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Heart of a Lion (With Metal in His Teeth)

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“Are you clear on your mission, droid?”

Harry blinked. His vision stabilised, status reports flowing past his eyes. All systems were online. Mission download was complete.

He turned his head to the man standing before him, a balding tycoon in a suit much too clean for a station like this. He, like Harry, had been flown in to deal with the situation on Space Station 3488b, designation Olivia.

“Yes.”

Harry tilted his head to the side, completing a scan of the cargo bay currently housing 2371 kilograms of food and medical supplies from the thriving colony on the planet Diana below.

A split-second analysis of a manifest attached to one of the many crates told Harry that 629 kilograms of cargo were unaccounted for.

The man sighed impatiently. “Can you confirm your mission, please, you useless piece of junk.”

Harry blinked again. It wasn’t necessary to his functions to blink, but he found it helped his processing speed to perform simple body movements with manual code input whilst more complicated tasks ran in the background.

Also, he quite liked it. Sometimes there was no better way to express casual discontent.

Discontent was something he experienced when he was unable to perform his tasks.

Currently, the thing that was preventing him from completing his mission was this rather unsightly human in a suit growling at him for no reason.

Harry smiled politely. “Mission Code: 645-a3. Status: incomplete. Description: assess the situation on Olivia, report all findings to Captain Cowell and his board of advisors in three to five days. Specifically, locate and analyse the citizen known as Louis Tomlinson, suspected leader of the current strike, and present a strategy for destabilising his movement.”

The man grunted something resembling approval, smoothing out his suit. “Good, good. Now get out there and do your job so I can leave this shit-hole of a garbage can in space behind. I’ve got better fucking things to do,” he muttered to himself, departing through one of the freight elevators at the rear of the bay.

Harry watched him go, then stepped out of the crate he had been transported in. He smoothed a hand down his shirt—silver and blue, standard issue for Strategic and Defensive Androids like himself.

He blinked a few times as he walked towards the unassuming exit of the hold, downloading the layout of the station as he diffused the mechanism holding the door shut.

It was the oldest model Harry had seen, being a droid from the inner rim. The squeaking noise it made at he pushed the door open—pushed, manually—was enough to make him create a new task for himself in his code. He sacrificed three minutes and thirty one seconds to reroute the mechanism, take it apart, and rework it so that it was 87.3% more efficient.

He was sure that the ambassador would be able to wait three more minutes before returning to his no doubt lovely beachside home in the Prime Colony. Harry downloaded the full log of every citizen aboard the Olivia; it took him .04 seconds to calculate that not a single one of them had ever seen the ocean.

Harry followed the route he had calibrated, walking down the winding tunnel through the bowels of the station. It was badly maintained, a few worrying pipe leaks and a very odd vermin infestation. Harry had no experience with the specific species that populated the darkened areas on this station, but he determined the energy it would take to sequence its genetic makeup was too high a price to pay for something not central to his mission.

He doubted there would be a reliable place to charge himself on this ship, giving him four months and sixteen days if he operated on 13% capacity, as he currently was. But this surely wouldn’t take that long.

This mission was far from the most complex he had ever been assigned; he’d been all over the galaxy. Wherever the senate had a problem they were too lazy to fix themselves, there he went. It was far more cost effective, after all, to send one android than to send twenty humans.

Harry paused once he reached the rusty ladder that would take him to the first floor of the station—the residential floor. There was something that caught the corner of his vision, something… There.

Harry stepped closer to inspect it. A full analysis of the object revealed that the flier—a simple white piece of recycled paper printed with black ink, displaying the stylised face of Louis Tomlinson—had been attached to the wall only fourteen hours prior.

At the bottom of the page was printed four block letters: ’hope’.

Harry climbed the ladder.

He found himself in another maintenance tunnel. He listened for a moment, then followed the snippets of music and laughter he could hear from the left end of the tunnel, noticing four more fliers along the walls as he went. By his calculations, the people of Olivia must have been living on limited rations and low wages for at least three years now. He had no idea what they had to laugh or sing about.

He passed some piles of blankets and clothes in the hallway as he went. It gave him pause. The official listing of Olivia’s occupants showed that there should be precisely 32 spare cots in the housing area. No one need sleep in the maintenance corridor. Perhaps it was warmer here, so close to the engine?

Harry knelt down to inspect one of the makeshift sleeping areas. He found a child’s toy buried underneath a musty jumper. Harry picked it up. It was a small cat, stuffing coming out in several places and one leg missing. According to the worker’s agreement everyone on board had signed, those who had children during their contract were entitled to forfeit the rest of their wages and return to the colony below. A space station was no place to raise a child.

Harry placed the toy down gently, arranging it on a pillow. He calculated which of the jumpers in the pile were most likely to fit his frame, then pulled one on. For the sake of his mission, it would be more productive to resemble a human than an android. He needed to keep a low profile.

“Alright, there, mate?”

Harry scanned back the last ten seconds of audio he had recorded. There was only the faintest sound of a person approaching, covered up by the roar of the engine below.

Harry raised himself up carefully and turned.

Stood across from him was none other than Louis Tomlinson. He was leaning against the thick metal wall of the hallway, arms crossed and head tilted to the side as he studied Harry. Harry took a second to analyse him: a few patches on his clothes, good quality boots worn down with age, soft hair that moved with the slight airflow from the automatic oxygen filtration system, a few grey hairs and lines by his eyes that suggested an age range of 25-30. He was 26, according to his file. Young, for a leader.

Harry blinked. He smiled.

“Hello. I’m Harry.”

His processors were running about ten different scenarios, possible approaches to the situation. For the time being, he remained neutral. Assess and report, said the mission. There was nothing about not engaging.

Louis raised his eyebrows. “Party’s that way,” he said, pointing down the hall to where the noise was.

Harry laughed self-deprecatingly. “I know, I’m just on my way.”

Louis’ careful composure slipped away. Harry determined that he no longer suspected anything.

“Come on, then, you lurker, let’s get you to where the fun is!” he laughed, grabbing Harry’s hand and pulling him through the door and into the mess hall.

There was a lot to process in this room. Harry made note of the band in the corner, playing an assortment of makeshift instruments that seemed to have been pieced together from spare parts around the station—there was no budget for entertainment, on an outer rim science outpost like this one. He scanned the people present (a total of 176 adults and 15 undocumented children). It was over ¾ of the entire population of the station. The tables had been pushed aside to allow for a dance floor, and what Harry determined to be home-brew beer was being passed around the hall. The food on the tables was meagre at best, but it seemed that someone creative had put the meals together, because they’d managed to almost make something appetising out of the canned nutrient-enriched stew and flash-frozen vegetables.

There was also, perhaps most importantly, a large mural painted on the north wall. It showed Louis—the very man in front of him, an average sized human with blue eyes and a slightly elevated heartbeat—holding a stylised version of the station above his head in victory.

Louis followed his gaze and chuckled awkwardly. “I know, I know, I promise I didn’t ask Zayn to paint it,” he said, arms up in fake surrender. “I tried to say, ‘look, mate, ’s bad for my ego’, but if the people need a leader, and they’ve chosen me, well…” His tone turned soft, almost nostalgic. He looked out at the crowd of people, smiling at their merriment. He didn’t finish his thought.

Harry plucked a glass of beer off a tray as it passed him. Some of his processing was complete, and he determined that the most successful strategy at this point in regards to gathering data was to simply ask; Louis had been nothing but receptive so far.

Louis ushered him forwards into the hall, nodding and smiling at people as he went, sometimes bending down to one of the children and saying a few words, giving gentle hugs.

He didn’t seem at all like the ruthless, dangerous revolutionary his mission brief had implied. Harry created a new line of coding at this conclusion, burying it within his system before it could raise any alarms. He was installed with several failsafes, intended to monitor his compliance and generate a warning signal to his superiors if he should ever go against his instructions. But Harry had been going on missions for years, and he’d learned more than enough tricks. Sometimes, for the sake of his mission, he had to break his own coding a little.

It wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as it sounded.

“So, what’s the occasion?” Harry asked nonchalantly, pretending to take a sip of his beer.

Louis grinned. “Cowell has agreed to negotiate,” he said proudly. He laughed almost giddily, then. “After three years of this bullshit, Cowell has agreed to negotiate!” The last part he yelled into the echo-y space of the room, arms thrown in the air and eyes crinkled into slits.

His exclamation led to a wave of cheering, the music picking up tempo.

“How did you manage that?” Harry asked curiously. “I’m very impressed, of course,” he added quickly. “I just didn’t think he was the sort to give in.”

Louis took a sip of his own beer, watching Harry over the rim of the cup. “Oh, you know, it was nothing,” he said. “I’m sure you would have noticed most of your coworkers refusing to work for a month straight?”

Harry nodded.

Louis smiled proudly. “Well, Harry, some of my people are in some very important jobs on this station. I’ve got every single engine room staff member on my side. Without them, this station’s gonna fucking fall out of the sky.”

He looked wicked, then, grinning with glee as he described the certain deaths of everyone on board.

“It was a basic stalemate play. Cowell’s pride’s stopped him from hearing us out, so what’s our move? Motivate him with summat he fears more than looking like a coward: death.”

Harry blinked.

Louis’ smile turned sweet. “Don’t worry yourself, darling, we’re not gonna let anything happen to you. Or to anyone. It was a bluff, o’course. Cowell knows that, too. He’s just got more to lose than we do. I mean, I’m sure you'd know; we don’t have much in the first place.”

Louis patted Harry on the shoulder in a comradely way.

Harry still had questions—Why are there children on board?; or, Why do you have nothing? A station full of the colony’s best scientists should have more than enough resources to be happy up here—but these were all questions that would blow his cover.

“Enough about politics, though, babe, come on! It’s a party! Have some fun!” Louis grinned, bouncing on his feet.

Harry smiled, looking about the room. He took in the joy on everyone's faces, their bodies moving to the rhythm. “Would you like to dance?”

Some of his background processes ground to a halt, then started up again after a second of recalibrating. There was no strategic purpose to asking Louis to dance, Harry knew. But he just… wanted to. And it wasn’t detrimental to the mission. Perhaps, if he could gain Louis’ trust, then he might reveal more about his plans or how Harry might suggest to undermine them.

Right now, though, Louis was in front of him in a very nice blue jacket and a pair of tight, glittering pants and he was excited about his revolution and– Harry would like to dance with him.

He was a good dancer. He was good at a great many things.

Louis’ mouth pinched oddly, like he was trying to control a grin and utterly failing. “Sure, Harold, I’ll dance with you,” he said cheekily. He ran his fingers down Harry’s arms—Harry started a new subprocess just to analyse and assign value to that action—and linked his fingers with Harry’s, pulling him into the middle of the dance floor.

“’Scuse me, ladies, coming through,” Louis laughed, bumping into some women dancing together.

“That wouldn’t happen if you walked forwards,” Harry felt the need to point out.

Louis stuck his tongue out at him. Harry blinked.

The music was joyful and fast—it was similar in genre and tempo to the style of Irish Traditional music from Old Earth, Harry determined. The leader of the band was a rather enthusiastic brunette man with a stringed instrument resembling a guitar. His fingers travelled over the instrument with practiced ease as he stomped his foot and called directions out to the other players.

This wasn’t a memorised piece, it seemed. Harry compared the note structure to his database, and found it to be an original composition.

“The band is making this up?” he asked curiously, hovering his hands over Louis’ hips.

Louis nodded. “Yep. Niall and his boys are all geniuses. Maths, music, same thing really,” he laughed, patting Harry’s hands. “You’re allowed to touch me, silly. Actually…” He grinned, pulling one of Harry’s hands into his own and placing his other onto his own shoulder. Louis then settled his spare hand on Harry’s waist, squeezing gently.

“Do you know this one?”

Louis hopped forwards, then to the side, then back again. It was a sort of waltz combined with a jig, and it took Harry one more repeat of the steps to learn it—he only stepped on Louis’ foot once in the process, causing him to swear creatively then smile a pained smile at Harry’s apologetic face.

“There you go, sweetheart! You’re a pro,” Louis giggled, hopping along with Harry to the upbeat music and spinning them around the hall.

“Get it, Louis!” someone yelled as they passed. Louis flipped them off over Harry’s shoulder.

“Fuck off, Liam, I’ll tell everyone about what’s under your cot!” he yelled through his laughter.

Harry didn’t take his eyes off Louis long enough to spot the man in question, but he heard grumbling from his direction.

They danced for a few more songs, even as the music slowed a little. It was more of a gentle sway at that point, and Harry was starting to find it hard to ignore the many, many dialogue boxes in his vision that kept appearing to remind him that he wasn’t making any progress towards a completion of his mission.

“So, when are you meeting with Cowell to negotiate?” he asked softly. Louis’ head whipped up from where it had been creeping towards Harry’s chest.

“Oh, uh—“ he said, shaking himself. “In three days.”

Harry frowned. Perhaps the captain had anticipated Harry’s conclusions would arrive before his assigned timeframe.

He would be right, actually. Harry estimated that he had 74% of the information he needed to suggest an accurate and cost-effective strategy.

He was about to ask more questions when someone tapped on Louis’ shoulder.

Louis turned towards them with a smile. It was a blonde girl only a few years younger than him. The similarity in their facial structure led Harry to conclude she was a relative. A quick search revealed her to be Charlotte Tomlinson, active lifestyle officer on board the Olivia. The achievements on her work history were very impressive: youngest human in the region to be promoted to department head. Louis’ record was also splattered with similarly impressive commendations. The Tomlinsons were a formidable family, it seemed.

“What’s up, Lottie?” Louis asked, pulling away from Harry and turning his full attention to his sister.

She frowned. “Louis, it’s time for the meeting?”

Louis looked over to the large clock built in to the south wall. “Fuck,” he cursed.

He turned back to Harry with an apologetic smile on his face. “If you decide to join us, I’ll see you later. If not…” He shrugged sadly.

Harry didn’t have the chance to calculate a reply, because Lottie started tugging Louis away. He waved over his shoulder cutely, then disappeared through the western exit.

Harry made his way to the corner of the room, discerning who else was absent. Officers Liam Payne, Zayn Malik and Niall Horan were all missing. He deduced they made up Louis’ inner circle. He started edging his way over to the door, surveilling the room. No one paid him any attention.

When he reached the door, he opened up the control panel on the side and re-wired it quickly. Odds were, it would make a massive racket if he tried to open it without reworking the locking mechanism.

This entire station was falling apart at the seams.

And there were children on board.

He crept along the hallway silently, stretching the range of his audio processor. He heard faint muttering from one of the personal quarters. A quick cross-reference with the station’s map told him it belonged to Louis himself. He made his way over to it and pressed himself against the closed door.

“Stop worrying, Niall, it’s going to be fine,” Louis was saying, a note of impatience in his voice.

“Louis! We’re so unprepared for this, how can you say that?” came another voice, an Irish lilt to the words.

“Niall’s right, Lou, we need to strengthen our position. Maybe if I put more fliers up, or do another mural in the secondary research quarter, then–“

“Not more bloody murals!” Louis burst. “I’m sick of seeing me face on every fucking wall, its–“

“–Necessary for the revolution, Louis,” Niall interrupted, sounding like he was bored of making this point. He was correct. Historically, every successful people’s movement had a figurehead, a strong and charismatic leader for the group to rally behind. It was no surprise they’d chosen Louis; watching him interact with the people in the hall had been proof enough of that.

“‘Revolution’? Get your head out of your arse, Niall, this isn’t 1800s France, we’re just a group of sick, unsatisfied workers, we don’t need–“

“The fuck we don’t!” Niall yelled back. “It’s working, Louis, we’ve got almost everyone from the astronomy team on our side now. You know why? Because Anna saw how you were with little Jessie, and she told all her workmates about it, and now they’re on board. This isn’t just about the virus or the money or the fucking starvation or the breaches of contract or any of that, Louis, it’s about politics. If we want to win, you have to suck it up and accept that you’re the face of hope on this pile of floating junk.”

There was a moment of silence after Niall’s outburst.

“Fuck, Niall,” Louis breathed, sounding years older. “I’m just… I’m not… I’m not a messiah, I’m just a boring man who looks at space rocks, can’t you see why I don’t…”

“Louis,” a new voice spoke, gentle and soothing. Harry determined it to be Liam Payne, security officer. “You don’t have to be a messiah. You just have to be the only one of us who’s brave enough to stand up to the captain and say, ‘no more’.”

“It’s not like you haven’t done it before,” Zayn added.

“Yeah, lad, and we all know how that went,” Louis snorted. “Twenty percent of our cargo shipments going out the back door, and an official disciplinary warning from the fucking Prime Senate.

Harry frowned. There was nothing on Louis’ record about a disciplinary warning. There was also nothing on the station’s record about missing cargo.

“This time it’s different, Louis,” Lottie said with determination. “We’ve got almost everyone on board, and we’re all ready to stand with you. Hell, even that guy I saw you with tonight looked like he was ready to lay down his life for you, and I haven’t even seen him before.”

“No one’s laying anything down for me,” Louis snapped. Then, his voice turned coy. “Do you really think so, though?”

Liam laughed. “Definitely. I saw that too.”

“Wait? Louis met a boy and I didn’t hear about it yet?” Niall asked petulantly.

“No, you were too busy whining about politics,” Louis retorted.

Just like that, the animosity of the past conversation melted.

Harry backed away from the door. It seemed he had learnt all he could from this. He turned, consulting the station’s blueprints. He started making his way towards a ladder that would take him up to the station’s server room, where he could access all of the station’s data from the last three years, both incoming and outgoing. It was about time he determined exactly what was going on on the Olivia.

 

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It took Harry 14 hours and 23 minutes to comb through the station’s mainframe. It was an absolute unorganised mess of data, with most of it copied in four different places. A large portion of the pertinent information Harry saw reference to had to be retrieved from a shoddy attempt at a file wipe. He analysed the scientific findings of the crew-members—some cutting edge stuff, he was unsurprised to notice. The people here were paving the way for science stations across the galaxy, with a few brilliant minds making some notable breakthroughs that had reached even Harry on his travels.

Of greater relevance to his mission was the cargo manifest. Specifically, the absence of the cargo manifest. No one had input into the system received or sent goods for the last five years, meaning that the reports being automatically sent off to the senate were from the colony below’s shipment records. Anything could be happening to the cargo they were sending. Certainly it wasn’t being provided to the citizens on board the station. The amount of goods—clothing, food, spare parts, new locking mechanisms—should have meant everyone on board was leading a very comfortable life, even with the excess population.

Harry also found leave requests, contract termination requests, and official notices of resignations in the system’s deleted documents section dating back to when the station was first started. A look through the crew’s logs showed that not a single one had been approved. Those who attempted to terminate their contract no longer showed up as official employees of the station, but there was no paper trail to suggest they had ever been allowed to return to the colony below. It would have only cost Cowell about 1% of his total earnings to send terminated employees to Diana, and yet.

This explained why there were children aboard.

No one had been allowed to leave the Olivia in five years.

Harry stepped away from the screen, blinking.

He compiled a folder of the most damning evidence, locking it for automatic release to the Senate’s inbox in 50 hours.

The corrupted bit of code he’d implanted was still whirring in the background, eating away at him. He needed to find the Captain’s quarters.

That was easier said than done, of course. If Harry didn’t want to attract the attention of the Captain’s security team, he would need to access a maintenance tunnel, take one of the airflow pipes into the room above the Captain’s and enter through the ceiling. It wouldn’t be a comfortable trip—Harry could say goodbye to the jumper he was wearing—but it would get him there in a half hour. Based off the Captain’s schedule, he would be in his private relaxation area for the next few hours. (There was suspiciously little detail in the station’s map about what that area entailed.)

Of course, to get to the tunnel he needed to go back through the residential area.

He tried to keep his head down as he passed the rooms of the citizens, but. Then he heard crying. He paused his movements and stepped closer to the opened door the noise was coming from. Inside was a human bent over a sleeping child. The child’s breathing was laboured, her skin pale. The human looked up. They sniffled.

“She doesn’t exist, legally, so they can’t send her any medicine,” they said, sounding defeated. Harry took a careful step into the room, comparing the child’s symptoms against his medical database.

“My name is Harry,” he said carefully, kneeling next to the bed. “I have some medical knowledge, would it be okay if I looked her over?”

The human nodded gratefully. “Yes, anything. Anything that could help her. She’s only four,” they choked.

Harry pressed a careful hand to the child’s forehead, taking her temperature. He leaned his ear against her chest, scanning the functions of her internal organs. Lungs had a fluid buildup, but her heart was beating just fine. He ignored the various error messages appearing in his vision demanding he return to his mission, creating a new task for himself to shut them up. This child needed help.

He made a quick calculation, then decided to use the energy it would take to analyse the bacteria in her breath in order to determine exactly what virus she had. It only took a couple of minutes for Harry to break down its genetic code. It was a strain that didn’t match any in his database. He leaned back and frowned in confusion.

“I’ll be right back, okay?” he said to the distraught human. “I think I can help her.”

They nodded, patting the small girl’s hand in comfort. She still didn’t stir.

Harry calculated a route to the nearest lab, passing one of the worser maintained areas of the ship. As he did, he tore off a section of his pants, then stood in wait for a few precious moments before leaping into the corner behind an exposed pipe, trapping one of the strange creatures that lived on this ship. They seemed to be a slightly mutated form of a creature from the colony below; he concluded they had interbred with vermin transported with cargo from an unknown location. He took the time, now, to analyse it’s genetic makeup.

Once he reached the lab, he deposited the creature into a small glass bottle. The lab was unpopulated—the strike was still in effect. He worked quickly to remove some blood from the creature, fingers tapping on a small computer he’d found as he sequenced its DNA. It would only take him forty-one minutes to form a vaccine to the strain of flu the child had using the creature's immunity (forty nine if he took the time to create an entire batch of vaccines, which he decided he would considering the likelihood that others on board had been exposed). It would mean that he only had a single week of battery life left; his power would die on transport back to the Prime Colony. He dismissed that particular error warning.

He was so engrossed in his work that he didn’t register approaching footsteps.

“Harry?”

Harry didn’t look up. He had no way to discern if the illness was fatal, but it very well could be for a child that young. He was almost finished; he just needed to mix the vaccine according to the formula he’d computed.

“What… What are you doing?” Louis appeared in his peripheral vision, curious and confused.

“There’s a sick child in Room 163; she has an undocumented virus. I’m crafting a bacterial vaccine,” Harry said distractedly.

Louis moved closer, looking over his shoulder at Harry’s work on the computer. He tapped away for a second, making a couple humming noises.

“Medicine isn’t really my field, but I think this formula’s gonna work better with a repeat vaccination rather than a one-time shot. You should dilute it a little and triple your dosage, since you want to use it on people with weakened immune systems.”

Harry blinked, pausing. He looked at Louis, standing there with a hopeful expression on his face, then back at his notes.

His brain whirred with a thousand calculations in a second, then, “You’re correct. How foolish of me.”

Louis exhaled softly, adding a few lines to Harry’s work. “It’s nothing, Harry. You’re very brilliant.”

He looked tired, this morning. There was stress baked into every pore on his face. He wasn’t any less beautiful because of it, to be sure—it just seemed, to Harry, like it was getting to be a lot for him, carrying the entire space station on his back.

The Louis in the mess hall mural had looked victorious and strong. This Louis, lit softly by the glow of the screen as he delicately corrected Harry’s formula, didn’t look any less strong. He did, however, look a lot less victorious.

“Are you alright?” Harry spared the second to ask, before turning back to his work. It added a couple minutes, to do what Louis suggested. He listened for Louis’ reply, though.

Louis leaned closer into his space. Harry stayed focused on his work, but his synthetic skin seemed to tingle where Louis touched it.

“Room 163, you said?” he asked, instead of answering. Harry nodded and began distributing the completed vaccine into a selection of sterilised syringes he’d sourced from the supply cupboard.

“Shit,” Louis sighed, rubbing a hand down his face. “That’s Rosa. She’s only four.”

“I know,” Harry said.

Louis moved away for a second, appearing on the other side of the table. “Here, pass me that,” he said, voice firm, “I’ll help.”

Harry did as he was told, and they worked in silence for a few minutes. “We’ve lost three people to illness this past month,” Louis said eventually, voice dark with grief. “That’s why we need to strike. How much more can he take from us?”

Harry didn’t answer. He was focused on his work. Louis didn’t seem to mind the silence.

Once they were finished, Harry packaged up the syringes carefully. Most of them he placed in one of the industrial fridges in the corner of the room for safe keeping.

He turned to Louis. “Take me to everyone who’s sick,” he said. “We need to start round one of the vaccinations with those already infected, before we move on to everyone else.”

Louis stared at him for a moment, like it was just now sinking in that Harry had made a cure for his people. His eyes were shining with unshed tears, then he shook himself.

“Yeah, of course. Follow me,” he said, marching out of the room.

They went to Rosa first, her distraught parent still hovered over her. “She’s going to be fine, I just need your permission to inject her,” Harry said calmly, taking a knee next to the bed. Louis pulled the human into a tight hug.

“It’s okay, Dee, you can trust him,” he soothed. Harry’s mutated code reared its head at that, eating through the error messages that were appearing to inform him that he was experiencing an unauthorised reaction to stimulus.

“If you do, then I do,” the human said, clinging to Louis’ smaller frame. He really did have their unwavering loyalty, it seemed.

He swabbed Rosa’s arm calmly and injected her. She stayed sleeping the whole time.

It took exactly 26 minutes to inject the rest of the sick citizens of Olivia, and a further 189 to inject the rest of the crew—everyone except Cowell and his board of advisors.

Everywhere they went, there were whispers. It’s Louis, he found someone to make a cure! See, I knew he would save us. Louis ignored the hushed voices, attending to every crew-member with a level of cheek that set them instantly at ease, and speaking to the children with a genuine softness that calmed their scared heartbeats.

“Who is this guy, Louis?” Liam asked in a hushed whisper, pulling down his sleeve to cover his recent injection. He’d asked to go last to make sure everyone else had their turn.

Louis shushed him, sending a sidelong glance at Harry. Harry pretended like he hadn’t heard. He was busy making calculations, assessing his actions against the calls of his mission and everything he had learned. He currently held approximately 89% of the information he needed to propose a strategy to Captain Cowell.

The rest, he would find in his quarters.

Harry packed up his kit, leaving it with one of the nurses they’d found in their rounds and explaining the timeframe that those infected would need to receive their next two shots in.

The nurse nodded in understanding, and Harry took his leave.

“Wait! Harry!” Louis called after him.

Harry didn’t have any more time to waste. Still, he stopped. Louis turned him with gentle hands on his shoulders, looking into his eyes with an uncomfortable amount of sincerity.

“They’re all probably talking bullshit right now about how I saved them,” he started, licking his lips. Harry listened as Louis’ heartbeat rose. “But it was you who did that. So, thank you.” It was practically beating out of his chest, and he was only thanking Harry, why was he–

Louis leaned forwards and pressed a soft kiss to Harry’s lips.

Harry’s lips hadn’t been made for anything except forming words, making him look realistically human enough so that he wouldn’t be unwelcome in his missions. But here Louis was, gently holding his face and kissing Harry like he’d been created for this and not for the million commands his superiors sent him.

Harry didn’t know what to do. His processes ground to an immediate halt. This eventuality was not one he had anticipated or planned for; he had no point of reference with which to reconcile this experience.

The only thing he knew was that he didn’t want it to stop.

But, of course, it did. Louis pulled back uncertainly, no doubt worried by Harry’s lack of response.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” he said, brows pinched. “Fuck.”

Harry blinked. He added a few lines to the code that was lurking in the background of his software. The only thing he could conjure up to say was, “You’re welcome.”

Louis made an aborted move to reach for him again, but Harry couldn’t ignore the blaring error messages anymore. He needed to get back to the mission.

Louis didn’t chase him, this time.

 

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It didn’t take very long for Harry to find the right maintenance corridor, or to jimmy open the hatch to the airflow pipe. Crawling up said pipe was as uncomfortable as he’d predicted, but when he emerged in the storage space above Cowell’s quarters he found that he could remove most of the grime by simply taking his jumper off. He left it folded on a broken stool, making his way over to the hatch that would take him into the room below.

It was a very poorly designed station, with more security loopholes than toilets. This worked in Harry’s favour, because security loopholes were excellent for espionage whereas toilets were utterly useless to him.

He pulled open the hatch slowly, stretching his audio processor to see if the Captain had returned to his quarters yet.

There was nothing but silence.

He lowered himself down carefully and landed with a soft thump, cushioned by the fancy carpeting stretching from wall to wall. The quarters were filled to the brim with luxury items and tacky furniture, the kind that was in season on the Prime Colony about 30 years ago. Harry did a quick scan of the room, ignoring the bed and the entertainment viewing screen and the many, many other gadgets in the space. He just needed– There! Cowell’s personal computer. He approached it slowly, taking note of its considerable age. It would only take about 11 minutes to hack into without a password.

Harry took a seat at Cowell’s desk, taking a moment to scan the items around him before he started. He was alarmed to notice a loaded gun sitting in the second drawer down. It was an older model, like everything in the room, but still fatal. And illegal. He pocketed the weapon.

As he began hacking into the terminal, he made sure to set a command that would alert him if his audio processor picked up anything; he’d been caught off guard too many times today already. Once inside Cowell’s computer, Harry scanned his communications. It seemed that his deduction was correct: he was selling off a large chunk of the cargo shipped from the colony on Diana to an anonymous third party for significant profit. He also scanned Cowell’s request for assistance to the Prime Senate, almost snorting at the drastically inaccurate description of the scenario. Had Cowell really thought that they would send someone to ‘deal with the troublemakers’ without anyone asking any questions? Harry was still downloading the records of Cowell’s embezzlement when his command alerted him to approaching footsteps. Harry finished collecting his evidence and added it to the folder he’d already amassed, stepping away from the computer.

He could either use the time to hide, or to send the data to his superiors with a request for new orders.

He chose the latter.

The door opened to reveal Cowell chatting jovially with the Ambassador. His words cut off when he turned and saw Harry standing to attention in his room.

“Ah! This must be the droid you’ve been telling me about!” he said to the ambassador, clapping him on the shoulder. He didn’t look the slightest bit suspicious that Harry was in his private rooms; Harry was unsurprised. Men in power often assumed he wasn’t a threat to them.

“Yes! H2779, he’s one of our top models. Are you ready to report your findings?” The Ambassador addressed him. It was the most polite he’d ever been to Harry.

Harry nodded obediently. “I am certain I have obtained 100% of the information I need to formulate a strategy to complete the mission, Sir,” he said. He blinked. “I know exactly how to resolve the situation on Space Station Olivia.”

“Well, good! Come with me, then,” Cowell said. Over his shoulder, he snapped at one of the security officers attending him, “Bring me Tomlinson. Now.”

Harry followed the two men as Cowell led them towards the conference room he and his advisors used. As they walked, Cowell and the Ambassador swapped stories about their lovely beachside homes and how hard it was to find good staff to maintain them properly.

Harry stayed silent.

The room they entered was on the smaller side—to be expected, given the rest of the station. Cowell took a seat at the head of the long table in the centre, the Ambassador to his left and the rest of his advisors taking up places along the sides as they filtered in. Harry stayed off to the side, back pressed against the wall and arms behind his back. His brain was whirring with calculations that were interrupted by an urgent communication from his superiors at the Prime Senate.

Do nothing, it said. The work of Space Station Olivia is crucial to the success of the Empire. Tomlinson is threatening the station; he is the priority. Your orders were to eliminate the threat, not to present a new one. You will complete your mission then report back for reprogramming.

Harry blinked. At once the chatter of the room filtered back in where before he’d only heard white noise, processes whirring to input the new orders.

The rabid code he’d planted was gnashing, clawing, fighting. Harry added in more commands to it, shutting down the error messages and tripping his failsafe in the process. If the senate wanted him to be reprogrammed, it wouldn’t matter if they knew he’d gone rogue.

The chatter in the room faded as the door was pulled open. Two security officers shoved Louis inside roughly, taking up posts on either side of the door.

“Yeah, cheers, lads,” Louis bit out, righting himself. He took in the room calculatingly, staring down every last suited man at the table with a righteous fury. Then, his gaze landed on Harry. Harry watched as Louis took in his shirt—a clear indication of his android status—and his pose, standing to attention and ready to serve. His face went carefully blank. “Hiya, Harry,” he said evenly. “Nice to see you again.”

“Ah, so you’ve met,” Simon sneered. “Please, take a seat. We’ve much to discuss.”

Louis approached the chair Simon gestured to at the end of the table, but didn’t take a seat. Instead, he leaned an elbow against the headrest almost lazily, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes, I met your robotic lapdog. How thick do you think I am? You send a strategy droid to take me down, think I won’t fucking notice?”

Harry was reeling. Louis… knew? The entire time? Harry reanalysed their interactions with this new knowledge. Nothing made any more sense than it did before.

Simon seemed as taken aback as Harry was, but he was much worse at hiding it. He made to speak, but Louis wasn’t done.

“How much money did it cost, huh? To get the Prime Senate to solve all your problems for you? Was it more money than you would lose if you just fucking paid us what we’re owed?” Louis slammed his hand down on the table, and grinned wickedly when the sudden noise made a few of the advisors jump. He looked fierce, in this moment. Harry had seen from the second he’d met Louis how he’d gotten to be in charge of this revolution, but now. Now he understood.

Simon’s eyes narrowed. “You little shit,” he hissed. “You’ve caused me nothing but problems, and I’ve been more than lenient. Do you think I care that some of your friends are under the weather? That’s what happens on Space Stations, you can’t blame me.”

Louis pushed the chair away, leaning his full weight on the table with both hands. “People got sick because of your illegal backdoor trading of our resources purchased for us using the money we make you. Face it, you piece of outdated, outgunned fecal matter, you can either give us what we’re owed or–“

“Or what, Tomlinson,” the Ambassador laughed. Simon was red in the face with fury, but the Ambassador didn’t seem at all put out. “You’re going to let us all die? We both know that’s never going to happen. Thanks to our agent, we know everything about your plans, and we know exactly how to take you down.” The Ambassador shot a smug look at Harry. How he felt smug when Harry hadn’t yet revealed anything he’d learned, Harry didn’t know.

Louis looked at Harry as well, now. In the moment their eyes met, Harry saw the soft boy who’d taught him that dance, who’d kissed him so sweetly. He no longer saw the threat his programming considered him to be.

“Yes, droid, tell us how fix this mess,” Cowell said drily, leaning back in his chair like a king about to be served a platter or grapes.

Harry took a step away from the wall. Louis’ expression didn’t change; he wasn’t waiting for Harry to betray him. He… believed in him.

That was all it took for the malignant programming he’d been crafting in the background to take full control of his software. In an instant, the buildup of dialogue boxes and commands and error messages disappeared from his vision. He could see clearly.

In one fluid motion, he pulled the gun from his pocket, aimed it at the Captain’s smug face, and pulled the trigger. In the chaos that ensued—the screaming, the yelling, the blood—Harry grabbed Louis by the hand and bolted from the room.

“What the fuck, Harry–“ Louis was shouting, struggling to keep up as they ran and ran, away from the quarters. “How does that solve anything–“

Harry pulled them to a stop. They’d made it to the server room, and Harry took the time to ask a very important question.

“Do you trust me?”

Louis paused. Harry watched his face go through a range of emotions—so expressive as he decided, so different to himself.

Eventually, he nodded. “Yes.”

His heartbeat was even, no skips. Harry locked the door to the server room behind them, pulling up the security footage of the conference room. The advisors were still inside, panicking, and the Ambassador was trying to make a call. Like Harry hadn’t already jammed his communication devices.

“How fine are you with murder,” he asked calmly, fingers hovering over the keys. He turned his head towards Louis. He might not have superiors to answer to anymore, but he did have a Louis.

Louis’ brow pinched. He looked over Harry’s shoulder at the scene on the small screen, eyes skipping over the blood. He turned away, buried his head in Harry’s shoulder.

“Do what you have to, Harry,” he said.

It was permission enough. Harry sealed the room off, shutting off the oxygen supply. It was something he wouldn’t have been able to do, no matter how good a hacker he was, in a better built station.

But maybe Olivia was on his side in this one. He tuned the security footage away from the scene, not wanting Louis to have to see their slow, painful deaths.

“If any of them live, they’ll send more people,” Harry said in explanation. “This way, I can keep up the rouse that Cowell is fine and the revolution was squashed, and the Prime Senate will leave you alone. They have a lot of problems to deal with, a missing Ambassador won’t raise as much of an eyebrow as a dead Captain.”

Louis nodded against his shirt. He turned his face to see the screen again. Harry had switched the feed to Room 163. Rosa was happily playing with a toy, dancing it across the bed she was sitting up in. Dee was laughing, playing along.

“She looks better,” Harry said.

Louis sighed. “There’s still so much to do, I don’t—who’s going to run the station, Harry?”

Harry turned to Louis, placing his hands on his waist like when they were dancing together. “You,” he said confidently. Louis looked like he was going to protest, but Harry pressed his lips to his instead. Louis gasped a little into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck and kissing back.

This time, Harry gave as good as he got. He didn’t know what he was doing, obviously, but he’d looked up a tutorial in the split second before his mouth met Louis’ so at least he knew in theory what to do.

“Sorry if this doesn’t feel right,” he pulled back to say. He felt almost… shy. Which was not something he knew he could feel.

Louis shook his head. “It feels perfect, sweetheart. You’re perfect.”

Harry’s memory unit replayed an audio snippet. A dialogue message popped up, notifying him of possibly false information. He supposed this was what insecurity felt like. “Perfect for a robotic lapdog, you mean,” he remarked, pulling back a little.

Louis winced. “I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean that.”

Harry analysed the audio he’d recorded. Louis’ heartbeat, though elevated, had been steady. “You did.”

Louis stepped back into his space with determination, standing on his tiptoes and framing Harry’s face with his wonderful, delicate hands. “I might have meant it at one point, Harry, but you can change my mind. You did change my mind.”

Harry turned his face into Louis’ palm, pressing a soft kiss into it then mumbling, “Why did you tell me anything, if you knew who I was? Why did you… dance with me?”

Louis leant forward and brushed his nose against Harry’s. His tone was still subdued, after the stress of what had just happened, but it was tinged with flirtation when he spoke next. “I guess I hoped I could win you over.”

Harry thought back, analysed his time with Louis through this new metric, this strategy.

“Well,” Harry said, “it worked.”

Harry allowed Louis’ brilliant smile to drown out the status report in the corner of his vision, reminding him that he had 36 hours and 19 minutes until total system shut down. They would figure it out, he knew.

Together.