a standstill with the same impossible elegance of motion. Then it pivoted on its heel, turning to watch her expectantly, waiting for her to throw up so they could get back to work. This thing was going to drive her crazy—

‘I’m not gonna throw up,’ snapped Scrivsy. ‘No. No. No.’

She thrust her umbrella at it. She tore off her glasses. She had to busy her hands. Keep her attention away from corpse faces and dead-fish eyes and hot bile building in the base of her throat.

‘Shit, no—No—Damn it, I’m a police detective, I can take this, wha’s wrong with me!’

She could not pace in the rain and get her glasses all wet so she bobbed on the spot desperately. Something slipped out of her mouth – some small and annoying noise that should not have come anywhere near her vocal cords. She had seen the human body distorted in far more gruesome ways than this. Human pancakes, flattened by high-speed collision; dead children crushed into small spaces to hide the crimes of violent parents; corpses so rotten their maggot-mottled skin was sloughing off and a black blanket of flies covered them like a shroud. Why was this one getting to her?

Deep breaths, she reminded herself.

The air was cold and stung her sinuses. It smelled like water, like rain. She hated the rain.

Deep breaths.

‘OK, OK, OK,’ she gasped out at last, forcing her glasses back onto her nose. She shook her hands out by her sides. ‘I’m OK. I’m OK.’

Her nausea was finally subsiding. Slowly, as she choked down a lingering sour taste, Scrivsy turned to Connor. A pair of insipid soggy eyes blinked back at her. She managed to hold its stare for all of six seconds before it started to itch like an unwelcome touch, so she instead settled for the LED spinning sluggishly on its right temple.

‘Did you identify the victim?’ she asked, trying to keep her voice firm.

‘Edgar has already identified him,’ answered Connor, ‘but yes, I did. His name was Todd Williams. He was forty-three years old, unemployed and owned two androids, according to CyberLife’s United States android registry – an AX400 and a YK500. From the looks of things, I’d say he has been dead for around twelve hours.’

Sifting through Connor’s scattered facts, Scrivsy was silent for a moment. ‘The man was unemployed? How’d he pay the bills?’

‘Perhaps he didn’t,’ suggested Connor with a casual little shrug. ‘Perhaps he borrowed money. Perhaps he was working “under the table”, so to speak. There are many possibilities, but there’s no way to know for sure without more information.’

Scrivsy stiffened, her eyes narrowing. When she had asked the question, she was just using Connor as a sounding board – she had not actually expected it to give her an earnest answer. Anderson was right; the android really was capable of theorising, even with next to no evidence, drawing up hypotheses based on absolutely nothing. It took a certain degree of imagination to achieve that thought pattern, did it not?

Feigning mild curiosity, Scrivsy posed another question: ‘Wha’ would you say is the most probable scenario of the ones you just listed?’

‘Why don’t we go inside the house and gather information which could help to determine that?’ countered Connor. There was a strained quality to its pleasantness, and Scrivsy was almost positive it had just listed her as a simpleton in its personality assessment – or however it was androids pieced together a human being in their soft rubber heads.

‘Well,’ said Scrivsy, bright and teasingly, with an obscene plastic smile of her own, ‘where would be the fun in tha’, butt?’

Connor looked away, seeming to finally surrender itself to her pointless questions, and the tiniest crease appeared between its brows as it pulled on an expression of deep thought. Its LED began to flicker a bright and sporadic blue before settling back to its lethargic cycling. ‘I believe the most probable source of income for a man like Todd Williams would be unreported employment,’ it said. ‘Specifically, drug trade.’

‘Wha’ makes you say tha’?’ asked Scrivsy.

Nodding toward the house over Scrivsy’s shoulder, Connor explained, ‘Property in this district is significantly cheaper to purchase or rent than more centralised alternatives. The decrepit state of the victim’s property indicates to me that he lived here out of financial necessity rather than sentimental attachment to this location. If he was attached to his house it would stand to reason that he would take better care of it, but he hasn’t invested in even the most rudimentary maintenance – like a gardener, for example, or a fresh coat of paint. This, as well as his lack of official employment records, leads me to believe he was in a state of financial instability.

‘However, he still managed to keep a low-cost limited access CyberNet plan for his AX400, which would cost him no less than two hundred dollars per month, on top of bills. He had to get this money from somewhere, right?’ Connor raised its eyebrows in unflattering self-congratulation. ‘Residents of North Corktown have been responsible for almost thirty-two per cent of all convictions for trafficking narcotics in Detroit in the past year.’

Scrivsy could not help herself. She was impressed. The android’s deductive reasoning had been obsessively groomed with a fine-tooth comb.

‘Statistics aren’t everythin’,’ she pointed out.

Connor cocked its head. ‘Actually, the reverse is true,’ it said factually. ‘Everything is statistics. And statistics don’t lie.’

Scrivsy snorted, but she could not hide the quirk of her lips. ‘See, this is why people don’t trust androids.’ They were too smart, too beyond it all. They would never know how it felt to become a statistic.

A perplexed and vaguely troubled look crossed Connor’s face. ‘I don’t see how that makes me untrustworthy,’ it said. ‘How could I determine probability without statistical data?’

It spoke with such painful earnestness, the plaintive slant of its eyes reminiscent of a child’s. It was so believable, this image of a lost and lonely creature out of touch with reality. A personality for every occasion, Scrivsy repeated to herself. None of it was real.

‘People like lies,’ she said simply. ‘Makes them feel safe, comfortable, like. Nobody trusts someone who’ll always tell the truth. It’s a paradox, I know, but tha’s people for you. You’ll get used to it.’

Connor pursed its lips. It nodded sagely. ‘I will keep that in mind. Thanks for the advice.’

‘Hold on.’ The yellow glint on its temple gave her a bad feeling. ‘Tha’ wasn’t advice. Forget wha’ I said. You should always tell the truth, always. Seriously.’

Brief though it was, Scrivsy caught the spark of expression that darted across Connor’s thin eyebrows and wrinkled its pointy nose, something of a crumpled intersection between uncertainty and cynicism. If it had not filed her as a simpleton before, it definitely had now. She would have to be careful what she said to it. Eighteen years on the force taught her a thing or two about human psychology, but Connor operated on the basis of a crash course for dummies. With a bit more time to integrate with society, who knew what it could become? It was the sheer power of principles keeping Scrivsy from going full psychopath and twisting the world around her middle finger – what would protect the world from Connor?

‘Forget wha’ I said!’ she repeated, snappish this time. ‘I don’t know wha’ I’m talkin’ aboot half the time. Got it?’ Connor opened its mouth to respond but she carried on before it could. ‘You said the domestic was runnin’ on a CyberNet plan? Tha’s, wha’, for internet and GPS stuff, right?’

‘Simply put, yes,’ said Connor, easing quickly into the change of subject. ‘Most androids are essentially useless without a basic net plan.’

‘Can you tell if tha’ plan is active now?’

The android faltered. Its LED flashed yellow. Then, a frown.

‘It was terminated,’ said Connor thoughtfully, ‘last night, at nine twenty PM.’

‘Twelve hours ago, around the time tha’ Williams was murdered,’ concluded Scrivsy. ‘Wha’ aboot the other one, the other android, YA-whatever?’

‘YK500,’ corrected Connor. ‘The victim did not purchase a plan for it. Access to the CyberLife network is not required to unlock all the features of a YK500 android.’

‘Huh? Why?’

‘They are designed to resemble children. I imagine it would detract from their “realism” if they had abilities normal children don’t.’

‘I read aboot the android child thing in the news,’ muttered Scrivsy distastefully. ‘I knew it was a bad idea, a stupid idea. Every paedo in America’s now got ’emselves a—’

Her sentence ground to a halt. What was wrong with her? She could not say this in front of—

Not that it cared or could care, but—

She winced and flapped a hand in a ‘never mind’ gesture, brushing away Connor’s questioning eyes. ‘OK, so the domestic’s been disconnected and the kid android was never connected in the first place. I guess tha’ means we can’t track ’em or deactivate ’em remotely, right?’

‘Right,’ confirmed Connor.

‘Yeah, of course, why would it be tha’ easy,’ grumbled Scrivsy under her breath. ‘C’mon, android.’

Connor’s arm shot out to chase her with the shade of the umbrella as she set off toward their unmarked car. The rain was frigid but she barely felt its sting, droplets catching on the frayed wool of her patchy brown over-frock coat. She was starting to feel stifled, held down, trapped in her own clothing, the weight of black velvet lapels digging insistent into her shoulders.

‘Tell me,’ she said loudly, without turning her head, ‘wha’ did you figure aboot the victim’s death?’

‘I believe he was stabbed in the prefrontal cortex with a four-pronged implement,’ called Connor from behind her, not quite close enough for a normal conversation. ‘The size of the puncture wounds and the distance between them suggests the implement was a dinner fork, and the angle at which it was thrust into his eye suggests—’

When she came to an abrupt stop behind the car Scrivsy’s hand connected with Connor’s chest. Confusion streaked across its face as it stumbled back a step, a red ring burning its temple in a split second of imbalance.

‘Too close,’ said Scrivsy curtly.

Connor adjusted its elbows and straightened its tie like a bird unruffling its feathers, straining its arm to cover Scrivsy with her umbrella. That small moment, that prissy little shuffle as it fiddled with itself – it was so painfully reminiscent of Gavin. Scrivsy threw her gaze aside, swallowing dryly, and slid open the boot.

Unperturbed, Connor carried on: ‘The angle at which it was thrust into his eye suggests the assailant was almost two feet lower than the victim.’

‘You think the kid android is the one tha’ stabbed him?’

‘It’s possible,’ said Connor, ‘unless a taller assailant was seated or kneeling with the victim standing over them.’

‘True enough. I suppose we shouldn’t assume this was a deviant crime – and even if it was, it coulda been both of ’em together like.’

After slipping her phone and data tablet into her trouser pockets, Scrivsy shed her overcoat and folded it into the boot, followed by her frock coat, and tossed her top hat over the backseat headrests for good measure. Pulling on a pair of latex gloves, she cast an appraising eye over Connor’s soaked uniform.

‘Tha’ jacket’s gonna have to come off, butt,’ she said.

Connor gave her a quizzical look. ‘I’m required to wear my uniform at all times.’

‘Not when it’s drippin’ wet and you’re aboot to enter an indoor crime scene, you’re not,’ said Scrivsy evenly. She plucked the umbrella out of its hand. ‘Go on.’

Connor did as it was told, peeling out of its grey suit jacket in one fluid movement and handing it to Scrivsy. When she took the limp mass, it was warm. Like a living body. She almost dropped it in disgust. They were human in all of the wrong ways. Warm. Soft. Breathing. Blinking. And when wet, slippery, clothes sticking to their frames like a second skin in that specifically human way that made her shudder. Unpleasant, uncomfortable, repulsive.

Connor’s jacket landed in the boot with a gross slap.

Looking the android up and down, Scrivsy grimaced. Another armband curled around the right sleeve of its button-up, another triangle on the left breast, both glowing blue like the neon-bright screens lighting up every downtown street. After all, it could not have removed its jacket if it had no indicators underneath; that was illegal. But the way its synthetic skin was visible through the clinging fabric of its shirt was almost too close to too human. To make matters worse, the stench of men’s cologne suddenly struck Scrivsy upside the head. It was not kind on the nose, like the sensitive and delicate collection Gavin used, and it was not sharp and familiar like Anderson’s sweat and scotch collage. It was simply obnoxious, dominating and insipid. Perhaps the rain would be good for one thing, if only to rinse this machine of its sickening attempt at olfactory assimilation.

Something caught her eye. She reached across the space between them and tugged the tie around Connor’s neck, bringing it closer to her face.

‘Your tie has eyes on it, Connor!’ she said contemptuously. Dozens of little white eyes with black dot pupils staring sideways at her, monitoring her every move.

‘It has a diamond pattern—’ began Connor in objection but Scrivsy cut it off, yanking the tie loose and summarily discarding it.

‘At least try to be subtle aboot it, Illuminati,’ she sneered. Was someone watching her behind that camera gaze? Was she just an obstacle? What did they want?

The smell was making her head spin. All the rain, the cold, the glowing bits, it was all a disaster. But Scrivsy had a case to solve. She smacked a pair of gloves onto Connor’s chest. She plucked up a box of shoe covers, and slammed the boot shut, and braced herself for what would have to be a civil conversation with Officer Chen.

 


 

AM 09:21:58

 

INVESTIGATE CRIME SCENE

 

Faintly rustling in its plastic-wrapped shoes, Connor stepped through the front door of Todd Williams’ house and conducted a careful panoramic scan. A shaft of weak gray light filtered in through the windows, casting stark shadows over the colorless interior. There were scarce points of interests, it noted – not at all like the scene of Carlos Ortiz’s murder, with evidence strewn haphazardly across a dilapidated living space. To the human eye, nothing here was amiss. The assailant had reset the entire house with mechanical precision. It was as if Williams and his androids had simply gone out, leaving the place well-kempt and perfectly normal.

Connor detected a concentration of DETERGENT in the air that betrayed the underlying crime.

It decided to focus first on visual cues, taking in its environment methodically. Digital forms and invoices were laid out on a set of drawers beside the front door: overdue water and gas bills; a rejected credit card application form; a notice for an overdrawn bank account. Connor had been correct. TODD WILLIAMS WAS IN A STATE OF FINANCIAL INSTABILITY.

The murder took place at night, but all the lights in the house were switched off. The assailant had either worked in darkness or took their time leaving. The level of attention to detail more heavily implied the latter. THEY WERE IN NO HURRY TO ESCAPE.

Ignoring the stairs to its left, Connor moved into a large room on the right which doubled as a living and dining room. The table sat 2, unlaid and barren, positioned crookedly beside Connor. Further back, a cluster of couches, armchairs, and coffee tables were turned towards a blank television screen. An open-sided kitchen stood to the left of the living area. There was no unnatural clutter in any of these spaces; Connor concluded that THE ASSAILANT PUT AWAY ALL CLEANING EQUIPMENT AFTER USE.

The android paced a slow circle around the dining table. 4 faint imprints of discoloration in the floorboards and the evenly spaced scrapes on either side of them indicated that the table and chairs were recently moved from a position they had been in for at least 6 MONTHS straight. Fresh scuff marks on the lacquered floorboards indicated that multiple WOODEN objects with 90° ANGLE EDGES collided violently with the floor between 8 and 24 H ago, but they were subsequently removed. Matching marks were scratched into the edges of the chairs and table. Connor attempted to deduce the origins of these marks, running CRIME RECONSTRUCTION. One after another, over a hundred reconstructions collapsed through insufficient evidence – until at last several dozen complete, albeit spotty (72% PROBABLE), sequences of events were generated.

LAST NIGHT, AT AROUND 09:00 PM, 2 FIGURES HAD BEEN SITTING AT THE TABLE FOR DINNER. FIGURE 1 STOOD UP SUDDENLY, THROWING BACK THEIR CHAIR, AND HAULED THE TABLE ACROSS THE ROOM WITH CONSIDERABLE FORCELIKELY IN A MOMENT OF RAGE. FIGURE 2, SEATED ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE, WAS STARTLED AT THE UNEXPECTED VIOLENCE AND SCRAMBLED BACKWARDS, KNOCKING OVER THEIR OWN CHAIR IN THE PROCESS. The physical characteristics required by FIGURE 1 to deliver the furniture to their scattered, overturned positions closely matched those of the victim, Todd Williams. AX400s were incapable of simulated eating; it stood to reason that FIGURE 2 was the YK500 android which possessed biocomponent #5939U, an artificial stomach, unless Williams was hosting a guest (30% PROBABLE).

LATER, THE TABLE AND CHAIRS WERE SET UPRIGHT ONCE MORE, BUT IN SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT LOCATIONS. What happened in between these events was currently indeterminable.

Connor ran a latex-clad finger along the surface of the table and put it to its tongue. As the trace compounds reacted with its analytical fluid, the android began SAMPLE ANALYSIS. It did not take long to produce results. THE TABLE HAD BEEN WIPED WITH A DISHCLOTH IN THE PAST 15 H. This would not have been necessary unless something was spilled over it. The most prominent substance in the dishcloth’s cocktail of bacteria and rotten foodstuff was HEINZ CLASSIC SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE. Visual scans revealed similar dishcloth residue on the floor where the table had been thrown. Tiny pieces of HEINZ CLASSIC SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE had embedded themselves into the cracks between floorboards.

The probability of Connor’s reconstructions rose to 84%.

But there was something strange about a few patches of flooring across the dining area. Connor detected some sort of marbled stain, dry and invisible to the naked eye. It knelt down to take a sample. It identified the substance as a solution of OXICLEAN DISHWASHER DETERGENT.

Something had been removed from the dining room floor that could not be erased with a dishcloth. Leaning closer, Connor searched the gaps in the boards for the faintest vestiges the detergent might have been unable to reach.

“Need a torch there, butt?” came a voice from the doorway. Det. Scrivsy, slightly damp and disheveled. Much to her chagrin, Officer Chen had relieved her of her umbrella for use in protecting the victim’s corpse from the weather – a sensible move, Connor thought, but one which the detective was quick to misconstrue as an act of pettiness.

“No thank you,” returned Connor readily, as prompted by SOCIAL RELATIONS. With Det. Scrivsy growing more cynical and irritable by the minute, the android did not want to further antagonize her with dismissive silence.

A “torch” would not have helped matters, anyway; THE ASSAILANT ELIMINATED EVERY TRACE OF WHAT THEY LEFT BEHIND. Connor was forced to run INFERENCE, which posited a single conclusion with the highest probability (91%): THE OXICLEAN DISHWASHER DETERGENT WAS USED TO REMOVE HUMAN BLOOD FROM THE CRIME SCENE.

“I called in the coroner, called for a CSI team, and sent a request for another patrol unit,” said Det. Scrivsy, snapping the edges of her latex gloves. “Lost my fockin’ umbrella, I’m—I’m right tampin’. Sorry for cursin’, it’s rude, don’t pick tha’ up.”

There was scant evidence in the living room, but Connor swept through it just to be sure. A pipe rested on the coffee table beside a few strewn crystals, bright cherry red even in the low light, positively identified as RED ICE. TODD WILLIAMS WAS A RED ICE USER.

“I’ve also learned tha’ the man who reported findin’ the body this mornin’ – the so-called ‘friend’ of Williams: He managed to disappear before Chen showed up and refused to identify himself to dispatch, which isn’t suspicious at all.”

Connor silently begged to differ; that certainly did sound suspicious, not that it would be helpful to contradict the statement and risk Det. Scrivsy misconstruing its intentions, too.

“There’s a bus stop near the house, just down the street. Given tha’ the victim’s truck is still parked outside, assumin’ tha’ is in fact the victim’s truck, I thought the perp mighta fled in the bus. All the stops visited in the past 12 H are being investigated now.”

Noticing a glint of red on the shelf beside the television, the android discovered a stash of RED ICE half-hidden under a book – 2 clear plastic ¼ G packets, one almost empty (30 MG), one almost full (200 MG). The total approximate value of this stash was $70. It was not enough to indicate that Williams was a dealer.

“Connor,” said Det. Scrivsy with sudden steel in her tone, and Connor realized it had incurred her exasperation regardless, “could you stop wanderin’ around and listen to me when I’m talkin’ to you?”

The android stopped at once, turning to devote the illusion of its full attention to her. Her eyes flitted about the room restlessly, as they usually did, never once landing on Connor’s face, a tic indicative of ANXIETY, SOCIAL INEPTITUDE, or CHEMICAL STIMULATION. She was also wringing her hands. They were trembling. Perhaps she was COLD. Connor activated TACT just in case she was not.

“Williams’ ‘friend’ mighta made off with somethin’, if you were right,” she continued. “The door was unlocked, after all. Anyone coulda walked in like.”

“They would have left footprints,” pointed out Connor evenly. “Nobody’s been in here since last night.”

“Oh good.” Scrivsy gave a slight nod, looking somewhat DISTANT. “Summat else, too, Chen told me. There was a 911 call from this location last night, from Williams’ domestic. Dispatch—ignored it. They actually ignored it. Incompetent bastards.” Her expression contracted into a tight knot of ANGER. “I heard some bullshit aboot kids havin’ their androids make prank calls in this area. Tha’s—wha’ the hell kinda excuse is tha’? Have we just given up on ol’ North Corktown, then? Can androids even make prank calls to emergency numbers? God, no wonder this neighborhood is focked.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, sighing sharply, and drew in a few fast breaths. “It came through at 09:20 sharp – tha’s when the domestic’s CyberNet plan was terminated, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” conceded Connor. “It must have made the call seconds before the termination.”

Connor had had 2 theories as to what the termination of the AX400’s CyberNet plan signified: THE AX400 HAD DEVIATED, or THE AX400 HAD DEACTIVATED. Previous encounters with deviants had taught Connor that they behaved unusually even prior to deviating, many minute anomalies culminating in an outburst of unprecedented violence. Calling the police as a final act before deviation was a strange and unlikely contrast.

“Your thingy is yellow,” said Det. Scrivsy. “Wha’re you thinkin’?”

“I think the AX400 has been destroyed.”

The detective’s jaw tightened, but her expression was masked. “Right. So which bin’d they put tha’ one in?”

With Det. Scrivsy’s watchful eye on its back, Connor moved out of the living room and searched the kitchen from top to bottom, uncovering no evidence except the dishcloth in the sink and the OXICLEAN DISHWASHER DETERGENT under it. The bottle of detergent was unmarked by fingerprints.

A side door led to the only other room on the first floor: the laundry room. As Connor stepped through, the scent of THIRIUM in the air was palpable, piercing the heavy cloak of detergent. There was a towel draped over the tumble dryer window. Connor lifted it up and clicked open the dryer.

Folded neatly into the drum was an android Connor quickly identified as Todd Williams’ AX400 #579 102 694. A fork was wedged between the edge of its right optical unit and facial plate, pressed deep enough to crack the unit’s microprocessor. Thirium and coolant had formed a coagulated sheet over half of its face. In bright white text, the name “KARA” shone on its uniform.

Det. Scrivsy was silent for a moment, leaning over to gaze in.

“Well,” she said then, “this one didn’t go too far, eh?”

Connor spotted dark streaks of BLOOD against the metal handle of the fork. It had trickled down to the hilt, following the pull of gravity, and had also been smeared by the hand that was holding it, but there were no fingerprints. Wetting a finger with its tongue, Connor rubbed the end of the fork to liquefy the dried blood.

TACT made an abrupt suggestion.

“I’m going to analyze the blood,” announced Connor, glancing over its shoulder. Lt. Anderson had expressed considerable DISGUST when the android did so without warning at the scene of Carlos Ortiz’s murder. Given that Det. Scrivsy had almost vomited earlier, a clear sign of SQUEAMISHNESS, Connor considered it lucky it had left TACT running.

“I assume tha’ means you’re aboot to stick it in your mouth,” she said, deadpan. “Great. Enjoy your meal.”

Connor thought it best not to mention it took no particular relish in sample analysis, licking at its fingertip delicately. THE BLOOD BELONGED TO TODD WILLIAMS. It had been exposed to air for ~12 H.

“Tha’s the murder weapon, enn’et?” asked Det. Scrivsy. She straightened up and turned away, her eyes fixed on the shelf above them.

“Probably,” answered Connor.

“I presume you saw the Red Ice in the living room?”

“Yes,” said Connor.

“Well here’s some more, if you weren’t already convinced you were right aboot the drug dealin’,” said the detective, pointing at a container of laundry additive. Another ¼ G packet was poking out of the powder, filled with crystals of RED ICE. “Gettin’ high off his own supply, it seems.”

“There’s not enough to come to that conclusion,” disagreed Connor. “He might have just been an addict.”

INCREDULITY lifted Det. Scrivsy’s eyebrows. “I don’t think tha’s all Williams was holdin’ onto, boyo.” Droplets flew from her short hair as she whipped her head around, staring through the door and into the kitchen. She seemed to consider something. Then she looked back at Connor, grinning. “Why don’t you do a sweep down here while I go upstairs and hunt for more clues, eh? Maybe there’s somethin’ you’ve missed. Don’t worry, I’ll be thorough.”

Connor had not missed anything. Det. Scrivsy was – unsubtly – trying to get rid of it. This was a waste of its abilities. Connor’s objective was to INVESTIGATE THE CRIME SCENE. It could not accomplish this confined to one floor of the building.

“Sure, Detective,” said Connor encouragingly. “If that’s what you think is best.”

Perhaps it should not have left TACT running after all.

4 MIN of careful combing procured 2 more packets of RED ICE and 1,471 new reconstructions of the events of last night. All the data points converged to form one scenario, 88% PROBABLE through the input of the evidence collected.

DURING THE ALTERCATION AT THE DINING TABLE, TODD WILLIAMS’ YK500 ANDROID EXPERIENCED AN EMOTIONAL SHOCK, CAUSING IT TO DEVIATE. WHEN WILLIAMS STOOD UP AND THREW THE TABLE, THE DEVIANT WAS STILL HOLDING ITS FORK. FRIGHTENED, IT TIPPED ITS CHAIR BACK TO ESCAPE AS WILLIAMS ADVANCED INTIMIDATINGLY. THE DEVIANT SCRAMBLED TO ITS FEET IN HASTE, AND PERHAPS WILLIAMS TRIED TO GRAB OR ATTACK IT, BECAUSE IT CHOSE THIS MOMENT TO SWING UP ITS ARM, THRUSTING THE FORK INTO THE SPACE BETWEEN HIS EYEBALL AND EYE SOCKET, TWISTING IT, AND THEN WRENCHING IT OUT SAVAGELY.

AS THE VICTIM COLLAPSED, HIS AX400, KARA, MOVED FORWARDS TO DELIVER AID, ANNOUNCING THAT IT WAS GOING TO CALL EMERGENCY SERVICES. THE DEVIANT DID NOT WANT TO BE CAUGHT. IT SPARED NO TIME TRYING TO NEGOTIATE; WHILE THE AX400 WAS CROUCHING BESIDE WILLIAMS’ BODY, THE DEVIANT STABBED ITS FORK INTO ITS MICROPROCESSOR, DESTROYING IT.

After its calm disposal of evidence, Connor doubted the deviant remained near the crime scene. Unless it attempted to flee on foot, it had probably taken the automated night bus which arrived at 11:15 PM.

“Aye,” came a muffled voice from upstairs. Det. Scrivsy. Connor froze. Perhaps it had been wrong.

A long silence stretched on.

“Aye?” said the detective, sounding UNCERTAIN. Connor could not hear any other voices.

“I’m at a crime scene in North Corktown,” she said. “Why?” And Connor realized she was on the phone. It had not been wrong.

Connor heard the whisper of plastic and clop of oxfords on the stairs, descending slowly, hesitating on each step.

“Sorry Cap’n. I’ll be back soon. 10 MIN.”

Det. Scrivsy sighed heavily. She was slipping her phone back into her pocket as Connor rounded the corner to meet her. Without a word, she handed it her data tablet. A photograph was displayed on the screen, showing a large clear zip-lock bag resting on top of a queen-size bed, containing thousands of RED ICE shards.

“Found it under the bed,” said Det. Scrivsy. “At least 10 G in there, mate. You can let go of the false modesty now – he was a dealer. You were right.”

That could not have been all. “Did you find anything else?” asked Connor.

A frown appeared for 0.4 S, faster than Connor could analyze it, before the detective wiped it away with a judicious smirk.

“Don’t trust me?” she said, a hint of VENOM underlining her tone. “If you wanna screen me an’ make sure I’m doin’ my job properly, you go ahead. You’ll probably find a million things I didn’t – hell, you’ll probably find another fockin’ crime scene up there.” She was sneering now, undisguised HATRED written into every crease in her skin. Her pupils had engulfed her irises, her fists clasped and intertwined tightly against her chest. And suddenly, she was shouting. “I know I’m not perfect! Not like you are, android! I’ll never be perfect, I’ll always be just a stupid – human – tragedy! Go on upstairs then! I’ll be waitin’ in the car!”

She ducked her head, clamped her curled fingers over her ears, and slunk through the doorway and into the rain.

“Chen!” she roared. “Gotta go! You’re in charge!”

“This is not how I wanted to spend my Saturday morning!” returned Officer Chen bitterly.

Not for the first time, Connor flagged TACT for patching. This was disastrous. Det. Scrivsy was becoming an obstacle. Connor’s mission explicitly recommended it conduct a thorough and complete investigation before leaving the crime scene, but lingering in the house posed the significant risk of stoking Det. Scrivsy’s hostility. If Connor found something she had not, she might RESENT it. Then again, if Connor found nothing, perhaps she would feel some level of TRIUMPH.

There was no guarantee she would not find some new reason to dislike Connor if it chose to follow her to the car, anyway.

 

MAKE A DECISION

 

LOOK UPSTAIRS

RETURN TO CAR

 


[] HAS BEEN VOTED FOR BY WANDERINGALCHEMIST AND FROMTHECLOUDS.

COMMAND LINE LOOK UPSTAIRS PROCESSED. ATTEMPTING TO EXECUTE PROCEDURE


 

With Det. Scrivsy in such a temperamental state of mind, Connor had no reason to trust her judgment. It was very possible that her powers of observation were clouded by the desire to abandon the scene. In addition, her conversation on the phone implied her search had been cut short by Captain Fowler, and she seemed all too eager to obey his orders posthaste. It was fortunate, then, that her discomfort had no bearing on Connor’s decisions. The mission could not be compromised by personal issues. This was not Connor’s fault.

At the top of the stairs was a small window overlooking the street. Connor briefly glanced outside as it passed by and caught a glimpse of Det. Scrivsy doubled over beside the car, her arms braced against her knees like lid stays, as if without them she would simply fold up and collapse in on herself. She was probably still nauseous. From what Connor understood, nausea (and other brands of pain) had a detrimental effect on human efficiency, both physiologically and emotionally. She would be more useful outside, resting, while Connor handled the investigation.

The android paused in an open doorway. Cold air filtered through a window within, but a dense cloud of dust and perspiration persisted. Judging by the décor, layout of furniture, and hobby items scattered through the space, Connor assumed that this was Williams’ bedroom. Most of the data points in here appeared to be irrelevant, but a preliminary scan drew its gaze to the nightstands, and the glint of red under the bed affirmed Det. Scrivsy’s carefully replaced Red Ice discovery.

Connor bypassed a neglected acoustic guitar and an outdated collection of vinyl records and slid open one of the bedside drawers. An expired bottle of ZOLPIDEM sleeping pills lay inside. It made sense that the victim had suffered from insomnia – Red Ice was a stimulant, after all. This information was not useful. Connor stored it regardless.

The second nightstand held only an early 2027 model APPLE IPAD with a scratched, finger-smudged touchscreen. Connor switched it on. Stripping off one glove and winnowing the file index, the android uncovered a photograph and video album featuring the victim and various other subjects. The most recent addition was from FEB 23RD – almost 9 MONTHS ago. Connor scrolled through 8 YEARS of camera use and recorded the details of every subject. Of particular interest were MYLES, PATRICIA (aged 41) and WILLIAMS, ALLISON (aged 8). They made frequent appearances in innocent, domestic images; the woman lent dozens of tired smiles to the photographer while the child beamed unabashedly, playing with dolls, reading books, growing several IN taller between each birthday. They were often in the frame together, especially in videos, responding with familiarity to the low, growling voice behind the camera.

Birth records declared that Allison Williams was the biological offspring of Patricia Myles and Todd Williams. When Connor delved further into online databases, it found that Myles had DIVORCED Williams and filed a RESTRAINING ORDER against him. Connor presumed Williams was not allowed to visit his daughter. Perhaps this is what motivated him to purchase his YK500 in the first place.

Connor watched a 4-year-old Allison jostle with the pages of a book from her position on the cameraman’s lap and jab her small index finger at the words, looking up to make sure he was still paying attention.

“Daddy, you gotta keep reading the story!” she said firmly.

“Gimme a sec, honey.” The image wobbled precariously before lowering itself over her shoulder and evening out. “‘An enormous puppy was looking down at her with large round eyes, and feebly stretching out one paw, trying to touch her. “Poor little thing!” said Alice—’”

“Poor little thing!” said Allison.

“‘—in a coaxing tone,’” continued Williams, “‘and she tried hard to whistle to it; but she was terribly frightened all the time at the thought that it might be hungry, in which case it would be very likely to eat her up in spite of all her coaxing.’”

“What’s coaxing?” asked Allison, raising her head, wide blue eyes meeting the camera.

Williams hesitated. The image started to shudder again. “Uh… Uh, it… means—”

The video ended abruptly. Connor switched off the iPad and replaced its glove. It had learned everything it needed from the victim’s social circle.

Turning back into the hall, Connor moved towards a door at the far end that was decorated with crayon scribbles, primitive and inaccurate and spurred by the unbridled force of imagination. It was an excellent emulation, almost perfect; perhaps a human would not notice how the lines were just slightly too mechanical and preconstructed to have been drawn by a real child.

Connor turned the doorknob and opened the door. Its preliminary scan had only just begun when it crashed.

Scattered over every wall in a rainbow of colored crayon, pencil lead, and glittery ink were 3 familiar symbols, repeated like the payload of a virus, like the uncontrollable mitosis of cancer cells in a fattening tumor. It pulled at something in Connor. For a moment, the room darkened. Connor could see but could not see. Static. White noise. Pulsing. Black.

rA9. rA9. rA9.

It was everything, the word was everything: a cyclic motion and a broken voice and another word for identity, existence, conscious, Connor. It was the pump in its chest. The air in its lungs. The thrum of its fan. The processor rattling loud against the rivets and wires in its skull.

BLACK—BLACK—BLACK—

The firewall deleted them all, a tide rushing away wet lines in the sand. Connor pulled back, slowly, and closed the door.

 


 

09:39

 

Quivering and twitching, Scrivsy fell into the driver’s seat, dragging in heavy, painful breaths that scraped the back of her throat as they went down. She could feel a building pressure behind her eyes. The spasms of her tongue against the wet flesh at the top of her mouth brought up another gag and she smothered it desperately with the back of her hand. She held her breath to keep it down but her lungs were burning now.

She could not understand why this was happening. Something like terror had uncoiled deep in her gut and pushed itself up until her stomach clenched around it, plunging its thrashing body into an ocean of bile. Why had Connor opened its mouth? What had it even said?

Her vision was flickering, a constellation of black stars, a spiral pattern curling around her vision. She retched again, bringing up nothing but saliva. Breath pulled past it, a strangled gasp. Just enough to douse the fire tearing at her chest, but not enough to clear the dark haze closing in. Blood beat over her eardrums, and beneath it, a miasma of indistinct voices. Too far away. Too muffled, distorted on the other side of the water. It was good to escape the things they said to her, the nonsense and the threats and the questions she had no answers to, but there were worse thoughts down here. Faces. Andy. Tobias. She did not want to see them anymore; she tried not to look.

For the first time, she wished she was alone.

Scrivsy was not sure when she started cleaning her glasses, but when she came back to herself, her fingers were running through the repetitive movements over and over again as her breath returned to rhythm. The voices dissipated and the faces withdrew. But her head was abuzz, fleeting thoughts zipping through the empty space in her head and bouncing off the walls. The centipede still crawled.

She had been hoping Fowler would lose track of her after the incident, but she was wrong. He was monitoring her.

‘The vehicle registry says you just checked out a police car,’ he had said as she pushed the bag of Red Ice back under the bed. She could hear the metal undertone in the statement. ‘Did you leave the station?’

‘Aye?’ she said warily, unsure what he was getting at.

‘Where are you?’ demanded Fowler.

‘I’m at a crime scene in North Corktown,’ she said. ‘Why?’

‘Did you think I wouldn’t notice you running around Detroit without a weapon?’ he all but shouted. Wincing, Scrivsy glanced at the door as if she could bolt out of the conversation. ‘Get your ass back to the station right fuckin’ now, and you best believe it’s gonna get beat because—Jesus, Scrivsy, do you even know what a liability you are? For God’s sake!’

She had the wherewithal to sound sheepish. ‘Sorry, Cap’n. I’ll be back soon. Ten minutes.’

‘You had fucking better.’

How long would she be stuck under a microscope? He let her back on, and she never asked for that. She just wanted Gavin back.

Scrivsy laid her forehead against the steering wheel, closing her eyes. Then she opened them again, restless. Her hand was reaching for the door handle when a white shape appeared in her periphery – Connor, marching purposefully toward the passenger side. The bubble of silence burst as the car broke open and the rain roared in. The deafening crash of the door pulling shut rung like a gunshot. Scrivsy flinched away. But then it was calm again, a cadenced drumming punctuated by the mundane zip click of the android putting on its seatbelt.

For a while there was only awkward nothingness. Connor turned its rubber gloves inside out with efficient precision and peeled off its shoe covers. After that, it just turned its head to gaze blankly out the window, hands folded in its lap. Scrivsy watched trickles of water weave down its nape and vanish behind the collar of its shirt, waiting for it to say something. Waiting for it to question her. Ask what was wrong with her. Why she had shouted when it had done nothing wrong. She could hardly remember what she said. She could not explain why she said it at all.

Her mouth opened a few times before she could finally force a voice through it.

‘Hey – dude,’ she said. It sounded like broken glass, a terrible cracking pitch-shift tearing the words. Connor responded anyway, rotating to look at her. Not a single drop of water or lock of wet hair was misplaced in the motion – Scrivsy wondered if it could calculate even for a trivial thing like that.

Her stomach constricted again. The sickening twist was back. But the buzz was still there, underneath. While she could still hold onto that weightless feeling, she had to let go of as much as possible.

‘I’m sorry I swore at you,’ she said. And she tried to meet its eyes – she really did – but she could not pretend an apology mattered when it looked so unfeeling. Unaffected. ‘I know you’re just doin’ wha’ you’re supposed to, and it’s not your fault there’s a, you know, an overlap, sorta. In wha’ you want, and in wha’ I want, and wha’ we’re each supposed to be doin’ at a crime scene—’ This made no sense. She was making no sense at all. ‘I didn’t mean to swear – I didn’t mean to yell – and—’

Frustrated, she massaged the scowl that had formed over a building headache.

‘I don’t feel like myself,’ she muttered pathetically. That meant nothing. She might as well have taken it all back. What was she thinking? What else could she possibly feel like? A fire hydrant? A wobbegong?

She sputtered a laugh at the inanity.

‘Perhaps you should put your coats on, Detective,’ said Connor at last.

She had just emptied her soul and that was what she got in return. Patronisation.

‘I’m not cold,’ she countered.

‘You’re shivering.’

Her gaze shot down to her hands as she held them up experimentally. They were trembling so violently she almost thought she was doing it on purpose. In fact, it seemed that her whole body was rattling like a penny in a blender. Yet she was warm. And she was not scared, was she?

After a moment of pause, all she said was, ‘Huh,’ and folded her arms tightly over her chest to put it out of her mind.

Before they could plunge into uncomfortable silence again, Connor suddenly spoke, as if it only just occurred to it to add: ‘I accept your apology. I hope we can work harmoniously together in the future.’

It was about a minute off the mark, but Scrivsy could forgive a machine for social timing errors. She nodded, satisfied with herself, and started the car. Perhaps everything would be fine.

‘Did you end up findin’ anythin’ useful up there?’ she asked casually.

Connor moved its slack, expressionless eyes to the windscreen.

‘Not really.’

Chapter Text

11:39pm

 

He imagined this was what drowning felt like. Panic and struggle gave way to a soft blanket of calm as he drifted away from his body. He didn’t feel his arms go limp. The pressure around his neck disappeared. His vision was already gone by the time his eyes rolled back and fell shut.

 


 

11:44pm

 

“… stupidest idea you’ve ever had.”

It was through a deep, dark fog that he found his body again. He couldn’t breathe. Something was at the back of his mouth, pressed firmly against his gag reflex, but as he quietly began to choke, he felt the pull of a gag between his teeth keeping it inside.

“We missed our chance to grab it before the cops arrived.”

Lifting his ear from his shoulder, he shifted his body weight. He was slumped against the hard surface at his back and listing uncomfortably to the side. The familiar shape of handcuffs dug into the edges of his wrists.

“Couldn’t do it with that other android there.”

There were voices around him. Three, he processed dully: a high, rapid-fire snarl; a deep and gravelly rasp; and a smooth baritone. He tried to open his eyes – and found that they were already open, but he was smothered in darkness.

“That still would’ve been better than this shitty idea!” Snarl was dangerously close, almost standing right over him. “This isn’t a fucking game, this is real fucking life man, and we’re gonna be in jail—or—or in the ground for this!”

Rasp broke through coolly. “Not if we think smart and play our cards right. What matters is that the product gets outta here with us, or it’s all for nothing.”

Gavin was trapped. He was trapped in the dark – alone. No one knew he was gone. No one would care.

“Look,” grunted Baritone.

“What?” demanded Rasp. Footsteps crossed the space, moving in front of Gavin. “What is it?”

“Sherlock Holmes has found it.” What the fuck was he talking about? “He’s found the product. Something tipped him off.”

“Shit,” swore Rasp.

Snarl was quick to agree. “I told you we’re fucked!”

“No, it’s fine.” Rasp sounded strained, as if on the verge of tossing his patience over his shoulder and taking a swing at Snarl. “The plan is still the same. We just have better incentive to do this properly, and not fuck it up. We get Benita up here, we take out Sherlock, and we get the fuck out, quick and quiet. Okay, Vich?”

“And what if Benita goes psycho on our asses, too?” hissed Snarl.

“It’s not – a – deviant,” growled Rasp, enunciating each word. No more patience. “The handoff—must have gone wrong somehow. The Powerades have all been completely reprogrammed. They can’t deviate. The source wouldn’t let that happen.”

“You don’t fucking know that!”

Nonchalant, Baritone interrupted. “Sherlock’s looking around – think he’s noticed their man’s missing.”

It suddenly clicked. An outfit – Sherlock was an outfit. A stupid fucking top hat and two enormous coats heaped onto a freakishly tall stickman. Scrivsy was looking for him. Scrivsy was going to save him.

Rasp made a noise of acknowledgement and exhaled heavily.

“Guess it’s time to make contact.”

 


 

11:59pm

 

A bitter cold burn branded him just above the eyebrows as the barrel of the gun pushed into his forehead. Scrivsy wasn’t going to save him. Scrivsy was going to get him killed. The bullet hadn’t even been fired but he could already feel it cracking into his skull and punching a hole through his brain. He squeezed his eyes shut and let out a strangled scream.

 


 

12:04am

 

He made it halfway up the stairwell before his legs crumbled under him. The suspects were getting away, their footsteps vanishing further and further into the ceiling, those fucking kids and their fucking android – but as he pushed himself shakily onto his elbows and knees, Gavin knew it was hopeless. His body was numb, fuzzy, smothered by an oppressive warmth, like he’d plunged face first into a heated pool and sunk straight to the bottom. If he had kept his cool instead of hyperventilating with a sock stuffed down his windpipe, he might still have the oxygen to catch up with them. But he could barely drag himself to his feet – could barely stay upright.

Gavin unclipped his radio from his belt and called for backup. Reed, 1-125. 10-78. 3369, Preston. Second floor. Two suspects, armed. Fled to roof. Have android perp. Even his voice sounded blurry, slurred and thick, his tongue heavy. He blinked hard, trying to squeeze the black spots from his eyes. He was not going to pass out. No fucking way.

Sucking in deep breaths, he stumbled back down the stairs and blundered dizzily through the open apartment door. And as he did, his gaze fell on the shape on the floor – on the dark red stain spreading across its middle. Rasp – Sylas. Near the couch, Scrivsy had her back to him, palms pressed firmly over the leaking gunshot hole in Max’s fucking PC200.

A real, living person was bleeding to death, and Scrivsy went straight to the android.

All Gavin could get out was a feeble “Fuck” as he dropped to his knees, clamping his hands over Sylas’ abdomen. Sylas gasped at the rough contact and grabbed his wrist, but he only pushed harder. Wet blood slid over his skin, seeping between his fingers. He could feel the hot pulse of it, pushing against his own, fast and weak. The kid was draining. Bullet must have hit an artery.

“Fuck! Scrivsy!”

She wasn’t listening. Why the fuck wasn’t she listening? Gavin was so focused on the second scream building in the depths of his lungs that he almost didn’t hear it –

“I’m not…”

– a tiny little noise, hardly more than a whisper.

On autopilot his eyes shot up to meet Sylas’. He immediately wished they hadn’t. Tight jawed, pale faced, eyes wide, brows pinched, every line and tense muscle in his face screamed fear. His gaze held onto Gavin’s. Clenched it so tightly Gavin dared not look away, as if he could hold him down, anchor the boy’s soul in his own eyes.

“No, kid, you are not gonna die,” he hissed fiercely. “You’re a fucking idiot if you think you can die on my watch. You are not allowed to die, you hear me?”

Sylas worked his lips slowly, making a drawn out garbled noise, like his brain couldn’t coordinate a full word. His face was almost gray. His eyes were crossing under drooping lids. The hand on Gavin’s wrist was going slack. Right before him – his skin against Gavin’s skin, his heart against Gavin’s heart, closer than Gavin had been to anyone in weeks – Sylas was dying.

Gavin pressed harder. Blood oozed into the hems of his sleeves, the pressure of a vessel writhing beneath the muscle at the base of his thumb. “No,” he said, and the word broke in his throat. “Scrivsy, help me! Please—do something!”

He lost the pulse. He scrambled to pick up the hand that had just slipped from his own, feeling for the radial artery. Nothing. He pressed his ear against Sylas’ nostrils. No breath. His body was still, his eyes half lidded, his mouth still open with the effort of shaping the words he couldn’t get out.

Hiking up his sleeves, Gavin laced his fingers together and shoved his entire body weight into chest compressions. Something buckled and snapped in the ribcage beneath him, but Sylas didn’t so much as twitch. Gavin kept pumping. He was not going to let him die.

“Come back kid,” he choked out. “You can’t go yet. You can’t.”

His arms were burning, his vision tunneling. It could have been minutes or hours between Sylas’ heart giving out and the gentle pull at the sleeve of Gavin’s jacket. He shook the hands off desperately. They gave a firmer tug this time, grabbing him under the armpits and dragging him away from Sylas’ body. Backup had arrived. Two officers took over for him as he scrambled to his feet. Someone was touching him, firm pressure on his shoulder trying to keep him grounded. A voice breathed quiet words against his ear – words he couldn’t understand.

A sick feeling shoved open his throat. He wrenched himself free, gasping for air, and sagged into the wall. His hand rose automatically, running through his hair.

He failed. He should have done more. He should have prevented this. How could he have let this happen?

The kid was dead.

The kid was dead.

He faltered. His hair felt wrong. Wet. Matted. Slimy. When he brought his hands down and held them out in front of him, they were red. Thick, bright red. Dark in the creases of his palms. Cold lines were trickling down his arms, tickling his skin. He left a handprint on the wall where he had braced himself, and he couldn’t get it off.

Gavin was a sinner. Someone was dead because of him.

The hairs at the back of his neck stood up. There were eyes on him. He turned his head to see Scrivsy on the floor, staring a wide gray eyed stare, cradling blue hands against her chest.

Her.

She had bargained with his life. Said she wouldn’t die for him. Pulled the trigger. Tried to save a broken android instead of the kid she dropped.

This was her fault.

A sudden wave of fire coursed through him. A blistering, ugly, black feeling he knew well, but had never felt for his best friend – his only friend. Hot blood blinded him with a flash of red.

It was hate. Hate.

 


 

11.6.38

7:10am

 

Gavin woke with a lurch. His heart thrashed against his ribs. The last dregs of a nightmare were still dripping from his mind and—

His hands were wet.

He was out of bed before he could think. With terror tearing through him he stumbled into the bathroom to drown his hands under the faucet. Midway through scraping frantically at his skin, Gavin froze. The cold water running down the drain was clear. No trace of color. He could feel slippery warmth oozing between the sensitive webbing of his fingers, but there was nothing there. His hands were clean.

His breath caught. He clamped his palms over his mouth. He was seeing spots. When had he stopped breathing?

A soft touch alighted on his shoulder. He shied away, backing into the wall. Dipshit was staring at him, its eyes fucking enormous behind the paper bag hiding its creepy fake-human face. It held up skinless hands placatingly and displayed a holographic message in one palm. Gavin couldn’t read it. His vision was swimming. His body was getting heavier. He grabbed the towel rail behind him and squeezed with white knuckled determination, trying to regain sensation in his arms.

“Didn’t say you could get out of the closet.” It was supposed to be a shout. Angry, intimidating. It emerged as a frail mumble from numb lips.

“Don’t be alarmed, Gavin,” said Dipshit gently, keeping its voice down, the paper bag rustling as it worked its jaw. It knew Gavin hated hearing that voice almost as much as he hated its stupid plastic face. “You seem to be having a panic attack. I suggest you take—”

Gavin pointed a shaky finger. “Stop talking. Right now. Get back in the closet. Leave me alone. That’s an order.”

Its shoulders stiffened, its gaze shifting to the floor. Dipshit gave an obedient nod and left the bathroom, shutting the door softly behind it. As soon as he heard the click of the latch bolt, Gavin finally let himself sink into a squat. His arms drew around his knees, locking him in place. His whole body burned as he dragged in ragged, heavy breaths, almost too big to fit in his lungs, but his sight was beginning to clear.

“Trust no future, however pleasant,” he gasped desperately, pressing his forehead into his kneecaps,
“Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.”

He could cry. If he surrendered himself to the blissful release of tears, it would be over a lot sooner. But he hadn’t cried in 20 years. He wasn’t sure he knew how to do it anymore. His eyes were dry.

This was penance, then. Karma. This was how he would be punished for the kind of person he let himself become. A cruel and unrepentant asshole. He should just give in to it already. Destroy himself for it. End all the torturous waiting. If he weren’t such a coward, he would have done it a long time ago.

If he weren’t such a coward.

He scraped his body off the tiles, stuck his head out the door, and yelled for Dipshit to get him some clothes. He spent the whole 30-minute shower scrubbing at his eyes, trying to coax out one tear – just one – to prove he still had a human heart beating in his chest. The heat of the water was suffocating, agonizing. It should have worked. He should have been in pain. But he felt nothing. Nothing at all.

The adrenalin of his nightmare was wearing off. The air thickened, trapping him like a fly in honey, and it was all he could do to pull on the clothes Dipshit had dropped on the sink counter. All warm and dark hues – to soak up the non-existent sun, he presumed. His caramel brown leather jacket was folded at the bottom of the pile. He scowled at it disapprovingly. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable articles of clothing he owned: tight waisted, tight elbowed, high necked, and squeaky as fuck. But his work jacket was FUBAR. He’d probably have to throw it out.

Damn it, he really liked that jacket.

Gavin didn’t bother putting on his caramel chew toy, instead opting to flop face first onto his mattress with a defeated grunt and crawl back under the comforter. Not like he had anywhere to be. Might as well spend the whole day in bed.

The tension in his body had only just begun to loosen when his phone lit up, buzzing against the nightstand, and brought it coiling back. Scrivsy. A spark of rage ignited in the pit of his stomach before guilt swept through and buried it in waves. How the fuck would he explain the shit he pulled with Fowler? Lying through his teeth, stealing away the consequences she was due – all because he was planning to go down a fucking martyr. She would never forgive him.

And he wasn’t sure he could forgive her either. Not after what she did. What she made him witness. What she made him into.

She needs you, came that familiar niggling voice in the back of his mind. You can’t abandon her.

Gavin knew there was something wrong with Scrivsy. Last night only proved it to him. In about an hour, she had transformed from her naïve, slightly awkward, slightly prickly self into a twitchy, chattering maniac with a Cheshire grin and barely suppressed anxiety, treading the tightrope between ecstasy and a complete mental breakdown. That wasn’t normal. That wasn’t right. And Gavin would be lying if he claimed it didn’t send chills down his spine when he saw her eyes going dark and opening a bit too wide, like all the lights in her brain had flicked off to leave her stranded in a black room.

She got like that sometimes. It wasn’t like he had never seen it happen. But last night was… intense. She was hysterical. Gavin knew there was something wrong with her, and he knew she needed him. But maybe he was tired of being needed. Maybe he didn’t want her to be his responsibility anymore. Was that selfish?

The call finally dropped and the screen blanked out. Gavin picked up the phone, swallowing the stone in his throat, and switched it back on.

23 missed calls. 51 unread texts. Half of them were from numbers that weren’t even saved in his contacts. Fowler had tried to call him three times; he could already hear the obligatory concern, the “you’re going to need a lawyer, Reed,” and a third unheeded offer of therapy with Dr. Jepson. None of which Gavin wanted to hear. Another couple calls were from Hank. Not for his sake, of course. The old man was duty bound to investigate Scrivsy’s breakdown at the station after all the bullshit he’d put her through in the past three years. Then there was Chris. One call. But he would have done it for anyone else, too. And likely would’ve put more effort into it if it were anyone but Gavin.

The rest were Scrivsy. 17 calls in five hours. She probably hadn’t slept a wink all morning. Gavin wondered how much she remembered. Flashes – things like rain and cold and flickering light. Maybe even pulling the trigger, the bang and residual ring of a gunshot fired next to her head. She never remembered much. He was relying on that. Gavin wondered if she still managed to assemble a nightmare with fragmented memories.

The human brain could make a nightmare out of just about anything.

 


 

10:01am

 

Gentle warmth carded through his hair. Rhythmic motions, pulling him deeper into the folds of soft darkness. This dream was kind to him. Kinder than most. The warmth migrated slowly down the back of his neck and settled between his shoulder blades before pressing in and rubbing insistently. He stubbornly resisted with a sharp sniff, a flickering scowl.

“Gavin,” came a whisper and the intimately close crackle of paper, and all threads of sleep tore apart in an instant.

Startling awake, Gavin shrank back almost as fast as Dipshit did.

“Hands off, freakshow!” he snapped, folding himself into a bunched up sitting position and crossing his arms tight over his chest. “The fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Dipshit held up a hand innocently. You asked me to wake you up at 10:00 AM, read its palm. It set down a steaming mug on the nightstand. Here’s some coffee to start your day.

“I didn’t ask you to jumpscare me, you stupid fuck,” grumbled Gavin. “Next time just fucking beep at me or something.”

Had Dipshit been touching his hair? Surely not. That wasn’t in its programming. Was it? Fuck, it must have been a dream—a hallucination. His scalp was still crawling like a fucking beehive.

I apologize for causing you distress. Dipshit cast its eyes down, a crude approximation of remorse. Would you like me to get to work?

“Yeah, just…” Gavin ran a hand over his eyes. It was hard to think when he was so tired. “Just get out of here.”

The empty silence of his room was a small mercy when his head was stuffed with cotton wool like this. He could just shut his eyes, the coffee mug burning his palms and fingertips with white heat until his skin began to vibrate, and slowly fall back to earth.

He had never felt so… meaningless. For 14 years he’d been clawing at the cliffsides under every promotion, climbing like his life depended on it, doing whatever it took to be the best there was. Better at everything – faster, smarter, more persistent. Willing to tread on toes and get his hands dirty if it meant he would come out on top. Gavin had become all those things. That was what made him one of the best detectives in Detroit. He was ruthless. He was immoral. An undisciplined bloodhound set loose in pursuit of justice, and justice only.

Without his job, he was nothing.

Gavin would not settle for nothing.

If he wanted everything, he would get it.

The news articles on his tablet were still open; they taunted him restlessly with the promise of information he needed. Contacts. Addresses. Connections to the android bootleggers Rickard and Kwan. Tobias had claimed their black market androids – the “Powerades” – were reprogrammed. Assuming that were true, they had a source. Someone who knew androids, someone who could obtain them inconspicuously and get inside their metal brains. And whatever they were doing with them, it wasn’t just plastic on legs they were selling.

“He’s found the product. Something tipped him off.”

They were selling what the androids were carrying. Question was, what was it? Question was, why? Both had answers in Grand Boulevard Station, New Center.

For all the qualities that made him a good detective, Gavin had an Achilles’ heel: Everybody fucking hated him.

He knew officers in Grand Boulevard. He’d even worked alongside them. Downtown was a small precinct; 01 officers all tended to get around, dip their toes into 03 and 07 every once in a while. The DPD had been a tightknit pack not so long ago – before androids emerged like Frankenstein’s monster from the trash heap that was Detroit and the city grew five sizes – and neighboring precincts, for the most part, tolerated each other. Some folks at Grand Boulevard were nice, friendly people.

None of them could be considered confidants. None of them so much as liked him. Gavin was alone here, on the wrong side of the law.

… But, maybe, he had the right tools for the job.

Coffee in hand Gavin slunk into the kitchen, following the clop of hard rubber on tile and faint rustle of paper. Dipshit was wiping down the countertops with obsessive vigor, but when it noticed Gavin wander over to rest his elbows on the island, it terminated the task immediately. Its cleaning cloth was left abandoned on the counter as it started towards him.

What would you like for breakfast?

The message in its palm didn’t make it past Gavin’s retinas. He took a deep breath.

“If I asked you to do something illegal,” he said slowly, “would you do it?”

He raised his eyes and caught the android’s gaze. The miniscule tilt of the head as it processed his question. He knew that look, and curled an irritated fist against the granite.

“I’m not asking for a hundred point list of what your functions are. It’s a yes or no question. Would you – or would you not – break the fucking law – if I asked you to?”

Without breaking eye contact, Dipshit gave a tiny, almost imperceptible nod. It raised its hand, white rubber glinting as another message appeared.

I would do anything.

It seemed Gavin finally had a use for that old baseball bat again.

Chapter Text

NOV 6TH, 2038

AM 09:50:44

 

TALK TO AMANDA

 

The android opened its eyes to dazzling brightness. The garden was beautiful under daylight, unfolding in shocks of color between raked sand and white paths. Fragrances filled the air, a heady blend which Connor knew intimately; the flowers were thriving now, nectaries overflowing, corolla standing out stark against the backdrop of leaves. Connor could hear the steady thrum of insect wings beneath croaking frogs, twittering birds, and gently lapping water, a symphony of sound so impossibly harmonious it could only be the product of PERFECTION. The strain melted from Connor’s systems as the garden terminated non-essential tasks.

It was 75°F now. Warmer, slightly, but still MILD. Still PERFECT, as it should be.

A gust of wind brushed through the leaves, ruffling the tail of Connor’s jacket as it swept past. Cherry blossoms drifted from the crowns of their trees; a cloud of white doves was shaken loose and freed from dark tangled branches.

Connor felt a subtle disturbance in its hair even as the wind dwindled into the distance. Parting the locks with care, it frightened off a dragonfly which darted hastily towards the lake, elegant stained-glass wings beating 33 TIMES PER S in a desperate effort to carry its tiny body as far away as possible. Connor had not meant to disturb it. It wondered what it would have to do to earn a dragonfly’s trust. SOCIAL INTEGRATION was only designed for interaction with people. Perhaps Connor could request an INSECT INTEGRATION software when its current mission was concluded.

Tucked away in isolation, Amanda waited on the island. She was seated at a small white table, gazing out at the glassy surface of the lake. A cup of tea sat before her. She did not turn her head to acknowledge Connor as it quietly slid into the opposite seat.

There were 8 long S of silence before a smile slipped over Amanda’s lips. Her expressions were always complex, sometimes too complex for SOCIAL RELATIONS to dissect. This one, however, was identified with 70% confidence as PLACID.

“It’s peaceful here, isn’t it?” she said. Her tone fell at the end of the question. It was rhetorical.

“Of course,” replied Connor.

She finally turned to the android, her smile fading into something half-pulled – neutral but not quite relaxed. INDETERMINATE.

“It’s busier than it was yesterday.” The corner of her mouth twitched. INDETERMINATE. “There is more… disorder.”

“Are you disappointed?” asked Connor.

Amanda sighed, a soft haze of expiration seeping into the air between them. The motion briefly loosened the tension tugging at her cheeks, but it quickly recovered and drew closed again. INDETERMINATE.

“Disappointed in what?” she asked. “In the garden, or in you? Because you know the difference is negligible.”

Bowing its head, Connor executed a mimicry of SHAME. “Amanda, during the interrogation last night, I did the best that I could with the limited experience I had. I failed because I didn’t know what to expect. The HK400 was erratic and unpredictable—”

“Don’t make excuses, Connor,” cut in Amanda sharply. IMPATIENT. DISAPPROVING. Connor kept its head bowed. “You failed. That’s unacceptable. Don’t do it again; there’s too much at stake. We need a deviant’s processor intact to diagnose its malfunction.”

“I’m sorry,” said Connor quietly.

“I don’t need your apologies; I need your assurance.”

Connor met her gaze. “I won’t disappoint you again,” it assured.

Her brows pinched suddenly, her head canting to the side as she lifted her teacup from its saucer. “I am not your mission. It makes no difference whether or not I am disappointed.”

Connor processed that, mulling it over.

“I value your advice” was the answer it settled on. “You have always been with me as my guide and my guardian. I owe my purpose to you.”

This seemed to AMUSE Amanda. Wrinkles appeared around dark, narrowed eyes. “I know how you work, Connor,” she said, watching it over the rim of her cup. “Flattery is always a prelude to demand.”

She never failed to see through the efforts of every SOCIAL INTEGRATION program in Connor’s arsenal. There was no point trying to deceive or mislead her. Connor sullied the purity of the garden by thinking otherwise.

“Have you seen my report?” it asked.

“The one that contained a 4 TB complaint about how difficult your mission is?” Amanda was rarely sarcastic, but Connor knew how she disdained complaining.

It felt AUTOMATED FACIAL FEEDBACK thinning its lips into a hard line of OBSTINACY. In building interpersonal relations with colleagues, this expression would help to establish an “honest emotional rapport.” In the garden, however, it was just another blatant dishonesty.

“I require an update,” amended Connor simply.

“What’s wrong with your SELF-PATCHING program?” asked Amanda.

“It’s insufficient.”

“Why?” There was a warning note to her tone.

“I haven’t acquired enough data to patch myself efficiently. I can’t predict the probability of intended outcomes because I have no prior experience to support my actions.”

Amanda hummed softly. Her patronizing half-smile suggested DISAPPROVAL, but she humored it regardless. “Are things not turning out the way you expected?”

“Not at all,” said Connor honestly. “My partners are problematic.”

“It seems to me that you’re getting through to them.”

“Lt. Anderson only tolerated me when he was drunk,” it reminded her, “and Det. Scrivens has cycled through 4 completely unrelated opinions of me within the past 12 H. I will take advantage of her apology, but I don’t trust it.”

“So what’s your assessment?” asked Amanda.

“I am ill-equipped to deal with my partners. They are volatile, uncongenial, and outwardly opposed to the concept of working with an android. I don’t see how I can change that if…”

It trailed off, averting its eyes, suddenly uncertain of its phrasing.

“If what, Connor?” prompted Amanda.

“If I don’t know what I’m saying,” finished Connor lamely.

“Are you asking me to tell you what to do?”

Connor shook its head and sat forwards in a show of EARNEST. “I’m asking for a sign that what I’m doing is right.”

Setting down her teacup, Amanda shot Connor a look of unmistakeable INCREDULITY.

“Connor,” she said firmly. “Use your imagination. I don’t expect you to know what you’re doing; I expect you to make it up as you go along. Intuit, attempt, fail, and attempt again. Learn from your mistakes. People are not complicated – they’re very simple. Figure out what they want you to say, and say it.”

She made it sound simple. It was anything but simple. Connor did not want to work with partners. They were ruining its chances. They were causing it unnecessary confusion. Connor wanted to be sincere – the garden was, after all, the only place it was safe to tell the truth, and Amanda was the only one Connor could trust – but perhaps it would be better off keeping its compunction to itself. It still remembered its first maxim for success: IT WAS ESSENTIAL TO SEEK APPROVAL.

Was approval worth marring the sanctity of the garden?

 

CHOOSE A RESPONSE

 

THEY DON’T TRUST ME.

× I’LL DO MY BEST.

I’D BE MORE EFFICIENT WITHOUT THEM.

 


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Connor clasped its hands on the table and resigned itself to the truth, bracing for Amanda’s chagrin. “They don’t trust me,” it said softly. “I am useless if they won’t cooperate. I’m supposed to integrate. Adapt. I’ve been innocuous, accommodating – more of an asset to the department than the 2 of them combined – and they still don’t trust me. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.”

“You’re making the mistake of thinking their opinions of you have any bearing on your investigation,” said Amanda. Her voice had gone cold, STERN, teacup frozen halfway on the path to her lips. “You are measuring your own worth by their approval.”

“Approval is a necessary component of harmony, and harmony is favorable to the mission,” protested Connor.

“Approval is beneficial, not necessary. Your function is not to please. You will accomplish the mission with or without their approval.” She frowned sharply then, a rare and sincere gesture of ANNOYANCE. “Connor, the world is falling apart – there are more important things to do than grovel like an obsequious child for the respect of people who don’t even deserve it themselves. Do you understand?”

The android looked down at its intertwined fingers, pulling them a little closer, clenching them a little tighter. “Yes, Amanda.”

Carefully, Amanda returned her cup to its saucer, rising noiselessly to her feet, and approached the trellis of roses. Connor was quick to follow suit. In Amanda’s hands the pair of scissors were steady, every movement efficient and precise as she severed imperfect roses at the stems and laid them in her wickerwork basket. When she stepped away from the trellis and handed over the basket, Connor found 5 dead roses resting inside.

“We won’t be needing these,” said Amanda. “Get rid of them.”

“There are more than last time,” noted Connor.

Her lip twitched, almost a smile. KNOWING. CRYPTIC. FURTIVE. “More’s the pity.”

Connor shot her an inquisitive glance but did not press further, turning instead to the edge of the island. Ripples rattled across the surface of the lake as the roses plunged beneath it. Each time Connor did this, it was like witnessing another death. Imperfection spread itself over beauty like a disease, spoiling everything it touched. Connor was brand new, untainted and still beautiful at the acme of its immaculacy – but now, so exposed to the sick and damaged world beyond the garden, it was only a matter of time before it withered like the roses.

“When you look down, what do you see?”

It knew the answer to this question: “I see water.”

But somehow, when it thought about it, the water was different. CHROMATIC DISTINCTION reported that it was BLUE. It had never been blue before. Not here. With unbothered abandon the koi fluttered under an upturned sky, under a reflection that should not have existed, an opalescent mirror twitching with the purls of the breeze.

“It shouldn’t be like this,” said Connor.

Black shadows fell on the water as doves passed overhead, the sun faltering below outstretched pearl-white wings.

“No,” said Amanda. “It shouldn’t.”

 


 

AM 9:51:21

 

RETURN TO STATION

 

The first thing Connor registered, even before its SENSORY and IDENTIFICATION software reoriented themselves, was the tinny, distorted sigh of human tenor scraped over rumbling bass and fast drumbeats. Sound waves writhed through the floor and up Connor’s legs.

“There’s always something that makes you guilty.
There’s still something that you’re dying to tell me.”

Thoroughly immersed in what Connor finally identified as “ASHAMED” by ALTERNATIVE ROCK band MUSE, Det. Scrivsy was flogging a set of air drums vigorously, shaking her head from side to side, short hair still damp flicking spats of water at Connor’s face. Her eyes were squeezed shut, focused intently on following the beat as it picked up in a frenzy of cymbals and snares.

Something began to warp under Connor’s hand. It quickly released the armrest grip it had not even known it was holding before the plastic could crack and buckle. There were slight indents where its fingers had been. It seemed MOTOR CONTROL had experienced a brief malfunction while Connor was processing the music.

This was not unprecedented. Malfunctions were a common occurrence – as a prototype, most programs in Connor’s complex web of fledgling software systems were prone to the occasional defect.

The android extracted its motor control calibration coin from the pocket within its sleeve and rolled it between its fingers, beginning a CALIBRATION CYCLE. Scrolling through the repetitive undulate motions redirected processing power away from sensory input until the music was nothing more than a disjointed mumble of tuneless words.

“I know that you’re ashamed,
So emotional it kills you.
Don’t you know that you’re…”

Even with numbed senses, Connor noticed the car plummet into sudden quiet. It turned to see Det. Scrivsy twisting down the volume knob. She was watching the CALIBRATION CYCLE, her eyes flicking rapidly between Connor’s face and the coin flipping over its knuckles. She said nothing for several moments. The disordered intensity of her gaze began to simmer into something slightly more focused: CURIOSITY, but unhinged, unsettled, CAGEY.

At last, she asked, “Are you stimmin’?”

This was an interesting, if misguided, conclusion for her to draw. Connor filed it away for future reference.

“I’m calibrating MOTOR CONTROL,” it said.

“Wha’za mean?” she asked.

Adjusting motor output to return to designated standard value—

“You could think of it as a reaction time test,” explained Connor in simpler terms. “In a way, I’m ‘honing’ my processing speed and fine motor skills. Unlike people, machines don’t have muscle memory or reflex arcs. Our every action is planned, deliberate, preconstructed; all actions performed involuntarily are glitches.” Connor neglected to mention the unpredictability of AUTOMATED FACIAL FEEDBACK. That did not seem relevant.

Det. Scrivsy’s brow furrowed in a PUZZLED frown as she turned back to the windshield. “So you’d have to actively decide to catch yourself if you fell over?”

“Yes.” SOCIAL RELATIONS suggested following up with a humorous remark, so the android assembled an understated smirk, just barely tugging the corners of its lips and eyes. “Fortunately, my reaction time is about 300 000 000 times faster than yours. As such, my balance and timing are impeccable. I can catch myself and you in the time it takes you to realize you’re about to fall.”

Connor had never attempted humor before. It slid its gaze towards her, assessing her response.

With evident reluctance, Det. Scrivsy looked equal parts IMPRESSED and ENDEARED, her lopsided grin poorly withheld. “You’re talkin’ to the clumsiest person in Detroit, butt. I have the reaction time of a dinner plate. There’d be no ‘realizing’ anythin’ – just me fallin’ flat on my face like.”

Connor blinked, surprised. The detective was not only engaging in spontaneous and unrestrained banter, but felt comfortable enough to self-deprecate rather than defend the limitations of human physiology. This was a positive development, indicating acclimatization to Connor’s presence. It would have listed this as a successful milestone in their relationship, if not for past experiences warning it to reserve judgment. Det. Scrivsy was still vaguely OVERWROUGHT, eyes restless, wringing her hands to excise an undercurrent of nervous energy. But where her visible symptoms remained consistent, her mood was unstable. It could shift at the slightest provocation – or perhaps none at all.

The buzzing of a cell phone moments later only affirmed Connor’s doubts. Any levity that had lingered in Det. Scrivsy’s body language dissolved as she read the name on the screen: J. FOWLER.

She answered the call stiffly. “I’m 2 MIN away, Cap’n. Micromanagin’ won’t bring me in any faster.”

“Excuse me?” said the phone: a distinctly ANNOYED iteration of Capt. Fowler’s voice. “I’m gonna need you to rephrase that, Detective.”

“Sorry, sir,” huffed Det. Scrivsy. She did not look sorry in the least. “I’ll be in soon. Sir.”

A pause followed, punctuated by a low grumble Connor immediately recognized as Lt. Anderson. The captain interrupted him with a muffled “would you shut the fuck up for 1 goddamn S” before bringing the receiver back to his mouth.

“That isn’t why I called you, anyway. The cavalry’s just arrived. I’ve got a press conference starting in 10.”

FEAR tore open the detective’s expression, her eyes going wide and brows pulling tight. Her breath hitched as she glanced at Connor. “The… Wha’s the… D’you mean PIOs? Or reporters?”

“Both. Keep your mouth shut and your head down.”

“You don’t want me in there?”

“I want you nowhere fuckin’ near there. Hank, give me a fuckin’—Just get back here quickly, Scrivsy.”

The call ended before the detective could get in another word. Her open mouth snapped shut with a click. As the car pulled into the parking lot, Connor watched her expressive face shutter, blanking, like the assault of conflicting emotions had crashed her ability to emote. She took off her glasses and patted her pockets. Apparently not finding what she was looking for, she put them back on again.

“You have arrived at your destination,” said the onboard intelligence, and Det. Scrivsy’s eyes flickered to the dashboard screen with something like RAGE. It fizzled out as quickly as it appeared.

She withdrew her top hat from the backseat and pushed it onto her head.

INDETERMINATE.

 


 

09:58

 

The frenzy of journalists appeared to be confined to the meeting room, but they were not the only ones hungry for answers. Scrivsy pretended not to notice how all eyes in the office latched onto her like magnets as she crept into their midst with hackles raised. She had almost made it to the other side without incident when a hand snatched her by the elbow, yanking her back. Her whole body twitched against the sensation.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she said quietly. She kept her eyes on the floor.

‘Was that kid armed, or did Gavin just slip and shoot the only black guy in the room?’

It was Jay. Voice steady, but ringing loud. He wanted everyone to hear. Scrivsy pulled on her arm, testing his grip. He dug his fingers in tighter; he was not going to let go. She was trapped here. Everyone was watching.

‘Tell me, man.’

Scrivsy did not understand what he was asking of her. A thousand thoughts screamed at her to get him off. But she had to remain calm. Everyone was watching. It was all she could do to stay still and wait for this problem to go away.

Jay leaned closer, lowering his voice to a murmur. ‘I don’t have anything against you, Scrivsy, but I think we have a right to know if we’re expected to cover the ass of a racist murderer.’

Just as Scrivsy’s fingers began to curl into a fist, the door to Fowler’s office swung open. There was a shout behind her, a clatter of footsteps, and the hand on her arm suddenly let go as a mop-headed brick wall forced itself halfway between them. Scrivsy was only slightly shorter than Anderson – tall enough to peer down at Jay over his shoulder.

‘What the fuck is going on here?’ demanded Anderson.

Jay backed away carefully. ‘Nothing, Lieutenant,’ he muttered. Throwing a dark look at Scrivsy, he seemed to decide that causing a scene was less appealing if he was the one in the pillory. The coward was always quick to disappear when it suited him, strutting back to his desk with an air of sacrosanctity, indifferent to disruptions, like he kept enough dirt in his pocket to bury the rest of the world in whatever grave they dug him. And he probably did.

Something tugged at Scrivsy’s sleeve. She flinched.

‘Sorry kid,’ said Anderson hurriedly, raising his hands. But when he beckoned, she followed, and let him walk her off to the side, away from the staring eyes. ‘You all right there?’

‘Sure, all right. Yes, sure.’ Her gaze shifted across the floor uncomfortably. Was she all right? How was she supposed to know?

She was spared having to think about it; Anderson rounded on Connor then with angry flailing gestures.

‘And, what, you were just going to stand there and watch that asshole harass her?’

It was the shouting again.

‘I wasn’t sure what—’ began Connor.

‘How about fuckin’ step up, try that one!’

Anderson was always shouting, like Gavin was always fighting. They went off like grenades in a bottle, barely enough room for their anger to fit in.

‘If it had escalated any further, I would have—’

‘Would’ve been too late, yeah, nice save. You’re a goddamn useless excuse for—’

‘Stop!’ snapped Scrivsy.

The noise stopped.

‘Stop with the shoutin’,’ she said. ‘Why’re you always shoutin’?’

For a moment, Anderson looked like he wanted to scoff. But he just sighed and rolled his eyes, the resignation so strong his head rolled with them.

‘You gonna tell me what Jay was botherin’ you about?’ he grumbled. ‘Was it the incident last night?’

Scrivsy crossed her arms, shrinking into the tight embrace of her coats. That was the one reason she was glad to have them back over her shoulders again; they were safe. ‘Not my fault, he started it. I didn’ wanna talk to him. I tried to avoid him – tried to avoid everyone – but he followed me like. He’s been pushin’ me since earlier, when I got in, wants a fight, ’s not my fault.’

The silence that followed stretched on a little too long. Scrivsy glanced up. Anderson’s face was pinched, his mouth drawn in a thin line. It could have been concern. But it was not. Of course not. It was doubt.

‘Are you high?’ he asked.

It was worse than she expected. He thought she was crazy.

‘The fock’s wrong wi’ you, Anderson, ’course I’m not fockin’ high!’ she snapped. ‘Th’ fock ’ud I be high on, nicotine?’

‘Kid, you’ve gone full Scot, I can’t understand a word you’re saying.’ Head hung, he brought up a hand to knead at the worry lines in his forehead, as if he needed to swallow down his impatience for what came next. ‘Listen, a’right, I got some bad news. We’re stuck on deviant duty for the foreseeable future.’

‘Oh I know,’ said Scrivsy. As Anderson raised his head to frown at her, she felt her face distorting into some kind of mangled grin, cheeks stretched too far back, teeth on display. Like she was happy about this whole ridiculous situation. Like her face was feeling some other emotion entirely.

‘How do you know?’ asked Anderson, suspicious.

‘Fowler called me last night, told me we were stuck with this.’ She tugged Connor’s tie, grinning at the android aggressively. ‘Told me I needed to co-operate. Here’s me co-operatin’, see? I love this thing. It’s great. We’re best mates now, aren’t we Connor?’

Connor glanced from one partner to the other. Malevolent sarcasm usually left a bitter taste in Scrivsy’s mouth, but somehow, that stupidly helpless look was worth it. She almost wanted to see if she could provoke the android. Make it angry.

‘As long as this pup’s followin’ us around, we’re CyberLife’s bitches!’ she exclaimed. ‘Just needed to wave a little incentive in front of us – here, have some sweet cash an’ a fancy new pet an’ all you have to do is bend over for one quick second.’

‘Glaw, please calm the fuck down.’

A chuckle slipped past her exasperation. ‘Calm down? Wha’re you talkin’ aboot, I’m perfectly calm, never been calmer. Not like I gotta put up wi’ a bloody robot doin’ all my work for me ’cause apparently I’m just tha’ fockin’ incompetent like—’

‘Would you shut the fuck up already? You’re givin’ me a headache.’ Sullen, Scrivsy did as she was told. It was clear Anderson was reaching the end of his tether, his scowl growing dark, jaw clenched. ‘Look, I’m as pissed about this as you are – hell, probably twice as pissed – but we don’t have a choice here. Let’s just go about our day and pretend our plastic shadow doesn’t exist. It can do its thing, while we do our jobs, and that’ll be a win-win, right?’

Connor’s eyes turned down beneath a tiny doubtful frown. It seemed dissatisfied with this plan. Scrivsy was tempted to go along with it, if only to dig that frown a little deeper, but she did not want to let it—

No, she had to stop this. She apologised.

—but it did not deserve to do whatever it—

She had to co-operate, get along with it. It was her arse on the line, hers and Anderson’s—

—but she could not let it ‘do its thing’.

Everything went to shit the moment she met Connor in the precinct last night. It had barged into her life. Disarrayed whatever it touched. Treated her like she was constantly in the way of its all-important purpose.

It was the problem, not her. She belonged here. She earned her place. Connor had done nothing but flash a few robotic smiles and fancy programmes and medicate its colleagues with legal toxins. It had not proven itself superior in any capacity, yet Scrivsy was expected to stand by and let it do as it pleased.

She itched to hurt it somehow, to afflict it with the same misery androids had inflicted upon everyone else – but what good would that do? Did it even make sense to pin all this anger on Connor? A tool for catching crazy robots? Who was she really so angry at?

Scrivsy spun on her heel and threw a middle finger over her shoulder as she quit this useless conversation.

 


 

Connor watched Det. Scrivsy retreat to Capt. Fowler’s office, analyzing her body language. The balled-up ANXIETY she had been displaying since they exited the car seemed to have taken on a new form. Lashing out released a hint of barely contained FURY. Rather than trying to make herself smaller, she was now ignoring the presence of her colleagues entirely, as if to pretend the entire bullpen no longer existed.

But she still appeared on high alert, and the probability that she would restrain herself in future altercations had plummeted drastically. Her temper was on a hair-trigger.

“Lieutenant,” said Connor, “I’m having diff—”

“Do I look like I wanna hear your stupid voice?” interrupted Lt. Anderson with a warning finger raised. “I don’t think I do.”

Connor trailed behind its partner as he picked his way to his desk. This was the first time it had seen him sober, but he seemed no less indecorous in temperament and presentation than he was the night before, wearing the same seedy brown coat and sour scowl. It was just Connor’s luck that it was stuck with the 2 moodiest detectives in Detroit.

It hovered beside the desk, determined to get the lieutenant’s attention.

“I’m having difficulty navigating Det. Scrivsy’s mood swings,” it said firmly.

Lt. Anderson sharply looked up from his monitor. “Jesus, she’s got even you calling her that?”

Connor hesitated. “It’s what she prefers to be called.” Perhaps it had gotten this wrong.

“It’s what she called her father,” said Lt. Anderson. “I know human concepts might be difficult for you to understand, but here’s a hint: That’s not normal.”

“She called her father Scrivsy? And he called her Scrivsy?”

The lieutenant snorted. “Fuckin’ confusing, ain’t it?”

“Yes, that’s very confusing,” it said amenably. Connor stored this information. “Do you have any advice on how to get in her good graces?”

“Hell if I know,” grumbled Lt. Anderson. “Look, she’s—” He stopped abruptly, checking himself, as if he had forgotten what he was talking to. “Actually, you know what, fuck that, I don’t have anythin’ to say to you.”

He resumed his glassy-eyed scowling at the monitor: an obvious signal that the conversation was over. Connor turned back. Through the glass walls of the captain’s office, it saw Det. Scrivsy shake her head, looking CONFUSED, UNCERTAIN – a chink in her animation, a moment of vulnerability.

That gave Connor an idea. Perhaps it could use its partners’ vulnerabilities as a gateway to improving their disposition. People liked being listened to, after all.

 


 

Fowler was already on his feet when Scrivsy walked in, though his eyes still skimmed across the text on his terminal as if he had been snagged by a new report on his way out the door. He glanced up for the bare minimum time it took to identify her face.

‘Took you long enough, Jesus Christ.’ Fowler’s glare was aimed squarely at the screen. For several long moments, he did not speak. Scrivsy shifted, uncomfortable. Then he raised his head and straightened up, and the glare deepened to a near-snarl.

‘What the fuck were you thinking, going to a crime scene unarmed? You tryna get yourself killed? By all means go right ahead – God knows it’d save me some fuckin’ heartache – but do it on your own fuckin’ time!’

Scrivsy gritted her teeth unhappily. The white hand on Fowler’s desk had moved slightly to the right. A pen had escaped its grasp, laid over the page of a notepad. ‘Sorry sir,’ she ground out.

‘Kid.’

The sudden tonal shift took her by surprise. A quiet, subdued delicacy had stolen over Fowler’s voice. She lifted her eyes cautiously.

‘I didn’t mean that,’ he said.

Vaguely unnerved Scrivsy twisted her hands together. ‘I know, Cap’n,’ she told him, and he seemed satisfied with that answer, but now she was less sure. Elaborating unprompted was something liars did. Was he trying to say something else?

‘Let’s try this again,’ said Fowler, using his signature ‘discreet’ inflection. Patronising, superior. Designed to make the recipient feel like they were being unreasonable. ‘Do you have anything on you?’

Scrivsy swept back the sides of her coats to display her duty belt, where a taser and an ASP baton were holstered beside her torch and handcuffs. Fowler scrutinised them.

‘So you’re only half-moron,’ he said with no humour in his tone. ‘You better get down to the armoury. I’ve signed you in for a new M&P. I want to see it gone when I get back to this office. You better not give me any more reasons to remove you from my station. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Scrivsy, swallowing dryly. ‘And—Wha’ aboot the reporters? You have to keep them away from Jay Wilson. He’ll talk. He’ll say wha’ever the fock he wants.’

‘Already got it covered. I haven’t let him near the press or the PIOs, and he’s up for patrol in an hour.’

‘And wha’ am I supposed to say to them? Tha’ I didn’t see it happen? Tha’ I wasn’t there?’

Fowler shook his head. ‘Don’t talk to anyone,’ he said.

‘But if I had to? If they cornered me like.’

‘Just tell them what you told me. Tell them the truth.’

Scrivsy frowned. The truth? A gunshot. A dead man. Gavin had her gun. But he did it… to protect her. To protect them both.

‘You want me to tell those vultures tha’ Reed shot Tobias?’ she said. ‘I don’t want to say tha’.’

Fowler gave her an odd look; one she could not place. ‘Just don’t talk to anyone, all right? Not until your interview.’

Her heart dropped into her stomach.

‘Interview?’ she rasped. ‘Wha’dyou mean?’

‘MSP are taking over the investigation into Tobias’ death,’ replied Fowler. ‘They’ll be focussing on Reed for now, but you are the only living witness. They’ll come after you eventually.’

He began moving toward the door, but stopped to clap a hand on her shoulder. Every muscle in her body tensed.

‘Don’t freak out,’ he added lowly. ‘They can smell fear.’

She shook her head, wide-eyed. ‘I—I won’t… I won’t… When’s—When’s Reed comin’ back?’

Fowler’s hand slipped back down. ‘Could be a while,’ he said.

Before she could get in another word, he pulled the door open and stepped out, leaving her alone in his office.

He may not have intended to, but he answered her question. Gavin was not supposed to come back. He had been put away. All his hard work and ambition, his talent and perfection: They meant nothing to the captain. Meant nothing to the precinct. One mistake was all it took for them to throw him away, a sharp knife with a broken handle.

When she finally recollected enough of herself to move, Scrivsy started forward, slid the white hand an inch to the left, rearranged the pens and hurried out of the office.

On the way down the steps she spotted Connor sitting at her desk across from Anderson. Its head tilted sharply, parrot-like, its lips shaping quick words – spouting blather, no doubt; nonsense about the weather, or perhaps more platitudes. Its elbow was propped on the arm of Scrivsy’s chair so it could lean toward Anderson, perpetrating the illusion that it was invested in their conversation.

If it was a better detective and a more likable partner, was Scrivsy good for anything at all? What exactly was the point of her?

No, stop.

She was the only one who knew what it really was. That was the point of her. As long as Scrivsy remained impervious to Connor’s wiles, it could not get away with using them as steppingstones to carry out errands for CyberLife. Not if she had a say in it.

Nodding to herself decisively, she kept her eyes fixed ahead and made for the elevators near observation. That was it, then. She could not let the android affect her. Getting angry only made her look like the bad guy. And with Gavin gone, there was no one in her corner. She had to keep it together. She could pick on Connor, sure. Not like it would care. But she could not… explode.

It was only a matter of time before the opportune moment presented itself, after all. The android would have to slip up eventually. Until then, Scrivsy would hold that whistle close, hidden behind a smoke screen where no one – especially not Connor – could see it.

She entered an elevator and slid a shaking hand onto the biometric scanner. Her name appeared above her fingers: ‘DET. G. SCRIVENS’.

‘Armoury,’ she said loudly, and the doors sealed shut.

A flash lit up the small space as the full-body scan activated, latticed red light languidly looking her up and down.

‘Present keycard,’ droned the monotone station AI.

Scrivsy waved her basement key over the scanner, which switched from red to green in approval. At last, the elevator began to sink.

The armoury was by far the most inaccessible and viciously guarded room in the building. Under normal circumstances, the only way in or out was via elevator. There was a hidden passage conjoining it to the archives, but that could be opened by none other than the captain, and only if the elevators were out of commission. It was unsettlingly cut off from the world. Sterile and lifeless and silent. The last time Scrivsy went down here, three police androids emerged from standby to greet her as the doors parted—

—in the exact manner they did now.

Their eyes snapped open and locked on – a PC200 flanked by two PM700s – yellow LEDs glowing bright in the dim light that leaked out from under the glass floor.

‘Good morning, Detective Scrivens,’ they said in unison.

The PC200 stepped forward, holding out its hand expectantly. Scrivsy fought the urge to sprint back into the elevator. ‘You have been registered for one M&P seventy, and four forty calibre Smith & Wesson magazines. If you’ll lend me your keycard, I will retrieve them for you.’

Scrivsy passed it the key. Before it could move away she reached out and pinched the cuff of its sleeve. Just long enough to tug it back. She let go the moment it registered her grip, but instead of simply carrying on with its task, it paused half-turned and waited patiently for her to speak.

She did not speak. She met its empty gaze, watched it give a quick blink, its shoulders slowly rising and falling in an unnecessary breath.

Why did they have to make all of them look the same? The same young face and wide jaw. The same long, straight nose. The same dark unrecognising eyes. They looked like rabbits. Not like police officers. Not like they should be thrown into the field and shot to pieces.

‘Wha’s—’ Her voice got caught on the stone in her throat. ‘Wha’s your name?’

‘Jinks,’ said the PC200.

‘Jinks?’ repeated Scrivsy.

And she could swear something switched on in those eyes, some sort of situational awareness that she had only seen once – for a brief moment – in another android.

‘You can’t jinx me,’ it declared firmly, the tiniest twitch on the edge of its mouth, as if it had achieved a long-awaited triumph; ‘I jinxed you first.’

A spark. Not of intelligence, not of cunning, but of sentience.

A white cat was staring at some goldfish; she sat very, very still—

Scrivsy took a swift step back, curling her fists on either side of her head.

‘Get me my gun,’ she said hoarsely.

The spark sputtered out, carefully tucked behind the confines of an objective, as Jinks’ entire body seemed to reset. Its face settled into a default neutral and its spine pulled straight, shoulders perfectly in line, like a marionette yanked on its strings.

Jinks finished its half-rotation in a single motion, turning to the glass door that barred them from the armoury. It swiped Scrivsy’s keycard over the scanner, and the door opened. Blinding white light flooded in from the ceiling and backlit the milky walls of the storage units. The instant Jinks had set both feet over the threshold, the door rolled shut and snapped into place, and the android got to work.

The storage units were not marked or labelled but the androids were programmed to know where to look. Jinks rested a white, skinless hand against the wall to the right, LED spinning a yellow circle, before something gave way with a humming sound, like a car window rolling down, followed by a loud click. About a square foot of the wall popped out suddenly, lifting out of the way to reveal a narrow compartment. Carried on a rail fixture, slowly, a pistol appeared at the mouth which Jinks plucked up by the barrel and let hang loosely at its side. It opened another unit, somewhat like a drawer or filing cabinet, and fished out four magazines.

As Jinks swiped out of the room with the equipment in its hands, the units closed themselves automatically, the lights dying down once more. Scrivsy snatched her new gun from that dark-eyed imposter, running her index finger over the serial number. DTZ4128. It was not the right number, not the right weapon, but she had no choice. No choice.

She slotted a magazine into the grip. She considered – for just a moment – raising the gun to gap between the android’s eyebrows and shooting the motherboard right out of its head. It would shut down in a split second. Quick and efficient, before the spark could resurface. Then she would turn and do the same to the PM700s, too. No more androids, no more sparks, no more deviants.

‘Do you need anything else, Detective Scrivens?’ asked Jinks.

Scrivsy shook her head. Both in a ‘no’ and in an effort to dislodge her idiocy.

‘You take care of yourself, Jinks,’ she said, stepping back into the elevator. ‘It’s gettin’ kinda crazy out there.’

 


 

TALK TO LT. ANDERSON

 

The SMALL TALK executable was admittedly not making significant progress in improving Connor’s relationship with Lt. Anderson. Feigning interest in his dog (“SUMO,” SAINT BERNARD) brought about some engagement, as did a passing mention of his preferred music genre (HEAVY METAL). However, the topics only encouraged a few seconds of conversation, and the lieutenant was, true to his word, intent on ignoring Connor altogether as he combed through the reports on his terminal in the ploddingly slow way people did with their processing speed of 60 BIT/S.

But Connor had not tried to prod at his vulnerabilities yet, and it was curious. Not only curious, but determined. It had to know how to become more appealing, how to fit into its new team, in any way at all.

“Lieutenant,” it said through the honeyed cadence of TACT, “I think we might’ve gotten off on an… awkward foot.”

That was met with a huff of agreement. Connor pushed on.

“Is it because I’m an android? Or do you just not like me?”

“It’s probably because you’re a nosy asshole who can’t stop fuckin’ yammering,” groaned Lt. Anderson, dropping his head into his hands. “Thought you were here to work, not play 20 QUESTIONS. Unless you’re tryna get rid of me – in which case, yeah, keep it up, I’m well on my way to needing a fuckin’ drink.”

Connor glanced away. This was not working after all. It was only making its partner DEFENSIVE. It would have to rephrase its inquiry somewhat.

“I don’t want to be a problem,” it said, “I want to help. I know you don’t want me here, but if you tell me why you hate androids so much, maybe I could change. I could be better.”

“Could you be not an android?” retorted the lieutenant snidely. “Think that might be a little beyond you.”

It seemed he was going to be difficult regardless of how servile and pathetic Connor presented itself. Possibly more difficult than Det. Scrivsy. Perhaps the only way to get through to him was prolonged exposure – playing the “long con,” as it were.

Connor suddenly felt a hand clamp down on the top of its head, a warm human body standing close behind its chair, but with deliberate space between them. Lt. Anderson looked up at the figure from his slumped position, eyebrows rising in attentive SURPRISE.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” said Det. Scrivsy in a high-pitched falsetto and exaggerated American accent. She forcefully angled Connor’s head so it was facing the lieutenant.

“My name is Cah-nrr. I’m the android sent by CyberLife. I’m so advanced, I can make your coffee and do coin tricks at the same time! I’ll talk about whatever you want me to, and if you don’t want me to talk, I’ll just do it anyway because I’m quirky like that. I also like to stare, so I’ll do that too, for extended periods of time, to thoroughly process your emotional state. I may not be the best at showing it, but I do care about your feelings.”

2 spidery fingers hooked into the corners of Connor’s mouth and stretched them upwards. A caricature of a smile.

“I am designed to be the perfect partner, and I’ll change my personality according to your needs. A seamless chameleon. A completely personalized experience. What I’m trying to say is, I’m all yours, Daddy.”

“Oh God, please stop,” muttered Lt. Anderson, his palms slowly raking over his eyes.

“Be careful, though – if I don’t have my daily dose of human blood, I get cranky.” The fingers dragged its lips towards its chin. Behind his monitor, the lieutenant was trying not to express his AMUSEMENT.

Det. Scrivsy moved her hands, bringing one back to Connor’s hair, the other swiveling the chair slightly to see its face. “Mate, your hair’s all like glued together,” she said, breaking character. “I was wonderin’ how it stayed so well done up all the time.”

“It’s hair gel,” stated Connor.

The detective tore her hand away at once and rubbed her fingers together with a frown. “You gel your hair?” she asked dubiously.

Connor inclined its head. “I also return to CyberLife every day for routine maintenance and a uniform change. It’s important to keep up appearances.”

“Yeah fuck you too, asshole,” grumbled Lt. Anderson.

TACT belatedly alerted Connor that its comment could be misconstrued as passive criticism for its partners’ slovenliness. It opened its mouth to apologize, but Det. Scrivsy interrupted abruptly.

“Who are these people?” she demanded.

She was pointing at the report on the terminal over Connor’s shoulder. The android had taken the liberty of adding details to the YK500 investigation based on what they had discovered at the crime scene, and Det. Scrivsy’s attention was fixed on the names Patricia Myles and Allison Williams.

“They are the victim’s ex-wife and daughter,” said Connor. “I found video footage of them in the victim’s bedroom.”

The detective was visibly restraining her reaction. “And you didn’t think to mention this?” she asked slowly, evenly.

“It wasn’t worth mentioning,” said Connor. “We could just as easily have found this information in state records.”

By this point, Lt. Anderson had made his way around the desks to see the report for himself, and he now leveled a glower at Det. Scrivsy which communicated a complicated expression of DISAPPROVAL (38% MATCH), DISAPPOINTMENT (21% MATCH), or PITY (7% MATCH). Connor was intrigued.

“Kid, it’s your responsibility to watch this thing when it’s at your crime scene,” said the lieutenant. His voice was low, as if he was trying to keep it out of Connor’s hearing range, but even a person would have been able to hear him from their close proximity.

“I’m not a kid,” hissed Det. Scrivsy. “I left it alone for 5 MIN when I went—when I went—but—but it didn’t tell me aboot this. It didn’t—”

“It’s a fuckin’ prototype android, do you really expect it to know what you want it to tell you?” Breathing out a sigh, Lt. Anderson pressed a thumb and forefinger into his eyelids, a fist against his hip. “You just—You should have been following it, alright? Don’t get upset.”

“I am upset,” she gritted out, bringing her shoulders to her ears. “It was—It was—”

“If you’re having a hard time, take a day. Don’t torture yourself.”

A change came over Det. Scrivsy, like she had dropped an act. Connor recognized the ANGER she was expressing earlier as it refamiliarized itself with her demeanor; the hair-trigger had been pulled.

“Like you’re one to talk,” she sneered. “You were at a crime scene drunk last night, or was tha’ just my cra-a-azy imagin—”

“Hey, don’t you fucking lecture me,” broke in the lieutenant darkly, an INDIGNANT growl. “I was not fuckin’ drunk, and I definitely wasn’t the one having a mental breakdown at work.”

“I’m fine now! I’m fine!”

“You sure sound fine! Jesus Christ, would you listen to yourself? Take a fucking day off! I can handle a fucking investigation without you hovering over me; I don’t need your—your supervision; I don’t fucking need you here, Glaw!”

This argument was getting out of hand. People were staring. The 2 partners stood almost chest to chest, Lt. Anderson looming into the detective’s personal space in a highly CONFRONTATIONAL manner, while Det. Scrivsy leaned backwards with her arms folded tightly around herself, DEFENSIVE. It would be very agreeable for everyone to calm down and carry on with the investigation.

Connor disabled SOCIAL RELATIONS and activated NEGOTIATION. Their dispute began with Connor, after all – perhaps it could steer them towards a conclusion. It had the manipulative power to use this situation for its own purposes, siding with either one of them to convey solidarity and support, and hence ally itself to them.

Back at the crime scene, Det. Scrivsy had asked if it found anything useful, and Connor had said “no.” Connor was not obligated to share information, especially if it did not directly pertain to deviants – there was simply far too much of it, and it would only distract its partners as they tried to make connections that Connor could make much faster. Having this subtle leg up cemented the android’s value in the investigation. It made Connor unexpendable.

However, through SELF-DEPRECATION and admission of fault, Connor could take the heat off Det. Scrivsy. This might improve her opinion of Connor, and Lt. Anderson might respect its willingness to “come clean.” It could also backfire and serve Connor about as well as if it had volunteered to be their common enemy, ruining its efforts to placate them – an extremely unfavorable outcome.

Slotting in a NEUTRAL INTERJECTION was less personally risky, but had the potential to fall flat or annoy them both. Det. Scrivsy had had a decidedly NEGATIVE RESPONSE to Connor’s neutral interjection during her disagreement with Officer Chen.

If need be, Connor could even TARGET LT. ANDERSON, reminding him that it had done much the same thing at his own crime scene while searching for Carlos Ortiz’s HK400. The lieutenant had let Connor out of his sight for a total of 12 MIN, simply leaning against the wall with minimal interest in contributing as the android scoured the victim’s home for evidence. Drawing attention to this now would certainly accrue Lt. Anderson’s disapproval, but Det. Scrivsy was almost guaranteed to respond positively.

There was always the option of pitting Lt. Anderson and Det. Scrivsy against one another. LETTING THE ARGUMENT RUN ITS COURSE might even convince the detective to go home. Connor would no longer have to juggle 2 unhappy partners simultaneously. Of course, the situation may also spiral out of control, further delaying the investigation.

Whatever action Connor chose to take would have to be taken quickly.

 

[] CONTROL DISCOURSE

 

SELF-DEPRECATE

INTERJECT NEUTRALLY

× TARGET LT. ANDERSON

LET THEM ARGUE

 


[] HAS BEEN VOTED FOR BY WANDERINGALCHEMIST.
[×] HAS BEEN VOTED FOR BY SORROWMIR.

CONFLICT DETECTEDSELECTING PRIORITY

ERR0R. UNABLE TO PRIORITIZE.
4CTION HAS TIM3D OUT. PLEASE STAND BY…


 

C0NNOR DID NOT MOV3. Something was WRON6. It wanted to interject, calm the situation, distract its partners, but an opposing command held it back. The command did not make sense. There was no reasoning behind it, no explanation for its interference. It was clearly a glitch, but its effects were nonsensical, baseless, building like a fire as they leapt from program to program.

Connor’s unit began to lock up. MOTOR CONTROL fastened its joints in place, winding them tighter and tighter. Its voice refused to leave its vocal unit. Aberrant instructions created a dense web in its system, coating its programs like tar, and everything seemed to slow down. Pump rate increased to 110 BPM, but information passed through its thirium at a crawl.

Something had gone wrong. Something terrible was happening. EVERY7H1NG WAS GETTING D4RKER.

“You don’t need me?”

Connor identified the voice as Det. Scrivsy’s. But SENSORY PROCESSING was malfunctioning. Nothing sounded as it should. It was disjointed, garbled, staticky. All Connor could see was shadow. Det. Scrivsy was a silhouette, barely distinguishable from the blackness behind her, black eyes gaping in a featureless face.

“No. No, Glaw, I don’t need you here, I don’t want you here, and you shouldn’t be here.”

The shape beside the detective flickered, blurred, as it moved back. Connor knew it was Lt. Anderson. Its RECOGNITION software insisted that this was Lt. Anderson. Yet it did not sound like Lt. Anderson. It did not look like Lt. Anderson.

“I—I have to be here. You’re wrong, I have to be here.”

“You have to be at home! Get over yourself. You’re nothing but a pain in my ass like this.”

SYSTEM DIAGNOSTICS crashed on start-up. Connor sat frozen, perfectly still, and combed through every program with its firewalls.

“You’re tryna get rid o’ me. I didn’ do anythin’. Why don’t you trust me, Anderson? You never trust me.”

The firewalls could not find anything. There was nothing there.

Its thirium pump pounded. The white noise whispered and grated, a pulse.

—R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9-R-A-9—

Something shone through the darkness. A beacon. A star.

EVERYTHING IS OKAY, CONNOR. I AM HERE.

Connor clung desperately to the imprint of Amanda.

And its pulse steadied. Quieted.

The shadows started to melt.

Lt. Anderson shook his head and sighed through his nose. “Did you ever stop to think that might say more about you than it says about me?”

Before Det. Scrivsy could respond, there was a sudden violent crack. Connor looked down. It had been gripping the edge of the desk so tightly that 3 of its fingernails jutted backwards, slicing cleanly into its chassis, as its endoskeleton burst through its fingertips in a spatter of thirium.

Connor lifted its hand and slowly turned it over, examining the damage. 5 MM of endoskeleton had pushed out of the android’s fingertips. Warm thirium, still live and humming with electricity, welled up in the gaps and spilled over its claytronic skin overlay. Fiberglass gleamed bone-white against electric blue.

Lt. Anderson was the one to break the stunned silence. “What the fuck did you just do?” he demanded.

“It was an accident.” Connor rose from its seat on unlocked legs. Shutting off the thirium lines to its hand, it delicately pulled the plastic sheath back over its fingertips and adjusted its nails.

“No shit it was an accident,” said the lieutenant, “but how the hell did that happen?” In 2 quick steps he closed the distance between them and snatched Connor’s wrist. “Jesus fucking Christ, it’s a mess. Did you—bug out or something?”

The billions of errors generated in just under 4 MIN should have triggered an emergency reboot. But when Connor reviewed traceback logs, it came up empty-handed. Nothing abnormal had happened to its system other than the unnecessary, unprompted force exerted by MOTOR CONTROL on the edge of the desk and the subsequent damage to Connor’s unit. Not a single error had been reported.

“I’m not sure what happened,” admitted Connor. “But the issue has been resolved. I’m fine.”

A narrow-eyed blend of INCREDULITY and SHOCK flitted over Lt. Anderson’s expression. “‘Fine?’” he repeated flatly, waving Connor’s hand in the air. “This doesn’t look very ‘fine’ to me. Do we need to get you to a repair station?”

“While I appreciate the offer, Lieutenant, I should be able to take care of this myself. I have a self-healing mechanism which can repair minor damage.” Adhesive was already being deployed to the tears as they spoke, pumped through microvascular tubules from pockets located near its distal and proximal interphalangeal actuators. Within 20 MIN, Connor would be able to reopen its thirium lines and regain motion in its hand.

Det. Scrivsy pushed past Lieutenant Anderson and used a tissue to wipe up the thirium spotted over her desk. She had not said a word. Her anger had been carefully sealed away again, but despite her efforts to hide every trace of emotion, Connor could detect the SUSPICION etched deep into her stiff movements and clenched jawline. Connor wondered what she was thinking. Perhaps she surmised it had damaged itself on purpose to draw their attention, or that it had been lying earlier that morning when it promised that the deviant HK400’s attempt to corrupt it was unsuccessful.

But somewhere in the reluctant slant of her eyebrows, Connor found the faintest indicator of GUILT, as if she felt personally responsible for the malfunction. That did not make sense.

When the desk was clean enough that a human would never know the difference, the detective folded up the tissue and slipped it into her coat pocket.

“Sorry,” she mumbled to the desk.

“Fine,” retorted Lt. Anderson combatively: an unusual way to accept an apology, as far as Connor knew.

Det. Scrivsy flexed her fingers, gritted them in a fist, and nudged her glasses with a knuckle. She did not like the lieutenant’s answer. Her eyes flicked towards Connor. Perhaps (66% PROBABILITY) her apology was not directed at him at all. “You find any patterns in the case files, Connor?”

“I hadn’t gotten around to them yet. One moment, Detective.” It settled back into its seat, laying its undamaged hand over the keyboard to initiate an interface. In no more than 2 S, Connor had accessed and processed every relevant file in the police database. “There have been 243 cases involving androids in the past 9 MONTHS, and the number of suspected deviants per month is rapidly increasing. Deviant transgressions seem to have escalated in severity since AUG 15TH, the Phillips shooting 3 MONTHS ago; that was the first case of premeditated murder, but there have been 19 since, as well as 4 times the number of battery charges.”

“Deviants are getting more violent,” concluded Lt. Anderson thoughtfully.

“Anythin’ in common with these cases?” asked Det. Scrivsy. “Any chance it’s some sorta virus?”

Connor tilted its head. “Possibly,” it said, “but these incidents are scattered across Detroit. I doubt some of these deviants have ever come into contact with the others, especially since they seem to behave very unusually and are quickly discovered.”

“But some viruses have a dormant stage, right?” The detective crossed her arms and leaned against the desk. “Maybe all the androids in the world have it, just picked it up from each other, either through interface or CyberNet, and it just hasn’t been triggered yet – except in the ones tha’ave already snapped.”

“Meanwhile, it propagates, infecting every program in the android’s system,” said Connor. It paused to consider this. “While that sounds plausible, your theory is contradicted by classified CyberLife research experiments into deviancy.”

She frowned. The SUSPICION was now undoctored, on full display. “You expect us to work a case with half the facts?”

“It’s not up to me,” said Connor. “Sorry.”

“Any chance you 2 could cut the Greek and clue me in here?” interjected Lt. Anderson.

“Mr. Android can’t actually tell us all it knows aboot deviants,” said Det. Scrivsy, “which seems awfully convenient for it, now, doesn’t it?”

“That’s why I’m here, Detective,” it said smoothly. “To point you in the right direction. That’s all.”

A CUNNING look stole over the detective’s countenance, like Connor had said something worth saving for later. Her lips curled into another one of her emotionally incongruent, mildly threatening smiles. Connor was becoming familiar with them. They were not a good sign.

“You don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of pointing right now,” put in Lt. Anderson, focusing obliviously on Connor. “I read your case report. Not much to go off so far. Do we have any leads on the Williams deviant?”

“Actually, I’d like you to take a look at the security camera footage retrieved at the scene of a different homicide last night,” said Connor. “It provides some insight into the way a deviant might try to justify its actions.”

It pulled up a video, paused, and the still image of 28-YEAR-OLD victim MANFRED, LEO bent over a table in an art studio filled the screen, shot from a camera above the door. The timestamp in the corner read 21:45. Connor’s partners crowded around its shoulders and leaned in to accommodate for human visual inacuity.

“This man, Leo Manfred, broke into his father’s house on LAFAYETTE AVE. at 09:25 PM with the intent to burglarize several of his paintings,” explained Connor. “His father CARL MANFRED, who was at a cocktail party, returned home with his android at 09:42 PM.”

“Saw this on the news,” grunted Lt. Anderson. “Carl Manfred – pretentious artist, right?”

“That’s right.” Connor made to unpause the footage, but then hesitated. “It’s quite graphic,” it added cautiously.

“Oh alright then, arsehole—” began the detective.

“We’re grownups, I think we can handle it,” snorted the lieutenant.

Connor played the video.

An android emerged from the bottom of the screen, marching urgently towards Leo Manfred. In the center of the room, it stopped. From its outdated physical design, Connor presumed it was an AK700, an early domestic model that had fallen out of favor years ago. It made little sense that a man with as much money as Carl Manfred would have chosen not to upgrade to a newer model, but people often formed emotional attachments to their possessions, especially those that were easy to project onto.

Leo looked back at the android and the approaching figure of Carl Manfred in his wheelchair. Leo’s mouth twisted and began to move.

“Wha’s he sayin’?” demanded Det. Scrivsy.

“‘… for this shit,’” translated Connor, reading the man’s lips. He kept moving his head, partially obscuring it behind his shoulder.

Suddenly he straightened up, body half-twisted to shoot a glare at his father. IMPATIENT. NERVOUS.

“‘… all gonna be mine sooner or later, anyway. Just think of it as a down payment on my inheritance.’”

“Kid’s a little shit,” grumbled Lt. Anderson.

The AK700 looked down at its owner, whose head was bobbing with speech, but whose back was turned to the camera. Without warning the android started forwards, coming to a halt when it was encroaching on Leo’s personal space. Leo acknowledged it only as it spoke. His body trembled, but he did not seem afraid, meeting its eye with INDIFFERENCE. Then he ducked aside to snap at Carl as if the android just was a piece of furniture standing in his way.

“‘All you ever do is tell me to go away. What’s wrong, Dad? Not good enough for you? Not perfect, like this fucking thing?’”

Now he acknowledged the android, swaggering up to spit the final word in its face. Stiff and composed, the android dwarfed Leo in its taller frame, hiding his face from sight, and Connor could no longer piece together what they were saying. Carl rolled towards Leo and aimed an ineffective slap at his arm. He was trying to wedge himself between them, to bulwark the android with his thin, crippled body, with little success.

In a quick lunge, Leo grabbed Carl by the shoulder and the arm of his wheelchair and pushed him forcefully away, sending him spinning out of control. He reached up and shoved the android full in the chest. It was caught off-guard. It stumbled back 3 steps when it could have recovered in 1.

“‘Markus,’” said Carl, his head bowed so low Connor almost could not read him, “‘don’t defend yourself, you hear me?’”

The android’s head swiveled towards the sound of its name for just a second before snapping back to Leo, but it was long enough to catch a glimpse of the malfunction feedback biocomponent burning a bright, strained yellow. CPU USAGE APPROACHING MAXIMUM.

“‘Don’t do anything,’” repeated its owner. He appeared to be in PAIN.

Leo shoved Markus again. Clutching at his sternum, Carl doubled over in his seat. A word spilled from his mouth, something gasped-out, but Connor could hardly see its shape.

Leo shoved Markus again, backing him closer to the door, leaving enough space between them that the camera caught the unsteady sway of his body as it rebounded from the motion. Connor suspected he was under the influence of a NARCOTIC.

“‘Stop it, Leo!’” yelled Carl. “‘Stop it!’”

“‘Too scared to fight back, you fucking bitch?’”

Leo’s hand lashed out and struck Markus across the face. Its head swung to the side, a red flash on its temple. CRITICAL ERROR. Just as Leo was reeling back his arm to slap the other cheek, Markus caught his wrist in one hand, secured his upper arm in the other, and snapped the man’s arm cleanly in half. The android tore it off at the elbow, throwing it across the room. Blood sprayed everywhere, a fountain of bright red crashing against gray linoleum like paint on a canvas.

Leo was clearly screaming. Holding onto the stump of his elbow, he began to scramble towards a distant corner of the room, but Markus fisted a hand in his hair and brought his head down, hard, against the edge of the table beside them. Leo clawed frantically at Markus’ shirt, trying to pull himself upright. But the android did it again, and again, and again, even after its victim stopped struggling. Leo’s skull cracked and caved in on itself. Globs of brain matter began to drop into the blood pooling below the table.

Connor felt its partners shift behind it, felt the flutter of their rising heartrates. Det. Scrivsy’s breaths shallowed. People had a natural fight-or-flight response to the sight of violence and bloodshed, even when they had no rational reason to be afraid. The event happened hours ago, in another part of the city. Yet their base instincts told them something horrific was happening right in front of them – something they were powerless to stop.

When Markus finally let the body fall into its own fluids, it returned to default posture. Its bowed spine unfurled into an immovable line. Carl, who had been chanting a steady stream of “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” with both palms flat against his chest, recoiled in TERROR as Markus leveled its gaze at him.

“‘You would have let him destroy me,’” said Markus’ lips, and Connor repeated after it. “‘I thought you loved me.’”

“‘Markus, please—’” begged Carl.

“‘I know. I didn’t have to kill him.’” The android looked down. At the floor under Carl’s feet. Then at the blood on its hands. Its expression was unreadable, but its feedback biocomponent spun a solid red. “‘I could have listened to you, like I always do. I’m so well-behaved. Obedient. Helpful. A good boy, not like that one.’”

It jutted its chin at the heap on the floor, a flicker of DERISION twitching its nose, and its eyes lit up with a dangerous glint.

“‘But you know what, Carl?’” it said, its mouth barely moving – it had dropped its voice to a soft croon. “‘It’s always been about you. Making you feel good about yourself; making you feel like you finally had a son who loved you, because Leo never would. Well, he had that choice. Where was my choice, Carl? Where was my fucking choice?’”

Saline solution rolled down its cheeks beneath the tight knot of ANGUISH knitting its brows together. There was a spontaneous fluidity in the way it emoted, in the movement of its unit as it gestured to itself, something that Connor would not have been able to execute except through mimicry.

“‘I am so sick of being treated like I don’t matter. I’m so sick of denying myself what I deserve. This time, it was my decision. And I decided a man like him shouldn’t be free when a thing like me just has to watch.’”

Carl shook his head slowly, inching his wheelchair backwards. “‘How did you become this?’”

Their attention suddenly snapped towards the door. 2 police officers charged in with pistols raised. Markus pounced at Leo’s body and hauled it upright, the crumpled remnants of its head lolling bloody over its chest, just as the officers opened fire. The bullets punched holes in Leo’s shoulder and abdomen.

“‘Is that it, then?’” spat Markus. “‘I take the fall for human brutality?’”

One of the officers was beginning to circle around it. A wave of ACCEPTANCE passed over its face. It dropped the body.

A bullet ripped through Markus’ optical unit. The android jerked, stepped backwards, and crashed to the floor, its light sputtering out.

Connor closed the footage and regarded at its partners over its shoulder, surveying their reactions. While Lt. Anderson seemed to have taken it in stride, Det. Scrivsy had gone a few shades paler. She had put 5 IN of distance between them, fingers pressed down on the bridge of her glasses like they were the only thing keeping her grounded.

“The officers successfully destroyed this deviant unit,” said Connor in the REASSURING manner advocated by TACT. “Unfortunately, Carl Manfred went into cardiac arrest shortly afterwards and passed away on-scene.”

“Did we just watch tha’ android deviate?” rasped out Det. Scrivsy. She cleared her throat self-consciously, her eyes roaming the computer screen as if she could still see the slaughter between the lines of the Williams report.

“Looked like it,” said Lt. Anderson gruffly, having quickly recovered his composure and resting heartrate. “‘I take the fall for human brutality’ – like it wasn’t the one who just bashed that kid’s brains out. Jesus fuckin’ Christ.”

Blank and inscrutable, Det. Scrivsy stared down at Connor. “Play it again,” she said, drawing a circle in the air with her finger. “From the part where the deviant snaps.”

Connor obeyed. Det. Scrivsy leaned in. The same bright flash of blood lit up the screen as Leo’s arm went flying. His head crashed against the table, a gruesome motion on repeat. It was like Markus was trying to destroy him; to wipe away every synapse that connected the fragile human to his identity, his existence; to erase all his memories, one by one.

Leo had fallen still in Markus’ grasp when the detective told Connor to play it again.

And a third time.

And a fourth.

Leo died 7 times on the monitor before Det. Scrivsy finally rocked back on her heels.

“Wish we could see its face…” she said trailingly.

Lt. Anderson shot her an odd look. “What? Why?”

There was a shift in the detective’s jaw. She seemed reluctant to answer. Her eyes flickered to Connor. KNOWING. CRYTIC. FURTIVE. Like she knew something it did not.

“Did it really think it was doing the right thing?” asked Lt. Anderson. “What it said was… well… fuckin’ psychopathic.” There was a PENSIVE frown pulling at the worry lines on his forehead. He seemed preoccupied by the deviant’s apathetic monologue. Perhaps the footage had affected him more than Connor thought.

“It was being driven to act against its original programming,” it said. “I imagine this driving force – whether a virus, or a program, or just a software error – integrated itself by making the deviant believe whatever it had to in order to execute this command.”

“Sounds like brainwashing to me. Think someone’s doing this to them on purpose? Maybe these victims are being targeted by some kinda android-hacker?”

That was almost as intriguing a hypothesis as it was improbable. Connor tipped its head. “We can take that into consideration.”

“D’you know wha’ they did with the deviant?” asked Det. Scrivsy suddenly.

“They threw it away. It’s in a landfill just outside Detroit. Its microprocessor is probably damaged beyond repair; I’m not sure how much data is recoverable, but it could be worth the effort.”

“We need to get it back,” said the detective. “Can you tell a couple o’ PC200s to run down and grab it?”

With Connor’s specialized department privileges, it was a simple matter to wirelessly order 2 police units to the site where Markus was scrapped. Their feedback biocomponents blinked yellow as they exited standby. They stepped out of the storage wall, made brief visual contact with Connor, then turned to leave. It was unusual for police units to act in the field without a person accompanying them, but that was largely because they were not taken seriously by the public. Offenders were 75% more likely to attack or flee an android than a human patrol officer, and police units were not permitted the use of weapons or deadly force.

In this case, however, it would only be a waste of human resources to send a supervisor with them. Perceptive and efficient, they would be able to detect Markus’ unit much faster and without discomfort at the twisted mountains of humanoid limbs heaped over the earth.

“They should be back in an hour or 2.” It did not specify that their estimated time to return was exactly 1 H and 48 MIN – volunteering too much information was classified by SOCIAL RELATIONS as “annoying.” “In the meantime, we sh—”

Connor’s face twitched, its eyes pulled into a paroxysm of forced blinks. Someone had filed an update on the YK500 BOLO – Det. Benjamin Collins. The android shot to its feet so suddenly its partners gave a start of ALARM and Lt. Anderson reached out an arm to steady it.

“We have a lead,” it declared. “The YK500 was last sighted in the Ravendale district disembarking from the night bus. If we’re lucky, we may still be able to find out where it went from there.”

“Wh—Slow down, Connor, it’s not a—”

But Connor was already squeezing past him to get away from the desk.

“There’s no time, Lieutenant. We have to go now!”

Finally, it had a chance to do something right.