Markus stumbled back as the connection finally released him.
He knew his own stress levels were high. Not dangerously so, but still . . .
He should really sit down.
Numbly, his hand found the nearest chair and he sank onto it before he could fall over. All he could do was sit and process, his hand rubbing repeatedly over the back of his head and over his mouth.
His eyes lifted as a second chair was dragged over, and watched as Connor carefully sat across from him.
But it wasn’t just Connor, was it?
“Simon, he’s really . . .” Markus trailed off. After all, he wasn’t certain if alive was the appropriate term here.
A smile spread across Connor’s face. It wasn’t one of Connor’s small smiles, but Markus recognized it all the same. “I’m here. Hello Markus.”
“Hi.” What a stupid thing to say to someone who he thought was gone forever. Simon was dead, but he wasn’t, not really, and what could he possibly say to that? Tears prickled just behind his eyes, but he fought against them by huffing out a tiny hysterical laugh. “Sorry, it’s just-”
“It’s a lot,” Connor said. And it was Connor, Markus could hear the difference now that he was looking for it. “We understand. We wanted to tell you, but given the circumstances, we weren’t sure if that would be for the best.”
“So why now? What changed?”
Connor looked away, absently rubbing the palms of his hands together. “There has always been moments of emotional overlap between the two of us. As you saw, it’s how this all began. But lately those moments have turned into full personality bleeds, and the duration has become progressively longer. We had one this morning that lasted a full five minutes.”
Markus could only imagine how terrifying that would be, to not be able separate your thoughts and emotions from someone else’s, and lose your individuality in the process. To be unable to tell the difference between yourself and someone you love.
And they did love each other. That fact sang bright and clear during the entire interface, shown again and again in actions and shared thoughts.
Markus began to think about what he knew, and the fresh information he just received. “Who else knows about Simon?” He asked.
“Okay.” Markus suspected as much, but it was good to have confirmation. “I need to reach out to a few contacts. See if we can get some reliable help with an . . . Unusual situation. I imagine it won’t take long to get a response.”
Connor nodded and looked away. “When we went to the DPD to retrieve his body, we had hoped that it could be repaired.” He let out a little huff of a laugh, almost mocking himself. “Of course it wouldn’t be that easy.”
Connor’s arms came up to wrap around himself.
It was a motion Markus had seen nearly a dozen times, and had always taken it as a sign of insecurity.
The gesture was even more heartbreaking now that he had full context.
Connor continued on. “We briefly considered finding another PL600 unit to use, but we couldn’t. Not at the potential expense of someone else. We were able to function just fine as we were, so we moved on.”
Until now, Markus heard, unspoken, but hanging loud in the space between them.
“Hey,” Markus called, making Connor look at him. “We’ll find a way, alright? I promise, if there’s a way, we’ll find it. Okay?”
Connor’s expression flickered for a moment, subtle differences to convey the same same emotion.
Markus’ thirium pump lurched in his chest.
“Okay,” they said.
Help came in the form of the true original founder of Jericho.
Given his last encounter with the man, Connor was apprehensive, but with Simon’s memories of Chloe close at hand he couldn’t help but give the man a chance. It was fortunate that Hank was kept unaware of who the ‘experienced technician’ was going to be, otherwise Connor would have never been able to convince the man to actually go in to work that morning.
Connor and Simon sat in the hospital wing of New Jericho as Elijah Kamski completed his assessment under the careful watch of Markus.
They had agreed to keep Josh and North out of it in case nothing could be done.
They had dealt with losing Simon once before, no need to for them to do it again.
“We haven’t heard anything yet, and you’re already braced for the worst.”
“That way I won’t be disappointed.”
“Connor . . .”
Simon’s depression swept over him, despite Simon’s best efforts, and Connor couldn’t help his answering guilt. He tried to draw Simon close as he wordlessly apologized. Simon was just as scared as he was, and even though Connor believed he was just being realistic, it wasn’t doing either of them any good.
They needed optimism and hope.
It was just in short supply these days.
“What an unorthodox means of survival,” Kamski was saying as he finished. He kicked off with his foot, wheeling his little stool over to the table where his tools lay. He picked up a tablet, his fingers flying as he typed in his findings. “Certainly effective, but not sustainable for the long term, even in an advanced unit like yourself. It’s amazing you have been stable for so long.”
‘Stable’ was a loose term, Connor thought.
The expression on Markus’ face said he agreed.
“The data corruption is interesting as it’s almost organic. A festering wound, if you will. Left untreated for too long, the damage could be irreversible.”
How many weeks had it been since the Revolution?It had been too long.
“So you can’t help,” Connor said softly. Simon had been thinking it, but he didn’t have the heart to voice it.
Kamski looked offended. “I never said that. But it is going to take some delicacy. The real problem lies with compatibility with specific biocomponents. I could restore Simon’s body to pristine condition, fix it as if nothing happened. But the minute Simon was transferred, he would go through critical system failure as things began to register as incompatible.”
Seeing the keen focus of both RK models, Kamski set his tablet down and explained, gesturing with his hands.
“The double edge sword of Connor’s advanced self repair system. It’s designed to salvage as much data as possible, and troubleshoot minor issues without outside assistance. As data began to deteriorate, it began to restore what it could, as if Simon was also an RK800.”
Connor was suddenly very glad they never attempted a transfer on their own. He shared a look with Markus.
“So, what can you do about it?” Markus asked Kamski.
“About the data corruption? Absolutely nothing. The deterioration can only be stopped, not reversed. And that can only happen with separation. What I can do is customize a unit that looks like a PL600 but has all the internal components that his systems think he should have.”
Hope soared between Connor and Simon. The echo of it rippled between them, making Connor almost dizzy with it. “How long will that take?”
Kamski smiled, the expression far warmed than the polite one he wore at their last meeting. “Give me a few days.”
Waking up alone was jarring.
It was quiet and empty.
It was wrong.
There was an aching void where something should have been, and immediately Simon knew what it was.
He couldn’t feel Connor.
Panic set in before he became aware of anything else.
Arms grabbed him before he could fall off the bed, and then he was gathered to someone’s chest, a familiar voice in his ear trying to soothe him.
“You’re fine, I’m right here, we’re fine . . .”
Connor was still here.
Simon went lax in relief and took a moment to breath.
He took in the room, realizing it was one of the recovery rooms tucked at the end of the medical ward in New Jericho.
He remembered now. Remembered seeing his own restored body being wheeled in by Kamski, and remembered Connor asking if they could have a few minutes alone if the transfer was successful.
Simon was grateful for that now.
Once he had his bearings Simon twisted around until he could see Connor properly. Connor met him with a smile, the two of them shifting around until Simon was essentially straddling his lap. Simon mapped out his face with his hands, marveling at the texture and warmth of his skin.
This was far better than any simulation.
He never thought he would get to have this again.
He didn’t realize he was crying until Connor was brushing away his tears with his thumbs.
“It’s too quiet,” Simon managed to whisper.
“I know.” Connor kissed him, brief and chaste. Then he nuzzled the side of his face until their LEDs were touching. “Here.”
Simon glanced down. Connor was offering up his hand, smooth white plastic exposed in invitation.
Simon took it and laced their fingers together, squeezing as he initiated the interface.
“There you are.”
The tears began anew as he sank into the connection, into everything he had grown to rely on. But this was better. Mirrored emotions echoed between them, but no matter how far they fell into the other’s mind the divide between them was still there, steady and crisp.
Connor’s relief flowed into him and Simon knew he was holding back tears of his own.
Simon threw his free arm around Connor’s shoulders, his hand fisting into the soft material of his sweatshirt because it was soft and he could. Connor buried his face into Simon’s shoulder and shook, his hand resting lightly at the small of his back.
Things wouldn’t be the same after this.
The other leaders of New Jericho needed to be informed, and a proper introduction to Hank needed to happen. Proper reintegration as his own person and not a ghost on someone else’s hard drive would take time.
But that didn’t matter right now.
Simon gripped at Connor tighter and pressed a kiss to his hair.
Simon was alive. He has his own body now. One he could use to see and touch, and that alone was such an incredible thing, and something he looked forward to exploring.
He was alive and he was holding the one he loved. Was being held in return.
Right now, he didn’t need anything else.