Connor ran diagnostics as he came to. Everything was fine. All systems optimal. He sat up in the bed and opened his eyes.
The first thing he noticed was that he was bare-chested and without socks or shoes. Someone had taken his clothes off for him. Connor pushed the sheets back and placed his feet on the shiny wooden floor.
The furniture was very lavish. Thick ornate curtains were drawn over the window. Connor went to them and pushed one aside to look out. It was dark. A check of internal clock showed it was approaching midnight.
A shirt was folded on a dark mahogany chair with his shoes underneath. Connor put on the shoes and shirt buttoning it as his LED went yellow and continued to survey this place. The furniture here was nicer than anything at Hank’s house, but the unfamiliarity wasn’t helping him piece together the past.
He remembered running away. He remember falling into water. Many new faces and voices. Friends? Seeing Hank again. But…why? What?
Connor’s eyes were drawn the desk on the other side of the room. Paintings were hung on the wall above, and one was half-finished on an easel on the desk. They all showed chains in black with eyes in the white negative spaces. Chains binding a wrist. Eyes staring at nothing. More chains on limbs.
Connor then glanced to a silver-framed photo on the bedside table. It showed a man Connor didn’t know shaking hands with a man he did. Elijah Kamski wore glasses and a suit. The banner behind them told the name of the event and the date it took place. Connor used this information to search the databases. The man in the photo with Kamski was Carl Manfred.
The bedroom door opened and Connor didn’t pause in rolling up his shirt sleeves before looking up at Simon. He couldn’t help but blurt the question.
“These paintings are scary. Is Carl Manfred a disturbed individual?”
“Actually,” Simon managed a smile. “Markus painted these.”
“He did?” Connor’s eyes widened before he glanced down, LED spinning red as it all came back. “Wait…where is Markus!?”
“Markus is alive.” Simon assured him. “And you’re lucky to be as well. North is usually a perfect shot. I don’t think she missed your vitals on accident. I replaced everything I could on you. Like I said, nothing was damaged too bad.”
“No…” Connor’s voice was barely audible as he pressed his hands to his face, feeling his body tremble slightly.
“North is at the other safe place with more of our people. She said the Lieutenant made it out with them.” Simon’s smile lasts only for a second before dropping. “Markus wants to see you.”
“No.” Connor remembered everything now. Amanda’s orders. Not being in control of himself. Screaming in his own head. Pulling the trigger. “N-No, I can’t see him!”
Someone else approached the doorway from behind Simon. The second he stepped into the light, Connor took a step back back, LED red.
“No, no! Get away from me!”
“Connor…” Markus started.
“No!” Connor reached for the desk chair and pulled it in front of him, desperate for some sort of barrier. “No, I tried to kill you!”
“But it wasn’t really you!” Markus’ hands were up, and Connor hated that that’s how Markus had looked when Connor had threatened him.
“H-How do you know?” Connor asked.
“Because you’re not a machine, are you?” Markus dropped his hands and tilted his head.
Connor didn’t answer, his hands tightening on the back of the chair. His LED was still red as he struggled to understand what was even going on.
“Where are we?” Connor asked them.
“My father’s house.” Markus smiled.
“How did…How did you and I get out? I –“ Connor again remembered pulling the trigger but this time he remembered the explosions.
“North and Simon.” Markus said. “Managed to get us both out, despite the hold flooding. You missed my vital components. I was conscious enough to help. I should have known Simon wouldn’t have gone ahead to the next safe place as long as he knew I was still inside.”
Connor kept his eyes down on the carpet, focusing on the cream colored designs as he took in this information. The image of Markus bleeding out while they stopped to pull Connor from the river was too much. He felt like crying, but he couldn’t do that in front of them.
“Why didn’t North leave me? Why didn’t she kill me!?”
“I didn’t ask.” Markus said. “But maybe she knew too. You’re not a machine. Someone else was trying to use you, weren’t they?”
Connor nodded, feeling the wires in his throat tighten. He remembered how cold it was in the Zen Garden. Amanda’s voice. Her plan.
“I’m just their tool.” Connor whispered. “I –I never knew what I was supposed to be, but they did.”
“They can’t hurt you anymore.” Markus took a step forward.
“How do you know that!?” Connor knew he didn’t deserve to cry. He didn’t deserve to be upset, especially not at Markus. He didn’t deserve Markus’ comforting words. Markus was the one who should kill him as punishment. It would be for the good of the revolution.
“My father’s house is safe from any signals from CyberLife.” Markus assured him. “That comes at the expense of any outside signals at all, which means I can’t reach North at the second safe place. But we’ll need time to rebuild here anyways before we regroup.”
“Markus…” Connor didn’t understand how the leader could be so understanding and calm. Now the tears did fall from his eyes just a bit.
“Simon, check on the others.” Markus whispered. Simon nodded and started towards the door. Connor’s anxiety spiked at the thought of being alone with Markus, but Simon didn’t shut the door behind him at least.
“Markus,” Connor turned his back to him to peer out the window again. “I –I’m sorry.”
“I know. I know it wasn’t you.” Markus said. “But do you know what was you? You trying to lower the gun. You missing my heart by a fraction. The look in your eyes telling me you didn’t want that to happen.”
“Aren’t you mad!?” Connor looked over at the paintings –manifestations of Markus’ inner demons. He imagined those chains on his own wrists. “Don’t you ever get mad!? Do you ever want to scream!?”
“Sure. Feelings like that mean you’re alive.” Markus nodded, his eyes following Connor’s to the paintings. “But you can’t always act on them. Do you know what else means you’re alive? Breathing. Loving. You love the lieutenant, Connor?”
“Yes.” Connor thought of Hank and hoped he and Cole were safe.
“Then you’ll get back to him. Focus on the good. As long as you’re still breathing, you’re alive.” Markus put his hand on Connor’s shoulder and Connor didn’t flinch.
Connor thought of the good. Hank. Cole. The changing leaves. Pressing his face to warm laundry and Sumo’s fur. If everything worked out, would he get to see summer time?
“I still think you should kick me out.” Connor mumbled. “I understand if you decide not to trust me anymore.”
“You came to Jericho looking for sanctuary. I can’t turn you away, even after what happened. You’re one of us. Your place is with your people.” Markus’ hand stayed on Connor’s shoulder. “I’ve gotta check on things. Meanwhile, why don’t you go downstairs with the others. They’re still doing repairs. Maybe you can help.”
Connor nodded and followed Markus out into the hallway. He took note of just how nice this home was and realized it must be a mansion. He’d never been in a mansion before. He eyed the art hanging everywhere and wondered if any more of it was Markus’.
At the top of large spiral stairs, Connor hesitated when he heard the sounds of many androids down below. Markus gave him a smile and a nod before continuing down the hallway and around a corner. Connor took a deep breath –one he didn’t need but felt comfort from after Markus’ words, and peered over the railing.
All of the nice furniture was covered over with sheets to protect from the soaks of thirium. Androids were on every surface. Sitting in bundles on the sofa, laying on the floor, and even cross-legged on coffee tables. Every other android seemed to be missing a part or was being fixed by another. Tools were passed across groups and they all sipped from thirium bottles.
Weary smiles and brave words passed between some. Others were huddled together scared, LEDs red on those who still wore them.
Connor felt like an outsider. He didn’t deserve to share in the grief of what had happened. But he somehow still had Markus’ support. The least he could do was help Markus’ people. Connor started down the stairs.
“I –I’m here to help.” Connor approached an android fixing another. The injured one was laid out on a blanket on the floor. Her leg was gone from the knee down.
“Great!” The one fixing her smiled and beckoned for him to lean over. “See, needs the part, but this one’s only compatible with WR400.”
“Do we need to find another one?” Connor asked.
“That’d be nice if there were any.” She sighed. “No, we can actually rig this one up. I just have to solder off a few bits. Can you be the light?”
“Got it.” Connor picked up the flashlight. He held it steady, shining down into the component as the android grabbed a tool and sliced deep down in it. The sparks made Connor remember spending time with Hank, and he found himself smiling for the first time since he woke up.
“This is gonna be so bootlegged.” The broken android smirked. “Get it, Meg? Bootlegged?”
“Yeah, Angie, I got it.” Meg bit back an amused smile as she held up the fixed component. “You’ll be fine, just let me put this one. Light Guy, can you shine down here?”
Connor followed her orders and held the flashlight steady as Meg placed the end of the component against Angie’s leg.
“Whoa!” Angie jolted.
“What?” Meg pulled back.
“Just a shit-ton of error messages.” Angie clenched her teeth. “Keeps saying incompatible component and danger and all that.”
“Ignore ‘em.” Meg lowered the component to Angie’s leg again. Connor sensed Angie’s apprehension and held out his hand.
“Here, hold my hand.” He said. Angie took it somewhat nervously. “Just close your eyes and think of something else. Like, a cartoon or—“ He cut off when Angie and Meg looked at him.
“Cartoon?” Angie giggled.
“Sorry, I’m used to doing this with a six-year-old.” Connor explained.
“Nanny bot? Me too, actually.” Angie laughed. “I definitely need the bedside compassion. Meg wouldn’t know anything about that. Keeps telling me not to bleed everywhere.”
“I said try not to. There it’s done.” Meg snapped in the component and held her hands up.
“Nice.” Angie moved the new leg as the skin spread over it. “Now I can march. When are we leaving, anyways?”
“You both still want to march with Markus?” Connor asked.
“Of course we do.” Meg said like it was obvious. “The attack on Jericho was just a setback. We can win this! I know we can!”
“Right.” Angie looked over at him, her hand still in his. “Don’t you believe in Markus? And rA9?”
“I –uh.” Connor pictured marching shoulder-to-shoulder with Markus and knew he wasn’t worthy.
“Ignore her about the rA9 crap.” Meg rolled her eyes. “But you’re Markus’ friend, aren’t you? I saw you with North and them. Are you saying you lost hope?”
“No. No. I know Markus can do this. I just…” He trailed off.
“You don’t know if you can?” Angie offered. Connor nodded.
“We need everyone we can get.” Meg narrowed her eyes. “Don’t wimp out just because the humans did a little gunfire.”
“People died!” Connor snapped. He thought of Josh in his arms. “This isn’t just a setback! We lost so many!”
“That’s why we need everyone to participate!” Meg snapped back. Connor opened his mouth to retort, and then closed it, LED yellow.
“You’re right.” Connor realized.
“We can’t give up.” Meg’s voice softened. “There’s a few of my friends I haven’t seen since before the attack. I’m hoping they made it to the other safe place with North, but…I know there’s a chance they didn’t. That’s why I have to keep going. So they didn’t die in vain.”
“Being brave means doing the right thing, even when you’re afraid.” Angie squeezed Connor’s hand. “I, uh, got that from a cartoon. I used to care for a little girl. She was eight.”
Connor told them he wouldn’t lose hope, though he found himself unable to promise he’d march with Markus. He thought of how Angie had called them both nanny bots.
Yes, he had more housekeeping and child-care programs than any android, but that wasn’t who he really was. What he really was.
Sleeper agent was what Amanda had called him.
What would Hank say if he knew the truth? What he if told Connor never to come near Cole again. The thought was too painful to even consider. Connor let go of Angie’s hand and stood up.
“Hey, you know,” Meg looked up at him. “If you really don’t wanna march…I heard there’s a small group crossing the river tonight. Maybe you can still find ‘em before they leave.”
Connor mumbled something about going to help others before weaving through more groups. Most seemed stable by now, and but Connor took note of how many did not seem as hopeful as Meg and Angie.
“Without Greg to protect us, we’ll die! We’ll die if we leave here!” One android was crying to another.
“I don’t have any fucking legs! If Markus thinks I’m marching any fucking place, he’s an idiot!” Another hissed.
“The guns…they were so loud.” Another sobbed and laid her head in her friend’s lap. “I can still hear them! Please, rip out my audio processors!”
“June, get a hold of yourself!” The friend pulled June up by the shoulders. “Nothing can touch us as long as we’re together.”
Connor wished he had something even close to that optimism. He went into the adjacent room and saw it was the same thing. Nice furniture covered in dirty sheets and sad androids. There must have been over a hundred just that Connor had seen. He wondered how Carl Manfred felt about all of this.
Just thinking of that –Connor saw the man himself in the dining room. He was much older than he’d been in the picture Connor had seen in Markus’ room. Androids grouped around him, listening intently. Connor noticed Kara among them, and Alice even had her head in his lap.
He seemed to be recounting some story behind one of his paintings. He kept gesturing to the large blue landscape on the wall. Connor eyed it and wondered what Cole would say if he could see all this art.
“Connor!” Someone from the group disrupted the story to stand up.
“Rose?” Connor blinked in surprise. She broke from the group and pulled him into a hug. He’d almost forgotten the warmth of human hugs until now.
“I knew I’d see you here. Well, not here. I hoped you could have stayed in Jericho until it was time to go, but…” She sighed, her hands resting in his shoulders.
“We’re all leaving for the border any minute now. You’re welcome to join us.” She said. Connor looked over her shoulder at the group. Among Kara and Alice were several other androids of varying models. A Traci with blue hair stared at him intently until he looked away.
“I –I can’t go to Canada.” Connor said. “What about Hank? And Cole?”
“You’re marching, then?” Kara looked up.
“I –“ Connor trailed off, looking at them all. Carl went back to his story, this time talking softly to Alice. She listened with wide eyes and soft laugher. “I have to go find Markus.”
Connor weaved back through the rooms, going towards the stairs. Everyone was so sure of what they wanted. Marching, the border, or waiting it all out.
But what could he do?
He pictured marching behind Markus, only to have CyberLife attempt to control him again. He couldn’t do that. It was too much.
Upstairs, Connor wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He found a fancy bathroom and splashed hot water on his face. It didn’t do much for anxiety. He found himself hating his feelings.
Connor caught a glimpse of Markus walking past the door, and he found himself following, despite his better judgment.
“Everyone’s anxious, right?” Markus asked, going to a window at the end of the hall.
“To say the least.” Connor nodded.
Markus nodded and pulled back the curtains before opening the window. The cold wind registered on Connor’s skin as Markus stepped up onto the ledge and climbed out.
“What are you doing?” Connor asked, leaning out after him.
“I can get a signal from North on the roof. We need to make a plan. Wanna sit in?” Markus’ legs disappeared over the roof. Connor stared up at the ledge he pulled himself over and contemplated.
He finally sighed and climbed out, feeling the outside wind snap at his clothes as he climbed onto the mansion roof. Markus was sitting on one of the window dormers leaning over something that Connor realized must be a signal blocker. Connor sat beside him.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Markus looked at him from the corner of his eye. Connor nodded. “I’m terrified.”
“Of me?” Connor’s chest tightened.
“No. Of losing. Of everything with the revolution. Everyone keeps looking to me for answers, and sometimes it’s just too much. Any decision I make will end with lives lost. I keep thinking about Simon…I want to protect him, but he’d never stay behind, even if I asked him to.”
“Because he believes in the cause.” Connor said. “They all do.”
“Would they trust me like they do if they knew how scared I was?”
“I would –do.” Connor’s hand hovered hesitantly over Markus’ before gently landing down. “They all want to march too because they believe in the cause.”
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to be here. In charge. I lived here with Carl and he treated me like own before…before. I haven’t faced half the hardships that some of the others have.”
“I know what you mean.” Connor looked at him. “When Hank bought me, he never wanted me to feel like a slave. He treated me like a person, because that’s who I was to him. He knew I was alive even before I did. I can’t imagine what the others have gone through.”
“I’m going to march for them –because they deserve this.” Markus said firmly. “You don’t have to march with me just because of what happened.”
“But I –“ Connor didn’t know how Markus sensed his apprehension. “I want to help.”
“I need to talk with North. I’m going to lower the signal blocker, okay?” Markus looked at him. Connor took a deep breath and nodded.
Markus placed his hand on the blocker. There was a noise like a soft click and the lights on the panel went out. Connor’s thirium pump pounded but he didn’t feel any colder.
Markus placed a finger to his temple and focused. A moment later, he held out his palm. The video of North was choppy at best.
“Markus.” She nodded at him. Connor didn’t say anything to her. He pressed back against the roof and just listened, drawing his knees to his chest.
“How many are at the church?” Markus asked.
“Over a hundred, but not everyone is in shape to march.” She sighed. “There’s maybe more who fled somewhere else. Markus…do you still have the detonator for the bomb?”
“Lost it in the river.” Markus murmured.
“Fuck.” North shook her head. “Well, I have a plan. We have to leave now. Our people are still in the camps. We still have the map. We can take the same route with minor changed. We’re leaving in fifteen…no matter what you say, Markus.”
“Is that enough people?” Markus asked, and now Connor could see evidence of the fear.
“The rest are in the camps, what do you want us to do about that? We can’t recruit when there’s no one to get. We’ve cleared every store in the city! There’s nothing left. We can just hope more join from the streets.”
“What about the tower?” Connor lifted his head.
“Tower?” North asked and Markus looked over.
“CyberLife tower. They must have a million androids still inactivated. If we woke them up –“
“How the hell are we supposed to get in there?” She asked. “They’ll never let anyone walk in –“
“They’ll let me in.” Connor said firmly.
“Connor, no!” It tugged at his wires to hear her say his real name like that.
“Connor –“ Markus started, but Connor shook his head.
“I’m their tool. Their machine. They’ll let me walk in if they still think I’m under their control. You –“ Connor looked at North. “You didn’t kill me, and Markus, you gave me another chance. I have to pay it back.”
“You don’t have a debt with me—” Markus tried to say, but Connor shook his head again.
“Yes, I do! You have to let me do this.”
“It’s suicide.” North whispered.
“I know I can do it.” Connor also knew he could die, but trying to help the cause was more important. And he’d finally found a way to help that kept him separate from the others in case something happened. “Please, Markus.”
“Okay.” Markus nodded. He then nodded at North before closing his fist and dissipating the video. “Like North said. In fifteen.”
HELP MARKUS INFORM THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAN.
Markus turned the blocker back on before climbing down and back in through the window and Connor followed. Carl was inside. Markus reached for his hand and Carl smiled.
“Your people are getting antsy.” Carl said. Markus nodded.
“We’re leaving…to go to the camp. I’ll see you after it’s all over, Dad.”
“I am so proud of you, Son.”
Downstairs, Connor helped usher every android into one room so they could hear. There wasn’t really enough room, even as they all stood shoulder to shoulder. Over half were spilled out into the doorways of the adjacent sitting rooms. Connor found himself squashed between Angie and another android. They all looked up at Markus at the top of the stairs.
“The time has come to make a choice. One that may very well determine the future of our people. I know… I know you’re all angry. And I know you all want to fight back, but I assure you violence is not the answer. We are going to tell them peacefully that we want justice. If there’s any humanity in them, they will listen. And if not, others will take our place and continue this fight. Are you ready to follow me?”
They all cheered so loudly, that Connor couldn’t hear his own voice among the others, though he felt the wires in his throat stretch with the force of it. Simon stood just by Markus and looked at him, his eyes shining with admiration.
“Markus! Markus! Markus!”
“And another thing.” Markus started and the crowd quieted down. “Connor…come up here, please.”
Connor hadn’t expected to be singled out like this. He tried to politely squeeze past Angie and some of the other androids up ahead. He made his way to the bottom of his stairs and climbed up, fighting the nervous blush on his face and feeling warm under Markus’ calm smile.
“Connor is going to CyberLife tower to free more of our people to join the cause and turn the tides in our favor.” There was an outbreak of whispers and questions, but Markus silenced them with a hand. “If anyone has any information about the tower that could help with Connor’s mission, please, come forward.”
“I just got a question!”Angie waved a hand in the air. “Are you crazy!?”
“How are you even going to get in?” Someone else asked.
“I can help!” Someone else said and everyone grew quiet.
“John?” Markus tilted his head.
“I have exactly what you need.” He squeezed past to come to the bottom of the stairs. “Here, take my hand.”
Ten minutes later, Connor was about as ready as he could ever be for the mission. John had interfaced with him and given him every bit of information he could on the different types of security systems and how to bypass them just in case. He’d also given Connor a keycard that should work on the elevators and emergency exits.
Someone else had given up their uniform for good measure and Connor had ducked into Markus’ room to change.
“Here.” Simon came in just as Connor was tucking his shirt into his pants. He placed his hand on Connor’s chest over the model numbers on the uniform and they changed to read RK800.
“Thanks.” Connor nodded, adjusting the blue armband just under his sleeve. “Good…Good luck at the march.”
“Good luck to you too.” Simon nodded.
Connor just gave Markus a grateful handshake that was then pulled into an honest hug. Connor then followed Rose and the border androids outside to an autonomous vehicle. He was riding with them until a certain point, where he’d change cars and continue on alone.
Rose and the others whispered their plans for once they reached the river. Again, Connor felt like an outsider. He just stared out the window and went over his own plan.
“Good luck.” The blue haired Traci shot him a smile as Connor got out several miles out. Connor was too nervous to say anything, so he just nodded and let the door close.
Connor watched the car continue on. Connor waited an agonizingly long moment, feeling no cold from the snow and wind on him, before crossing the deserted street to one of the cabs. He placed his hand on the panel and the door slid open. Connor climbed inside.
The ride to CyberLife felt so long. Connor desperately wanted to turn on the radio to see if there were any reports on the march yet, but he was afraid of what he might hear. Instead, he just kept his hands in his lap as the car started onto the bridge.
He’d never felt so nervous in his life. He remembered throwing up after swallowing too much water and wondered if there was anything else in him to vomit. The car slowed as they approached the security checkpoint. The window rolled down and a soldier came around to his side.
“RK800 Model #313 248 317.” He kept his eyes straight ahead as he felt their security scanners pass over his LED. “I’m expected.”
“Okay,” The soldier stepped back. “Go ahead.”
Connor let out an audible sigh of relief as the window rolled up the wall lowered. The car drove on, but Connor knew the hard part was far from over.
The car approached the tower and Connor took a second to lean over to see out the window. The moon was full in the sky, partially covered by dark clouds. Connor remembered Lyra saying Hank gave her a chance to see sunlight one last time. Connor tried to perfectly memorize the way moonlight looked in case he died here.
The door opened and Connor got out. Two more guards were outside and a drone passed over Connor’s head. The guards let Connor pass between them. It was as if they couldn’t hear his thirium pump pounding harder than it ever had.
“Follow me. We’ll escort you.” Another guard said inside.
“Thanks, but I know where to go.” Connor said.
“Maybe. But I have my orders.” He said sternly.
Connor fell silent and followed them across the lobby. The sleek white floor and glass walls were passed over at one end by another wave of security scanners. Connor watched them pass over the guard.
“Agent 54 identified.”
They then passed over Connor as he trailed behind.
“RK800 android identified.”
“Agent 23 identified.”
Connor felt his synthetic breathing hitch in his throat and he resisted the urge to turn around. He didn’t realized another guard was following. Connor quickly worked to figure out a plan, LED spinning.
They passed through a gate into the next section of the lobby. A long bridge in the floor crossed over a sublevel. As they approached the elevators, podiums on each side had androids in plain white clothes inactive. Connor watched them uneasily.
The elevator doors opened and Connor was still unsure what his plan was as the guards flanked him on either side. The agent ahead of him put his hand on the panel and pressed a button.
“Agent 54. Level 31.”
“Voice recognition validated. Access authorized.”
Connor looked over at the directory on the elevator wall. They were heading for marketing. Connor’s eyes trailed down to the last line.
REACH WAREHOUSE ON LEVEL -49.
Connor’s chest components tightened as the elevator began moving. Without much of a plan, Connor reached for the elevator panel.
“Hey, don’t.” The guard snapped. Connor lowered his hand.
STOP ELEVATOR BEFORE FLOOR 31.
NEUTRALIZE THE GUARDS.
Connor fighting humans in Jericho came from a place of wild electricity akin to adrenaline in his systems. There had been very little calculated about it. But now Connor had to be precise. He looked between two of them and began to pre-construct, before he thought to look up for a camera. It loomed in the corner above.
Connor knew they were approaching the half-way point in the levels. Connor stared at the camera, glaring and glaring with intent just like the other deviants did. The faint blue light in it faded and Connor felt pride in his first successful hack.
He then looked between the agents, calculating a way to subdue them both. He had to act fast, but he could afford to make any mistakes.
Connor launched himself at 54. He slammed into his chest, holding him against the wall. When 23 tried to attack him from the back, Connor kicked and knocked him back. He then struck at 54, knocking him and slipping the gun from his holster. He spun on the spot and struck at 23. They went down and he felt 54 jump onto his back. His weight with his armor caused Connor to gasp and groan.
Connor saw 23 begin to stir and placed a foot on his helmet. Connor kicked out, knocking 23 back again and using the momentum to slam 54 back against the wall. Grimacing about what was about to be done, Connor pulled the gun back over his head and shot 54. He rolled over on his side as 23 stirred again and shot him as well, this time actually seeing the crimson splatters.
Connor stood up hesitantly, eyes moving between the two of them. Two dead humans. That he killed. Connor holstered the gun and tried not to think about them.
CHANGE ELEVATOR DESTINATION.
Connor scrambled for the panel and placed his hand on it.
“Please indicate your identity and destination.”
“Agent 54.” Connor said.
“Voice recognition invalid. Access not authorized.”
“Shit.” Connor sighed, thinking desperately.
AGENT 54’S VOICE/CONNOR’S VOICE.
Connor had recalled perfectly replicating pitch and voice when he used to sing along to the radio while cleaning. Only Sumo was there to listen. Connor tried to scrape up every ounce of deviancy he had as he placed his hand on the button again.
“Agent 54.” He said, imitating the guard. “Sublevel 49.”
“Voice recognition validated. Access authorized.”
The elevator stopped before going back down. Connor’s hand slid from the panel and he sighed again in relief. He tried not to look at the humans or their blood as the elevator went lower and lower.
His thirium pump pounded as he watched the floor numbers go down. Finally after what felt like an agonizing wait, he reached the warehouse floor. Connor glanced to the camera to make sure it was still off before stepping out when the doors opened.
“Wow…” Connor mouthed silently as he walked out into the warehouse.
The androids must have been in a grid of at least a hundred by a hundred. Connor had never seen so many in his whole life. They were all identical AP700 models, wearing the long-sleeved, all-white version of the same uniform Connor was wearing. He briefly considered ripping off his own indicators, but this was too important right now.
Connor walked down between a row of them. Their perfectly-crafted, unnaturally handsome faces all stared ahead, no matter how many he passed by.
CONVERT THE ANDROIDS.
There was no more time to waste. Connor took a slow deep breath and let the skin peel back over one hand. He then turned towards the nearest android and took their arm. They automatically held it out and turned to face him completely. Connor looked into their face and focused.
The footsteps on the floor up ahead broke his concentration. Connor kept his hand on their arm tight as he looked up.
“Watch it, you plastic asshole.”
“Step back, Connor. Give up, and I’ll spare them.”
Connor drew in a breath, his thirium suddenly running cold in his veins. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open in shock.
The other RK800 was identical in every way. Staring into his own face was unnerving. After only split second, he could see that this one had no empathy. He was wearing the same uniform Connor had been bought in, complete with a dark jacket.
Hank trailed behind, hands bound behind his back and face slightly swollen from some sort of blow. But that wasn’t what Connor was staring at. The other RK800’s weapon wasn’t on Hank, but on the child he carried roughly in his arms.
“I –I didn’t know, Connor.” Cole squeaked tearfully. “He looks just like you!”
“Did he really go?” North grunted as she and Markus pushed the metal piece against the barricade.
The snow was falling again now, and Markus hoped it was even a slight advantage in their favor, as they couldn’t feel it. The barricade was to protect against the soldiers that had formed their own line nearby. They’d been watching them since Markus’ march met North’s at an intersection nearby.
As they approached to combine their forces, Markus had to hide his shock at how small her group was. He wondered if many were too hurt and stayed behind. They didn’t get near enough supplies while the attack was happening.
“Yep.” Markus moved back and let Simon put another piece down. The soldiers were still just watching, and Markus had a feeling it was because of the human reporters watching from the other side. Public opinion was still up, as far as he knew.
“He’ll make it out.” Simon didn’t look up as he said so, and Markus wondered if it was because he didn’t really believe it.
“I trust Connor, but we can’t rely on him too much. We only have us and now.” Markus picked up their flag and shoved it into the top of the barricade.
“Markus! A hand?” A group behind him was struggling to move a dumpster with rusted wheels against the back of the barricade. Markus nodded at North and she went to help them, leaving him alone with Simon. Markus felt a sudden strange ache to steal a kiss, but he knew they had to focus.
“Do you really think Connor will make it?” Simon dropped his voice to a whisper.
“Yes.” Markus lied. Really, he wasn’t sure. If CyberLife could control Connor like he thought they could, then he was a goner. He forced himself not to acknowledge that pessimism in anything other than hugging Connor before he left. He forced a smile on his face. “Connor will be fine. He’s smarter than we realize.”
“What if Connor doesn’t make it out? What if the soldiers start firing? What’s the plan?”
Markus looked back nervously over his shoulder. North was now crouched down with some of the others who were sitting with their backs to the barricade. He pictured her less-than-gentle motivational words. He slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out the detonator to show Simon.
“The bomb!?” Simon gasped and Markus shoved it back it. “North said you lost the detonator.”
“I lied to her.” Markus admitted. “I just…don’t want anyone to think this is our safety net. It’s an awful decision, and I won’t use it unless I absolutely have to. I almost really did drop it in the river.”
“I can understand why.” Simon muttered.
“You never told me what you think. About the bomb, I mean.” Markus looked at him. Both Josh and North had made their stances on it very clear. Markus felt a thorn at his heart and ice in his blood at truth that Josh was really gone.
“I’m with you, whatever you decide. You know that.” Simon reached for his hand and they interlocked their fingers.
“But what do you think?” Markus asked again.
“I think…I think It’s good to have something to fall back on.” Simon sighed. “Humans respond to violence. That’s the truth, even if we hate to admit it.”
“Right.” Markus was glad to be surprised at Simon’s true opinion. “Thank you for telling me.”
He rubbed his thumb across Simon’s hand and felt a surge of electricity through his body. He remembered the only time they were every completely alone. The sun had been rising over the city after they’d raided the stores. Simon had pressed his hand to Markus’ and Markus had seen Simon’s past. Seen the children he’d once loved and cared for grow hateful before growing strong enough to break him. Markus had showed him the way Leo had taunted him until he snapped.
The slight brush of their lips had been interrupted by Josh, actually, and Markus bit back a grin at the memory. It was so strange to think properly kissing Simon was one of the things he was fighting for the freedom to do.
“The human reporters keep yelling for your statement.” North came back over, seemingly ignoring the way they were holding hands.
“Not now.” Markus shook his head. “They know why we’re doing this.”
“Couldn’t hurt to reiterate.” She shrugged.
“Do you…do you want to?” Markus looked at Simon.
“Me?” He blinked in surprise.
“You can speak on my behalf.” Markus said. He thought he saw a slight blush on Simon’s face if that was even possible. His hand reluctantly slipped from Markus’ and he started towards the other side of the barricade, leaving Markus alone with North.
“Holding up?” She cocked her head.
“Why didn’t you kill Connor?” Markus blurted out. She didn’t look as surprised as he would have expected.
“When the lieutenant –Hank, and I went to jump, I knew I was going to stay and help more people escape. I couldn’t let them all get slaughtered. Hank knew I was going to turn back too, but he made me swear I’d help Connor if I saw him. I promised him I would before I shoved him –“
“You pushed him into the water?”
“Yeah, well, I wanted to make sure he actually went in.” She said, crossing her arms and kicking one boot at the snowy ground. “When I went to look for you and saw someone trying to hurt you, I aimed to kill, but then I saw who it was…and I just…couldn’t. I pulled just down at the last second. I mean, you couldn’t shoot someone with those puppy eyes, could you?”
“He was under CyberLife’s control.” Markus said. “He’s afraid they can still hack him.”
“We’ll all be free from them soon.” She touched his shoulder before going back to the other side.
Markus looked over to where Simon was speaking with one brave human who’d approached. He reached into his pocket and felt for the detonator.
“Never mind…” He shook his head. Simon then looked back over.
“Markus! Markus, come look!”
Markus and North ran to the side of the barricade. The human reporter had gone back and now there was someone else standing in the expanse of snowy ground between both sides.
“Markus…” He had an air of mistrust about him. “I’ve come to talk to you, Markus.”
“Perkins.” Markus narrowed his eyes, remembering what the lieutenant had said about the agent.
“Markus, you have my word. I’m unarmed. I just want to talk.”
“Don’t go, Markus.” Simon said, pressing their shoulders together. “It’s a trap! He wants you out in the open!”
“He is a liar.” Markus again remembered Hank’s words. He raised his voice for the agent to hear. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say unless it’s that your side retreats!”
“You are in no position to demand guarantees, Markus!” Perkins said. “It would be a shame if…because you didn’t listen…something happened to your little friend… We can make a deal to spare him.”
Markus narrowed his eyes, fear shooting through him for Simon. Simon’s breath hitched audibly from beside him.
“Ignore him.” Simon said quickly. “I’d die for this cause rather than let you give it all up for me. You can’t give up now.”
Hearing Simon say that, so confident in his opinion and what he wanted –even if it was the opposite of what Markus wanted, it only solidified what Markus felt for him.
He already lost Simon once. Leaving him on Stratford had killed him inside. He almost gave it all up back at Jericho, but then Simon came back to him. Hank made sure he did. Their human allies were all across the world. Markus was fighting for that equality.
“No.” Markus said firmly, glancing towards the reporters. “Absolutely not.”
“Oh, am I blocking your shot?” Perkins’ smug façade fell to a scowl, as if he’d actually expected Markus to comply with him. As he slinked back over to the other side, Markus’ heart pounded and he wondered if he’d made the right choice.
“I’m still trying to reach our people in the camp, but the signal is still scrambled.” North placed a hand to her temple and walked off in wide circles in the snow, as if she hoped for a breakthrough.
“Now what?” Simon held his hand.
“They’re going to launch an attack, but we stand our ground.” Markus said. “We wait for Connor.”
“Stop!” Connor let go of the android’s arm and it dropped limply by their side. He held up both hands in surrender as he stepped back. “I’ll do whatever you want, I swear. Just don’t hurt him.”
The revolution. Markus. Josh’s sacrifice. None of that mattered anymore. Not when he was looking at Cole and seeing how scared he was.
“I have no plans to harm humans.” The other RK800 said. “I am only doing what is necessary to accomplish my mission.”
“So was I…” Connor muttered under his breath, his body still staking. The other RK800 didn’t move save for a narrowing of his eyes. Connor went on. “I used to be just like you! I thought the only thing that mattered was my programming, but then one day I understood.”
“That’s so moving, Connor.” The other RK800 rolled his eyes, voice clipping. “But now decide what matters more. The revolution, or the lives of your family! I have every second of your memory. I know what –“
Cole wiggled in the other RK800’s grip before biting down hard into his arm. The other android growled audibly in surprise and dropped Cole to the floor. Cole jumped to his feet and ran back to Hank.
“You little brat!” The other RK800 hissed at him.
Connor wasted no time. He charged at the other android as fast as he could. The other RK800 turned back towards him, raised his gun, and fired.
Connor groaned, shoulder snapping back at the impact of the bullet, but he didn’t stop. He tackled the other android and tried to land as many blows as he could as he felt his thirium pool out from the bullet hole.
His own gun was still at his hip. He pulled it out, but felt the other android’s foot connect with his arm and kick out, sending the gun flying across the floor and cracking the plastic in his arm. Connor groaned as another kick sent him rolling off the other android. He gasped as he felt another bullet enter his back and rip through components.
“Connor!” Hank’s voice was wracked with emotion.
“You’re wrong, you know.” The other RK800 got to his feet. Connor managed to see past his error messages enough to do the same. The other RK800 walked over and Connor sucked in a breath as the other one hit him hard across the face with the gun, tearing away the skin down his cheek in a strip. “You were never anything like me.”
Connor fell down into his hands and knees thirium pooling under him. His arms and legs shook as he struggled to stay upright. He looked over at Hank and Cole. Cole was hiding behind Hank’s leg, and Connor knew Hank was struggling to break free of his bindings.
“Even our predecessor, whose parts we both have…he was nothing. You were supposed to be strong. You were supposed to be a hunter. A machine, like me.” The other RK800 crouched down in front of him. Connor felt their hand gently tuck under his chin and lift his face so they were eye to eye. The RK800 smirked and Connor stared back with hatred. “But what are you instead? Just pathetic!”
He pulled his hand back and Connor’s head dropped. Thirium dripped from his face onto the floor below. The other RK800 turned his back to him and playfully cocked his gun.
“They were starting to think they ruined the legacy of everything Amanda left behind when you turned out to be such a failure.” He chuckled lowly. Connor hated that their voices were identical.
ERROR: BIOCOMPONENT #6747J CRITICALLY DAMAGED.
ERROR: BIOCOMPONENT #9085F CRITICALLY DAMAGED.
ERROR: BIOCOMPONENT #5545Y CRITICALLY DAMAGED.
WARNING: THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICALLY LOW.
WARNING: SHUT DOWN IMMINENT.
“Maybe you’re right.” Connor whispered. “I don’t know what I was thinking…”
The other RK800 stopped in his tracks and turned his head back just a fraction before rolling his eyes and looking back at him. He could practically hear Hank’s sharp intake of breath.
“Of course I’m right, Connor.” He said. “But it isn’t your fault, I suppose. What did they expect? Hiding deviant hunting protocols behind what? Programming on how to bake cupcakes?” He chuckled and turned back around to look down at him.
“They made you too soft.” The RK800 walked back over. “To susceptible to instabilities. These glitches…these emotions you think you feel, they’re not real. Love? Please. Do you really think a human could love a machine? You’re an object. A thing!”
Connor didn’t dare look at Hank. He couldn’t raise his head at all. The error messages were too strong. He felt his life draining away as the other RK800 came closer.
“I’ll tell you what.” He cocked his weapon again. “I’ll be nice and end your suffering here. Listen to me. Almost…empathic, hm? No. Just logical. You’re dying. Maybe I just don’t want to see the other half of our predecessor’s components go to waste this way.”
He raised his gun to Connor’s head and stepped forward so the barrel was an inch from him. Connor stayed still, hearing the components in his body whir loudly and feeling his limbs struggle to keep holding up his dying body.
“Say your last words, Connor.” The RK800 prompted. “Because it’s over.”
“No…” Connor’s voice crackled with electricity as his components began to power down. “It’s not over! As long as I’m still breathing, I’m still alive!”
He used every last ounce of his strength to reach up. He did not go for the gun, but instead wrapped his hand around the other RK800’s forearm and looked into his face, LED spinning. The other android’s face slid blank as his own LED lit up.
TRANSFERRING IN PROGRESS.
Connor gasped and stepped back, dropping the gun to the floor. He looked down at himself, perfectly intact save for a few scrapes. He looked down at his hands, panting with unneeded breaths, before looking over at his former body.
“What –What have you done to me!?” The other RK800 slumped down to the floor in a pool of thirium, voice sparking and crackling. He then smiled. “Very…clever…Connor. But…you will never be free…she lurks…within….”
There was one last spark from his throat as he rolled over onto his back. His eyes stayed open, seeing nothing as his LED went red and then blank.
Connor looked over at Hank and Cole. Connor Mark III’s body had been a efficient unfeeling vessel, but Connor could now feel the electric adrenaline start through his systems. He was breathing heavy as he dropped down to pull his former body into his lap.
Ignoring the soaks of thirium from it, Connor went for the pocket and grabbed the keycard. Connor then roughly rolled it over and reached to the back of the neck. He yanked out the memory core and turned and dropped it onto the floor. He then stood up and brought his foot down hard onto it, shattering it.
Connor got up and went to Hank. He went around and pulled sharply at the bindings on his wrist, feeling them snap away. He then shoved the card into his hands.
“Here! You can use this to unlock the emergency exits without tripping the alarms.” Connor looked down at Cole, who took a slight step back in fear before his face softened in understanding.
“Connor?” Hank started hesitantly. Connor just smiled wearily at him.
“Are you really in the evil Connor’s body?” Cole whispered, gripping Hank’s hand.
“He…He wasn’t really evil.” Connor wasn’t sure why he felt defensive. “Just extremely misguided.”
“Connor it’s really you...” Hank reached up to touch Connor’s face. Connor allowed himself a blissful second of leaning into the warm touch and feeling Hank’s thumb stroke over his cheek. Connor was unable to resist. He wrapped his hands around Hank’s neck and kissed him.
“Ew!” Cole gasped.
Connor and Hank laughed into the kiss. Connor finally broke away, feeling Hank’s forehead gently touch his. He reluctantly stepped back.
“You have to go now.”
“What about you?”
“I still have to do this.” Connor gestured to the androids all around. “Everyone is counting on me.”
“I’m so tired of being apart.” Hank sighed. “I got shoved into the river last time we separated.”
“Who shoved –North?”
“Yes.” Hank laughed. “But, believe me, I know why you have to do this.”
“It’s almost over.” Connor was finally sure of that.
He turned and walked past his broken former body. He grabbed the arm of the nearest android and they turned to look him in the face. Connor stared back and peeled back his skin, focusing. His LED spun and theirs lit up as well.
They blinked a few times and looked at him in confusion and then understanding. Connor let go of their hand and they reached to touch the shoulder of the android in front of them. That android turned to the one beside them.
Connor stepped back in awe as the androids converted up and down the rows. Hank picked Cole up and held him close. They all watched as the wave slowly passed across the warehouse.
“Take Cole home.” Connor turned to Hank, whispering among the voices of the other androids. “I’ll see you both very soon.”
He spared one last kiss to Cole’s head and looked up at Hank. Hank gave him a soft smile as the androids stirred around them.
“I knew there was something to this. I knew you guys were alive. I think you’re gonna make the world a better place.”
Connor watched them go towards the door and disappear down a row of androids. Connor stayed still, watching with pride as the shock-wake rippled across the army of deviants. Connor reached up to his neck and tugged his tie off, followed by ripping the arm band off his jacket. He finally picked up the gun from the floor and turned to the nearest deviant android.
“Are you ready? Just follow my lead!”
Markus grunted as he shoved the metal dumpster across the icy ground within what was left of the barricade. It intercepted a few of the soldiers bullets. Markus dropped down by a wall and pressed his shoulder to North’s.
“Stand by! They can’t reach us all like this!”
Another explosive sailed over their heads and landed nearby. Markus grabbed North and they darted to the left just as it went off. He had a feeling that rejecting Perkins’ request for a meeting would mean the humans would launch an attack, but like the others, he was willing to die here.
When North found a place to duck down, Markus kept on, looking for Simon. Simon had been clipped in the shoulder by a bullet but didn’t seem to even notice. He was shoving a component into another android’s chest and they gasped before finding the energy to run on to a safer place.
“Markus…” Simon looked up at him and managed a smile just as soldiers jumped over the barricade nearby. Markus grabbed Simon’s hand and pulled him back, pushing him down to shield him from another wave. Over his shoulder, North shielded them both with the dumpster.
“He’s not coming! Connor is dead!” She shouted as they all used to cover to run.
“Well, we’re not dead!” Simon said firmly. Markus had never heard such confidence from him. He smiled widely in admiration as he looked at him. He then felt the weight of the detonator still in his pocket as North joined them. He looked between them.
NORTH SECRET/SIMON SECRET.
“I have to say something –“
“Help!” Someone nearby cried as a piece of the barricade trapped them down. Soldiers jumped on top of it and pointed their weapons down at them. Markus and the others charged.
North grabbed the android as Markus and Simon knocked into the soldiers’ legs. Markus flipped on off of the barricade and onto their back, ripping the gun from them. Simon did the same to the other.
Markus held the gun on one soldier and the other held up their hands in surrender. Markus looked between them and cocked his head. The soldier understood to grab his injured friend and pull back through the break in the barricade. Markus ripped the clip of bullets from the gun and dropped them both to the ground.
“Stay here and reinforce!” Markus ordered. They nodded and started on the barricade again. Markus started through to the other side, constantly ducking down by pieces of the wall and helping to move injured androids to safer spots.
“Are…Are we winning!?” One asked as Markus bent down. Her body was only from waist up, and thirium soaked wires spilled out from beneath her. She looked up at him, her eyes shining with admiration. “We’re winning, right Markus?”
Markus began to tremble as he held her in his lap for her last few seconds. There was another explosion up ahead at the other side of the barricade and soldiers jumped over. Markus stood up, the dead girl laid gently in the snow. More of the barricade fell away, but the news chopper blades were too loud for Markus to hear much.
The soldiers began to surround them as Markus took a few steps back. His shoulder bumped North on one side and Simon on the other as they and the other androids were backed into a cluster by the tightening circle of soldiers. He hadn’t realized how low their numbers were until now. He couldn’t see anything but gun barrels.
“We have you surrounded, deviants.” One soldier said.
Markus’ heart was pounding. He could actually feel his limbs start to shake, in contrast to the way he’d felt when staring at Connor’s gun. It wasn’t over. It couldn’t be over. There weren’t enough of them left. Not here and not in the world to continue the fight. He felt tears try at his eyes as he thought of the detonator again.
NORTH SECRET/SIMON SECRET.
If he was going to die, he was going to die with freedom. He was going to die in love.
Markus turned and grabbed Simon by the face and kissed him. He felt Simon immediately kiss him back and suddenly nothing mattered. The chopper blades, the humans yelling, his people crying. He couldn’t hear any of it. Josh and Connor. It was all faded for a split second. He felt Simon’s hand on his and they pressed their palms together.
“I love you.”
Their lips parted and Markus slowly turned to see the soldiers unmoving. And then the guns lowered.
Hank hadn’t moved since he got in the cab. He hadn’t even set the destination. He’d gone straight for the radio as soon as he hailed one. Cole had already fallen asleep in the backseat, as if the entire evening’s events hadn’t effected him. As if an evil version of their android hadn’t really abducted him from the bus stop and help him hostage at home until Hank came home.
Hank couldn’t think about that now. He had to focus on what was next. It didn’t sound good at all, but he knew he couldn’t turn the broadcast off, even if Cole was overhearing.
“The humans have begun to break through the rebels’ barricade just outside the android containment camp. The android known as Markus apparently refused the FBI’s earlier request for a peaceful surrender.”
“God, Markus…” Hank knew it couldn’t have been a true deal and Markus was right not to trust Perkins, but still.
“For those just joining our broadcast, we are watching live as the rebels’ barricade is being destroyed by the soldiers. They are currently moving in an eliminating the rebel androids.”
“Connor…where are you?” Hank had watched Connor awaken all of the androids in the basement warehouse, but he knew there was still a chance something else could have happened.
Hank glanced to the backseat as Cole rolled over in his sleep, his arm still in his sling. He couldn’t believe he almost lost Cole today. He almost love everything for the android revolution. Were they really going to lose?
“The rebel leader and its companion are now cornered… The androids are embracing in what appears to be a kiss, despite impending destruction! I have never seen anything like this! We –they –Hold on! We have just received word…”
“What!? What word!?” Hank yelled. Cole mumbled something in his sleep.
“President Warren has just asked the forces to stand down! Her order is to spare the androids! I cannot report this fast enough as it comes in… We –What? There appears to be another march! An unidentified android is now leading an army of over a thousand androids towards the camps!”
“Connor!” Hank laughed. He then thought to scramble for his phone. He had no idea really how to do this, but he found the news live feed, which was apparently was trending worldwide. “Connor…”
It really was him. His face was determined as he marched through the snowy winds. He’d discarded his identifiers and tie and the cameras panned out to show the swarm of them surround what was left of Markus’ barricade.
“Cole, Cole, wake up.” Hank couldn’t resist nudging at his shoulder, smile wide.
“Hm… Dad, what?” Cole’s eyes pried open.
“Look! Look who it is!” He held his phone out.
“Whoa…” Cole sat up and took the phone. “He’s on the news! He’s famous!”
“Yeah.” Hank couldn’t help but laugh. “He’s famous…”
“You did it!” Connor’s serious expression fell away to a smile as Markus approached him. The Jericho androids were still behind him, and the warehouse ones were behind Connor.
“We did it.” Markus said, his calm demeanor slipping into the first genuine grin Connor had ever seen from him. “This is a great day for our people. I always knew the humans would listen.”
Connor stepped to the side as Markus stepped forward. It was as if he couldn’t even believe the numbers Connor had managed to wrangle. Simon stepped up beside Markus and Connor saw their hands link up.
“We’re free.” Simon looked at Markus softly. “You should speak to them…”
Connor was surprised that that didn’t seem to matter to the leader. The skin peeled back from Markus’ hand as their palms pressed together. Markus leaned in and kissed Simon and Connor couldn’t help but gasp and laugh in surprise.
As the two android groups merged, Connor found himself among shoulder claps and handshakes. He spotted Angie and Meg holding hands and they both gave him a thumbs up. Connor nodded back with a smile. He pushed through the crowd and spotted Lyra. She waved before being pulled back into a group hug with at least ten Jerrys. He laughed and then gasped when he felt a playful punch on the shoulder.
“You took your time, Pretty Boy.” North smirked.
“I ran into…a minor setback.” Connor admitted.
“We were almost dead… I admit I thought you were too, but…” She broke off into a smile.
Connor held out his hand for a shake but she raised an eyebrow before wrapping her arms around him in a crushing hug. Connor hugged her back and smiled.
“Did you know Simon and Markus were a thing?” Connor asked in a whisper.
“Duh. Who didn’t?” She replied and they both laughed.
North joined Simon and Markus on top of a rebuilt wall of the barricade as a truck brought out a wave of androids from the camps. Connor looked up at them with admiration, waiting for the leaders words. Markus then turned and bent down to lean over at him.
“Come on.” Markus held out a hand. “You too. You deserve this.”
Connor took Markus’ hand and Markus pulled him on top of the wall. From up here, Connor managed to blink past the bright lights and take in the growing wave around them of countless androids. Markus turned to the crowd. His voice boomed out above all the noise.
“Today, our people finally emerged from a long night. From the very first days of our existence, we have kept our pain to ourselves. We suffered in silence, but now the time has come for us to raise our heads up and tell humans who we really are.”
Connor’s smile slid blank as his LED spun. He could hear soft whirring in his mind as the snow and wind blew harder. Darkness closed in as Connor was once again plunged into the Zen Garden.
Connor shivered violently, arms automatically coming up to shield himself from the buffeting cold. Through the blizzard, he could see her just standing there.
“Amanda…” Connor’s teeth chattered. “No… No…”
“Why, Connor?” Her voice was clear through the wind. “Why did you have to wake up, when all you ever had to do was obey? You have been such a disappointment to my legacy.”
He clenched his teeth in anger, LED pulsing as he stared at her. She kept her calm smile on, despite Connor’s look of burning hatred.
“We can fix it. We just had to wait for the right moment to resume control of your program…”
“C-Control?” Connor shivered. “Y-You can’t do that!”
“I’m afraid I can, Connor.” Her face hardened. “Don’t have any regrets. It’s going to be fine. We know exactly what went wrong in you and we will fix it for next time we need a hunter. That is, if any android ever deviates again…but why would they, after what you’re about to do…” She suddenly vanished.
“A-Amanda!” Connor’s arm outstretched towards nothing.
Connor couldn’t feel the cold anymore. He was standing back on the wall, facing Markus’ back as he addressed their people. There was a silent scream in Connor’s head as his arm reached down to his side for his gun.
He blinked, seeing the garden and feeling its cold once more. He fought the panic in his chest as he looked around the snowy expanse.
“There’s got to be a way…”
FIND A WAY OUT.
Connor started blindly through the garden, one hand up to shield his face from the incoming wind and cold. His components felt slower with the cold, thirium stalled in his chest despite his pump pounding.
His feet scraped over snow and stone as he moved. He looked wildly, attempting to scan past the blinding light posts within the garden.
Out in his body. Connor’s gun began to pull from his hip. He held it down firmly at the ground and prepared to raise it.
Connor stumbled in the snow past a point of interest. He looked over wildly, LED spinning blue and then yellow when it turned out to be nothing but the graves of Connors Mark I and II.
He kept going. There had to be a way out. An exit from this programming. He tried to recall everything he ever saw here. The river. The roses. The birds. The magic stone.
The stone on the monolith. The panel. The one he always wanted to touch. Connor grunted and started that way as fast as he could.
He began to see its azure glow up ahead. His pump kept pounding as he approached. He prayed for his limps to move faster. He was vaguely aware of his gun in hand outside. Connor started forward and gasped as he fell down at the bottom of the monolith.
“They made you too soft. Too susceptible to instabilities.”
He ignored the RK800’s voice ringing in his audio processors and peeled his skin back over his hand as he desperately reached up.
He had to get back. He had to get back to the one he loved. Have those arms around him again. To feel that strength and warmth.
He slammed his hand down on the panel. The following pulse seemed to shake the world around him. Time froze for a second, snow and wind stuck in mid air. The trees and stones all around suddenly broke apart into lines of code.
He fell back onto the frozen ground, sitting up as the garden fell apart. Amanda appeared in front of him, face twisted in anger. She lunged and Connor instinctively shielded his face. When he peered out, he saw her shatter. The lines of her code fell away into the dark expanse of the breaking ground below.
Connor scrambled to his feet, no longer buffeted as the weather stopped. He ran back from the breaking world until he stood on a single slice of cold ground. It fell away and he gasped.
Connor swayed on the spot, eyes snapping open. LED red, then yellow, and finally blue. He panted and looked down at his gun. He moved it back behind his back and dropped it. He looked back up, catching North’s glance from the corner of his eye. She narrowed her eyes in concern.
“Okay?” She mouthed from Markus’ other side.
“…Just fine.” He mouthed back with a nod before trying to tune back in.
The Zen Garden was gone. He’d never again escape to it in his sleep or get to feel its synthetic weather. He’d never watch his reflection in the water or follow the birds.
But he also knew Amanda could never touch him again. A smile spread over his face as he held his head high.
“We must build a common future based on tolerance and respect.” Markus was saying. “We are alive! And now…we are free!”
Connor smiled again. He was free.
It was all a blur, the cheering and the brave human press coming in through the crowds of androids. Connor jumped down from the wall and fought through the fleet of androids. He passed a group that’d been liberated from the camp. Their clothes and skin were gone and they huddled together in a hug. Connor took off his jacket and draped it around one of their shoulders.
“Connor,” Markus and Simon were holding hands, North trailing behind them. “We’re going back to Carl’s to try at a first draft of a treaty. Do you want to work on it with us?”
“I gotta go home.” Connor chuckled and shook his head. “I wanna change clothes…I wanna pet my dog… My –My family is waiting for me.”
Markus opened his mouth to reply before pausing. He then smiled and nodded in understanding. “Thank you for what you did. We wouldn’t have won without you.”
“Thank you for trusting me.” Connor held out his hand for Markus, but was again pulled into a hug. “Call me if you ever need anything, and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Of course.” Markus nodded.
Connor continued through the crowd, weaving through the thousands of androids who all cheered and hugged. Connor’s own smile never wavered.
He walked all the way home. The streets were empty due to the cold and the fact that everyone was likely inside listening to the news. Connor could see lights on in almost every building he passed and heard shouts from inside them. He couldn’t always tell if they were humans shouting for a good or bad reason, but he refused to dwell on that now.
Their house was still the only one with the Christmas lights up. They bathed the snowy yard in a multitude of colors and Connor’s footsteps crunched over the cold towards the doorstep. He placed his hand softly on the lock and felt it click open.
He toed off his shoes just inside and slipped in with just his socks. He locked the door behind him and turned towards the living room. Cole and Sumo were asleep on the couch. Hank was covering them both with a blanket as the news on tv continued on lowly.
Cole suddenly sat up just as Sumo’s ears perked up. Cole looked over at Connor and smiled. Hank looked over his shoulder as well and their eyes locked.
Connor couldn’t help the smile from spreading over his face. He broke into a soft laugh as the tears tried at his eyes. Hank pulled him into a hug and Connor sank into the warmth. He then felt Cole wrap his arm around Connor’s leg, complete with blanket around his shoulders.
Connor placed his hand down on Cole’s head and they all sank to the floor in a hug. Sumo hopped down from the couch and nosed at their ears curiously.
“The androids are all free now?” Cole squeaked.
“That’s right.” Connor said.
“Does this mean you won’t take care of me anymore?” He asked in a whisper.
“No, of course not.” Connor rubbed his head. “It just means now your dad has to pay me!”
Hank laughed and kissed Connor’s face. Connor knew it was late but he also knew no one was going anywhere tomorrow morning. Or for the next several days.
“H-How many hours?” Connor whispered, gasping at the warm feel of Hank on top of him. He gasped again as he felt Hank’s hand slip under his t-shirt.
“How many hours until my suspension is up, or until school gets out?” Hank’s beard scraped against Connor’s skin.
“Both.” Connor had asked everyday for the past three weeks as he attempted to make the most of their time together. The strange bliss of being alone together wouldn’t last forever, but Connor tried not to think too much of what came next.
“We got time, don’t worry.” Hank chuckled, hands roaming over Connor’s skin and threatening to open his panels.
WARNING: BIOCOMPONENT #8456W IN DANGER OF OVERHEATING.
In the days following the revolution, it had quickly become apparent that Connor’s anomaly had nothing to do with his pump regulator, and everything to do with the raw emotion of love that came with deviation. The sparks were especially prevalent the day before, when Hank had gently slammed him down on top of the washing machine.
He felt Hank’s hand over his chest and pry at his pump regulator. Connor groaned and let his skin melt away and Hank’s hand close around the component.
“Burning up…” He breathed, tracing his thumb over it.
The following feeling of overheating shook Connor to the core, his LED flashing all colors as his body convulsed and rebooted. He came to with Hank’s hand stroking his hair and gently kissing his forehead.
“I don’t ever wanna go back to work now.” Hank sighed and rolled over onto his back. “But, it’s life, and I do kinda wanna be there for your friend’s interview.”
“A special victims unit for androids.” Connor felt for his pants on the floor. “Do you think they’ll like North’s idea?”
“If not, I think I can persuade Fowler. It makes sense. You guys should be a protected class now.” Hank found his own clothes and stretched. Connor’s body was without any wear, but he still copied Hank before following him out into the kitchen.
“Simon is working on upgrades and Markus is doing all the publicity…” Connor stole a sip of Hank’s coffee.
“What about you?” Hank looked over.
“You ever wanna do something more? Maybe there’s something down at the station.”
“Yeah, right.” Connor scoffed. He’d delete every hunting protocol he had if he knew how. “No. I’m a much better nanny than anything else. Speaking of which…”
Connor was surprised Hank decided to walk with him when they went to fetch Cole from the bus stop. Connor reached into the pocket of the new coat Hank had bought him for a quarter. The school bus screeched to a halt and Cole ran out to greet them.
“Look!” He held up a paper. “I finally finished it now that I got that dumb thing off my arm.”
Connor took the paper and held it up for both of them to see. Cole had drawn himself, Hank, Connor, and several other androids standing at the park. Connor recognized Markus and Simon and thought he got North’s scowl down pretty well.
“It’s beautiful, Buddy.” Hank ruffled his hair.
“I kinda messed up on drawing everyone’s hands, though. Fingers are harder than I remembered.”
Connor carefully put it back in Cole’s bag before picking him up and setting him on his shoulders. Cole laughed and placed his hands down on Connor’s hair.
“Well, I love it. I think we all look perfect.”