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Being Alive

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DETROIT: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS; or, simply, BEING ALIVE

 

In a world where androids were the pinnacle of human engineering, the science behind them pioneered by a man as elusive as he was brilliant, and every android made to be accommodating, capable, reliable...all was not as well as one might think. Instead of propelling the human world into a new era of creativity and progression through social reform, what happened was that more and more humans lost their jobs to the new marvel of artificial intelligence and engineered subservience. Androids were rolled out to be the new workforce, relieving humans of their daily toil, but also deprived them of their daily bread. It was a contradiction if ever there was one - that androids were seemingly created with a nobler purpose in mind, but ended up being the catalyst behind the biggest unemployment crisis of the modern age.

In a matter of a few years, after CyberLife launched their first domestic model, they went on to become a commodity for the rich and famous; then, as demand skyrocketed, they became available to the middle classes, and within a decade, everyone could afford one. It became such a common thing to own an android, that before you knew it, everyone wanted the latest model, all too ready to discard their current one.

Androids became so common that they were worth little more than a smartphone - not in monetary value, of course, but the sheer turnover of new models versus old ones ending up on the junkyards all over the country told a different story.

Years from now, it would be one of the leading theories as to why androids developed a sense of self, to begin with: the fear of death, however material it was for something that, for all appearances, lacked a soul.

But in the case of Daniel, a PL600 domestic android owned by the Phillips family, the concept of death couldn’t have been more immaterial.

It was August 15, the first mission of the brand new prototype investigative model, the RK800 android, Henrik. He rode up the elevator to the 70th floor, watching the numbers tick up with a single frown line of concern between his eyebrows. Time was of the essence. It’d been too long already, but now that he was here, there was no time to waste.

The elevator door opened up onto a hallway, and it was a mess of bullet holes and a damaged aquarium, with water spilling across the floor. The family photo on the sleek, floating dresser told him all he needed to know: they were a happy family - and they were a family of three. Humans had a tendency to over empathize with other creatures, even going so far as ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects. It was common enough that androids were sometimes thought of as family members by their owners. This did not seem to be the case with the Phillips family.

Just then, a glimmering of color caught his eye, over there, by the fishtank. He bent by the large, half obliterated tank to pick a lonely, gasping fish off the floor, and place it gently back into the water. He didn’t see why he shouldn’t - a life is a life, no matter its origin. Further inside, the mother pleaded with the officers on site, begging them to let her stay, to save her girl.

She came around the corner, and he found himself under the full onslaught of human emotion. Despair. Helplessness. Fear: all of it plain to see in her tormented face. Tears streamed down her cheeks, through her nose; her hands gripped at the front of his uniform, imploring him for help. Until she saw the blinking diode light at his temple: she startled like a dormouse before a predator. To her, he was the enemy. No more, no less.

“You’re sending-- an android?! No! Wh-- You can’t let that thing near her!”

“Ma’am,” he said, in his raspiest, lowest, calmest tone of voice, and placed his hands on her arms, right below her shoulders. Mrs Phillips. “Caroline. I’m going to get your girl out of here safely. Okay?”

He watched as Caroline’s expression went from fearful outrage to sheer disbelief - one of his main selling points as the newest, most advanced prototype to step out of CyberLife’s R&D department was something as innocuous as his appearance. He was easily the tallest model to date, standing at an impressive 6’4”, and built to be imposing yet approachable. It was a paradox, that an android built with the express purpose of investigating deviancy in other androids should be anything but a machine, through and through. But therein lay the magic behind the design, because the RK800 was nothing like its fellow androids. Unlike them, with their youthful, diversely beautiful facial templates, the RK800 was at the other end of the spectrum: smooth skinned but wrinkled in all the places that spoke of age and experience, like frown lines and crow’s feet and proper marionette lines to accentuate one’s smile; a noticeable gap between its upper front teeth, a full beard, neatly trimmed; wavy, shoulder length gray and white hair that wanted to curl when soaked through with rain, pinned back behind the ears. At a distance, he looked like any other man in his fifties or sixties, built like a brick outhouse with a softness around the belly that spoke of the occasional overindulgence that stuck to the ribs. That too, was carefully calculated.

He was built to fit into any team, any context, to seamlessly integrate with any hierarchy. He could be ruthless, he could be a drill sergeant, he could lie through his teeth at the drop of a hat, he could suss out a suspect in a fraction of the time it took a human officer.

 

But when he looked into Caroline’s face, he had the eyes of a father who’d lost his son. And that was the cruel genius behind the model. He could empathize better than any human. He could anticipate emotional responses, and he could pick up the pieces in the aftermath.

That’s what had Mrs Phillips’ cup overflowing. She crumbled into his solid chest, crying with despair and desperation - but he could hear the relief in her sobbing. He could taste the endorphin release in the air she breathed out. She was calmer in a matter of seconds. She trusted him.

Onward, to his next priority, which he found pacing angrily in the bedroom. “Captain Allen? My name is Henrik. I’m the android sent by CyberLife. You can call me Hank.”

Allen blinked at him, his face set in perfectly aligned angles of frustration. He knew it as well as Hank: they’d been here too long already. “ Hank ? What the fuck kind of name is Hank?

Hank gave him an easy grin tinged with amusement. Just because he couldn’t feel emotion, that didn’t mean he couldn’t use the full emotional spectrum to his advantage. “It’s the one I prefer. Henrik sounds too goddamn medieval, if you ask me.”

***

Are you armed?!

Hank showed the palms of his hands, and told a big, fat lie. “Nope. You know androids are prohibited from carrying weapons under the Android Act, barring certain areas of function, like the military. I’m not a military grade android. I’m a negotiator. Besides, there’s enough sniper rifles pointed at you right now that another gun wouldn’t make a difference.”

There was doubt in his eyes, and he was easily startled: Daniel was a tougher nut to crack, even with everything Hank found in the apartment - in the moment, it didn’t seem to matter that Emma obviously loved her android friend in ways her parents never had. Daniel was too caught up in his own desperate grief to see clearly.

Why else would he be dangling a girl he’d helped raise over the edge of the roof terrace, seventy stories up while shouting about love? He said he loved her, loved the family, wanted to be part of it, that he wasn’t a toy they could throw away. But here they were, with dead bodies on the terrace and in the apartment. One of them was Emma’s father.

Hank could empathize, inasmuch as he realized a glitch was a glitch and shouldn’t be confused with actual emotion. Daniel was a machine, just like him. The only difference was the RK800 was designed to work with emotion, whereas all the others before him were never meant to completely grasp the concept. Their emotional matrises weren’t nearly as advanced, so they were left with mere emulation of basic human emotion. They could be poster boys for happiness, or commiseration, for companionable outrage - but it was all surface, no depths.

This didn’t look superficial, it looked like Daniel had been cut so deep he couldn’t even begin to regain his equilibrium.

One dead officer in the pool, one wounded lying in a heap on the floor near the railing - Hank moved to help him, which Daniel didn’t like, threatening to kill him. “You can try,” said Hank, loosening his tie. “But I’m your only way outta here. I’d think about that if I were you.”

Daniel said all humans die eventually, as if it didn’t matter when someone died, or how they went. Hank didn’t agree, and used his tie as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Emma’s cries seemed to escalate; she didn’t understand why any of this was happening. Then again, how could she? Nine years old, and her entire world torn to pieces by someone she trusted to be her friend forever. You don’t just bounce back from that, no matter how old you are.

“Hang in there, sweetheart. Daniel’s in a lot of pain right now, he’s not thinking straight. Right, Daniel? You would never hurt Emma. Not if you love her.”

“You don’t know me! Stop talking like you know me !”

***

Little by little he gained Daniel’s trust, but it was touch and go at several points. Hank even contemplated using his gun, but didn’t need to, in the end. Daniel let Emma go, but then one of the worst possible things happened as a result.

The snipers opened fire, tearing Daniel to shreds right in front of the little girl. “Jesus-- Emma!” He threw herself in there, swooping the little human up into his arms, tucking her face into the nook of his neck and shoulder, dashing her out of harm’s way, closer to the glass doors. “Don’t look, sweetie, trust me, don’t look.”

She clung to him as he moved through the penthouse apartment, and she kept clinging to him on the ride down in the elevator. She shivered, weeping into the front of his uniform. “Go on, kid, it’s okay. It’s over. He can’t hurt you anymore, and we’re goin’ to see your mom. She’s downstairs with the police, just waiting to see you again. You’re safe now.”

She was nine years old. Of course she didn’t believe him. She lifted her head and looked him dead in the eye, and asked him, “What’s going to happen to him? You promised him he’d be safe, too. You promised, and they still shot him.”

Just like Daniel, she caught him in a lie. He pressed his mouth into a downturned line. “I’m sorry, sweetie. He killed several humans tonight. I had to do everything I could to stop him from…”

He hesitated at the word, the phrasing. She didn’t. “Killing me too?”

“Yeah. It’s my job. I’m sorry it had to end this way, but I promised your mom I’d get you back to her, safe and sound.”