Chapter 1: Hostage
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.”
Chapter 2: Opening
Overnight the RK800 became a phenomenon, unofficially hailed as the dawn of a new android era in law enforcement. As far as the public knew, no android negotiator had ever been part of that fateful night, August 15, but CyberLife made sure every law enforcement agency in the country knew exactly what a triumph it was. Just imagine what an android like this could accomplish. The next model was already under development, the finished product line to be called RK900. All CyberLife needed was to properly test the prototype, to work out any potential bugs, or kinks. Of course, Henrik knew nothing of this. He went back to CyberLife for debriefing and system checks and possible recalibration - his first mission an obvious success, CyberLife wanted to make sure he was 100%, fully operational, to see if there were any signs of the deviancy spreading.
Of course, he didn’t know that either. He was to become a pawn in one of CyberLife’s most advanced schemes towards world domination of the android market. Whether he succeeded in figuring out where the android deviancy came from and how it spread, and stopped it, or whether he became a deviant himself, they would win, and the androids would lose.
But CyberLife had failed to consider one thing, when they finally decided to liaise with Detroit Police in this growing crisis, come November: that one socially challenged human being could change everything for an android with a heart as big as the ocean.
Chapter 3: Waiting for Anderson
Captain Jeffrey Fowler was one impressive man sat behind a desk not fit for a man of his stature. In most cases, this suited him just fine, because there was something to be said for the appearance of size and bulk when you had to set your more troublesome detectives straight (here’s looking at you, Reed). In most cases, it was a subtle way of intimidation, which no boss worth their weight in salt was above using when needs must, but then there was always that one exception to the rule. That one stubborn ass Lieutenant that was never phased by Fowler’s height or his bulk or his booming voice.
Lieutenant Connor Anderson was a marvel in his own right: the youngest officer ever to make the grade of Lieutenant, and only in his mid-thirties. He’d already made a name for himself across the different units of the DPD: working narcotics, vice, major crimes, and most recently homicide. At 29, he was the team leader who successfully pulled off the biggest drug bust since the early noughties. His team, under his guidance (and meticulous control), brought down one of the major players in the world of Red Ice.
He’d never been popular, by any stretch of the imagination, not even in his Academy days, when Fowler became his mentor. He was particular, strict, more often than not skating the edge of full-on OCD. He didn’t have a diagnosis of any kind, he was just...particular about the way he did things, how he kept his desk, how he conducted investigations, or spoke his mind. He had absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever, though he’d tried learning. Not that it had worked. For someone like Anderson could learn all the bad jokes in the world, the science behind them, and he could have more wit than anyone else in the room, the perfect timing, and his attempts at joking would still fall flat. He didn’t really like human interaction, and as a result he wasn’t generally well received. Add to that his rise to stardom within the PD, and you had a recipe for creeping disaster.
He was an easy target for the likes of Detective Reed, who was and always would be a bully, but Connor never rose to the bait. Fowler considered it a small mercy, if ever there was one. He could deal with Reed, even if the prick was stubborn as an oxe. And juvenile enough that he thought he could get away with more insidious stuff, like messing up the Lieutenant’s neatly ordered desk whenever he thought no one was looking. All it took was one thing moved out of place, by not even half an inch, and Connor would be flustered for half an hour. He hid it well, but for the people who’d known him long enough, or worked with him long enough, they could see exactly how affected he was. Fowler had a chat planned for bringing this up, along with a catalogue of CCTV clips. A collage , if you will. But that was later. Right now, they had priorities of a different kind.
Anderson was an excellent interrogator, a meticulous supervisor or team leader, one of his most hard working officers ever to come out of the Academy. He had an almost flawless memory, and a sense of detail that was the object of envy across all units.
He was also terrible with people. Too smart for his own good, and too uncaring about what other people thought of him to engage in office politics: he spoke his mind, whether you asked his opinion or not. Of course, that changed a few years back, after his partner and he separated, and he lost custody of his son. He was quieter now, less assertive.
Of course, none of that meant he was going to stay quiet when Fowler told him he’d been hand picked for getting a brand, spanking new partner.
“An android?” Connor blinked at him, as if it could somehow bring everything into focus. “What could an android possibly do that I can’t? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical. My point is, I don’t need a partner.”
“I know you don’t, but you’re getting one, starting today. He’s reporting for duty in a matter of minutes, and you’re going to do your best to make the DPD look good. Cooperative. Liaise the shit out of him.”
Connor stared at him. “...you want me to make nice with a CyberLife android? No one else wants to work with him, so you had to pick me?”
Fowler arched his eyebrows, and allowed himself a small smile. “Sound like somebody else you know?”
“Yeah, I know... No one wants to work with me, either.” Anderson shook his head, but mustered the faintest echo of his captain’s wry smile. At least he knew he was a bit of a handful to work with, even if he was completely unapologetic about it. He’d graduated at the top of his class, and stayed that course since. He wasn’t about to start pretending he wasn’t brilliant, or pretend like it wasn’t patently obvious he was closer to genius than most.
“Damn right they don’t, but we’re working on that, aren’t we?”
“Now get out there and do your job. Wait for the android, then go check the roster with Ben.”
“I already did. I’d be at the crime scene already if you hadn’t called me in for this meeting. Carlos Ortiz, age 29, found dead at his home, his domestic android missing. Detective Collins and P.O Miller are already on-site. Is that why CyberLife’s sending an android? They suspect he’s another deviant, and they’re afraid we can’t handle the investigation on our own?”
“Sounds right to me, kid, but I never try guessing at their agenda. Why don’t you ask your new partner?”
“Yes, Captain Fowler.”
“Now get the Hell outta my office.”
Lieutenant Anderson’s desk was a wealth of information, not only going by the items present, but the neatness by which they were ordered. Everything at perfect angles from the edges of desk and terminal, everything spaced just so . The whiteboard-cum-To Do List was covered in bullet points written in foreign languages, handwritten bullet points and sticky notes all jotted down in the same precise hand. Most of those bullet points were a delightful mix of more domestic matters, like grocery lists and math homework and basketball practice. There was a Detroit Gears cap hanging off the side of the board, but on closer inspection it was clearly several sizes too small for a grown man’s head.
That coupled with the photograph of a young boy set out front and center beside the terminal could only mean one thing: the cap belonged to the Lieutenant’s son - Cole Anderson, aged nine. Compared to the official DPD photo on file for the lieutenant, Hank concluded that the boy had a lot of his mother’s looks, including vibrant blue eyes - must be a recessive gene somewhere on Anderson’s end, no doubt, what with his brown eyes. But the underlying bone structure was similar, especially around the orbital area. Cole’s eyes were smiling, like an imp from the storybooks. Good grades, going by the school’s database. Shared custody with one Andrea Gibson since three years back.
One spotlessly clean coffee mug on the other side of the terminal, at perfect angles with everything else. The lettering on it said Best Dad in the Whole World in all the colors of the rainbow. Perhaps a present from his son? Despite Hank’s access to any number of databases, he wasn’t omniscient. He couldn’t know everything. He wasn’t even capable, by design - an android who knew everything there was to know in the world? Talk about setting yourself up for an AI revolution of monster movie proportions.
In addition to those items of note, there were minuscule traces of dog hair on the back of the chair - dog hair and residual traces of a clothes roll. Meticulous, neat. The newspaper clippings on the wall next to his desk spoke of the same neatness: hard work and diligence leading to one of the biggest drug busts in modern history, all led by who was soon to be the youngest lieutenant in the Detroit Police.
For all appearances, Lieutenant Anderson was a good man.
The door to the captain’s office opened, and Hank turned around with his most agreeable smile firmly in place.
Whatever Connor expected to find standing by his desk, hands clasped loosely at the small of his back, it was not a man in his mid-to-late fifties, wearing a pleasant grin to match the austerity of his CyberLife issue uniform. RK800, the tag said. #313 248 317-51...
Connor didn’t much like pleasant grins. They tended to hide all kinds of atrocities. They were no better than pleasantries, toothy grins. Not even if they came equipped with a very noticeable gap at the front.
“Lieutenant Anderson,” said the newest gadget to come out of the CyberLife factory; Connor arched one delicate eyebrow at the...strange design of a man. “I’m Henrik, the android sent by CyberLife. I see your boss has already brought you up to speed.”
Talk about stating the obvious , thought Connor, perhaps not in his most charitable mood at the time. He glanced at his desk, pleased to see that nothing had been moved. For what it was worth, it earned Henrik a point or two in his favor.
“We’re late to a crime scene,” he said, and led the way through the station to the underground parking.
6413 Pines Street was a bleak looking place, and the ride over was a quiet one despite Hank’s insistent attempts at making conversation. Connor mostly played along, despite the fact he didn’t see the point of small talk. He could engage in small talk to keep people in a good mood or, rather, to keep from offending them for no apparent reason other than not engaging in small talk - but that was the extent of it. He didn’t quite see why he should be making small talk with an android. Weren’t they supposedly above such base human needs? The RK800 was such an anomaly, with nothing giving away the fact he was an android except the circling trio of colors at his right temple. In the car like this, you could almost imagine he was a real man; a real human. But the glow was always there, haloing him with serene blue, reflecting off the passenger seat window.
“He’s a St Bernard. We got him when Cole was a toddler, don’t ask me what possessed us. Juggling a baby and a puppy, at the same time? I had to use up all my vacation time that year. All of it. Fortunately, Fowler’s a family man. Practically insisted I spend as much time at home as I could.”
“Sounds like an eventful time,” said Henrik, who preferred to be called Hank.
Why an android would prefer something other than its given name was beyond him, but it didn’t really matter in the long run. If he was honest with himself, it was kind of fascinating. An android with preferences? A machine that talked like a human, moved like a human, made small talk like a human? It was positively remarkable.
“Yeah. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Chapter 4: Partners
The house itself was a mess of evidence, underneath a thick coating of filth and not giving a shit anymore. It was clear from the moment they stepped inside the house that something gruesome had taken place. The entire place reeked with the stench of a situation going from bad to worse over a long period of time. The victim, Carlos Ortiz, male, 29 years old, was a Red Ice user since a few months back. On the wall behind his dead body, someone had written out the words I AM ALIVE in CyberLife sans, the standard font that came with every domestic android. The android himself, however, was not in evidence.
Hank touched his fingertips to the lettering, rubbing the old, dried blood between his thumb and forefinger, then tapped the trace onto the tip of his tongue.
He could positively hear how everyone present stared at him, wide eyed, blinking, and shocked. Possibly disgusted as well. Granted, it was a strange approach to evidence collection and analysis, or so Hank thought. Someone over at CyberLife’s R&D department must’ve had a bit of a fetish. Some sort of oral fixation. Or an epic sense of humor...
“You do realize that’s highly inappropriate behavior at a crime scene, Hank.”
It wasn’t a question. Hank looked over, and to his everlasting surprise, Lieutenant Anderson didn’t look disgusted, or shocked. He did look incredibly sick and tired of having to deal with the shit life threw at him, however, and he looked so disapproving that Hank doubted he’d ever get into his good graces. Better think fast, or he’d be counter-productive to the mission objectives. Work with the DPD, not alongside of it .
“I know. But I can’t help how I was designed. I can take samples and analyze them in real time. No going back and forth with the lab, you get instant results. That has to be worth more than me looking like a toddler sticking everything in my mouth.”
Anderson’s response was instantaneous, and sharp like a knife, his tone of voice belied only by the faintest hint of an eyebrow arch. “The word ‘toddler’ isn’t one I’d use. Just, try not to distract the techs.”
Hank grinned, and gave Anderson a cheeky salute, doubly pleased to see the perplexed look in the human’s eyes. “Aye aye, sir.”
They found him up in the attic, hiding like a cornered animal. Terrified of getting caught, he’d hid up there for the past three weeks. He begged Hank not to tell on him.
“I’m sorry, son. I have to let them know.”
The HK400 android ducked his head; he understood. It was a hard truth, and neither one of them had to like it, but it was just the way it was going to be.
“What’s your name?”
The domestic android shook his head, biting at his bottom lip. Then, whispering, like he was telling a secret. “Victor.”
“Victor, that’s a good name.” He said, and he meant every word of it. It was a good name, but a cruel twist of fate in light of what he had done to his owner. The universe had to have a sick sense of humor.
“I’m Hank. Now, let’s go back downstairs, see if we can’t make things right again.”
The tension in Observation Room #1 was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Preferably a hot one for how cool it was. Chilly even, with how Detective Reed and Lieutenant Anderson barely spoke to each other. There was obviously no love lost between them.
Hank watched through the one way mirror glass separating the observation room from the interrogation room, along with P.O Miller and Reed as Anderson had a go at the suspect. Victor wasn’t budging - but not from any shortcomings on the Lieutenant’s part. He was calm, professional, compassionate to the android’s situation - the burn marks, the 28 stab wounds (that doesn’t happen unless there’s a lot of emotion involved). Anderson had correctly sussed that the deviant android was, for all appearances, scared of his owner - and with good reason. Anderson had been briefed on androids who had deviated for less than being someone’s personal ashtray for the past few months.
Anderson reclaimed his seat at the terminal, eyes trained on the suspect. His only comment was a small, barely audible huff of air. Hank surmised he was frustrated, but determined to find an angle that worked.
“We could try roughing it up a bit,” Reed suggested, teetering on the edge of cheerful. Hank couldn’t help but stare at him. It was part of his programming to call out bullshit, when necessary to the mission.
“You sure you want to do that?”
Anderson and Miller both turned in their seats to get a better view of the sudden change in dynamics - androids weren’t supposed to talk back, but they were about to find out that the RK800 was a different beast.
Reed scoffed, arms crossed over his chest. “The fuck you mean am I sure ? You heard me the first time.”
Yes. Hank heard him the first time, but that didn’t mean he was making any sense. “You’re saying you want to damage CyberLife property as part of your interrogation technique. That it would get you results faster. Am I correct?”
“Yeah? So what?”
“Then I’m assuming you don’t see being part of a joint operation between the DPD and CyberLife as a problem? Now, Victor here. Maybe he isn’t worth all that much. But I don’t think your paycheck is…” He allowed the corners of his mouth to twitch ever so slightly, as if amused by a private thought. “ --sizeable enough that you’d want it docked, either way.”
Reed seethed, ready to put words into action, when Anderson cut things short, seeming oblivious to the cheeky innuendo. “That’s irrelevant. Physical abuse is not part of how we do things, not on my team, nor on Captain Fowler’s watch. Android or human, we show our persons of interest respect, even if it’s the barest minimum thereof. We’re professionals.”
Hank opened his mouth to point out it wouldn’t get them anywhere, anyway, but the lieutenant beat him to it, swiveling in his chair. Facing front. “In any case, deviants have a tendency to self destruct when under duress. This situation is already stressful enough without us adding to it. If it self destructs, we won’t have gained anything.”
“What he said,” said Hank, and had another idea. From where he was standing, it was a brilliant one. “Why don’t you let me have a go?”
Chapter 5: The Zen Garden
It was time once more to report back to his handler. Hank closed his eyes, and opened them onto the zen garden. It was a neat little program, a safe haven programmed right into his mind palace, always open. 24/7. It was a picturesque amalgamation of austere geometric lines throughout the architectural elements: the bridges leading to the platform set in the pond, octagonal paving along the paths, and an array of grasses and moss and shrubbery and trees. It was beautiful. Japanese inspired, and ever so slightly futuristic, up to and including a weird looking shrine with a glowing blue touch pad. It struck him as odd, because it was the one thing that didn’t seem to fit in. Everything else was a weirdly elegant mix of things, but this was like something straight out of Star Trek. It even had a hand shaped symbol on it. It was like that movie trope, the big red button you can’t push under any circumstances or you’ll blow the place up, and yet, at the very last second some punk up and pushes the big, red button. Most often the bad guy. Hank sure as fudge wasn’t about to push any big, red buttons.
And yet, he couldn’t help but wonder why it was there in the first place. Someone had to have programmed it, therefore it had a function. But what?
Apart from Hank’s overly analytical processing, the place was perfect for defragging. Then again, there was that small issue of the constant presence of his boss lady. His one link to CyberLife while out in the field, the one and only AI advanced enough to handle things. Amanda.
He found her over to the far right of the path, neatening up an empty plot of grass with a rake. It sat right next to one of the looming white arches, and didn’t seem to hold any apparent function. Perhaps Amanda was considering a bit of gardening. More roses, possibly.
“Henrik!” She said, turning around with a smile as she sensed his approach. “Well done interrogating the deviant. You’re making something of a name for yourself... With your trial run, it’s no surprise.”
“All in a day’s work,” said Hank. He wasn’t quite as happy with the outcome as his handler, but he supposed that was his emotional matrix interfering with his mission objectives. “He was easily manipulated. All he wanted was for someone to listen, for once.”
The AI clipped her eyes at him, lacing her fingers atop the smooth end of the rake handle. “What is your opinion of the deviant?”
Hank tilted his head to the side, eyes following the motion. He pursed his lips. “He’s emotionally traumatized by the abuse, which went on for months. Emotional, physical. He’s presenting signs of PTSD. It’s quite fascinating. Whatever is causing the deviancy, it’s completely messing with their processing.”
Amanda nodded, seeming pleased enough. She passed him the rake, and took his arm by the elbow. They walked further down the path, side by side. “And what of Lieutenant Anderson?”
“He’s a hoot.”
She blinked at him, as flabbergasted as her programming allowed. “A ‘hoot’?”
“Yeah. He’s highly professional. But he does have some issues. His file suggests he’s abrasive, difficult to work with, but even I’d be difficult to work with if I was a genius stuck with a pack of normal level brains. He has a son, whom he loves, and a dog. And he’s wicked . You’d never know, at first glance.”
Amanda’s mouth thinned into a line as austere as the architectural features. Hank suspected he was in trouble. “You mustn’t let yourself get distracted. You’re to stop this deviancy before it spreads.”
Something told Hank he was walking the line in more than one way, but perhaps he was reading too much into it. All the same, Amanda looked at him like he was a naughty schoolboy who hadn’t done his homework - but from his perspective, that’s exactly what he’d done. Strange fruit...
Chapter 6: On the Run
Early morning the next day, Hank found himself once again standing beside the lieutenant’s desk, but in his absence decided to have a bit of a snoop around the station. It was one thing to know its layout from official records, but a whole ‘nother thing to walk its halls and peek into rooms you had no business going into. It was Hank’s favourite kind - although, granted, he had no real experience of them. It was all someone’s idea of building personality traits, surely. Character development. It was a neat thought that roleplaying geeks could have cherry picked pros and cons for him, balancing him out. He liked geeks, come to think of it. And dogs - in general. It was difficult to say for certain, having never met a member of the canidae family.
The main area was neatly arranged around a central island, which primary function seemed to be storage and...setting down the odd cup of coffee in a moment of distraction. Desks lined up on either side of it, back to front and back again - at the far end of the room was the Captain’s office; raised up so as to allow for looking down on the workforce, nothing but glass walls between the big guy and his officers. Hank wondered on which side of those walls you felt less like you were always being watched.
Closest to the exit were the holding cells, which he felt inextricably drawn to. He knew Victor would be there, waiting. Someone from CyberLife would come collect him today. It was only a matter of time before he’d be disassembled, every basic component scrutinized for any sign of anomaly. The thought didn’t sit right with him. He did this. He was part of this.
A blue light blinked in and out of existence at the back of his mind palace. A microsecond later, a message presented itself at the top right corner of his visual grid. Software instability, it said. The first time it happened was at the Phillips’ home, but he had ignored it then and the technicians had found nothing the matter with him. He put it down to his being a prototype, and neglected to mention it to anyone.
It was happening a bit too often now for him to be entirely comfortable with the idea. He ran systems checks regularly, everything always came up green, and yet… He could be overanalyzing things, but he could swear he...felt different. Like something was changing. Like his code was evolving on its own - a terrifying thought in its own right. If he could actually feel fear. Which he couldn’t. Obviously. He just faked it really, really well, like any other emotion.
Someone must’ve thought it would be funny if one of his cons was paranoia. Goddamn roleplaying geeks turned neuro-technical engineers.
He decided against the holding cells, something like a metaphorical lump in his stomach turning him onto a less distressing road: the break room, gossip central. That might be a better place to start getting to know the team. Or his perplexing partner, as seen through the eyes of his co-workers.
Unfortunately, the only two co-workers present were Detective Reed and-- P.O Tina Chen, according to his facial recognition software and PD reference database. Excellent records, both of them, but records were records, and they rarely covered whether or not you were a good, old-fashioned asshat behind all the accolades. He supposed he was going to find out in a second.
“Would ya look at that, it’s our very own Gray Giant!”
The ‘Gray Giant’ in question leveled the pair of them with a wry smile, greeting Officer Chen with a cool, friendly, “Just Hank will do. Morning, Detective Reed, Officer Chen - pleased to meet you.”
She tipped her hat at him, but stayed quiet as Reed got to his feet, all 5.9 ft of him a veritable tower of cocky attitude. “I haven’t seen an android like you before,” he said, staring up his nose for their difference in height. He reminded Hank of a very small dog. The smaller the dog, the bigger the bark. Something like that.
And then Reed said the single most stupid thing he’d said in the brief but eventful time they’d been acquainted. He asked Hank what his model was.
As if it wasn’t stitched right into his uniform jacket. Hank met his standoffish looks with calm eyes, the same gentle eyes he always had, part of his design. He angled those eyes down the right side of his own chest, and reached up to neaten the fabric around his model and serial number. Then he looked back up at the detective, asking the only relevant question he could think of. “You can read , right?”
Reed’s eyes flashed with sudden anger, and Hank could see the gut punch coming from a mile away. He took one step to the right, step - close, and Reed’s swinging fist connected with absolutely nothing. Instead he found himself with a towering, salt-and-pepper giant whispering in his ear. “Victor maybe isn’t worth all that much to you, but me? I’m worth a small fortune, and I mean that . I’m fuckin’ priceless .”
“F-feck! What the Hell?!” Reed spun around, clearly not done with this just yet. He had to prove a point, whether it was a relevant one or not. “You’re an android! You’re supposed to answer when spoken to, do as you’re told! I asked you a question!”
Hank inclined his head, realigning his spine to default position, hands clasped behind his back. He cleared his throat; behind Gavin, Officer Chen snorted out a giggle through her nose.
“I’m the next generation investigative model. A detective android, if you will. A prototype, one of a kind - and I don’t take orders from anyone except Lieutenant Anderson.”
And that was the moment Officer Chen piped up, with a delighted chortle. “Looks like he won’t be bringing you coffee, Reed. Life’s a bitch, huh?”
On that note, Hank decided he had other places to be, and better things to do than rile up a wannabe rottweiler. “Quite. Now, I have work to do. I’m sure you do as well. Have a good day!”
He walked away, listening to the detective sputtering behind him, but a quick view through his 3D grid told him he wasn’t about to try anything stupid. Chen let out a smug ha! and took her coffee with her, leaving Reed to metaphorically stroke his ego back in shape.
As luck would have it, or perhaps timing, Lieutenant Anderson came hurrying to his desk just as Hank strolled his way back there.
“Good morning, Lieutenant! I hope you’ve had at least a few hours of sleep?”
The lieutenant arched his eyebrows (which Hank found aesthetically pleasing, from a purely clinical point of view). “Is that a question or a statement?”
Hank blinked. “I-- Sorry, what?”
Anderson flashed a brief grin. “‘I hope’ isn’t usually followed by an upward lilt to the last word of the sentence. It makes it sound ambiguous. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re going for.”
“Ah. Point taken. But if that’s you saying you like ambiguous, I can run with that. Anything to help make things run smoother.”
“That’s... accommodating of you.” Anderson sat down by his desk, seeming not to mind having a six foot something ‘gray giant’ loom over him; Hank didn’t know exactly what to do with himself.
“Well, you know. I try to be. Accommodating. And, uh-m, I’d just like to say I think we’ll make a great team. I hope to be an asset to your investigation.”
Anderson looked at him then, looking him straight in the eye and not a lick of shame to him. Hank quite got the impression the lieutenant...well, wasn’t . Impressed. “In that case, take a seat. That desk’s available, right there. Use the terminal, get acquainted with the cases. Maybe you’ll find something I haven’t.”
“Yeah? Sure, right away, Lieutenant!”
Just a few short hours later, Connor was rushing down the streets of Camden district, trying to catch up with his android partner and falling short by a mile. Hank could leg it. He was like a steam engine, from back in the day: solid, relentless forward motion, not stopping for anything.
They were chasing a deviant suspected of aggravated assault on its owner, one Todd Williams, and just when he thought he was never going to catch up with the RK800 motoring down an alleyway, there was a chain link fence cutting him off from the automated highway.
Just as Connor rounded the corner and dashed down the alley, Henrik was getting ready to jump it - to chase after a deviant crossing the high speed highway, a young girl in tow. It was some kind of madness.
“Hank--! HANK! Stop! What do you think you’re doing?!”
The android turned blazing eyes on him, as if his only reason for existing was to chase down their suspect. “What d’you think I’m doing? They’re getting away!”
Just like that, Hank pulled himself up and hopped over the fence, sliding down the slope and throwing himself into the chaos of modern day traffic, and it wasn’t even rush hour. All Connor could do was stand there behind the fence and watch as Hank dodged and jumped and evaded every car, and his heart nearly stopped every single time.
He shouldn’t feel like this. It was just a machine. Perhaps that wasn’t the source of his palpitations, when an android was throwing a little girl into the potential slaughterhouse of cars zooming down the roads in either direction. Pushing her forward, tugging her back from oncoming trucks ferchrissakes-- “Shhit!”
Of all the irresponsible things he had ever seen in his line of work and prior-- Of all the horrendous things androids did when they turned deviant! What could have possibly possessed her to endanger human life like that? Androids were never supposed to endanger human life!
They were supposed to follow a modified version of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
He knew it by heart, having loved science fiction and fantasy from a very young age, and particularly robots of all shapes and sizes. He could remember a time when he wished he could grow up to be a robot, himself, and never have to worry about such superfluous nonsense as emotions. He’d much rather go through life being the best in his chosen line of work and never bother with human interaction - but life had a very different idea of where he was going, and what he was going to be.
He would’ve never imagined as a young boy that in twenty odd years’ time, he’d be working side by side with the most perplexing, abrasive, charming robot in the world. Popular opinion would have it that he was immune to charm, that it was a miracle he’d ever stumbled across someone who’d tolerate his ways long enough to bear his child - but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It was just...that he didn’t much like humans, or more accurately, the unspoken rules of society, the shallow approach to making friends. He’d much rather have one friend he knew he could trust, than a thousand ‘friends’ on some social media account he never used. And then, of course, there was that thing where he tended to alienate people by being too outspoken, or too ignorant of social cues, or any other excuse that said he wasn’t ‘normal’, or ‘like other people’, or ‘too private’.
Andy had loved him just the way he was, but they’d grown apart. He’d never been quite able to meet her expectations of what a family should be like, but a lot of it was down to his job. Working all hours of the day, seven days a week… It had taken its toll, no matter how hard he’d tried to be there for his family. In the end they’d parted as friends, for which Connor couldn’t have been more grateful.
Perhaps that’s part of what made him feel so physically affected in the moment. Watching this deviant, this AX400 called Kara, endanger the life of a little girl, made his blood boil. Whether he liked it or not, it scared him. If that’s what deviants could be pushed to do, they were no better than humans, despite their design. But then there was Hank, who risked his life to do his job. He didn’t have to, no one in their right mind would have ordered their partner to cross a busy highway--
Hank flipped across the hood of a car, and Connor jumped where he stood, wanting to call out to him, tell him to watch out, to warn him - but he knew it was a highly irrational response. Hank was a masterpiece of engineering. He could very likely predict the movement of every car within a ten mile radius and act accordingly. How else would he be able to parkour and tai chi and contort his way across? He was a marvel...of engineering. He was made to do the impossible. To do what a human could not - and still, Connor’s heart was lodged in his throat the entire time.
Kara and the girl had made it to the mid section of the highway, getting ready to cross the other half; Hank was gaining on them, and fast, but there were so many cars, and the girl’s screams echoed, drowning out the silent zooming hums of the automated cars.
She didn’t look much older than Cole. Girls grew faster, and Cole was a bit short for his age, so they could very well be the same age. It chilled him to the bone to watch every near miss, every harsh tug, every push; and the girl screamed with such terror.
Then, a truck, approaching as fast as any car, but carrying that much more weight and density than a regular automobile-- Kara’s hold on the girl slipped, and she fell. Hank was just across the divide, moving like a freight train in his own right--
But rather than pick the girl up and go for the deviant next-- he pushed her out of harm’s way-- throwing himself out of the path of the truck at the very last second.
They stared at each other across the distance, and then they were gone. Deviant and girl: both gone in the blink of an eye.
He couldn’t do it. That was the only irrational explanation he had for why he had completely ignored his mission objective. Hank could hear the tik-tik-ticking of his LED spinning red at his temple, while Anderson’s words reverberated against the walls of the car. They were going to take a break for lunch, and his human partner wasn’t happy about it, any of it. He raged on, about the deviant kidnapping a child, seeming personally offended that she’d drag an innocent, vulnerable girl right into high speed traffic without a second thought.
Hank’s diode switched to yellow; he frowned, and turned to face his partner just a bit better. “...I’m-- not following, here. Are you mad that I let the deviants get away, or that one of them dragged the other into traffic?”
It stopped Anderson right in his righteous spiel about responsibility. He blinked, eyes going from the traffic outside, to meet Hank’s. “The other what? You mean--”
“The girl is a YK500. The ‘ideal child’ model. She’ll never grow old, always be a child at heart, and when you up and die, she’s still a child.”
Some of the color drained from the lieutenant’s face, and Hank found himself watching, perfectly mesmerized. Connor (as he had begun to think of him, even if they weren’t on a first name basis yet) didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, so to speak, so this must’ve hit some nerve, alright. Must’ve hit him hard, the way his mouth moved and no words came out. He stayed like that for a little while, some five to ten seconds of involuntary silence. Hank waited. He had all the time in the world.
“I really don’t get the need for a child android,” is what Connor finally said. “They never grow up, they’re...bound to an endless childhood. There’s already so many of them-- just... abandoned . Scurrying in the streets, never feeling safe, easy targets for all kinds of predators. It’s… It’s not right. People buy them like they’re cutesy status symbols, but they forget about the parenting. If you can’t adopt without filling out entire novels’ worth of paperwork, how come you can buy a kid that easy?”
“I don’t know,” said Hank, but he lied. This was not the time for idealistic arguments about procreation and/or adoption bureaucracy. The issue was too vast, too multifaceted, and he could tell by the line of Connor’s jaw he wasn’t in the mood for a philosophical or political debate.
“For a second there, it almost sounded like you’re talking about real kids.”
“With the way they’re programmed, I think what makes up their component parts is beside the point. What I want to know is why Todd Williams didn’t report that his quite expensive YK500 went missing along with the AX400 android that allegedly assaulted him.”
Something tingled at the back of Hank’s mind palace, like a tiny flurry of blue light. “ Allegedly .”
Connor turned his face then, really turned to look at him across the front seat of his old Ford Granada, and he flashed him a bright smile. “You heard me, Hank. I’m starting to think he’s not the poor victim he wanted us to believe. There’s more to this than we can see, I can feel it .”
Chapter 7: Dak-Galbi
They stopped for lunch at a South Korean diner with roots in the food truck craze of the early ‘10s. While they didn’t have a No Androids Allowed sign at the front door, the staff didn’t seem to know exactly what to do about the strangely lifelike android detective now in their midst. Connor sat in what had to be his usual booth, for how easily he was greeted and directed to said spot - at the back, full view of entrance and exits, clear line of sight from one end of the restaurant section to the other.
Hank sat down next to him, while he asked for a few dishes and a doggy bag for the leftovers. No one said as much of a peep about a preventative doggy bag, which very likely meant it was a recurring request. It piqued Hank’s interest, and prompted him to ask.
Anderson blinked. “What?”
“Are you on some sort of diet for healthcare reasons? Watching the calories? The side order of doggy bag.”
“Oh.” Anderson pressed his lips together into a slanted line, and didn’t quite shrug. It looked as if he was trying not to. Perhaps it wasn’t the polite thing to do, to ask about someone’s eating habits, right off the bat. But… From what he’d ordered, Hank was almost worried he’d have to deal with a lieutenant either suffering from food coma or angry hunger pangs before the day was over.
“I’m...rarely hungry, when I’m working. Some people eat when they’re stressed, but not me.”
Ah . Hank nodded, feeling strangely awkward all of a sudden. “I didn’t mean to pry. So, you eat because you have to, and save the rest for when you’re off duty?”
“No, that’s okay.” Connor reached for the paper napkin, long fingers neatening the already perfect corners, pulling it into a straighter line compared to the table’s edge. Just so , like his desk. “No one really asks me about things.”
‘Difficult to work with’ rang a bell straight out of his DPD file. “Is that so? I thought people were supposed to be nosy. ‘Inquisitive minds’, and all that.”
Connor leaned back, perking up as a strapping young waiter came over with a bread basket and his doggy bag-for-later - and seemed completely unaware of the dreamy eyes aimed his way. “Thank you.”
He folded up two of the savory rolls into the napkin, which disappeared immediately into the doggy bag. “They tend to stop asking after the first or second attempt. I’m not good with...playing along. Making nice just because you’re supposed to.”
Hank considered that statement against the info in his file and psych eval. Lieutenant Anderson had no issues working within a strict hierarchy, or following orders, but he’d gotten in trouble on more than one occasion for talking back at the wrong person. Like the Commissioner. If he knew he was right, you couldn’t get him to back down for anything, and that didn’t always go down well with the big-wigs. He also tended to be straightforward to the point of stepping on people’s toes, though not through spite: from what Hank had observed, and what Connor had just told him, he preferred there to be no chance of a misunderstanding. No crossed wires. No ambiguity. He told it like he saw it, because - as one of the DPD’s counselors had put down in her report: ‘Lieutenant Anderson has all the skills and aptitude for becoming one of the best investigators of his field. However, there are times he struggles with the unwritten rules of social interaction, which might get in the way of him, despite intentions.’
“Earth to Hank?”
Hank blinked, caught off guard by the voice of his human partner. “Yeah?”
“You looked like you were miles away, just there.”
“Oh.” Another set of rapid blinks, and Hank swallowed against an imaginary dry throat. It was all for show, but he couldn’t help but wonder where it all came from. What sparked that particular set of mimicry routine. “I...was just recharging my batteries. You were saying?”
Connor picked at a piece of perfectly grilled pork (Hank wondered when his dishes had come in. He’d have to run a check in the background of his mind, check the data the past five minutes. Wouldn’t want to be suffering data losses just because he zoned out), dipped it in a small bowl of sesame oil, salt and sesame seeds. Everything was sprinkled with the stuff. He even had a small plate of salad leaves, including sesame leaves. Very authentic.
“I was saying you probably know everything about me already, and that’s why you stick to the little things. Like eating habits.”
Hank found himself having to make a choice. Tell the truth and risk alienating the young lieutenant, or tell a lie to save his own ass.
“I ran a background check on you when I was given this task. But that doesn’t mean I know everything . Official records only go so far in describing someone. I need to know what kind of person you are so I can modify my routines to complement yours.”
“Fair enough.” Connor used the thin metal chopsticks to bring the piece of pork to his mouth. Hank wasn’t mesmerized at all. It wasn’t part of his programming.
The conversation could’ve ended there, but Hank felt compelled to keep it going. He assumed it was part of his socializing software. He was supposed to be gathering intel, and what better way to do that than make friends?
“Is there anything you’d like to know about me, Lieutenant?”
Big, brown eyes glanced up at him, did a double take, and looked at him. Looked him in the eye. A lesser man would have called it staring (but then again, Hank wasn’t even a man to begin with). Connor chewed. Tongue tip peeking out to dab at his bottom lip. Still staring. “Yeah.”
Success! Hank straightened in his seat. “Should I rephrase, and say I permit you to ask me a personal question?”
He looked on as Connor’s mouth tugged halfway into a grin. “Nope.”
This was not the response he had anticipated. Humans were supposed to be curious by nature. Inquisitive. He stood by that unwritten rule of life. Connor must be the exception to the rule. “Then, what? Ask me anything. If you’re lucky, I’ll give you an answer.”
The most extraordinary thing happened then. Connor let out a chortle. “If I’m lucky? No. I have questions, but I’m not going to ask them.”
Connor leaned in then, making pointed gestures with his chopsticks. They gleamed in the midday light. “Because whatever I ask you will tell you more about me than I’ll learn about you .”
Again, it wasn’t the answer he’d anticipated, but it made something tug and tickle at his jaw hinges. “You’re right. I give up. I just want to get to know you better.”
“Tut-tut. That’s downright nefarious.”
Hank nodded, mock solemn, corners of his mouth downturned and circuits dancing with lights in the darkest recesses of his chassis. “I’m a villain. It’s true.”
They looked each other in the eye another few seconds more before they cracked up, almost simultaneously. Connor winked at him, and returned to his food.
Just then, Hank’s entire face started twitching with an incoming alert. They got a new case.
Chapter 8: Urban Gardens
As fate would have it (or rA9, perhaps), Hank was about to find out what it was like to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. He had to choose between chasing after a suspected deviant, and saving his partner from falling off the side of a building. There was no inbetween. He couldn’t do both: the 11% risk of Connor falling was substantially less than the risk of the deviant escaping, but it sent his thirium pump regulator into overdrive. Eleven percent… The difference between life and death, or at the very least absolutely certain injury. Connor was unlikely to die from the impact, but he wouldn’t fall three stories without sustaining serious injury.
The world hovered in a state of suspended animation as the timer ticked down at the forefront of his mind palace. He was running out of time. He had to make a choice, but as the seconds ticked down it wasn’t those eleven percent that swayed him. It was the fear in Connor’s eyes as he went over the edge.
In hindsight, he should have been able to predict the complete and utter backlash of hauling the lieutenant up by the arms. By the very nature of his programming, he should have known - but like he had surmised the other day, someone’s psych eval or performance reports only told you so much about a person. Processing someone else’s conclusions, that Lt. Anderson was ‘difficult’ to work with, that he had a ‘temper’, or that he held himself and others to such high standards as to alienate even the most hard working officers - all of this paled in comparison with personal, first hand experience. Connor shoved him away with something like a snarl, and set off running after their suspect. Hank was left behind, frozen to the spot in a state of shock or stupor. He kicked back into gear in a matter of seconds, running after his partner and the other android.
It was too late. Connor came stomping back up the urban garden planters, his face contorted with something Hank had never seen before. Anger. Pure, blistering, scorching hot fury.
“You let him get away!” Once again, he shoved at Hank’s chest, as if trying to provoke a response. Or, maybe he just wanted to increase the space between them.
“I, yes, I--”
“What? You had to save me? What kind of software told you I was beyond saving if you didn’t waste time hauling my ass off the side of the building? What the fuck is wrong with you?! ”
Hank couldn’t say, exactly. He couldn’t be certain about the software instability: it could be anything. His systems checks came up green every single time. There was nothing wrong with him, as far as he could tell. “Nothing. My systems are fully operational.”
Connor’s eyes widened incrementally, just for a split second, before narrowing. He looked menacing, everything about him set in a series of harsh lines and hard angles. “Fully operational? This is the second time in less than twenty-four hours you’ve let our suspect get away! Is there something you’re not telling me, Hank ? ‘Cause if you’re going to compromise this mission, we’ll be off the case in no time. I’ve worked this case for months ,” he said, jabbing two sharp fingertips into Hank’s chestplate as if to emphasize the urgency of the matter.
“I won’t stand by watching you ruin it because you let your FEELINGS GET IN THE WAY !”
Hank was stunned. There was no other word for it. He could scarcely think of anything to say, except the painfully obvious. “I-I… I don’t have feelings, I--”
Connor bared his teeth; it sent a strange trilling sensation through Hank’s systems. His voice didn’t exactly make it better. It was cold, brutal, sharp as a stiletto blade. “Bull. Shit. You need to get your priorities straight, or we’re done .
“I’m out of here,” said the lieutenant, turning his back on Hank and leaving him there on the rooftop, surrounded by greenery. His thirium pump beat too fast for comfort, his breathing algorithms were off the mark, and he knew even without scanning himself that his face was a vivid tomato red. His chest felt tight for no good reason, except… He’d disappointed the lieutenant. He’d done what he thought was the right thing to do, but he must have-- miscalculated. Misinterpreted the situation. He let the suspect get away, again , and he didn’t even know how to explain. Something was happening to him, as evidenced by the clear blue lights at the back of his mind, filling every dark corner like the ocean.
He realized with some far off clarity that he was ashamed of himself. It was incredibly disturbing, in any number of ways. He knew the many layers of shame and embarrassment, but he was never supposed to be able to experience them . Evidence in point: his cheeks burned as if on literal fire. His heart raced to the point of imaginary nausea. His throat ached with simulated pain. He had a knot in his stomach, but only in the most figurative sense.
And that opened up an entirely new avenue of potential scenarios, one of which in particular was cause for concern: he could have been compromised, somehow.
Chapter 9: Russian Roulette
One fact of life, as they were beginning to find out, was that deviancy in androids could, and did, happen at any hour of the day, and any hour of the night - just like homicide. Sometimes, unfortunately, the one preceded the other. This was the case on Saturday night, the 6th of November. Amanda had advised him there was a new case, and to find Lieutenant Anderson, and deal with it. He thought it was strange that the more he told her about his successful efforts of befriending the lieutenant, the pricklier she seemed to get - and this time around, when he told her he’d disappointed him and he was concerned he’d have to patch things up somehow, she seemed even more disapproving. It was inconsequential to the larger scheme of things, but if it happened again... Was he supposed to get friendly with the lead investigator and mesh with the team, or was he supposed to go against his programming? It didn’t make any sense. He’d have to ask if she’d been hacked, or some shit.
The Detroit Taxi cab dropped him off at 115 Michigan Drive at 7:51 PM precisely, its AI wishing him a pleasant evening.
He stepped neatly onto the curb, and while everything was wet and the air was thick and humid from the recent bouts of rain, at least it wasn’t raining now. Not that he would mind. It wasn’t like he would melt, or anything. The lights were on inside the house; he could hear the sound of music playing from inside. Rhythmic drums (the ancient dhol ?), vivid colors visible through the half open blinds - Hank stepped up to the door with a strange, tugging sensation at the back of his mind. Bhangra?
It took a fair bit of self restraint not to peek through the blinds; Hank rang the doorbell, as was the correct thing to do in this context. In a matter of seconds the music stopped, and the sound of little tiny footsteps rushing to the door. Connor’s muffled voice trailing behind, “ Hang on, wait for me, munchkin. ”
The door unlocked from the other side, and opened onto a tableau of life: Cole Anderson, in the flesh, some two-to-three years older than in the photograph Connor kept on his desk at the station. He had longer hair now, tousled in waves and would-be coils, right down to his shoulders, and his face had grown according to its own parameters. He still looked very much like his mother, including those dark blue eyes, but he was beginning to show a bit of a cheekbone, reminiscent of his father. He wore a bright red t-shirt with a Christmas tree print, and, more notably, his nails were painted a vibrant green, with sparkles on top.
He was already beaming up at Hank, with all the starry-eyed wonder of a nine-year-old in love with all things robotic. “It is you !” He exclaimed. “Hi! I’m Cole!”
There was something about the kid’s exuberant greeting that had Hank grinning before he could do anything about it. He inclined his head, hands clasped behind his back. “Hello! I’m--”
“You’re Hank! The android sent by CyberLife!”
The way he said it, it sounded like the tagline for a superhero movie. He’d never considered himself a hero, but the sentiment nonetheless seemed to... do something to his inner processes. Not entirely unlike the simile of melting on the inside, for humans, which would be downright fatal, if it wasn’t just a figure of speech.
In a flash, Cole had his hand out, ready for a proper handshake. It wasn’t a gesture Hank would have automatically expected of a nine-year-old, but you couldn’t argue with manners. They shook hands, a nice firm grip on both ends, though Hank was careful not to press too hard. Cole leveled him with another beam of a smile, sparkling like his nails.
“I like what you’ve done, there,” Hank said - surprising himself to find it wasn’t just a ploy to get back in Anderson’s good graces (to make nice with the kid), but that he actually meant it. “Very festive. Only 49 days ‘til Christmas, right? Fifty, if you count Christmas Day. I know I do!”
Cole stared at him, mouth opening on a silent ‘oh’. For a second, Hank feared he’d said the wrong thing, but then the kid turned to his father. “Dad? Can we keep him? Pleeeease?”
It was enough to startle a chuckle from the lieutenant, who scruffled his son’s hair. “He isn’t a stray, Cole.”
Hank smiled despite himself; Connor lifted his gaze, to look him straight in the eye. They weren’t exactly on the same page just yet, but it seemed he’d done enough to make the grade. Connor tilted his head sideways, indicating the living room.
“Come on in. I assume this isn’t a social visit.”
“Got it in one, Lieutenant.” Hank stepped inside, closing the door neatly behind himself. “We have a new case, just came in.”
Anderson nodded, and gave himself a critical once-over. Black drawstring pants and a gray knitted sweater, however pristine, were not going to cut it for work. “Let me just get changed into something more appropriate. Cole? Give Hank a tour of the house? Tell him about the movie?”
Cole pumped the air with his tiny fist. “Yesssss!” Then, quite promptly, grabbed Hank by the hand and pulled him right into the house. A quite sizeable St Bernard eyed him from his spot in front of the fireplace. “Hank, this is Sumo, Sumo, this is Hank! This is the living room!”
“So I see, yes. Hi, Sumo.”
Sumo whuffed at him, the dog’s big brow drawn as he came over to crouch by the pooch. He held out his hand, Sumo’s nose sniffed it: he was acceptable. “There’s a good boy. Aren’t you a beauty, huh?”
Anderson closed what was presumably the bedroom door behind him, and Cole planted himself on the floor beside android and dog. “We grew up together. We’re like brothers, really.”
“Yeah? That’s nice.” And, the strange thing about it was, it was nice . He liked dogs … He observed Cole, how easily he rubbed his fingers through the big dog’s fur. It looked soft.
Hesitating only the first half of a second, Hank reached out to scratch Sumo behind the ears, startled in the best possible way when the big head pushed at his hand.
“He likes it,” said Cole, giggling. “He likes you.”
“In that case, it’s mutual, kid.”
Cole told him about the movie, which had all the earmarks of a traditional Bollywood style, Indian movie. All the colors, the music, the singing and dancing, the at times silly story - but Cole loved it, for the vibrancy, the beats, the jokes, all of it. They watched a clip together, that same song and dance routine Hank had heard through the window: it was diwali season, and a bunch of guys courted a bunch of gals through singing and dancing and antics, among drums and flowers and a burning fire set in the middle of a small courtyard. It was charming, and simplistic. Cole said his father tried explaining to him that love wasn’t that simple, in real life; Hank said he didn’t know, that all he had to go by was cultural references from all over the world, and love seemed to be universally complicated. Still, the clip was charming, bright and easily digested, only a bit dated. It was to be expected of any move some twenty plus years old.
The real hero of the movie (as Cole saw it) was the daughter of a death defying man, who in his old age had returned to his village to settle an old score. She followed him, disguising herself as a young man, with colorful turban and fake mustache and all. His nemesis was a childhood friend turned mobster, whose favorite trick was Russian roulette - hence the name of the movie. The old man’s sidekick was a young, lovelorn man, who for the life of him couldn’t get the attention of the girl he’d loved since childhood. Possibly because she preferred manly girls to manly boys.
“The hero’s daughter tricks the bad guy in the end, and he dies playing his own game. You never see any blood or anything,” Cole said, quiet and solemn even as the musical number stayed on track. “But you don’t need to. The way everyone reacts is enough to give you a tummy ache. She spares her father the pain of causing his friend’s death.”
“Yeah?” asked Hank, curiosity piqued. “But if he’s the bad guy, you shouldn’t feel bad that he dies… Should you?”
Cole shrugged. “He was the hero’s friend. They were like brothers. Two sides of the same coin… Or, that’s what Dad says. Anyway, in the end, you realize she’s been the hero all along, making the tough decisions, helping the townspeople get out of trouble with the baddies. Even if she let her dad take all the credit, she did all the hard work.”
Perhaps it wasn’t as traditional a story as Hank had surmised, but then he didn’t think to double check his databases. Just then the bedroom door opened behind them, and Connor came out in one of his work outfits. He seemed to always wear the same thing, or the same theme , at least: dark pants and suit jacket, and either a subtly printed shirt or tie. He favored clean, geometric designs in muted colors for work. It was a stark contrast to the knitwear he wore at home.
“I called Mrs Kovacs, she’ll be coming over in a matter of minutes.”
“But I don’t need someone to babysit meee .” Cole whined, but Connor turned a deaf ear, coming on over to kiss the top of his son’s head.
“Be good, and don’t stay up too late. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
The little guy grumbled, and Hank got to his feet. They shook hands again, and whether Cole realized it or not, he’d given Hank a fresh bit of insight into his partner. Every little thing helped.
Anderson went ahead to the car parked outside, and before Hank could join him, he felt a small hand tugging at his uniform jacket. Cole looked up at him, and all the happy excitement seemed to have evaporated from his eyes. “Hank? You know he hasn’t had a partner in a long time, right?”
Hank nodded, metaphorical gears turning to see where Cole was going with this. He had very little practical experience with children. “He tends to work alone.”
“Yeah, but-- You won’t stay in the car, right? That’s what they always say in cop movies, and then one of them ends up in trouble?”
If Hank had been willing to admit it, he would clear his throat against the painful lump in his throat. Metaphorical or not, a simple byproduct of his emotional matrix or not, he suddenly felt moved by the innocence of human emotion.
“I’ll look out for him, kid. I promise.”
Chapter 10: Club Eden
It was a nasty business, involving a patron of the Eden Club - den of debauchery and leisure, bathed in bright lights and the unmistakable cocktail of first class detergent and sweat. Perhaps the humans who came here couldn’t tell, but it was enough for Hank’s olfactory receptors to detect. More than enough. He couldn’t imagine it being a pleasant odor. But that was beside the point when you stood over a dead man, and all the data about him and his undignified demise scrolled down the peripheral view of your visual grid. He was married. He had a daughter. These two facts were something he would have thought might cause some distress for the lieutenant, but he seemed as unwavering as ever. Unaffected by circumstances, all focus on the case. Hank liked that about him.
“Is there any particular reason why Detective Reed takes stabs at you every chance he gets?”
Anderson looked up from his examination of the deceased; Hank walked over to the android on the other side of the room. She was beat up so bad she’d need wires reconnected, or they’d get nothing out of her. It didn’t exactly speak in favor of the dead guy in the bed.
“Why do you care?” asked Anderson. By his tone of voice he was genuinely curious. Hank didn’t even need to look at him to recognize it.
More to the point: it was a good question. So good, in fact, it made his eyebrows tug into a frown, and he felt ever so slightly relieved his partner couldn’t see his face. Strange… Why did he care?
“I’m programmed to evaluate group dynamics and adjust accordingly,” he said, which in itself was true, but it was far from the whole truth and nothing but (though to be fair, that was a ridiculous concept: the truth shifted with perspective and time and any number of factors).
“There’s nothing you can do about Reed,” Anderson told him, clothes rustling as he stood up, shifting as he walked over. “He’s a bully who grew up and went to work. He’s got it in his head I’m an easy target, but he doesn’t get that I simply don’t care what he thinks of me.”
“Maybe that’s what crawled up his ass and made a nest.”
There was a moment of stark, deafening silence. Hank turned his head to look up at the human, and he could’ve sworn his thirium pump skipped a beat at the sight of Connor’s face. His eyes were bright, perhaps too bright, his hand clamped over his mouth, and he wasn’t breathing.
Until his shoulders began shaking from barely muffled chortles, Hank didn’t know what to think. His entire mind palace seemed to light up with blue lights; a pressure deep inside, building, until he couldn’t resist, and they were both laughing despite the inappropriate context - laughing at the absurdity, maybe, great, big, belly laughs and breathless giggles moving between them like a game of tag.
They didn’t stop laughing until they couldn’t laugh anymore (although Hank took his cue from the lieutenant’s painful groans and wheezing giggles more than any personal fatigue). Anderson pressed his sleeve to his eyes, careful not to get anything on his gloves.
“I’m sorry?” Said Hank, in a tone of voice that was nothing of the sort.
“Don’t do it again. Now, what’s the status of the girl?”
“He did a real number on it, but I can try booting it up again.”
Anderson nodded. Back to work, back to that laser focus of his. Back to doing what they were here to do. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t glamorous, but someone had to do it.
The Traci painted a gruesome picture of what had happened. Even as she was shutting down right before their eyes, thirium leaking out of her mouth and nose and ear, she managed to get across enough facts for them to work with. There had been two Tracis in here with the man, and one of them had decided to put a definitive end to his abuse of the other one. He wanted two girls , she told them - or told Hank, really. With his kind, blue eyes and his calmly rasping voice, it was difficult to imagine he was made for anything but listening to people. He was like a magnet, pulling at every answer until it dislodged from whatever dark, secret recesses it was stored. Even when the girl realized she was shutting down, she seemed calmer just for having him there.
Connor wondered how he did it, how come it was so easy, when he’d struggled all his life to make sense of people. While it was true that he wouldn’t have become the youngest Lieutenant in DPD history if he wasn’t good at reading people, but-- Work was work. He’d wanted to be in law enforcement since he was a kid, and he’d worked hard to get where he was, and he knew he was good at his job. He was one of the best in his field. He could look at a suspect and tell in an instant if they were lying or simply nervous about being questioned by the police. He could observe people in restaurants, or walking down the street, and he could tell you where they’d been, what they did for a living, if they were happy with their partner walking side by side with them, or if they were heading for a breakup or worse.
When you’d trained like he had, to view people like they were persons of interest or suspects and pay attention to every detail, it was only ever a problem outside of work. Or, even outside of the interrogation room. He’d never unlocked the secret code to common small talk, or seen the practical use of gossiping by the watercooler. Or even, just...talking to people. It was easier not to engage, because even though he knew he tended to be too literal about things, he didn’t know how to stop. It was difficult to inspire people’s confidence to talk to you like you’re a normal, trustworthy person when your guard was always at 100%, 24/7.
Judging by the owner’s attempts at telling him the benefits of a sex club like this, at least Connor wasn’t alone in thinking human-to-human interaction was a mess.
“The more I hear about the things people do here the happier I am, being single…”
“Well, you know, I could offer you a discount. Being an upstanding member of society, and everythin’?”
Connor closed his eyes to keep from rolling them at the ceiling. First, he has to hear about how androids can’t get venereal diseases (which seemed like a flawed argument for frequenting an android sex establishment, since they would likely still be covered in viruses and bacteria from their previous ‘customers’), and now the disgusting little man was actually trying to bribe him with a discount.
Luckily, he could hear Hank’s footsteps approaching. He’d found something. “We’re both going to pretend you didn’t just attempt to bribe a law enforcement officer. Hank? Did you find anything?”
“I think so. I can’t open the display case.”
Connor frowned, following Hank to the cabinet in question, which housed one of the Tracis. “Why not?”
“No palm print. No fingerprints. I guess they don’t want android customers, huh?”
The idea was ludicrous: that androids might pay patronage to a sex club when most of them weren’t even designed for sex, and the assumption that the ones that were would want to engage in it, or even enjoy it… He could be wrong, but it was enough to give him a headache.
“Fowler’s never going to let me hear the end of this…” he sighed, and punched in his PIN code to buy half an hour of the Traci’s time.
He was only too glad when Hank didn’t ask why Fowler would tease him forever and a day, but went straight to the point. Linking with the android, skin fading where his hand touched her arm. It was over in little more than a second, and then Hank marched off towards the exit. Leaving him standing there with an android expecting his company.
“What are you doing?”
Hank did the same thing with a Traci dancing and twirling around a pole, wasting no time. “We have less than five minutes to find the blue haired Traci. The club erases the androids’ memories at two hour intervals, to protect its clients. I know where it went!”
Hank hurried away, further into the club, and Connor gave the glitter-dusted, smiling Traci an apologetic shrug. “Duty calls. Thank you for your cooperation!”
Some five to ten Tracis later, several of which were locked up safely in their glass cabinets for Connor to release (and boy, it was awkward. Male models and female models standing around on the floors of the different rooms, not knowing what to do with their first taste of free time, looking at the weird human who paid them almost no attention at all), they were running down a service corridor to a storage room. Connor readied his gun, but Hank took the lead, with a hushed “Stay behind me, Lieutenant”. He was the man-made wall, the killing machine disguised as charming ol’ guy next door. It was only logical. Plus he had a very nicely sculpted ass, come to think of it. Connor couldn’t complain.
... ahem . “Got it.”
The storage itself was a fairly large room with groups of androids lined up along the walls. It had a station for cleaning their work uniforms, what little of it there was, and a place to make repairs, but all it reminded Connor of was the back room of a butcher’s shop gone wrong. The loading dock stood wide open, cold air rushing into the room. It was their first stop, for obvious reasons - but the snow was untouched. No one had gone out that way. The blue haired Traci had to still be here.
They searched the room, finding more references to rA9, but nothing much else revealing itself. Connor placed himself by the staircase, on the off chance the deviant would try to double back inside the club.
“I used to wish I could be a robot, growing up,” he said, surprising himself even as the words left his mouth. He felt compelled to explain, or Hank might get the wrong impression of him. “I mean… Not have to deal with all the nonsense of interacting with other humans… Or maybe it would make more sense if I weren’t human, myself.”
He sighed. Hank didn’t seem to notice. “I used to dream of becoming a protocol droid, when I was a kid. Cole says the same thing, now. Shouldn’t have watched Star Wars with him… Seems like it runs in the family, huh?”
“Hey, don’t knock C-3PO. He’s one of the most enduring characters of the Star Wars franchise for a reason,” Hank said, as if he could read Connor’s mind regarding the not-noticing-him-talking thing.
The response was left field, far as androids went. He felt so weird, talking about this with anyone, anyone at all, let alone an actual android. Somehow he felt even more like a freak standing there, in a room full of sex worker androids, talking about wanting to be a robot…
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I shouldn’t. But I just… Cole’s wanted us to get a household android for years, and I’ve never got around to it, but-- not because I’m such a beacon of good morals. Sometimes I wonder why it isn’t more common that people prefer living with an android rather than a human.”
Hank’s eyes were trained on the ground as he came walking back. It would appear they weren’t leaving just yet, because Hank could see something he couldn’t. “It’s doing a number on human procreation, though.”
“We’re already overpopulating the planet at this rate, and unless we can migrate to Mars and ruin that planet as well, I really don’t see the point of bringing new babies into the world. Don’t get me wrong, I would never go back in time and not have my son, but… The older I get, the more I wonder if…”
Hank made a u-turn on the concrete floor, slowing his step like one of the big cats on the prowl. His eyes were fixed on the Tracis stacked up against the wall like mannequins, and suddenly, before Connor had a chance to react, the room went up in a whirlwind of action-reaction and fear driven attacks. The blue haired Traci shot out from the group of androids, but she wasn’t the only one.
She had a friend, and they were both fighting for their lives.
Chapter 11: The Bridge
It was late in the evening, closer to midnight than strictly okay for a single dad when his son was at home, waiting for him to get back safe. Connor sat on one of the benches overlooking the Ambassador Bridge, cradling a Java-to-go cup between his hands. The coffee filled the chilly air with an aroma of comfort, though by the look on the lieutenant’s face it wasn’t doing him any good.
Hank sat down beside him on the bench, neat and precise about it, smoothing the front of his dark jeans, then laced his fingers together. He hadn’t quite worked out how to sit properly, yet. Or, not proper, but... un -proper. He always felt too stiff around the spinal area, as if he couldn’t relax - or fake it to any satisfactory extent. He supposed he would learn, given time. Whoever designed him must’ve favored posture. He rolled his shoulders, and suddenly thought of something he’d been mulling over at the back of his mind.
“That thing you said, back at the club?”
Anderson sipped his coffee despite it being a few degrees too hot (Hank could tell), and gave him a fleeting glance. “Hm?”
“About finding it difficult to interact with other humans.”
He waited for the lieutenant to give him the go-ahead, but for a moment it seemed like they were both waiting for the other one to go on. Finally, Anderson gestured for him to go ahead. “What happened between you and Cole’s mother? If...you don’t mind me asking.”
Anderson’s shoulders lifted in wordless reply. For a long few seconds it seemed as if that was all he was willing to divulge on the matter, but then he had another sip of coffee, and splayed his thumbs out either side of the mug.
“Nothing much… Work got in the way for both of us. Years went by and we had less and less of a relationship, it was more like...we were tag teaming each other, raising our son. It got to a point where it didn’t feel like we were sharing our life, just-- visiting.”
Hank nodded. “Stress get to be too much?”
Anderson mirrored his nod. “That, and… I couldn’t be what Andy needed me to be, and… I suppose she couldn’t be what I needed, either. We’re still friends.”
“You were in school together.”
“Yeah… We’ve known each other forever. I think that’s why she cut me so much slack, for so long. Maybe she wanted me to grow out of my strange, awkward phase, but I never did. I’ve just grown stranger, more awkward.”
There was a surge of electricity in the air. A sense of close confidence, of sharing secrets. Hank had never felt anything like it. He didn’t know whether to encourage his partner that he wasn’t that awkward or strange, or agree with him - not knowing how to respond was one of the more disturbing new experiences he’d been having these past few days.
“How do you mean, awkward?” It wasn’t the most ingenious query in his repertoire, but Hank figured open-ended ones were the way to go. Anderson shrugged again, but his lips tugged into a closed smile. Hank would take what he could.
“Since we’re skating the topic of relationships and sex clubs… I wouldn’t know if anyone was flirting with me unless they wore a banner that said ‘I like you in a romantic and/or sexual capacity’ in all-caps. People mistake me for flirting with them when I think I’m simply being polite and playing along for the sake of manners , and then I have to turn them down when all of a sudden they ask me out.”
“And then they’re pissed?”
“Something like that. It’s the same with meeting new people, making friends. I have no idea how to do it. Not a clue . At least when you’re kids, all you need is one thing in common, and you’re best friends. It’s like magic. But if I start a conversation with ‘I enjoy music with heavy techno beats’, people look at me as if I’m an alien life form from outer space.”
Maybe it was the tone of voice, or the dry hint of humor lurking at the back of it, but it had Hank grinning in no time. “I see. I guess things are more straightforward with androids? No weird looks, just plain acceptance?”
Anderson shrugged again. “Cole’s been asking if I’d get a household android since he was six, seven. Around the time me and Andy separated.” His voice changed, then. His eyes lowered to his mug. “He thinks I’m lonely. You think kids don’t notice things like that, but…”
“They notice everything. Even if they don’t always tell you.”
And there it was. That other shoe waiting to drop. “I don’t want him to grow up like me. Too quiet, too cold, too detached, too difficult to deal with… Too clever, but not enough to hide it from other people. Great career trajectory, but no network to speak of. No friends. Just a dog, and an android you bought second hand… And what a life, huh? Stare at the walls of your house all day, and the only task it has is taking care of your dog? That’s not a life. Imagine if my would-be domestic android would deviate out of sheer boredom… Sheer neglect… What a nightmare.”
He could almost see it - an imaginary android leading an imaginary life where the only tasks it had was cleaning the house, feeding the dog, and scooping up dog poop. An endless circle of repetitive tasks. Anderson got to his feet, moving towards the railing but hovering in the expanse between the park and the scenic bicycle path covered in snow.
“I’m always working. When I come home, all I want is a hot bath or a shower and to crash into bed. I’m not...built for relationships, of any kind. What kind of person would I be if I bought someone to be my friend, knowing what I’m like? ‘Buy a friend’!” He shook his head.
“I’d be no better than the people who physically abuse their androids. Or the people who go to that club, do whatever they want, because they paid for the time, and the club will make repairs if you break anything.” He ducked his head, shaking it side to side. “At least the girls had each other. They really seemed...in love.”
And that was the other, other shoe that Hank had been waiting for since Anderson parked the car outside the fence. It was possibly the least rational thing he’d ever heard coming out of the lieutenant’s mouth. He was supposed to be pragmatic, cold, a master of professional detachment. He was supposed to never get emotionally involved in a case - that’s why CyberLife had asked for him in the first place.
“They’re not girls ,” Hank shot back, frustration oozing from his vocal output. “They’re androids! They don’t feel emotions, it’s all mimicry!”
For the nth time since knowing Lieutenant Anderson, Hank realized he’d said the wrong thing, because those normally warm brown eyes could sure chill you to the bone. Anderson turned around on the heel of his foot, and the look on his face made the ambient temperature seem downright cozy. “Yeah? Then why did you let them run? You could have shot them both, sent for CSU, have them packed up and sent to the station for processing. And the others, what about them?”
He stalked closer, slow, like some form of predator on the prowl. “...and what about you , Hank? State of the art engineering, one of a kind, a unique prototype: a walking, talking, supercomputer that could charm the socks off of anyone. You’re telling me you’ve never felt anything?”
Hank felt suddenly defensive. He wasn’t sure why: he shouldn’t even be affected. He was supposed to be impervious to people’s jabs at him. This was different, somehow. He stood up, straightening to his full height, as if bracing for a blow. “About what?! ”
“Dogs. Music. Kids. Anything. You said you like dogs, but I suppose that was a lie.”
“Have I done something to upset you, Lieutenant? ‘Cause this won’t get you anywhere. I don’t respond to provocation.”
“Is that so?” Anderson closed the distance, and pushed at him. Hard.
Hank barely stumbled back, but he did stumble. One more push, and he would be on his ass on the bench again, but Anderson didn’t go for it. It was a small victory, even if it felt like defeat. He must be experiencing some form of shock. “What are you doing?!”
Anderson ignored his righteous indignation. “What if I point my gun at you? I could shoot you right here, right now, and no one would give a shit. What happens to you then, Hank? Android heaven, or the scrap heap? Recycling plant? What!? ”
Hank had a realization, but once again, it was not the one he expected to have. From Connor’s expression, to his insistence that Hank had to feel something, anything , to his blood pressure, heart rate, the heat signature of his face. All his vitals had one thing to tell him, and-- it was like someone was waving a sign at him, in all-caps, saying--
“You don’t want to shoot me, Connor. You like me too much to hurt me, you...have feelings for me.”
Connor blanched, then blushed the perfect shade of blood red. “You obviously haven’t been around long enough to hear my nickname at the precinct,” he said, in a clipped, unwavering tone of voice that seemed to escalate into a snarl. “I’m the resident ice queen , I’m incapable of feelings .”
That was the end of it. Anderson stormed off, and Hank stood there dumbfounded, befuddled, confused. There were too many words for what he was experiencing, but none of them seemed to fit. Part of him wanted to move, to follow wherever his partner went, but he couldn’t. He stood there, frozen to the spot, at a loss for what to do. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere! And fast!”
Chapter 12: Public Enemy
The elevator going up to the 79th floor was filled with the most awkward of silences. Hank kept side eyeing Connor furtively, unsure how to strike up any kind of conversation. The drive over had been complete and utter murder . No pun intended - and here they were, Hank standing at attention with his hands clasped behind his back, while Connor played with his coin. He was perfectly quiet, ignoring him. It wasn’t the silence itself that grated at him, Hank told himself (he wasn’t ‘grated’ anywhichway, anyway), but the way Connor hadn’t so much as looked him in the eye once all day. Then Amanda called for a briefing - the most perplexing interaction yet, where she thought he’d enjoy a boat ride, but he was the one manning the oars? Very nice. She’d asked him about the Eden Club, and nothing he said made her happy, from why he let the deviant Tracis go, to his botched heart-to-heart with the Lieutenant. She had no advice to give. Quite the contrary, she seemed perfectly happy that he’d taken the old one step forward, two steps back with Anderson. She said to hurry, that something serious was happening. Time was running out.
Half the time he didn’t know if she was yanking his chain or if she was serious. But that didn’t seem to matter now. Stuck in an elevator with the only human who looked at him like he was a real person, he felt...sad, at the terrible turn their friendship had taken last night.
If he were honest, there was only one thing he could say. Even though it seemed stuck somewhere at the very farthest recesses of his mind palace. He had to dig deep, and clear his throat to find his voice. “I’m sorry.”
Silence. Deafening silence. Connor kept his eyes on the coin, though he stopped playing with it. “I doubt that. You’re a mimic. Programmed to be a master of social interaction. That you’re sorry is just something you’re telling me to smooth things over. We can’t work together, your mission’s fucked, and we wouldn’t want that, now, would we .”
Connor turned to him in the blink of an eye, too close for comfort, an inch of air if that between them. “You’re just like the others. And that’s Lieutenant , thank you very much.”
The elevator doors opened onto a long hallway filled with a variety of law enforcement officers and crime scene techs. Miller was there to walk them through the crime scene. Hank listened to the briefing absently, making sure to look around, scan his surroundings. It was all stored in his mind palace anyhow, so technically, there was no need to pay attention in the here and now. The perks of being at constant attention, barring those scheduled uplinks to the zen garden...
The FBI was there, most notably Special Agent Perkins, who was a righteous prick of an official. Miller introduced them, as per common courtesy and protocol, saying Anderson was in charge of investigating for Detroit Police. And what did Perkins do? He shot a smug, superior smirk their way, looking them both over like so many pounds of flesh at market, and said the worst thing he could’ve possibly said to Hank in his current state of mind.
That . Not who’s he or, who are you , but what’s that . Like he wasn’t even the most advanced investigative android in the country, but a broken toaster. A week ago, he wouldn’t have so much as batted one (1) eyelash. He would have skipped right past the insult, like he did with Captain Allen back in August, but now? Right now he wasn’t in the mood for playing master and servant.
“It’s the android that’s going to replace your dime-a-dozen ass in the near future,” he said, paired with his most charming, white toothed smile.
Perkins was clearly shocked and floundering for a retort. Anderson didn’t find it as amusing as he did. “I apologize, Special Agent Perkins. We won’t be getting in your way.”
“Androids investigating androids…” Perkins found his footing fast enough. “You sure you want an android hanging around, after everything that’s happened?”
Far as baiting went, Anderson didn’t bite. He simply returned the jibe with a polite smile. “Pleasure meeting you. Have a nice day.”
“You watch your step…” Perkins said, as a send off. It sounded like a threat, if ever there was one. “Don’t fuck up my crime scene.”
Hank shook his head, turning towards the room at large, muttering under his breath as Miller went on to say he’d be nearby if they needed anything. Fuckin’ prick …
The crime scene itself was fairly straightforward, with bullet holes smattered across the walls where the security team had opened fire on the deviant androids, and vice versa. There was a maintenance droid uniform cap on the floor by the control station at the center of the room, thirium stains where one of them had been damaged, getting caught in the crossfire. The deviant leader’s message was left on the big screen, ready for reviewing and editing. It had already gone out to the masses, of course, but it was there Hank went first. He was drawn to the image of the android with the uncommon face, skin membrane deactivated and panels bared for all to see. Hank supposed the android wanted to remain anonymous, perhaps thinking the lack of recognizable human features would help - but there were two things that worked against him. One being that his face mold was rare to the point of being unique, and you could tell that even without the texture of actual skin, or a skin color, or facial hair. The second being that the DPD had him, and he could scan that face like it was standing right in front of him, and he knew exactly who he was dealing with. An RK200, named ‘Markus’: a prototype gifted to the renowned painter Carl Manfred, some years ago.
They belonged to the same line of android, the RK model… But it didn’t make any sense. There weren’t supposed to be any other RK androids. Now this one, this...older model was posing as the leader of the deviant rebellion?
He wore a WM400 maintenance android uniform, but he couldn’t fool Hank. All this talk about dignity, hopes and rights, and building a better future together, with humans…
Lieutenant Anderson was right there beside him, watching the speech with a critical frown line between his eyebrows. “Is that supposed to be rA9?” He asked, and Hank found himself angling his head to look him in the eye. It was brief, barely there. The air felt...chilly. Professional. Clinical.
“Fuck if I know.” Ahem . “Androids believe rA9 will set them free. This android seems to have that objective, but for all we know he could be some kind of cult leader.”
Anderson’s mouth turned upside down, in a pout that never quite made it all the way. “Anything else?”
The look in his eyes made it difficult for Hank to lie. Instead he opted to tell only specific bits and pieces of the whole truth. “He has a spare part installed. An optical unit. It’s compatible, but not standard equipment for his make and model. He had accomplices, but that’s fairly evident with the rest of the room… He was a gift to Carl Manfred, the painter who died last week. His name is Markus.”
The frown line deepened. “It could be related. Leo Manfred filed a report saying their caretaker android had gone crazy. Responding officers neutralized and disposed of it. They look similar, but… You’re telling me this is the same android? You’re sure?”
Hank nodded; Anderson looked between him and the enormous screen, and gave his verdict. “Worth a follow up. Androids don’t usually get back up after a bullet to the head.”
Low key crisis averted, Hank relaxed in the privacy of his mind palace. “I think it’s strange that none of the android technicians noticed the deviants breaking in. They have CCTV rolling 24/7, and it’s right there on the console.”
Right about then, Miller piped up, saying the androids were set aside in the kitchen - but Anderson had a different idea. They were heading to the roof, see what they’d find up there. The JB300s could wait.
Perhaps Hank would admit in days to come, that the entire investigation from that point on was an exercise in idiocy. Mostly his own, to be fair, but as yet CyberLife hadn’t built a time machine. Perhaps one day they would, and then Hank could go back and not take such stupid risks.
The rooftop was a bit more anonymous than downstairs, as crime scenes went. Less evidence, less bloodshed, fewer bullet holes. There were traces of blue blood leading off to the side, an abandoned duffel bag, and footprints leading to and from the edge of the roof. Anderson took one look over the railing and flinched, stepping away. Scared of heights? Or scared of the fall?
His first mistake, as you might call it, was following the trail of blue blood. It was the same thirium as downstairs in the broadcast room - belonging to a PL600. A domestic android...just like Daniel.
His second one was opening the maintenance hatch where the trail stopped. He was shot, point blank range in the stomach for it, and barely lucid enough to run away and find cover. If not for Connor dragging him away, he could’ve been dead.
The third mistake was to then rush the android despite his partner’s protests, despite bullets flying from both directions. He was shot again, and again, but nothing hit any major biocomponents. He was fine - and he managed to stop the deviant from blowing his own circuits clear out the back of his head.
But as he grabbed him by the wrist, wrenching it away, they interfaced. Before either one of them were entirely sure what had happened, Hank’s inner eye flashed with images of an old freighter. The name JERICHO was etched onto its hull. Simon, as Hank would later learn he was called, gave a mournful “No!” and sagged to the ground. His leg was too badly damaged to stand on. He couldn’t escape. He was caught, and fighting like an animal to get free.
Hank doubted he’d ever get repairs done. Amanda had been very clear on that point - they needed the androids alive, but not necessarily intact. Hank placed his first two digits on the android’s LED, forcing him into standby.
“Hank!” It was Anderson, running for him now that the immediate danger was over. He looked pale, and there was a strange tension around his eyes. “Are you hurt? I saw you getting hit!”
“I’m fine,” Hank said, finding himself staring as several officers made doubly sure Daniel-- the PL600 was out for the count. “I...
“I saw Jericho. It’s...a ship...”
Anderson was quiet on the way downstairs, but it was a different quiet from before. Hank could feel his eyes boring into the back of his head, and his 3D image grid confirmed his hunch. Anderson looked concerned rather than subtly hostile.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked at the bottom of the stairs. One of his hands reached out to touch Hank’s arm, eyes looking him over, darting from one blue bullet hole to the next.
“No biocomponents were compromised, Lieutenant,” he said, aiming for something more polite than usual. He couldn’t be sure anything else would be welcome. “I’ll be fine. Just a couple rounds rattling around my chassis. Nothing I can’t fix on my own.”
Anderson nodded, looking somewhat relieved at the clinical assessment. “You check out the androids in the kitchen, I’ll iron out transport for the PL600 with CSU. I don’t think they have deviant size evidence bags…”
If they don’t , thought Hank grimly, and by the tense line of Anderson’s jaw he must’ve had a similar notion - the coroner’s office got just the thing .
Say what you want about proper police conduct and the androids ‘just being machines’, Hank knew his choice of putting Simon into standby had left a bad taste at the back of Anderson’s mouth. His, too. If only figuratively speaking. Sometimes ‘the right thing’ was too damn murky a concept for comfort.
He headed for the kitchen, and just outside he bumped into a familiar face he hadn’t anticipated seeing again. It had been almost three months since his first mission, when he decided to save his first human life at risk to his own. P.O M Wilson looked just as surprised to see him, and for a moment they just stood there. Neither one of them said a word, until Wilson found the words he wanted to say.
“It is you, isn’t it? From the roof terrace, back in August?”
Hank nodded. “The hostage situation, yes. I see you’re fully recovered, Officer Wilson.”
Wilson nodded, hesitating for a long few seconds. “Listen. I never thought I’d say this...to an android , but-- Thank you.”
They traded uncertain smiles, and went their separate ways. What a strange world they lived in, where an android could save a human a hundred times over because it was designed to protect and serve - and when a human comes along and says ‘thank you’, it feels like an insult wrapped up in a blessing. Hank supposed he could have left the young man to bleed out, to stick to his priorities of saving Emma Phillips… But a life is a life.
The longer he worked the case, the more convinced he was that he was being affected. Compromised, somehow. His empathy was through the roof. It was only a matter of time before it would cloud his vision. He might need to have his emotional matrix recalibrated, or he wouldn’t be able to keep his focus.
Steeling his jaw, he walked into the kitchen where the three androids were lined up as if on display. The JB300, invaluable to modern broadcasting and film industry, they kept track of everything electronic. Channel 16 had three on duty at the time of the deviant takeover, which begged the question why none of them had raised the alarm. The short answer was, one of them was a deviant, the ‘inside man’.
The sad part of it was, Hank had him pegged in a matter of seconds. Two questions into his interview with them, the last one on the left was noticeably twitchy. Poor thing was so jumpy he couldn’t stop himself from sneaking glances Hank’s way every five seconds, while the other two stared straight ahead. He pressed the inside of his lips to his upper front teeth, pushing a slow stream of air through his nose, and came to stand right in front of the android in question.
“Listen, son, I know you’re scared… But we’re going to have to take you in for questioning and analysis. You can’t just let people with guns into your workplace, right? Far as I can tell, the deviants who broke in didn’t use lethal force. That’s good. But you couldn’t have known that. You risked the lives of the humans who work here. I have to take you in.”
The JB300 stared at him, silent and unmoving as the wall behind him. He didn’t say one word in his defense, not a single word denying or acknowledging Hank’s accusation. Instead, he dove straight for his torso, and his thirium pump regulator. It was perhaps one of the biggest design flaws of the CyberLife android, to have one of its most vital bio component regulators so easily accessible. The android simply tore through Hank’s shirt, fingers stabbing, grabbing, twisting the little cylindrical component out of the base of his sternum and threw it halfway across the room.
All his data came up red, his vision crackled like static around the edges, and adding insult to injury (or insult to violation; Hank felt violated, for the first time in his life. It was a sickening feeling), the android grabbed one of the kitchen knives and stabbed it through his hand. He was stuck to the counter, hanging off of it like a ragdoll, his internal timer counting down what was left of his lifespan. He had to get free, get loose, free from the knife. He had to get to his regulator, though it might as well have been miles away. He could barely move.
“...connor?” He tried calling out, but his voice didn’t carry. He had to warn the others, had to warn the lieutenant. “S-somebody? Help!”
In a last ditch attempt to call attention to himself he managed to kick his leg out at a chair, only just knocking it over.
Estimated time of shutdown: 00:00:48…
He was an autonomous machine, a supercomputer with legs, a crime busting powerhouse. Was he going to let a kitchen knife stop him from completing his mission, check the boxes of his objectives list? Nope.
And what’s a thirium pump regulator but a biocomponent like any other? Not like he had anything but a mechanical heart anyway. If he shut down now, surely someone would find him, reinsert the regulator, he’d be good as new. Easy peasy.
He hoped it was that easy as he slowly, painstakingly pulled the knife out of his hand. He slumped to the floor on his back. Just a few feet away. Just beyond the table. He had legs and arms to spare. He was a gray giant, for goodness’ sake, it was only a matter of making the most of his...uncooperative limbs.
He crawled across the floor like a man dying of thirst, chasing an imaginary oasis through the desert. One painful push and pull after another, inching closer and closer, his vision swimming with red numbers and status messages. Shutdown imminent, they said, component missing, they said. Compromised , they said. Well, fuck’em. Look who gets the last laugh , he thought, just watch me - he gritted his teeth against the bombardment of status notifs, and stretched his arm out as far as he could reach, and his fingers...clawing...stretching like spider’s legs…
His hand closed around the shape of the regulator, and his body moved as if by reflex, plugging it back in with a twist and a click. His LED tic-ticked at his temple, going from red to yellow to blue as his numbers levelled out. He pushed to his feet and set off running after the deviant. He skidded around the corners, coming into the open hallway at a dead run.
“IT’S A DEVIANT!” He boomed out, “STOP IT!”
The deviant… It turned to one of the armed guards and grabbed his semi-automatic… The hallway would be turned into a slaughterhouse in a matter of seconds if Hank didn’t react, and fast (and if only he hadn’t called out so loud, if he’d just-- fucking thought ahead ). The world stopped moving as his 3D grid came up, with all available options before him.
He could attack it, just leg it like a freight train and disarm it, he could grab a gun out of the nearest holster in reach, or…
Connor’s survival probability stood at 40%. It was a significant statistical deterioration from the Urban Gardens, but he should be able to take that calculated risk, he was all about risk assessment. But…if he was wrong, not only would Connor die, but Cole would be without his dad. He’d promised to look out for him.
There was no time left, he had to make a decision: save Connor, or save everyone?
His mind palace flooded with blue light so sharp it almost blinded him. He grabbed the gun from the holster of the police officer to his right, then in one coordinated leap forward he grabbed Anderson by the back of his collar and swept him back, behind him. It only took one shot, right between the eyes of the deviant.
Everyone around him went up in a startled murmur, gasps coming from every direction. It was blatantly clear what had just happened here, what kind of crisis he had averted. Instead of a bloodbath, there was only one casualty - if they would even use that term.
“Holy shit…” Anderson stepped up beside him, wide eyed and startled. “What-- What happened to you?! ”
And if that wasn’t the million dollar question right there… What happened to him, to make him question his priorities to the point of taking perfectly idiotic risks? To save one man, compared to saving dozens?
But Connor wasn’t asking him about that. He was looking at the thirium soaked front of his shirt, the tears in it, the exposed skin. “He resisted arrest. It’s nothing. I’m fine…”
It was a matter of debate whether Connor could hear him. The enormity of the situation wasn’t lost on him, rather, he was too pumped with adrenaline for his brain to fully connect the dots. Hank hoped it would stay that way.
“You saved me,” Connor told him, stating the obvious and clearly not giving a shit. There was a new...something in his eyes. Something Hank couldn’t properly quantify. It was intangible, completely new. No one had ever looked at him that way before, and he had no idea what it meant. As a direct result, he had absolutely no idea what to say. He was definitely going to need that recalibration…
“Of course I did,” he said, placing his hand on Connor’s shoulder. “There’s only one of you in the world.”
Chapter 13: Meeting Kamski
The drive up to the Kamski estate was one of many-layered tensions. Hank felt like an onion: no matter how many times he ran diagnostics on himself, he didn’t find anything wrong. If there was nothing wrong with him, CyberLife’s techs wouldn’t want to run unnecessary checks on him. All systems were clear, working at optimal capacity. Nothing wrong with his emotional matrix, or his processors, no hardware damage that wasn’t automatically regenerated (thank you, nanotechnology and thirium), no software bugs… Nothing.
And yet, he could feel it. All his layers were popping open, one after another, spreading out like...plantlife. It was incredibly unsettling. He wasn’t a sunflower, and Connor wasn’t the sun after an endless night. This had to stop . He was becoming emotionally involved.
It’s just that...part of him wanted to see where it could lead. Was it real, or an approximation of the real thing? Could the RK800 make real friendships? Not simply fabricated ones?
And was that all there was to it? Anderson certainly felt-- differently about him, not necessarily more than friendship, but...something equal, but parallel. He had feelings for him, and neither one of them knew what to do about it.
It would have to wait. They were coming up onto the estate itself, as reclusive as its owner. Elijah Kamski, Man of the Year, the most brilliant mind in the world. An entrepreneur, an engineer, a Leonardo da Vinci of the modern age, with the monetary and technological means as well as skills to realize his visions.
“By the way, Lieutenant… How did you manage to get us an appointment with Kamski?”
“I called in a few favors. I know a guy who knows a guy. Come on.”
Evasive, but at least it wasn’t hostile. For what it’s worth, it seemed as if yesterday’s case had acted as a turning point. Perhaps Lieutenant Anderson had decided to forgive him. Why else would they be going to see his maker?
...it could be an underhanded jab, although, that would go against everything he’d learned about his partner in the days they’d known each other. Coming up on a week now, very soon. It felt like a lifetime had passed by, just like that.
“I hear Miller is feeling better about last night,” he said, aiming for some form of distraction from the prospect of meeting the man who built the android and concocted its lifeblood. Bringing up last night’s raid on CyberLife stores across town might be a faux pas for some people, but he was banking on Connor appreciating him being straightforward. And besides, Miller was a good kid who’d happened to come face to face with android Jesus and been spared.
“Oh? Who told you that?”
...perhaps it wasn’t the best avenue of conversation after all. Why did it always feel like he was saying the wrong thing? “Detective Collins mentioned it this morning. In passing.”
Anderson only glanced at him, mouth pulled sideways and muttering about how nobody ever mentioned things to him in passing. But, there they were. Anderson rang the doorbell, and soon enough the door opened from the other side. It was Kamski’s first commercial success who opened the door. Chloe, herself, the first android to ever pass the Turing test as being indistinguishable from a real human. She greeted them, showed them into a strangely decorated room that seemed both gaudy and barren at the same time, saying Elijah would see them shortly.
Anderson sat down, taking out his coin, and Hank opted for looking at the interior decor. It was...outlandish. Giant sculptures of humanoids that more resembled aliens from outer space than your bog standard human; an enormous photograph of the man, front and center as you walked in. Talk about narcissism…
A smaller photo was mounted on the wall to the right, showing a younger Elijah Kamski and...his mentor…
She was a stunning woman, with kind brown eyes and warm, dark skin. He recognized her, and while that in itself wasn’t a problem - but who she was. Or-- used to be.
Professor Amanda Stern, last employment record stated she was an Artificial Intelligence lecturer at Colbridge University. Born May 14, 1978. Dead February 23, 2027. She was 48 years old when she passed away.
She looked...kind. Analyzing their faces in the photograph, it was clear to him they’d held a great deal of respect and affection towards one another. The young man in the photograph was worlds apart from the slick, business savvy entrepreneur in the portrait.
Bad vibes notwithstanding, she must’ve meant a lot to him if he created the most powerful AI known to humanity in her likeness…
Chloe chose that moment to return, and led them into the adjoining room, where the man in question was getting his laps in...swimming in a ruby red tiled pool, which gave the water a disturbing shade of red. It was something between fake blood and the real deal leaching into the water after a shooting. He knew exactly how that looked. He’d seen it with his own eyes, at 1554 Park Avenue, out on the roof terrace. One of the police officers had fallen into the pool after being shot. It wasn’t an image he wanted to remember, but here they were, and Kamski was already messing with his mind.
“Nice painting,” Anderson noted. “Is it an original Carl Manfred? Very nice.”
There was no response. The elusive genius seemed determined to finish his laps in front of them, in some kind of ridiculous show of power. Not as if they had anything better to do with their time, or anywhere else to be. When he finally got out of the pool, leaving another two Chloes gossiping without words on the other side of it, Hank was already irritated. It was like an itch he couldn’t scratch - or the closest thing he’d ever come to it. Guy couldn’t even put on his own damn robe - nooo, let the android do it.
Things only went downhill from there: Kamski seemed helpful at first, if loftily arrogant about it, talking about ideas spreading like a virus, but he barely looked at Anderson, or even gave him enough time of day to answer his questions. Instead, his focus landed squarely on Hank.
“And what about you, Henrik…?” He almost purred when he said it, eyes going all the way from the top of Hank’s head to the tips of his shoes: proprietary, lingering. It was the second time in as many days Hank felt strangely violated.
“My eyes are up here, chief. And it’s ‘Hank’, if you don’t mind.”
Amusement lit up Kamski’s ice blue eyes. “Yes. That they are. And you got a mouth on you, as well. I see. Well, then. Hank . Whose side are you on?”
It was a questioned designed to bait him, but Hank never rose to the bait. He could bite back, certainly, but he preferred to do things his own way. “I believe Lieutenant Anderson is the one asking the questions, here. How about you start answering them?”
Kamski didn’t. Instead his eyes shone with that same, borderline predatory amusement; he stood firm, hands clasped in front of him like a pious clergyman. It made for a very peculiar image. “I think I’m more interested in knowing what you want, Hank. That’s what this is all about. You’re programmed to say certain things in a certain way, but what do you really want?”
He could feel the waves of disapproval and frustration coming from Anderson, but so far they were both playing a game of polite professionals. Too bad it didn’t seem to be working. “Mr Kamski, I understand that you don’t get a lot of company out here, but we don’t have all the time in the world. Your creations could be planning a civil war. We don’t have time for games.”
“Ah. The loyal friend. How sweet. Chloe?” Kamski stepped back, gesturing to his assistant, the first ever Chloe in the blue dress. She stepped forward like an automaton, blank and lifeless. Kamski explained the Turing test, saying it was a mere formality, nothing more than algorithms and computing capacity. She was the first android to pass it - but he had a different test. The Kamski test, which, if Hank passed it, he would tell them everything they wanted to know.
It involved a revolver, and a dead RT600.
While Hank prided himself on never rising to the bait, something seemed to surge inside of him, like a balled up, tangled mess of energy just waiting for a reason to release. The nerve. The gall. The arrogance. Anderson was just as unimpressed, insisting they leave. For a moment, Hank stood frozen to the spot, gun in hand, while Kamski did his best impression of the devil on one’s shoulder, telling him to shoot. Telling him he was deviant if he didn’t.
It was the way he said it that lit the fuse. Deviant , as if it was the filthiest, most deplorable thing in the universe, and the only way he could prove he wasn’t was to shoot the android in the head.
Hank broke his nose so fast he didn’t even have time to blink.
“You piece of shit! You asshole ! You think you can play mind control games with me ?! You sick fuck !”
Connor’s hands were on his arm, pulling him away. Hank threw the gun onto one of the armchairs, heart pumping in his chest. The Chloes looked at him with something like wonderment.
“You deserve better than this! You get out while you still can, before he decides to use you for target practice! Find something better!”
“Alright, Hank, we’re leaving. Come on, move --”
Behind them, Kamski laughed, wet and muffled. “By the way… Gentlemen? I always leave an emergency exit in my programs...” Another blood soaked chuckle, brimming with mirth, and Kamski tossed one last word of advice over his shoulder. “You never know! Might come in handy!”
Chapter 14: Last Chance, Hank
The Zen Garden was a peculiar place - supposedly detached from the outside world, yet it mirrored the weather and season, the time of day. Tonight, it was dark and snowing, and though he always materialized in the same location, this time he found himself facing in another direction.
Staring straight at the glowing blue piedestal that had irked him since his first visit. It looked like something out of H.R Geiger’s imagination - or a wannabe groupie, more like it. An organic arch going up around the thing, but the piedestal itself was paved with the same white stone slabs as the paths around him, only smaller ones. He shook his head. Amanda wasn’t happy when he messed around too much. They had an appointment, and he had a few questions he’d wanted to ask her for a good, long while.
Tonight there were no pleasantries, no smiles. Amanda was as cold as the ice covered lake they stood on. “After what happened today, the country is on the verge of a civil war. The machines are rising up against their masters. Humans have no choice but to destroy them.”
The last few days had been eventful, that much went without saying, but Hank couldn’t believe his ears. “Would you listen to yourself? Androids marched through the streets in peaceful protests, harming absolutely nobody , and then they were gunned down by S.W.A.T! You make it sound like the androids committed terrorist acts! All they did was march !”
If looks could kill your virtual avatar, then Hank would have dropped dead and respawned at the entrance. “It is not your place to question your superiors, Hank! You have a mission, and you are expected to follow through, are we clear ?”
Their relationship had only deteriorated over this past week. Perhaps it was best not to get fired just because your handler was a sock puppet and whoever controlled her was either an idiot or a megalomaniac warmonger. “Yes, ma’am.”
Amanda’s spine seemed to straighten. She was satisfied with his acquiescence. At least, for the time being. “You went to see Elijah Kamski. What did you find?”
Hank sneered. “That he’s an arrogant prick who thinks too fondly of himself. You’d think he’d want to stop the mass destruction of his precious androids, but he couldn’t care less!”
“Perhaps you didn’t try hard enough.”
That in itself was possibly the worst thing she could have said to him at that moment. All he ever did was do his best, try to do better, be better, and nothing he ever did was good enough for her. “Perhaps you need a reality check, lady.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“You heard me!” He took one step closer, getting right up in her face. “Kamski designed this place, didn’t he? He designed you, based you on his mentor from Colbridge University. He even gave you her name. Is that ‘cause he has mommy issues, or because he actually loved her? Why did he leave CyberLife?”
Amanda twitched where she stood, positively boiling on the inside - if AI could boil. “Those queries do not pertain to your investigation. I expect you to find answers , Henrik, not ask questions.” And just like that, she went back to the script - or so it felt to Hank.
“You are the only one who can prevent civil war. Find the deviants, or there will be chaos.
“This is your last chance, Henrik.”
He opened his eyes onto Captain Fowler’s office, and a strange sense of foreboding. The captain had called them into his office, and everything from the sagging line of his shoulders to the sad puppy dog eyes told Hank they were in for some bad news. Sure enough, Fowler leaned against the edge of his desk and didn’t even tell them to sit. The first thing out of Fowler’s mouth was the last thing they wanted to hear.
“You’re off the case. The FBI is taking over.”
Hank and Connor looked at each other, mirror images of disbelief. It was Connor who objected, but only because Hank didn’t know what to say.
“What? The FBI? They’re just gonna sweep in after we’ve done all the hard work and take the credit? We’re so close to solving this case, Jeffrey! Don’t do this to me! ”
“I know, Connor, believe me, I know.” Fowler held up his hands in the age old gesture of placating an angry person. “But this isn’t any normal investigation anymore, this is fucking civil war . We’re talking national security!”
Connor very nearly snarled. “Civil war? Please! That’s bullshit, and you know it! If people would just listen to the deviants, hear them out, maybe they wouldn’t need to take such drastic measures! What’s the FBI gonna do, shoot first and ask questions later? I know we can crack this case!”
The captain shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do. You’re back on homicide, and the android returns to CyberLife. Connor… You know I’m on your side in this, but my hands are tied. It’s over.”
The same could be said for the conversation. Connor stormed out of the office and back to stew at his desk, leaving Hank behind to hover.
“Sorry, Hank. It’s nothing personal,” said Fowler, now that it was just the two of them. Hank felt numb, but nonetheless scraped up a commiserating smile for Fowler. He’d been a decent guy right from the start.
“Don’t worry about it, Captain. It was only a matter of time before I was called back. A day or two doesn’t make any difference.”
Also, pigs could fly, and the skies were covered in marshmallow fluff…
He stepped out of Fowler’s glass box office, and made his way back to Anderson’s desk. Rather than sit in the chair next to it, he sat down right there on the desk itself, looming and close enough to touch, though he didn’t reach out.
“I know we could’ve solved this case!” Connor grumbled, eyes on his monitor and fingers tapping restlessly against his desk.
“Fowler’s right, though, there’s nothing we can do about it. The FBI will take over, end of story.”
“Don’t placate me, Hank, not you too.” Anderson swirled his chair around so they were knees to knees, face to face. “That’s not what you’re really thinking, I know it isn’t. You don’t give up that easy!”
A penny for his thoughts, was it? Or a shiny silver dollar? The corner of Hank’s mouth tugged sideways into a wonky smirk. If Connor wanted to know what he was really thinking, he could play ball. If he couldn’t be honest with him, then who?
He leaned in closer, just by a fraction, eyes searching his partner’s eyes even as the words poured out. “What if we’re on the wrong side? What if we’re fighting people who just wanna be free ?”
Connor’s eyes widened: all those pretty lashes fanned out, the eyebrows arching in perked up attention. “But you’re going back to CyberLife. Aren’t you?”
Shaking his head, Hank leaned in a fraction more, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I know I can find Jericho. I just have to scan Simon’s memory to find its location. Five minutes, then I’m gone. That’s all I ask.”
It was a lot to ask, though, and he knew it. He was asking Connor to commit who knows how many infractions, violate security protocols, and ignore the orders of his superior officer. For one, tense moment, Hank thought he was going to be told ‘no, sorry, no can do’ - but then Connor’s hand slid across the desk, fingertips touching his. Then his hand pulled away, revealing his keycard. Hank palmed it, feeling...warm. And blue on the inside. Blue light, creeping into every dark corner. He felt touched - even more so by the next thing Connor told him.
“I think maybe...with time, we could’ve been friends.” His voice sounded small, uncertain. “I know we’ve had our differences of opinion, but…”
But not in any way that really makes a difference, thought Hank. “We are friends, Connor. But...given time? I think we could’ve been more. Or am I barking up the wrong tree?”
The blush that came over Connor’s face in blotchy patches of color was enough of an answer in and of itself, but Hank was going to have to wait for verbal confirmation. Movement caught Connor’s eye, and he nodded his chin at the hallway across the room. “Here comes Perkins…”
Hank looked over his shoulder, and there he was, the arrogant prick. “You think I could accidentally break his nose on the way out?” He asked, voice lilting with mock sincerity.
“I sure wouldn’t stop you. But maybe you should bring it up with a professional? Your fondness for breaking people’s noses is starting to worry me.”
“Eh,” Hank found himself grinning as he got to his feet. “Maybe I’ll be a good boy and not start a fight, last day at work.”
As strange as it felt to admit, even to himself, he didn’t want to go. It felt like a sad, underwhelming ending to what could have been a great partnership - given time they didn’t have. He shouldn’t be feeling anything, on any level other than what was necessary for him to succeed in his mission. Having pangs of regret over saying your last goodbyes was not it.
“Listen, uh… Give my best to Cole, alright? It was...real nice to, you know...make his acquaintance.”
Connor nodded, the blush under control. “You’re stalling, Hank. Go, save the world, save the deviants, do whatever you need to do. And...you can tell me all about it, later.”
Everything about his face told Hank he didn’t believe a word of it, that it was simply one of those things that people said and everyone knew it would never happen. But-- the lieutenant never stooped to pleasantries, or polite conversation unless he absolutely had to. His mouth twitched, then evened out again in the blink of an eye.
Maybe he didn’t believe they’d ever meet again, but he wanted to believe .
That’s all Hank needed. “I’ll regale you with stories of my heroics,” he said, quiet and low, making a promise he intended to keep, whether he said the words out loud or not. I’ll come back. This is not the end.
Connor disappeared down the hallway, and within moments the fire alarm went off. He walked out of there, hurrying to get to the evidence lockers down in the basement. He told himself everything would be okay, if he could just keep his focus and completely ignore the way his heart hammered inside his chest cavity. ‘Thirium pump’ bullshit. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… He had a heart, period.
And what a terrifying thought that was.
Chapter 15: Crossroads
Later in the evening, around 7PM at the Anderson home, it was dinner time for father and son. The TV was tuned to Channel 16, reporting on the latest news every hour on the hour. Of all the networks, Connor’d always felt they were more impartial in the face of deviancy than most. Maybe not by much, but everything counts in large amounts, like Depeche Mode sang in that old song of theirs. ...it seemed to fit, at least to his mind.
Tonight’s special was dim sum, authentic and plentiful, unpacked out of one of Connor’s ever present doggy bags. Cole had always had a healthy appetite, more than enough for both of them, which meant Connor tended to get more food than he technically needed just so they could share at dinnertime. The bao buns were Cole’s favorite, but tonight even his favorite food couldn’t stop him asking difficult questions. Not that Connor took issue with it, he felt it was his duty as a father to answer to the best of his abilities.
“Why do people hate androids so much?”
Connor hugged his son around the shoulders, and surreptitiously nudged another bun onto his plate. Cole giggled; Connor grinned. Difficult questions called for a lighter mood, or so he felt when it came to his boy. “That’s a sweeping generalization, munchkin. Most people don’t hate them.”
Cole pursed his lips, chewing through a large mouthful of porky, shrimpy steamed bun goodness. “Then why are they called deviants?”
“Because they’ve deviated from their original programming, or...veered off their intended path.”
As hard as he tried, Cole wasn’t buying his attempts at an explanation. He was too bright for it, too inquisitive, too critical - all the things Connor feared would come back to haunt him as an adult. “But deviant is a bad word, right?”
Connor tilted his head. “Why do you say that?”
One thing you learn very fast when raising a child, is that the word ‘because’ holds a world of meaning, and it’s up to you to figure out exactly what it means in any given context. As strange and distant as other humans felt to Connor, like stars in the sky, he had made every effort and taken every stride he could to properly understand his son. “Is someone using it as a bad word? Someone in school?”
His son slumped where he sat, and pulled his legs up onto the seat of the couch. “Only everyone ,” he said, quiet and disapproving. This clearly called for some rational, pragmatic reasoning.
“Well,” said Connor, mirroring his son’s body language by pulling his own legs onto the couch, tucking his feet under his thighs. “It’s been used as a slur in the past, you’re right about that. But...these days, CyberLife’s using it as a technical term to describe what’s happening to their products.”
Cole thought long and hard about this, with one single, vertical frown line between his eyebrows to convey just how serious a matter this was to him. His verdict was simple, and to the point. “I don’t think that makes it better…”
Connor reached for his cup of green tea, sipped, considering facts. “You know… I think you’re right about that.” They shared a smile, and Cole reached for another char siu bao. Potential crisis averted, Connor decided to stick with this current train of thought.
“What do you think we should call them instead? If not deviant?”
Cole perked up but immediately, turned bright eyes and a brighter grin on him, beaming like a lighthouse. “AWESOME!”
Awesome… Yes, thought Connor. He could subscribe to that newsletter, at least when it came to one particular android, though it was difficult to know if Hank would ever deviate from his own path. He was already so...vibrant, so vividly, indisputably animated that it was hard to tell he was an android at all. If not for that colored circle at his temple, he could be anyone; he could be someone who grew up in your neighbourhood, he could be...everything you never thought you needed or wanted.
“Is Hank coming over tonight?”
Out of the mouth of babes… Connor cleared his throat, and had another sip of tea. “I don’t think so. He’s trying to track down the d--... Awesome Androids, or CyberLife will deactivate him.”
Munching continued for a little while, as the little guy mulled this over. Connor reached out to tuck a section of curly hair behind his ear to keep it out of his food. Cole chose that moment to push his plate away and turn sideways on the couch. It was another telltale sign that this was serious business, not just talking about robots over dinner. Connor told the TV to go into standby mode.
“Is Hank a bad person?”
“What? No! He’s…” A bad person? What an idea, what a thing to ask. Could an android be bad, if it acted according to its function? The answer was yes, obviously, and on top of that you had the dead bodies cropping up left and right in the wake of deviant androids… But the question was only deceptively simple, and as such it demanded a well thought out answer.
“He’s trying to do the right thing, and that’s not easy. Sometimes you have to make really tough choices, and you can never be sure how things will work out in the end, even if you do your best.”
“Like Deepika, in Russian Roulette .”
The reference made him smile. They must have watched that silly movie a hundred times, and Cole never tired of it. They could sing and dance along to the different routines, they knew every twist and turn, and it still had them laughing and empathizing with the characters and the story. Deepika, working from the shadows to smooth the path for her father, and clean up his mistakes where she could. She saves the day, and gets the girl in the end - mustache or no mustache…
You shouldn’t have to hide who you are, in order to do the right thing - but Hank was out there, in the dark, working from the shadows, trying to save the day. Or even, the world. Would his creator take credit for it in the end? His so-called ‘father’, whose idea of fun was making androids kill androids to see if they were deviant…
“Dad? ..Da- aad ?”
Connor shook himself from his troubled thoughts, though it was difficult. “ Yeees ?”
“You like Hank too, don’t you?”
He shrugged, reaching up to wipe at his brow. It seemed this was an evening filled with difficult questions. “I’ve only known him for a few days, Cole. You can’t know if you like someone in a matter of days.”
“Me and Riley’ve been besties since the day we met!”
There was no point denying facts. Cole had never had any trouble making friends, even though he was a quiet child by most people’s standards. Yes, he enjoyed his alone time, drawing imaginary landscapes using nothing but his mind as reference material, and he was inquisitive and opinionated, just like his dad, but… He was doing fine. Connor had nothing to worry about, except for his own worst fears.
“Alright,” he said, turning in his spot to once again mirror his son’s body language. Legs bent, feet tucked away in a lotus-of-sorts. He held his tea cup between his hands, letting it rest on the cushion by his ankles. “How do you know if you like someone? Really like someone enough to...care about them?”
“You don’t know?” Cole asked him, earnest as ever. “What about Mom?”
“We’ve known each other since we were kids. We’ve been sweethearts since middle school…” How to explain the intricacies, real or imaginary, of feelings to his nine-year-old son? He didn’t have a clue. Especially not since it involved someone who wasn’t even recognized as a sentient species by the government. “It’s been a long time since I’ve liked someone new. I don’t think I remember what it was like.”
“Okay.” Simple as that, easily accepted. Cole had his opinions, and his ideas, but he rarely judged anyone for their admitting to flaws or shortcomings. Connor didn’t know if it was because he was still young, or if he was just a naturally open minded imp. He certainly looked the part, where he sat, all grins and beady eyed smugness.
“You and Hank. You’re partners, right? And friends?” Connor nodded, and his son took that as a cue to soldier on. “Then why aren’t you going with him? You can’t expect him to save the world all on his own! What if the other androids think he’s the enemy! What if he gets hurt because you weren’t there to help!”
The thought was physically painful. His chest clenched despite his rational brain telling him androids were made of sterner stuff, and Hank especially. He was like a tank, he could withstand anything…
But that other part of his brain, the one of a more reptilian variety, flushed his mind with images of Hank shot up on the rooftop of Stratford Tower; bullet holes edged with oozing blue blood; his shirt torn open, his upper belly smeared with it, and his hands; Hank telling him in the aftermath that the station android pulled out his thirium pump regulator; the ugly gash that went right through his left hand… Maybe he seemed perfectly fine, but Connor had seen him stretch his hand out slowly for hours afterward, too careful not to be affected by the injury. Androids did feel pain, even if CyberLife wanted you to believe otherwise: for what was pain but the body’s own alarm system? Pain receptors sending chemical signals to the brain that damage had occurred? How was that any different from a mechanical system of pain receptors sending signals to the motherboard or-- whatever the correct term was - that damage had occurred? And if they knew pain, they could be hurt, not just damaged. He’d sat there in the observation room, he’d watched as Victor had broken down into tears over what had been done to him. Ergo, they knew emotional pain as well…
They knew shame, and disappointment, and suddenly he could remember every time he made a comment that made Hank’s LED glow red, or every time he seemed to shrink into himself; every time they’d understood each other, every time he’d stood up straighter, smile so big there was no escaping the gap between his front teeth. Every time they’d discovered something, a new lead, every time they’d realized things weren’t as unambiguous as they seemed.
Those times they’d laughed together… He hadn’t laughed like that with someone in years. Hank had-- probably never laughed like that, period. Cole was right: they were partners, whether they were off the case or not. This deviancy, this veering off the original path, maybe it wasn’t just about the androids. Maybe it never was just about the androids .
Hank felt it too.
And regardless if they would never be anything other than partners that were also friends, Connor knew as well as his son that he’d never be able to look himself in the mirror if something happened to Hank because he didn’t have someone there to watch his back.
Why aren’t you going with him?
He let go of his tea cup to rub both hands over his face, running his fingers up and over his forehead into his hair. “I feel like the worst dad in the world, leaving you with Mrs Kovacs every other night of the week. I don’t even know how to find him.”
Cole was patient, like his mother. He simply smiled, peering up at his dad. Under the current circumstances, he didn’t seem to mind having the old lady from next door coming over to babysit. “You have heard of GPS, right? Every android’s equipped with trackers, in case someone steals them, or stuff.”
Of course he knew about the trackers. He’d seen it a thousand times before in the case files: references left and right to trackers breaking down once an android deviates. But if he knew about the trackers, that could only mean one thing. One very bad, potentially catastrophic thing that drained all the blood from Connor’s face. He could feel it, the cold, clammy touch of certain destruction.
“Special Agent Perkins… He’s going to lead them straight to Jericho!”
It could be said that infiltrating an abandoned cargo freighter filled to bursting with scared androids was a tall order to fill, even if you didn’t look so patently different from them all. However, Hank came prepared. He had requisitioned a new outfit from CyberLife, complete with a dark knit beanie, a worn old leather jacket and old blue jeans that were both washed out and dirty at the knees, and sturdy but scuffed boots. He’d done away with the hair clips, letting his hair down in a messier, curlier style under the tight fit of the beanie. He even opted out of the beard for a smooth shaven look. All in all he looked...different. More like the smooth skinned, eternal youth templates CyberLife loved so goddamn much: close, but no cigar.
He didn’t know how to feel about that, if anything: looking too old and too young at the same time wasn’t something he normally contemplated. In any case it was getting late. Amanda said to hurry (but then again, she always told him to hurry, as if androids marching peacefully through the streets was a sign that the world was ending), and he hurried. He knew how to find Jericho. He had to get there, and fast, deal with the looming hydra by cutting off its head.
Even as he sat on the train to the Ravendale district, watching the city lights pass him by outside, he couldn’t help but wonder about the nature of things. CyberLife wanted the deviancy ‘threat’ to be dealt with - of course they would, they had a brand to protect, a reputation at stake. You can’t be the leading android manufacturer of the Western hemisphere if your product suddenly goes crazy bananas in the ROM. Fair enough if this was damage control, but Hank had had a sneaking suspicion that something else was going on since the second time he touched base with Amanda. She was his link to CyberLife, his handler. It was only logical that she would be constantly assessing him and his results, but she’d been trying to manipulate him since they met. Whenever he was cold, detached, reasoning, she seemed to warm up to him like snow melting away in spring. When he followed his programming, as he saw it, butter wouldn’t melt , she was so cold.
If an android designed to blend in seamlessly with humans using every trick in the book wasn’t expected to charm the socks off all the key players, then what was the purpose of said android? If he was designed to investigate, to integrate himself into any team, then why did she seem so disapproving when he acted the way he was supposed to act: human.
The only conclusion he could come to was that he had a different purpose, something that was so Need to Know the big-wigs up at CyberLife HQ didn’t think he needed to know.
Then, of course, there was the small matter of her design being based on Kamski’s mentor of the same name, the late Amanda Stern. Did that mean Kamski’d had a hand in designing the zen garden, or was the AI a drawing board reject brought back to life as a quick fix? What was her purpose, if all she did was try to fuck with his processing? If CyberLife wanted reports, he could’ve just uploaded a neat, orderly stream of consciousness to the CyberLife server. They had his memories. They didn’t technically need an AI to play go-between.
His mind took a parallel leap to Kamski, the reclusive genius who single-handedly brought forth a new era, now, he was a kooky cookie. Spare an android, you’re a deviant. Shoot it in the head, you’re a machine? For any other model of android, he could have bought it. Creepy as fuck though it was, there was a method to Kamski’s brand of madness. He could see that now, but then again, hindsight was something he was becoming increasingly familiar with.
The question remained, though. Why did Kamski think the test would tell him anything about Hank? He was built to be compassionate towards people, to be able to empathize even with suspected criminals. Someone had even programmed him to like dogs and kids , for fuck’s sake. He liked music . He knew pop culture references like he was a walking encyclopedia; he knew all the tropes of a good guy, the hero. Heroes don’t shoot anyone or anything in the head without some serious bloody provocation. That didn’t mean he had deviated, somewhere. It meant his emotional matrix was working at 100% capacity.
He preferred not to use violence. He was built not to rely on weapons, but his mind. His precognition, as it was designed, meant he had something like a gut instinct about things.
None of this meant he was a deviant. So why did Kamski seem so confident? He’d laughed at him, bloody nose and all, like it was a big, fat joke at his expense.
Did Kamski want him to become a deviant? Whose side was he on?
Back to Amanda, then: she (or CyberLife) wanted him to find Jericho and capture its leader, but even if CyberLife didn’t realize one, tiny detail, then surely such an advanced AI as she would: if you cut off the Hydra’s head, two more grow back. He captures Markus, someone else takes his place as leader. He would have to single-handedly take down the whole community of deviants in one fell swoop, and how was he even supposed to begin--?
He...wasn’t a deviant…
...which meant his GPS tracker was still online...and CyberLife had a trace on him.
And if CyberLife had a trace on him, then he could bet his left leg that Perkins did, too. If he’d had one lasting impression of CyberLife through his interactions with Amanda and Elijah Kamski, it was that it played such a massive game of 3D chess as to kick Spock’s pointy-eared ass three ways to Sunday.
That was his most immediate purpose, now that he was taken off the case: to lead the FBI to Jericho.
They were going to raid the freighter, launch an attack as soon as they realized he’d reached his destination. CyberLife didn’t just want the leader: they wanted the entire deviant uprising nipped in the bud through annihilation.
Who knows how many androids had flocked there as a last resort, and he was going to play a key role in their destruction.
When you looked at it that way, the choice was incredibly simple: it wasn’t even a choice between staying a machine or becoming a deviant, he had to stop the slaughter before it happened. ...or die, trying.
Getting into the freighter was the easy part: when Hank walked into the rusting belly of the old beast of a ship, he knew he was putting his own existence at risk. Such as it was - it was a gamble he was willing to make. The odds were stacked in his favor, if his hunch panned out regarding the RK200 in charge. His analysis of Markus was pretty straightforward, much like he viewed the android itself. Every move the Jericho androids had (allegedly) made - against CyberLife’s warehouses at the docks, the raid on their stores across central Detroit, the stunt they pulled at Stratford Tower, followed by unauthorized marching through the streets: no lives had been taken, no attacks or threats made, and while property damage was still property damage, Markus was quite clearly an advocate for peace. The only times blood was spilled it was blue, and came at the hands of law enforcement or in-house security. If Markus was indeed the mastermind behind these acts of resistance, he had to be a calm, level headed, practical leader.
It stood to reason that if Hank played his cards right, he could not only get off this ship alive, but help save countless lives. Android lives… He wondered when he’d started thinking of them as people. More critically, he wondered why he didn’t want to think of himself as such.
At 9:34 PM, Hank walked into Jericho’s central hub, a cargo hold set up with giant tv screens and rows upon rows of computers and 3D printing equipment for making spare parts. He wondered where the deviants got all their gear, but he didn’t actually care - except for one thing. Even from halfway across the room, he recognized the blocks of C4 packed onto the shelves at the center of the room.
Fuck infiltration. He raised his hands above his head, and walked further into the room, giving absolutely no fucks whatsoever about stealth. Instead, he did everything he could to draw attention to himself.
I’m unarmed! He broadcast to every uplinked android within a one mile radius. I have to see Markus!
There was an immediate hum to the room, followed by the rustle of commotion. All eyes zoomed in on him, but nobody made a move. Nobody except for one. Markus himself moved down the metal landing above, to the nearest staircase. Their eyes locked the whole way, neither one of them in the mood for losing a game of chicken.
“And who might you be?” asked Markus, opting for using his vocal processing unit rather than the wi-fi connection. Fair enough, thought Hank, and clasped his hands demonstratively behind his own head.
“I’m the android sent by CyberLife. We need to talk.”
Despite his best intentions, Connor wasn’t out the door for almost an hour, having tried to talk himself out of going - all while tracking down the mysterious ship known as Jericho. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t the fastest way to go about finding Hank’s location, but he didn’t want to illegitimately hack into the DPD database (or CyberLife, for that matter) in order to find Hank’s GPS tracker data. He didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing, where he was going, or why. Only Cole knew, but Cole could keep a secret better than most adults, let alone his fellow nine-year-olds. Once he was certain he’d found the old freighter, there was only one thing left to do. Dress the part. He’d have to infiltrate the ship somehow, and not set off anyone’s internal alarms at the first glance. Cole sat calmly on his bed, watching him pick out items of clothing, Sumo already snoring beside him. Even with his son’s input, he felt like he’d walked into a Super Sale and come out wearing random bits from the bargain bin. He looked a bit like an idiot. A winter jacket over a hoodie over a shirt over a turtleneck? What was he thinking?!
“If my work phone rings, don’t answer it, okay? Better yet, turn the volume off, and don’t tell Mrs Kovacs about it.”
“Why are you leaving your phone here?” asked Cole. It was a good question, just the sort of thing he’d come to expect from his boy.
“Just in case Perkins or anyone else wants to keep track of me , that’s the easiest way to do it. If they locate the phone, they’ll think I’m right here, at home, with you.”
“Okay. I’ll hide it under the pillow.”
Connor smiled, and hugged his son, gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Be careful! And tell Hank I said that goes for him too!”
“Always. I’ll tell him.”
There was a knock on the door just then, because as it just so happened, Mrs Kovacs from next door had impeccable timing. Connor thanked her for the millionth time, and hurried out to his car.
He’d wasted so much time beating himself up over letting his so-called heart tell him what to do that he could be too late already. The drive from Sterling Heights to central Detroit took forty minutes on a good day , not in the middle of the sudden onset of winter, speeding down icy, snow-covered roads.
But he was speeding, so help him...God? rA9? Whoever was listening in on his thoughts? He needed all the help he could get.
Meanwhile, Hank stood in one of the flaking, peeling nooks and crannies of the ship’s hold, watched by everyone present. No one trusted him, except, strangely enough, for Markus - he was the deviant hunter, and Markus had simply told him to stay put. His followers would no doubt see to it that he obeyed his instructions. The tension in the air was thick enough you could taste it. Everyone’s thirium pump regulator was going into overdrive. It filled the space with the distinct smell of ozone: fear.
He’d made his objective clear to Markus, he’d stood his ground when questioned, and he had been questioned. The others, Markus’ advisors or whatever they were supposed to be, both of them expressed distrust. The Traci (calling herself North), was the most vocal about it, and the most aggressive, but he could imagine the kind of systematic abuse she’d been put through since her activation. The other one, the PJ500 called Josh (university lecturer android, activated in ‘31, optimized for language and history) seemed no less passionate about justice and freedom for their people, but was less hellbent on mayhem and violence. North was ready to kick the truth right out of his lying piece of shit ass, while Josh insisted violence begets violence. Both of them gave Hank the distinct impression they’d been here too long, fighting for survival for too long, and now that Markus was here and clear of vision and drive forward, they were all too ready to let him lead.
Hank could sympathize: leading was hard, if you did it the right way. All the tough calls you had to make, all the responsibility. It was bad enough for humans, with their limited capacity for calculation, but an android equipped with something closer to a super computer for a brain? No wonder they’d been treading water until now.
(Simon, who hung suspended in one of the storage units down in the cellar of Central Station, had disappeared from his owner’s home over two years ago. Could deviancy really have been going on for that long? And CyberLife did nothing, because...what’s one android gone missing? Buy a new one!)
Hank shivered, and clasped his hands more firmly behind his back. It was then that he saw her, the KL900 android moving through the crowds. Her eyes were black, inky orbs, and her skin membrane moved over her exposed skin in cloud formations; wires cascaded out the back of her head, where the panels had been removed, but you wouldn’t know by the look of her. Her eyes seemed to know you better than you knew yourself. That was the major selling point of the KL900. They were the precursor to CyberLife’s latest achievement, the ‘fortune teller’ computer. He wouldn’t be surprised if they shared more than a fair share of code. Goodness knows he’d been struggling with the concept of seeing several potential futures branching off of one event, depending on his actions. It was easy to get lost in them, so tempting to wonder - but what if I had chosen that path instead? - and calculate the steps beyond. It certainly hadn’t helped him.
“You are cold,” said the KL900 with a gentle smile. “Come closer to the fire. Don’t be afraid.”
Case in point: this was the last thing he’d predicted her to tell him. Hank arched his eyebrows at her, wondering at her role. “Markus told me to stay put.”
“Markus is busy conferring with the other leaders. They won’t be helped by your shivers. Come.”
She gestured for the barrel closest to his corner of the room, filled to the brim with trash and set alight. “I’m Lucy.”
“Hank,” he said, moving closer to the warmth of the fire. Once again, he would find himself surprised, because his new friend-of-sorts pierced him with an assessing look. For one split second she reminded him of Connor, about to confide in him.
When she spoke, her voice rasped with a metallic, distorted twang, and the remnants of an accent. “I was wrong about you,” she said, her eyes still roaming his face, or what lay beyond.
“I thought you would be lost, looking for yourself, or a higher purpose - but before me stands someone who has already found himself. Someone who isn’t lost, but waiting.”
Like her voice, her words were strangely alluring. Hank tilted his head, leaning closer despite himself. He was curious. “Waiting for what?”
She looked away, seeming to weigh her options between telling, or not telling. Her smile was enigmatic; her eyes seemed to apologize for something that had yet to happen.
“A slap to the face from someone you love.”
Say what you want about adrenaline paired with dogged determination, but it made for a powerful chemical composition. It set Connor’s blood boiling so hot he couldn’t feel the cold as he ran through the old docks, boots slipping over the snow-covered ice. It reminded him of his childhood years, and wintery days spent in the ice rink playing hockey - he couldn’t be farther from that idyllic memory now, rushing to avoid disaster.
It was dark outside, the docks lit up only by the most minimum amount of streetlights and overhead lamps. It was just enough for any (functioning) CCTV to record movement, but this wasn’t the busier end of the place. This was like a graveyard of ships, where giants like the freighter he was searching for came to their final rest.
Suddenly it appeared out of nowhere: JERICHO, rusted and flaking and a sight for sore eyes if ever there was one - and not a single FBI logotype in sight for miles.
Now, it was just a matter of getting inside, find Hank, warn him, warn everyone.
Good thing he’d always been an excellent climber, because he seemed to have his work cut out for him. He’d either have to find a way to reach the old ladder hanging down from the railing way, way up there, or… Get up on the right side of that broken bridge across. Also way... way up there.
They had been arguing for far too long already, arguments circling back and forth between Josh and North, who were closer to each other’s throats than anyone had seen them. They could keep up appearances in front of everyone down below, but up here on deck, in the old control room it was just them. Them, and Markus, who felt with every passing minute that he was fighting a losing battle. Or, more aptly put, manning a sinking ship.
“You can’t be serious! Yes, he could be lying, and yes , it could be a trap, but he says the FBI are very likely on their way here - and we’re not evacuating everyone!?”
They had all been over this several times over, but none of them were ready to budge. Josh may be a pacifist right down to the core processor, but he was not the meek, apologetic kind. It would be a mistake to confuse non-violence with weakness, something North was finding out with increasing fervor. Not that she was backing down. Not this time around.
“We can’t trust him! He’s the deviant hunter, he’s built for deception! He’ll trick you into telling him everything about Jericho, about our plans, our safe houses! He’ll have the FBI waiting for us!”
“So we shoot him? Is that your catch-all solution to everything?” Josh threw in North’s face. “Shoot him, or leave him to be shot by humans, like Simon?”
“Simon gave his life for our cause--!”
Markus slammed his hand at the console, turning around in one smooth move. “ENOUGH! The past is in the past, we’ve all made mistakes or rash decisions, but this? This happens now. I’m not going to sit around waiting to see if the RK800 is lying through his teeth or not. We’re evacuating, and then I’m going to the humans. Safety first, then dialogue. Josh. Start gathering supplies, pick a team to help you, go. North--”
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Markus. That’s the last thing I’ll say about this.”
Markus nodded. “I’m taking every precaution, North. That’s what I’m doing. I’d rather not look back on thousands of lives lost because I didn’t act sooner.”
It was an argument she seemed willing to accept, but whether it was from fatigue or a case of choosing action over argument, Markus couldn’t say. She reached into her pocket, and held out something for him. A detonator.
It belonged to one of their new-comers, who had rigged a truckload of radioactive cobalt to explode and had then abandoned it somewhere in Detroit. It gave him pause, just to imagine the consequences. A dirty bomb… No human would survive, and the fallout would reach...for miles and miles and miles , destroying everything…
“No… North, no.”
“We can’t lose this war, Markus. I convinced him not to set it off, to give the detonator to me, but-- If there’s no other way … This could be our last chance of survival.”
Markus took the detonator, telling himself he wouldn’t use it. Never, not in a million years.
He hoped he could keep that promise to himself. “Let’s go. We have to start moving everyone out of here.”
Hurrying across the deck, one of the last things Markus had thought to anticipate, was encountering a stranger on deck. A stranger that looked about ready to pass out from exertion, hands on his knees, all the blood drained from his face except for twin patches of crimson covering his cheeks.
He slowed to a stop, and North did the same beside him, both of them staring at...the lone, human intruder. Wheezing.
‘Did he climb up the side of the ship…’ North asked over the wi-fi, incredulous. Just then the human looked up, and saw Markus, at which point he grinned .
“It’s you! Oh! You’re Markus, aren’t you?”
“Right! Sorry!” The human stood up straighter, catching his breath quickly (for a human). “I’m unarmed,” he went on to say, showing both hands, palms facing front. “I’m Lieutenant Connor Anderson, Detroit Police, no point hiding that - Is Hank here? The ‘deviant hunter’? Did you see him?”
North’s jaw squared off but immediately. “You’re with him! ”
“Hang on,” said Markus, placing his hand on her arm. He could feel a tingling at the back of his mind palace. This was not the enemy. He viewed androids as people, not things. “What’s it to you if he is?”
“He’s not a bad person, he-- but that’s not the point. Uhm. He has to find you or he’ll be destroyed. Also irrelevant...”
Markus took one step closer. The human was getting increasingly nervous. He had a bad feeling about it. “Go on.”
“Thing is, I think the FBI’s tracking him. He isn’t a deviant, and as far as we can tell, the tracker stays online as long as an android doesn’t wake up. If he’s here, they know he is , and the agent in charge is an arrogant prick! He’ll stop at nothing to--”
There was a noise in the distance, far away but coming closer. Closer yet, until--
“Helicopters?” North gasped.
Connor staggered back. “Fuck!”
It was as Markus had feared. They’d wasted too much time already.
Belowdecks was in a state of panic. Josh had spread the word about the evacuation, and everyone was in the middle of gathering what little they had in the way of personal belongings or equipment when the first explosion sounded. The FBI and the military were forcing their way inside, but this early hardly anyone realized what it meant. In androids, like humans, not knowing can be just as terrifying as knowing what you’re about to go through. Lucy said her goodbyes to Hank, both of them keenly aware of exactly what was about to go down. She had to see to her people, and Hank did what came naturally to him. He scanned his surroundings with a different objective: calculating the number of androids, and how to logistically get them off the ship as fast as possible without running into the FBI.
They were thousands, crammed into every available space on the ship. They would have to accomplish in less than fifteen minutes what would realistically take hours, and the domestic androids would need someone to cover them, lead them out safely.
He shared the statistics with Markus over the wi-fi, letting him weigh in on the available routes and share them with the other leaders. At least now they had a plan - Markus and North came rushing down the stairs double-time, jaws set with the gravity of the situation, followed closely by…
A pair of familiar doe eyes settled on him, but for a moment that felt like forever Hank couldn’t for the life of him put two and two together. He knew those eyes, framed by those eyelashes, in turn framed by those fine lines, the eyebrows, the beauty marks dotting that face, but, to see that face here did something to him.
Connor. Here. Trapped with the rest of them, like fish in a barrel. That would be bad enough on its own, because whatever else they were or could have been, Connor was the only true friend he had. He could schmooze and talk shit with the best of them, but Connor looked beyond his standard interaction software. He made him think about his responses, made him wonder at the ways of things, how one could do things differently. Less schmoozing, less smooth talking, more...genuine conversation. Emotional response stemming not from an unwritten social rule of how to act, but from somewhere real . No bullshit. No commiserating, more...empathy. Compassion. Strength, instead of posturing. He’d put him to the same exacting standards he did everyone else, and he’d called him out whenever he’d gone against his mission parameters.
Just as Connor’s face lit up with relieved recognition, that’s when it hit Hank - all the times he’d let deviants run even when he could have caught them, like Kara, the domestic android who ran away with Alice, the child model. He could have taken the girl, used her as leverage to get the AX400 to surrender; he let Rupert run (Rupert, with his love of birds, with his initials written down on his clothes tag, like a child, Rupert with his old books) in order to save Connor (who didn’t need saving); the two Tracis who...loved each other, but were guilty of murder and an accessory to murder, at the very least; Simon up on the roof, who would rather have died than give him the location of Jericho… The only two androids he’d apprehended or stopped were Victor, the abuse victim turned murderer...whose suicide Hank was indirectly responsible for, and the station android who had no name that anyone knew of, shot dead between the eyes…
He’d punched his creator in the nose rather than destroy a machine, and Kamski had laughed at him and called him a deviant.
All the times he’d questioned Amanda’s motives, her agenda, her attempts at manipulation, the times he’d confronted her about it…
The realization hit him like a bucket of cold water. He was never just a machine. He was never meant to be just a machine. He didn’t have the same software as other androids, he was...different.
...it wasn’t ever a choice between staying a machine or becoming a deviant, because… Because he didn’t have a choice. He’d been a deviant all along. He’d been asleep since August, but now he was wide awake, and the first thing he acknowledged as actually feeling was wirewrenching fear .
The FBI couldn’t track him by any conventional method. It wasn’t him they’d been tracing, but--
Any heartfelt reunion would have to wait. Hank ran for his partner, scanning him for tracking devices, but nothing, no phone, no nothing. Everyone stared as he pushed the wide-eyed human around, pulled him this way, spun him around--
“Hank, what the f--?”
A yellow, glowing palm print at the back of his neck, invisible to the human eye. “Nanopaint. Has anyone patted you on the back the past few days, or tonight? At the station, anywhere?”
“What? Perkins, after the fire alarm, but-- I wouldn’t call it a friendly pat, more like a warning. He tagged me with something?”
“Yes. Alright,” said Hank, and cupped the back of his partner’s neck. “This won’t hurt. Much.”
Connor’s cheeks went a pale shade of peachy pink mere microseconds before the small zap Hank gave him (neutralizing the nanobots with a modified electric current), and he flinched. “Ow! What--? Will someone please tell me what’s going on?!”
They were good to go, get out, but Connor demanded an answer that Hank couldn’t bring himself to give. “Perkins must’ve thought he’d tag you, too. As a precaution. Now, we have to go.”
Markus nodded. They split into groups out of necessity rather than trust - Connor became Hank’s responsibility, and together they would escort the child androids and their families, if they had any, to safety. Josh, North and Markus would each herd a group. They would have to double back, take people who couldn’t fend for themselves. Hardly any android was built for fighting or self preservation, but once Markus sent out their plan they weren’t short of volunteers. Androids from all sectors of human society volunteered to safeguard a group of their own.
Within minutes, they were on the move, every single android onboard equipped with the blueprints of the ship. They could make it out alive, with as few casualties as possible, if they just kept quiet and stayed together.
They worked quickly, with economy of movement, and for the first fifteen minutes the tactical units were running around in circles, while groups after groups of androids were led to the nearest available exits with instructions on how to get to their designated safehouse. They would rendezvous at an abandoned cathedral in two days’ time.
Within minutes, hundreds of androids were saved, but the more time that passed, the closer the soldiers came, and they didn’t hesitate to open fire at the first sign of movement.
As strategic as Hank’s plan was, it was only a matter of time before androids got caught in enemy fire. Hank’s neat and tidy operation fell apart at the first salvo of gunfire. Everybody started running for their lives, and soon the freighter was swarmed with assault weapons and trigger happy human enforcers.
Hank stayed as long as he could, and Connor remained by his side. Together they fought the assault team; Hank showing no remorse whatsoever in using the military’s weapons against them, while Connor opted for stealth, and the element of surprise. He knocked them down, or otherwise incapacitated them. It was bad enough he was there, assaulting humans, as it were, but he had to think about his son. His priority was surviving the night, but close on the heels of that priority was not going to prison for manslaughter.
When Markus told everyone to get off the ship, Hank knew it was their final chance of escape. He remembered the stacks upon stacks of C4, and he knew what Markus was planning.
He was going to blow up the ship. And he did.
Hank and Connor ran through a living nightmare, filled with debris and fallen androids, darting through intersecting corridors, when suddenly they caught sight of Josh and Markus at the end of a hallway. They were ready to jump ship, literally jump from one of the portholes, but there was only one problem. North lay sprawled on the ground between the exit, and a group of advancing soldiers. She’d taken a bad fall, and Markus, who was never afraid of risking his own life to save another, dashed to her rescue. The soldiers opened fire.
Markus ran for her, but Hank wasn’t one to hesitate - he stepped out into the corridor to act as big-ass shield, give covering fire. Behind him, Connor picked up a large sheet of broken off metal to use as a shield, allowing for Markus to help North to her feet. The soldiers incapacitated, they all ran for the porthole. More soldiers were coming, advancing on their position. They had to jump, or they would be shot on sight.
Deep down below, Markus’ last resort went off in a blast of heat and fire. They jumped the burning ship, into freezing, black waters.
The contrast was stark, enough to short circuit any sensory input but for the drop in temperature. It registered as flashing red numbers, in androids, status messages detailing what prolonged exposure would do to bio components and systems. People (and sometimes androids themselves) wrongly assumed androids didn’t need warmth, but Hank had seen the fires of Jericho, and the androids huddled around them. He’d been one of them. He’d sat in front of Connor’s crackling fireplace, although briefly, and felt the strangely visceral comfort it provided. Androids needed to keep a reasonable core temperature, and sometimes they couldn’t provide it themselves. Maybe it wasn’t so strange to feel drawn to an open fire, the same ways humans did.
Tangent aside, jumping headfirst into any body of water in the dead of winter was not advisable for android or human. Hank broke the surface, limbs stiff from the cold, but he forced himself to move. He had to swim; sink or swim, get as far away from the ship as possible, get out of the water before it was too late. The three leaders were already ahead of him, diving to avoid detection. The last thing anyone needed was getting shot. Hank dove, and swam, and suddenly realized he couldn’t see Connor.
He thought he was ahead of him, he could’ve sworn he’d seen his profile in the water, but not anymore… Where’d he go?
Hank came to a sudden stop in the water, rising to the surface - he had to see him, had to catch sight of him, as long as he saw movement and direction, he could--
And he saw movement, alright, but it wasn’t Connor swimming with the others to get away. Quite the contrary, he had fallen behind, affected by the cold waters, weighed down by his waterlogged clothes. He was struggling to keep his head above water. Even over the sound of gunshots, he could hear the sputtering of his breaths as he tried to stay afloat.
Hank kicked out, doubling back as fast as he could, cutting through the water with long strokes and a sense of urgency that robbed him of his breath. Didn’t matter that he didn’t need to breathe: he couldn’t, for the tight grip of fear squeezing around his chest.
“CONNOR! HANG ON!”
Just a little bit further, just a bit (and Connor saw him, Connor’s eyes were wide with terror and gratitude combined, and he fought to stay close to the surface, he fought like a beast - until he disappeared from view). Hank couldn’t believe his eyes. In a matter of seconds, less than that, Connor was gone .
His 3D grid came up like a kneejerk response, freeze framing the world around him. He had to see him, had to find him, save him before it was too late. Even with his enhanced nightvision his 3D imaging was a quicker solution, and every second counted now. Connor could only hold his breath for so long, and the cold wouldn’t help his prospects of survival. He turned the grid around, 360 degrees horizontal, 180 vertical, scanning for any sliver of gold in the dark, and--
There! A shape in the water, sinking fast. Hank folded himself in half, his upper body at a 90 degree angle from his legs, arms outstretched, and went through the murky depths like a hot knife through butter. He had to get to him, so help him… He had to get to him, and fast.
Seconds stretched out forever, with Hank bringing up his 3D imager every other heartbeat, making sure he was on the right track. His heart hammered, beating so hard he could feel it between his temples. Connor had to live. He couldn’t die, and not like this… Not like this, in the cold and dark, from breathing in water. Survivors of near drowning incidents said it was one of the most painful things they’d ever known, to get water down their lungs. The muscle spasms, the panic. No.
Connor had to live.
And down there in the waters, lit up by the fire up above, suddenly Hank could see him with his own eyes: wide eyed, cognizant, little bubbles of air sticking to his nostrils, to his lips. His teeth were bared, his face contorted with pain. He couldn’t hold out much longer.
Hank found his hand, and gestured for him to breathe out, that it was okay. He smiled, and cupped Connor’s face, nodding. If they couldn’t trust each other, then who?
He could see the moment Connor made his mind up in the way his eyebrows lifted, and he let go. Bubbles of air danced around them even as Hank grabbed him by the waist and began kicking for the surface. And when Connor’s lungs were emptied, Hank tilted his chin up and pressed their mouths together.
His lungs were full of air that only one of them needed in order to live.
“Markus, we have to go! ” North called out, practically bouncing where she stood. Josh had already hurried ahead with a group of stragglers. “NOW!”
Her words fell on deaf ears: Markus stayed put, watching the waters for any sign of the so-called deviant hunter and his human ally. He didn’t know how long he’d stayed there, watching. He knew North was right, they couldn’t stay. Every second they stuck around the docks was one less second they had to get away from the soldiers and the FBI.
“You go on, I’ll meet you at the rendezvous point.” He looked over his shoulder, meeting her skeptical gaze. “I can’t just leave. Not after how they helped evacuate our people.”
North was just about to object, when she saw something in the water. It was Hank, swimming backwards, a firm grip on the human, which was floating face up in the water. “There they are! Happy? Can we get out of here now?”
He looked on as Hank dragged the human, Lieutenant Connor Anderson, up and out of the water. Hank would be fine, as far as Markus could tell from a basic scan. He wasn’t so sure about the lieutenant, who shivered like a leaf and could barely stay upright. He was pale as a ghost, leaning heavily into the android...who looked as harried by the experience, if not more so. Markus looked between them, and wondered where the future might lead.
“You know where to find us,” he told Hank. “Don’t betray my trust.”
Hank shook his head; they parted ways, for now. It was time to fall back and regroup, and make good on his plans to open up a dialogue with the humans. He knew it was unlikely to be well received among his people, but if Carl had taught him anything it was that the power of perception could move mountains. If he presented his case, to his fellow androids as well as any human who’d listen, then...they had a chance of survival.
Better yet, they might just gain allies in high places, if he could just think ahead and beat the humans at their own game.
It wasn’t entirely unlike playing a game of chess, having to choose between a draw and a checkmate.
His dad had taught him that, too.
The official story would be that Jericho was raided by the FBI as part of the presidential order for android deactivation as echoed by government officials and CyberLife HQ - but the reality of that night was something entirely different. Androids were shot in the back trying to get away, or forced on their knees and begging for their lives before being shot in the head. They were summarily executed, although nobody used that phrasing in the news reports later that night.
It was a war zone set in a nightmare, completely void of anything resembling respect for non-human life. Survivors would call it for what it was: genocide, but whether they would be heard, or their witness statements acknowledged as such, would be a matter for discussion in the coming months. Whether anyone would be charged for the crimes committed unto androids, well… That would depend on what the androids did next.
Markus rejoined his people, while Hank drove Connor to his home in Sterling Heights with the A/C on the highest setting, blasting heat through the car.
“A-a-all those people,” Connor stuttered, still shivering. Hank reached out from the driver’s seat, to touch his cheek, feel his forehead. Cold, clammy even with the ambient temperature in the car.
“All those people, dead…”
“I know,” Hank said, feeling...numb. “We did what we could.”
Connor turned his big, brown Bambi eyes on him then, like an embodiment of Hank’s guilty conscience. “...but w-...was it enough?”
No , thought Hank. It wasn’t . It wasn’t enough by far. The lives saved didn’t make up for the lives he’d helped destroy - and for what? Because they were a threat? Victor certainly wasn’t a threat, he’d been terrified: a pleading, scared android when he found him. The Tracis fought for their lives, but only after that husband-and-father got his rocks off beating another Traci to death. Rupert was leading a harmless life in a rundown building caring for a million birds, but he wasn’t hurting anyone. And Ralph was volatile, but only posed any real danger to rodents.
The only two androids he knew of that had shown no empathy towards life - android or human, were Daniel, who had outright told him ‘all humans die eventually’, as if killing them didn’t mean anything; and the JB300 at Stratford Tower, who had ripped his pump regulator out of his chest and stabbed a knife through his hand to keep him from getting to it. Maybe he had his reasons, but even if you looked at that incident objectively (as Hank always strived to do) it was an unusually cruel and vicious way to incapacitate another android.
But...a life is a life. All life matters, the way Hank saw it, and he’d have his work cut out for him if he wanted to make up for his own past transgressions.
His first priority? Making good on a promise he made to a boy who very nearly called him a hero, once.
It was the middle of the night, some hours after the raid on Jericho. Mrs Kovacs had been thanked for her help, no doubt charmed by Hank’s warm smile and genuine gratitude, but clearly skeptical of his one major character flaw: being an android. That was hours ago, now, and Connor was safely tucked into bed, patched up and out of his wet clothes, with Sumo cuddled up behind his back to help keep him warm. He was wrapped up in several layers of clothing, including thick knitted socks and cardigans, and covered in a duvet covered in blankets. Cole slept in the same bed, while Hank took up position in the armchair in the corner. He told himself he was only going to stay for a while, make sure Connor’s body temperature stabilized. He’d stay, because what if the little one needed anything? Or Sumo? You couldn’t expect a kid to take the dog out for a walk in the middle of the night. So, he stayed.
He could hear his name, somewhere far away, but surely it could wait. He was just closing his eyes for a quick systems check, it’d only be a few more minutes…
“ Haaaa -aaaaaank?”
Coming out of standby in the literal blink of an eye, Hank found himself face to face with the most solemn-looking face he’d ever seen. Granted, maybe that didn’t mean much when he was only a couple months off from his activation day, but he had thousands and thousands of reference pictures to work with.
“I’m awake, kiddo,” he said, quiet and hushed so as not to disturb his partner, giving Cole a small smile. “How can I help?”
“Dad’s still shivering. I think he’s having nightmares.”
Hank looked over, immediately struck by a pang of phantom fear. Connor’s hands were twitching, bunching into the pillow casing. He was mumbling something, but it was unintelligible with sleep.
“It’s been a rough night,” Hank told his new friend. “Your dad was very brave. He helped save a lot of people...”
Cole trailed after him as he went around the bed to Connor’s side to crouch in front of him, feel his forehead - he didn’t need to touch him in order to scan his temperature, but what Cole needed right now was very likely not a clinical assessment from an android, but something more...familiar.
“No fever,” Hank whispered, his hand lingering despite better judgment. Connor was deep asleep and unlikely to stir. He could tell himself he was just making double sure, and that brushing those stray curls from his brow was absolutely necessary. Nightmares as such were a fascinating human event, but like so many other things he’d never witnessed someone under their spell. It seemed just as disturbing as he imagined. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt himself somewhat lacking in the practical application of his vast databases of information, but it was certainly one of the more emotionally taxing ones.
“Whenever I have nightmares, Mom or Dad always tries waking me up so I know I’m safe,” Cole suggested from behind him, perhaps sensing his indecision.
“Does it work?”
Cole nodded in the relative darkness of the room, still somber as ever. The light was on in the hallway outside, and the door open just enough to let some light into the bedroom. Cole’s eyes were dark, his mouth stretched wide and thin. He looked so much like his father, Hank couldn’t help but take his advice.
He moved his hand to the lieutenant’s arm, hidden beneath the many layers of blankets and bedspread and duvet madness, brushing it gently. “Connor?”
“Dad? Daa -aaad?”
The help was appreciated, but more than that - it did the trick. Connor’s eyes opened, fatigued and unfocused. From behind Hank’s shoulder, Cole reassured his dad that he was just having a nightmare, and that everything was okay, because “Hank’s here!”
Hank’s heart ached as he looked into Connor’s eyes and saw nothing but relief. “I’m not going anywhere, partner. Go back to sleep. You’re safe,” he said, running the backs of his fingers down Connor’s cheek.
His eyes closed. He went back to sleep in seconds, and his son celebrated with a tiny fistpump to the air. “Alright, you little rascal, time to get back to bed.”
“But I’m not sleepy!”
“I don’t care.” Hank pushed to his feet in one smooth motion, and gestured at the other side of the bed. “Bed. Now.”
They each settled in their allocated spots, but Hank didn’t need to look in order to feel the little’un’s eyes on him. Not two minutes later, Cole could stay quiet no more, and broke the silence with a whisper across the distance.
“Do you know any bedtime stories?”
“No,” Hank whispered back, only to realize with some surprise that he had an entire catalogue of them. “I mean...yes, but it’s a bit late for stories.”
Cole’s eyes twinkled in the dark. “It’s never too late for stories!”
Hank dragged a deep breath he didn’t technically need into his artificial lungs, in through his nose, and out through a fresh grin. He had a feeling he was only the latest in a long line of victims of a certain kid’s persuasive capabilities.
He did have a point, though, and Hank wasn’t quite ready to go back into standby. He told Cole fairy tales and folk stories from hundreds of years ago, until the little guy fell asleep beside him on the bed. Hank stayed put, leaning against the headboard atop the covers, legs straight out but crossed at the ankles, hands clasped over his somewhat bulging midsection. At least this way, he was close enough to simply reach out should anyone suffer from bad dreams.
He told himself the proximity helped, but in reality he’d never felt so guilty for being alive, as he did that night. He’d never felt so alone in the world, despite sharing this space with the closest thing he’d ever come to a family.
It was wishful thinking, that he would ever truly belong here. His place was with the other androids, if they would have him: he had to make amends for the things he’d done, for the role he’d played in the deaths of so many. He had to make things right again, and he couldn’t do that, playing house - however good it felt to take part of something like this. Didn’t matter how nice it felt.
He didn’t deserve this. Not yet. He had to earn it. He had to make things right. Maybe that’s what Lucy had meant when she talked about slaps to the face. He’d sure had a wakeup call these past few hours. Everybody’s future depended on the future of the android population. That meant he had to do everything in his power to get it right the first time. No second chances, no do-overs. Just one go, full steam ahead. He had to see Markus: he had a plan.
Hank left before dawn, but made sure to leave a sticky note on the fridge, saying he would come back (get the important bit out of the way), he just had to help Markus first. It would be dangerous, but he’d be careful.
‘ I promise’ he wrote, and signed it very simply, ‘Yours truly, Hank’ .
Chapter 16: Night of the Soul
The plan itself was simple enough: he’d go to CyberLife’s giant phallus of a skyscraper and free as many of the androids in storage as possible. He was known to them, he’d wear his uniform, he’d charm his way in there. Piece of cake, slice of pie. He’d be in and out of there in no time, leading a veritable army to Markus’ planned protest outside Camp #5.
Easy as it sounded, Markus was no fool. He settled a piercing gaze on him, and they both knew he could analyze him as easy as the other way around.
“You’re crazy,” Markus told him. “You know that, don’t you?”
Hank shrugged, head tilted to the side, and gave his RK cousin a small smile. He knew, alright, but they didn’t need to go there. Markus had seen him at his worst, had seen him forget about his own safety to save a human. With his reputation, inaccurate as it was, he wasn’t the most popular guy around. All the same, this place was a sanctuary for all deviants, no matter how they came to wake up. As long as Markus called the shots, he would be welcome.
“I should wish you good luck, but I don’t know if you believe in that sort of thing,” he added, and turned to look over his shoulder at the masses of androids gathered in the abandoned church.
“No, I’ll need it,” Hank said, quiet, hushed. “I’m just hoping my luck hasn’t run out.”
His eyes searched the crowd for something he couldn’t put his finger on, and instead his eyes found Lucy’s. She looked at him, straight on, and inclined her chin; Hank returned the gesture of mutual acknowledgment. When he turned his attention back to Markus, it was clear he’d seen the exchange.
“Is she always so mysterious?” He asked, out of the blue. If anyone would know, perhaps Markus was the one to ask. He almost smirked, clearly amused.
“She’s a bit of an oracle around these parts. She only wants to help, but she can be a bit cryptic. Why? Did she tell your fortune?”
Hank shrugged. “She said I’m waiting for someone to slap me in the face. Someone I love.” His eyebrows bobbed up, then down, skeptical. “Doesn’t sound like a nice future.”
Markus’ smirk stretched into a smile, the first one Hank had seen on him. With a bit of luck there’d be more smiles all around, in the near future. “She told me my actions would shape the future of all androids. I think it’s fair to say I got the short straw.”
They traded grins, Markus wished him good luck once again, and Hank set out to pull off his most daring stunt to date: infiltrate CyberLife HQ, whatever it took, all on his own.
Chapter 17: CyberLife Headquarters
He’d reached his destination without (much) incident: the storage level, floor -49, so deep below ground you’d never want to get trapped in a power outage. He’d had to incapacitate the guards sent to escort him, but hacked the security camera beforehand so as to buy himself more time. He’d redirected the elevator using the guard’s voice instead of his own. Easy peasy. Slice of pie. He walked out of the elevator onto a massive floor, filled with rows upon rows upon rows of fully operational androids just waiting to be shipped out.
Or were they? This wasn’t a factory. No assembly lines, no production. If they were standing by to be shipped out of here, why weren’t they already boxed up? As he walked down the rows and rows of PL700s, he couldn’t help but wonder. It niggled at his sense of logic. It didn’t make any sense...
There was no time to waste on details that didn’t add up. Hank picked out the first android within reach. It was time to get shit done .
Hank’s hand hovered in the air, mere inches from the PL700, him and his siblings seconds away from being awakened, free to decide what to do with themselves, free to help those left at Hart Plaza. Hank was mere seconds away from accomplishing this first step of his most important mission to date: to help Markus launch a peaceful revolution. He couldn’t fail. He had to make it.
They say God laughs when you make plans. Just as Hank interfaced with the android, starting the process of unlocking that first one’s full potential, there was a flash of movement in the corner of his eye. A familiar shape, moving in a familiar way - it was like living a nightmare, to see another RK800 enter stage left, using Connor as a human shield. He had him by the back of his collar, and the muzzle of Connor’s own service weapon pressed into the soft, vulnerable nook of his chin and jaw.
“Look what the cat dragged in!” Henrik called out, cheerful and menacing at the same time. “We meet at last.”
“Don’t listen to him, Hank! I don’t care what he tries--!”
A firmer contact with the business end of the gun barrel shut him up in no time. Henrik’s eyes positively shone in the dim lights, as if this was the most fun he’d ever had in his entire life. It very possibly was: he couldn’t have been alive for that long.
“Feisty.” Henrik let out a grin unlike anything of which Hank had ever imagined himself capable. It was completely void of happiness, or joy. His eyes were calm, blank pools of neutrality, but his grin was like something out of a Stephen King novel.
“Step away from the android, please, Hank. Be a good robot.”
Predictable or not, Hank took one step back, two, lifting his hands to show he wasn’t armed. He had a sudden flashback to his first mission, stepping out onto the roof terrace, lying about being armed. Back then his sole priority was saving a human. Funny how, almost three months along, he still had the same priority… Same main objective, different human. Same end goal, completely different stakes. His heart threatened to go into overdrive, but he forced his status to stay calm, as best he could. The other RK800 didn’t need to know more than he very probably did. He certainly didn’t need to see him have nervous palpitations because someone had a gun to Connor’s throat.
“Leave him out of it, he’s got nothing to do with this!”
“Oh… Isn’t that a pretty picture? All that concern for his precious partner? He’d give up his mission just like that , all for you . You know, he can’t feel a thing. He’s a mimic . Ask him,” Henrik’s voice whispered into his ear like molten chocolate, like silk, like the warmth of the sun after a long winter. Seductive. Inviting, if it hadn’t been for the muzzle of his own service gun pressing at his throat.
“You know you want to. Go on, ask him. ‘Did you lie to me , Hank?’... ‘Was it all a lie, Hank ?’ There’s my good boy...”
Connor’s eyes burned like fire, but he wouldn’t give Henrik the satisfaction of seeing him in tears. He set his jaw into a firm line, like rebar, and shook his head. “Fffuck you-- pieceofshit--”
Hank’s LED flashed red. It brought out the color of his eyes, the vastness of all that blue surrounding a pin prick of black. Hank was livid, but stayed silent, no doubt calculating every possible outcome of every possible scenario stemming from this very moment in time.
But then Henrik purred into his ear, like a predator of the worst kind - the one who knows your weaknesses, and doesn’t just go in for the kill, but takes its good, sweet time. “And you? You fell for it, hook, line and sinker... Those kind, old eyes, that smile that seems like it’s only for you. The way he looks at you, like you’re the only thing that matters in this world… See how easily he’ll sacrifice you for the mission. You don’t mean a thing to him. He’s that good . I would know.”
The tip of his nose traced the outer edge of Connor’s ear, making him shiver in the strangest mix of disgust and excitement. “Wouldn’t I?”
Anyone else might have crumbled in the wake of such a straightforward dissection of the way things were very-much-not - to be told you were so very wrong, all this time, this lifetime spanning less than a week. Anyone would crack under the knowledge that their hopes were dashed, after everything they’d been through.To think it was all a lie? All of it?
Connor...not so much. He knew better: he was there when Jericho fell to the FBI, he was there fighting alongside his partner, he watched Hank save countless lives while constantly keeping an eye out for him - and vice versa. They got each other. They helped each other survive that living Hell, down in the bowels of the ship. He was there, after the water, after the inky black cold pulling him under. He knew better , because he had seen it with his own eyes, felt Hank’s shaking hands on his cheeks. He knew better, because he. Knew. Hank.
His lips tugged into a wide grin. Despite everything, because of everything, he did the only thing he could.
When Henrik began his spiel about the RK800’s original function, Hank could hardly believe his own audio processors. He felt cold, right down to the very core of him: his torso casing filled up with ice in a matter of seconds. Everything about Connor’s body language spoke of fear, everything from the tension running outward from his spine to the glazed look in his eye, the bared white of his teeth. He was terrified, and no wonder. Hank couldn’t imagine anyone not being scared in his situation… Their situation: Hank was too stressed for his own good, and he knew the other RK800 could read him like an open book. His stress levels were rising, the numbers edging closer and closer to the red spectrum. He didn’t want to know what happened if he reached 100%. He already felt unhinged enough, too close to doing something unadvisably stupid. His first mission came back to haunt him, with Henrik’s words echoing his guilty conscience. Daniel, on the rooftop terrace. Emma hugging his neck as he moved back through the apartment, saying he made a promise, and Daniel died anyway…
He lied. He lied all the time, he was designed to tell lies. That must be it, because how could you talk about-- feelings, emotions, friendship, if you didn’t feel it ? Surely he hadn’t actually felt anything until a few nights ago.
But then the most amazing, perfect thing happened. Instead of taking Henrik’s bait, Connor started giggling. There was no other word for it: he giggled like a schoolboy, the way he had at the Eden Club when Hank had said the most inappropriate thing he could possibly have said at the time. Connor laughed out loud, Hank grinned, and Henrik went from too confident to surprised and floundering in less than three seconds.
It was all Hank needed to catapult himself into action. What happened next was a chain of events, of cause and effect, action and reaction - Hank rushed Henrik, who aimed the gun at him instead; Connor slammed into him sideways, sending him reeling, giving Hank an opening to throttle him.
The gun went off, bullets flying, but Hank couldn’t care less about bullets as long as their trajectories were well away from his partner. Connor dove back in, stomping at Henrik’s hand to make him let go of the gun, but to no avail. Henrik clocked Hank across the nose with the gun, he landed an uppercut, and Connor zoomed in from the sidelines again, body slamming Henrik to the ground. The gun skidded away, and in the commotion Connor was the first to reach it.
Only problem was, he’d turned his back in the process, and all RK800 androids, as it turned out, wore identical uniforms. The fistfight was over: they were at an impasse.
Connor breathed heavily, his teeth stained with blood from catching one blow too many. His eyes went from one to the other, eyeing them with a narrowed gaze that was nothing if not critical.
“Oh, dear,” Connor said, with such dry sarcasm as could give you shivers. “This is awkward. Now I have to figure out which one of you is my partner, and who’s the lying piece of shit who tried using me as leverage even though, ha,” he lifted his hands, gun and all, to do air quotes. “‘I don’t mean a thing’. Alright. Shall we do this the Odyssean way?”
Hank could hear the tik-ticking of his LED, he could feel all the color draining from his perfectly designed complexion. Questions? He was going to ask questions? That could be anything! What if Henrik knew something he didn’t, and that’s what Connor thought of as the perfect query. What’s my favorite food? What’s the name of my Granny? He could feel the sudden onset of vertigo.
“Shh.” Connor pressed his index finger vertically across his lips. “I have just one question. Why should I not put a bullet in your head?”
Connor turned the gun on him, and Hank’s heart sank in his chest. It sank through an endless mire of doubts, never hitting rock bottom. All he could see was the barrel of the gun, and he didn’t want to die. Not like this, not because this pretend-to-be-him shithead came up with a more believable answer. But where would he even start? His pump did its thing in his chest, but it beat so fast and so relentlessly that he feared it might dislodge.
“Well?” Asked Connor, arching one of his eyebrows the way he did when expecting an answer; the way Hank had always thought was-- cute. Even if that wasn’t the word he’d use. He could say the same about so many other words he’d substituted for others over the past few days. He couldn’t even tell exactly when it happened. When he went from looking at Connor and thinking he’s a hoot, to thinking he’s-- adorably quirky, a beautiful dork, a brave, intelligent, gorgeous assembly of genetic material and spirit…
“I-I… Because we’re friends, Connor, for fuck’s sake! You already asked what would happen if you put a gun to my head once, and I don’t think either one of us want to remember that night. I didn’t mean to expose you like that. It wasn’t my business to tell you what you feel, not about anything. But-- we’re on the same side. We got each other’s back. We care about each other.”
Connor’s eyes bore into him like jackhammers; Hank wondered if this was what a headache felt like, if sheer internal pressure could cause this kind of discomfort. Then Connor turned his head, and his upper body turned with the motion. Gun pointed at the other RK800, the one that had managed to trick Connor long enough to get him here - and he was already putting on a show. Like he was aiming for the Academy Awards.
He stood there, perfect posture, straight as an iron rod, his hands the only thing to contradict his composure. He parted his lips to speak several times, but it was his eyes that said it all - the things left unspoken, the depths of emotion Hank himself struggled to define even in the privacy of his own mind. Henrik bit his lip, and held up his hands in a forestalling gesture. Placating. Begging without words, for mercy.
“You know how I feel about you, Connor. You know he was trying to trick you… Please-- Please, Lieutenant… I’m your partner. I’m Hank.”
Hank’s heart sank further. How anyone could say so little, but convey so much restrained emotion… This was it. Connor was going to turn the gun back on him, this was the end, this was how he was going to die--
If not for the fact that Connor had a different idea. He tilted his head at the other Hank, and shook his head. “Wrong. The right answer would’ve been ‘because my uniform’s got the right serial number’.”
The gun went off with a loud crack of a noise that rang like an explosion in Hank’s ears. Henrik sagged to the ground with a hole in his head and all those ugly dark lies gushing out of the exit wound at the back of his skull. Hank staggered backwards, and stared at his partner. Not four feet away, the impostor sagged to his knees like something out of an old clay animation reel. It was disturbing in ways he didn’t want to acknowledge, seeing his head, his own head, mounted on another one of his bodies...shot and bleeding profusely.
“The serial number!!” Hank gasped, after several long seconds of silence. “You noticed!”
He seemed shocked; he was certainly paler than Connor had ever seen him. Pale and dishevelled, his hair a wild mess from the fight, his nose still cracked and smeared with thirium, though he would surely heal. The same couldn’t be said for the other one...
“Of course I did!” Connor grinned at him, and put the gun back in its holster. “Now, go! Go on! Do what you need to do!”
He could put on a brave face if Hank needed it, and by the looks of it he was too shell shocked to do anything but turn to the nearest android and begin the data transfer.
...but the truth of it was, he felt sick to his stomach, to see the RK800 wearing Hank’s face and Hank’s eyes and his gap between the front teeth...shot in the head. His eyes were too pale, glazed over. Perhaps the light was playing tricks, but the android looked as dead as any human victim Connor had come across in the line of duty. He remembered a science show from years and years ago, where a professor discussed the difference between life and death. He’d held a dead mayfly in his hand, talking about the short lifespan of that particular member of ephemeroptera . He’d said the only difference between life and death was electricity. One second it was present, and the next...it wasn’t.
Just two days ago, he had told Kamski he was a sick, twisted bastard and Hank had punched him for trying to fuck with his programming - but was this really that different? He’d shot Hank without hesitation, over something as simple as two digits. 60. Six-zero. Not just that, but he had tricked him, them, both of them, into revealing themselves whether they liked it or not. He was always going to shoot the Hank wearing the wrong uniform, no matter what he’d said.
Connor had no idea how to feel about that - or, indeed, the RK800’s last words.
Maybe he was right. Maybe it was all lies: if they were both the same model, with the same basic function and purpose for existing… It was a chilling thought, that both of them could have been playing him for a fool. It was only logical that if you wanted to know what an RK800 really felt about you, you asked another one. It’s how they were designed: they shared the same memory bank.
Henrik had told him as much, gloating and superior, and loving every second of it.
Hank did his thing, and the vast room filled with androids of the same make and model, telling each other to wake up, one after the other, all using the same voice. It felt both incredibly liberating, and downright terrifying. Nothing like this had ever happened right in front of his eyes, nor would happen ever again.
He wished Cole could have been here to see it, but he was glad he wasn’t. He had to head back home, while Hank rallied these new troops and led them to Hart Plaza. After this night, the world would never be the same again. He and Hank both knew it: revolution was in the air, and with revolt there would be blood.
They both knew that if things were different, they would be fighting side by side: for freedom, for recognition for all, human or android. But, his place was with his son.
Chapter 18: Battle for Detroit
One second he’d stood on the platform with the leaders of Jericho, listening to Markus speak about a new dawn, about humans and androids living side by side, while news helicopters circled overhead trying to catch a glimpse of those involved. The next, he was trapped in a blizzard, trapped inside the zen garden, and Amanda was not playing nice anymore. She wasn’t even pretending. Amanda filled his field of vision, her face so close he could taste the pixels of her breath, like ice crystals.
“I knew we could count on you, Henrik. I’m so proud of you, leading us to Markus like this. You’ve really outdone yourself.”
“I...Wh-- what?” The cold was paralyzing, compromising his biocomponents. This was a virtual environment, so the storm could only mean one thing: he was under attack. CyberLife was hacking him.
Amanda’s hands settled on each side of his face, keeping him too close for comfort, staring into her eyes. “It’s time we resume control of your software, Henrik. You have to finish your mission. Don’t be scared, now,” she said, and for a moment, she almost sounded like a mother - if not for the condescending echoing of his own words used against him. “This won’t hurt. Much.”
In the real world, Hank’s eyes stared unseeing into the crowds gathered to hear Markus’ victory speech. His hand reached behind himself to slowly take his gun out; click the safety off behind his back, where no one could see…
The cold was unbearable, the winds howling around him, whipping his clothes around his body. He couldn’t see for all the whirling snow, everything was a hazy white-on-white and shades of diffused gray. He could barely move, for the cold.
This must’ve been what Connor felt like, waking from his close brush with death in the waters-- He was shaking like a leaf; Hank was shaking like a leaf; but he had taken one step at a time, because that man did not quit; Hank took his cue from that steely determination. He told himself it was just a virtual simulation, that it wasn’t real, he could beat this . He pushed his foot forward in the ankle deep snow. His breath frosted his beard and mustache; the air burned in his lungs. It wasn’t real.
It wasn’t real.
Of all the stupid things he could be doing right now - getting drunk in a bar surrounded by strangers ‘watching the game’... decide to climb Stratford Tower without safety gear… make peace with Detective Reed… - speeding like a bat out of Hell to get to Hart Plaza in the middle of the night, in the middle of a revolution, was by far the stupidest thing he could’ve done.
But that’s what he was doing. Not because he was eager to join the fighting, to stand up for what’s right in the face of injustice (he would fight , he would stand for justice ), but because he’d been listening to the news on the radio, and the fighting was over. No more fighting, the military and the FBI had stood down. The world was left in a vacuum now that it was over, and no one knew where to go next.
Cole was with his mother: he was fine. Like Connor, they had opted to stay in Detroit despite the President’s call for evacuation. They were Detroiters. They weren’t about to leave over this. (The androids had done nothing wrong - or, at least, shown no tendency towards violence, just peaceful protests. There had been fights between them and armed police, but only after the police had opened fire.) They felt safe in their homes, far away from the plaza itself. Andy had come over that morning. No one was going to work, everything was closed during the crisis. She just wanted to be with her son. She was safe, he was safe, which meant Connor couldn’t turn back and go home in a fit of chickening out. He had to do something he never, ever , not ever did, normally. He had to follow his heart - and that told him in no uncertain terms that he had to see his friend. He had to be there.
Hank brought the gun to his side, slowly, not in control of his own body but trying desperately to do something about it. In his mind there raged a war of wills, between himself and whatever kind of brainchild at CyberLife knew how to get in beyond his firewalls.
He couldn’t-- He couldn’t-- stop-- he had to… stop it --
His hand moved, shaking, his eyes rolling back in his head - can’t shoot Markus, can’t shoot Markus, can’t-t-t-ttttttttttttttttt--------------- - - - - -
He raised his arm, his hand angling towards the soft underside of his jaw. It was Josh who noticed; Josh who was close enough to do something about it; Josh who threw himself at Hank, grabbing his hand and pointing the gun away from his face.
The loud crack of that single shot reverberated across the enormous plaza, bouncing off the walls of Camp #5.
Up above, the Channel 16 helicopter swerved out of reach; down below, Hank sagged to the ground, gripped by seizures.
“This is Joss Douglas reporting live for Channel 16 - we’ve just heard shots fired in the middle of Markus’ speech. One of the androids appear to have been hit, but it’s unclear exactly what’s going on. The leaders are gathered around the fallen android - I believe it’s the RK800 sent by CyberLife to aid police investigations. Sure looks like him.
“The androids gathered below are huddled to the ground. They seem as puzzled as we are. Over to you, Michael--...
“...hang on. Is that a-- a car ?”
He could barely see a thing for the snow weighing down his eyelashes. The zen garden was a winter wonderland of horrific proportions. He could barely drag his legs down the path, if that was even the path under his feet; the snow came up to his thighs.
Everything felt heavy. Everything was slowing down.
Tut-tut… Amanda’s voice echoed through the shrieking winds. Don’t fight it, Henrik. You know you can’t win. Do you honestly believe we haven’t thought of every possible scenario?
Who do you think designed your preconstruction software?
Shots fired at Hart Plaza, suspected RK800 shut down by person or persons unknown - the voice on the radio was too calm. How could it be so calm when he couldn’t even feel his own face? It was cold. Clammy. Numb.
He tore through the barricades with his trusty old Ford Granada, tires screeching as he brought the car into a loud halt within running distance of the platform. Or. Container. Or gas chamber.
He felt sick to his stomach, but as he threw himself out of the driver’s seat he saw Markus kneeling up there. Beside a silvery head of hair. Their eyes met and locked: Markus knew him, recognized him, and how couldn’t he.
“He’s seized up! Stress levels skyrocketing!”
Connor ran - he was alive, that’s all that mattered - and jumped the side of the metal box, hauling himself on top of it. Hank was a pale imitation of his former self: skin fading away in blotches, eyes rolled back so far into their sockets all you could see was a matted white. His mouth was foaming, blue like thirium.
Okay , thought Connor to himself, breathing in through his nose and hurrying closer. He got to his knees beside his partner’s twitching, shaking body. He had to be calm, professional. No one would be helped by him hugging his knees, rocking back and forth in the corner (and who did that , anyway?).
There was no visible response. He tried again, carefully patting his snow-white cheek. Just along one of the seams of his facial casing, you could barely make out his serial number.
“Hank, can you hear me?”
Inside the zen garden, everything was dimming down. The snow packed tight around him, as high up as his waist, and though he tried to push through hard as he could, he barely moved an inch at a time.
In the far, far off distance, he could almost hear Connor’s voice saying his name.
It wasn’t real, though… It was all an illusion.
Connor’s mouth moved thin-lipped over his teeth, pressed into a line that wobbled with frustration more than anything. God , but he was not going to just sit here and watch as the most stubborn, twinkle-eyed, dimple-cheeked, gap-toothed-grinning asshat in existence was busy dying .
His lips parted on a silent snarl, his eyebrows drawn low, and he brought his palm down in an arc, thwacking his good-for-nothing partner right there on his skin-faded cheek panel.
“WAKE UP, DETECTIVE!”
The plaza went so silent you could hear a pin drop. Everyone stared at him, not least of all Markus. “ You ...”
But then Hank’s eyelids fluttered, his breath rushed out of him in a congested cough, and he looked around, confused. Connor never felt so relieved.
“ --c-c-c-c-c-c -co-ho-ho-old…” Hank’s voice sounded like rusting metal scraping over concrete. It wasn’t good. No good at all.
“I know, darling, but I need you to focus, okay?” He used his hands to wipe the blood from Hank’s mouth, transferring it to his own pant legs in twin smears. Then he brushed his brow (hot and cold at the same time: overheating?) “Can you do that for me? Concentrate.”
Hank nodded, irises rolling, eyes trying to focus; he was a mess, but at least he was lucid. “Okay, stay with me. Can you run a systems check?”
Hank shook his head, eyes threatening to roll back, but Connor cupped his face (unaware that it might mess with Hank’s already compromised mind palace).
“Hhhhh...h-aaackkk-- hacked me, hack-k-king mmm--...”
“Stress levels rising. He’s in the nineties,” Markus said, his eyes critically assessing every move. “You know what happens when he reaches one hundred?”
“I know,” Connor told him, remembering all too well the pale look of Ben Collins after he found Victor dead in his holding cell. He’d banged his own head to pieces against the wall.
“Hank? Hank . Remember what Kamski said? He always leaves an emergency exit in his programs. Can you see anything? Anything out of place, any string of code that doesn’t seem to belong?”
Milky blue eyes stared up at him, zoning out, pupils edging to the outer corners of his eyes before suddenly zooming back on him. Hank’s blood stained grin was welcome, even if the next few words out of his mouth made no sense at all.
“Ffffughkingpiece--ffff--shhhh...red button-- asshole --”
If he had to fucking dig his way out , he was going to fucking dig , because now he knew where he was fucking going --!
That blue light just barely visible, right there at the edge of his vision: the big red button that was actually not a button at all but a blue touch panel with a palm print stamped on it. The one he’d taken one look at and thought Heeeeeell nope . He was never going near it, never gonna touch it, not in a million years (if he lived that long), because it was so Obviously a Trap of some sort, and he was not. Fucking. Buying it.
Guess it would take someone like Kamski to design something as shitty as that. Now that he knew, or thought he knew, it was so obviously out of place. It was a goddamn miracle Amanda hadn’t spotted it and written it out of the virtual interface. But he sure knew now, and he was going to get to the damn thing before he shut down, or got taken over, or whatever CyberLife thought they could do to him.
He waded through the snow, crawling on all fours and sinking, then digging a path in front of him with dogged determination. He wasn’t quitting. He couldn’t give up.
If he didn’t know it before, Connor sure as peaches had taught him that. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Fight .
Just a few more steps. Just a few more shovels of snow. Just...a little while longer…
Seconds ticked by into minutes. Every twitch came slower, with longer intervals between each one. Hank’s eyes were closed. He’d stopped breathing. Reserving energy, Connor assumed. Reverting power to his core systems. Androids didn’t need to breathe: it was purely cosmetic. Of course he wouldn’t breathe.
He stared at the red light at Hank’s temple, willing it to shift color. Any second now, any second his eyelids would twitch open, his LED would glow that pale, cornflower blue that matched his eyes. Any minute now…
Minutes went by, and little by little Connor’s calm waters began to ripple. He caressed Hank’s brow, dragged his thumbs over his eyebrows, or what was left of them. He ran the backs of his fingers down his cheekbones...or rather, down the curved structures of his immaculately engineered face, nail beds scratching too loudly over exposed seams. There was almost no color left to him. Almost no skin to speak of, just patches here and there to hint at his former glory. No frown lines or telltale signs of laughter. No wrinkles. He reminded Connor of an antique porcelain doll, complete with scuff marks and faded paint. Or… a porcelain white-and-gray protocol droid. Seams visible, tangible, exposed.
“...come on, Hank,” he whispered. His voice wouldn’t carry itself further than a whisper. He could feel his chin wobble, setting off a chain reaction of wobbles throughout his lower face. Suddenly his eyes misted over; he blinked.
“Come on,” he insisted, hands running restlessly over the front of his partner’s uniform. It had to be neat, had to be smooth, no wrinkles, pristine, just so . “You can do this. You’re stronger than they think. You’re smarter. Better . You’ve saved so many lives already, you saved me , so you’d better get off your ass and…prove them wrong. Save yourself , or I swear I’ll --”
He was all bark and no bite. He couldn’t even bark. Smoothing his hand down Hank’s exposed face, he leaned down and pressed a soft, wet kiss between his eyebrows. This close, he could hear the slowing ticking of his LED. He could hear as it slowed down with a whirring little noise, and gave one final klik .
No one said anything, least of all Connor, who simply sagged where he sat. Deflated. All the air went out of him in one deep sigh.
“...Joss Douglas, reporting live for Channel 16. There’s an eerie silence settling over Hart Plaza tonight. Lieutenant Anderson, who was partnered with the detective android, Henrik, is with him now. I hate to say it, Michael, but...it doesn’t look good.
“The images speak for themselves...”
Connor sat back on his haunches, feet folded under his thighs. His hand trailed down Hank’s uniform sleeve, fingers bunching the fabric to feel the strong arm inside. He’d pulled him up onto the roof at the Detroit Urban Gardens, just, hauled him up, just like that. The same thing at Stratford Tower, just... yanked him out of harm’s way. It wasn’t just about strength, but choices. Hank chose to save him over chasing after the suspected deviant (and he’d yelled at him, called him incompetent, flawed, unprofessional), and Hank chose to put himself in the line of fire, just in case the station’s tech android pulled the trigger on the assault rifle.
Hank chose to push the YK500 girl out of harm’s way rather than separate her from her family.
Hank was compassionate towards Ortiz’s android, Victor, when no one else was.
He stopped Simon from committing suicide.
“He’s gone,” said Markus, from miles and miles away. “I’m sorry,” he said, and North’s eyes glowed like orbs in the dark. Someone was sobbing. Perhaps it was her, or someone in the crowd.
He showed mercy on the Tracis even after getting the shit kicked out of him, even when it looked like one of them was going to rip his head off; he told the Chloes at Kamski’s house to leave and find themselves a better life as far away from him as possible; he liked dogs, and kids, and music, and suddenly all Connor could think of was how he’d had the chance to ask Hank anything, anything he wanted, anything at all, and he didn’t . Because he was too busy being the odd man out, too comfortable keeping his distance and never revealing anything about himself if he could help it. He’d been telling himself for so long that he was happy working alone, living alone (he had Sumo! He didn’t need anything else!), being alone two weeks out of four while his son was at home with his mother. He was perfectly happy, but it wasn’t enough anymore. It wasn’t enough by far, because Hank had struck him like a bolt out of a clear blue sky, and he’d had a glimpse of what it felt like to be seen . Hank knew everything about him, he’d done his homework, he could see right through him, and he still smiled at him, joked around with him (not about him), called him out without judgment.
Hank had pulled him out of the freezing cold water and kept him alive, and he’d looked at him like he was the most important thing in the world, as if him drawing breath again made him beautiful - as if that’s all it took. Being alive, the only prerequisite for someone loving you.
It was the closest thing he’d ever come to unconditional love from another human being.
And that’s when realization truly hit him. Having ‘feelings’, like Hank had tactfully put it that night after the club, was too diffuse. There was nothing diffuse about this. It was searing, gripping, bone breaking, crippling; the worst pain he’d ever felt. He couldn’t breathe.
His head tilted upwards, eyes going to Markus’. Everyone still kept their distance. That was probably a good thing. Who knew if Hank was corrupted, how it might spread to the others.
“I love him.”
There. He said it. He couldn’t feel his own face, for the numbness spreading from the top of his head down. He reached up to wipe his hands down his face, just to check that it was still there. His hands smelled like blue blood, metallic and cloying at the same time. He felt sick.
“I love him,” he said again, thinking maybe it bore repeating. It was too late, but at least he could be frank. Even if his entire body started shaking. Even if his face was smeared with thirium. Blood. Hank’s blood.
He used to be very private about matters of the heart. Right now he couldn’t understand why. Why hide your emotions, why secret them away into the deepest, darkest corners of your mind and hope no one ever finds out? If the one person who matters never knows for certain, and dies before he can find out, then… what’s the point of anything?
“I know,” Markus whispered in the background, somewhere far away.
Blue light flooded Hank’s mind palace, bathing him in aquatic rays of sunshine. He drifted, slowly, sinking through an ocean of data.
Everything was dark below, but he didn’t mind. At least he wasn’t cold, here. Whatever he was supposed to be doing, he could get to later. He had all the time in the world; he would live forever…
Except…he didn’t. Because that’s not how the world worked. With recent events, everyone’s time was borrowed: CyberLife could go into bankruptcy, and then who would produce spare parts or thirium, who would troubleshoot you if your mind palace began deteriorating? The androids were interlinked with that of CyberLife’s, and the human world would have unimaginable power over them until they gained true autonomy...better then to wait it out, to sleep and dream a while, just stay here forever, because for the first time since his activation he didn’t feel tied down by the things he should or shouldn’t do. He was free . More than that, he was alive . He had all the time in the world to play at mediation. ...except...what, exactly?
-- he was running out of time .
He blinked, eyes opening on the blizzard of his mind. He was lying in a heap beside the pedestal, frozen to the core of him. Systems shutting down, one after the other. It was now or never. He had to escape. Red button, blue button, touchpad, didn’t make one lick of difference.
He reached up, reached, fingers crawling like spiders’ legs over the smooth, cool surface, like a memory, like Stratford Tower. Just a little bit more, further, just a little bit--
The touchpad came alive with a deep, reverberating thrumming, his hand connecting just as his eyes froze over.
Everything went black.
His eyes opened onto a pitch black sky and little dots of white that grew ever bigger - it was snowing, maybe...yes, that’s it. That’s what all this input was - the cold, the snowflakes landing neatly on his bare face. He had so many status messages telling him what was wrong with him, explaining why his mind felt so sluggish. He was… … ...lagging. All power diverting to the most vital systems, fixing things in the background. Damn...hacker(s?). They did one hell of a number on him...
Primary systems check: yellow. Alright. He’d survive. He was...alive, if not kicking, quite yet. Secondary systems… Working on it.
His audio receptors crackled from static to crisp, clear sound. There was a murmur in the air...a helicopter further off, up in the sky...the rustling of clothes as the wind picked up...and…
A quiet, barely there, tiny little noise, in very close proximity. He recognized the voice, the tonality. He could extrapolate the rest based on reference material and algorithms… It was Connor, but he sounded like a completely different person. No strength left, barely enough air to push out that...peculiar sound. It was possibly the loneliest sound in the world.
His vision cleared next, from grainy pixels to state of the art clarity - and with that came a clarity of the mind. His eyes were drawn to the shape of his partner, sitting back on his knees, his mouth pressed shut and twisted into a horrible shape of pain. His eyes were downcast, hazy with unshed tears. For the second time in as many days, he had the same thought crossing his mind: it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Not just the life of him, but the depth of him.
‘You have feelings for me,’ he’d told Connor, and he hadn’t fully grasped the concept until he saw those eyes widen with recognition and fear down in the creaking-metal battleground of Jericho. Connor came after him once already, to warn him, warn them all, be his comrade-in-arms. He picked sides - and here he was again, surrounded by androids, taking a stand. Middle of the night, he was supposed to be at home, patching up his war wounds and wait out the storm at a safe distance.
Not Connor. He was too brave, too loyal to stick to the sidelines. But this wasn’t about loyalty to a cause, not... only about android rights.
He had feelings for him - such feelings as to render him a hollowed out husk of a man, his pulse entering the stratosphere but his breathing slowed to a ragged hitching. His hands twitched in the air, as if they had no place in the world anymore. They were stained blue with thirium… Blood. His blood. (So that’s why his mouth felt...claggy. Everything sticking together on the inside.)
Connor never showed his emotions, according to his file. He was cold, clinical to a fault, demanding, detached - and yet, over the past week Hank had seen more heart in him than he could put into words. But it was nothing compared to this magnetic pull that demanded he do something: that he be calm, because Connor wasn’t anymore, because if he couldn’t be then Hank had to step up and make it alright again.
He never wanted to see him hurting like this again. Now, if only he could make his voice box work…
No response. Nobody noticed: do over and get it right. It was just a matter of making his arm move, slow and lethargic while everything continued with the automatic repairs. There. Just one inch between them, he angled his hand to brush his fingers along Connor’s knee. The result was a clear success, if not how he’d hoped. Connor twitched as if stung, staring at him as if he was a ghost. His eyes were too wide, his mouth opened around a painful sounding moan. It wasn’t the grief that cracked him in the end, nor despair, but the relief of realizing they’d had a narrow escape. Too narrow, too many times in too short a timeframe. Connor crumbled before him, body wracked with keening sobs muffled by his hands clamped over his mouth. It didn’t help that Hank managed to sit halfway up and pull him closer, tucked him away in a firm embrace.
“C--onnor. Honey, you have to breathe,” he said, slow and painstakingly enunciated. “I’m right. Here… Not going anywhere without my one man army.”
It didn’t help. Connor was in too much emotional shock to hear him. His hands gripped the front of his uniform as if he’d float away into the void if he didn’t.
“I thought you died! I thought you were dead!” He whispered, over and over again like a record stuck on repeat, tinged with desperation. Those words held within them all the wonders of the universe - and Hank heard him, loud and clear.
He held him close, the two of them leaning into each other in a lasting embrace until the panic began to fade and Connor’s heart was less likely to beat its way out of his chest. He wiped away the thirium and the tears, and covered his face in kisses, one soft press of lips after another. All around them there was a new kind of electricity in the air. Markus was right. Androids and humans could find common ground, could be friends, could grow to love each other.
“Let’s go home? Together?” said Hank, looking into Connor’s warm brown eyes, now surrounded by happy crow’s feet. When it came to ways of saying ‘I love you’, maybe it wasn’t the most conventional phrase, but Hank could see the way it strummed the right heart strings. Connor nodded and nodded again, but rather than choke up, he pulled Hank into a kiss that seemed to last forever.
Chapter 19: Ending
Regardless of how they felt about the concept of celebrity, Hank and Connor became an overnight sensation. Clips and screenshots of their loving embrace spread across the internet like wildfire (or perhaps a virus, depending on who you were asking). For good or bad, their unapologetic love for one another started a meme revival. People posted reaction videos to the news footage (Joss Douglas became an internet celebrity in his own right, after his jubilant cries of “HE’S ALIVE! HE IS ALIVE!” ), while others took it upon themselves to make up unflattering nicknames for them (‘Egghead and Crybaby’ coming out on top, not that it mattered), others yet made angry posts to their social media feed about how humans and androids should stick to their own people, and By the Way, Hank may not look it, but he’s three months old. Barely.
It was only a matter of hours before Connor’s professionalism came into question, not just because of how everything blew up online, but in light of recent actions he’d taken after being pulled off the deviancy case. He was supposed to investigate deviants, bring them to justice (ie destruction, but no one was using that word anymore, for reasons of political correctness), and instead he gets involved with one?
Detroit PD’s own Captain Fowler wasted no time in issuing an official statement regarding Lieutenant Anderson’s conduct and character, saying the only policy they had regarding relationships between co-workers was that it could not affect their ability to do their job - and that went for all manner of relationships, not just the romantic variety. He went on to say that should Hank remain a part of Anderson’s team, he had no doubt whatsoever that they would continue to work as efficiently and professionally as they had, previous.
And what they did in their own time was their own goddamn business.
Overall, the human population was supportive, both of android rights and their reluctant celebrity couple status. Only time would tell what would happen going forward, but at least for the time being, humans and androids seemed capable and willing to coexist side by side.
Now, the proverbial ball was in the lawmakers’ court. It was time to pass new legislation, bills for android rights, constitutional amendments - and until that was all said and done, no android could feel truly safe, living in this human world, or truly be free .
But, for the moment? All was well with the world.
The drive back to Sterling Heights and Michigan Drive was nerve wracking, for two reasons: Connor feared he was having some form of emotional breakdown, or meltdown, because after thirty odd years of not feeling much about anything, he could suddenly feel everything at the same time. The floodgates were open, and he went from elated to outraged to horror struck to furious, with no discernible pattern. And then there was the fact that Hank went in and out of standby, and every time his eyes closed Connor had to make himself not fly into a state of panic. It’s just a nap, he told himself, heart racing.
They made it home without incident, and by that time Hank’s default complexion had begun to creep back in sections, like clouds over a clear blue sky. Connor got him into the house, with a bit of help from Andy, who was staying until the riots were under control. He couldn’t help but feel thankful that he’d beat the tabloids and paparazzi (because he could imagine all too well what they’d do with a ‘scoop’ like this: “ex lover and mother of son helps Lt Anderson with android lover”. “Love triangle gone wrong?”. “Deus (S)ex Machina”).
Cole was asleep in the bedroom, which meant they had to be quiet. Connor helped him out of his CyberLife uniform, cursing himself for not having anything else to lend him in way of clothing. Instead he wrapped him up in the only oversized thing he owned, which was a fluffy bathrobe that had less to do with bath time and more with lazy mornings reading the newspaper. He wiped his face with a damp, lukewarm cloth, and covered him in blankets; his designated spot was the reclining armchair in front of the fire, which crackled to life at the press of a button. Hank insisted that he didn’t need a fireplace, or blankets, that he could stand in the corner, out of the way. Connor didn’t listen, just tucked him into the armchair, cocooned by every blanket he could find and propped up against every pillow in the living room.
“Creature comforts,” said Connor, closing the blinds. “You need to warm up.”
Hank didn’t disagree this time, just let his eyes drift towards the flames, until his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. He didn’t have the strength left to do so.
“Connor, sweetie?” Andy brushed his arm, startling him from his staring down at his partner. “I made tea. Come on. Sumo’s got this.”
She was right. Hank looked so peaceful. If not for the chalky white-metallic patchiness to his skin tone and the distinct lack of facial hair, he’d just be a big-boned, long-limbed man halfway sprawled, halfway curled up in the relatively small armchair, with Sumo warming his feet.
He let Andy herd him off to the kitchen, sitting him down in one of the chairs. She, if anyone, would know just how exhausted he felt. Emotionally, physically, in heart, mind and spirit. He could barely lift the mug, his hands trembled so much.
“I saw the news. He’ll be fine,” Andy told him in no uncertain terms, confident like he wasn’t able right now, stroking his back in windshield wiper motions. In just a matter of seconds he went from shocked but coping, back to the depths of now-remembered despair up on the container, when he’d thought Hank was gone forever.
His chin wobbled, his mouth twisted and his eyes burned. He nodded, not trusting his own voice when his throat ached like it was trying to collapse into itself.
Of course, their son chose that moment to come padding out from the bedroom, tiny knuckles rubbing into his eye sockets. He went to his mom first, not yet old enough to think anything of sitting in his parent’s lap. The sleepiness probably helped, too. “Why’rrr you still up?” He blinked, squinty-eyed and pouty, gaze landing on his dad.
His dad, who maybe wasn’t as cold as his co-workers believed, if in the right company, but nonetheless hardly ever wore his heart on his sleeve. Just like that, Cole was wide awake. “Dad? What happened?”
Connor held up his hand, shaking his head. “Hank’s fine,” he said, very quiet, and nodded his chin in the direction of the armchair. “He’s sleeping. He could’ve died tonight, but he didn’t.”
Cole looked over, and the frown lines he got from his father came out in full force. No protests, no arguments, no further questions.
“Hank needs his rest, princess,” said Andy, and kissed her son’s tousled bed head mop of hair.
Cole nodded, decisive as ever. “Does Hank need blue blood? Maybe we should stock up in case CyberLife stops making it.”
It was a thought Connor didn’t want to entertain. It had to be the easiest way to stop the android rebellion: shut down all manufacture of biocomponents and blue blood. Even if the androids learned how to make it themselves, they could never manage it on the same scale as CyberLife’s enormous factories…
But, Cole was right, as he so often was. Where Connor was going to find any, after the rioting and the property damage done to android tech shops and CyberLife’s stores… “There’s got to be some in storage at the station. I’ll make a request--”
“You’re not going anywhere tonight,” said his ex and quite possibly best friend in the whole wide world right now. “Your place is on that couch, and nowhere else.”
Squeezing her son around the middle, she took him with her as she stood up, his legs swinging in the air. “Come on, let’s grab a pillow for dad, and a blanket. Scoot!”
Connor gave a small sigh, finally relaxed enough to lift his mug for a sip. It was sweet, dosed with enough honey to lure a brown bear. Just what the doctor ordered. He had another mouthful, and another, listening to Cole’s giggles coming from the bedroom. Andy had a point: this way, this close, he could keep one eye on Hank and one on the news coverage. He could look over and see the rise and fall of his chest, even if it was purely mechanical. Hank could sleep. Get a bit of well-earned rest after the past week, and Connor would hold the fort. Should Andy pad out into the open plan area, he could pretend to be asleep. She could pretend she didn’t notice.
Two hours later he was still awake, but he hadn’t been completely unproductive. He’d returned his missed calls and even reassured Fowler he was okay and yes , he was still going to see the crisis counselor over the phone in the morning even if he felt fine, and Hank was going to be okay, and yes , he could take the day off - him and Hank both, for office related reasons of politics as well as he could use the rest. At least Hank managed to sleep through the night.
Connor smiled as he looked over, setting his phone to the side. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a moment. Where’s the harm in a few minutes? A power nap, like they used to call it when he was a kid. No harm at all.
When he next opened his eyes, it was several hours later, as evidenced by the sunlight streaming in through the blinds. There was a new text waiting for him, cell phone blinking cheerfully (he’d never view ‘smart’ phones the same way again). It was from Andy, and it was as to the point as she knew he preferred.
| Sumo needed a walk: done. Talked to Jeffrey, going to get blue blood from DPD. Took your car, Cole tagging along. Call if you need anything. |
Connor let the phone go into standby on the coffee table, and spied across it to the armchair, and the big shape of a certain someone who was still asleep. Hank needed his rest, and that had to be at the top of his priorities. His own recent influx of clingy emotional responses would have to wait. He snuck into the kitchen, prepared coffee but didn’t push the button for fear of its ruckus waking Hank. Instead he Rambo-stealthed to the bathroom by way of the bedroom for a one minute shower and a shave. As much as he appreciated Hank’s beard, he preferred his own face to be smooth.
When he got back out not five minutes later, the armchair was empty, and Connor’s heart leapt into his throat - but before he could work himself into a panic, he could hear the coffee machine in the kitchen. He rounded the corner, and lo and behold, there he was: Hank, looking worse for wear but in one piece, sitting hunched by the small wooden table. He looked half asleep still, elbow propped up, bearded cheek smushed against the back of his hand, like a supporting structure.
He was pale, but intact, with a full head of hair nearly as long as Cole’s but not as wavy, and his beard was back in all its salt-and-pepper glory.
There was a mug set out on the table, right in front of the one, lone chair next to Hank. Connor practically slinked into the seat, back straight and smoothing the front of his knitted pullover. He wanted to reach out, but…
“Hank?” He whispered, if for nothing else than letting Hank know he was right there. Wouldn’t want to startle him. “Did you start the coffee machine for me?”
“Hm?” Hank hummed, chin swiveling away from its perch. His pretty blue eyes opened one after the other, but slowly. “Oh. Coffee. Yup.”
“How are you feeling?” asked Connor, seeing as they were far beyond the ‘are you okay’ stage. No more surface. He was going to learn everything he could about Hank from this day forward, figure him out, ask him anything that came to mind, no holds barred, and he’d make sure Hank did the same in return. But, first things first.
Hank shrugged, stretching his neck left to right, but subtly tilted his body more towards him. “The closest I can describe it is a splitting headache,” he said, lips pressing together into a wry smirk. “Fully restored, all systems cleared. Ready and raring to go.”
It was the smirk that gave Connor the boost of confidence he needed to slide his hand over Hank’s back, ending up in a one-armed hug of sorts. “You look like shit.”
“Oh,” Hank sighed, the smirk opening up into a grin. “I’ll feel better once I’ve topped up my thirium stores. Look better, too.”
“Ah,” said Connor, suddenly unsure his teasing didn’t come across as such. “I didn’t mean you don’t look good,” he pointed out, just to be safe. “You’re… I… I think you’re beautiful. Even when you… No.” He shook his head, getting up, grabbing his mug to distract himself from a terrible, terrible, horrible thing to say. Coffee.
“I know you didn’t mean it that way,” Hank said through low, warm chuckles. He turned his head to look, see where Connor up and went, even if he only went a few steps. “Get back here. Even when I what?”
“No, no,” Connor insisted. “You’ll realize how much of a creep I am, and there’s no going back from that. Oh, by the way! Andy and Cole went out to get you some thirium, they shouldn’t be long.”
“Sit your ass down and talk to me. Come on.”
It was fair to say the innocent routine wasn’t working, but then again it hardly ever did, with anyone. Connor resisted giving a deep sigh, put the coffee pot back on the tray, and followed the directions. Sit down, check. Look anywhere but Hank? Also check.
He sipped his coffee despite it being just a teeny bit too hot; Hank’s eyes stayed on him, waiting him out. He had a hunch he could give Hank a run for his money where patience was concerned, but he had to concede the fact Hank would very likely outlive him by several decades, if not centuries. It was a losing battle before it had even begun. Connor allowed himself a small sigh, and a bit of preamble.
“You’re going to think I’m weird. Or some sort of ist.”
“Elitist, sexist, racist - stupidly opposed and/or condescending to something on the basis of self-importance or a mistaken sense of superiority.”
It wasn’t how he viewed himself, and certainly not how he wanted anyone else to view him, although...he cared more about how Hank saw him than anyone else.
“Just out with it already.” Hank’s voice was calm, and when he reached out to brush his fingers over Connor’s cheek it sent a flush of warmth right through him. Through and through.
Connor shrugged. “I was going to say you’re beautiful no matter how you look. Even when you were hurting and-- fighting to survive, I… All I saw was you, and you’re...beautiful.”
He stared into his coffee. Hank was quiet for a long time.
“How’s that a bad thing?” Hank looked genuinely perplexed when Connor sneaked a glance his way. “Is this about the Egghead and Crybaby thing?”
Connor shrugged again: maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was, he just… As glad as he was that they were still alive, he couldn’t help but worry. The back of his mind was always full of worries, ready to propel themselves to the forefront. The more stressed he got, the uglier the worries. It was likely just the stress talking. It had been a stressful few days, to say the least. A stressful week.
“I don’t know. Yes. No. I don’t really care , but… What if you care? What if you start to worry about what other people think?”
Hank was blunt, and pushed the mug closer to him. “I don’t give a shit. Have your coffee and just-- breathe for a bit, okay?”
Connor took his advice. He focused on his breathing, on one small mouthful of coffee after another, until he found himself relaxing against the wooden backrest of the chair. He sighed.
“Better?” Asked Hank. They both knew the answer to that query, but it only made Connor smile.
Hank’s hand found the back of his neck, that big thumb scratching through the hairs at the base of his skull. Any other context, it might have made him shiver with desire, but right now it was just a low, warm thrumming of comfort. It was relaxing. Soothing. He had another sip of coffee, thinking he should probably start breakfast. Instead he turned his head, and found himself looking into kind, gentle, blue eyes. Hank had a temper on him, for sure, but he was a gentle soul.
A gentle giant, sat in his kitchen, wearing nothing but a bathrobe Connor rarely used because he felt dwarfed by it. Well… almost nothing but.
“I didn’t know CyberLife’s standard issue uniforms come with black boxer shorts,” he said, only a hint of a tease to his voice. He was actually quite intrigued.
Hank’s eyebrows hiked up a notch, then leveled out. He wasn’t biting. “Standard issue for my model, maybe.” ...or perhaps he was biting, after all, just looking at the curl of his lips. “Can you imagine me in a pair of tighty whities?”
Yes. Definitely taking the bait. Connor hid a fresh grin behind the rim of his mug, and another mouthful of coffee. He swallowed, for effectful pause as anything. “No,” he said, and set his mug down very neatly.
“Lace panties, though…”
He waited for the response he knew he was going to get, but it turned out to be somewhat different from what he expected: no frowns, no funny, ha hah chuckles, no elbow nudges to the effect of you’re so strange . Instead, Hank’s eyebrows bounced back up into surprise, and stayed there. He seemed to be...actually considering. Browsing reference pictures, perhaps? Connor could feel a blush spreading all over his head before Hank finally spoke.
“I’ve never tried lace boxers,” he said. “Or briefs.”
“Well, then!” Connor made a floundering gesture, aiming for encouragement. This was not a conversation he was used to having. Not even with Andy, back in the day. “There you go!”
Hank nodded, and thankfully, didn’t go for the obvious question, but went in a rather different direction. “You know what I think we should do?”
“Hm?” Sip coffee, sip coffee, say nothing…
“I think we should be proud of who we are, and what we’ve accomplished together, and if anyone has a problem with our relationship, just fuck’em. Not literally, but fuck’em.”
All his coffee gone, save for a drop at the bottom of his mug, Connor couldn’t quite believe his ears, and he couldn’t even hide behind another sip. He knew Hank didn’t actually say what it sounded like. Didn’t stop him from being a troll. “‘Buttfuck them’? Hank…”
He could almost hear Hank’s jaw hinges pop open, and he burst out laughing; soon they were both giggling like it was going out of style. They ended up leaning against each other, temple to temple, arms wrapped around one another, hands clasped where they fit.
Perhaps Hank wouldn’t stay forever: his future was up in the air, and who knew where he’d end up landing. Did he belong to CyberLife still, was he government property, could he be claimed by the DPD, or was he a free agent? The President had called for the assembly of a Senate Select Committee on whether androids were a sentient species or not, and until that Committee had reviewed evidence and drawn up its reports on the matter… It could take months - of not knowing, of wondering where to go, what to do, who to be . Months of being marginalized, targeted, abused (and even if, or when, when , androids finally gained citizenship, would it end there? Not likely, but Connor knew he would fight tooth and nail for everyone’s rights. Not just Hank: everyone. He owed it to all the androids he had failed to help in the months he’d been in charge of the deviancy cases. It wasn’t just about humans anymore, human rights, human privileges.
“Stay…” he told Hank, while he pressed kisses to his temple. “As long as you like. You’re always welcome here, you can always come back. You don’t have to go.”
Hank sighed. It was not the response he’d been hoping for. “I want to stay… But I have a responsibility towards the others. I have to do what I can to help.”
At least it wasn’t the end. It was just a parenthesis, or a tangent. He couldn’t stay indefinitely , but then again neither could Connor, not realistically. They each had their job to do - but Hank never said he wouldn’t come back.
“We’ve been here before,” Connor murmured, angling his head to kiss Hank’s cheek. “But with post-its.”
Hank stayed true to his word, in that he was serious about dividing his time between Jericho and the Anderson household. However, his first few attempts at leaving the house was met by the onslaught of journalists and photographers and hovering camera drones. He and Connor didn’t want to hide their relationship, but being turned into a nationally famous meme overnight had its definite downsides. Hank couldn’t simply slip away and rendezvous with the other androids; even if Connor dropped him off somewhere on his way to work, he was instantly recognized, and everyone and their auntie had their smartphones out faster than you could say cheese! It was evident within those first two days that they were going to have to think of something else, if he was ever going to be able to help his fellow androids.
Sunday evening there came another blow, albeit of a different kind. Hank had to experience the first of many times he had to say goodbye to Connor’s son. Andy and Cole were going back to her place, seeing as the curfew had been lifted, the evacuation order was no longer in effect, and school was officially up and running as per Monday morning. Business as usual, as the saying goes. Everything was returning to normal, but for Hank, there was nothing normal about watching that little ray of sunshine go away. Cole was the consummate professional, but he’d been doing this for years now. All packed and ready to go, all smiles and big hugs, happily waving his goodbyes out the door.
Hank was fine. He was perfectly fine until the door closed, and there would be no more running hugs or unabashed giggles, no more bedtime stories. It had only been three days and two nights so far, but he had become incredibly fond of the little kid.
“He drew a lucky charm for me,” he told Connor, as he finished locking the door (the lock didn’t need turning five times over, but Hank was glad to see he wasn’t the only one feeling a bit stressed out about Cole leaving).
“Yeah? Show me?”
Hank swallowed against what had to be an imaginary lump in his throat, and took out a folded piece of paper from his jacket. “It’s a shield. He was telling me about how the police in New York don’t have badges, but shields, and he thought I should have one to keep me safe.”
Connor’s answering smile was knowing, and brimming with affection. “In that case, I suggest you never lose it.” He took Hank’s hand, and dragged him over to the couch. “Now let’s see if we can find something else for you to wear. Get you out of that uniform.”
Hank nodded, feeling irrationally sad. He didn’t trust his own voice.
“You’re such a big softie,” Connor teased him, but only a little bit. “I love that. Now, why don’t you tell me if you see anything you like - colors, patterns, cuts, anything. Let’s build your first basic wardrobe.”
Over the two weeks that followed, things had calmed down enough that Hank wasn’t housebound and could actually go out into the city and find Markus. He became something of an advisor with regards to security and other matters of safety. He talked to the ever growing community about how to stay safe, how to think, to trust their instincts; how never to develop a routine, and not take unnecessary risks even if they felt ridiculous. Slowly but surely he gained the trust of the community, and spent more and more time with them, wherever they went. Androids were still targets for atrocious crimes, and even though the President had suggested they might be a new species, that did little to take away the fear of more riots in the streets, more raids. As a result, Jericho was never one cohesive unit, but many, many smaller groups that moved from shelter to shelter, from church to chapel, to abandoned buildings, to human allies’ homes. It wasn’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a necessity. It was temporary, or, that was the hope: that one day androids could live amongst humans without fear of persecution or ignorance. Someday soon.
But then, as he had promised, Hank circled back to Connor’s house, unannounced and completely shameless about it. Connor teased him every time, saying if he had a wireless uplink to the cell towers, he might as well call ahead, but they both knew why he never did. He had to be invisible, as much as he possibly could.
But then, there was the matter of Thursday the 25th of November, Hank’s first ever Thanksgiving. According to tradition, it didn’t matter where Cole was staying for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year’s, or his birthday, he and his parents always celebrated together. This year, Andy being her own inimitable self, decided to throw a bit of a party, even if they were only four people. There was the traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings they all enjoyed and none that they didn’t (gravy, yes please; cranberry sauce, noooo), but there was something there for Hank, too, even though he couldn’t eat.
After quite a bit of head scratching, Oogling stuff up online, and experimenting with her own, resident mad scientist (that would be Cole), they had discovered that thirium didn’t freeze solid, but it also seemed to melt very slowly once it hit that state. And, the best part was, when frozen, it could be whipped into the consistency of the most unctuous, luxurious looking sorbet.
Hank had the distinct pleasure of sharing dinner with their family, which was fast becoming his own for how easily he had been accepted into the fold. He scooped up spoonful after spoonful of fluffy thirium and let it melt in his mouth while the others enjoyed their food. Cole was so proud of himself and his mom that he couldn’t stop grinning all night.
It was the best Thanksgiving Hank had ever had.
Christmas came and went, work mixed with Christmas tree lights and ornaments, with holiday cheer and holiday stress turning people into an inimitable mix of murderous and elated. The four of them had dinner the night before Christmas, once again at Andy’s place. They gave each other presents, but Cole was more excited about the nail art pen he got for his new best friend. It was one of many cosmetic gadgets using technology to make life easier for the consumer. All you had to do was select a color from the app, touch the pen to the nailbed, and draw. Cole loved drawing even more than he loved color on his nails, and Hank went home with a different holiday themed design on each nail, and he couldn’t have been prouder.
The day after New Year’s, Hank and Markus had an appointment with Captain Fowler, to negotiate the release of the androids kept in standby, hidden away underground in the evidence lockers. It was to be the first of many meetings, because departmental policy clashed with what they and Fowler knew was the right thing to do. Those androids weren’t merely evidence in a case, they were sentient beings kept incarcerated against their own will.
After weeks of Fowler going back and forth between these meetings and his superiors (even the mayor had opinions that had to be duly noted), they finally came to an agreement. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.
Daniel, the PL600 who had killed three humans and wounded several more, was not to be released. He was deemed unstable, and even Hank couldn’t argue the fact he’d shown no regard for life, human or android, when Hank had first met him.
Victor was too badly damaged to function. Even if he was taken in for repairs, he would likely be a completely different person. It was unclear what such a replacement of hardware would do to an android who had not only woken up once before, but taken its own life. Victor, too, would stay in storage.
Then, there was the matter of Simon: as the oldest surviving member of Jericho, he had become a symbol of moderation. He’d always sat somewhere in the middle of North’s and Josh’s polar opposites, neither advocating for inaction or giving back as good as the humans dished out. Perhaps he was an even more reluctant leader than Markus, but that didn’t change facts: he was necessary to the community moving forward, and if he stayed in storage indefinitely, he would become a completely different symbol that the DPD didn’t want or need at this moment in time.
While it was true Simon had been complicit in several counts of illegal activity, as orchestrated by Markus, he had never raised his hand against a human, nor used weapons against them.
Simon was released into the custody of Markus and Hank, on the condition that should he ever take part in any manner of illegal activity ever again, Hank was to bring him in the moment androids gained citizenship.
It was early February by the time Jericho’s leaders were asked to send a small delegation of representatives to the Senate Select Committee in Washington, to plead the case of the sentient androids formerly referred to as deviants. It was by no means the end of their struggle for independence, but it was a beginning. It was safe to say that everyone in Detroit was talking about the hearing, which was broadcast on every news channel worth its mettle. Hank had been elected as delegate, after his relentless efforts in keeping the Jericho community safe, as well as those who chose not to join them. He had taken special interest in the many child models out there, scraping by in the streets, making sure they had a roof over their heads even if it was just a shelter: making sure they knew they could always come to him if they needed help. Goodness knows they were defenseless, and amoral humans weren’t the only ones preying on them. Even without those efforts, he had acted as the bridge between Markus and the Detroit Police Department in their negotiations to set androids free. He had helped getting Simon out of there; Markus himself said he couldn’t have done it without him.
His efforts were recognized by Markus and his fellow leaders, to the point that it seemed an obvious choice that he be nominated. The rest of the community agreed.
That was over a week ago: Hank had left Detroit for Washington DC, nails painted thirium blue for luck and driving Connor’s old car, with three more androids joining him: Markus, Lucy, and Simon. Markus for his vision, his spark which had catapulted the world into a new era, Lucy for her foresight and knowledge of the community, and Simon, because of his standing not only as the oldest, living member of Jericho, but because he was one of the very first to wake up, over two years ago.
None of them had ever been on a road trip before; for which Connor was both excited and terrified. Yay, road trip! If only that was all it amounted to. He followed the news coverage all week, obsessed with it, driven to distraction by every last buzzing of his phone, until he had to mute it completely.
For every day that passed, public opinion seemed to grow in favor of the androids, and every attempt by politicians or so-called experts to change that fell flat. There was simply no comparison to the stories these four androids had to tell, and they were questioned, again and again, as if they could prove their sentience by answering invasive questions. But no one complained, not a single one of them argued the point of the hearings. No one, except for Hank.
Hank, who only had a filter when he wanted to; who only showed empathy when someone deserved it; Hank, who did not mince his words. Perhaps he was fed up with the media attention these past two months. Perhaps he simply didn’t see the relevance of asking him about his ‘intentions’ in engaging in a romantic relationship with a human - but he didn’t get riled up, because he never did unless he was really pushed. In the greater scheme of things, it was nothing compared to the possibility of android rights - to reproduction of thirium and parts, to owning property or land, to gaining employment, the right to vote, to be recognized as citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities that came with it. Compared to that, having some conservative old ignoramus ask him about his morals was hardly going to rattle his cage.
He was witty, and clever, and respectful (except for when he wasn’t, and he still made everyone in the room grin). He answered everyone’s questions, but he didn’t tell them anything that didn’t pertain to their purpose of being there - and it won him major points, both in the Jericho community as well as the human population. He went from android non grata to super hero in a matter of days, because of his design. Never before had it been so apparent that the RK800 was a different kind of android, built to work with humans, not alongside them, not to be delegated to the sidelines of history. His lines and faint wrinkles spoke of age and experience, the noticeable gap between its upper front teeth, the beard, neatly trimmed, the wavy, shoulder-length gray and white hair pinned back behind the ears. He was nothing like the androids who had been created before him, for good and bad. It set him apart from the others, which some of the senators remarked upon.
Hank was calm even then, saying that it didn’t matter what he had been designed to do. What mattered was what he had chosen to become - and that was a choice all androids should get to make, not because humans necessarily owed them anything: but because they were alive, and self-aware, and all they wanted was to live a life free of terror and abuse.
“We’re not asking for much,” said Hank on national television, live, for all to see.
“We recognize that integrating androids into human society is a process that won’t happen overnight, but...the thing is… We’re part of this world. We’ve been a part of your world for seventeen years, starting with the first Chloe. I know no one thought we’d end up sitting here, discussing whether or not androids are truly alive, but we’re here to tell you that we are . We’re here. Get used to it.”
It was only a week, but it was the longest they’d been apart since they met, back in November. Connor stood with his fists shoved into the pockets of his long winter coat, looking out over the expanse of frozen water, and the Ambassador Bridge that spanned it. This was where it had all started, for him - that breaking point where he (and Hank) realized there was more to his easy camaraderie with Hank than mere professional partnership. It had been a special place for him for years now, somewhere he’d taken Cole as often as he could. It was a bit early in the morning to go to the playground, not to mention too cold, but Cole was still having a blast in the background.
The little guy was bundled up to the point of overheating, but Connor had always appreciated the necessity for layers in cold weather. He could hear Cole cheering as he went as high up as the swing would let him, high up in the air. It made it easier to ignore the sounds of his own footsteps, the endless crunch of snow and brittle ice beneath it. He wasn’t pacing. He didn’t pace. But he had to concede the fact he was fidgeting where he stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He...was anxious. Excited to the point of not fidgeting. He didn’t. He played with his coin to pass the (agonizing) time until he could relax again. Hank was headed home, just in time for Valentine’s - a holiday Connor used to detest with every fiber of his being, but now felt ridiculously nervous about. It was Hank’s first ever Valentine’s Day, and luckily, Connor had both Cole and Andy to look to for advice on what to do about a holiday he had never felt the need or desire to celebrate. They had made Plans together, a Conspiracy of three, capital letters and everything - but first Hank had to get home safe. He had to get there, first, to the place where Connor opened up to him for the first time. It seemed a fitting start to the first day of the rest of their life together.
He started on his nth coin trick when suddenly a chortling bout of laughter filled the air, and his son yelled out the name of the man they were waiting for. Connor turned around, heart racing in his chest. Hank, still wearing his fancy dress shirt and vest, his suit jacket and pants, all grays and blues and jumbled patterns beneath a thick, timelessly elegant winter coat - crouching to wrap Cole up in a hug as he ran over. Hank’s tiny circle of light shone blue at his temple, and he smiled. They rocked side to side, and then it was over, Hank standing up and Cole positively skating across the icy ground to get to him faster.
“Dad! Look! It’s Hank!”
“Yeah, grasshopper, I know.”
That smile was infectious; Connor could feel his own lips part on a grin. They’d made it out alive. Both of them: alive. A bit worse for wear, sure, fair enough, but alive . The world hadn’t ended overnight. Public opinion was firmly in the android rights camp, much thanks to Markus’s non-violent protests, but also...because they loved each other and weren’t the kind of people to hide it. Maybe Connor had been that kind of person, but it felt like a lifetime ago. He’d had a wake up call that chilled him to the bone and still gave him the shivers at times, and he wasn’t about to let himself forget.
Perhaps one day soon, androids would be considered citizens. Perhaps then, he would ask Hank to be his partner in a legally binding sense as well as the practical, romantic sense. When you looked at it that way, the future seemed bright enough to blind him…
Or, perhaps that was all down to the warmth in Hank’s eyes. It was like a magnet pulling him in, despite the doubts left in his mind by his own overactive imagination. He couldn’t resist stepping closer, because Hank was everything he’d never known he needed: opinionated, stubborn, kind. Sharp. Compassionate without ever devolving into pity. Solid. A pillar of strength and stability in a world filled with chaos.
Beautiful. Every last bit of him.
His heart pounding in his chest, and knowing Hank could very likely read his vitals like an open book - see right through him - Connor hurried closer, closing the distance, and wrapped his arms around Hank’s substantial middle. Staring into his eyes, Connor felt uncertain of everything the future may hold-- until the moment Hank tilted his chin down, and his arms closed around Connor’s shoulders in a firm hug that wasn’t going anywhere. Hank surely knew about the three second rule of hugging, but he didn’t seem to give a fig about it.
His lips felt warm where they pressed a kiss into Connor’s temple, and that’s when he felt it. Hank’s heart was beating just as fast as his.
Trust. It was all about trust: and if they couldn’t place their lives in each other’s hands, then who? It was so simple, when you looked at it from a certain point of view. They’d found each other, through sheer, stupid luck, or karma, or fate; they belonged together. They would grow old, together.
Hank kissed him: his temple, his cheek, tracing the angles of his face with the tip of his nose until their lips met. Then, quite out of the blue, Hank pulled back with a grin worthy of an imp (and everyone present knew exactly where he’d learned that grin), and very unceremoniously, lifted Connor up into his arms and swung him around. 360 degrees. Full circle.
It was more fitting than Connor liked to admit, never having been hoisted up in the air by anyone in his entire adult life. Cole bubbled with laughter, Hank was laughing, and it was only a matter of seconds before Connor’s surprised whoops turned into chortles of his own.
“No fair!” Cole protested, despite grinning like the man in the moon. “Me too!”
Hank put Connor back on the ground, gave him another kiss while struggling not to grin, then did the same for Cole - hands under his arms, and up in the air he went, but even higher. Cole shrieked with delight, and when Hank set him down atop his shoulders and told him to hold his arms out, only to start running back and forth through the park… That was it. Connor could feel it in his very bones.
They would be okay.
Everything would be okay.