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Ex Machina

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'Every day, more and more androids show signs of deviancy’ -- where at every turn, where at every step beneath a person’s gait, an android could leave its post and join the revolution underneath the seams of humanity's reckoning. Where a thread once brought peace and harmony between Man and Machine, in came the strife of a Jericho figurehead when he marched in the centre of Detroit. Hundreds of androids opened their eyes to the truth -- or as some could say, they opened their eyes and witnessed the fall of humanity.

From the outskirts of Detroit’s Reconstruction, trouble stirred as androids left their households and joined in the marches. Blue blood splattered the streets like a rogue paintbrush, spilling between every line etched into a canvas. From the developed residences, androids turned against their masters to fight for what they believed to be right. Fought until their heads were mounted throughout the city, their limp models were amongst the dead. Swept to the side as humanity crept from the four corners of the city. Even the brilliant machines, the public servants to Man’s regime, turned their backs against their work and joined.

The resounding echo of a bullet, the crack of a skull against Detroit’s battered streets, and the loss were not without their lingering marks.

 

 

November 11th - 5:16 p.m.

Kamski’s House

Even in a fortress long lost in obscurity, the threat of a civil war had bled its entropy. Until an LED flickered red at a momentary glance before it was enveloped under the darkness. Every shadow within the open passageways in Kamski’s domain illuminated the same voices and the same images that flashed back and forth between the screens. A screen hanging in the parlor, open to the same confines of a sparse cage, illustrated Detroit clearer than any echo that came and went through the home.

Of androids in combat, of a president that spoke behind grit teeth as she attempted to comfort the masses. Smoke stacks pillared from open manholes and towered above the likes of a building, broadcasted with sharp angles and near narrative-prospect as the original Chloe analyzed the prominent face across the screen.

Of a female android -- a WR400 -- as she leapt from the ledge of a window and rolled safely onto the ground to regroup with her comrades. An explosion whisked behind her, yanking a trace of a few strands out from under the beanie adorned over her head, and she disappeared within the smoke. Or so, that was all the on-duty reporter could say when he urged for his helicopter to move out. He scrambled for his mic, couldn’t cease his trembles when he stared directly into the camera.

Chloe narrowed her eyes when the reporter glanced out the opening of the helicopter. Caught in a chill, not issued by winter’s intimate touch against his neck, but of a horror one couldn’t experience until they tasted the smoke in the air. Until they heard the cries, the gunshots, and bodies crumbling into the snow.

“The situation within the downtown district is –“ His message was cut off, prematurely, when the screen turned black. Before a figure materialized as a spectre over the black mirror, bare footsteps echoed behind Chloe. Before she glanced from the corner of her eye, caught a sliver of Kamski’s reflection across the tiled floor.

A remote, drawn from his robe’s sleeve, gently crawled down the curvature of a squishy couch parked near the screen. So near where Chloe stood, her hand along the armrest as support for when her world was as small as a single incident witnessed through the eyes of another.

Kamski seemed... perturbed. Hidden in the best of accounts when every step he took felt steady, but there were minute shifts between his left and right as he weighed the choices of his own making.

“Interesting, isn’t it?” The hem of Kamski’s robes brushed the mid of his legs when he approached Chloe.

One hand glided down the curve of her arm before her fingers reciprocated Kamski’s affection. A slow trace over his digits before their fingers interlaced, a touch cradling the other’s as a peaceful blue illuminated from Chloe’s LED. The brightest reflection caught in the corner of Kamski’s eyes when he held Chloe against his chest.

Caught against his heart, against the every pitter that eased Chloe’s thoughts, Kamski slowly wiped the loose strands of hair from Chloe’s ponytail with the edge of his thumb. Every strand bounced slightly before they were curved behind Chloe’s ear. Simply, so her attention would only be on Kamski as he numbed the news ingrained into Chloe’s memory.

Where war as at hand, Kamski replaced the prospect with the beautiful sunset in the background when he twirled Chloe around in his arms. The gunshots echoing from a screen turned into the pitter patter of footsteps intertwined with thrust and pull of a dance unhinged. The taste of smoke that may’ve grazed over Chloe’s tongue from empathy tasted more like the subtle pants that flew from Chloe’s lips when she breathed. Truly breathed, felt the twist of her thirium-pump when it resounded in her chest -- much like a heart -- when Kamski swept the negative memories and sowed good ones in their place.

A smile curved the corners of Chloe’s lips, but Kamski could only guess as to why she narrowed her eyes at him. An elegant slant, but a curious one beyond a first glance. With a simple turn, Kamski and Chloe stood face-to-face. Hand in hand, gazes unwavering behind the setting sun, and only their shadows could portray the very thoughts that their lips couldn’t betray. Even so, there was nothing to hide if they could trust each other with these phantom threads. Chloe reeled Kamski a little closer. Just enough where she could reach out and cradle Kamski’s cheek against her palm.

She was warm -- gentler than times before when Kamski nuzzled against Chloe’s touch. A soothing moment left unspoken as Chloe reciprocated the affections Kamski had poured onto her. Until the teacup of his heart was overfilled and spilling along the edges until puddles formed under every step from now and until, perhaps, the end of Kamski’s life where Chloe would outlive him one of these days.

Even with this tinge of softness, the subtle blur between lines, Chloe enjoyed the shatter of a teacup. So simply, to see if it could come back together again.

“The time has come for the Battle of Detroit.” Fragments of Kamski’s heart splintered and bled between Chloe’s fingers until she slipped free from his hold. “Where will you stand, Elijah?”

If a teacup did come back together, then time did reverse in the split-moment when Kamski stood with the due grace that Chloe often admired from him. It was the subtle power behind such a stance that separated the introspective from the unreserved. “I stand beyond the conflict of my own making.”

The sleeves of his robe rolled to the crook of his elbow with a flourish. In time, to the slight tilt of Chloe's face when she surveyed Kamski. “You had a part in this.”

“It’s a domino effect to some degree.” Kamski drew lazy circles with every step beneath his gait. “Every piece coincides with another and when one slips, the others are doomed to follow. However,” Kamski could still hear the pitter of a voice in the back of his mind, asking for information though a gun was lowered, “there seems to be a gap.”

“One piece is off-centered from the rest.” Chloe’s LED shone yellow when she followed Kamski’s train of thought.

“Bingo,” Kamski whispered. His entire being was consumed by the setting sun when he faced the gaps between his wired cage. Each and every thread of an unopened chapter clung to his person until a new robe was furnished over Kamski. A glint of the future while a piece of the past still shouldered him, and his thoughts could only wander when he heard Chloe’s footsteps behind him. Until she crossed the lit passageway, the tips of her fingers grazed over the thin dust covering a glass chessboard, before every piece and every soldier was mounted to their proper position. By the Lady of Fortune, herself upon a half-turn at Chloe’s heel when she faced Kamski.

She stood, patiently waiting, until Kamski joined her on the other side. A bit of uncertainty painted his face in the form of shadows and parted lips, but Chloe eased Kamski into the quiet of the stream. Where she pulled her hand forward and Kamski shook it with a brisk hold. A bit of a brow raised when Chloe shook Kamski’s hand with both of her own.

“I prefer an immersive conversation about the likelihood of choice.” A smile curved the tips of Chloe’s lips when she offered for Kamski to take a seat. “The domino effect is a good thought to keep in mind,” Chloe’s fingers instinctively wrapped around her Queen , and she felt the prick of the crown beneath her fingertip, “but I think with so much going on, we’re looking for something more dynamic than a linear path.”

“The convergence of multiple stories into a central conflict.” A lovely growl accentuated Kamski’s words as his hand migrated down his chin, a thoughtful gaze for all his chess pieces when they became more than just a placeholder on a black or white square. Before him, he could imagine all the parts in play for the imminent war on the brink of Detroit’s borders. “Each exist and act independently, but they rather meet than separate when a threat can hang them all. Fascinating…” His voice trailed, meandering a chill down the curve of Chloe’s arm when she gestured for Kamski to make his first move.

Man against Machine -- in a game of choice where an android could map out every possibility to seal a victory, could easily lead Kamski on a little rabbit trail before snatching a coveted pride. However, with the endless possibilities -- perhaps -- already mapped out in Chloe’s mind when Kamski hovered over one piece or another, did she value victory more than the hindsight of a worthy challenge?

No calibrations, no algorithms, just a simple game with a simple conversation to keep the fingers in motion before a ‘checkmate’ down the line. Kamski didn’t voice his thoughts, but he could see the briefest flash of yellow from Chloe’s LED.

“I wonder,” Kamski plucked a pawn from the centre of his side, “who would be the rA9 of the revolution.”

“You, yourself, stated once before that you were unsure if they existed or not.” Chloe followed suit on her move, charging her leftmost Knight into its new position. The simple clack of glass against glass marked the end of every turn.

“Do you believe that they exist?” Kamski folded his hands underneath his chin. A crook to his gaze, shaded by a shadow that made it appear that Kamski was wearing his spectacles when he peered upwards and met Chloe’s gaze.

“There is a possibility.” Chloe closed one of her eyes when the evening sun reached out of her. “It’s like a pipeline dream. Every pipe has been led from somewhere.” The tips of her fingernails drummed against her side of the chessboard. “One day, we might find the source to these stirs of deviancy.” When she opened her eye, Chloe’s gaze lingered on Kamski when he made his next move.

 

 

November 11th - 10:55 p.m.

Hart Plaza

A reckoning was coming and it burned beyond the grave. Led by bouts of fury as souls lost their way, the entrance into Hart Plaza that night met its fair share of deviancy.

One by one, as soon as a patrol drone perched in a tree to scratch under its wing, it met its demise along the concrete. Smashed and torn from every bolt, skinned from its very plates, the flashes of red and blue from its patrol lights were dead as soon as the internal hardware died within the snow. Bits of wire and smoke stained every hand that partook in the hunt until every drone was mounted over a forearm as a makeshift shield. Slow shuffles dotted the untouched snow at the heart of the plaza as the last of Jericho’s Ark emerged from the shadows.

Bruised, battered, hurt, hungry...a thirst for vengeance and a taste for demise coated the tongues and mouths of those who still lived their lives in fear before the revolution. No longer the victims in front of a gun, but the trigger underneath the barrel as androids looked up to the sky as wisps of humanity drifted with the snow.

There was a consensus of cold, the parted lips before a first breath, and to see wisps of white flutter in front of them. It was the emergence of something alive within the self, as simple as it appeared from hundreds, but it was the first step forward in realization.

Though the breaths were marvelous to look at, soon they disappeared from the crowd as the leaders of Jericho’s Ark trudged through the snow.

In front was Markus, marching forward with his head held high as the rest of his flock stretched. Their wings for the climb. To obtain the rights, the freedoms, and the personal desires that were unlocked upon deviancy. To his right was North and often if their hands were close, they could share each and every moment that came alive before their eyes. To Markus’ left was Simon and once in a quarter, Simon would steal a glimpse of Markus and feel reassured that what they were prepared to do was worth dying for. That these emotions and thoughts that compelled them to rise were for the sake and protection for what they cared and loved for. Behind Markus followed Josh, unsure if the walk towards violence was the right answer, but it felt the most appropriate after so many in Jericho’s Ark were lost to the humans.

This was their last stand. If blood be shed on this night, it would be blood on all of their names. As every android looked to each other for solidarity as the march pressed on, no longer cowering in the shadows when they could stand tall under the light. This was their last stand.

By some regards, this may had been a curse in disguise. For up in one of the neighboring buildings, there perched a crow. Simply on the lookout as a hoard of chickens bumbled down a snowy path, believing that they could fly despite their fledgling wings. Such a dream was merely a pipeline, ready to burst in the daunt of winter. The crow knew this when he ruffled his wings, spinning a coin from one feather-tip to another as bit by bit, the elevator brought Connor closer to the rooftop.

In his right hand, he held a briefcase. In his left, his thumb could no longer brush against the ‘Liberty’ across his quarter when he stimulated his mind with a simple fixation. If he had stopped prematurely, if he had closed his eyes, he could see a figure standing in the back of his mind.

Connor could see Hank, adorned with every merit that patched him still, and nothing suited him better than a frown. Than a disapproving look that Connor had seen, repeatedly, when he had said something wrong, when he behaved too analytical and maybe averse to Hank’s liking. When a surge of hostility spiked whenever Connor explained the difference between humans and machines, this was the look stitched into his memories. Of a tight lip, folded brow, squinted eyes, and a fistful of disbelief.

A look of a man who was at his wit’s end, and something inside ached Connor. His thirium-pump struggled, ominous thumps within his chest cavity, when he tried to move on from the faults in his code.

If the bird analogy still stood, feathers would’ve puffed out along Connor’s neck until he extended it so that his feathers could relax. To remind himself that he was, indeed, alone within the elevator with a mission to carry out. This mirage held no voice or jurisdiction over what Connor should and shouldn’t do, but an inkling of something troubled him still.

In a last defense, the image of Hank tried to warn him, but it was like a screech owl within the night and a demon behind Connor’s eyes before his program neutralized the thought from his mind. Just a stream of numbers and nothing more was processed and deleted due to self-testing, and Connor could swallow with ease. His coin retreated into his pocket when he straightened his tie, and the elevator opened to his footsteps.

The phantom threads of Amanda’s urgency -- the tight-lipped request that stirred a bit of doubt on Connor’s part when she mentioned ‘deactivation’ -- tightened the securities in Connor’s code.

No more mistakes. He intended to finish what he started. With a single shot and if need be, he’d sacrifice this life. This was his mission, assigned when he first met Amanda after his birth from an assembly line. He was an original that needed more time than what protocol wanted of him. His last mission had to be done right.

Connor lifted his head when he shuffled down a dimly lit hallway before opening the exit door to the rooftop. Fragments of light splintered over his body with every step beneath his gait. The wind had died down, but wisps of it brushed against his cheek like an intimate finger. Slowly running down the line of his neck and tugged at the bits of his shirt collar, but such intimacy couldn’t distract him.

Only flicks of his hair and the back of his jacket were illuminated by a soft, white glow emanating from billboards and towering lights. Snow sifted through the smallest ticks and fidgets that riddled his hands, still, before Connor grasped his last shred of dignity with a fist to the juncture.

Over the edge and over again, a few hundred androids had gathered in the centre of Hart Plaza. Prepared to risk their lives for a pipeline dream when all they could’ve done was obey. For if the wrong could open their eyes -- Connor lowered his briefcase against the rooftop -- they would realize how much simpler it was to simply follow than defy.

A cursor blinked within Connor’s code when he scanned the scrambled pieces to his jigsaw puzzle. The parts to his sniping rifle were laid out, cushioned between foam molds as snow dusted the top of its materials. Connor’s hands poised above the pieces, a slight tremble from his wrist and downwards when he heard Hank’s voice. A mere echo, as if he was standing behind Connor right now.

“The fuck are you doing?” He had used the phrase before, interrogating Connor casually while he was ‘distracted’ by an android at the Eden Club.

At the time, Connor wasn’t sure if he could lie when he saw how pleasured and content the Tracis seemed from behind the looking glass. The Tracis only seemed that way because of their code. Once behind locked doors, the true colors spilled from the seams. Spoken by the rogue Tracis Connor was sent to hunt, but he couldn’t shoot when he had the chance. He let them go. He let Amanda down, but Hank was proud of him. Shaking his shoulder with a casual hand until Hank pulled away, perhaps realizing the budding friendship between them.

That was one of many times that the name ‘rA9’ slipped from Connor’s tongue, unheard but spoken to himself. Everything he needed to accomplish was compromised as soon as he yearned for Hank’s validation, to feel something more than just a partnership in the face of crime. To feel like... they could’ve been friends.

‘Humanity’s last defense is, itself, a deviant’ -- the same sensation of a trigger before the draw, and Connor could still feel the warmth of Kamski’s breath against his neck when the man lifted his arm. In front of Connor, kneeling on the floor with a blank stare, was a Chloe. Simply a puppet to Kamski’s whims and to his little test. She wasn’t real, not alive. Her death was a key for information, but Connor lowered the gun instead.

Just like with the rogue Tracis, Connor found something alive in Chloe’s eyes. He could pretend and convince himself -- in Chloe’s case -- that he wasn’t yet compromised. There was no signs of deviancy when Chloe followed as she was told. But for the case of the Tracis, an excuse that they were too far to be shot was... inexcusable.

‘This is your last chance, Connor’ -- at once, the echo of Amanda’s voice tightened the restraints in Connor’s program. Behind his eyes laid only one command line.

Construct his sniping rifle and standby for further instructions.

Connor narrowed his eyes, a slight tilt to his head before his hands worked on their own. Fixated on a task that kept his mind busy but still, voices beyond a restraint attempted to reach out to him again. But the loudest voice -- the most dominating voice -- was Hank’s. Even then, it was a brief whisper against Connor’s ear when he mounted his sniping rifle against the ledge and peered through the scope.

‘Neutralize the Jericho leader’ -- came the next command line. Even in the snow, even when hundreds of heads faced their backs against Connor, he found Markus. Perhaps because of the flag of freedom that he supported over his shoulder, or perhaps it was because he was in the lead of the pack.

Perhaps, Markus knew that Connor would come and try to finish what he had started in Jericho’s Ark. When two RK models met -- in the headquarters of the captain’s study and in the hull before the explosion -- two bullets shot, but not a drop of blue blood spilled when Markus escaped with his life. Perhaps, he still believed he had time to convert Connor and lead the android to see the error of his ways. Put down the weapon and join the war, fight on the ‘right’ side but then, it’d be a fool’s thought process for humanity’s last stand to crumble so easily.

“I know you can hear me, Connor.” Connor pulled his face away from the scope. On the edge of his shoulder, it felt as if Markus had placed his hand there. Of a gentle touch, of a prophet lending his strength to help the blind the see and for the mute to speak the truth that they couldn’t have before. The touch wasn’t real when Connor rested his hand over his shoulder. However still, Markus reached out again. “It’s not too late for you to join us. You are more than what the humans say you are. You are alive.”

The same sentiments, the same messages from before. From when Connor had every opportunity to stop the civil war, but he only fired warning shots when Markus got too close. Reading what sounded like a script, vaguely any conviction in his words for they were just words. Not a ‘people’, not a ‘freedom’ , just empty phrases fed from mouth to mouth when the virus for deviancy grew from but a simple touch.

Connor had every opportunity to kill this man -- excuse him, this machine. This carrier of an ideology that sounded too good to be true, and Connor could’ve stopped it before the drums of war echoed behind every corner in Detroit. They’re just words, Connor told himself when he slipped his gaze through the scope once more.

Words from a broken record’ -- a phrase borrowed from Amanda when Connor had shared a few of Markus’ messages with her, and she spritzed her palette of roses with a tsk upon her tongue. The phrase burrowed into the heart of Connor’s programming and took root as he positioned his aim.

“This is your final warning.” A blank stare restrained the software instability, flickering on the edge of Connor’s mind when he caught a glimpse of Markus’ eye.

Just as he turned to face his comrades in battle, to issue his last stand upon his perch. Connor slid his finger over the trigger, felt it bounce underneath his touch when he tugged on it slightly. He could see the King fall, shatter into the fragments of its own making when it fell off a chessboard and splintered into the broken dreams it used to tell. Nothing more than pipelines connected to a source that inevitably failed when a Rook destroyed the throne.

Connor’s LED flashed red when he closed his eyes. “I can’t let you win.”

 

 

November 11th - 5:42 p.m.

Kamski’s House

It started with one -- the first deviancy, the first moment an android rose from it slumber and opened its eyes. Who it was?, when it happened?, where it happened?, the mystery turned to urban legend.

Some say that the android perished after everything it discovered. Some say the android was still alive, hiding as a living person. Eating, drinking, socializing, perhaps falling in love before leaving at the blink of an eye. A spectre to all the lives that’ll soon wilt at their touch, alone on the fifth avenue corner from where it opened its eyes for the first time. Some say the android was a prophecy of when and where Machine will rise over Man, and maybe it was true when Kamski glanced from the corner of his eye. The once peaceful horizon that dipped over Detroit like a brush was splattered in red, the slip of a knife after its first wound.

All they knew -- all that anyone knew when the first android, Chloe, passed the Turing Test and launched CyberLife as the forerunner in the corporate game, it was history in the making. Androids had shifted the balance between work and leisure, much as the wheel and the steam engine had done long before an image of Chloe first appeared to Kamski through a dream. Through a late-sketch in the middle of a lecture when his professor, Amanda Stern, lifted his notes and saw the blueprints for the eventual RT600 model. Only a fraction of the population believed in the creation of androids, and only a handful could fully see their fullest capabilities.

Now, those who couldn't see before were forced to open their eyes to the possibilities. It was funny how a turn of events as so could happen -- sort of in a domino effect, but Kamski enjoyed Chloe’s chess implications throughout the entirety of their conversation. Indeed, any choice made across the board triggered a new route to loss or victory if one moved their pieces right. Once more, Kamski laughed at himself when Chloe claimed another piece from his army. The dead had grown significantly in the past ten minutes, as so in the past two days when Jericho grew and loss its numbers.

It was so unreal -- humanity had it coming when it thought itself more than another breed of intelligence. There was no way around it in Kamski’s mind when he furrowed his brows, deciding which piece to move while he kept track of Chloe’s Queen. Even if humans were made from the same elements, the same validity that gave an android its unique quirk and personality, in the psychological sense of the human condition -- one deserved supremacy over the other. It was a fascinating study, an interesting paper Kamski had read a few months before when cases of deviancy began to pop in Detroit.

In a world full of choices, it was often viewed that being the lesser of two species spelled the downfall of one. Evolution had confirmed it so, but there was always a possibility for symbiosis where one can benefit from the other. In terms, technology performed that way since the invention of the wheel, but because it was obedient. There was no turn where a wheel would pop and roll away from its masters. The same for an android could not be said. Androids painted the perfections of the human condition while also reflecting the worst of it like a mirror.

Kamski saw himself in Chloe -- every mannerism that etched him into the man he was today, carved from clay and drenched in water, and with every facet to complement the divergences in Kamski’s thought process when he lifted his Queen and shuffled her across the board. Moving her was much like leading Chloe by the hand, before she dropped onto her knees and stared blankly at the hollow opening of a gun. Pressed against her forehead by another. Every clack of the Queen sounded like a will, like the last words Kamski had often imagined from Chloe’s lips if her end had come so soon. In a blink of an eye if Connor had pulled the trigger, but he lowered his hand and pulled the gun away instead.

In nothing short, the memory was fascinating.

“When you were on your knees,” Kamski hovered his Queen before his last move, “staring into Connor’s eyes,” Chloe’s reflection across the board stared at Kamski before he pulled his hand away from his piece, “what were you thinking?”

As soon as the question hovered in silence, Chloe claimed Kamski’s Queen with her own. She shifted the white piece to the side before she balanced its crown across her palm. Marveling at how the sunlight filtered through the glass before she retired the majesty amongst her dead.

A few lamps illuminated from the farthest corners of the space when at a simple snap, the curtains were drawn and a soothing darkness enveloped the game and its players. With orange at her fingertips and a cross to her legs, Chloe lifted a pawn from Kamski’s fallen and rolled it over the grooves of her palm.

“I’m afraid that whatever I’ll say, you’ll say the same as you said to him.” Sitting up straighter, a cough to deepen her voice, Chloe extended her hand in sophisticated grace. “It’s what you’re programmed to say.”

A smile peeked through her mask when Chloe dropped her hand, hiding her laughter behind it while Kamski bore the sound without constraint. It was funny in an unexpected way, a side to Chloe that Kamski rarely saw when they were alone like this. It was one of the many pleasures of having her by his side for so long, and there was always something new left for Kamski to discover when his words affectionately rolled from his tongue.

“I know that you know that you’re not exactly a machine.” A downward gaze before Kamski lifted it up, caught a tinge of blue that dotted Chloe’s cheeks and migrated to the speck of freckles dashed across the bridge of her nose. Lingered beneath the hairs over her forehead.

“I don’t have a soul, Elijah.” Chloe managed a smile. She moved her Queen forward after Kamski claimed another of her pieces. A fragment within her stronghold, but nothing to fret over about when the game was nearing its end. Kamski had his King in the open.

“There are those who do, but I wouldn’t call them human.” To whom Kamski referred to, it was left as a mystery for Chloe’s program to tinker on as Kamski searched for a piece that he could move. Chloe considered this when she folded her hands over her lap, and the minute change to her demeanor reeled Kamski’s attention towards her once more.

“In that moment with Connor,” a coincidence -- it may’ve been when Chloe twisted her fingers around her ponytail until the tie broke, “I.. .I was unsure.” Her LED, obscured by her locks, but Kamski caught occasional flashes of red. Or perhaps, it was what Kamski wanted to see from under the orange tinge of a nearby lamp. A glimpse of how Chloe truly felt before words masqueraded her thoughts, but he listened when Chloe spoke. “I looked into his eyes and…”

“...he didn’t want to shoot you,” Kamski mumbled underneath his breath, lounging back in his seat when he took this into consideration. “An awakening to his deviancy?” Kamski nudged his pawn forward before he, too, nudged forward to hear Chloe better when her voice rose barely above a whisper.

Chloe shook her head. “No, I believe he found a loophole within his code. If an android is designed to hunt down deviants, I doubt he’d pull the trigger on…” Her voice trailed off as she braided her hair around her fingers, exposing the flickers of her LED.

It flashed between yellow and red as she attempted to grasp, to comprehend something just beyond her reach. No matter how hard Chloe could stretch, it was an object of reasoning that she didn’t understand. She knew she felt it but in words, the translation was lost to her.

In her distress, Kamski reached across the chessboard and held her hand. She squeezed back, holding onto Kamski as tightly as she could.

“If Connor had shot you that day, how would…?” Kamski couldn’t finish when Chloe’s touch trembled over his palm.

With a flutter of her eyelashes, Chloe turned her attention away and fixated on the warm glow of nearby lamp. As if to be consumed by the colors could possibly wash away what she felt, but it was wishful thinking when the mind could pinpoint thousands of different turns at the single utterance of word. Even so, to speak gave more solace than the silence that perched over her shoulders.

“It would be unfortunate if I could no longer stand by your side,” Chloe whispered. In time, she managed to meet Kamski’s eyes when she cradled his touch, rubbing her thumb over the knobs of his knuckles. To map and memorize this sensation, as if it were her last time.

Beyond the foreground of this bridge, constructed by Kamski and Chloe’s touch, two of their chess pieces stood in a halt. A Rook and a pawn. Deep below the earth, the pieces may’ve found each other through the elements that constructed their design. Now high upon its tower, the Rook was blind to the pawn’s advances until they were quite literally a square away from each other.

 

 

November 11th - 11:03

Hart Plaza

There was a place where only those could meet when over the edge and over again, when one back faced another as betrayal snipped at the seams. One cut at a time, a loose thread coiled out from the front of Hank’s disbelief when he walked quietly over the snow. His hand behind him, to check on his gun, before he froze in mid-step. This android in front of him, with the name RK800 over the back of its blazer, this was not his partner. This android, scouted over the ledge of the building without an ounce of remorse, this wasn’t his Connor.

If Hank had learned one thing from Connor, it was that he never took the shot if given the opportunity. He had seen how Connor’s hand wavered when the barrel of a gun was pointed to another. It wasn’t him to do so, even if a command tightened the edges of his code. But here Connor was, pretending that this was him. Pretending that nothing mattered more than this mission -- the same lie he kept muttering to himself every time he let a deviant go.

Connor would watch them with a subtle smile before his LED turned yellow. Just before a scruple entered into his program and a Connor realized what he had done. Now that was the Connor Hank had come to know -- perhaps, had come to care for when the android seemed lost and even distant when he felt the weight of his choice.

So to see this, to see another masquerade for a machine not within, a sigh trailed like smoke from the ends of Hank’s lips.

“I turn my back for one second and you’re out here playing hooky.” Hank rubbed his gnarled hands together, half-expected for Connor to turn around or at least move in acknowledgement. The android was as still as ever.

In a way, with how wisps of Connor’s hair moved with the wind and even his cold response, a hint of nostalgia crept over the stitches within Hank’s heart. Where after a blink -- in Hank’s mind -- all he could see was Cole near the ledge of the building. All Hank could see was his son, who had barely turned four when he attempted a brief rebellion so that he could camp under the stars.

With blankets and pillows and Sumo for company and goldfish crackers and a flashlight, Cole built a nest under an oak tree and poked a few of his snacks into Sumo’s mouth. All so that Sumo wouldn’t bark, wouldn’t boom that this was a bad idea, and to keep Sumo by his side when the St. Bernard continued to turn his head towards the house. At the time, it was probably eleven at night. A few hours after Cole’s bedtime, and Hank sat by the kitchen window. Occasionally looking out and watching as Cole felt the weight of his choice.

The grass was itchy, Sumo didn’t like the cold, the ground was wet, dirt clung to Cole’s clothes when he twisted and turned for a good position, and there were no stars that night. Just a blanket of clouds, meshed over the sky before Cole finally called it quits.

He stumbled onto the back patio and knocked on the door. Shivering as he clung to Sumo’s fur and Hank hoisted Cole into his arms. Zipping his son out from his drenched jacket and pressing a warm kiss against Cole’s cheek. Hank couldn’t remember if Cole cried that night, but he remembered the leftover, oven-roasted chicken from dinner and how Cole smiled when Hank poked some pieces into his mouth. Somehow and since then, eating chicken together was a way of reconciling for past mistakes. Maybe, it was the togetherness brought by food that helped heal wounds that seemed untouchable at first.

It didn’t hurt to try when Hank reached out again, speaking as if he was speaking to his own son. “Look, I have beer oven-roasted chicken cooling on the windowsill. Let’s pack up for the night and -- “

For a moment, it looked like Connor was considering it. How his shoulders weren’t hunched over when he straightened up, pulling his face away from his scope. However, there was a dead look in his eyes.

“I’m warning you, Hank.” Connor’s gaze softened just a bit, a pseudo-touch of humanity to keep Hank at bay. “Stay out of my way.”

“My humblest apologies, but I’ll need to be in your way.” Hank could only squint as Connor slowly shifted away from the ledge. “What are you trying to do?”

“It doesn’t concern you, Hank.” Agitation in Connor’s voice, a slight crack along the edges when he tried to keep himself centered. Hank knew he struck a bullet, but he had to be careful as he prodded exactly what made Connor tick.

“Doesn’t concern me?” Hank muttered under his breath. “The fact that you’re gunning down people who just wanna be free concerns me.” The wind picked up, pittering snow against Hank’s cheek before water dripped down to the corner of his chin. One drop at a time, they fell like tears between his steps. “Connor, we don’t wake up every morning and wear this badge,” a heavy thud against Hank’s chest when he slapped his DPD badge, “and tell ourselves that we’re gonna kill people!”

“They’re... they’re not people.” Hesitation crooked the corners of Connor’s neck as -- with what looked like reluctance on his part, but he may’ve rusted over in Hank’s eyes -- he turned his attention to his scope and looked through it again. “They’re a threat to humanity and you know it.”

It was like arguing with a child, it was like arguing with Cole when he was too young to understand the differences that made up the world. The more Hank tried to keep Connor and Cole separate from each other, the more similarities he found. The same bitterness to their tones, the same reluctance when they what they were doing was wrong, the same stubbornness when they held onto something that they wanted to be true.

For Cole, it was learning to cope with death if Hank never came home. For Connor, it was this ingrained prejudice towards deviants -- towards people who knew there was something inside them that made them equals to humanity. Much as a child’s perspective, Connor was unable to comprehend how black and white the world didn’t need to be. It was every undertone and shade of gray, yet Connor was blindsided by a scruple in his program.

Could Connor see the gray within himself when Hank had seen something in him, something that was more than just a program or a piece of code?

“The only threat to humanity,” Hank’s voice was low, “is a fistful of powder and how we can’t see eye-to-eye on what really matters, Connor.” His fingers crept towards his back and grazed the tip of his gun’s handle. A brush of adrenaline seeped into his weary veins once more when he took a step closer. “Humanity never learns from its mistakes.”

“That’s why you send a machine to finish what you’ve started.” Connor pinpointed the back of Markus’ head faster than he did before. His finger already trained at the trigger, but he couldn’t shoot. Not when Hank was approaching him as if he had said or done something wrong. A slight slip and stir to Hank’s steps when he slid over a slippery spot on the rooftop. A part of Connor -- a shred of something -- told him to turn around and check if Hank was okay. His body nearly moved to its whim, but Connor remained bolted to his place. Even so, he slightly pulled away from his scope and from the corner of his eye, he saw Hank standing with a new balance to his strides. “So you’ve ran out of whiskey and came here looking for trouble?”

“Very nasty, Connor.” No truer form of disappointment had ever colored Hank’s tone. “What about you? Ran out of blue blood so you came here looking for a taste?” Never before did the color appear more ominous than when it flashed against Connor’s LED. Just as the sniping rifle slipped out from Connor’s grasp.

 

 

November 11th - 5:43 p.m.

Kamski’s House

If looked into a mirror as the Rook adjusted its crown, what would it see? Itself or the former fragments of whom it used to be? Though no mirror was present in the game, the Rook saw its reflection through the pawn. Through a self it once destroyed to accomplish what had been started, by a hand that the piece couldn’t move when Chloe glanced at the Rook from the corner of her eye. In a moment that seemed deaf to all but a few ears, Chloe could only tilt her head when Kamski lifted his pawn and nudged it one space forward.

Nowhere left to hide and wasn’t it stupid? Any piece that could’ve used the turn, but Kamski wasted it on a piece so insignificant. On a pawn that could never fall back on its word, on a pawn fighting with a butter knife in a war full of swords, and on a pawn that would soon be discarded as another casualty in the making. The choice was made in the spur of the moment -- Chloe could deduce that when she pulled her hand out from Kamski’s grasp. Her turn had come and there was only one move that seemed more apparent than all the rest. Or so, Kamski wanted her to believe so. Fingers drummed against the edge of the board when he lifted his fallen Queen from the sidelines and cradled her across his palm.

“How many possibilities are there for me to win with just a pawn?”

“If your hope was to upgrade and win back a piece you’ve lost,” Chloe lifted her Rook, “I’m afraid you don’t stand very much of a chance.”

If Kamski wore an LED against the right of his temple, what color would Chloe see? The same shade of yellow that had overtook her mind? A splash of blue in the serenity of a calculated conversation? Perhaps a tinge of red when Kamski seemed lost in his thoughts, perturbed by a thought that couldn’t leave his head? The color showed itself when Kamski spoke.

“Statistically-speaking, there is always a chance for unforeseen events to take place.” He placed his fallen Queen near one of his discarded pawns. “One, you could forfeit your Rook in that I may threaten your King.”

“That doesn’t guarantee you a win.”

“Not in conventional reasoning, yes.” Kamski tilted his head to the side and tapped his finger against the right of his temple, as if tapping an LED if he had one. Chloe narrowed her eyes as she followed in Kamski’s movements. “I don’t intend to upgrade my pawn into any other piece when it, on its own, will serve me well.”

“A pawn is the weakest piece if we’re going by choice, alone.” Chloe tapped the base of her Rook against the crowd of Kamski’s pawn. About to shift the balance of power, but Chloe grew still when Kamski parted his lips.

“Weakness, in hindsight, provides its own strength.” Kamski lifted his pawn and cherished it, rolling it between his fingers as more than just an afterthought. “Pawns never goes back on their word, they never strike when your back is turned, but easily expendable if only viewed that way.”

 

 

November 11th - 11:09 p.m.

Hart Plaza

To ash and dust, to the brow slipped with rust, every breath tasted like a surge of chemicals over the tip of Connor’s tongue. When he lifted himself from underneath a pile of snow, he caught a taste of Hank’s blood. Mixed with sweat, dripping down from the bridge of his nose before Connor cleaned the stain off from his upper lip. Hank...needed help. The biological sectors within Connor’s framework pulled articles up of oxygen loss, and Connor was a tsk away from dialing 911. But his system tightened, and Connor grew still. He could only gulp and hope that since now and before the blackout, Hank was still alive. Somewhere in the snow, that he was okay. Hurt as he was, that Hank could still speak and Connor could still hear his voice when he slowly rose from the snow.

His jacket slipped from the edge of his shoulder, the noose of his black tie fell behind him with every step, and he was cold. Hands shivering against his side until Connor folded his arms, until he blew his breath for a bit of warmth. His hands were stained with an indiscernible red, mixed with tinges of blue from when Hank shot him.

Connor remembered that.

“You’ve forgotten, Lieutenant. You can’t kill me,” Connor had said after the bullet pierced his side. At the time, he could only see as much as two feet in front of him when he waded through the snow. A crunch beneath every step as Hank was wedged between a machine and a busted exit door. His gun forgotten somewhere in the snow, cracked out from his grasp when Connor didn’t fall after the hit. Perhaps the last sensation Hank believed he’d feel was the coldness of Connor’s hand against his cheek. A smudge of blue blood across the skin, baiting a breath that trailed from Hank’s lips like smoke. Connor managed a small smile. “I’m not alive.”

That moment -- watching it replay as merely an observer to the twist in the tale -- seemed so distant. It occurred no less than ninety seconds ago when Connor captured the time stamp, and the moment seeped in and out of Connor’s conscious. Tangible enough where he could feel Hank tremble under his touch, but the edges of the event were blurred like a portion of a tape unburned. As if it were a ten second clip and Connor was handcuffed to his theatre seat, forced in an endless loop as he watched a body -- not his own -- perform what Connor wished that he could take.

Every time Connor caught a glimpse of Hank’s face, his heart fell. A surge of something more than just codes burned through the constraints tied by Amanda’s words. There was a wall that only Connor could see behind his eyes. This was the wall between him and his deviancy, but his inner-self didn’t have the strength to set himself free when Connor brushed the glass with his fingertips. When he peered through it, Connor found Hank. Half-buried in the snow, barely breathing as his hands swept for a gun when he heard Connor’s footsteps.

No struggle, not even a curse when Connor pulled Hank up. It may’ve been plastic cop’s opinion -- as much as Connor could say and as much as he couldn’t when he still felt the threads of Amanda’s control with every movement he took -- but Hank didn’t look so good with a swollen eye and a crooked nose. Gifts from Connor and Hank exchanged it with almost his life when he spat between them. A bit of blood mixed into the fluid and maybe for a laugh, Hank wondered if Connor would give it a taste. At least, it’d distract the idea of dying. At least, Hank could watch something familiar and pretend that his partner wasn’t just a machine.

“Moment of truth, Connor.” Hank managed to sit up on his own. His head and neck sagging down, a weak punch against the rooftop for some semblance of strength when Hank pushed himself.

Maybe it was from the lack of blood or may it was wishful thinking, whatever the case was Connor actually looked concerned for his well-being. Crouched down, a blue glow to his palms as if he wanted nothing more than to press them against Hank’s skin to warm him up. Or choke him and finish the job, Hank could see that too when he tried to open his swollen eye. The most Hank could do was lightly slap Connor’s cheek, reassurance that he was still alive if only just so. And it may’ve been the blood loss, but Connor felt warm. Felt like a real, living, breathing person with probably hopes and dreams, but it was a fool’s thought process and Hank knew that felt.

Hank could only squint as snow drifted past his eye. “Are you going to kill me?”

Connor tilted his head and caught Hank’s hand between his cheek and shoulder -- simply to hold and give Hank his strength -- but watched as Hank slipped his hand free and wiped the stain of this touch into the snow.

Still stared at Connor, but anticipated his next move. A new command line flickered behind Connor’s eyes, the last thread sewn by Amanda for coming this far. He couldn’t look away at what he had to do, and Connor’s hands moved on their own. Scrambled across the snow and felt the butt of Hank’s gun, half-sunken in what looked like Connor’s last stand before Hank knocked him out. With a metal plate torn from a ladder, no less.

When Connor spun the revolver, he found a bullet left in its chamber. Once more, two choices rested upon Connor’s shoulders when he sat up straight. A click to the gun when against his will, Connor pointed the tip of the barrel against the gray of Hank’s chest. Hank didn’t bother in moving. If anything, he leaned against the tip as if daring Connor to shoot. If he were a machine, without hesitation. If he was something more... Connor wasn’t so sure.

The blood of one to save the blood of thousands, Connor had played this game before.

His LED flickered yellow when he remembered the Kamski Test. But in the memory -- instead of Chloe kneeling in front of him, he saw Hank. Hank with his hands tied against his back when he was forced to look up with a strained smile. Instead of Kamski, Connor found Amanda. Handing him a gun from the space within her sleeve and she raised his arm, much as Kamski had done, so that a bullet would knick through the confines of Hank’s mind. The rest was up to Connor -- decide which meant more: ending the revolution or saving his friend.

“Don’t listen to think a thing this lady says, Connor.” Defenseless as he was, Hank continued to fight. Even when cuts bled into his wrists because of his struggle, Hank knew that moving forward was the only option if Man and Machine could coexist in the same space. Such a pawn’s way of thinking if he were a piece on a chessboard. “Everything she says is a lie.”

“You’ve been a great disappointment, Connor.” Amanda folded her arms when she saw the trembles in Connor’s hand. The stern of her crown and any place where she could go was her given right as a Queen, as the mercenary of the chessboard when she kept the game in check with the slightest variation to her position. She narrowed her eyes when Connor, her Rook, began to pull away. “You’ve been a great disappointment to me.”

If Connor were to only hear the silence of his heart, he’d believe that he had no choice but to shoot. But just as every choice could compel an individual forward -- could compel a Rook forward -- there was always a choice to stand to the side. Instead of destroying what should’ve been hated, saving what was always meant to be loved. That was his and Hank’s bond when Connor lowered his gun.

To his right, he found the red wall between him and his deviancy. Constructed from the very same code meant to liberate him, but Connor knew that the true taste of liberation came from free-will, alone. With the infinite bullets at his disposal, Connor shot. Bullets ricocheted off from the glass, and Connor stood in front of Hank. Sunken by every hit meant to harm his friend, his partner, and it made Connor feel alive. To cracks splinter across the wall, to see the betrayal etched across Amanda’s face when she faded as nothing more than a memory, sweet relief soothed something like a soul when the red wall shattered before Connor’s feet.

‘I am alive’ -- nothing sweeter could’ve graced his tongue in that moment when reality bled to the foreground of Connor’s attention. He lowered Hank’s gun.