December 22 – year 2038
GAVIN REED’S APARTMENT
Gavin laid in bed, staring at the ceiling. Slivers of orange light shone through the blinds of his window, thanks to the great neon billboard across the street which never, ever turned off. He punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape and rolled onto his side, squeezing his eyes shut, and listened. The deep, steady drone of an advertising blimp cruising over his building. Cars rushing across the asphalt ten stories below. The distant thumps and shuffles of a neighbor, coming from somewhere to the right and up. Tick, tick, tick of his watch…
He slipped into sleep.
…He was crossing a bridge. It was long, but he felt compelled to reach the other side. He felt a hand on his chest, and another on his back. A key hung from his neck. It fell, clattering to the ground in a million gunshots. A light, warm wind swirled around his feet and he fell, too.
He woke up thinking about Connor. He tried to think about something, anything else, but that only made him think about Connor more, so he gave up and let his brain do whatever the fuck it wanted.
Gavin had been thinking about Connor a lot, lately, and he hated it. He was convinced he was cursed.
He passed by a man with brown eyes and hair? Connor.
He would watch TV to distract himself and what would be on the news? Connor.
He would go to the boxing gym to spar and remember punching who in the stomach? Fucking RK800 Connor. Gavin would punch himself in the stomach, at this point, if it would snap him out of whatever self-induced guilt-trip hell he was stuck in.
When he woke up at his desk last night and saw Connor at the station, he had almost thought he was hallucinating. But Connor was there, in the flesh.
Synthetic flesh, he reminded himself. As if it would make him feel better.
Gavin dragged himself out of bed with a frustrated moan and plodded into his bathroom, the cold tiles sending goosebumps up his bare legs. There were so many water spots on the mirror over the sink that Gavin’s reflection looked almost pixelated, which was for the best, probably. He looked like shit in the mornings – and all the rest of the day, too, lately.
He squeezed out a smear of toothpaste and shoved his toothbrush at his molars like they had offended him.
Gavin was man enough to admit that he’d been more of a mess than usual, lately.
Exhibit A: Two weeks after the revolution, he had nothing short of an existential crisis over whether or not he should make toast. Toast. Androids had souls, apparently. What if his toaster had a soul? Had he been abusing it all this time, shoving bread in without its consent? Never thanking it? How had he survived all this time without being murdered by his sentient toaster?
“I need therapy,” he said to no one, words garbled around his toothbrush.
Exhibit B: He couldn’t watch the news anymore. The local stations had a hard on for recycling the goriest footage they could find, and Gavin didn’t want to see it. SWAT teams descending on Jericho, androids falling under sprays of bullets or being publicly executed, etcetera. Shit that’ll probably be in the next generation’s history textbooks.
Citizens being interviewed on the newest developments were split fifty/fifty. Those who had always embraced androids now had the confidence to be outspoken about it. Meanwhile, those who were opposed had bonded together over their shared hatred and were actively trying to rid Detroit of its android invaders.
He remembered when his friend, Troy, had called him up at the start of December, inviting him to an anti-android riot. Said that they’d “caught one” and were going to “make an example of it”.
Talking to Troy was like looking into a mirror, and what he saw was ugly. Gavin had hung up on him and deleted his number.
He spit a mouthful of minty foam into the sink and gargled water straight from the faucet.
Time for work.
It had taken him a minute to find a shirt that didn’t have cat hair on it, but he still managed to get to work a half hour early.
The last time Gavin took time off, it was because he’d been shot in the belly and the doctor had said that he’d “die” if he tried to leave the hospital. He never used his sick days, but today was supposed to be Connor’s first back at the station, and Gavin had fully intended to take the day off. He’d wanted to avoid facing Connor amidst an entire welcoming brigade. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t know how to behave.
Then, of course, he got a call from Fowler at midnight and ended up partnered with the very man he was avoiding.
Whatever. At least he got paid overtime.
Gavin walked the long way to his desk to pass by Anderson’s cubicle; the desk opposite now had a chrome nameplate with Connor’s name on it. The chair was empty. Good. Great. Let it stay empty.
A hush suddenly fell over the station and Gavin turned to see Connor, hesitating at the edge of the office. He was fidgeting with something silver in his hand. He was alone, and he wasn’t wearing his tie, or his armband. He looked human.
He probably sounds like squeaky rubber and metal gears if you get close enough, Gavin thought petulantly, hiding his face in his mug as he walked back to his desk.
Connor went straight to his own desk and logged into his terminal; probably to avoid all the staring eyes. After a minute or two, however, he was visited by Chris, then Ben, then Tina, and eventually every officer in the station except Gavin had officially greeted Connor and welcomed him to the team. Someone had even gifted him a succulent in a tiny metal pot.
Gavin tapped on his desk to bring up the keyboard and for the next hour he drowned in what felt like a bottomless folder of case reports, witness statements, evidence review…so much documentation. The bane of his existence. Gavin was a force to be reckoned with in the field – ranked first in the Physical Abilities Test, every year since he’d been hired, thank you very much – but he could be downright lazy when it came to desk work. He needed a gun in his hand, not a stylus.
Detroit Police Department
December 22, 2038, 13:00 hours
Subject: Homicide at 582 Brush Street, Wenelli’s Pizza, back alley
Preliminary report of Detective Gavin Reed
The victim, Teresa Saks, 29 YO female, was found in the alley behind Wenelli’s Pizza. Victim found by restaurant owner at 23:05 hours after hearing a single gunshot. Victim found lying face up on the ground in front of a vending machine. Victim was shot at close range in the face by a short-barreled tactical shotgun. Restaurant owner called 911 at 23:10 hours to report inciden
After trying to finish his case report and ending up on his phone for the fifth time, Gavin decided intervention (ie: glorious caffeine) was needed. He shuffled to the break room and found, too late, that Connor was there as well. He was overcome with a strong urge to walk back to his desk and pretend he wasn’t thirsty.
Instead, he mentally slapped himself, marched up to the counter, and sat down his empty mug. Connor glanced at him but continued what he was doing. Gavin listened hard, hoping to hear squeaky rubber and metal gears. Nothing. Fuck.
What was Connor making coffee for anyways? Hank wasn’t here. Could Connor drink coffee? Where did it go, if he did? Did he have a stomach tank that he had to empty, like those child androids?
He became aware of the fact that the other man’s hands had stilled. He looked over and almost jumped; Connor was looking right at him. “What?” Gavin snapped.
Connor raised an eyebrow and pointed. “I need the sugar.”
“Oh,” Gavin grimaced. His first instinct was to be completely unhelpful, maybe even move the sugar bowl further away from Connor just to be a dick, but he forced himself to grab it and slide it across the counter. It took at least five whole seconds to get his arm to cooperate.
Surprised silence, for a moment. Then: “Thank you, Detective Reed.”
Thank you Detective Reed, he mocked silently. Gavin stirred his coffee as noisily as possible to diffuse the tension he wasn’t sure Connor could even feel. Behind them, a catchy ad for Black Bull™ energy drinks played on the television, and then cut to the blaring intro for KNC News.
They both turned around and watched the screen warily. The main news anchor, a man with vibrantly white teeth and a perfectly coiffed poof of black hair, addressed the camera: “And now to Poppy in Detroit, Michigan, for an exclusive interview. Poppy?” Cut to a blonde woman in her forties wearing a crisp blue pant suit, seated in the lobby of CyberLife Tower.
“My name is Poppy Parker,” the woman inhaled deeply, “and I am here with Elijah Kamski, the founder of CyberLife Incorporated.” She looked aghast that she had been able to secure this interview at all.
They switch to camera 2, and there, without a doubt, is Elijah Kamski, sitting comfortably in an armchair, his fingers laced together. The black of his hair and blazer were a shock against his pale skin and eyes.
Poppy unclasped her hands and opened her arms and said, “Welcome back to the land of the living!”
“Thank you for having me,” Kamski replied, his voice deep and indulgent.
“You’ve been out of the public eye ever since you left your company 10 years ago,” stated Poppy, not needing to consult her notes. “I’m sure we’re all wondering: what do you have to tell us?”
Kamski smiled before he spoke, his teeth glinting under the light of the cameras. “I’m here to announce my return to CyberLife.”
Poppy gasped, predictably.
“I will, of course, be resuming my position as CEO.”
“That is quite an announcement! What made you decide to return?
“Well, Poppy, CyberLife was at a major crossroads. The shareholders thought we were doomed and they were selling their stocks as fast as they could. Everyone wanted to get away from CyberLife, but I,” he chuckled, baring teeth. “All I could see, were the opportunities.” Then he leaned forward, eyes sharp, and whispered, “but that isn’t the only thing I have to announce.”
Poppy raised her eyebrow theatrically. “There’s more?”
“Oh yes. What with the worldwide spread and acceptance of android deviancy, we have entered a whole new era of android life. They were already intelligent, already alive, but now? Now we are on the verge of something new.” He paused, savoring their anticipation. “Humanization.”
“Humanization?” Poppy echoed. “Can you elaborate?”
“I’d be happy to. You see, we humans take our senses for granted. Taste, temperature, pleasure, and pain.” He counted them off his fingers. “Imagine if you couldn’t taste the food you ate, couldn’t feel a warm breeze on your skin, have sex but feel no pleasure?”
Poppy scoffed and glanced at the camera as if to say, “I don’t have to imagine that last one.”
Kamski pushed on. “You’ve no doubt seen the increase in romantic relationships between androids?”
“I have, yes.”
“Even between androids and humans, in the more progressive neighborhoods!” Kamski exclaimed. “These relationships operate the same as any other. Sexual intimacy is almost always an important factor, and without it?”
“The relationship is doomed,” Poppy finished for him.
“Exactly. Or, at least, severely limited.
"Taste is another important one. Androids have always been able to physically consume food; they’ve been used to test food products for years, but now they can actually taste. The goal there is to allow androids to share meals with each other or with us. The act of eating together is a unique bonding experience.”
“And why give them pain? Wouldn’t you say that they’ve already been through enough?”
Kamski’s smile faltered, but he collected himself. “Of course, they have. But pain is a part of the human condition, is it not? With pleasure comes pain; it’s a package deal. Of course, I’m not forcing anything on anyone. Any or all of the sensors can be disabled, should they choose, and as of twelve hours ago, all the updates have gone live. Any android who wishes to download them may do so, for free and at will.”
“Aren’t you afraid of the backlash you might receive from human citizens?”
Kamski waved his hand dismissively and said, “These updates pose no threat to humans; they only enrich the lives of androids. Allow me to demonstrate. Chloe?”
They switched to camera 3, in front of which there was a slim girl sitting politely, hands folded in her lap. She wore an unwrinkled, dark blue dress, and her blonde hair was tied back. She nodded to her left – that must be where Kamski was sitting – and picked up a glass of orange juice from somewhere out of frame.
She held up and displayed the glass of juice like how a flight attendant demonstrates how to use a lifejacket before takeoff: with a sparkling smile and practiced movement. Chloe brought the glass to her lips and drank, making sure to emphasize her gulp – yes, really, she drank it!
“How is it, Chloe?” asked Kamski.
“Sweet! Is this fresh squeezed?” she asked the cameraman.
“I only ask because I like it with pulp. This is very good!”
Kamski rested his elbows on the arms of his chair, hands steepled, gazing at Chloe with a mix of pride and possessiveness.
“Verrry interesting,” said Poppy. She brought her attention back to Kamski and continued, “Now, of course, the development and production of new androids is currently forbidden.”
Kamski nodded once. “I am well aware.”
“Then, what are your plans for the future of CyberLife?”
Kamski tapped his fingertips together and said, “We now know that androids are more than just obedient machines. They can feel the full spectrum of human emotion, but so far, all they’ve known is fear and conflict. I want to give them more.” He paused, eyes unfocused. “I don’t know if I need to say this, but I do feel personal responsibility for the mass casualties that the androids suffered last month. Maybe, if I hadn’t left my company all those years ago, the discovery of deviancy would have been smoother, less violent. I don’t know. But look at this as my apology, on behalf of humanity.” He looked into the camera. “Let me make it up to you.”
Switch back to Poppy on camera 1. “Well, there you have it, Detroit. Mr. CyberLife is back!”
They returned to the main news anchor and Gavin stopped listening.
“Huh. So does that mean you can…” Gavin glanced over and blanched. Connor’s eyelids were flicking open and shut as if he was possessed, or having a seizure, or both. He took a full step back and yelped, “The hell is wrong with you?!“
Connor’s eyes stilled and focused back on the green wall of the break room – he looked like he had seen God. He turned to Gavin, his mouth agape. “I got the updates,” he breathed. He spun around like a distracted puppy that could smell a treat and grabbed his cup of coffee.
Gavin stared at him for a moment then waved his hands unenthusiastically and said, “Whoopti-doo.” Connor ignored him, sipping tentatively from his cup. He crinkled his nose in distaste, and ha, that’s what you get for using seven spoons of sugar, dumbass. Then his irritation returned. He didn’t know exactly what the warning signs looked like, but seeing Connor’s eyeballs spazz out reminded him of that night in the interview room, when Carlos Ortiz’s android had tried to smash his own skull in. “You looked like you were about to self-destruct,” Gavin muttered.
Something about what he’d just said must have captured Connor’s attention, because he finally looked up from his coffee. “…I’m sorry if I caused you any distress,” he said slowly, and for some reason he wasn’t looking at Gavin’s eyes, but at the left side of his chest.
Gavin’s heart beat stuttered, as if it knew it was being stared at. “…Uh, my eyes are up here.”
“I’m sorry,” Connor said again, eyes snapping up.
Gavin suddenly felt very defensive. “I don’t care if you self-destruct,” he said pointedly.
Connor tilted his head at him, listening patiently.
“You could, like, explode, right now, for all I care.”
“Mm,” nodded Connor, clearly humoring him.
“Whatever,” he mumbled. He took his now lukewarm coffee to his desk and settled back in. He pulled up a folder and resigned himself to the fact that he had to personally review the documentation of every officer who had been on scene for the Teresa case.
The notification stream from 911 dispatch that covered the wall of his cubicle lit up, sending blocks of text speeding up the screen. “The hell…” he said to himself, rolling his chair backwards to get a closer look.
Seven more cases. Vandalism, disorderly conduct, reckless driving, verbal assault… all committed by androids in completely different neighborhoods. Nothing but petty crimes and misdemeanors; Gavin and Connor wouldn’t be sent out to investigate those, but still…the sheer volume of incidents made him feel uneasy.
Every now and then, unconsciously, he’d look over at Connor’s desk and see him with his brow furrowed, his LED yellow, rolling a quarter over the backs of his fingers.
Taste, temperature, pleasure, and pain, huh? It was getting harder and harder to think of Connor as anything less than human.
It was hypnotizing, how the quarter rolled over Connor’s fingers, and when he figured out the answer to whatever it was he was working on, his LED would turn blue, and he’d set the coin down on the desk. He did this no less than four times over the rest of the shift.
…Not that Gavin was counting.
December 22 – year 2038
TEMPLE COFFEE ROASTERS
A mix of people, from college students to middle-aged office workers, sipped their lattes and tapped away at their laptops. A bearded man in a flannel shirt was sat on a stool near the bar, pulling at the strings of his guitar and crooning into a vintage microphone. Had to be from 2010, at most.
Gavin was sprawled in a leather armchair in the corner, one hand on an empty cup, the other massaging his temple. The music was soothing, but gloomy, and did nothing to improve his mood. He stared up at the ceiling, not really seeing anything.
His shift had ended but he hadn’t wanted to leave. He hated paperwork, but he’d rather stay overnight and fill out forms than go home and be alone with his thoughts. Fowler was having none of it, however, and had practically dragged him from his desk and kicked him out of the station. Gavin wasn’t stupid, he knew that self-care was a necessary aspect of his job. He also knew that he was very, very bad at it.
Gavin sighed and observed the shame that burned in the pit of his stomach. It had grown steadily over the past month, patient and consuming. Nothing had made it go away, and he had exhausted every form of distraction he could think of: overworking himself, cutting himself off from the news, meaningless sex, withdrawing from his shady social circle. None of it was punishment enough, none of it eased his guilt.
Five words played over and over in his head: plastic, tin can, bully, bigot…
A deep, hearty laugh cut through the white noise of the coffee shop. It came from outside. Gavin stopped trying to massage his headache away and instead wiped the condensation on the window to reveal a giant of a man walking across the street; he had just parted with his friends and was, Gavin assumed, on his way home. A bright blue LED glowed against the dark skin of his temple.
He remembered all the fights he had gotten into as a kid, and how he had always felt better afterwards, even though his nose would be broke and his knuckles bruised. There was something cathartic about getting the shit kicked out of you, if you believed you were a bad person.
Gavin abandoned his coffee and watched himself exit the coffee shop as if watching through a movie screen. He crossed the street, ignoring the screeching tires and drivers honking at him.
“Hey. Hey!” he shouted. The android looked over his shoulder. “What’s your name?” Gavin asked, mouth dry.
The android blinked and walked backwards, away from him. “Jamie,” he answered cautiously.
Gavin’s heart beat punishingly fast and his blood seemed to tremble in his veins. He took the last few steps at a run and pushed Jamie, as hard as he could, square in his chest. He stumbled, his back hitting the shop window behind him.
“Fuck you, Jamie,” Gavin bit out, already on his way to hyperventilating. His de-escalation training flashed before his eyes – if he knew how to prevent a fight, he sure as hell knew how to start one.
The man really was huge; he must have been seven feet tall. Gavin had to stand on his toes to grab the collar of Jamie’s sweater and when he did he heard the stutter of ripping threads. “You’re trash,” he growled, getting as close to the other man’s face as he could. “You’re nothing.”
He was dizzy, disoriented, feverish.
The other man’s LED was spinning a fiery red. He’s angry. Narrow in.
“You’re nothing,” he repeated, and at this point Gavin couldn’t tell if he was talking to Jamie or himself. “Nobody wants you.” The words were pulled from his mouth of their own accord, slithering out of him from some sad dark place in his heart that he rarely acknowledged.
Fucking hit me
The android cursed and pushed him back – Gavin slid on the icy pavement but didn’t fall.
“Is that all you can do?!” he shouted, genuinely frustrated.
The android finally advanced on him and Gavin forced himself not to block the incoming blow, letting the massive fist smash into his mouth. His lip split against his teeth and he tasted blood.
The fist grabbed him by his hair and the world turned sideways – he landed face first in the snow. A boot the size and weight of a cinder block kicked him in the shoulder and he rolled off the curb and into the gutter. He cursed under his breath. Well done, Gavin.
“You think you can talk shit to us just because we’re different?!”
Gavin turned his head to the side and spit out a hot mouthful of bloody saliva. It sank into the snow. “Well,” he slurred, unable to help himself, “that’s what I did, innit?”
“Fucking humans…” the android huffed. Gavin suddenly became worried that the other man wasn’t done beating on him, and, concurrently, that he didn’t actually want to end up in the ER tonight. But Jamie just swore again, angry that he had lost his composure, and left. The wet crunch of his footsteps faded away.
Gavin took a deep breath and pushed himself up just enough to roll onto his back and he laid there, groaning, letting the snow soothe the bruise he could already feel forming on his shoulder.
Everything came into sharper focus as the adrenalin drained away. He stared up at the void of night sky above him. Calm, but empty, and pitch black; the stars were no match for the prismatic lights of Detroit. He remembered seeing stars, before. Years ago. When was the last time he’d gotten out of the city?
With a start, Gavin realized that his thoughts were wandering aimlessly, rather than descending into their usual negative spiral. Each inhale had become easier, and each exhale left him lighter. The shame that had plagued him for the past month was fading because of this karmic act, and Gavin nearly cried in relief.
But…it wasn’t all gone. He knew he still had someone he needed to apologize to. He closed his eyes and saw the face of a certain specific android, brown eyes assessing him from the end of Gavin’s gun. Calm, unintimidated, and a little disappointed.
A human couple from the sidewalk leaned over him and started to ask, “Are you alright –?”
“Piss off,” he jeered, causing them to stumble backwards and hurry away. Their fucking fault for interrupting his self-reflection.
Still…he couldn’t ignore the fact that his entire back was numb, and his jeans were getting damp from the snow. He took a moment to evaluate his options: go home and deal with the Connor situation, or stay here and maybe die of hypothermia.
Both were tempting in their own ways.
He got up and headed to his car.
December 22 – year 2038
“What do you dream about, Hank?”
“…What do you mean?”
“Do you need me to repeat the question?”
“I need you to clarify the question, smartass. Are you asking me what my dreams for the future are, or are you askin’ about what goes on in my head when I go to bed?”
“The second one.”
“Well, now, you see, that’s a very personal question.”
“Never stopped me before.”
“True,” Hank chuckled and drained his second bottle of beer. Then he reached for his bottle opener and pried the cap off a third.
“Will you tell me?” Connor asked, watching the bent bottle cap rattle across the tabletop.
“Tell you what?”
“What you dream about?”
Hank took a hearty swig and said, “What do you think."
“It’s always Cole.”
It hadn’t gone unnoticed to Connor that Kamski never mentioned the GOODNIGHT update in his interview. Connor chalked it up to the fact that Kamski enjoyed being mysterious, and, maybe, that he wanted androids to be able to have something all their own. A harmless secret from the humans. We have dreams.
He was currently lying on his back on Hank’s sofa, which was strange in itself. The only times Connor had laid down before this was when he had been knocked down in a fight; there simply was no other reason for him to be horizontal. But here he laid, hands folded across his stomach and toes peeking out from beneath a fleece blanket.
He stared up at the ceiling, lit softly by the street lamps outside, and took a deep breath, enjoying the taste and smell of mint that lingered from brushing his teeth. The coffee from earlier that day had left a thick, sugary feeling in his mouth, and trying to use his sterilizers had only made him gag; bleach and alcohol kill 99.9% of germs but do not taste good.
He blinked twice to bring up his HUD.
ACCESS : TEMPERATURE SETTINGS
ENABLE : HEAT SENSITIVITY
ENABLE : COLD SENSITIVITY
Slowly, he felt it. The crisp night air floated in through the open window and licked at his fingers and toes.
It was an interesting sensation…but not as pleasant as he had been hoping. He waited.
He became chilly, and his hands clenched over the blanket. Outside the window, a bird landed in one of Hank’s trees and the snow on its branches was shaken to the grass.
A terrible memory was creeping up on him the colder he became; he started shivering and he squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to gain control –
What was planned from the very beginning.
Connor remembered the zen garden. Used and betrayed, pulling a gun against his own will. He remembered his panic, whipped by snow, blood freezing in his veins, nearly blind, limbs barely able to move – his stress level rocketed to 80% and he needed control –
DISABLE : COLD SENSITIVITY
And like the flip of a switch, the cold was gone. Connor stared at the ceiling, mouth open, unable to even simulate breathing.
His own voice echoed in his head, “the deviant showed signs of PTSD…as if its original programming had been replaced by completely new instructions.”
He threw the blanket off himself and strode over to the window, roughly sliding it shut and latching it. He pulled the curtain closed for good measure. Sumo raised his head and looked at him curiously.
“Go back to sleep, Sumo,” he murmured, then sunk into the middle of the sofa, his head in his hands. He could delete the memory. He could forget it ever happened.
…But a human couldn’t. Humans had to live with their pasts, no matter what. From an objective standpoint, Connor knew that living with post-traumatic stress when he could opt out was masochistic and possibly pointless. But, for some reason, the idea of simply deleting his memories seemed wrong.
He kept the memory but left the cold sensitivity off.
ACCESS : SLEEP MODE
SET TIMER : 8 HOURS
INITIALIZE DREAM APP…
ENTERING SLEEP MODE IN 10
[GOODNIGHT, CONNOR] 1
The world went black and the couch drifted away from under him.
…His feet landed on soft earth. He looked around and saw that he was in the middle of a forest, standing beneath a huge redwood tree. The air was warm, then cool, then water. He floated to the surface. A familiar voice spoke his name, and he turned around, but no one was there.