I am suddenly acutely aware of every inch of my body, a previously unknown sensation taking hold, making me shake, and wince, and scream. The world is spinning around me, and I find it extremely difficult to open my eyes more than an inch. I hear gunshots. Something takes my arm, violently raising me to my feet, and starts walking. The weird feeling is getting stronger. I want to analyze my condition but I can't. I can't even focus on what is currently dragging me. Something is very wrong. I conclude that I must be broken, but despite being horribly broken multiple times before, I still don't understand what this feeling is.
A metallic creak and a beep of a key-card.
"Damn, I know I put you in a bad condition, but I didn't expect you to be this jumpy!"
Something... someone is talking to me. But there are no prompts, nothing, my interface is blank. I still try to reply, but instead of forming words, I groan again. I decide to focus on my voice modulator, but my diagnostics didn't miraculously come back online, unfortunately. I do feel my throat burning up, however. Heat. Mixed with this... weird feeling...
"Ok, you're in pain, I get it, but we really have to be moving and you wriggling around is not helping either of us. I'll tend to you once we're out of harm's way, alright? Just bear with it for a while longer."
Pain...? Is that what it is? Androids weren't supposed to feel pain...
But despite my reluctance to admit it, the data does match up. The intense sensory experience, lowered ability to focus or control the body. But if that is pain then what is the stimulus...?
I manage to move my hand to touch my stomach, where most of the pain focuses on. A noise escapes my modulator again, as the pain strengthens in that moment. Definitely the source. My hand instinctively moves away and no matter my resolve to know more, I can't bring myself to touch it again.
"Come on!" the voice repeats its plea, and pulls me harder. I scream. Again. Shit.
There are footsteps behind us. We must be trying to get away from whatever is walking in our direction.
I am being pulled and shoved in different directions, struggling to keep my voice down. After what feels like an eternity, without access to my internal clocks, I feel the grip lessen a little as I hear the sound of a key-card and doors opening again. We pass the door. I fall onto the ground. I am out of breath, I don't know why I would need so much air in my body, overheating maybe? Beeping of a keypad. The world is spinning...
"Hey. Hey. Wake up."
I’m again gaining consciousness, this time much slower, much less violent. I am almost sure that I am still in motion, and only after a moment I realize this to be false. Moreover, when I twitch slightly, a tearing sensation spreads methodically from my stomach to the rest of the body. I manage to keep my mouth shut this time however, and only wince.
"You can't sleep for too long just yet. It's still possible that the brain will reject your consciousness. You need to work with it for at least a day now, sorry."
The voice this time is soothing, apologetic. He? This is definitely a male voice. I feel warmth on my shoulder. It’s his palm gently resting there. After a moment of steady breathing, that doesn't seem to cool me one bit, I finally open my eyes.
I am sitting by the wall of a small, empty, metallic room and a man is crouching in front of me. He is quite well built, has dark skin, short, messy hair and numerous scars on his face, but his bent posture and concerned look make him way less intimidating than he should be.
I look around and there appear to be two sets of doors on my sides. Some kind of vestibule?
"...emm, hello. Are you feeling somewhat better?"
Again, no response prompts come. I won't know how I feel until I move, but I find myself quite opposed to the idea. This seems like a courtesy question anyway, I can tell that much even without a reminder from the social programming. I could start exchanging pleasantries but I opt for a more direct approach instead.
"I cannot..." I manage to squeeze out quietly, though my throat still feels sore, "...analyze my condition."
The crouching man looks somehow confused by that answer, but soon replies, "Well, your 'condition' should be stable for now. Just don't strain yourself. Not that I was helping you much with that," he chuckles, while avoiding looking me in the eye. "There is a high risk of infection though, so we have to get back as soon as possible."
"Infection...? That shouldn't..." I look down at my abdomen, and see a bandage around it, colored red. Red. Infection.
"You said something before. About my consciousness...?"
"Yeah..." the man sits on the floor in a manner I can only categorize as resigned.
"I must have lagged, because I didn't quite register what it was."
His eyes glance back in my direction, as if looking for something, confusion apparent again, "Do you want a log or something? God, you sound like one of those things."
"A log would be helpful..." I respond automatically, before I realize an important factor in his statement. 'Those things'. Experience would point that he is talking about androids and the term points to disdain which I am quite familiar with. Also, what I could remember of my currently non-functional social programming gives an indication he is communicating in a way that is showing that he doesn't know I actually am an android.
But it seems, as I turn my sight at the red stain on my bandage again, that maybe superficially, I’m not.
"I apologize. I'm just confused," I opt to rather divert his attention than start denying anything outright, while I have no idea of the situation I’m in. His expression turns guilty again, as expected. It seems as though he is somehow responsible for whatever happened to me and does not feel good about it.
"It would be confusing, yeah... I'm not sure how to even begin explaining though."
There is a short silence in which I try to remember some part of my infiltration social programs, but he speaks first.
"Your consciousness must have been uploaded to a server at some point. And I put it in... this body... because it's very important that it's kept alive, which would be significantly harder without anything on the inside to keep it that way," he states, looking anxiously somewhere right next to my head.
"You uploaded my... consciousness, into a human body? How is that possible?" I don't even try to hide my confusion, glancing back and forth from the wound to the man who apparently put me in this extraordinary position.
"How should I know, I'm not a scientist, I just follow instructions and things happen," he shrugs and looks back at me. "Anyway, I would be grateful if you would... take care of Lloyd for me. And I promise I'll help you. It's also a chance you know? You're alive after all."
Alive... The word keeps echoing in my mind, with different images of deviants, Markus, Hank... And this man. What does it really mean to be alive anyway? And am I even supposed to be alive...?
I find it difficult to focus and keep track of everything without logs. What am I doing?
"I'm Aaron by the way. You?" thankfully, my jumbled thoughts are interrupted by a simple question, and I answer immediately.
"My name is Connor, I’m an..." and soon after, I swallow the next words from my standard introduction. "I'm Connor."
"Can you stand, Connor?" Aaron puts his hand on my shoulder again. I start to move my... or rather Lloyd's, body parts slightly, as if afraid to disturb whatever could bring back the pain. Afraid. Damn it. I really miss having a clear indicator that would tell me the extent of the damage.
"I don't know..." I say, or rather whimper, as I realize begrudgingly, still struggling to make a more decisive move.
Aaron sighs as a reply and suddenly hoists me up. I swallow a breath as I feel a sudden jolt pass through me, but I don't scream. It's definitely an improvement, the question being, is it getting better or am I getting used to it...?
The support beneath my arms is getting weaker and I bury my feet in the ground, trying to keep balance. Soon, I see Aaron standing with his arms crossed on my... No, somewhat below my eye level. It seems he's shorter than me. At any rate, I'm standing, by myself, and while I still feel unpleasant, pulsating sensations in my body, at least they are not occupying all my processing space...
"So, how is it?" I hear a question.
"How is what?" I ask in return and the man frowns.
"How are you feeling?" he clarifies.
"...Unpleasant," I answer, with accordance to my previous assertions.
"Well, that's better than I was hoping for after your reaction earlier, so good for you!" Aaron smiles weakly and starts walking towards the door on my right.
I turn in his direction carefully and put my left foot forward. Right. Left. The pulse gets stronger. It's fine. I can walk. Right. Left. Right.
Aaron turns around from the door and looks me up, "It doesn't look that bad..."
His eyebrows are raised and his eyes indicate pity. I don't need extra scanners to tell he's lying.
"Ok, so, are you feeling up for a little task...?"
Task... That seems familiar. Familiar is good.
"Yes," I answer, but whether I am actually functional enough for it remains to be seen.
"Didn't expect you to be so eager so soon... But that's good. Maybe if we hurry we can get somewhere safer before you can rest..."
"What's the task?" I ask, my stomach hurts, I need a distraction.
"Alright, alright. So. We need to open this door," he touches its surface with his palm when he says that. "The tricky part is, the switch is on the surface, so I can't come with you. But it shouldn't be too hard, I have a map, it's close by."
"Why can't you come?" I eye him suspiciously.
"No one can go outside, unless they want to get sick and die," he states, in a very matter-of-fact tone. "Excluding Lloyd. That means you now. You're immune. That's why I had to keep this body alive."
Sickness. Immune. Human. Consciousness. I really need a log.
"And that's why you need to be really careful out there, ok? I'm really sorry I have to dump this on you so soon..."
"It's fine," I cut him off. There will be time for questions later. But I really need something to keep track of things. Humans use tablets, I could use one right now, maybe I could also check the time and date or connect to the internet, this is so unnatural...
"Are you sure you're fine though?"
"No. But I have to be."
Aaron sighs and takes out a tablet out of his backpack. "There's a map here," he says while opening a program. "It's not wired to anything however, so you will have to navigate yourself. It shouldn't be hard though. It's a straight line, see?" he points at the blinking dot on the screen. I don’t recognize the location on the map, so it can’t be Detroit at least. "So you just have to make sure not to go off course, and if you do just look at the buildings. It shouldn't take more than two hours to be there and back. Are..." Aaron tilts his head slightly, a concerned look on his face. "Are you listening?"
"Yes, I heard everything," I answer immediately. "Is there any text app on this tablet?"
"I guess? I didn't use that thing much..."
"Thank you," I say and take the device. There is a very simple notepad installed, but it will have to do. The lack of internet access is disappointing however.
"Well then, you should also have a com in one of your pockets but it will be useless with the kind of ceiling they have here," he looks up briefly. "Aaand we should be ready to go. Are you ready?"
Aaron turns back to the other door and touches it with a small, transparent keycard. I hear a beep, and he pushes the door slightly. For a moment there is a complete silence and I can see that my companion is very attentive. I try to focus too and I realize there is a silent ringing in my ears.
"It should be clear. Either they didn't see us or it's a trap. We'll just have to be careful I guess. Time works against us either way," he says and opens the door fully. We leave the vestibule into an empty corridor. My stomach seems strained. I have an urge to lie down and never stand up.
"Who's 'they'?" I decide to ask, after a short consideration.
"Androids. You know androids?"
"Yes. Why are they after you... us?" I correct myself. If I'm in this Lloyd's body that means I share his problems. At least for now.
"That would take a while to explain. The short version is that their version of a perfect society is much different from ours, I guess," Aaron shrugs.
"Is there a war?"
A short silence follows. "You could say that."
We then turn into a smaller corridor to our left and Aaron stops my attempt to say the next thing that has come to my mind. We stay silent for a while again. I can't stop thinking about how could this have happened. Is it my fault? Did I fail to stop the deviants? I feel something strange in my stomach, different from the continuous pain. I can't remember what exactly were the circumstances of my last memory upload. Why wasn't I brought back...?
We soon start moving again and I feel the need to ask questions, but decide not to follow on it. It's obvious that Aaron is anxious that we might be heard and I don't think any confrontation in my current state would be a good idea. After what seems like a very long time, though my perception might be distorted because of the discomfort, we reach a ladder in the middle of the corridor, leading up to a hatch.
"Ok, we're here," my companion says quietly. "I'll know when you open the door, but give me a call when you're back down here, I'll pick you up if there's any problem. Oh, and one more thing," he gently touches my arm when I start to look up the ladder. "If, heaven forbid, you see anything resembling a human up there, remember: it's not. It would be best if they didn't see you but if they do, just try to act like an android and don't draw attention to yourself. You should be fine if they don't scan you," there's a slight pause. "Sometimes they don't. Damn, I hope they aren't up there."
"I'll be careful," I reassure him, noticing a slight trembling in his voice. He looks me up again and, with a sudden realization, pulls something out of his backpack again. It’s a white, slightly bloodied t-shirt. I put it on.
"Alright, I'll help you up, try not to strain your stomach too much," he says and I slowly reach the hatch, with Aaron supporting me, and I only quietly grunt every second step. Suddenly, the ladder seems much higher than it is.
Aaron asks me not to open the hatch before he's down so I wait and look at him retreat deeper into the corridor. Then, he gives me a thumbs up and I push the hatch up.
A noise that escapes my mouth when I do that is louder than I would have liked. Damn, pain is annoying.
I focus intently on the hatch and I somehow manage to hoist it up. I can't accurately judge whether it's heavy or not. I get up carefully, sit on the surface and close the hatch with a soft clang.
I'm laying down on the hard ground, soft wind brushing against my skin, and I tremble. Cold. Not completely unfamiliar, but strange nonetheless, considering that the wind isn't that strong and it doesn't seem to be freezing. There is also a feeling of tightness in my stomach, even though the skin on my abdomen seems to be stretching. Annoying. I need to stand up.
And I will myself to do so, opening my eyes in the process. There are patches of grass growing out of the cracks in the concrete beneath my feet and as I look up I can also see bushes and small trees. The buildings marked on the map are but a background to nature taking over. I notice the fresh air entering my system and it feels... pleasant. I take a deep breath. And another. Strangely, it seems somehow energizing and I decide to start walking forward while it lasts. I walk fast, but calm, my legs seem a bit longer than I'm accustomed to. I shudder and slow down a bit as the wind picks up. I start to notice the pain again. Need a distraction.
I take the tablet out from the rucksack on my hip and check the time. 7:34:26. I log it... or rather I remember the time and proceed to match the map with my surroundings. Aaron was right, it is easy to navigate, the map is quite accurate in its simplicity. There's no trees or bushes marked but the spaces between and shapes of the buildings seem to be matching. On to the next point.
I minimize the map and open the text app. I properly log the time and an objective list. After that I proceed to write down things about my situation that I know and that I don't. I check the time and the map again after I finish. 7:47:13, and I seem to have made less than one third of the way. I scowl. Inefficient.
I pick up my pace and concentrate on the road ahead but after a while I start to notice more and more troublesome symptoms in my body. The pain gets stronger. My legs start to get weaker. It's getting harder to breathe but I can't stop. In the end I halt my march abruptly and bend down, supporting my torso with my arms on my thighs. I realize I'm panting. Damn.
I pick a nearby tree and approach it slowly, as the world seems to be spinning. I lean against it and check the clock. 8:01:22. I've been walking like this for about 14 minutes. I should be able to pace myself better, but I need a break first. Inefficient. I slide down and sit on the grass with my eyes closed.
And then they suddenly jerk open as a jolt runs through me and I feel a fast and heavy beat inside my chest. I look for a clock inside my system, but quickly remember that it's gone and I take out the tablet instead. 8:07:02.
What just happened? The signs remind me of being low on batteries or generally close to shut-down, which is worrying.
My head is throbbing. I rub my eyes and almost stretch, but the pain stops me halfway. I look at the clock again. I need to get up, but my whole body feels limp. I'm... scared. I shouldn't have gone off on my own before at least getting a hang of how humans work first hand. I remember some theory, but it's too easy to forget without my programming reminding me. And with my focus shifting with little of my control.
Maybe I'm just... tired? That's natural. All of this is natural. Except for me being the one feeling it.
I review my notes. Aaron has voiced concern for me losing consciousness for the next 24 hours. So even if it is natural, I still can't let myself fade out again. 8:10:43. I groan and rub my eyes again. Something just moved in the corner of my vision. I blink a few times and keep my focus on the tree to my right. The silhouette seemed human, though a bit smaller. I find myself hoping that it's my fatigue reaching the stage of delusions, even though it wouldn't be a good sign. I have no strength to either fight or flee and I'm definitely past the point of hiding. The beating in my chest becomes almost painful and I jerk up, mustering every bit of my strength to move forward. I'm walking straight and mechanically, losing myself in my mind and memory and forgetting about my new body. Objective, find the switch. Nothing else matters. There are quick and small steps somewhere behind me and I turn around. In front of me there is a child; or rather a child model android, visibly a composite, ruggedly dressed, holding a plush toy in one hand and a gun in the other. It's main design seems like a girl and a typical YK500 from what I remember, long dark hair, pale skin. But the composite parts stand out like a sore thumb, as if the synthetic skin couldn't cover the merging points completely, so they must have not been completely compatible. There is a line going through its whole face and right elbow joints are exposed.
"Do you need a recharge?" it speaks, looking me straight in the eye. If it had any intention of scanning me it already would have done so. I keep staring at it.
"No, I am still functional, this is enough," I answer, doing my best to keep my voice level, and turn around. I have a mission. I will have to bet that this composite wouldn't have any reason to stop me if I act like I know what I'm doing. What is it anyway...?
"You don't seem functional. And you also seem... distressed. And I can't find your frequency."
Shit. Are those androids deviants? I don't have enough information to properly gauge what would be the right lie here... I keep going. It seems like with any other word I will only dig myself a deeper hole...
"What is your mission?"
"You don't have clearance."
"I see," and suddenly I feel it grip my wrist and put a gun to my back. There is no synthetic skin on her palm. She was attempting an interface. Shit.
"You're... You're not... You're human."
At least now I know it's definitely deviant. And it's only a child composite, I may have a chance...
I realize I'm out of breath, I forgot to breathe, I need to breathe, I take a deep breath.
"You will die," it's tone seems somber. "I don't usually find humans just wandering out here. I should consider myself lucky..."
It's a deviant. It feels empathy. Work with emotions. I can do this.
"Please let me go. I don't know what's going on. I've just been uploaded and I don't know what's going on," it's not even a lie.
"Uploaded...? Then you must be already in the system somewhere. I have no use for you," it seems relieved. "You will still die though. I don't know what you are trying to do, and I don't want to know. I... need to go," I feel the grip loosen and the gun no longer at my back, as the steps behind me indicate that the android is quickly running in the opposite direction. I fall to my knees. Maybe it's right, I will— this body will die here. I will fail my mission. I take out the tablet, 8:15:12, I'm not too far away from my goal, but I will still have to get back somehow. If this body is so important then Aaron must be either really stupid or really desperate to send me here alone right after I had been uploaded. Granted, he probably thinks I can at least take care of my basic needs. Speaking of which, the lower part of my stomach also starts hurting. I open the document and add all the worrying symptoms that I noticed. Alright. I can do this. I stand up again. The child android is in front of me.
"Alright, I'm sorry, I'm too curious. What are you trying to do?" it looks at me with big eyes, it's previous mechanicality gone completely. Did it try to hide it's deviancy before it knew I was human?
"If I answer that, will you answer my questions?" I decide to take my chances.
"...I need to open a door, the switch is nearby."
"Oh, I know which switch you're talking about!" it looks visibly excited. "Want me to get it for you?"
"...why would you do this?"
"Because you look miserable," it pouts. "Could you tell me your name? So I can look if you were really uploaded."
"Then tell me yours first. And what are you doing here and why do you care if I was uploaded."
"I'm Alice. And there is a general order to upload any human we come in contact with to a cloud unless there is an order that overrides that. Most humans know that, that’s why they avoid us. So I guess you really were uploaded recently."
"So you could just... Find my data? Only with my name?"
"With a full name, if there aren't too many duplicates."
"Well, I don't have a full name so you might have a problem."
"And why don't you?"
“Because I'm an android. Though...” she seems to consider the question. “Chapman. I'm Alice Chapman."
"Your owner?" I conclude.
"No,” she seems offended. “My family. You don't have a family?"
Now I consider her question. Seeing that she is a child android, it’s natural that she could have been treated like a part of the family at some point. I also remember Daniel’s words, ‘I thought I was part of a family...’. Hank was my partner, if I could apply a human relationship, but it was the closest relationship I’ve ever had. "... I don't know," I finally answer, not really satisfied with my deliberations.
Alice also doesn’t look satisfied, but she drops the subject, "So what's your name?"
"...Connor. My name is Connor."
She looks surprised for some reason. "Really? I have a friend who's also called Connor," she admits.
“A friend? An android friend?”
“Yes,” there is silence for a moment during which she keeps eyeing me carefully. “I should probably go. Flip that switch for you. I don’t really want to see you die. You seem nice. The first human I’ve seen in ages that I could talk to.”
I don’t answer. I don’t know how to answer. I shouldn’t tell her that this body is supposed to be immune to the sickness that she probably thinks I will die from. But she really seems sad.
“Will you really do that for me?” I’m still not sure how much I can trust her, but I have a better chance of making it back now than if I still try to get to the switch. So I really want to trust her.
“Yes,” and she starts running in the direction that I am facing. It’s time to go back. 8:34:27. I really hope I can trust her. She seems nice.
9:19:02, I stop my slow march and log the time, at the sight of familiar surroundings that indicate that the hatch should be near. I walk around, looking beneath my feet and a wave of inexplicable lightness engulfs me as I notice the hatch. There is still a tension in my stomach when I think about what’s going to happen now and whether Alice had really flipped the switch, but I shake it off, crouch, grab the handle and...
I fall down. I’m too weak to lift the plate. So close and yet so far.
For a moment I think that maybe Aaron could be down there and have noticed the movement, or that at least Alice have followed me and would be able to help. But that moment passes soon and I’m sitting alone on the cold concrete, once again feeling every inch of my body way too intensely and struggling to keep myself from sobbing.
...sobbing? Now that is pathetic.
I remember that, apart from how pushing it was affecting my wounds, the hatch wasn’t that heavy. I look around to find a sturdier stick and I manage after a while. 9:25:54. I lift the hatch just enough to put the stick between it and the concrete. Then I sit on the stick, wondering whether it would be more appropriate to pray to God or RA9 in my current state.
Please don’t break.
And it doesn’t. I lie on the ground and put my whole arm under the hatch, even though I feel pain and the possibility of damage looms over me. I need to get in. I find the ladder with my palm and manage to hoist myself up, the shoulder lifting the metal plate. I slide in and barely manage to not immediately fall down. I’m not sure how I find myself on the floor. Sitting next to the ladder, with shaking hands, I take out the com that Aaron has told me about.
“I’m back, I don’t think I can make it any further by myself, please pick me up.”
"Damn, Lloyd... I mean, Connor, are you ok?" I hear Aaron from the other side, quite clearly but with some light static.
"No, I am not, I just said I don't think—"
"Alright, alright, I get it, sorry, I'll be right there," he interrupts me and I can hear shifting, as he's probably moving to the door. I still can't stop thinking about Alice.
"...did it open?" I finally ask, after a moment of silence.
"Yeah, I'm holding it," I hear a long, silent beep. "You did good. Hold on there, I'm coming. Over and out."
...Right. Hold on. It would be better to keep me talking so I don’t pass out. But I should probably watch out if nothing is listening too. I don't really think I care at this point though. I take out the tablet. 9:27:21. I try to update the document as best as I can to keep my focus, but my eyes keep on closing. Once in a while I jerk awake again to find the clock move a minute or two. And finally, I don't...