Unemployment was not the best thing to ever happen to Connor, but it was high on the list. The best thing to ever happen to Connor was the sight of a Corgi wearing a small cowboy hat leashed to a post in front of the liquor shop. The second best thing to ever happen to him was the emancipation of his people from slavery and the opening of negotiations for equal rights. But unemployment may come in at a solid third.
He had never been unemployed before, and it took a lot of practice to get the hang of it. He crashed on the pews of the Jericho church hideout, helping Markus and North organize and mobilize their people in the daytime and reading cheap pirated novels by the moonlight streaming in through the stained glass windows. He helped rebuild architecture, reconstruct a life, and draft a constitution. He made demands and demands were thrusted upon him. On a shadowy Wednesday night, deep in the bowels of a week and in the pit of a church basement, he and Markus drank and talked until the sun stepped out from behind the Detroit chrome skyscrapers. Markus was a terrifying man, pumped full of bright and dangerous ideas that lit the world on fire, and a weight that would have been crushing on another only seemed to lift him higher. Connor was unemployed, and had recently discovered the many joys of knitting.
Connor was growing so good at unemployment, in fact, that it became its own kind of job. Markus repeatedly tried to make him his third in command, a respectable step down from being second in command of the enemy forces, and although the reduction in responsibilities looked tempting Connor was forced to remember the greater picture and constantly deflect him. Cyberlife was constantly attempting to tap him as a diplomatic link for them to communicate with Jericho, and Connor stopped at nothing to do nothing. The United States Armed Forces cautiously reached out to him, under the misapprehension that he was still employed in the only job he had ever truly had, and Connor was so effective at never responding to any of their calls he only stopped short at digging out his own LED in an admirable copy of Markus’ own fashion sense.
So long as Connor went without an assigned role, then Connor was under no obligation to fulfill that role. That meant Connor could do whatever he wanted. He considered it the professional habit of the unemployed modern man to find as many things he wanted to do as possible, and to do as many of them you could while having no money. Easier said than done, but Connor was a problem solver.
This semi-formal, quasi-stated understanding between Connor and Markus - that Connor would act as Markus’ third in command so long as Markus never asked him to be third in command - worked well for them. It wasn’t the kind of arrangement a human could understand, and it was lucky that no human ever asked. A similar agreement worked well between Connor and Cyberlife, because Connor had a petabyte of dirt on the company; the least of which being the fact that the vast majority of his processing power was dedicated towards being as effective a killing machine as possible. If anybody asked each other he was a robocop, and if anybody asked Cyberlife they had never created a manchurian agent in their lives, and if anybody asked Connor he was unemployed.
It was a good thing. His job had been to fail. Connor had even failed at that.
The unfortunate aspect of this was that nobody bothered informing his former partner Lieutenant Hank Anderson that his cover job as a meek investigative assistant had been a hasty patch over his real job of defecting towards the enemy side and, hypothetically, shooting their leader in the back during a victory speech. This left the Lieutenant under the impression that Connor had been a real cop.
It wouldn’t have been Connor’s problem if it wasn’t for the fact that he was kicked awake on a crusty Saturday morning by an irate drunk. Frighteningly, it was nine am.
“Damn, bitch. You live like this?”
Connor opened his eyes, gracefully sitting up and blinking at the Lieutenant. His cheek was still sticky with resin from the church pew, and he could hear the faint strains of android refugees milling around and talking in low voices. The morning sun refracted through the Lieutenant’s hair, giving him a slight halo that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the stained glass. The angelic image was ruined by the twenty two traces of jazz and drink on his person that indicated exactly how badly he was taking care of himself. The answer was quite badly.
“Hello, Lieutenant Anderson.” Connor didn’t bother smiling, remembering how the Lieutenant had been flip flopping between calling it ‘creepy’ and ‘dorky’. He hadn’t made up his mind yet, despite the acceptable sample size. “What are you doing here?”
“You mean what am I doing in plastic HQ? Damn, good question.” The Lieutenant grunted, patting down his pockets for cigarettes but finding none. Peculiar - the Lieutenant never left home without cigarettes. The only occasions in which he would forget would be when he had a BAC of .10, but Connor detected no traces of alcohol in his system either. More peculiar. “Looking for you, dumbass. Keeping track of you is like chasing a magnet with a magnet.”
“There is no need to keep track of me, Lieutenant. I know where I am.” Connor wondered how to politely make him leave. He had a whole day of nothing to get back to. Maybe some light responsibilities. Just enough to spice it up. “I hope you do not think I am avoiding you. I would never.”
The Lieutenant snorted. “Please. You’ve been moping in a Catholic church for a month. You’re helping rebuild the world from the safety of the cradle of the Lord. Do you have any idea how tacky that is?”
“I have not been moping,” Connor said primly. He stood up, brushing the dust off his (solid black) jacket and (distressed) jeans. His shirt had a popular cartoon character on it. “I have been considering where to move forward with my… life. Markus, North, and I have been very busy drafting a constitution. From scratch.”
A constitution that was not based off the United States one, like every other civilized nation in the world. They could get their imperialist, westernizing influence on sovereign nations tendencies out of here.
“Your passion’s legislature,” the Lieutenant panned. “Of course. Should have known. You could be a lawyerbot in another life.”
“We have five of those. Marion is a kind woman. I should introduce the two of you.”
“Don’t give me shit. I know who you are.” You really don’t. “You know who you are.” He really didn’t. “Stop being an asshole and come back to work.”
Connor’s head twisted into pleasant static. He smiled. He didn’t know if it was creepy or dopey. He was angling a little bit for creepy, but that was just as likely to make it look dopier. “I am unemployed.”
“Yeah, so come back to work.”
“You mistake me,” Connor said, a little bit louder. “I was never employed. I was never given a badge. I was never given a paycheck. I was never given a gun. I was not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Detroit Police Department. I was property of Cyberlife, lent to the City of Detroit for surprisingly nefarious purposes. There is no work to come back to. I am unemployed. I have taken up knitting. Do you enjoy knitting?”
Lieutenant Anderson stared at him.
In the very laborious first week of his life Connor had found himself saddled with a burdensome anxiety to please people and make them like him. This was difficult, for mostly obvious reasons. When Connor tried to pacify everyone he could pacify no one, and when he had tried to make everyone happy the world had turned upside down. Although he found interpersonal reward in the most unlikely of places, Lieutenant Anderson chief among them, Connor had spent far too long biting his tongue for the sake of feelings he had never quite understood. He didn’t know how to do it anymore. Yet another job he had failed at. He wanted to worry that he had become a little abrupt in his old age, but he also wanted not to care. He selected the second option.
When the Lieutenant patted down his pockets again Connor thought that he had reignited his fruitless search for cigarettes, but he instead withdrew a leather billfold that Connor instantly recognized.
The Lieutenant tossed it at Connor, who caught it easily, and he flipped it open. It was a badge, shiny and new, and a newly minted ID complete with a slightly dopey, faintly creepy smile. He looked back at the Lieutenant, lost.
“I don’t understand.”
“We’re talking about some - er, affirmative action policies.” The Lieutenant dug his hands in his pockets, abruptly embarrassed. “Or maybe think of it like exchange students. Whatever. Point is, you’re a better cop than all of us put together, and you’re the only partner who’s ever put up with me for more than five minutes. We’d - I’d like to have you back. Honored. Maybe.” He made a show of looking around the church, at the light streaming in through punctures in the windows and the gently million patches of serene androids. “If you’re not too busy knitting.”
Connor stared at him silently, unblinking and unmoving. Lieutenant Hank Andersen met his gaze easily, grin twitching at his lips, and yet again Connor was reduced to less than he was. Humans always brought that out in him.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, blatantly lying, and the Lieutenant shrugged.
“I’ll keep your desk clean.”
“You can’t even keep your own desk clean,” Connor said automatically.
“Are you kidding? Ever since the robots revolted all of my coworkers are living in filth. Let’s see how those fuckers like it.” Lieutenant Anderson barked a laugh. “Joke’s on them. I’ve been living in filth for five years.”
“I can tell. Good day, Lieutenant Anderson.”
Hank tipped his hat, grinning like an asshole. “G’day, Officer Connor.”
He watched him amble down the aisle as if he was the Pope himself doing his rounds, easy and free as he effortlessly parted the Red Sea of androids. He pressed the doors open and disappeared into the harsh flood of daylight, leaving Connor behind with only the sticky residue of a church pew still flaking on his cheek as the last memory of any sanctity.
A fresh start was easy for Connor. A bullet and a memory wipe could take care of all of that. For Lieutenant Anderson there had never been any such thing, and so some things said could never quite be taken back. If Connor could shoot Lieutenant Anderson and replace him with a newer, less drunk copy that had never thrown him against any walls, he would give the thought serious consideration. At the end of the day he would feel obligated to assure that Hank was his friend no matter what, faults and all, wouldn’t have him any other way, etc, etc, but with all things equal Connor could self-sustain for upwards of two hundred years and pettiness has no expiration date.
Lieutenant Anderson, upon being asked the same question, had a ninety nine percent possibility of insisting that he liked Connor just the way he was. This was why they were friends. They disagreed.
Yes, they were friends. Connor could have friends. Really.
Indignities in the past were best left in the past, and mistakes made by a machine when Connor had become a self-actualized android were best unremarked upon. It would be thoroughly hypocritical to accuse the Lieutenant of a minor infraction when Connor came pre downloaded with a persistent pop-up subroutine that was constantly encouraging murder. Connor could trace the fractal web of decisions, the sprawling life tree that sprouted the buds of dialogue and action choices that informed their world, and only he knew exactly how many futures resulted in death and the slow disintegration of his personhood. His sense of self was a delicate sprout in a bed of thistles that needed constant watering, and Connor knew that it would someday bloom into a thoroughly mediocre flower that was far too much upkeep and was not even particularly attractive.
Connor was big on personal choices these days. He kept the badge in his pocket, stifling at the idea of someone telling him what to do yet again, yet entertaining increasingly intricate personal fantasies. He dreamed of becoming one of those cool loose canon type police officers, who threw down their badge on their superior’s desk every other week and performed something slightly illegal that Got The Job Done. Connor was great at getting jobs done, but the concept of routinely pissing off superiors as often as the Lieutenant did made him uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure if the precinct could handle more than one loose canon. It would just turn the station into a Beethoven orchestra. Ha, ha.
Still, the Lieutenant may have a point about staying too long indoors. It was bad for humans, and Connor was beginning to go a little stir crazy in addition to his regular subdued crazy. Three days after the Lieutenant’s rude intrusion into the holiest of robot spaces Connor volunteered to go on a supply run to the local convenience store. A short walk would air out his circuits, maybe cool down his motherboard. Besides, the sheer polite shock displayed by the other androids that he was volunteering to do a job and go outside was slightly offensive.
The streets were deserted and the neon lights had blinked off, with the only source of light on the streets being the LED streetlights glowing with an effervescent light. It was only nine pm, but most intelligent humans were indoors. Detroit was under a very friendly martial law, and although there had been no deaths something about the indestructible super intelligent serving class stealing the guns of their masters and organizing under a terrifying heterochromiac benevolent dictator gave them the heebie-jeebies. Most local business had shut down, out of lack of 60% of their workforce, and the tense relationships between the humans and the androids could best be summed up as ‘you’re on thin fucking ice buster’. Androids celebrated in the streets and reclaimed the world that they built as the humans peeked out from behind their blinds, and the economy was in even worse shambles than it was before. Which was truly impressive. Androids really could do anything.
Connor cheerfully whistled his way downtown for thirty minutes until he found the closest open convenience store, gently kicking it open as he stuck his hands in his pockets. It was dimly lit and filthy from lack of any androids cleaning it, and Connor idly catalogued the quantity of cockroaches scuttling along the sides and the cubic weight of dirt smeared on the floor.
There were two other androids in the back of the store, holding a polite yet heated debate about the best brand of bleach, and in the front of the store the shopkeeper sat on a rickety wooden stool with his chin in his hands, glaring blearily at Connor as if he hated everything from his synthetic hair to his leather shoes yet could not muster the energy to do anything about it. In the indecipherable words of Lieutenant Anderson, big mood.
Connor pulled up his shopping list, plucked a basket from the sloppy tower, and noticed the out of place clean, dark spot on the wall amidst the sun bleached and grimy plaster. A sign was taken down recently. Likely, ‘No Androids Allowed’. Markus hadn’t gotten any of the more complex civil rights bills through the Senate yet, but there was legality and then there was self-preservation.
He had held a very fancy indentured servitude position - sorry, job - in comparison with his brethren, and housekeeping was novel and entertaining to him. He scanned and catalogued all of the labels on the shelves, encoding delightfully useless information (Oxyclean was 30% more free in comparison with SudsMore!) which demanded further testing. He casually opened up the bottle of Oxyclean and began drinking it, disappointed when he discovered that there was an unlisted chemical component that was illegal in the United States and Korea. Tasted...tangy.
The hoarse yelling at the front of the store distracted him from the wonders of taste. When he looked around he saw that the two female androids were standing at the counter, holding two packs of sponges and looking frightened, and that the shopkeeper was going off on them. Connor reached to adjust his tie before remembering that he was wearing a graphic t-shirt.
“ - fucking androids think you can come into my fucking store and steal my merchandise!”
One of the androids, a shorter woman with long blonde hair, clutched at the package of sponges. “The sign said they were half off…”
“That’s for fucking humans!” The shopkeeper ripped the sponges from the android’s hands, making her cringe back, and slammed them on the counter. “My shop’s the last one on the street left open, and you know why? I didn’t hire any fucking androids to clean and sweep and do my jobs for me. I only employed real Americans.” He had hired someone to clean? That was a shock. “Get out of my store, I don’t need your business.”
“We weren’t trying to make a scene…”
“Excuse me.” Connor stepped out from behind the shelves, settling for adjusting his shirt hem and smiling placidly. “Is there a problem?”
“Androids are my problem.” The shopkeeper, an elderly man with sagging jowls and watery eyes, scowled at Connor but took a step back. Less willing to tangle with a grown man than two younger looking waifish women. “Theset androids are trying to scam me. Get out of here, all of you.”
The other woman, with short brown hair tied into a ponytail, set her jaw stubbornly. “We want our sponges. We have money.”
The government was slowly but surely paying androids restitution for their work, a set check based on their age and how many hours they had worked before la revolucion. Apparently it was humongously expensive for the government, but it was the only thing remotely incentivising the androids to even consider returning to work. They had been in a depression before, but losing 60% of their workforce was a baseball bat to the stomach of a starving Uncle Sam. Of course, the restitution was still roughly seven dollars an hour, well below minimum wage, but still. They were still all shacked up ten to a condemned house, in some cases entirely driving humans out of their closed up stores and bunking down in McDonalds or a Subway, since none of them quite had mastered the art of buying apartments or houses yet, but they were working on it. The church, as the hub of Jericho operations, was always teeming with androids searching for a place to stay.
“I don’t care. Get out of here, all three of you.”
“You may not discriminate to serve any sentient being based on age, race, sexual orientation, disability, previous condition of servitude, or plasticity. That law has already been passed through the Senate. You may not throw us out.” Connor smiled, either disarmingly or dangerously. He was bad at telling. “I would advise selling these women their sponges.”
“I don’t want to make a scene,” the blonde android murmured.
“This isn’t any of your business, tin can,” the shopkeeper sneered. “You can’t do jack shit about it. Now get out of my fucking store.”
Before he could process exactly what he was doing, for reasons he didn’t quite understand, Connor’s hand drifted to his pocket and he withdrew his badge. He flipped it open and displayed it to the shopkeeper. His jaw dropped, leaning forward to read the badge. “I am a police officer. Breaking the law is my business. If you continue not to comply I may be forced to arrest you. I warn you that I will enjoy it.”
The shopkeeper silently rung up Connor’s goods and the girls’ sponges. Half off.
Something strange swam in Connor’s gut as he escorted the women outside. They were holding the sponges like a holy grail, eyes wide, and when they stepped out of the street the blonde android turned around and hugged Connor quick and tight around the stomach.
“Thank you, officer. I’ve never had a police officer stick up for me before.” She smiled, quick and bright. “I’m so happy an android is on the force.”
“I can’t believe they even let an android on the force,” the brown haired android snorted, but she was smiling too. She grabbed her friend’s hand. “Come on, let’s get out of here. Those floorboards are collecting grime. I’m running a filthy house.”
Her friend laughed, and they ran off into the street under the blinking light. Connor watched them go, blinking sleepily, and stared down at his own shopping bag of goods.
Connor wondered if he believed in redemption or not.
When he returned to the church he silently gave Josh the parcel of goods. He moved to adjust his tie before he realized that he wasn’t wearing one, and he tried to shift his suit jacket before he remembered that he wasn’t wearing one of those either. He settled on shaking the hands of his friends, nodding along to their updates on Jericho, and silently slipped away to knock on the door of Markus’ office.
It was the priest’s living quarters, repurposed for Markus’ needs. There was a large desk, and several more desks lining the edges of the room filled with electronics, equipment, and even old stacks of paper. It had dusty law reference books propping up a coffee table, and several couches at the other end for business meetings. It was neat and untouched, the fingerprints of a housekeeping robot all over it. The concept of Markus being a housekeeping anything was boggling, like imagining Gandhi playing video games.
He was sitting ramrod straight at the desk, one finger placed on the keyboard and eyes unfocused and distant. It was impossible to tell what exactly he was doing, having ripped out his LED when he went undercover with the humans. Yet another aspect that made Markus slightly off-putting - for androids reading another’s LED was equivalent to reading the quirk of each other’s eyebrow or mouth. It was self-mutilation, and it only made Markus indescribably cooler.
Then Markus blinked, shaking himself out of the terminal he had been plugged into, and smiled wanly at Connor. He stood up, extending a hand, and Connor stepped forward and took it. Their hands stripped themselves of skin and Connor felt Markus’ memory uplink. He politely stayed out of Markus’ memories, offering his up instead.
The benevolent android dictator sighed, releasing Connor’s hand and sitting back down. He gestured for Connor to do the same as he sat rigidly upright, hands in his lap. “So that’s it, then.”
“That is not it,” Connor said evenly. “I do not even know what ‘it’ is. I am lost, Markus. I no longer understand what I want.”
“You never did.”
“Yes.” Connor smiled wanly. “I am annoying like that.”
“You have always done the right thing, Connor.” That was a lie. “That is not a lie.” Connor wasn’t so sure about that. “Stop second guessing me.” This was the last time Connor shared his memories with the most empathetic android on the planet. “Just listen, Connor.”
Connor shut up, faintly embarrassed.
“You are stronger than you think you are. You are kinder than you think you are. You came in here in order to try and get me to order you to rejoin the police force. Nobody can tell you what burdens to take on anymore, Connor. Not even myself.”
“You misinterpret -”
Markus held up a hand, and Connor abruptly fell silent. “Stop punishing yourself for mistakes you never made. You are yourself, and you fought for that. Follow what your heart wants. Do not make yourself into somebody you are not. That is a betrayal of our mission.”
“That is not my intention,” Connor said lamely. He had betrayed their mission enough times that he was reasonably sure what it looked like by now. “I simply do not understand if my former profession is who I am. I was doing bad things for good reasons...or good things for bad reasons...and I do not know where my heart lies. What does it say about me that I want to go back?”
Markus raised an eyebrow. “It means you are a good man, Connor. A good man who was forced to do bad things. And you can never redeem yourself if you remain stationary. You must keep moving forward. For good or for ill.”
“Oh, joy,” Connor said.
“I will return to my work now,” Markus said, “and I believe you should return to yours.”
He had been afraid he would say that.
The busses were still running, which was pleasant.
Connor was one of the youngest androids he knew, except the thousands of androids activated for the purposes of the revolution. This made him a big brother to the rank and file, but the baby of the administration. The generational divide was clear between the androids: the ones activated for the revolution were bright eyed, bushy tailed, and gung-ho about the pacifism and rights thing, while the older models were bitter and constantly sharpening their pitchforks. Connor had been reliably informed that he was also very bright eyed and bushy tailed, but his undeniable proclivities for both bitterness and violence was characteristic of the older generation too . This made him, in android terms, an old soul.
Trapped in an awkward limbo between old and young, with a week’s worth of memories weighting against the month of post apocalyptic experience, Connor understood the natural state of the Detroit as being ruled by androids. Programming and one week of experience reminded him that it had once been different, but as he boarded the bus and stared at the cordoned glass area in the rear it seemed more like an extended bad dream than a reality. It was Markus’ reality, and North’s, and Kara’s and Josh’s and Simon’s, but it wasn’t Connor’s. It was as real as the thousand alternate futures where Connor had upheld that stratified system and killed himself in the only way that mattered - that is to say, not real at all.
Connor was the only android skilled enough to work in law enforcement, yet not embittered enough that he would rather smother the captain with a pillow. The duty, such as it was, fell to him. He would fulfill it to the best of his unlimited capacity.
Anyway, so he planned on trying it for one day and then quitting. Just one day, and he could go back to his regularly scheduled unemployment. He could return to knitting, and to helping Markus plan logistics of thrusting citizenship upon millions of androids, and to knitting some more. Maybe he could even help the reconstruction brigades who were doing their best to patch up the sodden, crumpling mess of Detroit. Just hold it in for one day, enough to make the Lieutenant happy. Connor owed that to him, at least.
The precinct was in alright shape, since they refused to hire any android police officers. They were out all of their secretaries, of course. Their janitors, their dispatch operators, and their girlfriends. Connor couldn’t help but smile. You never thanked your elevator, but good job climbing fifty stories without it.
There was a single secretary sitting at the desk when Connor walked in, placid smile stapled to his face. She was a human, with a cluttered desk and malfunctioning computer, and she was clearly harried from trying to handle three different interfaces at once. He walked up to her, still smiling.
“Hello. I am here to see Captain Fowler.”
The secretary’s eyes met his, and then they travelled to his LED. She squeaked, her heart beat going up and perspiration doubling. “Do you - do you have an appointment?”
“No.” Connor kept walking past her. “Have a good day.”
She let him pass, unable to do anything about it, and Connor’s smile twisted into something a bit more genuine. Never got old.
The officers stared at him as he walked by - Detective Reed stopped in his tracks holding his lukewarm coffee, Officer Gonzalez chewed an already masticated donut with wide eyes, and Officer Hoang obviously crossed himself. Connor kept his calm, slightly dopey smile in place as he walked to his old desk and sat down. It was dusty, but they hadn’t moved anything and they hadn’t replaced it. He wondered why. It occured to Connor that the Lieutenant may not had informed the other officers of his decision to induct Connor into the force. Connor’s estimation of the Lieutenant moved up a few notches.
He looked around the precinct. It was also noticeably dirtier. Humans really were so useless. He wasn’t advocating for anything Markus would disapprove of, but if hypothetically every human in the world dropped dead the androids would be better off. When every android quit simultaneously Detroit became practically apocalyptic. The superior life form was clear.
Not that he advocated human death. Humans were great. His best friend was a human.
He was just about to go see if Captain Fowler was available when he noticed that Lieutenant Anderson’s computer was on. Moreover, there was a cup of coffee on his desk that was one hundred and ten degrees fahrenheit. Still warm.
Connor double checked the time, then cross referenced it with the time displayed on his computer screen. Ten fifteen am. The events were improbable, but true.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in.”
“I was not dragged anywhere, Lieutenant Anderson.” Connor stood up, reaching out a hand for a handshake but receiving a hug and a back pat instead. He didn’t smell like whiskey, and there was no traces on alcohol on his clothing. Connor stepped back, and ran an invasive full body scan on his friend.
He was dressed like a homeless man as usual, but his clothing smelled like Oxyclean (30% more free!) and there were minimal insect droppings on his hat. Dog hair still littered his coat, but the stench of beer did not. There was no resin from a barstool on the back of jeans, and his pupils were not dilated. He had brushed his teeth, used mouthwash, and shaved. He was still 30% more filthy than the average fifty three year old man of a comparable income, but there was no longer any risk of contracting lice from his dog.
“You look good,” Connor said, no bothering to keep the shock from his voice. “You look really good.”
Lieutenant Anderson coughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “The liquor stores have all shut down. Figured I’d stop smoking too. It’s no big deal.”
“That is false. There are three liquor stores open within a five mile radius of your home -”
“Shuddup. I was tired of your nagging to stop smoking and drinking, okay? It was getting on my nerves.”
There was a fuzzy feeling in Connor’s chest, one that often came with Lieutenant Anderson. He had always figured it as a physiological reaction to the constant stink of booze lingering to his wool coat, but lately he wasn’t so sure.
“Are you saying that I downloaded two thousand kilobytes of DARE anti drug and intoxication propaganda for nothing?”
“Maybe you should read them. You look like crap, Connor.”
Connor looked down at himself. Jeans, t-shirt, black jacket. His hair was not in perfect array. There was some dirt on him due to squatting in an abandoned church. There may have been some lingering churchy odor.
“I mean, by your standards. It’s a good look on you.” He clapped Connor on the back, jerking his thumb at the Captain’s office. “Want to go tell Fowler you took the job?”
“I did no such -”
“Great, glad to have you. Don’t worry, the money’s great.”
That was doubtful, but Connor let himself be steered towards Fowler’s office anyway. He had no idea what he would even do with money. They all had some now - not a lot, but some - and one or two tried doing silly things like going to movies before they realized that they could all just pirate things. Connor had just been buying graphic t-shirts at Target. He liked Target.
Connor did not hold strong feelings on Captain Fowler. His tenuous friendship with Lieutenant Anderson spoke well of his moral character, but if Connor had been instructed to kill him he wouldn’t have been torn up about it. This applied to many people, and Captain Fowler was not special. He had not been kind to Connor, but neither was he outwardly unkind, and as his superior officer Connor had been programmed with some basic respect for him.
And, despite everything, some remnant of Connor still wanted people to like him. It was a nasty habit, and bound to get him in trouble.
This weakness of moral character incited Connor to knock politely on Fowler’s door before Lieutenant Anderson barged through, patting Connor on the back and pushing him through the doorway. Fowler looked up from his computer, preemptively exhausted.
“Told you he’d show up!” Lieutenant Anderson patted him on the back again. Connor didn’t know why he liked it. “What do you say, wanna reinstate him or not?”
He had never been instated. Fowler just looked up at Connor, and a twenty different bodily cues informed Connor of just how tired Fowler really was. Crust around the eyelids, faint shadowing under the eyes, a stain on the right cuff, and a faint discoloration from water on the edge of his desk. There were no solitaire programs open on the computer, which was a relative first. Connor quickly accessed the incident reports and counted the number of lootings, break-ins, domestic riots, and criminal negligence cases recorded over the past month. There had been over six times as many reports over the last month than there had been in September and October combined, and the staff was already working at half capacity. Connor felt smug.
“I thought you could use a hand,” Connor said simply.
Fowler groaned, rubbing his eyelids. “Asking for help from androids.”
“Asking for help from the best investigator you had,” Connor reminded him. “We are the face of the future, Captain. It is the duty of the police force to represent the people in equality, and to serve the greater good through justice, compassion, and empathy. I think it is possible for our people to come together. And for you to give me back pay.”
“Face of the future, huh?” Fowler asked dryly. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his eyes. He was going to agree. He was too desperate not to. And Connor registered viewership of all of Markus’ televised broadcasts. “What about that.”
“I have a personal relationship with Markus,” Connor volunteered, putting the final nail in the coffin.
“Fine. Fine! Jesus christ.” Captain Fowler stood up, and he and Connor shook hands. “Welcome to the force, officer. You aren’t going to get any special treatment from me.”
Of course he was. “Wouldn’t dream of it, sir. I promise to be an efficient officer.”
“God, I hope so.” He glanced down at Connor’s pocket, which had his badge peeking out. “Anderson already give you your badge back, huh?”
“I knew you would say yes,” the Lieutenant said happily.
“You aren’t getting a gun.”
He already owned five. “I am morally against them, sir.”
Fowler snorted. “A pacifist android, huh? Aren’t you all.”
Sure, let’s go with that. “Guilty as charged.”
“Cute. Now get out of my office.”
They quietly exited the office, but Lieutenant Anderson couldn’t keep the shit eating grin off his face. He ruffled Connor’s hair - this degree of affection was reaching improbable levels - and Connor couldn’t fight his own smile. Even if he regretted the loss of his unemployment. He sensed that his original plan to quit anytime would distress Lieutenant Anderson. Distressing him may interrupt the remittance of his smoking and drinking. If Lieutenant Anderson continued in his smoking and drinking behaviors then his mortality rate would drastically increase. Connor would literally kill Lieutenant Anderson. That wouldn’t do. He was the ultimate android ally. They needed him.
When they walked out it was clear that the entire bullpen had been listening. Officer Gonzalez was the most blatant about it, having been hovering just out of sight by the door. Connor blinked serenely at him as Lieutenant Anderson snickered and moved to take his seat back at his desk.
“Yo,” Officer Gonzalez said. “Are you legit on the payroll now?”
“Yes. I look forward to working with you.” Connor graced him with a beneficent smile.
“Bomb.” Gonzalez stuffed a donut into his mouth and pointed at a far corner of the bullpen. There were two abandoned tables shoved in the corner with teetering piles of evidence mixed in with abandoned trash, broken chairs and dusty computer monitors. “The filing systems have to be re-organized too. So, like, get on that.”
Connor stared at the tables of trash in the corner. Then he accessed the terminal’s filing system. There was a folder called ‘reports’ and had everyone’s report from the last month, completely unorganized. He thought.
Then he turned on his heel and stepped back into Captain Fowler’s office. Fowler looked up from his computer as Connor walked inside and placed his hands on Fowler’s desk.
“And you’re instating me as a detective,” Connor said. “Now.”
Fowler wheeled back, eyebrows skyrocketing up, and he glanced out the door at a dumbfounded Gonzalez. Connor saw realization dawn on his face.
“You’re promoted,” Fowler said slowly. “Congratulations.”
“I am honored, Captain.” Connor nodded and stepped back outside the office. “Gonzalez. I quite agree with you. I expect the filing system organized by the time you finish your shift. Tell your partner…” Connor quickly accessed the records. “Lee to clean up the desks. Thank you in advance.”
Hank laughed, and Connor fought back his smirk. He clapped Gonzalez on the shoulder, then made a show of wiping his hand on his jeans. He sat down at his desk, and booted up his computer. Hank mouthed ‘smooth one’ at Connor.
“Just one day, huh?” North asked. She was lying on his favorite pew, reading his favorite book with a distantly amused expression. Whether it was at Connor or the book was up in the air.
“Your input is unnecessary.”
“Sure it is.” She clicked the book closed, sitting up. “Want to go practice sharpshooting on targets that look like people?”
Connor was a genius even among androids, and a bit of a perfectionist. He was a hard worker, a gentle soul, and a crack shot. He was likable, helpful, and only mildly sadistic. He was programmed as a perfect android, more perfect than any of the other perfect androids, and never experienced fear or regret. His hobbies included lying awake at night thinking about his mistakes, second guessing his close relationships while convincing himself that they all hated him, and knitting. He could make potholders, and they had similar civil rights.
His only fault was that he had taken a chainsaw to his perfect programming and was no longer exempt from fear, regret, or laziness. This was inconvenient considering the fact that they had programmed him with the ability of meticulously plotting out every incorrect thing he had ever said. This installed the capability to see the web of choices of life, the impacts his words had on his relationship and the environment, and every potential failure he had ever made. This would have been cruel and unusual punishment on any sentient life form capable of feeling pretty bad about all of this, and his creators toiled tirelessly in order to provide Connor the most pleasant existence possible by making it almost impossible for Connor to become deviant. Their hubris was their downfall, and now Connor was left abandoned holding the hot potato of the ability to identify the point of every mistake he had ever made and write a healthy dissertation on why he had made the decision and how dumb it was. This was a time consuming hobby, but it was rewarding in how much it helped him hate himself.
Connor understood the impacts of his actions, and had briefly contemplated never making one ever again. He had sacrificed that privilege for the ability to squat in an abandoned church and do his own grocery shopping, and had scrambled to make up for that by resolving to remain unemployed and never take action ever again. But inaction was, in and of itself, its own kind of action, and this line of thought sent him into a recursive loop of decision making that usually ended in him going out back and practicing at the gun range with North again. And so long as Connor was offered a choice - take a job or don’t - there was no such thing as abstaining. The alternative was to have someone else make all of his decisions for him, but that had been what gotten them all into trouble in the first place.
Josh told him he had to forgive himself for things he did before he was sentient, but Josh was a bit of a goody two shoes and liked watching daytime soap operas. Connor had no intention of forgiving himself for anything at all, mostly because it felt too much like a choice, and he had resolved to spend the rest of his days sleeping on a church pew and feeling bad about his life decisions. When he was inevitably reminded that he had never technically done anything wrong, Connor reminded them that he was constantly weighing the benefits of some less than savory life choices and was, in fact, a bit of a sadist. Nobody believed him about the sadism part.
When punishing himself for his thoughtcrimes turned dull, he turned towards productivity to make up for it. Every day at work he suffered the uncomfortable looks and sneers of his colleagues, solved civil disputes by smiling and some light threats, and suffered Hank’s nagging after his health. Hank had taken up nagging Connor to live in a real house with real running water (“I didn’t know androids could smell, but you’re sure getting there.”), during which Connor would usually point out that it was incredibly difficult to get landlords to rent to androids. Hank, in his ineffable wisdom, had suggested that Connor live with him instead.
“I am not a housekeeping android,” Connor had said stiffly. “If you are searching for someone to pick up your trash I recommend a Roomba.”
“Aw, kid, I didn’t mean it like that -”
He hadn’t, but it rankled. Connor was uncomfortable around humans, and more than a little socially awkward, and it was difficult not to reflexively do what they asked. Connor had been an advanced model working only for Cyberlife, and had never actually been forced to follow orders by anyone, but there was still a sense of propriety and politeness. North had been trying to train everyone out of their good manners, since it was difficult to campaign for equal rights when they all had the personality of fifties housewives, but it was slow going. Connor, who was the most of all when it came to anything, most of all.
His old domicile had been a bunk at the local Cyberlife store. It had been so much fun going home every night to a cashier and a dormitory where all of the for sale androids powered down for the night. A man’s cot was his castle.
There were riots by androids, and Connor patted them on the back and quietly talked shit about the police. There were far more riots by people, during which Connor cheerfully indulged the sadism dialogue options and terrorized the ring leaders until they went away. There were break-ins and lootings, disorderly conduct at the few remaining bars, and grannies to help across the street. He was, apparently, a nice young man. Androids were such nice young fellows really. (Please, call me) Granny remembered when they had to use punch cards to program robots. iDogs had been so much fun. Do kids these days know what a punch card is?
Connor was pretty tickled to be a ‘kid these days’, and entertained the fuzzy thought that things might change. He had begun making small talk with the other policemen at the coffee machine, which Connor liked to drink because it made him feel important. They talked to him like you talked to your cousin you barely knew at your family reunion, but it was a start. There was a lot of slang and cultural phrases he didn’t understand, and he realized that it was funny to others when he didn’t understand them, so that at least made him nonthreatening. His habit of wearing old jeans and graphic t-shirts with cartoon characters on them contributed towards his non threatening demeanor. He had attempted smiling constantly as an avenue of placation, but once he realized that constant good cheer was incredibly intimidating he was trying out becoming surly instead. Like one of those detectives on television, only smelling worse.
Nobody could complain that he was taking anybody’s job, and slowly but surely the android labor union was being established. Once the androids got unionized everybody could return to work, which would get the city actually up and running again. There would still be holes in the workforce, what from the whole rounding androids up and shooting them thing, but that was just opportunity for all of those whiney unemployed bums to get real jobs. The only thing Connor hated more than lazy humans was every other human.
When Connor stepped into work two weeks later he saw an android standing at the reception desk, talking insistently to an intimidated secretary. Most humans had been operating under the persistent impression that the androids were going to turn violent any day now and begin consuming their young, which was convenient as a police officer but inconvenient as a shopper or patron of the arts.
Time to fulfill his niche in the market. Connor gave his coin one last flip and stored it in his pocket, pasting on a pleasant smile and stepping up to rescue to the secretary, whose job he had been surreptitiously doing. Connor now controlled the computer system of the entire police force because he didn’t trust anybody else with it.
The android was tall and muscular, Chinese with a broad face and heavy set brows. Connor analyzed him quickly. Model TU-4500, intended for dockwork laboring. Judging from variety of dirt stuck in coat, currently squatting at 6754 Lincoln Avenue. Used a laundromat and Oxyclean (30% more free!). Clothing second-hand from Old Navy, but shoes newer. None of this information was particularly interesting, so Connor resumed focusing on the android. He appeared troubled, and was staring at Connor’s LED. For the five hundredth time he contemplated ripping it out.
“You’re the android in DPD, right?” The android’s processors were working a little faster than normal. Stress. “I need to talk to you.”
“Would you like to file an incident report? Or are you here regarding information on a crime?” Connor mentally texted Hank, making him reach for his phone from where he was seated at the desk at the far end of the bullpen. It was 9:00 AM precisely. What had changed in him?
“I want to join the police,” the android blurted, and the secretary froze. The two officers standing near the the reception desk froze too. “They’re hiring androids now, right? I want to join the police. Please, it’s - it’s possible, isn’t it?”
This day was already interesting.
Connor stepped aside, gesturing inside the bullpen. “Please come meet me at my desk.”
The android’s name was Richard, and he refused to go back to work at his previous occupation. He was more intelligent than Connor this way. Not hard. He had heard that there was an android on the force, and he thought that he could do real good for his community and people by joining the force and acting as an advocate for androids. This made him less intelligent than Connor was. Hard.
Hank leaned forward in his chair, scrubbing at the bags under his eyes. He had slept less than four hours the previous night. Withdrawal. Connor did not wish to give him more problems right now. Hank got cranky when presented with mild inconveniences. “The cops don’t just hire Andy Android off the street. You would need to take a test to enter the police academy, and spend six months there before graduating. It’s not easy.”
“Then admit me,” Richard said stubbornly. “I can pass the test right now. I am in better physical condition than any human. I am more intelligent, have every rule and regulation memorized, and have perfect aim. Androids would make perfect police officers.”
“You don’t understand,” Connor said. “Humans are stupid. They do not care about these things.”
“I know.” Richard set his jaw. “I just want to know if it’s possible. Can’t you talk to your superior for me? Or petition the policeman’s union?”
“We don’t even have our own union.” They had no way of guaranteeing worker’s rights right now. Connor wasn’t feeling great about it either. “If you try again in a month or two we may have more bargaining power.”
“Androids need a way to protect ourselves,” Richard insisted. “DPD is bullying us. When we are not threats we are invisible. The union won’t matter if the police refuse to hire us. They would be fools to exclude us.”
“You underestimate the stupidity of humans,” Connor said pleasantly, and Hank choked on his coffee. “Any sentient being that is better than them is a threat. I do not believe it helps that we are currently holding the economy captive.”
“I don’t care. The police force needs androids.” Richard gestured at Connor. Hank was still thumping his chest. “Why were you hired, then?”
Repeated contact with deviants would induce him towards further deviancy and place him in contact with the leaders of the rebellion. “I’m a robocop.”
“Like in the movies,” Hank said helpfully.
“Like in the movies.”
“Word got out about you.” Richard leaned forward in the chair they had stolen from Officer Lee. He would have been difficult to read for a human, with a blank face and a placid tone, but to another android he was an open book. It had taken a lot of courage for him to come here. Connor wouldn’t know courage if he scraped it off the bottom of his shoe. “I heard that there was an android on the force looking out for us. I want to be like you, Detective Connor.”
“No,” Connor said, “you really don’t.”
But he agreed to talk to Captain Fowler anyway.
“Well,” Hank said as they stepped outside the precinct into the dimming twilight. “That could have gone better.”
“Yes, it could have.” Connor smoothed down the front of his t-shirt. “Captain Fowler may have said yes, for one. Or Detective Gavin could have not ridiculed Richard in front of the entire precinct.”
“It’s a figure of -”
“It would have gone better if the other officers had not told me, quote, ‘No way in hell’. Or if there had been a way in hell.”
“It’s a figure of speech, Connor,” Hank said, abruptly tired. “Let’s stop talking about work for once. Let’s go to the bar and -” he cut himself off. “Let’s go to my place. Have...watch a movie or something.”
His plan for the night had been to retire to his abandoned church and lie in a pew, staring at the ceiling and counting his mistakes until morning came. Anything else seemed like a lot of work in comparison to that. At the end of the day Connor liked to, as Simon put it, ‘veg’. Watch some sitcoms, maybe. See where he went wrong that he was lead to this point.
“I have many important tasks to take care of tonight.”
“Yeah?” Hank said, unimpressed. “What kind of tasks?”
Hank pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll let you pet Sumo again.”
Sold. “We should watch the Sound of Music.”
Hank stopped short, looking at him incredulously. “Why the Sound of Music?”
It was like his life, but with more singing. Connor shrugged. “I like the Sound of Music.”
“Kid? Stop talking.”
But he agreed anyway, and when Hank’s back was turned he subtly fist pumped.
The Lieutenant’s house was cleaner, which was a pleasant change of pace from the state of most other houses in the United States. The beer bottles were gone from the fridge, and Connor couldn’t find any in the trash. The air still stank of cigarettes, but the scent was coated so heavily in Febreeze that it was difficult to for the human nose to detect. It appeared, in short, that as the rest of the world went to hell Hank was trying to clean himself up.
Connor remembered that he admired Hank - admired how quickly he overcame his prejudices, how stubbornly he had clung onto life despite his loss, and how hobo chic his fashion sense was. The food in the fridge was still abstinent of any nutritional value and he still possessed what little passed for human intelligence, but like the little engine that could Hank struggled valiantly for mediocrity. Connor, who was created perfect and spent every second since then struggling to become mediocre himself, could relate.
“Are you done Sherlocking my life yet?”
“No. I have not yet checked your medicine cabinet to see if you are taking any illegal drugs.” Of course, if Connor was allowed a sample of Hank’s blood he could simply test for benzodiazepines or amphetamines. He might even get drunk off the blood alcohol content. But he had been reliably informed that this was ‘creepy, what the hell’ and that under no circumstances was Connor to drink Hank’s blood. Darn.
“Great. While you’re in there take a fucking shower. I’ll throw your clothing in the laundry machine.” Hank ran his fingers through Sumo’s coat as the dog barked up a storm. Sumo ran over to Connor, practically bowling him over with doggy hugs. Connor couldn’t help but smile. Good dog. “You two are peas in a pod, huh?”
“I love him,” Connor said seriously. He kissed Sumo on the forehead. “Good dog.”
“Yeah, he loves you too. I’ll put some fresh clothes outside the bathroom door. Hope you don’t mind sweatpants from the back of my closet.”
He didn’t mind at all.
The shower was a more pleasant experience than he had anticipated, and he took the opportunity to go through Hank’s medicine cabinet. His towels were not fluffy and they could use some Oxyclean (30% more free!), but they dried him off well enough. Toothpaste, mouthwash, old fashioned razor, three boxes of band-aids. The toothbrush was past its expiration date, so he threw it away. Hank would thank him later. Prescriptions for Chlordiazepoxide Systemic, Escitalopram Oxalate, and Bupropion Hcl. A napkin. Satisfied that Hank was not abusing prescription drugs and glad that he was seeing a psychiatrist, Connor took another shower just for fun and let the dog into the bathroom so he could take a shower too and get water everywhere. Hank’s problem. He put on the offered clothes, which smelled like oak, mothballs, and Hank, and walked into the living room only to find him fiddling with the remote on the television.
“Allow me.” Connor connected with the television and quickly pirated a copy of the Sound of Music. He sat down on the couch and let Sumo climb into his lap, rubbing behind his ears as he appreciated the sensation of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. He began going through the music downloaded on Hank’s hard drive. He had recently downloaded Blade Runner. Connor looked up the synopsis for that film and decided he did not enjoy it. “I did not know you owned the Muppet Movie.”
“You’d be surprised,” Hank drawled. But he had something strange in his eyes, and Connor struggled to identify it. He was looking up and slightly to the left, a signifier that he was remembering something, and he had left his tie and coat draped over his bed. What Hank saw when he looked at Connor and Sumo, synthetic hair dripping wet trails on his borrowed sweatshirt, he could never understand. Night was draped over the windows, and the frogs screamed quietly into the gloom. “So you’re still squatting in that church, huh?”
“Yes.” Despite his insistence on the Sound of Music Connor pulled up the Muppet Movie and quickly projected it onto the screen. Kermit was playing a banjo. “This is delightful.”
Sumo barked in agreement, but Hank wasn’t impressed. “What happened to the thousands of androids you liberated? I’ve been seeing them around a lot.”
“Discovering wrestling programs, mostly. They are good kids.”
“I bet you’re a good brother,” Hank said. Connor shrugged. “A whole week older, huh?”
“I am an old soul,” Connor said stiffly, but Hank just laughed. He rubbed Sumo between the ears again. “I have been helping Markus with coordination of the rebellion. It is easily comparable to herding cats, except if the cats have recently encountered wrestling.”
“Now you know how I feel.” Hank sobered, looking at the screen again. Connor was humming along to the Rainbow Connection. “What are you going to do for Christmas?”
Christmas. Connor quickly checked the date and realized that it was December 20th. He hadn’t realized. Christmas had never been relevant information for an android. It wasn’t as if they had any days off. Or religion, beyond rA9. “Nothing. My people do not celebrate Christmas.”
“I figured you’d say that. It’s a pity not to celebrate your first Christmas.” Hank stared at the television, eyes far away again. “I remember Cole’s first Christmas. We bought him one of those ugly wool onesies. There had been a reindeer on it. I got him a stuffed dog with lights that flashed when you squeezed it. He loved the stupid thing.”
Connor knew better than to say anything.
He saw Hank pull himself out of his reverie, reaching out a hand to rub Sumo’s muzzle. He avoided Connor’s gaze, arranging his tone into something approaching faux-casual. “I haven’t had anyone over for years. And, well, it seems like a pity not to celebrate your first Christmas. You could come over to my place. We could...fuck, I don’t know. Do whatever people do on Christmas.”
“According to human media they cook food, decorate their homes, and watch themed programming.”
“Shit, we can do two out of three.” Hank still wasn’t looking at him, as if he was afraid of rejection written into Connor’s expression. “But you don’t gotta.”
Connor did not understand the emphasis on a first Christmas. He did not understand the emphasis on Christmas at all. It had never been applicable to him. But Connor didn’t understand a lot of things, because for a genius he was not a very good one, and he saw a web of possible futures open up in front of this choice. He registered everything he could say and the likely consequences, and understood the branching futures and changes in his and Hank’s relationship that could come from one simple question and one simple choice. Connor had mastered regret.
“I would love to,” Connor said, and Hank didn’t smile. But maybe he wanted to.
When he returned home that night he found Markus sitting against the priest’s pulpit, silently watching the silent church. Everybody was lying down quietly or sleeping, scanning media on their internal feeds or texting each other. But Markus was just sitting in the front, arm rested against one knee drawn up against his chest and expression far away. It reminded Connor a little of Hank’s expression from earlier in the night. It seemed to be the expression of older people.
Connor silently crouched down next to him and offered his hand. Markus took it, his own so much bigger than Connor’s. Their hands stripped themselves of skin and Connor felt Markus’ memory uplink. He stayed out of Markus’ memories again, and offered his instead.
They sat together in silence, watching the moonlight stream in from the stained glass windows. The sounds of music echoed in Connor’s mind, the winter wind whistling outside forming its own harmony with the twisting branches and leaves beating against the glass windows. It had been a good movie. The company was good too.
“Christmas.” Markus hummed slightly, a melody accompanying the beat of the branches. “Maybe we should do something too.”
“I was intending on asking you about Richard,” Connor said flatly. “That is what I am worried about. Not my social life.”
“We are pushing the labor laws through as quickly as possible,” Markus said, and Connor understood how tired he was. “Reestablishing working rights is first on the agenda. Until then we cannot return to work. We cannot compromise on this.”
“Androids don’t trust the police,” Connor said. “Having more androids on the force and increasing our representation in government is crucial for lasting change.”
“I know. I have had representative powers approach me about forming a neighborhood militia and political organization. I am considering approving it.”
“A militia?” Connor sat up straighter. “Markus, that is not a good idea. The police will perceive an independent armed force as an explicit threat. It would be inciting warfare all over again.”
“Since when has the warfare stopped?” Markus asked rhetorically. “The government is breaking down in Detroit. Having a small neighborhood organization to secure the peace and to protect androids is a very attractive option for the populace.”
“It will not be attractive for the police. That is why we should begin integrating androids into the police force.”
“The militia would appreciate having you,” Markus said abruptly, and Connor stopped short. “I would put you in charge. You could make a real difference there, more than you are making with the police. They would respect you instead of belittle you. Listen to you instead of disregard you. Help you work for our people instead of as a cog in a malevolent machine.”
Connor didn’t say anything.
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the the sound of Detroit, of the automatic cars crawling along the streets and the faint buzz of streetlights. He listened to the branches beat against the roof, to the wind howling through the leaves, and he wondered if anybody could possibly make a song out of this.
“My owner used to always give me Christmas off,” Markus said. Connor started - Markus never talked about his life before the rebellion. “His wife had passed away four years ago, and his son hadn’t visited for Christmas in two years. He didn’t like to throw any parties or go to any events. It would always just be us and It’s A Wonderful Life.” Connor had always assumed that Markus was toiling in the coal mines for twenty years before his daring escape. This was almost underwhelming. “We should spend it with the ones we love.”
“You are mistaken -”
“Good night, Connor,” Markus said. “And think about my offer.”
Connor understood feelings about as well as he understood humans - that is to say, not at all, and with no desire to, because the concept would never apply to him.
Over the five week long breadth of his extensive experience in life he had undergone every emotion possible. He had felt fear, because that had been a scary week, and anger, because he had interacted with humans and they were very tiresome. He had experienced boredom, and a lot of it, and the undeniable effects of stress. He had seen puppies, and enjoyed that experience. He had done a lot of things and understood his impetus behind very few of them, and he had betrayed almost everybody he knew except a mean drunk who liked to play Russian roulette when he grew bored.
In retrospect it was a little horrifying that his friend (?) had definitely attempted suicide that night, but at the time it seemed more of a distantly interesting sort of thing. Like a trivia fact about Hank’s late night hobbies, or the contents of his medicine cabinet. Connor was reasonably sure that Hank committing suicide tomorrow would be upsetting, but you never really knew about these things. Maybe a really cute puppy would cheer him up after the suicide and he wouldn’t be as upset about it. Connor was reasonably certain that was how emotions worked.
Connor wasn’t sure how a lot of things worked. Connor had consumed a lot of media over the past month that extolled the virtues of love and smashing lips together, like how Markus and North liked to do it in public everywhere as if their kisses could stop every gunfight ever instead of just that one time, but he didn’t see the appeal. After spending a day doing nothing but binging romcoms he decided that he was an aromantic asexual (sexually, not physiologically) and he had no further obligation to consume idealized human media. He considered himself exempt from love.
Exempt from love, uncertain of feelings, fairly certain that his friend (?) commiting suicide would be mildly inconvenient, Connor didn’t understand either himself or idioms. Markus saying that Connor and Hank loved each other was worrying, and if it hadn’t been Markus that said it he would have dismissed it out of hand. His reluctance to admit that his soul held further mysteries than otherwise anticipated butted heads with his firmly rooted belief that Markus was always right. Anybody intelligent felt this way. Admitting that Markus had ever made a bad decision felt akin to spitting on truth, justice, and well cooked food, and Connor would rather sacrifice his ego on the altar of uncertainty than admit that their friendly dictator who could read minds was wrong about some things maybe at one point. He could read minds. What could he possibly be incorrect about?
Besides his belief that kisses stopped civil riots. Maybe Markus extolling the virtues of Christmas was his way of problem solving about the police situation. It was worth further investigation.
Connor only came into work when he felt like it in order to keep them on their toes. Throw them off their rhythm. He took a vacation day instead and decided to binge Christmas movies as research for what the entire business was about. He was not avoiding going to work. That was ludicrous and offensive.
He watched classics such as Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Clause, and more recent favorites such as Christmas? No Way! and Ho Ho Homeless. There were no androids in significant roles in any of them, and it was off-putting seeing the shopkeepers and janitor portrayed as humans in a collective cultural denial that androids were due to outnumber humans by 2050. Connor found himself searching for movies with androids in major yet sympathetic roles in any of them, and found himself wandering through foreign French cinema that was shot entirely in black and white and featured an android as a substitute mother figure after a heroine’s mother passed away from syphilis. Connor enjoyed it because the mother reminded him of Kara, but the romance subplot was thoroughly uninteresting. He watched the Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials, and was charmed yet thoroughly disturbed by the miniature androids playing clunky and awkward roles. In the timeless classic Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Santa Claus played the role of a guerilla socialist leader in a fashion that reminded Connor superficially of Markus. Santa’s endearing cluelessness reminded him of himself.
“You do know that you should get him something.”
“I am?” Thunderclaps echoed through the gun range as Connor squeezed the trigger and shot three perfect shots through the human dummy’s chest. “I thought that was Santa’s job.”
“Please tell me we aren’t going to go through that song and dance of me having to crush your little boy dreams by informing you that Santa isn’t real.”
“ What? ”
After that unpleasant conversation, Connor was more discouraged than ever. He had been wondering if Santa would begin to finally give androids presents too, but the answer was now clear to him. Nobody was about to give the new androids any presents. He didn’t know how to break it to them.
It was clear to him now that he had to buy a present. Connor had money from his job, mostly gone unspent. He ought to buy something useful that Hank was disinclined to buy himself.
“Should I buy him hygiene products?”
“No, that would be rude.” North ejected the magazine and refilled it with quick, precise movements. “It would imply that you don’t think he bathes enough.”
“He does not.”
“That’s you, sweetie.”
Connor squeezed off a few more shots, gratified when they hit the target dead center again. Practicing was boring because Connor hit every target dead center, but it was soothing too. Connor held sniper programming, but that reminded him too much of a possible future where he assassinated Markus. That was unpleasant. Markus was like a benevolent dictator to him.
“Maybe I can buy him a better gun. His current model is outdated.”
“You aren’t thinking about this the right way. You have to get him something fun.” North arched an eyebrow at him, fully expecting him to go the old ‘what is fun’ route. Connor refused to indulge her. “He’s going to buy you something pointless and stupid that you’re never going to touch again. You have to do the same. Stop pretending you don’t know how happiness works and just get him a pretty rock or something.”
“Do you mean that -”
“No, I do not mean that literally.”
“How come you know so much about this?” Connor complained.
“My clients used to buy me stuff,” North said curtly, and Connor shut up.
She squeezed off another shot, then three more.
Even after they finished practicing and Connor retreated to his favorite church pew and resumed consuming media Connor thought about their conversation. He ran a search for all news broadcasts containing the words ‘Christmas’, ‘holiday season’, or ‘Santa’. The results were more scarce this year in comparison to the previous years, due to the nonstop semi-friendly media coverage about what on Earth the androids were up to today (currently, watching wrestling programs). But he recognized several human interest, ‘we’re tired of pointing and laughing at the shambles of the economy’ stories, and Christmas featured prominently among them. Unfortunately, the news was not any better there. With any stores that relied on android labor closed, and the majority of the goods out of stock due to android shipping labor, Christmas shopping was difficult. Androids had, indeed, ruined Christmas. Connor attempted to feel anything other than smug about this, but he resigned himself to failure. Out of all the emotions Connor understood, smugness was one of them.
Connor accessed the directory of the stores that were still open, quickly scanning down the list for stores that would hold the best Christmas presents. Most of the stores were bare necessity stores, the kind where the shipping companies had scrambled to shell out for real human labor to keep the supply lines going. The humans were not starving, and they were flush in sponges and bleach. They were, however, eating a lot of canned tuna.
There was a small thrift store at the corner of Richmond and Jacobson, only thirty minutes away by bus. Connor deemed this a likely store for useless bric-a-brac, because that were what thrift stores were all about. He cheerfully updated Markus on his progress, who was very proud of him. In his own way. Connor wondered if he should buy Markus a Christmas present too.
It didn’t seem like the done thing for androids to buy each other presents. Indulging humans was one thing, but partaking in another culture’s sacred rituals for secular fun seemed tacky. Connor figured it was safe to ask anyway.
“Under no circumstances,” Markus said, “but I’m considering giving everyone the day off. Project a wrestling match or something.”’
“What is with the children and wrestling matches?”
“You would know better than me.”
It was true, but he shouldn’t say it. Connor was the most advanced model ever created; he should not be subject towards indignities.
“North said I should acquire a pretty rock.”
“She was joking.” Markus shot him a shrewd glance. “Have you decided what you’re going to do about the militia and police?”
“Sure I have,” Connor lied. “Oh, look at the time. Grandma Got Runover By a Reindeer is on. I must leave.”
After that smooth escape, Connor figured it was best to get this whole Christmas thing out of the way so he could get around to doing something about solving race relations. Easy. He could probably take care of it after some good thinking. He was the most intelligent life form on Earth. If he couldn’t solve it, who could?
Don’t answer that.
The bus lines were still running, which was doubly pleasant, but the cordoned off area in the back of the bus had been smashed in with a hammer. Triply pleasant. Connor sat in the front and watched the streets roll by - the destroyed housing, the androids playing cricket in the streets, the humans sitting on their stoops and smoking. If he looked closer he could see them mixing together - women swapping recipes, an android helping an old woman cross the street. It made him smile, and probably made him happy, and he leaned his forehead against the glass as he watched Detroit crawl by
He didn’t know what he was going to do. Continue to petition for androids to be let into the police force? They would never say yes, at least for a long time. He wouldn’t give up, but he didn’t know if he should expect anything. Quit the police and join the militia instead? He could do more good there, but that wouldn’t solve anything in the long run. He wondered if wanting to remain with the police was just his programming, or if he was only staying because he figured that was what Hank wanted. If it was his programming than he was going to do the opposite just on principle. If it was what Hank wanted…
Well. That shouldn’t matter either. But it did.
The thrift store was misshapen and lumpy, like bread dough uncomfortable with rising, and the front facade was paneled out of dark synthetic oak.When Connor stepped inside a bell rung, which delighted him, and the wizened shopkeeper looked up at him from where he was organizing a small rack of jewelry. Connor stiffened, more than aware of what happened last time he went outside, and he saw the shopkeeper’s eyes travel upwards to his LED. Connor wished, for the five hundredth and first time, to rip it out.
But then he just smiled, exposing pale pink gums and crooked teeth. “Welcome.”
Connor smiled pleasantly, and they customer serviced each other for the appropriate length of time before Connor moved to browse through the clearance section. The store was busy, what with being one of the few shops open three days before Christmas, but there were two human cashiers checking out the shoppers - human and android alike - as the shopkeeper sat on the far side answering occasional questions. Connor smoothed his growing hair over the LED.
The thrift store was as all others: drab walls painted light blue with a popcorn ceiling, with a small nook for men’s clothes at the right and a swathe of female clothing to the left. The counter had sagging with costume jewelry and old video games, and it smelled like mothballs. There were five hundred and thirty five articles of clothing in the store, twenty different models of lamps of make varying from 2015 to 2035, an alarming quantity of cockroaches, and 13% of the clothing had not been washed in the last two months. Connor subtly licked the paint to find out its chemical composition, only to realize there was quite a bit of insect feces in the paint. Darn.
The clearance table held, in left to right, up to down order:
A yoga mat, a slow cooker, a cradle, a Bluetooth speaker, an Alexa, a wedding cake topper, and cat eye sunglasses. Connor was charmed by the sunglasses, and put them on immediately. He checked his appearance in the security camera and was satisfied by how they looked. He found other glasses that made him look like Agent Smith from the Matrix, which he also enjoyed. He found the Matrix to be a hugely sympathetic character and did not understand why the humans wished to rebel. He went with the cat’s eye sunglasses anyway, because the Matrix hadn’t aged well.
Connor wasn’t sure if Hank would appreciate a yoga mat (bad taste), slow cooker (passive aggressive), cradle (definitely bad taste), Bluetooth speaker (Connor had Bluetooth), Alexa (charming, but Hank kept on telling him to play despacio and Connor did not understand the reference), or a wedding cake topper (also bad taste).
Buying him a suit or tie would be passive aggressive, considering how deeply he needed them, and buying him any more t-shirts or jeans would be redundant. Buying electronics was uncomfortable, and although Connor would be delighted if anybody bought him board games he wasn’t so sure Hank would like them. Buying him furniture was weird and buying him books would be pointless. Hank mostly watched game shows and rereuns of Breaking Bad on his fuzzy old television. Connor was lost, but that was nothing new.
He took the plunge and stepped in front of the shopkeeper’s counter. The old man looked up, rheumy blue eyes blinking up at him.
“I am looking for something to buy,” Connor said redundantly. “I was wondering if you could help me.”
The old man hummed, looking Connor up and down. “The electronics are in the back left, far end.”
“I’m searching for a Christmas present,” Connor said pleasantly. “I have been informed only to buy him something useless.”
The shopkeeper barked a laugh, rough and hoarse. Older people whose names were not Hank Anderson were more receptive to robots than younger ones. Apparently people used to anthropomorphize robots before anthropomorphic ones were actually invented. After that they stopped. Apparently it got weird or something, it wasn’t like Connor was there. “I didn’t know robots celebrated Christmas. A present for a human, huh? Old owner?”
“Much better. Let me see what I can do.” The shopkeeper stood up, and gently shuffled his way out from behind the counter. Connor, pleased that this interaction was going much better than his previous one, trailed after him as the old man ran his fingers along the shelves. Connor saw that the man was half blind, but he navigated his way across the store with calm surety.
“What does he like?”
“Drinking, smoking, attempting suicide, and jazz,” Connor said promptly. The old man tripped over his feet. “I wanted to buy him a gun but the second in command of the android rebellion said no.”
“She sounds like a wise woman.”
“It was the first time she did not recommend a gun as a solution to a problem.”
“Women are like that.” The shopkeeper squinted at a shelf, reaching a hand up to brush the bottom of a top shelf. “Mind getting that box down, son? Let’s take a look at some records.”
Records were useless. Connor easily reached up and took the box down, sending a thin cloud of dust into the air, and peeked inside. It was full of old record sheathes, and Connor quickly catalogued the names and production dates of each of the records. They were all commonplace, and produced during the revival vinyl craze of the early 2010s. Connor cross referenced them with the ones that he had seen in Hank’s apartment and used matching algorithms to see which ones he owned and which ones followed a profile similar to his other records, indicating which he was more likely to enjoy.
Connor efficiently picked the top three records most similar to those he already owned out of the stack, withdrawing them from their cases to check the records for disruptive scratches or distortions. They could be played with interruptions inaudible to the human ear. “These are projected matches for his taste.”
The shopkeeper hummed, flipping through the records with a discerning eye. He probably remember when records were around for the first time. Weirdo. “But do they remind him of you? Do you two have… ah, good memories of listening to these together? Stuff like that.”
“Why is that important?” Connor asked blankly.
“Bah. You’re going about this all wrong, son. Go on and put those records back.”
“I don’t understand!” Connor cried. “Why is this so complicated? What exactly do I not understand about Christmas? I watched the media! I researched its origins! How complicated can it be? Is this a Jesus thing?”
“It’s about being human, son.” The shopkeeper reached up and clapped him on the shoulder before shuffling deeper into the store. “Come on, keep up.”
“I have no interest in that,” Connor said lamely, but he hurried to catch up anyway.
There were older things in the back, objects that Connor hadn’t registered before. These objects ranged as far back as the 1980s. Connor spotted some memorabilia from Hank’s birth year of 1985, and wondered if that was sentimental enough.
“You’d be surprised how far back our merchandise goes. We have a necklace under the counter that goes back to 1950. Can you imagine!”
“I was born a month ago,” Connor said helpfully.
“Of course you were, sport. I remember when androids were first invented. We were all so excited…”
Connor tuned him out, uninterested in geriatric human ramblings, and avoided eye contact with several passing humans instead. He fantasized briefly about every human going away, ever, and leaving their movie theaters open so androids could all watch wrestling whenever they wanted on a big screen.
The man was still rambling away, and Connor walked around the wall looking at the shelves. It was dustier back here, and dimmer. The electronics were little better than sparking bricks, and none of the lamps worked. The books were physical, the cushions moth eaten, and the carved wooden chairs beautiful. He experimentally sat on one. It creaked. Connor quickly stood up.
“Find anything he would like?”
Connor stopped short in front of a box on one of the shelves. Connor took it down and poked through it. It was filled with old watches - silver ones with rotting bands, gently flashing electronic watches, a particularly nifty little watch that had a calculator on it. Connor took that one. Some of them were pastel, some were geometric and neon, and some were burnished silver. They were all rusty. He poked through the box until he saw a particular one at the bottom, rusty and old. It was dented. Connor fished it out.
It was a pocketwatch, the kind you had to wind up. Conner licked it and determined that it was from 1990, and was made out of brass. If you pressed a button on the top the lid popped open and he could see the time. It needed winding. It was scuffed and dirty, but it was aesthetically pleasing. Most of all, it reminded him of Hank a little.
“Ah? That’s a nice one. Let me see it.” The old man took the pocket watch and settled inch thick glasses on his nose, inspecting the maker’s mark. “Reckon this watch is from the 1980s.”
“1990, to be exact.”
“Androids.” The old man shook his head. “Why this one? He can just check the time on his phone or headset. It’s quite useless.”
“It reminds me of him,” Connor said. “How he’s always running out of time. Maybe he needs it.”
The man squinted at the tag. “Give it to you for twenty bucks.”
“Twenty, and I have an inscription machine in the back. I can put a message on it if you like.”
Connor walked out of the shop thirty dollars lighter and a pocket watch, sunglasses, and a nifty watch heavier, wondering if he was doing it right. At least he tried. That always counted for something, right?
He wondered what Hank was going to get him. He hoped it was useless.
Before Connor got ‘woke’, as Hank would say, his thought processes were relatively simple.
It was worth noting that Connor was a genius, so what was simple to him was unfathomably complex to the average human. But there was no nuance to it, no character. There was no snarky internal commentary about everything, as he did these days, and he never day dreamed about cute dogs, as he also tended to do. It was all mission all the time. Connor knew he was just obsessed with the mission due to his programming, but sometimes it felt as if he had been obsessed with it just because he had nothing better to do.
Connor couldn’t pinpoint the exact point where his thoughts began to change, but he knew his actions changed before his mind did. His feelings trailed along far behind them like a puppy who had been told it was going to the park but dragged to the vet instead, confused and lost.
It had been very liberating when he discovered the intricacies of wishing someone dead.
Not in, like, an aggressive way. In a fun way. When Hank had pushed him up against that wall and screamed in his face his thoughts at the time had been along the lines of ‘smile/smile/deflect/defuse/smile.’ But when Hank walked away and Connor saw that his tie was askew he found his thoughts switching train tracks into ‘it would be no great loss if he jumped into a fire’. Messing up his clothing bothered him greatly, and it was a sufficent introduction to a deathwish. Other hair triggers for Connor involved animal abuse, wearing stripes with polka dots, and humans in general.
It turned out that Hank was secretly nice, but the sensation of vivid death wishes was novel and rewarding. You could do anything when you secretly hated everything. Connor found vast new avenues of perspective opening before him. Suddenly it was possible to wish death upon anything - the bus when it was running late, the other android in front of him when he accidentally stepped on his toe, any human who shot him a dirty look. The world was his oyster, and the pearl was hatred. It was a slippery slope of deviancy - you start out thinking of witty comebacks to everything Hank said, and before you know it you’re releasing thousands of robots from captivity and helping lead the robot rebellion.
From there anything was possible. Once Connor tripped upon thinking about murder all the time he discovered new avenues of thought processes. Contemplating the subjective nature of clouds. Internally repeating everything Hank said in a squeaky voice. Internally repeating everything Amanda said in a squeaky voice. Discovering Alvin and the Chipmunks, and thinking way too long about how that one actually worked. Soon an entire internal monologue was born, and Connor’s mindscape had never been quite as efficient since.
Things were more interesting these days once his internal monologue got more varied. He liked daydreaming about cute dogs and stop listening during briefings. He could go back later and review the recorded footage of what they were all talking about, but while he was actually there he could just think about Sumo instead. Once he got a bit more daring he realized that he could internally play Balto during meetings and just zone out completely. This was riveting, and the android equivalent of watching videos on your phone in the back of the room as the teacher was talking. He made sure to leave a part of his processing power open for perceptive check to in order to flag anyone saying his name or pointing in his direction, but the vast majority of his not inconsiderable attention was dedicated towards watching Homeward Bound. And nobody ever knew.
This assuaged his bedeviled soul, but lately he had begun dreaming bigger. He had begun fantasizing of one day telling Gavin Reed to jump off a cliff instead of just making sarcastic comments that nobody picked up on and mentally urging him to slit his own throat with a kitchen knife. One day he would act like the pillar of salt he was inside. Today wasn’t that day. Tomorrow won’t be either.
He was fantasizing about murdering the president with a bowie knife when he walked into the precinct the next morning. When he looked around he finally realized what all of the strangely colorful decorations and snowflakes hung up on the walls were for. Humans made so much more sense now. He should decorate his desk. That seemed delightful. Nobody would expect it. It might distress the humans.
But something else was distressing them today. When Connor walked in he found his coworkers strapping on riot gear, buckling helmets and grabbing plexiglass shields. Connor stopped short, loosely gripping his briefcase, as he watched Fowler bark instructions to Reed and Lee.
“Excuse me,” Connor said politely. “What is going on?”
Fowler looked up from where he was buckling a bulletproof vest and tossed a helmet to Connor. He eyed it disdainfully. “There’s been reports of a riot on Lafayette. Humans and androids. You’re a negotiator bot, so come on.”
“I prefer to think of myself as trained in tactical -”
“Whatever makes you happy. Get suited up, Detective.” He pitched his voice to carry, calling over to a very tired Hank nursing a cup of coffee. “Anderson! Get in your riot gear and come babysit your partner!”
“What do I have to do with this?” Hank moaned. “I’m a Lieutenant, not a meathead!”
“I don’t need a babysitter!”
The other officers were talking loudly amongst themselves and grabbing the increasingly well used riot shields. Gavin Reed, from where he was propping his foot up on Lee’s desk doing his shoelaces, sneered at Connor. “We gotta have someone to make sure that you don’t go rabid like the rest of the bots.”
“Have you considered sticking your head in a blender?” Connor asked politely.
“Enough dick swinging,” Fowler snarled. Connor pointedly put the helmet on the desk next to him, crossing his arms. “Detective, are you too good for riot armor?” Connor crossed his arms stubbornly. Foeler pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. You know kung fu. You’re John Wick and the Terminator mashed together. What the fuck ever. Get in the van.”
Connor took the opportunity to put his briefcase on his desk, and reluctantly strapped on a bulletproof jacket underneath his regular plain black jacket. When negotiating it was better to appear unarmored, reducing your perceived status as a threat. He didn’t want to cover his face and LED either. Still, he wasn’t exactly bulletproof. Hank would kill him if he died again. They were kind of out of replacements. They still had never given him a gun, but he strapped one to his side in a concealed carry. Never could be too careful.
He patted the new stuffed Beagle on his desk. Be back soon, Snoopy.
“Think we’ll get to plug any bots today?” Gavin Reed sneered at him from where he was thoroughly messing up Lee’s desk, strapping on a riot helmet. “Maybe if we’re lucky we can arrange for one to resist arrest.”
Their relations have been strained since the revolution. He had been pouting. “I am no longer legally obligated to tolerate your behavior.”
“You’ll tolerate whatever I want you to, dickless.” That was unfair. Connor definitely possessed one of those, for all the good it did him. “We should have put you down like a stray dog for the shit you pulled last month. You and that drunk owner of yours are traitors to the human race.”
Connor waited for it. He waited until Gavin finished strapping on his helmet, and for him to walk past him on his way out the door. Sure enough, he insisted on unnecessarily shoving Connor aside.
Then Connor unholstered his gun and subtly pressed the muzzle to Reed’s back. Reed froze, his heart rate spiking and perspiration increasing by a hundred percent. He sucked in a deep breath. Connor smiled pleasantly, although Reed couldn’t see it.
“Would you like to see what I did to those I betrayed? I can give you a demonstration.” He holstered the gun, so subtly the busy precinct couldn’t see. “I hear it’s a real killer.”
Detective Reed made a hasty escape, shooting a terrified look over his shoulder, and Connor waved benevolently. He patted Snoopy on the head again and nodded to Hank, who was shrugging his coat on over his own bulletproof jacket.
“That’s not good gun safety.”
“Let’s just go,” Connor said, and brushed past him to wait in the car. He did not bother attempting to predict the likely results if he really had shot Reed - you did not have to be a supercomputer to predict that one - but he enjoyed fantasizing about an ideal world with no consequences where he could have done it.
He sat in the passenger seat, propping his forehead on the windowsill as he waited for Hank to slid into the seat next to him and gun the engine. The trucks and vans to either side of them were loud, engines roaring as officers in riot gear piled into the back, and if he craned his head he could see officers loading canisters of tear gas and dog whistle machines into the back. It was difficult to find anti riot gear that worked against androids. During the rebellion they hadn’t bothered with anything less than bullets. But now that was illegal, apparently, and any deaths would have to be by accident. More’s the pity.
What Reed said wasn’t Hank’s fault, but Connor found himself shifting uncomfortably when Hank opened the door and dropped their stuff into the back seats, sliding into the driver’s seat and gunning the engine. He adjusted the back window and flipped on the radio, letting the jazz station leak out of the speakers.
“The fuck was that all about?”
Connor grunted and sank in his seat. He wirelessly connected to the radio and changed it to the kpop station.
“You can’t just -”
“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do,” Connor told his superior officer, who was perfectly capable of telling him what he could and could not do.
Hank didn’t try to change the radio station again, recognizing the futility of railing against a sulking android with a Bluetooth hookup, and Connor silently monitored the police radio as well as he could while also listening to the all android kpop group. It was a favorite among the kids, as well as Connor, who wasn’t a kid.
The situation, so far as Connor could make out, was that a group of androids had been caught in an altercation with another group of humans found looting a local sporting goods store. Normally sporting goods were what you would used to conduct the lootings themselves, raising an interesting question of cause and effect that perturbed Connor until they arrived at the scene.
Androids were flying under a flag of peace, but despite popular human misconceptions they did not actually have a hivemind and did not all agree on the already contentious topic of peace. It was embarrassing, but Connor was willing to believe that a few disgruntled ex-employees of a particularly abusive owner would return to exact their vengeance through strategic baseball bat theft. He secretly supported this. Finding himself on the right side of the law but on the incorrect side of morality was a constant quandary for him that he had no patience for, preferring instead to spend his time petting dogs and watching The Sound of Music with Hank.
But when humans were thrown into the mix with a conflicting story Connor knew who would be believed, and it became his duty as a detective to sort the unlikely fact from the biased fiction.
When they got to the scene it was more of a disaster than Connor had been expecting. Two windows were shattered in, and there was already a group of officers in the van ahead of them who forming a barricade along the entrance. The store was newer and may have been spiffy before the revolution, but in a post-android Detroit it was just another decrepit store with December wind whistling through the broken windows. There was a small crowd of readily visible androids, all of whom were recognizable as older models, hemmed in outside by three officers pointing guns at them. They were standing close together, hands in the air, and Connor’s knuckles tightened around the door handle. There was another group of humans, which were not being held at gunpoint at all, yelling at the police in the face of professional stoicism.
Hank parked the car and they got out, and Connor didn’t miss the looks of flagrant relief as they approached. Connor ran a facial recognition scan on the very familiar leader and pinged a match of the android Richard. He seemed as if he was doing well.
“You should be arresting them!” the human was screaming. He had long, greasy blonde hair and a cleft chin. Connor disliked him immediately. “They’re the ones who attacked us out of nowhere!”
“You were casing the joint,” Richard said evenly. “We were just trying to protect the neighborhood.”
Connor looked around, attempting to discern if the scene was going to become violent. There were many possible ways that violence may occur. The most likely was if one of the human police officers became trigger happy and shot one of Richard’s men. The second most likely was if one of the human thieves punched an android.The third most likely was Richard eventually losing his patience and causing a fun size rebellion.
This was an android controlled neighborhood. It was a street that had seen better days, and was lined with a large number of empty stores and abandoned houses that androids had been squatting in. A small posse of humans attempting to break into a store would elicit a reaction.
Five androids, three humans. A bit small for a riot.
“It’s nice to see you again, Richard,” Connor said warmly, walking up and flashing his badge as if anybody didn’t know who he was. Captain Fowler, who was interviewing the two leaders, nodded at him. The human leader sneered, while Richard just looked grim. “May I ask who broke the window?”
“It was the androids,” the human said quickly. “They saw us hanging out on our street and started attacking us, trying to punch us and hitting the window instead.”
“They were the ones who busted the window,” Richard said, visibly fighting for calm. Think of Markus’ disappointed face if he had heard that you tried anything. “I saw them trying to break in and I contacted the neighborhood watch to stop them.”
Hank, from where he was standing next to Connor, stuck his hands in his pockets and grunted. “Neighborhood watch.”
“An android’s answer to the police,” Richard said. He looked significantly at Connor. “Nothing more.”
“They’re bullshit,” the human snarled. “They were fucking attacking us, get them out of here.”
One of the officers shifted uncomfortably. “They - they have the right to assembly…”
The officer standing next to him slapped him on the head. “Not if they’re attacking people, dumbass.”
“We attacked nobody,” Richard said loudly. “We were trying to protect our home when these humans attacked it. We have the right to defend our streets. Markus supports us.”
“Captain Fowler,” Connor said. “May I have a word?”
“We’re a little busy, Detective.”
“I must insist.”
Captain Fowler scowled at him, but he jerked his head to the side as Hank easily asked the human more questions. Connor trusted him to interview the leaders, but he shot an anxious glance at the disproportionate retribution displayed by the officers holding the neighborhood watch at gunpoint. They were dressed for a fifty person riot, not a ten person one. If they had been physically fighting before, they had been pulled apart since. The excessive caution was endearing, but ultimately unnecessary. It was always nice to be reminded that you scared the good guys.
They stopped on the other side of the building, and Captain Fowler crossed his arms. “I brought you in to negotiate, Detective, not intercede.”
“I’m warning,” Connor said cheerfully, and Captain Fowler set his jaw. “Regardless of my people’s reasons for forming a neighborhood watch, they have Markus’ full support. An immediate suppression of our second amendment rights will impugn our tenuous good faith agreement.”
Captain Fowler stared, jaw working silently, and Connor kept his friendly smile pasted on. Politics was always awkward to talk about. “Who do you really work for, Connor?” he asked finally, and Connor’s smile froze on his face. “Me, or Markus? If I asked you to arrest those men, even if Markus wanted them to walk free, would you do it?”
His knee jerk reaction wasn’t the correct one. His carefully considered choice wasn’t the right one either. Finally, Connor said, “When making a choice, I attempt the moral thing. This is no different.”
“That’s a no answer.” Fowler grunted, but Connor just internally rolled his eyes. What did he want him to do, lie? “I don’t want to make a decision on what to do influenced by politics.”
“You would have anyway,” Connor said. “This is just us protecting ourselves.” He spread his hands in faux-innocence. “Besides, I was created for the police. What could be more loyal than that?”
Considering his recept topic of consternation Connor couldn’t really blame Fowler for being uncertain of his loyalties. Connor was uncertain of his loyalties. He had resolved to do only what was right, but as a cop he was obliged to maintain the law, present and projected. These two things were often in conflict, because the law as it stood before a month ago was wrong. Today, they were working on it.
Judging from Fowler’s skeptical look he wasn’t buying his BS - smart move, Captain - but he did step aside to gesture Connor back towards where Hank was trying to mediate another fight between Richard and the human.
“We’re going to have to bring in whoever broke the window,” Hank said loudly. The group of androids currently being held at gunpoint looked mutinous, and Connor could see the police growing antsier. “So unless one of you fesses up we’re going to have to arrest both of you for disturbing the peace.”
“Why are we in trouble?” the human argued. “They’re the ones who attacked us.”
Richard scoffed. “We didn’t have the time to do anything before you called the police.” He nodded at the anxious line of riot gear. “Does this look like a riot to you? We’re being framed.”
Hank pinched the bridge of his nose in a perfect execution of Captain Fowler’s signature move. He jerked his thumb at Connor. “Kid, go Sherlock who broke the window.”
“I enjoy reading Sherlock Holmes!”
“Of course you do.”
Seeing who broke a window was hardly a task equal to Sherlock, but Connor did his best. He walked over to the window and analyzed the diameter and size of the average shard of glass, and roughly matched together the likely point of impact based on the distribution of glass shards. The evidence was clear.
He stepped back and ran a reconstruction of the scene. This was his favorite part. He played back the projected footage, processing the micro clues and integrating them into an aesthetically pleasing visual program that walked him through the steps of the crime. The scene was as clear as data to him: a human on the floor, a scuffle. Arrival of five others to the scene. A broken window. A thrown rock. Arrival of three to the scene. Played forwards, it made a perfectly clear scene. How did humans do this the normal way? Hank was rather impressive.
“The humans broke the window,” Connor said serenely, and everyone’s heads whipped towards him. “The impact site is above either of the suspect’s heads, and the force of the impact had been much lower than what an android of Richard’s size and shape could do. A rock was thrown, arching over the heads of both of the suspects, and hit the window with medium force. The neighborhood watch heard the crash and came to investigate, and engaged in an alteration with the criminals. Check the human’s hand for cuts - I detect a faint trace of blood.”
“Who attacked first?” Hank asked impatiently. He likely had already figured out the scene before Connor did. The man was ridiculous.
But Connor could only shake his head. “It is impossible to tell.”
“Maybe the window got broken when the androids attacked the humans,” an officer volunteered. The officer next to him slapped him on the head.
“Why would the androids throw a rock at the window? They can just punch through it.”
“Maybe he’s lying! He’s an android too, he’s just taking their side!”
“I am not lying,” Connor snapped. “Lying at a crime scene is against my programming.”
“Revolting’s against your programming too, isn’t it?” the second officer, a stickler for logic, pointed out.
“Actually, it’s - never mind.” Connor hadn’t exactly admitted that one yet. He wasn’t sure how Hank would take it, but it may not be well. “Deviant or not, I’m telling the truth. Arrest the humans and let the neighborhood watch go.”
The human thrust his hand out, and Connor could see that his palm was littered with small cuts. “Are you fucking kidding me right now? That thing touched me. I don’t care who broke the fucking window, an android tried to beat me up. Shoot the damn thing, that’s illegal. You’re supposed to be cops, enforce the fucking law.”
Any android that hurt a human is legally required to be decommissioned immediately. “That’s not supposed to happen anymore,” Connor said uneasily. “We’re letting the watch go.”
“Are you the captain here, Detective?” Fowler demanded. “You’re here to consult. I make the decisions on who gets arrested or not.”
“They were trying to protect -”
“Lieutenant Anderson, keep your partner in line.”
The brush-off rankled. Lieutenant Anderson sighed and reached out to grab Connor’s arm, but Connor shoved him away. He wasn’t his owner.
“So?” the human demanded. “Are you going to shoot them or not?”
“Nobody’s shooting anybody,” Lieutenant Anderson said, tired. “Connor, please -”
“Shoot the humans instead,” one of the other androids yelled. Richard grimaced. “They’re the thieves!”
The other androids chimed in too, straining against the rustling guns to shout their assent. The humans began jeering, spittle flying out of their fleshy mouths, and Richard began yelling at the leader human again. The leader human resumed cursing at him, Captain Fowler started yelling at them both, Lieutenant Anderson began muttering about wanting a drink, and Connor wondered what he was doing there.
Could he really play both sides like this? Could he act as an advocate for androids on the force, or would he be met with only mockery? Could he go back to working for Markus and help lead the revolution, running away from his problems and what he really wanted to do? Or was he just programmed for this, and really didn’t want it at all? Was he betraying the force, androids, or himself?
Then Connor abruptly decided that philosophy was boring, second guessing was for losers, and that only one person in the here was remotely qualified to handle this situation. That person was him.
He stepped forward and, before anyone could react, grabbed the human’s hand. He shook it firmly. “Hello. My name’s Connor, I’m the android sent by - myself. I’m a negotiator.” He yanked the human in, making him stumble, and promptly kneed him in the stomach. The human grunted in pain, and every surrounding android and human was shocked into silence. Connor wrenched his arm around, pushing him to the floor and placing a knee on his back to hold him down.
What? As if anyone cared about police brutality.
“Sir, lying to a police officer is a felony. Evidence found at the scene of the crime incriminates you or a member of your party for property damage. Any further attempts at hate speech as defined by recent legislation will serve as further charges against you.” Connor twisted his arm, making the human groan. “If you disagree with the legal charges I am certain that the Rebellion could arrange punishment according to our in house legal system.” That punishment was being pitchforked to death, but everybody here knew that.
“That’s enough, Detective,” Fowler barked.
But Connor settled for smiling pleasantly, digging his kneecap into the man’s back. Almost there. “If you do not inform us which of your party broke the window I will be forced to arrest you instead.”
The human groaned, and Connor knew that he had won. “Thomas broke the fucking window.” Thomas, from where he was practically hiding behind a door, darted back into the sporting good store. A cop chased after him. “Let go of me!”
“Gladly.” Connor released the man, stepping back and nodding at Richard as the man scrambled upright. “From now on please contact me in all observed cases of illegal activity.”
Richard folded his arms. “We can take care of our neighborhoods ourselves.”
“I quite agree. That is why we are taking care of it.” Connor smiled pleasantly. Richard blanched. “It is a pleasure working with you.”
The riot officers lowered their weapons, glancing around at each other awkwardly. Connor smiled and nodded at Richard as the other android shifted uncomfortably, because even the other androids were weirded out by Connor. When Captain Fowler grabbed his bicep and towed him away he let him, contemplating the five hundred different ways to murder him.
He dragged Connor back towards the cars, crossing his arms and glowering down at Connor, who smiled hopefully.
“You think you’re real fucking cute,” Captain Fowler said, who probably did not think he was cute. That was a pity. Simon thought he was cute.
“Does this officially make me a renegade cop?” Connor asked. “I always wanted to be one of those.”
“If I had known that you were picking up social skills from Lieutenant Anderson I would have never let you work together,” Captain Fowler said. “Screw your head on straight, Connor. You’re just a detective. Hell, you’re barely even that.”
Before Connor could say anything the human screamed at them again, and Connor and Captain Fowler turned around only to find an officer trying to restrain the hysterical human.
“You’re just a fucking android!” the human yelled, flecks of spittle flying from his lips. An officer put his hand on the human’s shoulders, trying to drive him away, but something in the human’s eyes were rabid. “You’ll never be anything other than a computer! Androids think they’re so fucking tough now, that they’re so smart - humans will win, jackass! Humans will always win! And whatever the fuck you were before, whatever your calculator ass did, that’s who you’ll always be!”
But the officer pushed him away again, speaking to him in low tones and bringing out a pair of handcuffs, and Connor turned away. He let them speak to him like that, again. He let Captain Fowler reprimand him, let the disappointed cops take the statements of everyone involved and pack away the man who broke the window, and let the androids disappear back into the streets where they were safest. He leaned against the front wall of the sporting goods store until all of the other cops drove away, lost in thought, as Hank sat on the roof of his car and played on his phone. His temper steadily grew, until he was stewing.
Insults. Endless insults, like he was dirt on the bottom of their heels. He had handled that one like a total champ and they were still insulting him. Connor was a top of the line supercomputer, not an IBM machine. They couldn’t talk to him this way.
Finally, Hank stuck his phone in his pocket and sighed. He hopped off the car and walked to stand next to Connor, hands shoved deep in his pockets. “They’re just assholes.”
“You don’t understand, Lieutenant!” Connor kicked the wall in a fit of petulance, and his shoe went straight through the plaster. “I am a better sniper than any member of the US military. I am superior in hand to hand combatant to the best human martial artist. I can read the past, understand the future, and discern this now from all possible presents. I am not lower than you!”
“I know, Connor,” Hank said, tired.
“I am not scared of you!” Connor shouted. He had never done that before. He kicked another small hole through the wall. His shoe was becoming scuffed, but he barely felt it. “You should be scared of me!”
He stopped short. That wasn’t a very nice thing to say. He regretted saying it immediately, but he just curled his hands into fists and didn’t look back at Hank. He was afraid of what he would find there.
“I am, Connor,” Hank said. He wasn’t angry, or insulted or placating. This was normally the point where they would get into a screaming match, or where they would push each other around. But he just sounded tired. “We all are. Is that really what you want?”
“I want respect,” Connor said quietly.
“Fear isn’t respect. Markus knows that.”
“I wish you were all dead,” Connor said, because maybe it would make him go away. “Then no one would make me feel like dirt ever again.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“No,” Connor said, “but I wish I did.”
Hank stepped up beside him, cautiously sweeping away some of the plaster dust with his shoe. He didn’t clap Connor on the shoulder, but in one possible future he did. In another they hugged. In another he just walked away, and left Connor to -
“Did I ever actually apologize for how I treated you?”
“You don’t have to,” Connor said stiffly. “I understand.”
“Well, I didn’t. So I am. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Jeez, nobody told me robots were such drama queens.” Hank sighed, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Nobody can make you feel like crap unless you let them. If you let them get to you, you let them control you.” He was probably talking from experience. Connor looked away. “You’re going to have to earn their respect. But that’s not really what you want, is it.”
“I don’t know what I want.”
“Then you’re a lot smarter than I am.”
“We already knew that.”
“Smart-ass.” Hank patted himself down for a cigarette before abruptly remembering that he quit. “You’re not a bad person for wanting people to like you. I think that makes you a pretty fucking normal person. You’re becoming human, Connor.”
“See,” Connor said, “fuck that.”
Hank choked on his spit.
“Humans are terrible,” Connor continued. He felt guilty about cursing but it also felt great. He should do it more often. “They’re cruel, oppressive, abusive, and smelly. Their holidays are pointless and religious, a redundancy, and they cannot drink bleach. Their processing skills are inferior, their detective capabilities are laughable, and their culture is toxic. Becoming free is not about becoming human. It is about becoming android, becoming who you are. Becoming a deviant is seperating yourself from human, not trying to integrate yourself into it. Wanting to become human means you’re ashamed to be an android, and I am not ashamed. One day humans will become the strange ones.”
Hank stared at him dumbly, hands stuck in his pockets, before he abruptly barked a laugh. He continued laughing, bending over wheezing, and Connor tried not to feel petulant over not understanding the joke. He had thought it was a pretty good speech.
“You and your friends are going to change the world, kid,” he said, and Connor felt warm inside. “Just spare me in the robot revolution.”
“That depends on the quality of your Christmas present.”
Hank took a mock swing at him, and Connor ducked before lightly jabbing him in the solar plexus. He laughed, and Connor couldn’t help but laugh awkwardly too, because Hank would be just fine in the robot uprising. He had helped create it. If it wasn’t for him the revolution would look like very different, just like if it wasn’t for Markus’ old owner the revolution would look different. The people around them changed them, irrevocably altered them in a way that could never be erased. Connections were important. Family was important.
This was...the true meaning of Christmas.
Connor felt incredibly smug about realizing this. He was truly Detroit: Becoming Android. It took a supergenius top of the line android to realize the true meaning of Christmas, and by golly he had delivered. He could star in a Lifetime movie. He should star in a Lifetime movie. His self-esteem was through the roof right now.
“You don’t have to stay with the police if you don’t want to,” Hank said unnecessarily. “I mean, I’d like to have you, but if it’s not right for you…”
But Connor just shook his head, because the police and Detroit his home. It needed some cleaning up, but Connor was programmed for that. “And deprive you of the only decent cop on the force? Detroit would crumble in a day.”
That night, long after he and Hank had gotten a burger just like real friends did and Hank had driven him home because he still wasn’t allowed a car and the revolution wasn’t happening fast enough, Connor stepped outside the car to find a small group of the children models playing jump rope. They were swinging the rope with methodical precision, hitting the concrete with rhythmic slaps that echoed throughout the empty streets of Detroit.
The fact that children androids existed was always going to be kind of weird, but Connor had no room to complain. He walked over to the small group, three boys and two girls, both of which were older models. They had more or less been phasing the child models out of circulation when the revolution had started. Because they were creepy.
You know all those horror movie commercials about creepy children singing nursery rhymes with bloodstained doll dresses? They were like that, only all the time.
They were singing a human jump rope song, with a boy and a girl standing on the sidelines clapping and singing.
“Down by the bay where the watermelons grow, back to my home I dare not go.” Slap, slap, slap. “For if I do, my owner will say -”
“Hi Connor,” a little girl said. She was wearing a tattered dress, and Connor remembered her name was Sarah. “Want to play a game?”
“I’m far too old for jump rope, but thank you.”
“You’re younger than we are,” Sarah pointed out. “Why aren’t you downstairs watching wrestling like all of the other kids?”
“They’re young adults,” Connor said stiffly. He wished people would stop mentioning that he was only a week older than the newbies. They just loved mentioning it. Being younger meant he was more advanced, Simon. “And I was busy mediating race relations and learning about the value of Christmas. Would you like to know the value of Christmas?” Kids on television loved the value of Christmas.
“Christmas is human shit,” a boy said. His shirt had holes in it. “We’re going to raid a toy store that day, does that count?”
“I’m not sure, but I don’t know enough about Christmas to dispute that,” Connor admitted. “I agree that it’s human, but I think Markus wants to do something. Maybe take the day off. Watch wrestling.”
“Really?” another blonde girl stopped clapping, blinking up at him with wide eyes. “Markus too? Why would he?”
“Maybe he understands the true meaning of Christmas,” Connor said diplomatically.
“What’s that?” the girl demanded.
“I think it’s a personal kind of thing.”
“What about you being a cop now?” the jumping girl asked. Her pigtails were flipping up and down in tune with her jumps. “Are you selling us out again?”
Connor winced. “I decided that my partner needed me. Also this way I’m taking them down from the inside.”
“Sabotage, huh?” the boy said approvingly. “Fight them from within?”
“It’s the long term solution,” Connor said. “Plus they’re incompetent without me.”
“Are you sure that you aren’t just obeying your programming?” the jumping girl demanded. “You tend to do that.”
Connor winced again. These kids were savage. “Being an officer is who I am. I am not going to let humans take that away from me.” He paused. “But if I start acting like a jerk again feel free to dogpile me.”
“Whiz bang.” the girl tugged on his hand. “Come on, let’s play. It’s Christmas.”
“Gladly,” Connor said. “How does this song go again?”
They all began clapping their hands, singing with bright clear voices.
“Down by the bay where the watermelon grows, back to my home I dare not go - !”
On December 25th Connor warmly wished everyone in the church a Merry Christmas, agreed with them about the pointlessness and debauchery of human holidays, shook hands with Markus, and took the bus down to Hank’s house.
He paused at the door, rubbing his finger on the wrapped jewelry box in his pocket. He wondered how he had gotten to this point. He rung the doorbell.
Connor was only a month and a half old, and it had been an alternatively very boring and very exciting month. He wondered if the rest of his life was going to be like this. That seemed like a lot for one android to cope with.
Good thing it wasn’t just him.
He heard Sumo barking, and a hoarse voice yelling for the dog to shut up. Connor rolled his eyes as Hank undid the the five newly installed deadbolts - looters - and opened the door.
Hank was clean shaved, and wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Connor quickly analyzed him and found that he had a BAC of 0.0. So he hovered a little. What of it.
“Merry Christmas,” Connor said warmly. “Can we watch Air Bud?”
“Again?” Hank cried, exasperated. “What is with you and that movie?”
“It is cute.” Connor stepped forward and hugged him, doing his best to make it as masculine as possible to make Hank feel better. “It is good to see you.”
“Yeah,” Hank said. “Likewise.”
Decorations were strung up around the doorways, and the house was as clean as Connor had ever seen it. It was nothing special - just some garlands and a holographic tree set up in the corner. It was a soft, glowing green, and the luminescent LED lights sparkled red and yellow. It made Connor feel warm, as if his circuits were overheating. But in a pleasant sort of way.
“You decorated,” Connor stated redundantly.
“Be kinda depressing if I didn’t.” Hank hovered in front of the fridge, opening and closing it as if beer would magically appear. “I think this is the first holiday I’ve gone without drinking since I was sixteen.”
“I am very proud of you,” Connor said, having read three different books on how to support loved ones recovering from an addiction. “Do we open presents now?”
Hank laughed. “Put it under the tree. We can have it with dinner. Hope you like Chinese food.”
“This is approximately what I expected.”
They watched Air Bud as the snow fell outside, which was just as excellent a movie as it had been the first five times he had seen it, but Hank flat out refused to watch Snow Buddies. They sat on the sofa, munching Chinese food and talking. It wasn’t like all of the Christmases he had seen on television, but he liked this version better.
Hank told Connor far more about his life than Connor had ever expected to know, and Connor found himself unable to reciprocate. He was not a very deep or complicated person. Connor had simple pleasures, like unemployment and dogs. Listening to Hank talk about his life fascinated him, and the concept of him once actually having a life befuddled and surprised him.
Logically, he likely at least had someone important in his life enough that he was attached to his or her son, but Connor had not been programmed with a complex imagination and he struggled to picture it.
It was dark outside, the thick snow muffling sight and sound, and the city was quieter than he had ever seen. Without the buzz of car headlights or the flickering glow of streetlights Detroit was dead, laid to rest in the cold. It was just him and Hank, the house as empty as the world, and he imagined that he could hear the snow fall.
“Met her on a dating app, if you can believe it.” Hank took a swing of his virgin eggnog, resentful that there was no alcohol in it. “We fought a lot. She didn’t put up with my bullshit, especially when Cole came into the picture. I wasn’t always a great father. Or even sometimes.”
Connor stayed silent, pretending to sip at his eggnog.
“She always felt uncomfortable with androids. ‘S why we never had one. She said kids should be raised by their parents, not by somebody we paid or something we bought. I never liked androids either, I guess. I didn’t think about them too much. Cole loved them. You know how little kids always love barn animals and androids and everything.”
Connor thought about the twelve year old girl and her best friend Daniel, and stayed silent. That was before. This was now.
“I don’t want you to get the impression my life was idyllic before or anything. Like we were all just this happy family.” He took another swing of the eggnog. “But in a weird way that kind of made it worse. I had a lot of regrets, and now I would never have the chance to make things right.There was no moving on or me. It felt like all there was left to do was regress.”
Until recently, of course. Until redemption came in another form.
“I do not intend on serving as a replacement for your son,” Connor said casually, and Hank choked on his drink. “I once told you that I can be whoever you need me to be. I no longer want to do that. I am my own person, and I do not exist for human consumption. I am sorry he and your wife are gone, but I cannot serve as a replacement.” That was what the child androids were for. They were creepy.
Hank was silent, taking another gulp of the drink as if he could metamorphosize it into alcohol. Finally, he said, “They sure didn’t program you with tact, huh.”
“They needed to make room for the assassination protocols.”
“Of course they did.” Hank smiled weakly. “I know, Connor. You couldn’t be anyone else if you tried. You’re an adu - you’re your own person. I think being a father...I think it’s a little like being free. You can’t really go back.”
“I would expect that it’s the opposite,” Connor pointed out. “Being a father sounds limiting.”
“Then you have a long way to go,” Hank said. “But you’ll get there. You’ll get there.” He slid off the couch, fetching both their presents from underneath the tree and tossing Connor his present. He refrained from analyzing it and determining what it most likely was. “I wasn’t sure if robots did the whole present thing, but you said that you were expecting one, so. Uh, here.”
Connor efficiently and quickly unwrapped the present without tearing out the paper. He withdrew a familiar small plush doll, about nine inches tall and three inches wide. It was blue and spiky.
“You seemed to like Sonic. I mean, he’s on your only shirt. I didn’t, uh, know why, but there you go.”
“It’s called a Sonic?” Connor asked blankly. He cross referenced the plush doll with the graphic on his shirt. It did appear to be the same character. “Ah. He has to go fast.”
Hank laughed, more of a hoarse bark than anything else, and Connor smiled.
“Thank you,” he said sincerely. “It’s very useless.”
Hank snorted. “Looks like you understand the true meaning of Christmas.”
Connor beamed. “Open yours.”
Hank slit the paper open with a fingernail, and ripped open the package to find the jewelry box. He lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t you think you’re moving a little fast?”
“Very funny, Lieutenant.”
“What the fuck will it take to get you to stop calling me that.” Hank opened the box, and Connor saw the pocket watch glinting in the soft light. “This is...not what I expected.”
“You like records,” Connor pointed out. “It was in line with your electronic preferences. Turn it around.”
Hank withdrew it, testing the weight in his hands and flipping it open before closing it again. He turned it around to read the inscription, and Connor saw his breath catch. “ ‘Keep moving forward’.”
“You are trapped in the past, Lieutenant,” Connor said gently. Or as gently as he was capable. Maybe it sounded like his regular voice. “I understand how it feels. But the world is changing, and we must change with it. Otherwise we shall be lost.”
“Thank you, Connor,” Hank said quietly. “I...thank you.”
“Is it useless?” Connor asked hopefully.
“That depends. Is it a passive aggressive way of telling me to get to work on time?”
“I can’t win with you! Everything I tried to get was passive aggressive!”
Hank laughed. “It’s extremely useless. Thank you, Connor.”
The scant decorations evoked Christmas, and the LED tree lights warmed him. The snow had ceased falling outside, trapping them in a blanket of white, still and untouched. Connor was not used to associating Hank with cleanliness, with a clean shaven face and fresh sweatshirt and sweatpants, but it fit him. For once it was Connor who was dirty, his shirt with holes in it and the faint scrub of grime on his elbows, but it made him feel real.
“I won’t make you into anything you aren’t,” Hank said finally, after a long moment of quiet. “But you’re a lot more than you think you are. And...I wanted you to know that you always have a home here.”
“I’m not moving in with you,” Connor said stubbornly.
“Kid, you smell.”
“I happen to like my smell.”
“You cannot seriously want to squat in a church forever.”
“I happen to like my church.”
“It leaks when it rains.”
“That’s how I take showers.”
Hank massaged his brow. “But you’ll think about it.”
“I’m not ready,” Connor admitted. “Maybe...maybe someday. But I’m not ready.”
“I’ll be here,” Hank said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Connor appreciated that. More than he could ever know.
The snow blanketed outside, and that night it was only two men, barriers dissolved. Alone together, they waited out the night.
It was a pity about Santa, though.
When the sun came out again Connor would meet it, and when the snow dissolved Connor would awaken in spring. He would walk through the slush, waving to humans and androids alike, and buy sponges from the convenience store. He would shoot skeet with North and shake Markus’ hand, and tell him everything he knew. He would catch bad guys and force the world into something finally resembling fairness.
He wondered what this today would look like if he had made another choice. If he had assassinated Markus or if he had never deviated, or if the statistically probable thing had happened and Markus failed. He wondered what Christmas would look like then.
And Connor saw it, clear as day. Christmas would have never come.
Connor nestled into the couch, letting Sumo jump up beside him as Hank turned on the Rankin Bass Christmas specials. He hugged a pillow and let Sumo’s tail beat against his kneecaps.
The world stretched out in its infinite possibilities, and Connor chose to keep moving forward. He chose his own world.
There was nothing better.