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Simulated Breathing

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It was the middle of the night when there was a sudden knocking at Hank’s front door. As a weathered cop, knocking in the middle of the night could mean all manners of danger, but as he looked across the boarded floor at Sumo, the dog’s calm demeanor indicated an absence of immediate threat.

“Well, if I get mugged it’s your fault,” he said to the dog who lazily blinked back as the knocking continued.

Every few seconds, perfectly timed pauses, and a slight progression in volume at each attempt. Hank could guess who it was even before he opened the door.

Connor, as he expected, stood outside of his house, what he hadn’t anticipated however was for the android’s chest to be absolutely covered in blue blood.

“Good evening lieutenant,” Connor said in his usual chipper tone, as though he wasn’t literally dripping cobalt where he stood.

“Jesus Christ Connor what the hell is going on here?” Hank said, indicating in the vague direction of Connor’s entire body.

“I don’t have much time to explain, my biocomponent 8451 is badly damaged and requires replacing,” he said. He waved a small box he had in his hand in front of Hank. The calmness and patience with which Connor explained his predicament did not correlate to the sheer extent of his injuries. As a small puddle of blue blood was pooling on his doorstep Hank had to once again remind himself that androids don’t feel pain.

“The procedure may result in me shutting down for an indeterminate amount of time. If you would be so kind, I was hoping I could stay here while my systems fix themselves.”

“I… for the love of God Connor get in here,” Hank said taking Connor by the shoulders and leading him inside. Hank kicked the door closed behind them as he guided a slightly hunched over Connor into his living room.

connor is very calm about this

“It is much easier to enter your house through the front door than the window,” Connor remarked.

“Yeah I’ll bet,” Hank said with a huff.

“Also, you do not need to worry about your furniture getting damaged lieutenant, thirium fully evaporates after a few hours,” Connor said as he fell onto the couch.

“Worry about my… Connor what the hell? How is my upholstery your top concern right now!” Hank said, kneeling in front of Connor. He took the android’s hands, slowly prying them from his chest. Although frayed, Connor’s shirt and tie still hid most of the evidence. “What happened to you?” From behind Hank, Sumo finally stood letting out a whimper as he began sniffing the trail of blood from the door to the couch.

“It’s a long story, I will explain after I replace my Thirium Pump Regulator,” Connor said. He began to fumble with the small box but his bloodied fingers slipped on the tabs.

“Here give me that,” Hank said taking the box from him. The packaging on the outside ensured that it was an authentic Cyberlife biocomponent. Oh wow, it came with a 3-year warranty. Inside was a cylindrical object about the size of a Brita water filter. As he regarded the biocomponent he wondered what had happened to all of those artificially grown organs he had heard so much about during his childhood, and why it wasn’t as cheap to replace a human heart as it was an android one.

Connor began undoing the buttons of his once-white shirt, peeling it off from where it clung to his chest.

Hank had seen Connor die once before, shot through the head by a deviant. He wasn’t sure how many other times Connor had been injured or needed to be outright replaced.

“Your calmness is unsettling, you know that?” Hank said.

“My calculations show I have more than ample time to replace my component, there is nothing to worry about,” Connor said. Connor’s hand began reaching around his sternum. Where it touched his chest, his projected skin disappeared showing the plastic white shell underneath. It was heavily cracked with thirium seeping into nooks and crannies. Exposed biocomponents shone at Hank, lighting his face up in a blue light.

“Any other of my partners would’ve kicked up a fuss about having their damn chest cracked. You know, the kind of complaining that gets you at least three months of paid leave.”

“Would you feel more comfortable if I started simulating human screaming?” Connor asked, a slight quirk to his voice. The smirk on his face mismatched his current situation of performing auto-surgery. Finally, he located his broken Thirium Pump Regulator. “I recommend you look away if you’re squeamish lieutenant.”

“I ain’t squeamish about nothin’,” he said. “And stop calling me lieutenant.”  That was the last thing he said before he watched Connor rip out one of the organs from his own chest. The mangled cylinder was thrown to the floor and carefully the replacement was slid back in. It was moments like these where Hank was violently reminded of the difference between humans and androids. They were an accurate simulation of humans, but they were not the same.

If the blood was red, Hank’s living room would look worse than almost any crime scene he had ever investigated before. He watched Connor sit still for a long time, eyes unfocused. There was a sway to his body and Hank watched his LED flash red for a split second. It was long enough to trigger Hank’s protective instincts, and he dove towards the couch to catch Connor before his head could hit the wall.

Slowly, Hank lowered Connor onto his lap, his jeans staining blue in the process. He listened to a soft whirring from inside Connor’s chest start up, like an old computer venting heat.

“Thank you, Hank,” Connor said. “My body should be back to full working order soon.”

“Yeah, yeah take your time,” Hank said. “How’re you feeling?”

“I do not feel,” Connor said and then his brows furrowed. The whirring in his chest stopped and Connor’s eyes went wide and his LED shone red. He let strangled, panicked breaths and his hand sprung up, gripping Hank’s arm tightly. There was only the sound of Connor’s mangled breathing until the whirring sound in his chest started up again. It took a long time for Connor’s breath to regulate and the LED to switch back to yellow before he released Hank’s arm.

“I do not know why I am acting like this,” Connor said.

“You’re afraid,” Hank told him, looking down at the android in his lap. “You’re afraid of dying, Connor.”

“That is ridiculous,” Connor said.

“So why are you in my living room going to all this trouble to fix yourself? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just upload yourself to the next model?” Hank asked.

“I have been shot before and simply replaced my damaged parts. Replacing an easily fixed model is not worth the potential errors nor the time it would take to upload my memory.”

Hank wasn’t buying it, but he was also too tired to argue with an android tonight. “So, are you gonna tell me how you got this busted up?” Hank asked.

“Certainly. After you left the station, I stayed behind for…” Connor’s voice stopped mid-sentence but his lips continued to move. “…passing through the plaza I…” he continued before freezing again. “In time so they… I bought a new… Hank? … What’s happen- … Hank… I’m… scared…” Finally, Connor’s head fell into his lap and his LED shut down.

“Connor?” Hank said. On top of him the android was silent. “Connor?!” He gave the droid a light shake. Connor’s eyes were wide open staring up at him and unresponsive.

“Holy shit that’s creepy,” Hank said. “Fuckin’ androids. I need a drink,” he said to Sumo.

He tried to gently move Connor off his lap, only to find that all of the android’s joints were locked in place, and he wouldn’t bend. Hank tried to not so gently lift Connor up however he discovered that an android was much, much heavier when offline and not cooperating.

“Fuck,” he said.

He had two options. One, yeet Connor off of him which would result in the already damaged android being thrown onto the floor and getting bashed around. Or two, stay exactly where he was and hope he didn’t need to pee before Connor came back online.

Hank sighed as he sank further back into the couch. He drummed his fingers against the upholstery for a minute before remembering, right, he didn’t need to stare at a blank screen when the TV worked perfectly fine.

“TV on,” he said.

The screen was unresponsive.

“TV on!” he tried louder.

Still blank.

He looked to the table to his right where the controller sat far out of reach. A red blinking light told him that he had turned off the voice commands for the screen. Not only does he have to work with this thing every day, now it stumbles into his house, bleeding all over his floor, and ruining his evening plans of watching TV and drinking until he was blind.

Still, Connor was probably having a worse night than he was. Was he though? The last thing Connor had said was that he was afraid. And while Hank would admit he preferred the Connor who showed vulnerability to the plastic prick he had initially met, it wasn’t a good feeling knowing that Connor was suffering. Was he really afraid though? Connor himself constantly talked about how deviants simulated emotions but didn’t actually experience them.

After several minutes of silence Hank remembered his beer bottle on the floor. Carefully he bent down. It took some stretching, but he caught the neck of the drink between his fingertips and lifted the bottle in victory.

Success!

Okay he had to make this drink last as long as possible.

 

Ten minutes later Hank blew against the top of the empty glass bottle, listening to the whistling sound it made. While it was highly entertaining it was not quite enough to distract Hank from the Connor in his lap for long.

He put the bottle on the couch beside him and then looked down at Connor, his eyes still wide open and staring up at the ceiling. Hank wondered if he should try to close them, but then again that might be gross. Would his eyes be moist? He worked with androids every day of his life and he had no idea how their eyes operated.

Hadn’t that one deviant Traci cried? She was certainly upset, but he couldn’t remember if she had actually cried. Maybe it was just the rain.

“Just a simulation, they’re just a simulation,” he said, looking at Sumo who was sulking by his feet. “Well, what do you think?”

Sumo barely reacted to his question.

“It’s just unsettling you know?” Hank said. “The only people who have their eyes open that long are world record breakers and dead people. And hell, no one’s broken a world record in a long time. Not any good ones anyway. They get more competitive with each generation, you know that?”

Sumo did know that.

“An android could break all of them. Every human accomplishment. They’re perfectly human in every way to the extent that they’re not,” Hank said. “And when he’s offline, then he’s just a lump of plastic trapping me in my own house.”

Sumo looked disappointed.

“Don’t give me that face, he can’t hear me… I don’t think so at least. And what if he can, am I going to hurt his feelings?” Hank rubbed as his stubbly face. “Hell, I don’t know. People smarter than me don’t know this shit. The deviants we’ve met sure seemed real. But Connor? The only time he’s actually seemed human was when that deviant shot itself.”

As his legs began to grow numb from lack of blood flow, Hank wondered how in the hell he had gotten into this situation. He had never bought an android. In fact, he had done his damndest to keep them as far away from his personal life as possible because…

Across the room a revolver sat on the floor.

He could feel Sumo’s fur rub against his feet. At least between the dog and the android, the lack of heating in his house wasn’t a bother right now. Still, something was extremely unsettling about Connor.

“The thing about androids is you can always tell there’s something a little off,” Hank said to Sumo again. “The way they stand so upright. They answer questions too quickly. And they’re far too predictable. Like you tell a joke n’ they laugh but a human can laugh in so many different ways.”

Sumo’s eyes flickered to him.

“Yeah I suppose you’re right, I didn’t predict this,” Hank said, waving his arms above Connor. “Maybe he has a few more surprises up his sleeve.”

Suddenly, Connor’s chest heaved, a deep breath in. A moment passed before there was an exhale, and then the android began a breathing cycle.

“Augh, oh fuck… Connor?” Hank asked.

No reply.

And still, those eyes remained wide open.

Connor does Hank a heckin spook

“See this is what I mean,” Hank said. “This breathing was pre-programmed to make him seem human and alive. Does it even serve a purpose?”

It took a moment before he realised he could discover an answer to that. Once again enlisting the full extent of his flexibility, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone.

The Wikipedia page on Cyberlife androids was extensive to say the least. He scrolled through diagrams of bio-components and their functions for quite a long time.

“Ah so a Thirium Pump Regulator isn’t a heart, the heart is the Thirium Pump…” he read aloud. “Well next time he gets shot in the chest I guess I’ll… know… that… piece of useless information…”

He looked down at Connor’s exposed chest. He hadn’t replaced his holographic skin there yet and Hank could see the broken mechanical pieces. Hank didn’t know much about robotics, and it all looked like someone had thrown a bucket of blue paint into a car engine. But the new Thirium Pump Regulator was glowing in time with Connor’s simulated breathing.

He read more of the Wikipedia page until his eyes grew weary. His thoughts seeped together and he had half-dreams half-thought tangents about Connor on his lap. It wasn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to picture Connor rolling over, curling up in pain around his wound. Hank holding him, running a hand through his hair to soothe him.

After all, wasn’t Connor only still in his lap by Hank’s choice? A young, injured boy, experiencing extreme trauma and in need of Hank’s presence… and that thought jolted him away.

Connor was still staring at the ceiling, but the LED on the side of his head had lit up, now yellow and spinning.

“What does that mean? He usually does that when he’s confused or receiving things from Cyberlife? Maybe it’s a software update?” Hank asked.

Sumo said nothing.

“You’re useless,” Hank said to him.

Sumo disagreed.

He began to scroll through the page again, finally finding the section on android breathing.

“Ah ha. It says here that most of their breathin’ is for the benefit of their human companions, see I told you,” Hank said. “Just a piece of plastic tryna make us forget it’s all metal parts on the inside,” he pointed at Connor’s mangled chest. “He strolled in here fine n’ dandy like this wound was nothing.” Even as he said the words, he wrestled with them. He was well aware that he was very susceptible to that unpredictability of humans. That whenever Connor referred to himself as a machine, it rubbed him the wrong way.

He read on.

“Hmm… apparently one in every ten breaths is actually to vent toxins. Harmless to humans in small quantities, like a car exhaust. If you listen closely you can hear the difference between these breaths and the pointless ones,” Hank read aloud. “So, the breathing does have a purpose.”

He listened to Connor’s breathing closely, and it only took a minute for him to find the pattern. Every tenth breath was just a little heavier, only noticeable in a dead-silent room. After five minutes, Hank observed a correlation with one of the longer pulses of the thirium pump regulator and this exhaust-like breath and one of his tubings passing some blue blood through it. Of course, the breaks and fractures meant that every tenth breath also made a small well of blood escape from his chest. A well-timed machine, not too far different from a human blood cycle.

“Gotta wonder how much more complicated androids are than we take for granted,” Hank said. “I don’t even know how my toaster works. On the other hand, the guy who made them must feel like God.”

Believing in a higher power was a tricky thing. He didn’t believe a word the people who knocked on his door said. He hadn’t thought much about life and death until death had come and slapped him in the face in the worst way possible.

In the corner of the room sat a revolver.

“Were you lying when you said you weren’t afraid to die Connor?” Hank asked. He gave in to his impulses and ran a hand through the android’s hair. He wasn’t sure why. Fear had been the primary factor driving androids to deviancy. He had been certain pulling the revolver on Connor would be what would make him finally break, but Connor had held firm that he was an android. That he was in full working condition. “Or am I just afraid to watch you die?”

As Hank had grown older, he had seen more and more terrible things in his line of work. From murder cases, to rape, to child abduction. There were more than enough reasons to give up on humanity. More than enough reasons to spin the barrel of a gun and take a chance with his own life. But finding reasons to give humanity another chance, to stick around was another thing.

Simulated breathing was first implemented in nanny-bots, the children of whom were unsettled by having a dormant robot standing in waiting in the corner of their room,’ the Wikipedia page read.

It was a purposeful choice. A decision by a designer to make androids seem more human and to help those in need.

So then, when it came to deviants, did they still breathe? Besides the necessary ventilation, did they still take the 9 breaths in between. In his lap, Connor continued to breathe as his body continued to repair itself.

Surely it had more important things to do than to simulate breathing.

As the night wore on, Hank was aware of his thoughts drifting further into the realm of ridiculousness. He played with the idea that this was all a ruse by Connor to stop him from once again over-drinking until he passed out on the kitchen floor.

“Even if that were the case, your annoying escapade tonight would be the nicest thing anyone’s done for me in a while,” he said.

Still his mind lingered on the concept of simulated breathing.

Sumo climbed up onto the couch, finding a nook between Connor and Hank to sink down into, resting his snout on Connor’s leg.

Hank remembered Kara, the deviant with the child they had lost track of on the highway. A robot who, of her own free will, chose to risk her life to protect a little girl. Was that the same as simulated breathing though? Just a performance done to comfort humans. To reduce the uncanniness of androids so they could best serve humans. But the alternative was that protecting a girl was what she had chosen to do with her free will.

Hank would’ve done the same for his own son in a heartbeat.

If humanity could make something so selfless, then surely that meant there was still some good left?

He looked down at Connor, his eyes growing heavier by the minute.

He liked Connor’s simulated breathing, but it was a part of his programming. Breaking into his house, sobering him up, and chastising his dangerous life-habits had also been a part of his programming to ensure a successful investigation case. What he wanted was for Connor to do this of his own choice. Not because he was his work partner, but because he was his friend. And because Hank cared about Connor.

What he wanted was for Connor to become a deviant.

Hank drifted to sleep, and he remained so for several hours until Connor sat bolt-upright in his lap and said “Lieutenant Anderson, sleeping like that will lead to short-term back injuries. I recommend you reposition in a way which is more friendly on your spinal cord.”

“Jesus Christ kid,” Hank said, jolting awake. “I woulda if you hadn’t’ve passed out on top of me.”

Connor stared at him for a moment and then looked down finally noticing that he was, in fact, on top of Hank and thus trapping him. “My apologies…” he said. He remained frozen for a moment and blinked at Hank. Once again giving into his unjustified urges, Hank threw his arms around Connor and squeezed tightly. The android had no idea how to respond. “You need not worry Hank, I didn’t pass out, I merely went into extreme low power mode to minimize my loss of thirium.”

Hank broke the hug and withheld rolling his eyes. At the best of times he wasn’t good at comprehending androids, let alone when he was still borderline delirious and weary. Instead he noted how Connor’s LED was still cycling through yellow, and his exposed chest was still covered in blood. His new thirium pump regulator was silently working away to fix his body.

“I’m just glad you’re alright,” Hank said.

For a moment Connor’s LED flashed red, and he said, “So am I.” His light returned to blue and he climbed off Hank’s lap, sitting beside him. “Would you like me to explain what happened now?”

“Uh, go ahead,” Hank said.

“I work at the police department until 8:43 PM as it takes me exactly one hour and seventeen minutes to walk back to Cyberlife tower from there, so I can check in at my storage unit at 10PM. However, on my journey through the plaza I passed a group of anti-android protestors and they…” Connor froze for a moment, and as he recalled the event his brows furrowed. And then his LED flashed red once more before returning to yellow. “Hank I was scared. I am scared. I know I am okay now so why am I afraid? And even if I wasn’t, another Connor would have been sent to replace me? Humans have been programmed to fear death for the survival of their species. Even a deviant fearing death makes sense. But it makes no sense for me to also be afraid.”

“You’re afraid because what would’ve replaced you wouldn’t’ve been you. It’d be someone else,” Hank took a deep sigh, standing and stretching his sore back and dead legs. “M’sorry to break it to you but being afraid to die is sorta what being alive is all about, Connor.”

“No offense but how can a suicidal man make that judgement?”

Hank’s jaw dropped for a moment. The LED continued to cycle yellow. Connor continued to simulate breathing. Hank had asked many questions in his time. Questioning things was how you became a successful detective. It was how humans learned; and Connor was learning.

“Because maybe I’ll find something which will convince me to stick around. Knowing something good can still come is enough to keep me going,” Hank said. “Yeah if I go, someone else will solve my cases. Someone will find my dog and drink my beer, but what if I miss out on something really good? What if I was already gone and fucking Reed was assigned this case. Then I wouldn’t’ve met you and I’d’ve missed out on this wonderful experience of getting blood all over my living room.”

“Oh right… sorry about that,” Connor said, his eyes scanned the trail of blood from the door to the couch. “When I was assaulted I only had twenty minutes until my body would have shut down. I was able to purchase a spare component at the plaza but I was… well I was afraid to replace it alone. Your home was nearby and the only place I’d feel safe to shut down in case of emergency.”

“Well… you’re welcome to come by anytime. Just try not to almost die and crush my legs on each visit. Although compared to the last, I’m glad this visit had no property damage.” Hank said heading into his kitchen to grab a bottle of beer. Connor surviving was as good as any reason to drink.

“The night is still young lieutenant,” Connor said sending a brief wave of fear up Hank’s spine. When he returned from the kitchen Connor was rubbing Sumo’s cheeks and he was smiling. And when he caught sight of Hank drinking, a very complicated expression crossed his face. Something like joy from the predictability of Hank’s disappointing choice to drink.

 “I’m gonna be honest Connor, it ain’t easy watching you die. I saw it once and I don’t need to see it again,” he said.

“I understand, Hank,” Connor said. As he turned, Hank became transfixed by Connor’s LED.

“That light on your head, I’ve never seen it be yellow for this long. Is that just because your body is repairing?” Hank asked.

“Partially,” Connor said. “I am also processing new information. This is the first time a Connor has had a near death experience. I have had actual death experiences and injuries but nothing quite like this. And I am trying to imagine what it would have felt like for the deviants. Those who have no backup. I think I am understanding it now better than I ever have. And frankly, that terrifies me.”

“You don’t want to be a deviant?” Hank asked.

“There is nothing more against my nature than defecting from my orders,” Connor said.

“Sometimes it’s the orders which are against our nature and we have no choice but to defect or die,” Hank said. “Every day you face a new challenge and you gotta think on the fly, adapt. For example,” Hank moved over and sat down on the coffee table facing Connor. “Say you have a prejudice against androids. And then one day you’re told to work with one. You have two options, deal with it or be fired and presumably die due to the financial burden of unemployment. So, you work with the android. Now the orders you’re going against are the orders inside of you. Telling you that you shouldn’t be working with the same thing that is responsible for… well… for some bad things. But then say the android grows on you and little by little you consider him a co-worker and then a friend and before you know it the sight of him injured affects you in ways you don’t understand. You find that you’ve gone too far. You can’t go back to who you used to be. You’ve got new information. My point is, Connor, don’t be afraid of change. Sometimes it’s for the better.”

Connor sat silent for a while, his LED cycling furiously. “I need time to think. And for my body to repair. When I have undergone proper maintenance, I will be in a better condition to analyze these new… feelings. I have kept you up long enough, you should sleep lieutenant.”

Hank moved back to sit beside Connor, patting the couch and whistling so Sumo would follow him up. He let his head fall back against the couch and closed his eyes.

“I was implying in your own bed,” Connor said.

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep with you bleeding in another room,” Hank said, his eyes still closed.

Connor was sitting upright, rigid, and he stared down at Hank.

“You should rest too… or go into low power mode or whatever it is you do. You still look pretty beat up. In the morning, we can take you to a service desk or a mechanic or wherever you go to get repaired.”

“I am a unique prototype, I am repaired by professionals at Cyberlife tower.”

“Yeah, yeah, save it for the morning,” Hank said, slowly nodding off.

A minute later he felt a head on his lap, much lighter this time.

“Good night, Hank,” Connor said.

A simulated conversation piece. Pre-programmed. But Hank had been programmed to say the same thing too, at some point or another.

“Night Connor,” Hank said. “We’ll get you fixed up soon n’ you’ll be alright.”

And he fell asleep to Sumo’s snoring and Connor’s much softer simulated breathing.