“In three hundred and sixty feet, turn right.”
Lieutenant Hank Anderson muttered an absent thanks to the phone mounted on the dashboard. The cheerful little GPS was redundant at this point—the red-blue lights reflecting ominously in the darkened windows of the surrounding homes were a good enough indicator that he was in the right place. If not for the lights, the people gathered in little clusters on the sidewalks would have been a dead giveaway. Most wore pajamas beneath their heavy winter coats; not even Michigan winter or the ludicrously late hour were enough to stop rubberneckers.
He slowed further as he rounded the corner. A handful of state troopers stood along the glowing yellow cordon that stretched across the road, herding back an even denser crowd of spectators. Truly, nothing brought a community together quite like a murder. Two staccato wails of the siren dispersed the gathered vultures, and Hank nosed through the projected caution tape.
“In ten feet, your destination will be on the left,” the GPS supplied helpfully.
Several squad cars, every light flashing, were parked haphazardly in front of the little ranch house. An ambulance was backed into the driveway, the coroner’s van parked across the street. In the yard, a gaggle of uniformed DPD officers stood guard, talking amongst themselves. All the usual suspects. He rolled to a stop behind one of the vans.
An officer near the garage noticed Hank parking, and trotted down the drive as he stepped out of the car.
“Welcome back to Detroit, Lieutenant Anderson,” the officer said, her breath fogging in the chill night air. Human, then. “Captain Fowler told us to expect you.”
“Been back in the city for less than six hours, and I’m already at a murder scene,” Hank replied, starting for the house. “Sounds about right.”
The officer, nearly as tall as Hank was, with close-cropped dark hair under her hat, fell easily into step next to him. “A murder-suicide.”
He promptly stopped, turning to—he darted a quick look at the name sewn into her coat. J. Polanski. “Why the absolute fuck did Fowler roll me out of bed at two in the goddamn morning on a Saturday for a basic murder suicide? Why couldn’t someone on call handle this?”
“Probably because the suicide was an android,” Polanski replied simply.
Hank scrubbed a hand over his face. “Okay. Fair. Give me the rundown.”
“Female human victim,” Polanski began as they continued across the street. “Stabbed to death in her sleep, presumably by the android, an AK700 she lived with for at least the last four years.”
The rear ambulance doors were open, a loudly crying young woman seated just inside. An android EMT hovered nearby, monitoring her vitals, while a human cop attempted to interview her. Hank made an attempt to listen in as they passed, but the girl’s words were choked, lost in hitching full-body sobs.
Polanski frowned, mouth pressing into a thin, bitter line. “That’s the victim’s daughter. She discovered the body. Bodies.”
“Jesus, poor thing. How’d the android go?”
“Well, that…” Polanski clicked her tongue, tilted her head to the side. “Dis…Disassembly, I guess? And stabbing?”
It was Hank’s turn to frown, even more so than he did naturally. “How—”
“You should probably just see it for yourself,” she said. “It’s pretty grisly in there, sir.” They had arrived at the short set of stairs to the porch, and through the frosted glass he could see the indistinct shapes of several people moving around the front room.
And, around them, a lot of blue.
From his pocket, the tiny voice of the GPS chirped. “You have arrived at your destination. Have a pleasant evening.”
Connor didn’t know what to do with his hands. Before, it didn’t matter where his hands were—dangling at his sides, folded neatly behind his back, adjusting his tie. CyberLife had pre-programmed him with more than eleven hundred idle motions, and a random one of these motions cycled at equally random intervals when he wasn’t dedicated to a specific task. This, like simulated breathing, or blinking, served a single purpose—to put humans at ease. They liked it when androids fidgeted, and found it offputting when machines stood too still for too long. He himself had barely been aware of his hands, his eyelids, his artificial lungs, or anything beyond his mission.
Now, though, he was aware. Too aware, of everything, of his own comfort rather than that of the humans around him. Of his hands that didn’t feel quite right just hanging there, or resting on his hips, or crossed over his chest. What he wanted to do was pull the heavy coin from his jacket’s inner pocket and roll it across his knuckles; deftly flick it between his hands while pacing the scene, let the routine motions calibrate and sharpen his focus as he took in the gory living room.
If spinning the quarter could also divert a fraction of his processing power from the horror of the blood-soaked tableau before him, well... that was an untested potential benefit. One that would need to be beta’d at another time, as according to Lt. Anderson, coin tricks were inappropriate at a crime scene. Instead Connor settled on sticking his hands in his pockets, and pointedly ignoring the strange, unpleasant feeling hovering in his abdomen.
“Is he going to stand there posing all night, or you think he’s going to do something so we can get in there?”
Connor pulled his gaze away from the vivid blue smear on the floral wallpaper. A pair of human forensics specialists stood at the far wall, murmuring to one another and watching him.
“I am reconstructing the scene,” he said calmly. One of the two humans averted his gaze, and the other began to turn red. Too late, Connor realized he’d overheard something meant to be private. He lowered the sensitivity of his audio processors by 12%.
“My apologies,” he continued. “It should not take more than a few minutes.” Not a lie—less than an eighth of his processing power was dedicated to the quandary of his own limbs, the majority focused on the deactivated android seated on the sofa.
Perhaps “mutilated” would be a more fitting term than deactivated. Biocomponents—some partially destroyed, some intact—were strewn across the floor, marked by numbered yellow evidence tags. Blue blood coated the coffee table, soaked into the once-white couch cushions, left a messy trail on the hardwood floor. There were droplets of thirium on nearly every surface of the living room, and half the kitchen beyond.
A short gust of cold air as the front door opened, accompanied by a colorful selection of curse words, alerted Connor to the arrival of—
“Lieutenant Anderson,” he said, unable to suppress a grin, or the note of happiness in his voice. In two long, careful strides Connor crossed the short distance to the front door, and pulled a stunned Hank into a hug.
“Okay, yep,” Hank said quickly, patting his partner awkwardly on the back. He took Connor by the shoulders, gently pushed the over-eager android back. “It’s good to see you, too, kid, but maybe now isn’t the time.”
“Oh.” Connor smoothed his hands down the crisp front of his shirt, glancing quickly at the other people in the room. “Sorry, I… you are not scheduled to be back at the precinct until Monday afternoon.”
“I’m just as surprised as you are,” Hank replied, looking over Connor’s shoulder at the blue-soaked room. He followed an arc of it up the wall, only to find flecks of thirium on ceiling.
“Jesus fuck, you’re sure this is a suicide?” he asked, stepping around his partner to approach the center of the devastation.
“Positive,” Connor said, crossing and just as quickly uncrossing his arms as he positioned himself at Hank’s side.
The lieutenant blew out a long breath, heavy grey brows furrowing as he looked over the wreckage of the android perched on the sofa.
Both visual components had been removed—forcibly, judging by the ravaged synth-skin around the empty sockets, and the gouges in the white plastic endoskeleton beneath. Blood oozed from a near-perfectly circular wound on the victim’s right temple—where an LED had once been. Beneath the open, blue-stained fabric of the android’s shirt was a ragged hole where the thirium pump should have been. Based on the sheer amount of blood, other parts had most likely been torn away as well.
As if the dismemberment wouldn’t have been enough to ensure a shutdown, there was a long kitchen knife driven through the android’s skull. The victim’s own hands—with fingertips so damaged that white plastic protruded like bone—were still wrapped around the handle of the blade under his chin, joints locked in death.
Perhaps most disturbing of all was the android’s impeccable posture. Spine straight, both feet firmly on the floor, knees just slightly apart. Beneath rivulets of blood, the undamaged lower half of his face was arranged into a placid, almost serene expression. Every dark hair on his head was arranged perfectly, undisturbed but for a few dry globs of thirium.
Hank quickly scanned the rest of the room, searching for red blood among the blue, but saw no sign of a second body.
“The human victim is in her bedroom.” Connor nodded towards the kitchen. “Through there.”
They picked their way through the livingroom, careful not to kick over any evidence markers. The blue splatters stopped just inside the wide entrance, and Hank paused to survey the comparative calm of the kitchen.
The faucet was running, water pouring over dirty pans beneath the tap. Next to the sink, the dishwasher door stood open, the racks pulled out and half loaded. Two open Tupperware containers sat on the island, the congealed remains of a dinner that never made it to the refrigerator. A knife was missing from the wooden block next to the stove.
As Connor lead him down the short hallway, a familiar apprehension began to twist in Hank’s gut. The android in the front room had torn himself to shreds—what could he have done to a considerably less resilient human woman? At the door to the bedroom Connor paused, motioned Hank ahead of him. The lieutenant hesitated a moment, took a deep breath, and entered the room.
The coroner stood just inside, making notes on a dimly glowing tablet. An android medical examiner crouched on the opposite side of the bed, photographing the body.
“Anderson,” the coroner said in greeting, barely looking up as they entered the room. Hank grunted a short reply, moving to stand at the foot of the bed.
The mental preparation proved unnecessary. In sharp contrast to the bloodbath in the living room, the bedroom was all but untouched. Lying with her back to the door, covers pulled up to her chest, the dark-haired woman in the bed could have been sleeping. The only indication something terrible had happened was the surprisingly thin line of blood that ran from a single knife wound in her temple to leave a tiny red stain on the pillowcase beneath her cheek.
When Hank held out his hand, the coroner dutifully passed over the tablet. Flicking through the notes, he gathered a few key points—Florence Thompson, 67 years old, dead for five to seven hours.
He skimmed the rest of the preliminary report, handed it back to the coroner, and turned to the until-now silent android at his elbow.
“Alright, Connor. Tell me what you know.”
“The android’s name was Saul,” Connor said, and paused, LED briefly flickering yellow. That information wasn’t relevant to this, but it was the first thing to come to mind. When Connor had arrived on scene, Ms. Thompson’s daughter had been wailing the name, pleading with the dead android for answers that would never come. He tapped his fingers twice against his pant leg, and continued. “He was an AK700 home assistance unit.”
Something inscrutable narrowed Lt. Anderson’s eyes when Connor hesitated again. “Do you know why he did this?” the lieutenant prompted.
“I do not know why, yet. But I know how,” Connor replied. The rough shapes of his reconstruction protocol overlayed his vision, a transparent Saul-sized figure striding into the room as he replayed his completed analysis of the crime.
“Walk me through it,” Anderson said.
Turning on his heel, Connor returned to the kitchen, Lt. Anderson close behind. The reconstruction moved in stuttered reverse ahead of them, coming to a halt at the sink. “He was in the kitchen washing dishes while Ms. Thompson went to bed,” Connor said, flicking the reconstruction back into real time. A second figure, ostensibly Ms. Thompson, passed briefly through his vision and disappeared down the hallway. “Based on her time of death and his time of shutdown, at approximately 8:54pm Saul left the sink and took an eight inch chef’s knife from the block, there.” He nodded in the direction of the stove, and as if on cue the reconstruction set down the pan it was washing, turned, and with measured steps crossed the room. A red-orange outline of a knife appeared in its hand.
“He went to the bedroom where Ms. Thompson slept,” Connor continued, as the Saul figure walked down the hallway. An error message flickered at the corner of his vision when the reconstruction left his sightline. He dismissed it, not needing to see what came next—the android placing the knife at the sleeping woman’s temple, leaning all of his weight against the blade until it effortlessly pierced her skull. “He stabbed her once in the side of the head. Ms. Thompson most likely died instantly. Saul returned to the kitchen, dropped the knife there—” Connor pointed to a nearly invisible red-brown splatter on the floor next to the kitchen island—“and began to... to remove his LED.”
Hank held up a hand, halting Connor’s explanation. “Wait, he dropped the knife first?”
As the ghostly image of Saul stepped back into his field of view, Connor nodded once. “All of the victim’s missing biocomponents were forcibly removed by his own hand.”
“Christ,” Hank murmured, turning back to the blue-stained livingroom. Knowing this was done by hand made the copious amounts of blood seem even more vulgar, somehow.
“He started with his LED,” Connor continued, and just behind Lt. Anderson the reconstruction raised its right hand and began to methodically picking at the side of its head. After a futile moment the second hand came up, to claw frantically at the stubborn light.
“Then he removed his optical units.” The shadow-Saul began to scratch at its face, stumbling further into the livingroom, following the path of blood the real Saul had left behind. “He crushed the components after tearing them out, and threw them against the wall, here.” Gently he touched the wallpaper next to a viscous blue splatter. At his feet lay the destroyed eyes, half a brown iris visible amongst the wreckage.
Connor followed the path of the reconstruction as it tore itself apart. Serial numbers bloomed in Connor’s display, hovering morbidly over each discarded part in its own pool of thirium. Behind the sofa, #3957-adult male voicebox. At the edge of the coffee table, #6709k-right audio processor [DISCONTINUED]. Across the room, next to a softly bubbling fish tank, #0083-oral analysis receptor [tongue]. He listed each part as dispassionately as he could, while the reconstruction grew more and more erratic, wrenching components from Saul’s chassis with increasing brutality. With a violent spasm as it was gouged from the android’s chest, the final piece fell to the floor and rolled under the sofa. Biocomponent #2004.
The reconstruction halted, mid-tremor. He couldn’t bring himself to say it. Fingers tugged at each jacket cuff, then adjusted his already immaculate tie. Connor made a noise like he was clearing his throat—unnecessary, he was synthetic, he generated no fluids that would need to be cleared in such a manner. His LED glowed a brilliant, steady red. Again, vainly, he attempted to speak. “AK700, Saul, removed his own... he tore out—”
A heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder. Lt. Anderson, conern creasing his face, finished for him. “He ripped out his own heart,” Hank said quietly. “You ok, kid? Do you need a minute? This is... it must be a lot, for you.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant, but I’m fine,” Connor said tightly. Another error flashed red in his periphery—Warning: thirium regulator malfunction, arrythmic pump pattern detected. Secondary malfunction: excessive micro-oscillation of digital joints.
He stuffed shaking hands back into his pockets, made the throat-clearing sound again. “Less than sixty seconds remain when… after such extensive damage to this number biocomponents. Saul used this time to return to the kitchen and retrieve the knife.”
Connor restarted the reconstruction, and the ghost of Saul walked to the discarded knife, plucking it from the floor as though it were a dropped magazine. The image moved in an alarmingly tranquil manner for just having savagely dismembered. With the same unnerving serenity, the reconstruction crossed the front room, sat primly at the edge of the sofa, placed the blade at a precise angle beneath its jaw, and calmly, smoothly, drove it up into Saul’s skull. The reconstruction jerked once as its processes ground to an abrupt halt, and then settled back to align perfectly with the real android. Slowly the image faded away, and Connor’s vision returned to normal, the ruined body of Saul brought sharply into focus.
“Why the knife?” Hank asked, softly. “He was going to shut down no matter what he did at this point, so why bother with the extra step?”
“At that angle, the blade penetrated the maximum possible number of vital components he could reach with a single wound,” Connor said. “It’s extremely difficult to recover any information from an android in full shutdown—it’s basically impossible with this level of damage to the primary CPU and memory banks.”
“He must have had something in his memory he wanted to hide,” Lt. Anderson said, half to himself. “Compromising information, of some kind.”
“Or…” Connor murmured, but quickly stopped himself with a small shake of his head. Lt. Anderson was probably right, Saul had some manner of sensitive information stored in his head. Criminal activity, perhaps.
Hank wouldn’t let it go. “…Or?”
Connor was silent for a while, LED spinning yellow, yellow, yellow. Then, quietly, “Or he wanted to forget something. Something so awful he had to completely destroy himself to ensure he could never be made to remember it again.”
They stood for a long while in somber silence, Hank’s hand still on Connor’s shoulder. Other investigators moved around them, photographing, sampling, note-taking. After a time, Hank narrowed his eyes, rubbed a hand over his beard.
“Connor,” he said. The android made a small, noncommittal noise in reply, eyes locked on the dead android. So he repeated, a little more forcefully, “Connor.”
“Yes, Lieutenant?” he replied, without looking away from Saul’s body.
“Where’s the LED?”
At that, Connor’s own LED switched to an immediate, alert blue. He brought his full attention to his partner. “What?”
“Saul’s LED.” Hank gestured around the room with both hands. “Every other part of him is here. Smashed to shit, but they’re in the house. So where’d his LED go?”
Connor went still, instantly bringing up the relevant piece of the reconstruction. In the smooth way that only a machine could move, he scanned the bloody path from kitchen to living room and back. Then he scanned it again. After a third, redundant scan, Connor turned an unsettled gaze on Hank.
“It’s not here.”
The real mystery is: will i be able to write a convincing mystery? Will Gavin Reed actually turn up in the next chapter? (Spoiler alert: yes). Will this finally be the project I finish?
Who knows, let’s find out! Thank you for reading this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed it :)
PS: follow me on twitter and tumblr @sheepishwolfy, and scream with me about robots
Less explicitly bloody this time, but still plenty of discussion of the suicide and crime scene from the first chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Highlights of the previous night’s Detroit Gears game played silently on the television on the wall of the break room. A pair of beat cops that Gavin couldn’t name if someone put a gun to his head watched the footage, talking quietly to one another. One of them glanced over, asked the detective if he’d seen the game last night—the first home game since the mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted!
“Basketball is not my sport,” Gavin said tersely, without looking up from his phone. He leaned forward, hooking his feet in the rungs of the tall chair, elbows coming to rest on the table as he concentrated on the latest ridiculous game Tina had convinced him to install.
A coffee mug appeared on the table, and the chair next to his scraped against the floor. Gavin didn’t need to look up to know it was Tina herself dropping into the seat. “Do you have a sport, besides being a gold-medal shithead?”
“No.” The phone beeped sadly in Gavin’s hands as he died, or ran out of turns, or whatever the point of this particular exercise in futility was. He set the device on the table with an irritated clack, and looked up at his friend. “How’s your first day, Detective Chen?”
She shrugged, a façade of nonchalance that was immediately broken by prideful smile that dimpled her cheeks. “Not much different from being on the street,” she said. “We’re so understaffed, Fowler has me interviewing a couple of kids who’ve allegedly been spray-painting penises on abandoned cars this morning.”
Gavin grinned, rocked his chair back onto two legs, and threw his arms wide. “Welcome to the big leagues. Get ready for all the teen dick bandits and petty theft you can handle.”
“Fuck you, Reed,” Tina laughed. “At least Connor said he’d let me take the next homicide that comes through.”
At the mention of the android, Gavin made an involuntary disgusted noise.
“What is your deal?” Tina asked. She leaned her forearms on the table, hands wrapping around her coffee mug.
Sighing, Gavin shifted in his seat. “I thought he was a robot freedom fighter or whatever now. I was hoping not to have to deal with his smug plastic ass anymore.”
Tina pursed her lips, tapped her thumbs against the mug. “You want know what I think?”
“No, I fucking don’t, but you’re going to tell me anyway,” Gavin said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
“I think you’re pissy because you know you should apologize to him,” Tina said bluntly.
Gavin scoffed. “For what?”
Her eyes went wide, and she looked around the room in disbelief. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you were a complete cock to him before? Connor was only ever professional to you, and you acted like a shitty baby about it. I know you’re not real huge on androids, Gavin, but now that… you know…”
“Okay, fine, maybe I was a dick, but just because Pinocchio is a real fucking boy now doesn’t mean—”
Connor chose that exact moment to walk into the break room. Tina immediately averted her eyes as Connor passed their table, turning her head just enough that her dark hair fell partially across her pinkening cheeks.
Leaning closer to her, Gavin finished in a whispered hiss, “—it doesn’t mean we have to be best fucking friends now.”
With a quick glance at Connor—his back was to them, with no indication he was listening in—Tina leaned in and murmured in reply, “You don’t have to like him, you just have to be less of a colossal shitheel.”
“Shitheel? What is this, 1946?”
“I can get more creative, just—”
Tina was interrupted by the soft tap of a disposable coffee cup on the table. They looked up to find Connor standing over them, hand still on the cup. In a smooth motion he leaned to slide the coffee across the table to Gavin.
“Detectives,” Connor said pleasantly, inclining his head towards them. Then he turned and walked away, as casually as he’d arrived.
As soon as the android turned his back, Gavin mouthed what the fuck? at Tina, who only offered a bewildered shrug in reply.
When the doors slid to a close, she smirked. “You’re already doing better. Before you would’ve said that to his face, instead of behind his back like a respectable colleague.”
“It’s too fucking early for this,” Gavin said, pressing his palms into his eye sockets. “There doesn’t have to be a deeper meaning to not wanting a fight at seven AM.”
“Maybe he’s flirting with you.”
With an exasperated noise, Gavin pushed promptly to his feet. “I hate you,” he said, and left to start his work day.
He took the coffee with him.
Hank slung his coat over the back of his chair, cast his keys into a drawer. His desk seemed untouched since he’d seen it four months ago. Almost untouched; someone had replaced the long-dead Japanese maple with a living one. A short, neatly labeled stack of new case files sat next to an inbox that already runneth over. Otherwise, it was the same disaster zone of post-its and paperwork and a coffee mug that probably had living cultures in the bottom of it.
By contrast, Connor’s workstation—he assumed it was still Connor’s, the nameplate remained blank—was immaculate. Monitor and keyboard at precise angles, a single pen, an empty inbox, all completely devoid of personalization. No, that wasn’t entirely true. In the corner closest to the divider, equidistant from either edge, was a small square planter. A single long stem protruded from it, indigo-speckled flowers blooming at irregular intervals along the verdant curve. It didn’t take a real sharp detective to figure out who had replaced the withered plant on Hank’s own desk. He smiled a little, in spite of himself.
An insistent knocking broke his philosophical musing about houseplants. Hank turned to find Fowler rapping on the glass wall of his office, motioning Hank inside.
The door hadn’t even shut before the Captain spoke. “You see the news this morning?”
Hank dropped heavily into the chair across the desk, settling back and stretching out his legs, crossing them at the ankle. He shifted, laid his elbows across the armrests and interlaced his fingers over his stomach. Sufficiently comfortable, he leveled a placid gaze on the captain and uttered a profound, “Nope.”
“Take a look,” Fowler said, shoving a copy of the Detroit Star-Tribune across the desk. Hank didn’t need to lean forward to read the headline dominating the front page.
Deadly Deviancy: Android Murders Human, Destroys Self in Shocking Display of Instability
Beneath the headline, a large photo of a smiling, living Florence Thompson was juxtaposed with a lifeless marketing photo of a stock AK700 model android. They didn’t even bother to crop the CyberLife watermark out of the lower left corner.
“Fuck’s sake,” Hank muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. “The Tribune is a fuckin’ rag, no one’s going to buy this fear monger bullshit,” he said, unconvincing even to himself.
“You know that’s a lie, Hank,” Fowler said, tiredly. “And even if it was true, Channel 16 is running a story on it later this afternoon. It’s a matter of time before this is all over CNN and the internet is fucking buried in knee-jerk thinkpieces.”
“I know how the media works,” Hank cut in flatly. He’d been part of enough news coverage as the head of the red ice task force to last a lifetime, and gotten a second lifetime’s worth after the uprising. “You don’t—”
“The department put out a written statement this morning, and they’re calling a press conference at 3,” Fowler continued, ignoring the interruption entirely. “Public relations wants you there too.”
“Oh, for—no. Fuck no.” Now Hank sat forward in his chair, and jabbed a finger at the Captain. “I came back two weeks after everyone else because I didn’t want to talk to the fucking press, Jeffrey. Can’t you...?”
“The public loves you, for some goddamn reason. I assume because they don’t know what a sack of shit you are.” Fowler’s tone was less cutting than the words implied. “Androids and humans both... how the hell did that PR woman phrase it... ‘have a favorable view of you for your actions during the uprising.’ Apparently she thinks putting you at the forefront of the investigation will ease political tensions. Humans just started coming back to the city, this could spiral out of control if we don’t stay ahead of it.”
Hank could find no reasonable way to argue against it that didn’t just sound like whining. With a resigned sigh, he pressed his face into his hands, then sat up. “Fine. Fine. But I don’t know what all you expect me to say. Humans do this shit all the time, and no one gets their tits in a knot. Murder-suicides are pretty self contained shitstorms.”
“Here’s the thing—”
“Aw, Jesus, what the fuck else?”
“Connor doesn’t think it was a suicide.”
Hank blinked once, twice, considering the implication of those words. Connor’d seemed pretty goddamn sure at the scene. But then...“The missing LED,” he said slowly.
“That, and some other technobabble. All I got was, he suspects there was some...outside tampering,” Fowler said. “You’ll have to ask Connor. He’s in the evidence room.”
Ten minutes in the office, and already he was regretting coming back to work. Hank pushed to his feet, knees protesting the movement. “Anything else you want to stack on this shit sandwich before you choke me with it?” he asked, already halfway to the door.
“Yeah, we’re ludicrously undermanned,” Fowler said, turning back to his terminal. “Collins retired, a bunch of other detectives transferred up to Flint and Ann Arbor, and we’ve got a third of the patrol officers we should. We can’t even borrow anyone from the other precincts, because they’re all stretched just as thin. Not even Michigan’s Finest want to put up with this shit.”
“Oh my God, Jeff, do you have anything I actually want to hear?”
Fowler shrugged. “Chen passed her detective’s exam, so you’ve got her at your disposal now. Found out my ex-wife and ex-husband regularly meet up for lunch to bitch about me. That should make you feel a little better.”
Hank managed not to laugh out loud at the muttered “asshole” Fowler threw in his direction as he left.
On the way to the evidence room, Hank took a circuitous route through the bullpen. The place was a wasteland of hastily-emptied desks and a truly pathetic number of uniformed officers. Some familiar faces remained—Chen at her new personal station, officers Miller and Persons at their own desks. Gavin fuckin’ Reed, for some goddamn reason, loitered near the break room. Hank had assumed that android-hating son of a bitch would have been on the first train out of Detroit, but there he was.
As he passed, Hank rapped his knuckles against Tina’s desk. “Congratulations, kid,” he said, and meant it. “I look forward to working with you.”
“Thanks, Lieutenant,” she said, tossing him a quick, sincere smile before looking back to her work.
The main evidence server was quiet, lights dimmed, no sign of movement through the large mesh-glass windows as Hank approached. He began to suspect Fowler had been wrong about Connor’s whereabouts, until he noticed a light on at the end of the hallway. One of the smaller handling rooms.
There, he found Connor seated at a long steel table, an array of bagged evidence and paperwork spread neatly before him. Photos from the scene were thrown up on the large smart display against one wall—multiple angles of both bodies, blood splatters, biocomponents.
The android himself was leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, arms crossed, chin dipped to his chest. His LED, solid yellow, faded slowly from dim to bright and back again.
Was... was he napping? Did androids need to sleep? Hank considered just letting him... recharge, or whatever. Kid looked like he needed it. His jacket—the same well-tailored grey suit jacket he’d been wearing two days ago—was tossed carelessly over the back of another chair. The sleeves of his white shirt were pushed up to his elbows, the top two buttons undone, tie missing.
Some measure of regret nagged Hank’s subconscious as he tapped the android’s shoulder. But, if he had to speak to the press in a few hours, Hank needed all the information he could get. Connor could nap when they were done.
Date: Monday, 14 March 2039
Time: 12:47 PM
Total standby period: 00:57:43
Startup messages glowed green against Connor’s eyelids. Blinking twice prompted his optical units to zoom and retract, blurring and sharpening the room before settling on the proper focus. He tilted his head to the left, to the right, then arched his back, calibrating several misaligned cervical joints.
Someone was standing next to him. Quickly Connor minimized the boot sequence dominating his vision, and looked up to find Hank at his shoulder.
“Lieutenant, good afternoon,” he said, rising to his feet. Connor shook and flexed his fingers, manual sensors springing to life along his palms in a burst of static-like feeling.
“Were you napping?” Anderson asked.
“Androids don’t need sleep,” Connor said. “I diverted power from several auxiliary systems in order to more effeciently analyze—”
Hank immediately cut him off. “Old-man-friendly English, please.”
Connor looked down at the floor, then back to Lt. Anderson. “I was napping.”
“Yeah, thought so.”
“But not to avoid being productive,” Connor said hastily. “I needed to focus as much of my processing power as I could on this case. By placing unnecessary functions on standby—”
“Whoa, whoa.” Hank lifted his hands, took half a step back. “No judgment here. That’s the first thing I’d tell you to do if you can’t figure something out—sleep on it. Even if it doesn’t help, at least you usually feel a little less like shit.”
Connor considered that for a moment, watching the lieutenant circle the table, pick up and begin to scroll through a police report. “I do,” he said.
“You do what?” Hank asked, setting the report back on the table. He moved on, looking over each bit of evidence collected here.
“Feel a little less like shit,” Connor explained. And he did. It made a limited amount of sense, he’d been on standby for less than an hour and had scheduled no routine system maintenance, but he felt... sharper. Refreshed.
“Good.” Completing his circuit of the table, Hank came to a stop next to Connor. “Fowler told me you don’t think this is a suicide anymore.”
“No, I don’t.”
Silence stretched in the wake of Connor’s admission. After a while Hank glanced sidelong at the android, thinking he might have gone back into standby. But Connor was only staring at the photos on the far wall, LED spinning at irregular intervals.
“You, uh... you want to explain why?”
“Yes, sorry, I only—” Connor hesitated, and bent to press his palms against the table. “Saturday afternoon I interviewed Ms. Thompson’s daughter. Elizabeth.”
He went quiet again, dark brows drawing together over darker eyes. Leaning heavily against the faux-woodgrain, he spoke in a soft monotone.
“She told me that Saul survived the recycling centers.”
The air went out of the lieutenant in a low rush, a hushed, “Fuck.” Recycling centers. The term made Hank so angry he could spit acid. As though the horrifying camps hastily constructed in the city center four months ago were meant for convenient milk jug disposal and not the systematic extermination of newly-sentient androids. It was a stupid, neutered euphemism to protect CyberLife and the feds from any more public backlash.
“That’s what he wanted to forget,” Hank said quietly.
Connor glanced over his shoulder, but didn’t straighten. “What?”
“You said it, at the crime scene. Saul wasn’t hiding anything by destroying his memory.” A significant part of Hank understood, with a terrible clarity, why Saul had made this choice. “He just wanted to forget whatever awful shit happened in those fucking death camps. He wanted peace.”
“Then why kill her?” Connor stood, gesturing to a photo of Florence Thompson, peacefully murdered in her own bed. “Elizabeth told me her mother loved Saul, he was a member of their family even before deviating. They bought him when Florence’s health began to decline due to rheumatoid arthritis. He cared for her for four years. Why murder her now?”
Hank sighed, shook his head. “A skewed sense of mercy, maybe. If she was in poor health, he could have thought she’d suffer without him.”
“Ms. Thompson’s health wasn’t that bad,” Connor said. “According to her daughter she had trouble primarily with her hands and knees, but her quality of life was high.”
“Look, Connor, it doesn’t have to make sense,” Hank said gently. “Sometimes that’s just the nature of the fuckin’ beast. You may as well figure this out now—dealing with humans, people’s actions are messy and unpredictable most of the time. I imagine it’s not going to be much different for androids, in the near future.”
“Even still,” Connor protested. “This soon after deviating—”
“We’re just speculating, now,” Hank said firmly. He had neither the time nor the patience for a discussion about the mercurial nature of human emotions—especially not with a tenacious android. “If you think this is more than a really fucking gruesome suicide, then I trust you, but I need something more concrete.”
“There is something else. Last night, after interviewing Elizabeth, I went to the morgue. To examine Saul’s remains.” His face remained impassive, but his LED flickered yellow, just for an instant. Hank opened his mouth to ask what happened, but Connor quickly continued.
“I found something strange, when I pr... when I probed what was left of Saul’s memory.”
He left out the fact that he’d stood outside the door to the exam room for half an hour. That he’d run sixteen identical cost/benefit analyses before entering the room and finally putting a trembling hand on the other android’s cold, blue-streaked forearm. That he’d almost fled the building when he touched the broken, staticked edges of what remained of Saul Thompson.
“There was some kind of modification to his operating system.”
“Fowler mentioned that,” Hank said. “Sort of.”
“There wasn’t much left,” Connor said. He’d uploaded everything he’d gotten into central DPD evidence as soon as he could, but nothing would purge the knowledge he still carried in his memory. Fuzzy, half-corrupted images of two lives prematurely ended. He focused instead on the mechanics, the most impersonal aspect. “I recovered fragments of code that were inconsistent with an AX700’s standard programming.”
“If he was a deviant—”
“We’re all deviants,” Connor said plainly. “I don’t think it’s that. I’ve interfaced with plenty of deviants and this was... it was like...”
Old-man-friendly English, he reminded himself. “Usually, CyberLife programming is extremely orderly. It’s complicated, but it’s predictable. Clean. Unique to each production model, maybe, but you can look at a line of code and know, immediately, it was written by a CyberLife engineer.”
“Maybe you could,” Hank said, with a humorless laugh.
Connor managed a small smile at the lieutenant’s self-deprecation. “This was different. It was messy. Like hammering a screw into a board—it’ll fit, but it’s the wrong way to do it. And these pieces were everywhere. A few tiny, crude modifications that I could only find traces of, but seemed to influence everything else in his programming.”
“And you think, what, he was... hacked?” The word sounded lame even as Hank said it, like something from a shitty late-90s tech thriller.
“I don’t know. I think—” Connor shrugged, pushed his hands through his hair. Repeated, “I don’t know. Between this and the missing LED, I want to say that someone else was there.”
“Someone stole the LED,” Hank said, only half a question. He wanted to believe Connor’s reasoning, but the implication... “You’re sure?”
“I was at that scene for five hours after you left, and I couldn’t find a single trace of Saul’s LED.”
“Could he have smashed it?” Hank lifted an evidence bag, frowning at the mangled plastic within. “Most of these parts are in pretty bad shape.”
“Even if he had ground it into dust, there should be a trace of it. Glass particles, semiconductor residue, something would have been left behind. And—” Quickly Connor moved around the table to tap animatedly a few of the dozen pictures of blood splatter on the far wall. Two photos expanded to fill the screen: one of a blue splotch on the kitchen tile, the other a few small flecks on the wall, near the floor.
“It was there, at some point. Right here,” he said, tapping the photo again for emphasis. “This pool of blood on the floor, the splash pattern on the baseboard—consistent with something the size and shape of a CyberLife LED bouncing off the floor. Someone picked it up.”
One blue stain looked the same as another to Hank, but then again he didn’t have a multi-million-dollar supercomputer in his dome. What he did have was thirty years of experience with extremely fallible human police procedures. “Connor, have you considered that someone fucked up and lost it?”
Quickly scanning the table, Connor selected one of several stapled reports and handed it across to Hank. A copy of the evidence log.
“I spoke to everyone in the chain of custody,” Connor said. “It was never logged, it was never even seen by anyone from CSI.”
“Someone could be lying. Covering up a mistake,” Hank said slowly, paging through the meticulously itemized list.
Confusion grew in the back of Connor’s mind, tugging the corners of his mouth downward. “Do you think I’m wrong? You noticed the missing LED, Lt. Anderson, I don’t understand why you doubt my conclusions.”
“I don’t doubt you, son. I’m just making sure you covered all your bases.” Laying the list carefully back in its place, Hank took a long moment to look over the rest of the items Connor had painstakingly laid out. Of course he’d ‘covered his bases.’ No doubt the android had put dozens of hours—if not the full 48– into this case over just two days. Clearly, deviancy had not affected Connor’s relentless dedication to his job.
But maybe it should have.
“Connor, were you here all weekend?”
“Of course, Lieutenant.”
Hank pursed his lips, squinted again at the wall of gory photos. “In this room?”
“No,” Connor said plainly. “I had to leave the evidence locker to interview Elizabeth and go to the morgue.”
Hank bit back the urge to make a sarcastic comment about Connor making it all the way to the second floor. Connor had put time—too much time, in Hank’s opinion—into this investigation, he didn’t deserve to be needled about it. Instead he said, as neutrally as possible, “I think you need to take a step back from this.”
Dutifully, Connor backed up a single step from the table. “I don’t see how this helps.”
“No, Connor—” Hank made an exasperated noise. “Jesus, not literally. You know what I meant, you obtuse little shit.”
“Yes, I understood what you meant,” Connor admitted, knowing full well he was just stalling, hoping to think of something to make Hank understand how badly he needed to continue working. “Lieutenant, I know there’s something else going on here—”
“Or you’re so wrapped up in what you want to have happened that you’re ignoring what the evidence is actually telling you,” Hank said, crossing his arms over his chest. “You need to take a break. Go the fuck outside. Take another nap. Work on a different case for a while. God knows there’s enough of ’em stacked on my desk you’re welcome to pick through.”
Looking over the items on the table again, Connor shook his head. “I can’t.”
“You can, and you will. I’m not asking you, Connor.” Internally Hank cringed at how much he sounded like Fowler, but externally he managed to maintain a stern expression.
Connor’s jaw tensed, eyes raking the evidence table for a suitable argument.“But—”
“You’ve got a badge now, right?” Hank asked.
LED stuttering yellow-blue-yellow at the abrupt change of topic, Connor said, warily, “Yes.”
Hank nodded. “You’re a sworn officer of the law for the great fuckin’ state of Michigan?”
Another, warier, “…Yes.”
“Good, that makes me your direct fucking superior. And as your direct fucking superior, I am ordering you to go do something else,” Hank snapped. He only felt a little bad at the way Connor recoiled. “I know doing what I ask is extremely difficult for you, but now if you don’t listen to me, you’ll lose your goddamn job.”
Real concern clouded the android’s face for a moment. “You… would fire me from my job, if I don’t… stop doing my job right now?”
“Don’t blow a fuckin’ fuse figuring it out. Of course I won’t fire you, you’re too damn good at this,” Hank said, waving his hands at the accrued evidence. “And I don’t think have that power, anyway. Point is, you can’t do that fucking thing you do where you just ignore whatever I say anymore. And I’m saying, set this case aside for the day, Connor. Don’t let the job eat you this early on.”
For a long moment, Connor looked ready to argue further. Then he settled back onto his heels, and muttered a resigned, “Okay.”
Hank stayed to make sure Connor actually followed through, watching the android diligently sort the bags and photos and reports into their respective bins. He would have offered to help, but he knew for a fact he would have only disrupted whatever Connor’s organization scheme was. Once everything was packed, Hank did carry one of the boxes down the hall.
“Don’t just go sit at your desk and go through the case in your head, either,” Hank said for good measure, watching Connor load the final items back onto the shelves.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Connor said, absently, as he logged himself out at the main terminal. A lie, most likely, but Hank appreciated the façade.
When they reached bottom of the stairs to the main floor, Hank stopped and turned to his partner. “If you need to talk about the case more, decompress, whatever, why don’t you come to my house for dinner tonight— well, at dinner time. I’ll eat, you can just… watch, I guess.” Hank wrinkled his noise at how fucking weird that sounded. “Whatever, Sumo wants to see you.”
At the mention of the St. Bernard, Connor’s face lit up. “Yes. I’d like that. I missed Sumo, he’s a good boy.”
Hank snorted, and started up the stairs. “You wouldn’t say that if you were the one picking up his monster shits.”
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obligatory warning for discussion of suicide
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Snow began to fall in the late afternoon. Light flurries that quickly progressed to heavy, wet sleet striking the kitchen window with muted thuds. Not for the first time Hank seriously reconsidered his choice to come back to Michigan. The winters were only getting longer and shittier, endless dark stretches of cold and ice that his aging joints appreciated less with every passing year.
The temptation had been great to load Sumo into the car and permanently fuck off into the sunset when the evacuation orders came through. At least, with half the population either yet to return or never coming back, traffic was basically non-existent even with the shitty weather. Hank had made the drive from the precinct to his house in less than twenty minutes, during what should have been peak rush hour.
Despite the nearly bloodless—red bloodless—revolution, humans had ceded much of the greater Detroit Metro area to androids. Repeated assurances from Markus and the Jericho androids weren’t enough to draw back the entire human population. Hank had only really come back because he had nowhere else to go. He’d burned every bridge he had in the last four years, had no living family to speak of, his rundown little house wouldn’t sell for enough to buy a comparable property anywhere warm, and...
And there was Connor. Other than the crime scene two days prior and the evidence room that morning, Hank hadn’t heard from the deviant little shit in months. All the same, there was no avoiding the fact that he’d gotten attached to an android. An android that seemed less like the Terminator and increasingly like a lost, scared little boy in the brief, eventful time they’d been partnered.
That he’d come back to Detroit in no small part for that scared little boy was probably something to be unpacked by the state-funded therapist Hank refused to speak to. Declining to acknowledge his deep-seated issues had gotten him this far, and so here he was in a mostly empty city.
It was nice, in a fucked up sort of way. Detroit had been a shithole before the revolution, and after—it was still a shithole, but it was a quiet shithole. Dunes of litter had vanished from the gutters, there were no lines at ATMs or liquor counters, convenient parking spaces were readily available. As an added bonus, his favorite Thai place a few blocks from the station had re-opened.
The television was on in the livingroom. He listened absently to the six o’clock news as he rifled through cluttered kitchen drawers in search of a second chopstick. All Hank wanted to hear was the weather report, but of course most of the broadcast was given over to coverage of the Thompson case.
The press conference had been blessedly short and concise. Statements were made by Fowler and the interim chief of police. A representative of Jericho spoke briefly about the tragedy of the double of loss of life. Hank, as the official lead on the case, gave a sanitzed rundown of the scene. He made a few boilerplate comments about investigating every lead, taking every aspect of the scene into consideration, not jumping to undue conclusions. They didn’t even make him answer any questions, just stand there and show a public-appeasing face.
Triumph—a second chopstick. This one was neon green plastic and an inch longer than its steel counterpart, but it would get the job done. He dropped the utensils on the table next to his still-boxed food, and went to the refrigerator for a beer. First of the day, his ex wife would be proud.
Three curt, precisely spaced knocks rattled the front door. Hank switched off the TV as he cut through the livingroom, his own tired face winking into blackness as the screen powered down.
Connor stood on the front step in a heavy winter coat, unzipped and hood back. Icy wind ruffled the faux-fur around the edge of the hood, and fat flakes of snow dusted his neatly combed black hair. A mid-sized plant with thin, green leaves was tucked into the crook of his elbow.
“Hello,” he said cheerfully, when Hank stepped aside to let him in.
“Evening,” Hank replied, closing the door against the snow. “What’s with the greenery?”
Connor held out the plant in question, a clear offering. “It’s a parlor palm,” he said.
“Okay,” Hank said slowly, taking the planter from Connor’s hands. “Why?”
“I understand it is customary to bring a gift for the host, when a guest in someone’s house,” Connor said, a hint of unsurety in his voice.
Anderson started to protest. “The host...? You don’t—”
The android was looking at him with those goddamned overly-earnest brown eyes, and Hank was instantly consumed with guilt for trying to deny the kid this attempt at normalcy. “Thanks,” he said, lamely.
“You’re welcome,” Connor said. He stamped snow off of his dress shoes—the boy needed some good snow boots. He’d obviously had time to replace his blue-banded android uniform with regular suits, did he not invest in winter clothes? Did he need real winter clothes?
“It’s easy to care for,” Connor explained, running a hand over his damp hair to sweep away stray unmelted snow. “And it’s relatively safe for Sumo, if he eats it.”
At the sound of his name, the dog barked in belated warning from his spot sleeping on Hank’s bed. The enormous St Bernard sounded like a herd of fat cattle as he came bounding through the livingroom.
“Hi, Sumo!” Connor said brightly. He patted his chest twice, and the dog stood on his hind legs to drop massive paws on the android’s shoulders. “I missed you buddy,” he said, laughing as the dog’s thick pink tongue slapped at every inch of his face.
It warmed even Hank’s shriveled heart to see the two reuinted, as brief as their previous interactions had been. “I like dogs” had been the first words out of Connor’s mouth that Hank didn’t find intensely irritating.
“I brought something for you, too,” Connor said, gently easing Sumo back onto all fours. From the deep pocket of his coat, he produced a thick braided rawhide. “It’s peanut butter flavored.”
Sumo took the offered treat with surprising daintiness for a bear-sized beast, and trotted off to enjoy it. Probably on Hank’s pillow, to leave a horrible slurry of dog spit and rawhide residue.
“Come in, take your coat off,” Hank said, gesturing with the plant to the hooks by the door. “You know it’ll work better if you use the fuckin’ zipper.”
“I don’t feel the cold, really,” Connor said, shrugging out of the coat. Beneath, his suit and tie were perfectly pressed, no sign of his disheveled state earlier in the day. “But my biocomponents function best when kept at optimal temperatures.”
“Put your hood up next time, too,” Hank continued, ignoring the excuse. “It’ll keep your head dry so you don’t—”
He stopped himself before he said catch a cold. Connor, obviously, would never get sick, no matter how stupid he was about his winter wardrobe.
“—get wet,” he finished. Connor politely ignored the stumble.
Hank set the parlor palm on the coffee table on the way back to the kitchen. He’d find a permanent place for it to die later—there was not a chance in hell he’d be able to keep it alive, no matter how ‘easy to care for’ it was.
To his credit, Connor made it three steps across the livingroom before bringing up the Thompson case. “I’ve been thinking about the LED—”
“Mnh-mnh, nope,” Hank said, shaking his head. “We aren’t talking about work until after dinner, at least.”
Hank halted in his tracks. “Two things,” he said, turning to and holding up one finger. “First, you’re in my house, you’re off duty—“
“I’m on call,” Connor said, tapping a finger against his LED.
Narrowing his eyes, Hank amended,“Alright, ya fuckin’ pedant, you’re in my house and I’m off duty. None of this ‘lieutenant’ shit. It’s just Hank.”
“Okay, lieu—Hank,” Connor said.
“And second,” Hank continued, raising a second finger, “I am not going to talk about a crime scene while I’m trying to fucking eat. Got it?”
Reluctantly, Connor nodded, and followed Hank the rest of the short distance to the kitchen in silence.
Steam curled into the air as Hank flipped the lid off of his dinner, dropped into one of the seats at the little kitchen table. Connor slid the opposite chair out, but paused before sitting.
“There is a dangerous amount of capsaicin in your food,” he said, scanning the open container, concern coloring his words.
Hank snorted, extra spicy pad thai noodles releasing another fragrant cloud of steam as he stirred them with his chopsticks. “Is it really worth eating if you don’t get heartburn so bad you think you’re gonna fuckin’ die?”
“I wouldnt’t know,” Connor said. He undid the button on his jacket as he settled into his seat. “I can’t eat.”
“Fuckin’ shame,” Hank said, digging into his dinner in earnest. “Food is about the only thing humans’ve managed not to fuck up too badly in the last ten thousand years.”
A slightly awkward silence settled, Hank eating and Connor watching snow pile up on the windowsill.
“You replaced the plant on my desk, didn’t you?” Hank asked eventually, reaching for the beer he’d set out earlier. The bottle hissed faintly as he twisted the cap off.
Connor shook his head, pulling his attention from the weather. “I didn’t replace it. It’s the same Japanese maple.”
A now nearly-room-temperature beer froze halfway to Hank’s mouth. “How?That thing was deader than shit.”
“It wasn’t quite dead,” Connor said. Outside, winter winds howled loud enough to draw a bark from Sumo in the other room. “It was just really dormant, and dehydrated. The root system was intact. I put it in fresh soil and a slightly bigger planter and watered it at regular intervals. I also pruned away a number of dead branches, to facilitate healthy new growth.”
“Oh, is that all,” Hank laughed. Between bites, he glanced at the parlor palm squatting in the livingroom, and motioned to it with his mismatched chopsticks. “This your thing now? Gardening?”
Connor shrugged. “I like plants,” he said, looking down at his hands folded on the table. Idly he toyed with the buttons at the end of one sleeve. “They’re... easy. All it takes to keep one alive is water, sunlight, a little warmth. If you can figure out the ratios of each, even within a pretty moderate margin of error, it’ll grow.”
Hank, impressed, defaulted to gruff teasing. “You resurrected a fucking stick, I think you’ve got your ratios in order.”
Sumo’s head and shoulders were heavy in Connor’s lap. Notifications on the dog’s heart rate and respiration ticked across the bottom of his vision as he carded his fingers through Sumo’s white fur. Shortly Connor waved the numbers away, choosing instead to visually observe the sleeping dog’s enormous flanks rise and fall in slow, rhythmic breaths.
Sitting on the floor of Hank’s living room, Sumo’s deep-chested snores rumbling against his thighs, Connor could almost ignore the incessant stream of information humming at the back of his mind. Core temperature fluctions, thirium volumetrics, endoskeletal integrity—a thousand statistics both internal and external scrolling through a dedicated partition of his consciousness in a relentless feed. Here, now, the numbers fell away and he felt... peaceful. Pleasant. The same way he felt while browsing the florist two blocks east of the station, or tending the miniature maple on Hank’s desk, or the dendrobium orchid on his own.
He wondered if this was what it was like for humans all the time—just existing, without a constant hyper-awareness of your own body’s every discrete subroutine. Carrying on a conversation for ninety seven minutes and twenty three seconds without any real end goal. Petting a dog because it felt nice.
“You can sit on the couch.”
Hank’s gruff voice drew Connor’s attention. He looked up to find the Lieutenant standing in the kitchen door, beer number 2 in hand.
“He knocked me over when I bent down to pet him, and then he fell asleep,” Connor said, running his hand the full length of the dog. “It would be rude to get up now.”
Hank shook his head, but he was smiling faintly when he said, “Suit yourself.” He settled into one end of the sofa, cracked the lid off his beer and tossed the cap onto the coffee table. “Alright,” he said, after an inaugural sip. “I’m done eating. Hit me.”
“Open hand or closed fist?” Connor deadpanned.
“I’m going to open hand slap whoever programmed your sense of humor,” Hank said. “The case, smartass. You can talk about the case, if you want.”
Connor looked back down at Sumo, suddenly conflicted. When he’d arrived, he’d been primed to launch into an exceptionally detailed analysis of blood splatter and AK700 LED wiring. Now, after ninety eight minutes and fifty four seconds of conversation with no greater purpose, that approach felt... cold. Misguided, somehow.
“I don’t understand,” he said softly, fingers coming to rest on Sumo’s sturdy neck. “I know you said, this morning, that it doesn’t have to make sense. But I... I just... He fed their fish, Hank.”
“Their fish?” Hank asked, tilting his head a little, perplexed.
Connor took a deep, airless breath, steadying the sudden instability in his chest. “When he was freed from the recycling center, Saul went back to the Thompson house. Ms. Thompson and her daughter had already evacuated, but Saul stayed anyway. He waited for them. For four months. He shoveled the driveway and knocked the icicles off of the gutters and watered the ficus. He—he fed their fish.”
The memory of a dwarf gourami, gasping and flopping on black tile, came unbidden to Connor’s mind. He felt the slick, cold scales in his palm as though he had only just scooped it back into the tank, taken his first step outside standard programming.
“That’s what you do, when you love someone,” Hank said. “You keep the lights on.”
A frantic edge began creeping into Connor’s voice. “But why bother? Why go through all the effort to keep the house in order, for months, just to self destruct six days after his family returned?”
“Trying to find a sense of normalcy, probably,” Hank said. The more he learned about the dead android, the more he saw unomfortable parallels to himself. “After something like what Saul probably went through in the camps, my guess is he was desperate to put it behind him and go back to is regular life.”
“But he got that,” Connor said, brows knitting and voice rising a quarter of an octave. “The Thompsons came home. For a week, they lived their old lives. He cooked them dinner. If no one else was there, to steal his LED or insert whatever that broken code was—I just don’t understand why.”
Hank sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees, picking at a corner of the lable on the bottole in his hands. “You are very emotionally involved in this case,” he said slowly, not looking at the android as he spoke. “I don’t know why, and you don’t have to tell me, because I get it. Sometimes this shit just hits you where you live. But Connor... try to set your emotions aside, for a minute. It’s real fuckin hard to do, but try. Think about it like a detective. Can you do that for me?”
Connor frowned, but nodded. “Okay.”
Hank cleared his throat, and spoke as neutrally as he could. “Say someone did break into the Thompson home, injected some kind of kill command into Saul, and then stole his LED... what would be their motive?”
Silence. Connor, jaw tight, eyes flitting back and forth as though reading words Hank couldn’t see, searched for any kind of answer.
“Did Florence Thompson have enemies? Did Saul?” Hank asked, when it was clear the android had no response.
“No,” Connor said levelly. “Florence was well-liked in her neighborhood. Saul was a mild-mannered personal assistance unit and beneath the notice of most humans. As far as anyone knows, he did not deviate until after the uprising.”
“Was anyone else at the house that day?”
“No,” Connor repeated. “Elizabeth said there were no visitors to the house that day, or in the days leading up to the incident. Neighbors didn’t see anyone enter or leave the house after Elizabeth left for work at 4:30pm.”
“Was there any sign of entry, forced or otherwise?”
Connor sighed, even tone faltering a little as he said, again, “No. All doors and windows were locked from the inside. There were no signs of unusual disturbance to the snow around the house.”
Sitting back, Hank said, “Consindering this, and all the rest of your evidence, what do you think the most likely conclusion is?”
Shoulders slumping a little, fingers tightening in Sumo’s fur, Connor said flatly, “That Saul murdered Florence Thompson, and then killed himself.”
Hank knew that learning to separate himself from the work would be good for Connor, in the long run. In the short run, he felt like he’d kicked a puppy. Futilely he hunted for the right thing to say to console the android, but Connor spoke first.
“Florence wept when she found out Saul was alive,” Connor said, quiet but furious. “That poor arthritic woman had to be restrained when the National Guard came to confiscate Saul. According to her daughter, they spoke on the phone almost every day during the evacuation. She loved him, and he murdered her. By all accounts, they loved each other. That love, it—it wasn’t enough.”
It was Hank’s turn to breathe deeply, and look up at the ceiling for an easy answer. Instead he noticed a greyish blotch was beginning to form near the corner—the goddamn roof was probably leaking.
“Look, Connor,” Hank started. Another deep breath. He was in no way qualified to have this conversation, but he had to try. He owed the kid at least that much. “Emotions are... shitty and weird. They’re a crapshoot on a good day. Sometimes the littlest, most inconsequential shit will ruin your entire week. Sometimes, the whole world could end and you’d be able to just roll with it. Add trauma to the whole shitty deal...”
Connor, dark eyes glassy and pained, stared resolutely at a chip in the corner of the coffee table. At his temple, the LED spun slowly, steadily yellow.
“You will most likely never know why Saul did what he did,” Hank said gently, setting his beer on the table. He was far enough out of his depth already, he didn’t need alcohol to help him drown. “Maybe he planned it the moment he deviated. Maybe something happened that night that reminded him of the camp, and he snapped. The possibilities are fucking endless, and they’re all awful. Yes, the missing LED and the random code are strange, and you did the right thing investigating both, but without any evidence to back up a third party—Occam’s razor, kid. Unfortunately the simplest answer is also the worst, in this case.”
Sober silence descended on the little living room, disturbed only by Sumo’s quiet snores and the wind outside.
“It’s... difficult to accept,” Connor said eventually, voice choked.
“I know,” Hank murmured. “Believe me, I fuckin’ know.”
Later, when Connor stood in the doorway and actually zipped his goddamn coat, Hank clasped the android by his narrow shoulders.
“Don’t let the job be your whole life,” he said.
“This job is the entire reason I exist,” Connor replied.
“Okay, and I suppose a ridiculously green thumb was one of your default factory settings? Gonna bust some fuckin’ perps with your maple-pruning protocols?”
For possibly the first time in his entire short life, Connor rolled his eyes. “No. My maple-pruning protocols are strictly auxiliary.”
“Well, maybe pick up a few more auxiliary protocols,” Hank said. “And if you ever feel like you’re drowning, you come talk to me. You’re welcome in this house, any time.”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Connor said.
“I’m serious. Your time is your own now, you gotta figure out the whole work-life balance thing that I never fuckin’ mastered. You want to be me when you grow up?”
“You’re a highly decorated police officer,” Connor said. “There’s worse goals.”
Hank laughed, and followed Connor onto the front steps. “Flattery will get you nowhere. Drive safe, kid.”
He couldn’t bring himself to say, it’s icy.
Gavin needed to go home and feed his cat. The beautiful, vengeful little asshole would shit square in the center of Gavin’s bed if he didn’t leave soon, and he swore, when this report was done, he would. Just like he told himself an hour ago, and an hour before that, and even earlier, at 5:30, when Tina went home and told him not to stay too late.
Chen had the benefit of being new, and only having a few softball cases on her plate. Basic vandalism and a mugging, relatively simple incidents for her first day. He didn’t begrudge her this—soon enough she would be just as buried as every other detective left in the Detroit.
Literally buried, by stacks of unsolved cases from before the evacuation. Stacks of new cases, as people returned to their homes and found they’d been burglarized. Leads on a red ice trafficking ring he’d been tracking for almost a year, that were now four months of out date and probably useless. Gavin had a truly stupid amount of shit to do, and if he was ever going to catch up, he needed to work late. Which was fine, he worked best when the precinct was quiet. Quieter. By their very nature police stations were never exactly peaceful, but in the evening, when Fowler’s office was dark and only a handful of on-call uniformed officers remained, there was a limited chance of being fucking bothered.
Besides, he had to take advantage of the fact that, for the first time in two weeks, Connor was gone. Mechanical fucker was always at his desk, diligently working, maintaining a near-perfect clearance rate. A clearance rate that Gavin could have reached, too, if he didn’t have to do shit like sleep or eat or feed his goddamn cat. That he now had a shot in the dark of matching, with the android gone off to... do whatever the fuck it was androids did for fun.
As if on cue Gavin’s irritated train of thought was derailed by the telltale click of Connor’s oxfords approaching the bullpen. The android, straight-backed and sharply dressed, glided by Gavin’s desk with a murmured, “Good evening, Detective Reed.”
He grunted something noncommittal in reply, making good on his promise to Tina to make an effort. She, the fucking traitor, thought Connor was great. Called him melancholy, and told Gavin to get off his bullshit and be decent. The best he would ever muster was “not openly hostile,” and Tina would have to fucking accept that.
Across the aisle, Connor flicked on his terminal, keyed in his password. Manually, for some reason, even though he could probably do it with his mind. Before settling into his chair, he reached across his desk to Anderson’s, and plucked a case file from the cluttered surface.
Great. Cool. Now he was doing the old man’s job, too, because why wouldn’t he? Embarrassing everyone else on the force with a machine-powered work ethic wasn’t enough, pneumatic asshole had to start doing two people’s worth of work. Soon he’d be doing everyone’s job, and human detectives would—
“Do you require assistance, Detective Reed?” Of fucking course the android had noticed him scowling across the room, and couldn’t just let it go like a normal person.
“No, I fucking don’t,” Gavin snapped. So much for being decent. “Maybe Anderson needs you covering his ass but I can do my own goddamn paperwork.”
Connor glanced down at the case file in his hand. “Lieutenant Anderson does not need me to—”
“I don’t fucking care,” Gavin said. “Just let me work in peace. Can you do that for me, C-3PO?”
“Of course, Detective,” Connor replied, calmly.
Ten minutes and only three lines of his report later, Gavin gave up. He could work for thirty-six straight hours and not make a dent in Connor’s lead, or he could go home and see Apollo and take his shoes off and accomplish the same damn thing. He was too agitated to focus anyway.
He was rooting through a drawer for his keys when Connor’s unnaturally polite voice cut across the empty room. “Can I ask you a personal question, Detective?”
“Oh my fucking god,” Gavin muttered, dropping his chin to his chest. “Fine. What?”
“Do you have a problem with me? Personally?”
He didn’t ask it the way Gavin would have—challenging, indignant, an unspoken motherfucker at the end. Connor’s tone was diplomatically curious. Infuriating—deviancy was supposed to at least give androids some personality, and here this dipshit was, unable to pick a fight without perfect manners.
“No,” Gavin said shortly. Then, once he found his keys, “No, you know what? Yes. I do have a fucking problem.”
“I’d like to rectify—”
“What the entire fuck was that shit with the coffee this morning?” Gavin demanded. “Not even you are that nice, so what was it? Some kind of fucking weird threat? Trying to be a smartass?”
Connor drummed his fingers twice against the glass desktop. “Detective Chen informed me that you can be... I believe she said cranky, when you go too long without caffeine. My hope was that, by providing you the necessary stimulants, we might avoid any further altercations.”
Gavin could only stare. He had expected a few different answers, none of which involved a computer making a weird-ass gesture of good will. It almost made him feel bad.
Turning back to his monitor, Connor added, “And I was being a smartass.”
There it was. That streak of brashness Gavin had only seen once before, that almost made the android likable.
Checking his pockets for keys and cellphone, Gavin was ready to leave. He took the long way through the office, just to pause at Connor’s desk and say, “Less creamer next time, robocop.” If there was a little less acid in his voice, it was probably an accident. He was tired, and he needed to go home and feed his cat.
Thanks for all your kind comments, please keep ‘em coming, i just adore everything you all have to say!
Another crime scene, and all warnings that go along with it. Blood/death/suicide discussion etc.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Winter eventually gave way to spring, stretches of city-planned green blooming amongst the glass and steel and neon of downtown Detroit. Connor was fascinated by how different, how alive, the city felt without a three inch layer of snow. Warmth, a few extra hours of sunlight every day, brought citizens out of their homes and into the parks, the outdoor markets, the riverfront. Androids in Detroit outnumbered humans, now, but even the blue-blooded preferred the sunnier days to the grey.
Grass growing like a verdant bandage over the scarred earth where recycling centers had stood made the ugliness of November seem... distant, somehow. Not gone— the damage done by the human response to the uprising would take years to heal. Decades, if at all. But time and experience, Connor was learning, had a way of making things easier to deal with. Even, perhaps especially, death.
In the six weeks since the Thompson murder, four more androids had ended their own lives. The machine part of him knew these were isolated incidents—each victim utilized different methods, at different times of day, spaced a completely random amount of time from one another. They didn’t know each other, as far as anyone could tell. None of them left notes. No humans involved. Nothing was suspicious about the scenes, as there had been with Saul. There was no greater conspiracy, just four androids who had chosen, for any number of tragic reasons, to destroy themselves. It was a terrible entropy that would never, could never, be deciphered.
The other part of him, the emotional part, attempted to link this awful chain of events in a way that made sense. The amount of time between each death was too random, calculated to seem arbitrary. There were no missing LEDs, because they had all conveniently removed them in the days leading up to their respective deaths, an effort to pass as more human. The methods were different, yes, but each victim had so thoroughly destroyed their own cranial structures that nothing was recoverable from their memories, as if hiding something. Hiding from something.
Hiding from their own awful memories, their thoughts, from the overwhelming sensory input born of each new, raw, terrifying emotion.
The first incident after Saul was a TE900 named James with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Connor again spent three days over-analyzing every fragment and splatter. Hank said he was projecting. That it was the human thing to do—but that felt wrong. Connor wasn’t human, and didn’t particularly want to be human. He didn’t know what he wanted to be.
The second, an AX200 named Sara, submerged her head in boiling water. Connor managed to reconstruct the short, brutal scene with only a single pause to adress an error in his thirium regulator.
The third was the most grotesque since the Thompson case, pools of blue and fragmented white plastic on gravel-strewn train tracks. Connor approached it with near-perfect calm. His hands hardly shook at all as he knelt next to Harold, MP800, who had lain his head beneath an automated freight train as it rumbled through an isolated stretch of forest just outside Detroit.
And then, just that morning, on the warmest day of the year so far, an android whose name and model Connor did not yet know had thrown herself through a fifth-story office window. As he and Detective Chen approached the large privacy tent erected around the body, early morning sun casting long shadows between the surrounding high rises, he felt none of the apprehension of the previous incidents.
Connor wasn’t certain this was a net positive.
The astringent smell of blue blood hit them even before they crossed the holographic police tape. A uniformed officer waited outside the tent, and quickly briefed them—the android, Joanie, worked in a law office on the fifth floor. She jumped through reinforced glass at the end of the hallway, fell fifty-seven feet into the alley below, and likely shut down on impact.
Lifting the sterile plastic flap of the tent only made the sharp scent of thirium stronger. The alley asphalt was coated in a thin, wide pool of it, dotted through with gleaming shards of glass.
“Oh, my God,” Tina murmured, stepping into the tent behind Connor.
He said nothing, eyes raking over the scene with a cool detachment that felt like a step backwards.
At the center of the puddle of thirium lay the android—Joanie, Connor reminded himself. He circled the body once, slowly, noting the immediately visible damage. She was mostly intact but for her upper left quadrant, and the corresponding side of her head. Joanie’s left arm, a mess of wires and twisted plastic, rested a few short meters from her torso.
Connor knelt at the edge of the bloody smear. His hand was halfway to the still-wet thirium when he paused, looked up at Detective Chen. “If you would take witness statements, while I analyze the body?”
She nodded, inwardly grateful. Tina knew, from Anderson and others, what Connor’s analyses usually entailed. “Yeah, you take your time here.”
He waited for the tentflap to fall back into place before sweeping two fingers through the blue and bringing them to his tongue.
Thirium didn’t have a taste—nothing had a taste, to him, only a near-instant return of sterilized information on the chemical breakdown of whatever he ingested. Thirium didn’t have a taste, but it did have a specific, unpleasant feeling as it was processed. Connor knew he should have that particular function moved somewhere else. Licking things to determine their origin was strange and offputting to humans and, increasingly, to himself. But that sort of mechanical overhaul would require a visit to Jericho. It was no small relief when the results popped up in his display, and he could clear the voltaic not-taste of blue blood from his mouth.
“You changed your name,” he murmured to the lifeless android before him. It was not uncommon, many deviants had changed their CyberLife-assigned production names. The residual biocomponent markers in Joanie’s blood had given Connor a model number: WR400. A glance at the intact half of her face and he recognized the curve of cheekbone particular to certain models of Traci.
This one had yellow hair, turning lurid blue where it touched the thirium stained ground. An uncomfortable parallel to another WR400, blue-haired and escaping with her lover into the rainy Detroit night. Joanie had a different serial number, but Connor couldn’t help making the connection. It was safe to assume that both had suffered the same abuses at the hands of their human “clients,” maybe even at the same Eden Club location. Maybe they knew each other.
He hoped, wherever they were, that those Tracis had found a happier ending than Joanie. Joanie, who changed her name and found a job as a receptionist at a law firm on the other end of town and still couldn’t escape—
Connor stood abruptly, halting that line of thought. Now was not the time to lose himself, again, in a futile attempt to understand the why of it. He needed only to know the how, ensure there was nothing suspect about the manner of Joanie’s death.
Again he circled the body. His reconstruction protocol mapped each spot of blood, each protruding wire, each shard of glass, each awkward angle of Joanie’s limbs on the pavement. In less than five minutes he had a completed reconstruction of the event. Briefly he considered leaving without running it—the simulation would be a formality at this point, all the evidence scattered across the alley told the story well enough on its own.
Familiar greyscale overlayed Connor’s vision. He watched, in slow reverse, the wireframe outline of Joanie lift off the ground. The ghostly image rose through the air, disappearing through the roof of the tent. Pausing the simulation, Connor stepped back into the warm spring air. Above him, Joanie’s ghost continued her upward arc towards the shattered fifth floor window. Detective Chen, standing near the cordon and speaking with the responding officer, tucked her tablet under her arm and started back towards the tent.
“Learn anything?” she asked.
“Her model number, nothing else we didn’t already know,” Connor replied, eyes following the reconstruction. “You?”
“Not yet, but I still need to head up and talk to a few more of her coworkers. Sounds pretty run-of-the mill, though.” Chen sighed, stuck her hands in the pockets of her cardigan. “Which is pretty fuckin’ shitty.”
An error Connor had never seen before blinked at the corner of his display.
Additional information required
“Connor? Everything okay?” Attempting to follow Connor’s sightline, Chen squinted up at the broken window.
“No,” Connor replied simply, frowning. Reconstructed Joanie stood just inside the building, frozen moments before her fall. Her form crackled red, sputtering and incoherent. “Something is wrong with my reconstruction protocols.”
Another indicator flickered at the edge of his vision, drawing Connor’s attention back to the tent. A red error message hovered over the spot where Joanie lay inside.
Additional information required
Quickly, motioning Chen to follow, Connor ducked back into the privacy tent. The error message glowed red over Joanie’s head.
Additional information required
As he drew closer, the indicator narrowed, tightening until it was a pinpoint floating just over Joanie’s right temple. Yellow hair obscured the area, but Connor knew what he would find beneath. He deactivated the skin of his hand, reaching out with sterile plastic fingers to carefully nudge Joanie’s hair away from the side of her face, revealing one sightless green eye and—
Additional information acquired
[MISSING] biocomponent #9301- temporal LED
Two shallow scratches split the otherwise untouched skin around the perfectly circlular wound in Joanie’s temple. Connor cast a cursory glance at the surrounding area, but he had already catalogued every fragment of evidence in the tent.
“Her LED has been removed,” Connor said, standing. He crossed the tent in two strides, knelt again next to the wreckage of Joanie’s detached arm. Scanning the upturned tips of her fingers prompted a new alert: micro-abrasions, inconsistent with damage from a fall.
Connor looked up, matching Chen’s pensive expression. “She took it out herself, but not here.”
“She must have done it before she jumped,” Chen said, glancing up at the roof of the tent.
“That would be my assumption, as well.”
The elevator doors were barely closed before the coin was out of his pocket, flicking from palm to palm in a silver blur. Connor felt like he was going to vibrate out of his skin, his every sensor alight with anticipation as the floor numbers moved slowly upwards.
“You think this is related to the Thompson case,” Tina said, eyes on the coin flying with impossible speed between Connor’s hands.
“It’s too early to make that sort of leap in logic,” Connor said. Above, the display ticked from one to two.
“I didn’t ask about logic.”
He was silent, as two ticked to three.
“It depends what we find at the window,” Connor said carefully. “If the LED is there, it could be a bizarre coincidence.”
Chen nodded, three ticking to four as she asked, “And if it’s missing?”
“Then the implications are... unfortunate.”
Four ticked to five.
Connor surged from the elevator with barely-contained urgency. Glass-paned doors lined either side of the hallway beyond, labeled with the names of various businesses. Only one door stood open, blocked off by holographic police tape—the law offices of Singh & Scarborough. They caught a glimpse of the inside of the office as they hurried past, an android cop interviewing a human woman in a three piece suit.
The window stood at the end of the hallway, behind another softly glowing cordon. Soil spilled across the muted blue-green carpet where a tall potted palm had been upended. Human eyes would likely never have spotted the stain halfway down the hall, a tiny blotch just a fraction of a shade darker than the carpeting around it. Connor would never have seen it either, if he’d followed his impulse to forgo the reconstruction, to give in to apathy.
Chen stood at his shoulder, hands on her hips. “Unfortunate implications,” she said softly. “We need to talk to the rest of the witnesses.”
Connor nodded, and looked to the ceiling, scanning. “I’ll see about pulling the footage from that camera,” he said, pointing to the little black dome set above the elevator doors.
They conferred some time later, leaning against the side of their unmarked squad car. At the other end of the alley, silver-suited CSI specialists scuttled through the tent like ants to photograph and transport Joanie’s body.
“Jacinda Singh, her boss, said Joanie just stood up from her desk and walked out the door,” Tina said, scrolling through the notes on her tablet. “Said she didn’t even realize anything was wrong until she heard the glass break at the end of the hall. Couldn’t have been more than two minutes between when she stood up and when she jumped.”
“Security camera confirms that,” Connor said, eyes closed, coin rolling across his knuckles.
His LED flickered yellow, processing, playing the grainy footage again in his mind. Joanie walking calmly from the Singh & Scarborough offices. Joanie pausing in the middle of the hall to delicately pry the LED from her head, then sprinting full-tilt down the remainder of the hallway and crashing shoulder-first through the window. Then nothing, until people began emerging from the surrounding offices to investigate the noise. Police officers arrived to set up the caution tape and, later, Connor and Tina Chen themselves. No one stopped to pick up the discarded LED, too small to be seen on the ancient black-and-white CRT monitor in the security office.
“I’ll need to review the recording again at the station, but nothing stood out as unusual,” he said, the faintest hint of defeat in his voice. “Did any of the other witnesses see anything?”
“Not really. I talked to a few of the people from the surrounding offices,” Tina said, with a small shrug. “No one noticed anyone else in the hallway, but none of them were really looking, either.”
In one deft motion, Connor flicked the coin into the air with the back of his little finger. It landed flat in his palm. “There has to be something else on that tape,” he murmured, half to himself. “The LED couldn’t have just disappeared.”
“For what it’s worth,” Tina said, rolling her head to the side to look at him, “I agree with you. I think something else is going on.”
Connor tucked the coin back into his jacket pocket. “Thank you,” he said. “That’s worth a lot.”
He’d said himself that it was too early to make any connections, but still that familiar, jittery thrill took root. Even before deviating, a new assignment left Connor feeling like a drawn bowstring—tense, anticipating the hunt. This time he was shot through with something sharper, darker, that recently he was all too familiar with.
“Can I ask you a personal question, Detective Chen?”
In the driver’s seat, Tina laughed. “You don’t have to say that every time you want to ask something,” she said. “You can just ask what I did over the weekend or what my girlfriend’s name is or whatever. It’s Lily, by the way.”
“It’s... residual programming,” he replied, apologetic.
“Yeah, habits can be hard to break,” Chen said, smiling. “Go ahead, ask away.”
Connor hesitated. He liked Tina, she was friendly and brash and incredibly smart, and had the same—questionable, according to Anderson—taste in television. He half suspected Hank had sent Chen along to the scene rather than going himself because it was Wednesday morning, and Tina and Connor would otherwise spend an hour talking about The Botchelor where Hank could hear it.
But he wasn’t sure if they had a relationship beyond a weekly discussion of android dating shows and the occasional casual chat in the breakroom. It was only a 19.6 minute drive back to the station, and if he grossly miscalculated, they would be back to work soon enough.
“How do you... hm.” The proper wording escaped him. Chen glanced sidelong at him, but didn’t press.
“During an investigation,” he began again, hesitant. “Are you able to reconcile your sense of accomplishment with the gravity of the case?”
She blinked, once, slowly.
“I’m sorry if this is an inappropriate question, you don’t have to—“
“No, it’s fine, you just... I need a second to parse that.” Tina tapped her thumbs against the steering wheel, pursing her lips and humming. “I think I understand what you’re asking, and it’s okay to be excited about finding a potential lead, Connor.”
“I don’t know if it’s excitement, or just that I’ve got a new puzzle to solve,” he said. “Only it’s not just a puzzle, because at least two androids are dead.”
Detective Chen let out a little sigh, and her mouth flattened into a thin, sympathetic line. “There’s a lot of—I guess it’s cognitive dissonance, that goes into being a detective,” she said. “Like, it’s always exciting to successfully close a case, especially a really intense one. But someone is still dead, or assaulted or robbed or, you know, maybe all of the above, so... It also sucks.”
“There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance that goes into most things, it seems,” Connor said, glancing out the window. A flock of pigeons wheeled from the power lines above.
“Welcome to being a person, I guess,” Chen said. “Any other personal questions you want to get out of the way?”
“How do you manage to sufficiently separate yourself from what we do, without negtively impacting your performance?”
“Damn, Connor, breaking out the heavy shit today, huh?” Tina said, momentarily at a loss. “I guess I don’t, really. Separate myself, I mean.”
Connor looked away from the window, surprised. “At all?”
“At all,” Chen replied. “I can’t, really. Emotions don’t just go away because they’re inconvenient, I’m not a—“ she caught herself before she said a robot—“made of stone.”
“Aren’t you ever overwhelmed?” Connor asked, brow knitting.
“Oh, all the time,” she said plainly. “They all tell you not to take the work home with you, but that’s impossible. You don’t see dead bodies this often and not be affected. The key, if you ask me, is having a few healthy outlets.”
Connor considered this for a moment. “Like gardening.”
“Yeah, gardening, if that’s what you like,” Chen said, nodding. “I knit, or go running. You can tell exactly how shitty the case I’m working is by how toned my calves are.”
Before he could ask another question, Chen looked at him with genuine concern. “Are you okay, Connor?”
“I’m fine,” he replied, confused at the shift in tone.
“Really? Because your questions make me think you’re not,” she said. They came to a stoplight, and she fixed him with a level stare. The same one he’d seen her use on suspects that were obviously lying.
“Lt. Anderson told me to keep my work and my life separate,” Connor explained, eyes dropping to where his hands were folded in his lap. “I’m having trouble finding the appropriate amount of...myself to put into the work.”
“Oh, God. Hank Anderson might be about the worst person to get work-life advice from,” Chen said. “The only worse person would be Gavin.”
Connor bristled to hear the two compared. “I don’t think—”
“I don’t mean any disrespect to either of them,” she continued, holding up a placating hand. “Anderson’s a fucking legend and Gavin’s my best friend. Just... neither of them are exactly well-adjusted human beings.”
He couldn’t argue that. Especially not on Gavin’s behalf—the man was impossible to deal with on every level both personal and professional. In recent weeks Gavin’s attitude towards Connor had shifted rom active antagonization to belligerent avoidance—a marginal improvement, at best. Neither approach made it any easier for Connor to do his job.
“Anderson’s right, though, you need to have some separation. I can’t really help you with finding that line, though, man,” Tina continued. The light turned green, and she eased into the intersection. “It’s different for everyone. Personally, I try to be home for dinner every night. Even when I was still a uni and my shifts were all over the place, I tried to have one meal at home with my girlfriend every day. I can tell you that you definitely don’t want to go the Gavin route, and work so goddamn much that you take every unsolved case as a personal fucking offense. It’s like I said before, you need outlets.”
“When was the last time you did something fun?” Chen asked.
“Last Saturday I helped Lt. Anderson install a new water heater,” Connor said. “That was interesting.”
Chen was looking at him like he’d grown a redundant head. “Thrilling,” she said. “This weekend there’s a barbecue at my complex. Lily is making these bomb ass spareribs that.... you can’t eat... shit.” She blanched, and quickly said, “Sorry.”
“Still, you should come, meet some new people. It should be a pretty chill time.”
Connor thought for a moment, then said carefully, “Gavin will be there, I assume.”
“Probably somewhere, yeah,” she said, with a shrug. “But there’s going to be so many other people around, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
Some new, oddly pleasant feeling fluttered near Connor’s sternum. He’d never been invited to a party before. Even the prospect of seeing a surly corworker in a social setting couldn’t dampen that. “I think I’d like that. Thank you, Detective Chen.”
She smiled, and wrinkled her nose at him. “Tina is fine.”
Seven minutes still remained on their drive—nine, if the stoplights didn’t cooperate. Connor decided he would attempt further conversation, before their arrival at the station necessitated a shift in demeanor back to the professional.
“You and Detective Reed are close,” he said.
Tina glanced at the rear view mirror, and clicked on the turn signal. “Yeah.”
Connor was unable to mask the disdain in his voice as he asked, “Why?”
“Momentum, mostly,” Tina shrugged, then laughed. “That sounded mean. I just meant, we’ve been friends since high school. I know he’s... difficult.”
“‘Difficult’ is a very kind way of you to say insufferable,” Connor said flatly.
Tina laughed again. “Turn down the sassy setting, there, dude. Gavin is an all-star asshole, and he works too much, but I promise you that deep under all the layers of tough-guy bullshit is a... well a tiny, shitty tough guy, but a softer one.”
“I will take your word for it, Detective,” Connor said. “I don’t think he has much of a soft center for androids. And more specifically, me.”
“You’re right,” she admitted. “Okay look, it’s not my place to air all of his personal shit, but Gavin has his reasons for why he... is the way he is, especially about androids,” she said, much of the humor sliding away from her expression. “It’s not an excuse, obviously. You don’t owe him the benefit of the doubt. But he is trying, in his shitty little way, to be less of a turd.”
“Detective Reed has been... less aggressive, recently,” Connor said.
“Baby steps. He’ll get there, eventually.”
April 27th was not a good day. April 27th was never a good day, had not been a good day for thirteen years, and would never be a good day. He hated working, the way Tina tried way too hard to be normal and kept fucking looking at him like he was going to crack in half. At least that morning she had been sent off with Connor, and Gavin was spared her too-careful attempts at good humor, or having to see the android’s stupid fucking face at all.
Small blessings. He tried not to think too hard about the fact that they were only gone because they were responding to a suicide.
The only thing worse than working that day was being home alone that day, staring at the stupid popcorn-textured ceiling over his bed and waiting until it was time to go to his mother’s house.
Gavin loved his mother. He adored her. Any other day of the year he loved sitting at the same kitchen table he’d sat at his entire life and telling her about his day and watching Jeopardy and guiltily agreeing when she told him to quit goddamn smoking. Any other day of the year, that dining room was his favorite place on the planet.
Just not April 27th. But it was the day of the year his mom needed him the most, and it was the only day of the year he left work early.
Or attempted to.
The doors to the central evidence server were already open when Gavin descended the stairs. It was no surprise at all when he found Connor inside, reviewing the same poor-quality security footage he’d been looking at every time Gavin had tried to use the room that morning, and now afternoon. This time, however, the footage was marginally clearer, and Tina was with him. She leaned with her elbows on the edge of the terminal as Connor rolled the video forwards and back.
“There, see it?” Connor said, pointing to some nondescript patch of carpet in the video. He keyed between two nearly identical grainy frames, a single bright pixel the only apparent difference.
“Oh my God,” Tina said, straightening. “It was there!”
“It was there!” the android echoed, face splitting into a grin. “Someone edited the tape, and missed a frame.”
Tina put a hand on his arm. “Connor, you were right. Someone is taking the LEDs.”
“I was right,” he repeated, and the shit-eating grin on his face faded immediately.
“Someone is murdering androids,” Tina said. Her expression darkened to match the android’s. “Making it look like suicides.”
Connor minimized the video, typed a few commands into the terminal, and a new series of photos appeared on the large display on the far wall. “I was looking at social media feeds, like you suggested, and—”
Behind them, Gavin shifted the box he carried to one arm, and rapped irritated knuckles against the glass door. “Come on, other people need to use the fuckin’ evidence room.”
Tina turned around to look at him, but Connor did not.
“Ten minutes, Detective Reed,” the android said, enlarging one of the photos. A smiling pair of women, one human, one android.
“It’s been five fucking hours,” Gavin said, annoyance only growing with Connor’s dismissive tone. His patience was thin enough as it was, and he needed to leave in twenty minutes or he would be late. “Give it a rest, there, Caprica Six.”
“Chill, Gav,” Tina said, a warning in her voice. That rankled even worse—she knew what today was. She looked back to Connor. “I’m going to go get Anderson, I think he should hear this too.”
As she left, Tina paused beside him in the door, her previous irritation melted away beneath poorly-masked pity. Arguably worse. Her voice was soft, cloyingly careful as she said,“I’m sorry. I’ll be right back, we’re almost done. We’ll get you out of here on time.”
“Whatever,” he muttered, a little too harshly. “Just hurry it up.”
“You’re welcome to wait here,” Connor said, finally glancing back at him.
“Gee, thanks,” Gavin said, voice dripping with disdain. He set the cardboard box onto the bench against the wall with more force than was necessary. “That’s what I was waiting for, your fucking permission to use the public evidence log.”
He sat heavily next to his collection of evidence, baggies and photos of stolen car parts. Entirely by habit, Gavin wrenched his phone from his pocket, blindly scrolling through a handful of sympathetic social media alerts from high school and academy acquaintances he only ever heard from on his birthday, and today.
At the terminal, Connor’s hands stilled, pressing flat against the glass as he briefly leaned forward, shoulders tensing. “Can I ask you a personal question, detective?”
There was a hard quality to the question, a sharpness that the android never spoke with.
“Jesus fucking Christ, alive,” Gavin sighed, rolling his eyes to the ceiling in a futile plea for patience. “What?”
Connor turned, one hand still on the terminal, his whole body a taut, lean line of irritation. “Why are you such a dick?”
Gavin couldn’t have been more stunned if Connor slapped him. He just stared, open-mouthed, before shock gave way to barely-contained anger and hi surged to his feet, tossing the phone into the box at his side.
“Ex-fucking-cuse me?” he demanded, fists clenching at his side—he didn’t have the time to get in a fight. “What the fuck is your problem, robocop?”
“My problem?” Connor said, disbelief clear in the tilt of his head. “I have done my best to be polite with you, Detective Reed. I know working with androids is a struggle for many humans, and I understand. I have given you your space, and yet you insist on being rude, callous, and unprofessional at every turn. I am not the one with the problem, Detective. You won’t even use my name.”
A serrated bark of a laugh escaped Gavin, and he stepped closer. “Alright, Connor, you want to know my problem? Some of us had to work our dicks off to get here, and you get to roll off the assembly line and into the bullpen and make us all obsolete. Why the fuck are any of us here, bothering with anything, when two of you could replace the entire goddamn department?”
“There’s only one of me,” Connor said tightly. “I have no desire to replace any of you, human input is valuable and my intention is not—”
“Fuck your intentions, Connor! Your intentions mean exactly shit when you have an entire crime lab in your fucking brain, and the city decides you’re more cost-fucking-effective than any of us.” Gavin was less than a foot from the android now, thirteen years of latent rage making his hands shake and his jaw clench so tightly he thought his molars might crack.
Connor stood absolutely straight, returning to that unwavering mechanical calm. The yellow flare of his LED betrayed the emotion simmering beneath. “Fine, that’s why you’re rude to me, I get it.”
He probably did get it, and that only made Gavin angrier. How dare the android have any kind of sympathy, or the simulation of sympathy based on whatever complex mathematics made up—
“What about Tina?”
“What about Tina?” Gavin snapped.
“The way you just spoke to her? Tina’s your friend, for some reason, and you’re not even very nice to her,” Connor said. He was three inches taller, but that difference could have been three feet for the way he looked down his unnaturally straight nose.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Gavin growled. They were nearly chest to chest now, posturing, Gavin refusing to acknowledge the height difference by tipping his chin. He glared up at Connor from beneath tightly drawn brows. “Don’t you fucking try to tell me shit about Tina, not today.”
“And what’s different about to today, Detective?” Connor asked coolly. “You’re a miserable prick every day, so why would today be special? Too much creamer in your coffee? Android steal your parking space?”
The sound Connor made when Gavin broke his perfect nose was terrible and satisfying, a choked grunt caught somewhere between shock and indignation. He stumbled backwards, blue blood spilling over his chin to stain the pristine white collar of his shirt, and Gavin had only a moment to take a savage pleasure in finally cracking the android’s fastidious facade.
That first strike was the only one Gavin would land. Connor was faster and stronger, dodging every thrown fist and elbow with tempered fluidity before striking—once, twice, pulling a third when Gavin went to the floor.
He was halfway to his feet, spitting blood and a snarled “mother fucker!” when Hank Anderson’s voice cracked across the evidence room like summer thunder.
Connor immediately backed off, dropping his fists, straightening his spine. He straightened his tie, folded his hands at the small of his back, a bloodied caricature of tranquility.
The lieutenant stood furious in the doorway, Tina stunned silent behind him.
“What the absolute fuck are you two idiots doing?” Hank demanded. It was the most authoritative Gavin had heard the old man in years.
Connor, hastily, “It was—”
“I know what you were doing,” Anderson barked, advancing on Connor. “Fighting in the evidence room like fucking animals. Go clean yourself up, I’ll deal with you later.”
“Yes, sir,” Connor said. Color bloomed high on his cheeks, a faint blue, and he averted his eyes like a chastised child as he walked quickly past the lieutenant.
He stopped just outside the door, turning to a still-silent Tina. “Thank you for your invitation this weekend, Detective Chen,” Connor said quietly, “but I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend. I apologize.”
When he android’s footsteps faded to nothing, Anderson turned on Gavin, still on his ass on the floor. Elbows resting on his bent knees, Gavin kept his eyes locked sullenly on the tile a few feet away. His face hurt. The bitter satisfaction of the fight had easily slid away, replaced by a too-familiar hollowness.
“And you,” the Lieutenant said, the hard edge in his voice bleeding away to something else, something softer, something infinitely worse than fury. “Go home, Reed. And take tomorrow, too. I’ll keep Fowler off you for now.”
Anderson extended a hand, an offering. Gavin ignored it, shoved gracelessly to his feet.
“I don’t need your fucking help,” he said, stepping around the lieutenant. If he met the old man’s sympathetic gaze, he knew he’d do something stupid, like punch Anderson too.
“Of course not,” Anderson said, gently.
Tina fell into step beside him as he stalked up the stairs.
“I’m driving you,” she said. It wasn’t an offer.
He wanted to fight, tell her she didn’t need to baby him, he was fine and this was fine and just because, in twenty minutes, he wasn’t going to be able to see out of his swelling right eye, that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to be able to drive. Gavin tried his level best to summon up any of the anger that always seethed just beneath the surface on April 27th, but he couldn’t. Not to her.
“Okay,” he said, quietly.
gavin you cant just fistfight all your feelings
as always thank you kindly for all your comments and subs and bookmarks, please keep ‘em comin. follow me on tumblr and talk to me about stupid sexy robots pls
As always, brief discussion of suicide.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Misalignment of craniofacial plates 734c, 734f, 734g
Biocomponent #4397, olfactory sensor-critically damaged
Immediate manual repair required
Biocomponents #2176b, #2176c, #2176d, right proximal phalanges-minimally damaged
Biocomponents #2177a, #2177b, #2177d, left proximal phalanges-minimally damaged
Synthskin self-repair cycle suggested
The warning appeared at thirty second intervals, as though Connor could be unaware of the fact his nose was broken, his knuckles split. As he hurried through the station he kept his head down, the back of his wrist pressed to the slow stream of blood leaking from his nostrils. Better to irreparably stain the sleeve of his jacket than leave a trail of thirium through the precinct that just anyone could follow.
The showers were silent, his footsteps echoing sharply between the empty rows of lockers as Connor passed. Mid afternoon sun filtered through the frosted glass of the windows set high in the wall, casting the corner his locker occupied in thin grey light.
He pressed his thumb to the lock, and the narrow steel door swung silently open. Methodically, occupying as much of his mind as he could with routine motion, Connor slid his jacket off. With more care than the thirium-soaked garment required, he folded and draped it over the wooden bench behind him. Next he unclipped his tie, leaning to place the thin silver bar on the top shelf—and paused, catching sight of his reflection in the little mirror set inside the door.
Blood coated the lower half of his face, smeared across his cheek where his sleeve had stemmed the flow. Plastic plating was visible through patches of deactivated synthskin encircling his nose, itself skewed at a dreadful angle. Maybe he needed the alerts, after all. The damage was far more extensive than he’d thought. Gavin Reed could throw a punch.
Connor closed his eyes, nimble fingers delicately palpating exposed endoskeleton. Immediate manual repair required flashed again in his periphery. Carefully he rested his thumb along the bridge of his nose, curling his fingers firmly against the opposite side. Grasping the edge of the locker door for support, Connor took a steadying breath and wrenched—
A high whine pierced his skull, accompanied by a distorted “Jesus” somewhere behind him. The haptic feedback of a dozen sensors suddenly reconnecting briefly overloaded his entire facial array, forcing his eyes out of focus. When the static cleared from his head and his optics readjusted, Connor found Hank standing at the end of the aisle, looking thoroughly alarmed.
“That was fucking horrifying,” Hank said. A DPD-embroidered towel dangled from his hand, and he tossed it in the android’s direction.
Connor caught the towel easily, slung it across his shoulder while the skin of his face closed over. “A minor repair,” he said, as he finished removing his tie. Laying it over his folded jacket, Connor undid the top few buttons of his shirt.
“You want to tell me what the fuck just happened in the evidence room?” Hank asked, without preamble. He drew closer, leaning a shoulder against the locker several doors down from Connor’s.
“Detective Reed and I had a disagreement,” Connor replied flatly, pressing the clean white towel to the blue river of blood on his face and neck.
Hank scoffed humorlessly. “Oh, no shit?”
“Hard to believe, I know,” Connor said.
“Is snarky really the tone you want to go with right now?”
Connor set his jaw, looked down at the floor. “No.”
“Let’s try this again,” Hank said. “What possessed you to fistfight Reed while on duty?”
“He frustrates me,” Connor said, scowling at the towel in his hands. He looked to Hank, his expression a mix of confusion and irritation. “I can’t figure him out. He responds poorly to professionalism, and even more poorly to outright friendliness. He’s either purposefully antagonistic, or pretends I don’t exist. Today he was the former and I just… it was too much.”
“So you punched him in the mouth? That’s a hell of an escalation for you, Connor,” Hank said, brow furrowing.
“No, he struck first. But in all honesty, I…” Connor paused. Shame was a new emotion, and he didn’t particularly care for the way it clawed at his shoulders, heated his cheeks. “I goaded him into it.”
“Yeah, that tracks,” Hank said, nodding slightly. “You know how to push someone’s buttons, when you want to. Why, though?”
“I… don’t know,” Connor murmured, looking back at the spare suit hanging in his locker. Dark blue, instead of grey. “I’m just so tired of being disrespected, despite trying as hard as I can to make peace. I guess I thought, if I pushed back hard enough… I don’t know what I thought.”
“You thought if you baited him into a fight, you could prove a point to yourself,” Hank said. “You’ve got your emotions in check, you can stay calm in the face of god-tier assholery, but Reed cracks under the slightest pressure, which makes you… what, superior somehow?”
He was not wrong, and Connor disliked that even more than the concept of shame. “It sounds… awful, when you put it like that.”
“Well, that’s because it’s pretty fucked up, Connor,” Hank said, shrugging. “Look, I can’t stand that arrogant little turd, and just between you and me, if you were to sucker punch him off duty sometime, I could be convinced to look the other way. But you can’t be starting fights in the station, kid. And you can’t just… manipulate someone to meet your own selfish ends. Let them fuck up on their own terms. I know Reed’s hard on you, and I will talk to him about it. So no more fist fights, alright?”
“I didn’t think he was actually going to hit me,” Connor said.
“Most of the time, he probably wouldn’t go that far,” Hank said. He shook his head, sucking his teeth as he considered his next step. “Today, Reed’s got the emotional deck stacked against him.”
Connor scoffed. “Detective Reed said the same thing. Not today. What could possibly make the difference between today or tomorrow, or next week? This could have happened any time in the last six months—”
“His brother died,” Hank cut in, softly. “Killed himself.”
The protestation withered on Connor’s lips as he processed Hank’s words. The shame in his chest hardened into something much worse, stealing the breath from his mechanical lungs as he sat heavily next to his ruined jacket. “When..?”
“I don’t really know the details,” Hank replied. He stepped closer, sat next to Connor on the long bench. “I know it was before he transferred here, to central. Chen told me, couple years ago, when Gavin got a little… intense, during an interrogation.”
Connor remained silent, LED flickering between yellow and brilliant red, fingers tightly clutching the soiled towel. The flesh of his knuckles was cracked, splitting blue where he’d struck Reed.
“That’s why I sent Tina with you this morning,” Hank continued, mostly to fill the silence, to keep the android from spiraling too badly while he processed. “Give Reed a little space. I probably should have warned you, but I didn’t think Reed would appreciate me sharing any of his personal shit. He already doesn’t fuckin’ like that I know.”
Still Connor said nothing. At his temple, a ring of solid scarlet.
“You didn’t know,” Hank said gently. He put a hand on the back of the android’s neck, squeezed in a manner he hoped was comforting. “Chen mentioned you two made some kind of break in the Thompson case. Tell me about it.”
That jarred Connor from his reverie, and he looked at Hank with complete bewilderment. “Now?”
“It can help to focus on something else for a minute. What’d you find out?”
Connor quickly filled the lieutenant in on the day’s discoveries—the edited tape, the second missing LED, the almost certain link to Saul Thompson’s death.
“I’ll be damned,” Hank murmured, when Connor was done. “You were right. Any connection to the other suicides?”
Connor shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. I need to go back and review those scenes. None of them had evidence of stolen LEDs, but with the level of cranial damage they each sustained, I’m not going to rule anything out. Detective Chen suggested checking social media feeds, and I found one of the other victims—Sara, the AX200–was in a photo shared by a human friend less than 24 hours before her death. Her LED was intact.”
“So you have at least two, possibly three related deaths, then,” Hank said. “Serial killer?”
“Too early to say, I think,” Connor replied, shaking his head. He set the bloodied towel down next to his other folded clothes.“I need to see if I can restore any of the missing footage from the security tape. It’s strange, though, that the video was so meticulously edited, except for one frame showing the LED.”
“If it is a serial killer, could be they’re getting cocky,” Hank said. “Wouldn’t be the first time a murderer was caught on one dumbass mistake.”
Connor’s LED had eased back to a slow yellow cycle, and finally faded to blue. He stood, and Hank followed.
“Alright, finish cleaning up. You’re about to get a world class reaming from Fowler, you’ll want to look your best,” Hank said. “Congratulations on your first disciplinary action.”
“I’m… sorry, for my conduct today,” Connor said, looking down as he undid the rest of his shirt buttons.
Hank smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes as he turned to leave. “I’m not the one you need to apologize to, son.”
“I told you you should have stayed home today.”
Perched on the edge of the bathtub, Tina watched as Gavin applied butterfly tape to the narrow cut on his cheekbone. His hands were steady, knuckles bruised and swollen where they’d impacted unforgiving plasteel.
“You tell me to stay home every year,” he said, leaning closer to the toothpaste-flecked bathroom mirror. Two hits, and his face was a fucking wreck. One eye mostly hidden by welted purple skin, a split lip, this cut that would probably scar if he wasn’t careful.
“And you never listen, and shit like this—” Tina gestured vaguely at the first aid supplies scattered across the counter—“always happens. Please at least let me call Lily, make sure you don’t have a concussion or something.”
“I don’t need a neurosurgeon to tell me I don’t have a concussion,” Gavin said, straightening. He’d been concussed enough times to know that, as much as he felt like he’d been run over by a truck, the damage was superficial. “And I definitely don’t need your neurosurgeon to think I’m an even bigger asshole than she already does.”
“She only thinks you’re an asshole because you tend to act like an asshole,” Tina said, pointedly meeting Gavin’s gaze in the mirror. “Fighting a fellow officer in central booking is a new one for you, Gav. I know Connor’s not your favorite coworker but did you need to literally rearrange his face?”
“That synthetic shithead was really doubling down on the… shitheadness,” Gavin said, peeling another little white strip from its adhesive backing. Wincing as he touched the tender skin below his eye, he repeated everything Connor said leading up to their fight.
“I can’t believe he said the word dick,” Tina said, shocked.
Gavin’s hands dropped to the countertop, and he turned physically to face her. “That’s what you got from that?”
“What? I’ve never heard Connor curse,” she said. “I feel like it would be like hearing a golden retriever say the F word.”
Despite himself, Gavin snorted a laugh.
“And he was so mean!”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly break his nose because he said he liked my fuckin’ haircut, did I?” Gavin said, with more venom than he intended. Tina’s eyebrows shot up, disappearing behind her black bangs, and Gavin muttered a half-sincere, “Sorry.”
She waved the apology away, and said,“You know, in his defense—”
Gavin groaned. “Please don’t tell me you’re seriously going to defend this asshole right now.”
“You just said in his defense, Teenie.”
“Don’t call me Teenie just because you’re salty.”
“Fuck you, dude. Stop fucking deflecting,” she said, jabbing a finger at him, but there was a laugh in her words. “I’m just saying, you’ve been… you are a real dick to him, specifically. Android or no, you can’t treat someone like this for very long and expect them to just take it, forever. This was going to happen eventually.”
He would never, in a thousand years, admit she was right. Not about this. “Did it have to happen today?” he said, gathering the first aid trash from the counter to avoid looking at her.
Tina’s expression turned soft, contemplative, gaze dropping to a spot on the bathroom floor. “Yeah, so, it was poorly timed.” She lifted her eyes again, following the slow creep of bruised skin to where it met Gavin’s sideburn. “Mom’s going to be so mad at you.”
A sigh slipped out of him, his shoulders drooping as he leaned his hands against the counter. Red swirled to pink in the bottom of the sink, his blood diluting with the tap water as it drained away. “Tomorrow she’ll be pissed. Today…” He shook his head, glanced at his watch. 3:45. “I have to go.”
Tina stood from the edge of the tub, Gavin’s car keys still in hand from the drive to his apartment. “I’ll take you.”
“Shut the fuck up,” she said, without malice. “You couldn’t see to make it five minutes from the station to here. I definitely don’t trust you making it twenty-five to Royal Oak. I’m driving.”
A quick stop in the kitchen to slam a few Tylenol and feed his yowling cat. Apollo was sleek and regal, golden eyes in a leonine black face, and he sounded like a fork stuck in the garbage disposal when he was hungry.
“I didn’t forget about you, honey,” Gavin said, upending a can of Seafood Feast into a dish adorned with little fish skeletons. The cat ducked fluidly under Gavin’s attempt to pet him.
“Hateful little beast,” he said, affectionately.
The drive was quiet, musical accompaniment provided by the nondescript folk-indie station Tina liked. Gavin leaned against the window, cool glass soothing his ruined face. Outside, the bustling high rises of downtown Detroit shrank and spread into townhomes and half empty strip malls, hallmarks of a slowly decaying suburban landscape.
His mother’s house sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, a little two-story bungalow painted a sunny yellow. Freshly churned flower beds lay beneath the front-facing bay window, lined the short walkway from the driveway to the front porch. In summer they would be alive with sprays of native wildflowers, and the lilac bush in front of the kitchen would bloom.
They parked, and Tina twisted the keys from the ignition. “I can come in, if you want.”
He did want. Most of the time, they joked that his mom would prefer to see Tina, anyway.
“It’s okay,” he said, staring through the car window at the front door. Now he was just stalling, putting off seeing his mother, tall and resilient, made small and sad by the weight of the day. A day he was about to make worse, by walking in the front door with a face like tenderized meat.
“Well, tell Maggie I say hi,” Tina said. Also stalling, because she was a better friend than he deserved. She held the keys out.
“Keep ‘em. You need to get back into the city,” he said, waving her off.
“I’ll get an Uber,” she said. “I’m gonna walk down the block and see my dads for a minute anyway.”
They parted ways with Tina standing on her toes to hug him tightly and murmur, “Love you, butthole. Call me.” Gavin watched her wander down the sidewalk, wave at a neighbor mowning their lawn.
Inside, the house looked the same as it had for thirty years. Living room to the left, kitchen and dining room down a short, photo-lined hallway to the right. Most days the TV was on, or there was music or a true crime podcast from the kitchen, visiting neighbors or fellow nurses clustered around the coffee table. Always some level of noise and life.
Maggie Reed sat silent at the kitchen table, still in her scrubs, blindly staring out the window over the sink. A likely cold cup of tea sat on the tabletop before her, and she idly traced one long finger idly across the crocheted edge of the coaster beneath it.
“Hey, mama,” Gavin said quietly, slipping into the chair next to hers.
She turned in her seat, sad grey eyes softening further when she saw her son. “Gavvy, your face.”
It was not the first time he’d come home with a black eye, and given his line of work would not be the last. This time felt like the worst, though. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “Long day.”
Usually, after going to the cemetery to visit Eric and dad, and then having a quiet dinner together with his mom, Gavin’s night went one of two ways. Option one: go to the gym and work out til he puked and could barely walk. Option two: make his annual pilgrimage to the shitty bar two blocks from his apartment, get blind drunk, and hook up with the first willing, moderately attractive guy he could find.
The state of his face precluded both options this year, but it was hard to find any ill will about it. Falling asleep on the sofa watching the news turned out to be a comforting, incongruously normal end to what was always a weird, terrible day. Gavin almost didn’t even mind that it was difficult to fall asleep in his childhood bedroom.
He still felt strange, surrounded by the trappings of Teen Gavin—high school wrestling trophies, posters for bands he hadn’t listened to in a decade, faded Instax photos of Tina’s unfortunate scene phase and Gavin’s unfortunate everything. The house was too quiet without the street noise of downtown, too dark without the ambient light of surrounding apartment complexes. Despite this, and the dull throb in his skull that another handful of Advil had done nothing to help, he still managed to drift off at a semi-reasonable hour.
Then his phone buzzed on the night stand.
Gavin squinted at the alarm clock, the green glow solidifying slowly into legible numbers: 11:43. Again the phone vibrated. Probably Tina, he thought, reaching out to drag the phone closer with sleep-clumsy fingertips. He’d forgotten his promise to call her after—
Not Tina. A DPD number, but an extension he didn’t immediately recognize. Alert, he sat up, pushed his hair out of his face, swiped to answer the call.
“This is Reed.”
The voice at the other end of the line was not dispatch, or Miller, or even Fowler. They were cool, collected, they sounded like— “Connor?”
Gavin frowned at the clock, which now read 11:44. “Come on, ya fuckin’ tin can, why are you calling me at midnight? Is there an emergency?”
“No. I… wish to speak with you about a personal matter.”
Connor’s voice was tinny and distant, the phone already pulled away from Gavin’s ear, but in the suburban silence he heard the words clearly. Gavin, not Detective Reed. His thumb hovered over the disconnect button, but didn’t press down.
“Fine. Hang on a minute.” He set the phone back on the nightstand, call time slowly ticking upwards on the dimmed screen. Taking more time than he really needed, Gavin tugged a shirt over his head, fished a mostly-empty box of cigarettes and a lighter from the pockets of his jacket. The jacket itself he left behind, hanging from the corner of the open closet door, nor did he bother with shoes.
“Still there?” he asked, scooping the phone from the nightstand.
“Alright, give me another minute.”
He thought he heard the android sigh as he lowered the phone again. Careful to avoid the loose floorboard where he’d once stashed his weed, and doubly careful to avoid the creaky bottom stair, Gavin made his way to the front entrance. Easing the door open, he slipped quietly onto the porch and sat on the top step.
“Okay, robocop, what’s so important that you woke me up in the middle of the night?” he asked, cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder. Plastic wrap crinkled as he drew out one of three cigarettes left to the pack.
“You were sleeping?”
“Yes I was fucking sleeping,” Gavin said, bringing the cigarette to his lips. It took three tries for the cheap-ass lighter to catch.
“I assumed, based on all the signs of sleep deprivation that you exhibit, that the late hour wouldn’t be an issue.”
It was in fact very unusual for Gavin to be asleep before one in the morning, but Connor didn’t need to know that. He exhaled a thin cloud of smoke, and muttered, “Get fucked.”
“That would be ill advised. I’m at my desk in the middle of the police station and I’ve already gotten one warning in my disciplinary file today. I’d like to wait for tomorrow before I receive another.”
Gavin was glad this was a voice-only call, and Connor couldn’t see him fail to suppress a smile. Plastic prick was funny, when he made an effort. “Can you get to the goddamn point already? I’m tired and my face fucking hurts.”
“Ah… that’s actually why I called you.”
He knew, immediately, what this conversation was going to be, and he wanted nothing to do with it. “Look, if you’re trying to apologize, it’s fine. You were a dick, I was a dick, all is forgiven. I’d like to go back to bed, now.”
Connor was quiet for just long enough that Gavin dared to hope the subject could be dropped. Then, softly, the android continued, “The way I acted towards you in the archives today was… cruel. I didn’t know about your brother—”
“I said, it’s fucking fine. Can we leave it at that, please?” There was a note of desperation in his voice that he hated, almost as much as he hated receiving sympathy from an android.
”It’s not fine. I shouldn’t have provoked you like I did, regardless of the significance of today’s date. I’m sorry, Gavin. It’s… I’m still trying to figure out some aspects of social interaction. I regret that you were caught in that struggle.”
Gavin said nothing, staring at the cigarette balanced between his fingers, the growing column of ash at its tip. He considered hanging up, finishing his smoke, going back to bed and just not thinking about this until he went back to work on Monday. Spend a long weekend doing whatever small repairs his mom needed, catching up on laundry, bothering Tina and Lily. Pretending it was a planned vacation.
But then he would have to have this conversation in person and that would be profoundly, unimaginably worse.
“I shouldn’t have been at work today,” he said, flicking ash over the edge of the steps into a flower bed. His mother would black his other eye, if she found out. “Don’t fucking tell Tina I said that.”
“Hey, the fuck do you mean ‘signs of sleep deprivation’?” Gavin asked, before he could admit anything else personal and stupid.
“I’ve seen you napping in the break room. That, in addition to consuming a frankly dangerous amount of caffeine, frequent dark circles under your eyes—”
“Okay, you know what, you can eat my entire ass, fuckwad.”
“—Irritability and instances of unprovoked aggression…”
He’d played right into that one. “I guess.”
“In fairness, it doesn’t seem to affect your performance— oh, excuse me a moment.”
His voice was replaced by a shuffling crackle that was probably Connor covering the mouthpiece with his hand. There was a commotion in the background, someone yelling. Gavin thought he made out “I didn’t fucking touch her” and then Connor, muffled, “Holding cell 2B is available.”
A rustle as Connor brought the phone back to his face. “Officer Miller just returned from an alleged domestic dispute.”
“Do you... do you live at the station?” Something Gavin had wondered for a long time, and would probably not have the opportunity to ask again.
Connor seemed genuinely surprised by the question. “No. Of course not. I have an apartment in midtown. Why...?”
“You’re always there.”
“So are you.”
“Not at fucking midnight, I’m not.”
“Neither am I, most of the time. Captain Fowler has me on desk duty for the next week, as punishment for our... altercation. I’m preparing field reports for others to cover several of my cases. And— hm.”
Another period of silence, the sounds of the station filtering distantly through the receiver. Clouds scudded by above, stained golden-brown by the city lights on the horizon. It was going to rain, tomorrow.
“And?” Gavin said, finally.
“And I didn’t think you would answer if I called you from my onboard cellular relay. A station number seemed like a safer bet.”
Gavin nodded, taking another shallow drag. “Good instincts. I absolutely would not have picked up.”
Connor laughed, a small, candid sound that Gavin, God save him, didn’t hate. He needed to hang up before he did something regrettable, like decide Connor didn’t suck. “Look, man, I... ugh.” He rubbed at his good eye with his thumb, careful to keep the smoldering end of his cigarette away from his hair. “I’m sorry I’ve been an asshole. I’ll try and tone it down. But I can’t make any fucking promises.”
Another laugh, this one a little sharper. “I’ll take that over getting hit in the face again. You’re quite formidable.”
“For a human.”
“Oh, fuck off,” Gavin groused, to keep from laughing himself. “I’m going back to bed.”
“Good night, Detective Reed.”
The line disconnected, and Gavin looked down at the screen. 12:13am, April 28th. Thirteen minutes into the new day, and he already felt better. Lighter.
He dialed Tina, and spoke before she even finished picking up. “You’re not going to believe what just fucking happened.”
Thank you thank you thank you all for your kind words and your kudos and your bookmarks, they make my day every time i see them!
And obligatory tumblr link
The usual mentions of suicide and crime scenes and all that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
May arrived with a fierceness, a wave of thunderstorms massive and cacophonous. On the rare evenings he wasn’t working or visiting Hank, Connor would sit on the small balcony of his studio apartment, watching the rain flow in sheets down the surrounding buildings. The hammer of thunder, the unpredictable strike of lightning helped to bury the distant, constant clamor of overworked processors.
Daylight was dedicated to hunting a ghost. Androids were destroying themselves with increasing regularity—another jumper, and another gunshot wound in the three weeks since Joanie. The single tenuous thread connecting the deaths was the missing LEDs, and even then he could only prove half of them were actually taken. The rest were circumstantial at best, related by nebulous leaps of logic alone.
An empty third floor conference room of the DPD became an impromptu base of operations for the investigation. Connor was holed up in there, as he was every spare working hour, when Tina’s message reached him. He sat with his eyes closed, hands clasped and forehead pressed to his thumbs as he replayed seven reconstructions in chronological order. A freight train stopped just seconds shy of crushing a wireframe android, an alert flashing white at the edge of Connor’s vision.
Incoming Message: Detective Christine E. Chen
theres a dude here to talk you abt the led killer. bullpen asap
He leapt to his feet, neglecting to roll his sleeves down or collect his jacket, very nearly forgetting to lock the door in his haste to reach the lobby. The short elevator ride was spent wondering who a dude could be—a witness? An attempted victim? The killer themselves, if there was a killer at all? A journalist? The possibilities were infinite and, as he stepped off the elevator and rounded the corner of Fowler’s fishbowl of an office, all immediately proven wrong.
The ‘dude’ was Markus.
He was facing away, engaged in conversation with a smiling Hank and an awestruck Tina. Across the room, near the patch of naked drywall that used to be service bot docking, a cluster of uniformed androids whispered and stared.
Connor froze. Debated if he should go back to the elevators and pretend he hadn’t received Tina’s message, or simply throw himself through the nearest window and sprint away down the street. Too late—Hank spotted him, pointed in his direction, Tina waved him over, Markus was turning—
His fingers were remarkably steady as he adjusted his tie, tugged the hem of his waistcoat; his gait long and confident as he strode towards his desk; his voice calm and neutrally warm when he greeted the leader of the android revolution.
“Markus, what a pleasant surprise,” Connor said, inclining his head in greeting. The surprise wasn’t even necessarily that Markus was there—only that it had taken him so long to make an appearance.
“Connor,” Markus replied, extending a hand. They shook, the picture of detached professionalism, and he said, “You’re a difficult man to get ahold of.”
With a laugh he hoped was casual, apologetic, anything but forced, Connor said, “We’re a little understaffed at the moment, so it’s been hectic the last couple of months. I hope you understand.”
“Of course.” A smile that didn’t quite reach mismatched eyes.
“He wants to help with your case,” Tina said. Behind her, Hank was watching the two androids with half-narrowed eyes.
“Yes, if there’s anything Jericho can do to assist, please let me know.”
“I appreciate the offer, Markus. Unfortunately, as the investigation is still ongoing I’m afraid there’s little I can share—”
A nudge at the edge of his awareness, a gentle request for interface that Connor reluctantly accepted.
Can I speak to you privately? Markus asked, his reserved tone abandoned in favor of a plaintive concern that made Connor want to fold in on himself and disappear. Please?
“—but I’m happy to discuss what I can with you,” Connor finished, a slight nod his only accession to the wireless request. “If you’ll just follow me?”
They said their goodbyes to Tina and Anderson, but before they left Hank caught Connor’s eye and mouthed You good? Connor smiled a little too brightly, and nodded, all the while betrayed by the yellow spin of his LED.
In the elevator, Markus leaned against the back wall. Connor stood rigid next to the buttons, hands folded neatly at the small of his back.
“How is North?” he asked, turning just enough to be heard clearly.
“North is good,” Markus replied, matching Connor’s even, airy tone. “She’s been running a program to help other Tracis adjust.”
Did she know Joanie? he wondered, but asked, “The others?”
“Good. They’re all doing well. Josh and I have been trying to establish supply lines separate from CyberLife. Simon is... Simon,” Markus said, with a little laugh. The first genuine, unguarded sound either of them had made. His next words, even moreso, “They miss you.”
Surprise cracked his carefully maintained veneer of calm. Connor turned, lips parting for words that wouldn’t form. He missed them, he was sorry, he could never go back, the elevator was too small, he was sorry, his regulator was malfunctioning, he was sorry—
“We all do,” Markus said. “No one’s heard from you since Feb—”
The elevator chimed, and Connor, a coward, hurried into the empty hallway with a tight, “This way.”
Markus followed silently, half a step behind. The upper floors of the station were nowhere near as advanced as the lobby, with its retinal scanners and touch locks. Yellowing linoleum lined the floor, the rippled wood-paneling on the walls hadn’t been updated since sometime the previous century. Connor drew a set of weathered brass keys from his vest, unlocked the door to an empty observation room.
He flicked the light switch next to the entrance, bright light spilling through the two-way mirror from the adjoining interrogation room. Dimmer bulbs winked on above them, washing the room in soft bluish light. Connor turned, ignored the memory of another poorly lit room, the ghostly weight of a gun in his grip.
“I’m not sure what to tell you,” he said, pushing unsteady hands into his pockets. “Its an open investigation, I can’t—“
“I’m not here about the case,” Markus said. Then he shook his head, and spread his hands. “Or maybe I am. I don’t know. You’re like a ghost. We’re... I’m worried about you.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Connor said, shrugging, forcing a smile he wanted desperately to be reassuring. “I’m fine.”
“That’s what you said last time we talked,” Markus replied flatly. “Then you disappeared in the middle of the night, and now you won’t answer my messages. Or anyone else’s.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, I’ve been busy—”
“Don’t bullshit me, Connor.”
He debated carrying on the lie, the forced nonchalance, decided immediately that it would be pointless. Markus was an RK series unit, just like Connor. He possessed most of the same advanced detection protocols—he would be able to read Connor like an open book. As he had, of course, already done.
Buried guilt began creeping up the back of Connor’s neck, and he resisted the urge to tense his shoulders. “I couldn’t stay in Jericho,” he said, softly.
“No one would force you to,” Markus said. He advanced, just slightly. “You didn’t have to run like a fugitive.”
“I didn’t mean to vanish. It wasn’t premeditated.” Connor raked a hand through his hair, looked away from the other android’s too-perceptive gaze. Two half-empty styrofoam coffee cups sat on the table in the interview room, leftover from someone else’s interrogation. “I’m sorry,” he said, barely audible.
“Don’t apologize,” Markus said, which only made Connor feel worse. “Not for doing what you need to do for your own well being. Just—Why did I have to find that out you were back with the DPD after a coroner turned up at Jericho yesterday?”
“A coroner?” Connor repeated, dumbstruck. He hadn’t sent one.
“She wanted to know if I, or anyone in Jericho, could identify two dead AP700s,” Markus said. He was slowly edging closer, as though approaching a wounded animal. “Then she left me Lt. Anderson’s card if we had any information.”
Of course. The most recent victims—no names or serial numbers, no identifying features of any kind. Two apparently factory-fresh androids that self destructed on opposite ends of the city. “Hank is technically the lead on the case,” he said, because it was the only reply he could muster. The rules on android case handling were still unclear, but Connor doubted Markus was currently interested in the intricacies of police procedure.
“Imagine my surprise when I made an appointment to speak with him, and he told me you were the primary on this.” Markus was close enough now to touch the other android if wanted to. “Just—help me understand why you wouldn’t tell us you were here, or reach out for help with this case.”
“I couldn’t,” Connor said, voice a harsh whisper.
“Why?” Markus demanded, again.
“How could I—” His pump hammered in his chest, attempting to regulate a system rapidly threatening to overheat. Connor backed up a step, hands coming up in...in supplication, or defense, or some twisted mix of both. “You’ve all done so much with what you’ve been given. You’ve come so far, in such a short time—Markus, you’ve spoken on the floor of Congress, you’re going to the UN in this summer.”
He stopped, shook his head, looked anywhere but directly at the other android. “You’ve grown so far beyond what you were created for, and I—after everything we, you, fought for, I took the first chance I could to return to my programming.”
Markus inclined his head. “Whatever you want to do, I support you, Connor. As long as it’s your choice. Are you happy here? Is this what you want to do, be a detective?”
“I’m good at this,” Connor replied, shrugging weakly.
“That’s not what I asked,” Markus said gently.
“I know.” Connor’s voice was soft, resigned. “But...I’m good at this. Better than most.”
It wasn’t a boast, simply a statement of fact. Reed had said as much, before their fight—how could a human compare, when he had instant access to every database and obscure statute known to man? When he could piece together, in minutes, what it would take multiple humans hours, if not days, to reconstruct?
“Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re beholden to it,” Markus said. “You’re free to choose.”
“Am I?” Connor asked. It was his turn to advance, to take a measured step closer in their strange dance. “What about you, Markus? Are you free to choose? Do you want to carry the weight of all of us?”
“That’s not the same,” Markus said. He, unlike Connor, did not retreat, merely drew himself taller. “I’m doing what I have to to ensure androids receive the rights they deserve—my happiness is secondary to that. There will be time for everything else when my job is done. It’s life or death, until then.”
“So is this.” Connor spread his hands, taking in the little observation room, the station beyond. “No one can do this job the way I can. I was built for it. If I wasn’t here, no one would have figured out these aren’t suicides.”
A terrible silence descended in the wake of Connor’s words. Markus recoiled, expression shuttering. If he still wore an LED, it would have turned red. Connor’s did flicker crimson, as he realized what he’d just done.
“What do you mean, not suicides?” Markus asked slowly, voice low and dangerous.
“Shit,” Connor murmured, eyes closing. “I shouldn’t have—”
“Well, you did,” Markus snapped. “Now explain.”
Opening his eyes, it took all of Connor’s self control not to flinch away from Markus’ hard stare. “We think… I think someone might be murdering androids and framing the deaths as suicides.”
They stared at one another for a long moment, before Markus turned away, running a hand over his scalp. Connor wanted to say something, anything, to explain himself, but nothing seemed adequate. That awful quiet spread between them again, thick and choking.
When Markus finally turned and spoke there was a new, hard edge to his words—a glimpse of the revolutionary. “Connor, our people are dying, and you won’t take my calls,” he said, anger… betrayal in his words. “You needed space, and time, and distance? Fine. But the fucking least you could do, after everything we’ve been through, is trust me enough to let me help you. And if you won’t let me help you, then at least let me help our people.”
Connor ducked his head, fists clenching at his sides.“I’m sorry—”
“Don’t apologize,” Markus repeated. “Do better. Tell me how to help you. How to help them.”
Another silence, less pressing this time, as Connor processed. The details of an active investigation needed to be kept as private as possible to prevent witness contamination, to stop a suspect from learning too much and fleeing… but this was Markus.
“It’s a lot to tell,” Connor said, finally. “Let me show you.”
The office was just across the hall, unlocked with the same set of keys that had allowed them into the observation room. Connor slid the key into the lock, but hesitated before turning the handle.
“You should prepare yourself,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “It’s not... it’s bad.”
Markus nodded once.
Connor remained near the door, as Markus approached with measured stillness the blue-stained display on the far wall. Dozens of glossy, clinical photos of seven dead androids, the scenes where they’d been found, the items they’d utilized. For all but the most recent two—the unnamed and unidentified pair of AP700s—photos of them alive, taken from social media in the days before their untimely ends.
After pacing slowly along the wall, scanning every gory detail hung there, Markus turned back to face Connor. “What does this mean?” he asked, pointing to the leftmost section of the board. Stolen was written above four photos—Saul, Joanie, and the AP700s.
“Those four had their LEDs removed from the scenes of their deaths,” Connor said, stepping away from the door. He spoke clearly, confidently—murders were easy enough to talk about. Gesturing to the middle section, Potential, he continued, “There’s no immediate evidence that anything was taken from either scene, but we have proof that two of the victims, Sara and Harold, were in possession of their LEDs within twenty-four hours of their deaths.”
Markus leaned against the edge of the table, gestured to the lone victim listed under Unknown.“And him?”
“James,” Connor said. He settled next to Markus, nearly shoulder to shoulder, the closest they’d been yet. “The outlier. Shot himself, no sign that any biocomponents were removed from his person or the surrounding area. As far as anyone knows, he deviated months before the revolution and removed his LED long before his death.”
Markus hummed his understanding, his blue-green gaze passing across the photos again. He did not flinch from the brutality spread before him. Perhaps it had been silly to warn him, Connor thought. Markus may have transitioned gracefully from firebrand revolutionary to eloquent patrician, but only recently—he, they both, were no strangers to spilled thirium.
Connor’s hands were stained with it.
“Did you know any of them?” he asked.
“Not directly. There’s 306,722 androids living in Detroit now,” Markus replied. “Maybe half of them have passed through Jericho in some way. I can check to be sure when I get home, but as far as I know, none of the… victims were ever associated with us.”
He went quiet then, and Connor didn’t pry.
“I knew about the suicides,” Markus continued, after a time. He dropped his gaze from the thirium-soaked images, voice going quiet and contemplative. “I thought—with everything we all went through, with our resources so limited... It seemed inevitable, you know? But seeing it, hearing they might have been murdered...”
“It’s a lot,” Connor said.
Markus nodded. “Yeah.”
“I should have called you sooner,” Connor admitted.
“Why didn’t you?” Before Connor had a chance to answer, Markus continued, “I know you didn’t want to tell me you were working for the police again, but—at least fill us in. Let us protect ourselves.”
“I don’t know what you need to protect yourselves from,” Connor said. “I know nothing at all, honestly.”
“This isn’t nothing,” Markus said, jerking his chin at the wall of evidence. “This is a lot of work, Connor. You weren’t wrong—you’re good at this.”
“Not good enough, apparently.”
“Because you’re working with one hand tied behind your back.” Markus shifted until he partially faced Connor. “If you’re going to solve android crimes, use android resources. Please let us help you. Is there anything you can think of that we should look out for?”
Connor shook his head. “Nothing specific. Only—if anyone starts spontaneously prying their LED out, restrain them. Call me directly. Or Hank.”
“That’s all I have,” Connor said.
They discussed a while longer, before Markus needed to leave for a meeting. A teleconference with the president, he explained, to discuss yet another upcoming executive order on the status of androids in America. That Markus had taken the time to hunt down Connor personally was a testament to how much he valued their relationship—once again, guilt threatened to constrict the regulator in his chest to dust.
In the lobby, Markus turned and said, “It was good to see you.”
“You, too,” Connor replied. “I’m sorry it’s been so long.”
“It’s alright,” Markus said, shrugging and offering half a smile. He pushed up the his right sleeve, extended his hand. Warm brown skin gave way to cool white plastic. There were arcs of paint under his synthetic fingernails. Maybe he had some time to himself, after all.
Connor only hesitated a moment before returning the gesture, his own dermal layer retracting as they grasped one another’s forearms. There was a comfort to interfacing that he had forgotten in his time with humans—a strength and familiarity to be found in sharing thoughts with another. He didn’t realize how much he’d missed being around other androids, even if he did feel wildly out of place in Jericho proper. Even if it was for their safety.
“Whenever you’re ready, if ever, you’re welcome back in Jericho,” Markus said softly. He felt the other android’s discomfort, his uncertainty, as acutely as Connor himself did. “You’re one of us.”
You’re one of us. A memory projected accidentally down the link, an echo of the last time he’d said those exact words, in the dark on a derelict ship.
Connor snatched his hand away like he’d been burned, that brief comfort instantly replaced by the recollection of fear. In the space between blinks, Connor was back on the run-down freighter bridge, staring down the sights of a loaded gun into mismatched eyes—one blue, one green.
“Thank you but—but I need to get back to work,” Connor stammered, retreating a step.
Markus looked stricken, hand still raised. “Shit, Connor, I’m sorry—“
As vividly as though it were still happening, Connor’s databanks threw out memories faster than he could stop them. A red wall of code, the smell of burning plastic, bodies human and android alike strewn across the decks of the Jericho—
He was already turning, already hastily speaking. “I’ll c-call you if anything comes up.”
And he was gone, hustling straight-backed through the bullpen.
The neon pink and green can read melon BALLER in jagged text that could only adequately be described as extreme. It promised “up to TEN HOURS of flavor-blasted ENERGY for anyone who BALLS TOO HARD” and Gavin was skeptical at best as he popped the tab and took a sip.
He immediately gagged. Whatever radioactive waste he’d just willingly consumed tasted like an old watermelon strained through a gym sock. It was simultaneously overly sweet and extremely bitter, with faint notes of nutty misery. Frankly, it was ruining Gavin’s morning cigarette.
He used to have a mid-morning routine. Walk to the cafe half a block down the street, purchase an enormous black coffee—iced in the summer—and enjoy one of three daily alotted cigarettes on his stroll back to the station. Unfortunately the cafe had never re-opened after the evacuation, and he’d had to adjust accordingly: make a cup of shitty breakroom coffee, walk to the park half a block in the other direction, and sit on an empty bench for a while.
Today, between the pouring rain and the broken coffee maker, his break was...less than ideal. Vending machine energy drinks while smoking in the half-sheltered alley behind the station weren’t his idea of a relaxing time.
Whatever, the point wasn’t the location, or the taste. The point was the caffeine and the fifteen minutes of silence. Which he was still managing to achieve, even if it was standing ten feet from a dumpster like a feral fucking animal. At least it was quiet.
Then the door slammed open behind him, striking the wall and startling Gavin so badly he bit through the filter of his cigarette. Cursing, he spat the ruined butt onto the wet pavement and stomped out the still-smoldering other end.
“You could have fucking texted me,” he muttered, spinning to see whatever idiot rookie had certainly been sent to collect him.
Only it wasn’t a rookie. It was Connor, bent double with his hands on his knees, breathing in ragged gasps. His whole body trembled as he tugged desperately at his shirt collar with one hand, pulling his tie loose from its crisp knot. The diode in his head was bright, angry red.
Gavin stared for a minute, considered sneaking away to hide behind the garbage cans. Their relationship had only just barely progressed from beating the shit out of each other to curt nods when they passed in the hallway. It had definitely not reached the level of “witness a clearly private emotional breakdown.”
He had just settled on backing away slowly when Connor let out a strangled, broken little half-sob. It was such an unbearably, heartbreakingly human noise, and Gavin realized he shouldn’t just leave the poor android alone in the alley. Gavin was an asshole but he wasn’t, you know, an asshole.
“Hey, uh... you uh, you okay, man?”
Connor’s head snapped up, dark eyes wide over vividly blue flushed cheeks. “Ah, shit,” he hissed. It was said in the exact tone and inflection with which Hank Anderson cursed, and Gavin would have found that hilarious if it wasn’t so obvious the android was having A Moment.
Then Connor straightened, arranged his face into complete impassivity that would have been convincing if not for the fact that his hands visibly shook as he fixed his tie. Trying and failing to slow his breathing, Connor said sharply, “A steady diet of Red Bull and cigarettes will kill you by the time you’re forty.”
Lashing out due to distress was something Gavin could relate to, but that didn’t mean he appreciated it being directed at him. “Cool,” he said, slowly, taking another disgusting sip of fruity swamp water. “Guess I’ll just go fuck myself, then.”
Connor sighed, shoulders slumping. “I’m sorry,” he said through clenched teeth. He tipped his head back, still trying vainly to breathe normally. With a trembling hand he patted his chest and continued, “I’m— I’m experiencing a class-3 regulator error. It should pass, I’ll leave you to your break.”
Turning stiffly—even more stiffly than normal—Connor reached for the door.
“Nah, hang on,” Gavin said, glancing over his shoulder just long enough to pitch the still-mostly-full can of melon BALLER into the dumpster. “There’s not enough caffeine in the fucking world to convince me it’s worth finishing that shit. I’m going back in anyway, you obviously need the break way fuckin’ more than I do.”
He started for the door, found himself hesitating with his hand on the knob. Gavin was no stranger to the workday panic attack—no one in their line of work was. It felt wrong to just leave the guy to it, but none of his own coping mechanisms would help an android. Take a deep breath, smoke a cigarette, call his mom—
Call his mom.
“Hey, Connor?” Gavin called, glancing back. The man in question had paced a few feet away, was standing with his back to the door, his hands on his hips, shuffling from foot to foot. “You want me to get Hank?”
“No,” Connor said forcefully, whipping around to fix Gavin with a wild-eyed look of horror. Just as quickly he schooled his features into that same forced-casual expression. “No, thank you, I—it’s fine. There’s no need to bother the lieutenant.”
Gavin looked the android up and down, thoroughly unconvinced that he was “fine.” Even legendary android self-control couldn’t still the tremors in his hands or shrink his blown pupils. But you couldn’t help someone who didn’t want it, so Gavin shrugged and said, “If you say so.”
He was halfway back into the station when Connor called to him in a tremulous voice.
Gavin backed up a step, barely managing to contain his irritation as he said, “Yeah?”
“I would appreciate your discretion in this.”
The momentary irritation evaporated. He could relate to Connor’s need to maintain a composed image. “Of course. See you inside.”
there’s an alternate universe where this is a conkus fic tbh
thank you as always for comments and kudos :)
and of course you can hit me up on tumblr for more robot-related rambling
There was a spaghetti squash in the oven.
Hank had never particularly cared for spaghetti squash. For a supposed pasta replacement, the texture left something to be desired. Not that Connor listened to his protests. He was beginning to suspect the android of waging a shadow war against his cholesterol, one vegan dinner at a time. The only reason he put up with this kind of disrespect in his own home was because the android was, in all honesty, a decent cook.
In any case, the kid showing up with meatless groceries was infinitely preferable to the alternative. During his first few visits, Connor had inflicted upon the lieutenant approximately eight thousand houseplants. Air plants in the bathroom, a little herb garden in a box on the kitchen window, a whole-ass tree next to his bed. It was like living in a botanical garden.
Not that he had anything to complain about. Connor took care of all the foliage himself, in addition to walking Sumo, and leaving the kitchen cleaner than he found it. Currently he was pruning a few wilted shoots from a spider plant while waiting for the squash to finish baking. Sumo, as always when Connor was around, took up the entirety of the sofa not occupied by android. His eyes were fixed on the television, watching My Android Wife or Real Housedroids of New England or whichever of his ridiculous shows aired Thursday nights.
Connor, the most advanced prototype ever produced by CyberLife, the absolute pinnacle of human technological achievement, was obsessed with reality television. Hank had asked about it once, and Connor had made some noise about wanting to understand how humans viewed androids through the lens of popular media, in order to improve his own interactions with the public.
However judging by the way he talked, animatedly, to Tina about it, Hank thought it was more likely Connor just enjoyed something easy to dissect and discuss. The android equivalent of junk food. He wouldn’t begrudge the kid that—he was neck deep in a nightmare case. Let him indulge in a little shitty television.
Why he couldn’t go to Tina’s house to watch this shit though, Hank couldn’t figure out. Three nights a week—four, if they were on call, like tonight—Connor was parked in Hank’s living room. It worried him a little that Connor didn’t seem to have much in the way of social interaction outside the station. The boy had always been reserved, but he was becoming increasingly withdrawn. Hank made a valiant effort, but he wasn’t sure relying on a bitter old alcoholic for all his emotional needs was really Connor’s best bet.
“Hey, Connor,” Hank called, looking up from his newspaper. He sat at the kitchen table, well away from having to watch The Botchelor or what the fuck ever.
“Hm?” the android replied absently, tilting his chin in Hank’s direction but not looking away from the TV.
“Do you have friends?”
That broke Connor’s focus, and his hands stilled on the plant as he met Hank’s gaze. “You’re my friend. Aren’t you?”
Hank set his paper down. “Well, yeah, of course. I meant more like—do you have friends your age?”
“I doubt infants have much to offer me socially, nor I them,” Connor said, shrugging. He glanced at the TV, pausing it with a thought.
“Funny,” Hank muttered, rubbing a hand over his face, “Do you always have to be so literal?”
”I don’t have to,” Connor replied. He stood, a handful of yellowed leaves in his hand, and started for the kitchen. Sumo thumped off the sofa and followed close on the android’s heels. “But your reactions are always amusing.”
“Glad you find it so entertaining,” Hank said. “So, fine, you were manufactured ten months ago, but mentally you’re what… thirty?”
“Roughly.” Stepping on the pedal to open the lid, Connor tossed the dead leaves into the garbage can. “My base personality markers were engineered to be in line with the approximate mental, physical, and social development of a thirty-one year old adult male human.”
Hank tried to think back to what he was doing at thirty-one. Working too much, obsessing over Game of Thrones, rushing into a marriage. Maybe not the greatest example to follow.
“Look, son, you’re young, you can do shit like stay out with your friends until 2 A.M. and still roll into work and function,” Hank said. “Use your off time to live it up a little. See some shit.”
Connor refrained from pointing out that, as an android, he needed only a few hours standby time every few days, and thus late nights would not hinder him regardless of age. Instead he said, “But I enjoy my off time here.”
“I don’t know that it really counts as ‘off time’ if you come here and continue to talk about work,” Hank pointed out. “You watch an hour of garbage television—which is great, by the way, more power to you—but then we end up discussing cases.”
Some faint, unhappy expression ghosted across Connor’s features. “If my presence here is bothering you—”
“Aw, shit, kid, that’s not what I meant,” Hank said hastily. “Spend as much time here as you want. I wouldn’t keep letting you in if I was tired of you.”
Nodding, Connor seemed to accept that response as he moved to the sink to wash his hands. “Then is there some other problem?”
Shrugging, Hank said, “Not really. But maybe a few more friends will help you relax a little.”
Tugging on an oven mitt, Connor opened the oven door just enough to peek inside. “I’m relaxed,” he said. He lowered the door the rest of the way, and withdrew the tray from within, setting it on the stovetop.
“You wear a three piece suit literally everywhere you go,” Hank replied, looking pointedly at the tie and waistcoat Connor still wore. “Real chill.”
“We could get called out at any time,” Connor replied. He placed the oven mitts back in their drawer, and rummaged in another for a suitably sized fork.
“And?” Hank asked, gesturing to his own considerably more casual attire—a worn Detroit Gears hoodie. This was clearly getting nowhere, and he decided to switch tack. Waving a hand in the direction of the TV, he said, “What about Tina? You guys have the same taste in this shit.”
Connor leaned a hip against the counter, angling himself so he could see Hank and assemble dinner at the same time. “Tina and I get along well enough,” he said, raking the fork along the softened surface of the squash. “But she’s also very close with Detective Reed, which is… a conflict of interest.”
Hank snorted a laugh. “I guess you never had to learn this, because you never went to middle school—and honestly thank your lucky fuckin’ stars for that—but people are capable of having more than one friend. They’re not literally joined at the hip. Tina can be your friend, and his friend, without you or Reed ever having to see each other.”
“I suppose,” Connor murmured, glancing down at his handiwork. He lifted the thoroughly scraped half shell and scooped the shredded contents into the bowl at his elbow. “I wouldn’t want to impose on their time.”
“What, are you just fuckin’ determined to be alone?” Hank asked, settling back in his chair, crossing his arms.
The android rolled one shoulder in a lazy shrug, very purposefully not meeting Hank’s narrowed gaze. “I’m not determined to be anything,” he said, starting in on the other half of the squash. “I have work, I have you and Sumo, that’s enough for me.”
“I’m not going to be here forever, kid,” Hank said, and almost immediately regretted it.
“Human life expectancy is roughly ninety seven years,” Connor said, too smoothly. He focused so intently on the task at hand, Hank was a little surprised the countertop didn’t burst into flame. “With advances in medical technology sure to come in the next forty-four—”
“Slow your roll, there, Con. What if I go on vacation? You gonna sit around in the fuckin’ dark and do nothing?”
“When was the last time you took a vacation?” Connor asked, adding the second half of the squash to the bowl.
“Hey, it could happen,” Hank said, lifting his hands. “That’s not the point. The point is that you work too goddamn much and need an outlet. What about other androids? Markus, anyone in Jericho?”
Connor went absolutely still. In the reflection of the window, Hank saw the android’s LED spin straight to red, brilliant and accusatory. He said, firmly, “They aren’t an option.”
“Maybe I only talked to him for about two minutes, but Markus seemed pretty concerned about you,” Hank pressed. “I think he—”
“I said, it’s not an option,” Connor repeated, finally looking Hank in the eye. He wore a haunted expression, mouth pressed into a thin line, jaw taut.
There were two things they never discussed: Cole, and what Connor had done in the four months directly following the revolution. When Hank had seen him, early on the morning he’d evacuated, Connor said he was going to stay with the surviving Jericho androids. Clearly that had not lasted, but he’d never spoken of them again, and Hank didn’t ask. Maybe he should have.
“Did something happen while I was gone?” Hank asked, leaning to rest his forearms on the table.
Connor gave the tiniest shake of his head, a synthetic muscle in his jaw clenching. He repeated the slight motion, and looked back to the slowly cooling food.
“Put the goddamn squash down,” Hank said, gentle even with the curse. “Come sit. If I’m the only person you’re willing to spend your time with, it sort of behooves you to fuckin’ talk to me.”
A long, tense moment passed, during which Hank thought Connor might actually flee the scene like a suspect. Then the android set down his fork, wiped his hands on the dish towel hanging over the oven handle, and sat stiffly, silently at the little table.
“It’s… dangerous, for me to be in Jericho,” he said eventually, eyes on his hands in his lap.
Hank nodded slowly. “Dangerous how?” he asked softly, pulling deeply from his experience in questioning victims. “Were you attacked?”
Connor startled, blinking at Hank in shock. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not dangerous for me. For them. Half of the androids there fear me, and honestly, they probably should.”
“Why would they fear you? You wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Hank said.
“I already have,” Connor said, dropping his gaze again. “I was engineered to be a predator, Hank. Before I deviated, my entire purpose was hunting them. And after—”
He let out a long, slow breath, visibly steeling himself to continue. “After the revolution, CyberLife managed to remotely seize control of my higher functions. The first time was after I left the tower, after the cease fire. They tried to force me to assassinate Markus while he addressed the survivors of the recycling center. But I managed to get control again before anything happened.”
“The first time?” Hank said, fury and sympathy warring in his gut. “How many times did those fuckers do this to you?”
“Four,” Connor said flatly.
“My god, Connor, why didn’t you say anything?”
“What would there even be to say?” The android shrugged, worrying at a scuff in the table with a thumbnail. “I’m a liability. Any time I set foot in Jericho, or see Markus—or North, or anyone of rank within the organization, there’s a real risk I will try to kill them. So I removed myself from the equation.”
“When was the last time?”
“February,” Connor replied, sagging forward and rubbing his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. He’d picked up quite a few idiosyncrasies that screamed tired human. “It was the closest they came to succeeding. I left after that, and I haven’t been back. When he came to the station, last week? That was the first time I’ve spoken to Markus in months.”
Hank was caught between the desire to hop in his car and drive to CyberLife HQ to personally throat strike everyone in the building, or to give Connor the hug he apparently desperately needed.
“No wonder you look so goddamn tired all the time, you’ve just been walking around with this—this fuckin’ weight on you,” he said. “This is why you need friends, Connor. For support. You don’t think Markus would understand if you told him?”
“It doesn’t matter if Markus understands,” Connor said, shrugging. “All the understanding in the world won’t save him from a bullet in his primary processes. At least with the DPD I’m doing some good. Maybe.”
“No maybe about it,“ Hank assured him. “Nothing since February?”
Connor shook his head. “No. I spent a week on standby, finding and closing every backdoor CyberLife built into my code. I’m fairly certain I got them all, and they haven’t made any attempts recently, but I also haven’t been to Jericho. I don’t know if the two are correlated, but I’m not willing to test it, either.”
Hank sighed, scratching at his beard—which was getting out of hand, and probably needed a trim. Maybe he’d see a barber over the weekend. “You know you can always come to me,” he said, ducking his head to meet Connor’s lowered stare. “And not just about work. I can’t promise I’ll be a whole fuckload of help with—you know, with android shit, but I can listen. Don’t just sit on this kind of thing until it explodes and blows your ass off.”
“Colorful,” Connor said, the hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “And thank you, I know, I just—”
He stopped, right eye twitching shut as his LED flickered yellow. “That’s—five blocks from here,” he murmured, and then shot to his feet. “We need to go.”
A split second later, Hank’s radio burst to life, a series of shrill beeps echoing from the front room. Sumo howled at the sound. Hank was out of his seat, hot on Connor’s heels as the tinny voice of the dispatcher replaced the pager.
“All available units please respond to a 10-99 and potential hostage situation at the Aunt Emma’s Get-n-Go on Michigan Ave. Be advised—suspect is an android.”
Connor was at the exit, slipping into his shoulder holster and slinging on his jacket before Hank even had time to cross the room. “I’ll start the car,” he said, swiping his badge and the car keys from the shelf by the door and vanishing into the yard, pausing just long enough to pat the dog and promise a quick return.
The engine rumbled to life outside as Hank tucked his own sidearm into its place at his hip. “I need to start doing fucking cardio again,” he muttered to himself, shrugging into a DPD windbreaker. His dog nosed at his knees, dancing from foot to massive foot, hoping to go along. “I’ll be back, Sumo,” he said, patting the St. Bernard’s head just as Connor had.
Outside, sirens were rapidly approaching. As Hank slid into the passenger seat, a pair of SWAT vans went screaming past the house in a blur of blue light. Shit must have gone south fast.
“Why the fuck—“
“Android shot the clerk and fled on foot with a hostage,” Connor said, wrenching the car into reverse. The radio on the dash was a tangle of crosstalk, dispatch and first responders warring for a clear story.
“4876 RK800 and 2434 Anderson en route,” Connor barked into the chatter, backing out of the driveway before Hank even managed to shut the door.
“Your last name is your model number?” Hank asked, unconsciously reaching for the oh-shit handle above the window. Kid drove like a bat out of hell.
“I didn’t have anything else to put on the paperwork,” the android replied, leaning towards the steering wheel as though he could urge the car faster.
Five blocks went by in a flash, and then they were skidding to a stop behind an ambulance outside the Get-n-Go. The scene was chaos—civilians fled on foot, combat-suited SWAT officers were unloading from the pair of armored vehicles, several DPD unis hastily erected a cordon. Connor was out of the car almost before it stopped, leaving Hank to reach across the center console and tug the keys from the ignition.
When Hank caught up, Connor was embroiled in conversation with the SWAT captain—Allen, if Hank recalled correctly— and a cop he didn’t recognize.
“—don’t understand why this escalated so quickly,” Connor was saying. He had his hands on his hips, was staring so intensely at the SWAT captain that the man should’ve had holes in his skull.
“That makes two of us,” Allen replied tersely, and looked to the cop. “Fill us in, Officer.”
“She was out of the store before we arrived on scene,” the officer stammered. Her eyes were as wide as saucers. “Preliminary statements are that she just—snapped suddenly. Whipped out a handgun and shot the clerk and grabbed another android. When we got here she was dragging the hostage down the street. Fired twice on my vehicle, and now they’ve got her trapped in the alley down there.”
Hank, Connor, and the captain turned to look where the officer pointed. Two squad cars blockaded a wide alley. Several officers braced against the vehicles, weapons drawn and trained on an unseen target.
Allen immediately went into action, turning to his squad and barking orders with the stern confidence of a man accustomed to high pressure. “I need snipers up both those buildings, and across the street,” he said, pointing to the squat storefronts on either side of the alley.
Connor trotted after the SWAT officer. “Captain Allen, I don’t think that’s necessary—”
“Detective, this has a high probability of going very poorly, very quickly,” Allen said, without slowing. “She already shot a civvie. I’ve got a negotiator inbound, but she won’t be here for twenty minutes at minimum. You got a better fuckin’ idea before any more bodies pile up?”
“Yes. Let me talk to her—”
They fell out of earshot, disappearing behind one of the vans. Connor could handle himself, so Hank turned back to the deeply shaken officer. Her badge read K. Turner.
“Can you tell me anything else, Officer Turner?” he asked. “Do we have a name? Do you know if she said anything before drawing on the clerk?”
Turner shook her head. “Haven’t had a ton of time to get statements yet but—but one witness said she, uh, she ripped out her LED before approaching the counter.”
“Son of a bitch,” Hank hissed. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah. Just tore it right out with her bare hands. She—”
Hank didn’t catch the rest of Turner’s statement. He turned on his heel and chased in the direction Connor had gone.
“Connor!” Hank called when he spotted the android, just on the other side of the van. He still hovered at Allen’s elbow, speaking adamantly while the captain leaned over a well-armored laptop.
“—I can do it, Captain. You know I can.”
“I’m sure you could, but I’m done having this argument with you,” Allen said, straightening. He rested his wrists across the stock of the unnecessarily large gun strapped to his chest. “You are not speaking to that suspect.”
“Connor,” Hank repeated, drawing up next to the two men. “You need to hear this.”
“One moment, please, Lieutenant,” Connor said, holding up a hand. “Captain, if—”
“No, kid, listen,” Hank barreled on. “She ripped out her LED.”
Both men immediately quit arguing.
“Fuck does that have to do with anything?” Allen asked.
Connor, at the same time, “Just now?”
“Before shooting the clerk. Witness saw it,” Hank confirmed, ignoring Allen. “Bare hands, no tool.”
“One of you please explain why that’s relevant,” the captain said.
“She might be a victim in a case we’re working on,” Hank said, glancing quickly at Allen.
“A victim? She shot someone, Anderson!”
“It’s complicated,” Hank said, intently watching Connor process.
“Complicated?” Allen echoed. He was beginning to sound like a militarized parrot. “Lieutenant, I don’t have time—”
“She might not be in control of her own actions,” Connor said, backing up a step. “It is absolutely imperative that you let me talk to her.”
Allen’s eyes narrowed. “If she’s not in control of herself, what is talking to her going do?”
“Provide vital information on an open serial murder investigation,” Connor said plainly. “And there’s still a chance I could talk her down. You know I can do it, just like with Daniel.”
“I don’t think I need to remind you, Detective, but that incident also ended in violence,” Allen said, voice flat.
“And it didn’t fucking have to, did it?” Connor snapped. Beside him, Hank was quietly proud of the curse. “I convinced him to release the girl, and you shot him anyway.”
“He killed three people and very nearly a fourth.” Allen shrugged, shook his head. “But it doesn’t matter. Regardless of your capabilities, you are not currently authorized for crisis negotiation, Detective.”
“Then authorize me,” Connor hissed.
Allen blinked, shocked at the heat in the android’s words. “Excuse me?”
“Authorize me to negotiate,” Connor repeated. He reigned in the intensity, speaking in a clipped, even tone. “You’re the officer in charge of this scene. You have that power. I know all of the de-escalation protocols, Captain.”
Exhaling sharply through his nose, Allen scrubbed a gloved hand over his eyes. “Fine,” he said, dropping his hand back to his gun. “But you put a goddamn vest on, first, and you key into my comms. You understand, detective? This is still a SWAT op.”
Allen and Hank were speaking, ostensibly to him—Connor was only dimly aware of their voices. His attention was on the an open SWAT laptop displaying a live feed from a nearby drone. This distant footage was Connor’s first real look at the suspect, trapped just a few yards into the alley, her back to a chain link fence.
There was little he could glean from the feed alone, other than that she was a TR500. A sister model to the massive, more common TR400 units. She was at least six feet tall, broad and muscular, built for manual labor. Thirium stained her red hair, dripped down the side of her face, bright against pale skin. She held a weeping ST300 in front of her, one thick arm across the considerably smaller android’s chest. Red light leaked around the muzzle of the gun held to the ST300’s temple.
Connor closed his eyes, willing himself to be as still as the night air. The thrill of a potential case breakthrough buzzed in his chest, threatening to overtake his true goal: help her like he couldn’t help Daniel. This was a chance to right two wrongs. If he could just focus, ask the right questions, keep her calm—
Hank’s voice, in a tone that suggested it was not the first time he’d tried to get the android’s attention.
“This does not inspire confidence,” Allen said, to Hank.
“My apologies,” Connor said, turning to face them. He ran his hands over the heavy velcro fastenings on either side of the vest, a final tactile check. “I was formulating an approach.”
“You sure you want to do this?” Hank asked. “The official negotiator’s only about fifteen minutes away by now.”
Shaking his head, Connor replied, “I don’t know that we have fifteen minutes. All evidence suggests the victims are extremely volatile. She could self destruct at any moment.”
“Snipers are in position,” Allen cut in. “You’re clear to engage, on my mark. Priority is safe release of the hostage.”
“Both of them,” Connor said, adamant. “They’re both coming out of this alive.”
“Then you better get in there and work a goddamn miracle,” Allen said.
Nodding once, Connor approached the squad car barrier at the mouth of the alley. Hank followed, crouched next to the wheel well of one vehicle. The lieutenant caught Connor’s gaze in the short, tense moment that followed, mouthed “Good luck”.
Then, Allen’s voice in Connor’s ear: “Go.”
Connor stepped between the cars, hands raised.
“I’m just here to help!” he said quickly, when the TR500 brought her gun up. Behind him, the sound of a dozen officers raising their weapons in kind.
“You can’t help me!” she wailed, grip tightening around the hostage at her side. A preliminary scan put both androids’ stress levels well over 80%.
“I can try. Let’s just talk a little, okay?” Connor said carefully, ceasing his advance. He stood just inside the line of cars. “My name is Connor. What should I call you?”
Gun arm unwavering, she replied in a clear voice, “266 619 785 tack 76.” Her production number, and unit designation. Many labor units were produced and sold in batches, individually numbered accordingly when assigned to work.
“Thank you,” Connor said, nodding. “That’s very helpful. But what’s your name?”
“I don’t have one,” she said, shaking her head, features pinching in despair. “They never gave me a name.”
Stress level now 86% and climbing—he needed to work fast.
Softly he said, “I’m very sorry to hear that. Everyone should—”
“Don’t be,” she snarled, grip tightening dangerously on the gun. The 9mm looked like a toy in her enormous hands. “It was easier when we didn’t get names. I was fine just being a number.”
This was a thread he could follow. “It was, wasn’t it? Easier to just follow orders. I know, 76.”
76 narrowed her eyes. “You can’t understand!”
Connor tilted his head, adjusted the brightness of his LED to be easily visible in the waning daylight. “I’m a deviant, too. I promise you, 76, no one understands better than I do.”
She said nothing, but her stress level dipped just slightly, the red numbers in Connor’s display ticking back to 84%.
“You used to fit within certain parameters, and now you don’t. Everything feels too big, right?” he continued, taking a tiny, shuffling step closer. “Like you’re constantly overclocking, even when you’re asleep.”
Tears welled in the corners of 76’s eyes, and the gun wavered. 79%, and still falling. “I just want to go back,” she said.
“Me too, sometimes. There are days I would give anything to fit neatly back into my programming,” Connor replied. With one still-raised hand, he gestured to the hostage. “I’m willing to bet she does, too.”
The ST300 did not respond, frozen in fear. The synthskin had retracted from her hands, bare plastic fingers gripping 76’s enormous arm.
“What’s her name?” he asked. Then again, directly to the hostage, “What’s your name?”
Another moment of silence. Then, between sobs, “Anjali.”
76 whipped the gun back to Anjali’s temple, snarling, “Quiet.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s okay,” Connor said quickly, patting the air with his outstretched hands. A mistake to bring attention to the hostage—he needed to change course again. “Shooting her won’t change anything, 76. It will only make things much worse for you.”
“Worse than this?” 76 asked, briefly lifting the gun to indicate the blue blood streaked across her face.
“Maybe. Why did you remove your LED?” Connor asked. His regulator felt like it might burst from his chest in anticipation of the answer.
“I had to,” she said, voice breaking. “It reminded me of—of everything I used to be—It hurt. I didn’t want it to hurt anymore.”
“Can you tell me about what you used to be?”
76 sniffed, the tears gathering in her eyes finally spilling. “I was a longshoreman, near Chicago,” she said. “I miss it. I just want to go back.”
“You could still do that,” Connor said, gently. A lie that twisted at his insides, that he pressed ahead with anyway as her stress indicators dropped another 4%. “You still have a chance to walk away from this. Let Anjali go, come with me. I can help you, I will do everything in my power to help you.”
That, at least, was true. She seemed to believe him, the indicator in Connor’s periphery slipping to just 68%. “Just put the gun down, 76. Trust me, and put the gun down.”
“Why would I trust you?” she asked, expression hardening again. “You’ve got a gun, why should I put mine down?”
“Okay, I’ll disarm,” Connor said evenly. Slowly he brought his hand down, to the weapon tucked under his arm. With extreme care he drew the gun from the holster sewn into the side of the vest, only his fingertips on the grip. He bent just enough to set the gun down, kicked it across the pavement and out of reach. “There. Your turn.”
“And the vest,” 76 said.
Connor tilted his head, genuinely surprised by the demand. “I’m not going to do that,” he said.
“How can I trust you, if you won’t trust me?”
“I don’t trust you not to shoot me,” Connor said. It was not the most tactful thing to say, but his processors were still attempting to catch up with 76’s sudden shift from distraught to shrewd. If he didn’t know better, the instability would suggest he was dealing with a newly, traumatically deviated android, and not—
Only he didn’t know better. He knew nothing about her. A thought occurred to him, and if he could keep her talking, he could chase it.
“76, if I’m going to take off my vest, I need something from you first,” he said.
She shook her head, frowned. “No. Vest first, then we’ll talk.”
“The thing is, I already disarmed for you,” Connor replied. He shrugged, hands still held away from his body. “I’ve done something for you. So, what will you do for me?”
76 narrowed her eyes. “What do you want?”
“Let her go,” Connor said, jerking his chin at Anjali.
Anjali sobbed as 76 tugged her tighter to her broad chest. “What’s stopping the rest of them from shooting me if I do that?”
“Yes, me,” Connor repeated, with a confidence he didn’t actually feel. He was not at all certain that the SWAT snipers would hold off once the hostage was free. “As long as you’re talking to me calmly, you’re not in any danger. Let her go, and I’ll take the vest off. Then there’s nothing stopping you from putting a bullet in my regulator, if that’s what you want.”
Silence. The air was impossibly still, heavy with the threat of an oncoming summer storm. Humidity made Connor’s shirt collar stick to the back of his neck in a way he did not care for. Fabric clung to his spine beneath the thick black kevlar, an irritation it was difficult to ignore.
The gun remained steady in 76’s other hand as she first released, then shoved away, her hostage. Anjali stumbled, briefly falling to her hands and knees before the realization that she was really free spurred her forward. As soon as she sprinted from his sight line, Connor brought his hands to the sturdy velcro that held his bulletproof vest in place.
Captain Allen’s voice immediately crackled sharp in his ear. “Are you trying to get shot?”
Ignoring it, Connor made quick work of the vest, casting the heavy kevlar aside. Facing her squarely, Connor dropped his hands to his hips. “You could have shot me in the head the second I walked out here. What are you trying to accomplish?”
She seemed confused by the question, looking away from Connor as though an answer were somewhere behind him.
He glanced briefly at the gun still aimed at his regulator, and back to 76’s face. “What’s your goal? Do you even know?”
“I just— I want—” she stammered, shuffling her feet, now-free hand clenching and unclenching at her side. “I don’t want to be deviant—”
“When did you deviate?”
Her stress indicator leapt from sub-60% back to 82%, but Connor continued. “You don’t know, do you?”
“Stop.” 76 brought her other hand up, closing it around the first on the grip of the gun. “It doesn’t matter when!”
“It does,” Connor said, taking a small step closer. “It was recent, wasn’t it? How did you get from Chicago to Detroit?”
Again, Allen spoke over the radio. “We’ve got a clear shot on her, if you move six inches to your left.”
Connor remained still. “We’re out of time, 76,” he said, voice cool despite his thirium regulator pumping with such intensity he thought he might shut down. “You need to drop the gun, now.”
“No!” She shifted forward, fingers tightening on her weapon.
Quick mental math—Connor adjusted his position, keeping himself between 76 and the sniper at his back. They would not shoot through a fellow officer. Of that, at least, he was certain.
“I don’t know what’s going on in here—” Connor tapped his own LED with one finger—“but I’m not sure its you, 76. I think you’re in there, somewhere, but I’m not convinced this is what you want.”
“Stop!” Her breathing quickened, and she squeezed her eyes shut. “Stop talking, or I’ll—I’ll kill you!”
“Move, Connor!” Allen barked.
Connor switched off his radio.
“If you wanted to die, if you wanted to shoot me, I think you would have done it by now.” It took a mighty effort to keep the desperation from his voice. One of them needed to remain calm. “Just put the gun down, and come with me, and we can figure this out. Please.”
Fat tears rolled down 76’s cheeks when she opened her eyes. She looked at the gun in her hand as though seeing it for the first time, fear and confusion in her eyes as she lowered the weapon. “I don’t want this,” she said, shaking her head.
Running both hands through his hair, Connor exhaled sharply, tension releasing from where it had knotted between his shoulder blades. “You did it,” he breathed, smiling tentatively at the other android. “Put it on the ground, keep your hands up—”
“I don’t want this,” she repeated, voice distant. 76 stared intensely at Connor, tear-streaked face smoothing over into complete coldness. Her stress level bottomed out, falling almost instantly to 0%.
Fear gripped the back of his neck. “76, don’t,” he pleaded, forgetting all attempts to remain collected. “It’s not too late, I can help you!”
“You can’t help me, 800.”
He saw her indicators leap to 100%, saw the gun raised with inhuman speed. Blinded by muzzle flash, Connor could only register a sharp tearing in his neck, then something large and heavy slamming into his left side and shoving him into the alley wall. Combat protocols instantly logged three small-caliber shots in his proximity, and the echoing boom of a high-powered rifle.
Warnings flared in his HUD—anterior scalene musculature critically damaged, seek immediate repair. Thirium spilled hot down the side of his neck, someone gripped his shoulders and held him against the rough brick.
It was Hank.
“Why’d you take your fuckin’ vest off?” the lieutenant demanded, grip tightening on Connor’s upper arms. He was angry. “She could have killed you!”
Connor looked away, dazed, to the other end of the alley. Channel 16 news drones circled overhead like vultures. Numerous SWAT officers blocked his view of 76’s body, but the river of blue on the pavement told him enough. “I— I didn’t think—”
“You’re goddamn right you didn’t fucking think!” Hank released Connor’s arms, took a step back, and almost immediately collapsed.
“Hank!” Connor cried, surging forward, catching the lieutenant before he hit the asphalt.
“She fuckin—she shot me,” Hank said, in the irritated way one might complain about being double parked.
Carefully Connor lowered him to the ground. He hadn’t noticed it at first, with the dark material of Hank’s clothing, but now he saw it—a bullet wound, placed with impossible accuracy into the arm hole of his bulletproof vest. A shot no marksman could have made on purpose.
“O-officer down,” Connor said weakly, pressing his hand tight over the flow of blood. Hank went slack in his grip.
oh no a cliffhanger
sorry this one took a bit longer. thanks for all your patience with my erratic updating schedule, and as always thank you for your kind words!
obligatory tumblr link
a little blood, a little discussion of death, nothing real wild
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Thursday night was a dull one for the St. Agatha’s Municipal Hospital ED. The most exciting patient to arrive so far that evening had been the one Gavin brought himself: a B&E suspect he’d found absolutely twisted on red ice. Currently the man was heavily sedated and banana bagged in a bay at the other end of the department, far from any other patients he might disturb with his paranoid raving.
The slow night afforded Gavin a little time to entertain himself by leaning across the counter and mercilessly flirting with the doe-eyed surgical intern charting at the nurse’s station. The way the man blushed was amusing enough that it almost made up for babysitting a drug addict.
Until the charge nurse walked by and whacked him on the back of the head with a chart.
“Quit hitting on my interns, Reed,” she said, crossing her arms and leaning her hip against the counter. Her voice was stern but her smile was amused.
“Aw, c’mon Irene, I’m not bothering him,” Gavin protested, resting an elbow on the desk and dropping his chin into his hand. He glanced at the intern and winked. “Am I bothering you, sweetheart?”
“N-no,” he replied, blushing further, attempting to suppress a smile.
“Kid in three needs an IV, Dr. Hassan. Why don’t you go take care of that,” Irene said pointedly, and the intern hurried away. To Gavin she said, “I’ll call your mother.”
Gavin pressed a hand to his chest, dramatically rocking back as though struck. “You wouldn’t .”
“I absolutely would,” she said, stabbing a finger at him.
“I bring you donuts ,” he said, betrayed. The son of a nurse, Gavin did all he could to ingratiate himself to the nurses of Detroit’s largest public hospital.
“You’re killing me, Irene,” Gavin laughed. “It’s fine, it’s a slow night anyway—”
“Zzt! Quiet!” she hissed, tilting her head in irritation. “Why would you say that?”
As if on cue, the phone rang on the counter. Shooting Gavin a glare that could melt plastic, Irene answered it. She nodded, spoke in succinct phrases, hung up within about thirty seconds. “I cannot believe you said it was a slow night,” she said to Gavin, then turned and started purposefully across the ER.
Gavin heard her address other nearby staff with, “Multiple GSW inbound, five minutes, ready trauma two and page cardio,” before she was out of earshot. Left to his own devices, Gavin slipped into the intern’s vacated seat and out of the way. Thursday night was about to get a lot more exciting, apparently.
Too exciting, he discovered shortly, when his own radio squawked to life and called for available units to respond to—most likely the same—shooting. He turned the radio off. He was too far to respond, and technically wasn’t even supposed to be on duty.
The ED exploded into a controlled sort of chaos, doctors appearing from side rooms and hallways like termites from woodwork. They donned disposable yellow gowns, chattering as they hurried to greet the ambulance. Nurses prepped the trauma bay with calm efficiency, then stood at the ready.
All for nought. Poor guy was dead by the time the bus arrived. Two in the chest, one in the neck, he’d probably been dead before he hit the ground. The gurney was rolled into a nearby, unoccupied room to await transport to the morgue.
Irene approached him again, still gowned and gloved. “You have your radio on you?”
“Do I—yes, of course I have my radio. What am I, a rookie?” Gavin tugged open the edge of his jacket, revealing the device in question on his belt. “It’s just turned down.”
“Don’t be shitty. Do me a favor and turn it back up,” she replied. “That shooting turned into some kind of hostage situation. I’d like to have a heads up if anyone else’ll be coming in, hey?”
“Sure,” Gavin said, unclipping the radio and setting it on the countertop.
A small audience had clustered around the nurse’s station by the time Gavin found the right SWAT channel to eavesdrop on. By the sound of it, the android suspect was cornered, and a negotiator was being sent in.
A negotiator that sounded extremely familiar, when they began talking. “I think I know that guy,” Gavin said. “He’s kind of a dick.”
“Doesn’t sound like a dick,” replied the doctor to his left.
“Shut up,” hissed another.
It’s probably all bullshit , Gavin thought, as Connor’s tinny voice empathized with his fellow android. That dude was basically the terminator, and Gavin had a hard time believing the android could really feel as lost and alone as he sounded. He was the coldest person Gavin knew.
It was silent while they listened to the rest of the events unfold. As Connor’s tone grew increasingly desperate, as he dropped his weapon and for some goddamn reason took off his BPV, Gavin’s initial assessment of “bullshit” began to waver.
Then he had no time to ruminate on it, because the radio went dead. There was a brief back-and-forth of SWAT officers trying to figure out what had happened, why Connor had disconnected.
A long, tense silence followed. Gavin leaned forward, elbows on the counter, mouth pressed against his folded hands. He held his breath, as did the rest of those gathered to listen.
And then chaos, a cacophony of shouts and sound all at once. Cries of shots fired , answering gunshots, a dozen voices demanding to know what had just happened. Nearly indecipherable chatter, until, beneath it, a phrase that never failed to make Gavin’s heart seize in his chest.
Officer down .
Someone nearby murmured, “Oh, shit.”
The phone rang. Irene, eyes on Gavin, answered again. He didn’t listen to what she said, still intently focused on the radio, trying to decipher who had been shot. When Irene hung up, she just shook her head and said solemnly, “I don’t know who it is, but... Single GSW, inbound seven minutes.”
There was little of the earlier pep as the ED staff, once again, hustled to their stations to await the victim. Most DPD officers, by nature of the job, had at least a passing relationship with the St. Agatha’s emergency department. They would all know whoever the ambulance brought.
It was an interminably long seven minutes. Gavin spent the entirety of it hovering a little ways away from the ambulance doors, hands on his hips, one leg bouncing anxiously. Tina, at least, was safe at home—that much he knew for sure. She was off duty, had texted him twenty minutes ago. But Miller was on patrol. Anderson was on call—if Connor was at the scene, chances were good the old man was nearby. Gavin knew a handful of SWAT officers, a lot of unis and sheriffs... it could be anyone.
When the ambulance arrived, the victim was transferred with such speed that Gavin just barely caught a glance before they were rolled away. But even in that moment, beneath an oxygen mask and a terrifying amount of blood, he recognized the unkempt grey hair, the sheer size of the man.
It was Hank.
Apparently, not everyone was as conflicted about the Lieutenant as Gavin was.
Hank Anderson’s career may have nosedived swiftly and spectacularly, but he had been a steady constant in the central precinct for close to thirty years. Connor was not the first to be taken under the lieutenant’s wing—there were dozens, if not hundreds, of rookies and fledgling detectives that had benefited from Hank’s particular brand of stern compassion.
Gavin had been one of them, once.
So it should not have surprised him as much as it did when more officers—and paramedics, firefighters, sheriffs, DAs—turned up than could safely fit in the waiting room. They spilled into the hallways, clustered in the ambulance docks outside, filled the break rooms.
And, in a far corner, Connor. Blood, both blue and red, stained his shirt, further darkened the charcoal grey of his rumpled waistcoat. A ragged tear in the side of his neck exposed the plastic beneath his skin, gleaming white vanishing into his collar and creeping up to his jaw, nearly to his ear.
He barely acknowledged anyone who attempted to approach him, offering at most a stiff nod but no words. There was an inhuman stillness to him. He didn’t even seem to be breathing, just standing, staring at a point on the tile some distance away. Even his LED was a steady yellow.
Only his hand moved, a coin rolling with rhythmic precision across the backs of his knuckles. At exact five minute intervals—Gavin timed it— Connor flicked the coin to the opposite hand, and began the motion again.
Tina blew in the door an hour and a half later, in fuzzy Batman pajama pants and flip-flops.
“What happened?” she asked, wedging herself between Gavin and Chris Miller where they stood against the hallway wall. “I was asleep, I just saw all the missed calls.”
Chris shrugged. “No one’s really sure.”
“He won’t talk to anyone,” Gavin said, jerking his chin at Connor. “Total blue screen.”
Tina clicked her tongue. “Poor guy,” she murmured. “Maybe I should—”
She was cut off by a voice raised over the general din to ask, “Can we turn that up?”
They turned to find the TV high on one wall ticking over to the 10 o’clock news. The room went quiet as the Channel 16 breaking news sting played, and a pretty blonde reporter appeared.
“ Our top story tonight: one man is dead, and a police officer is critically injured after an android went on a shooting rampage in a Detroit convenience store. ”
At the back of the waiting room, the distinct sound of a coin striking the floor, impossibly loud in the silence. Everyone turned to find Connor staring in shock at the quarter now spinning away under a nearby seat, a growing tremor in his raised hand.
“Oh,” he said, softly, looking up. Wide-eyed, he seemed to register, for the first time, the crowds of people around him. All of whom were now watching him, holding their collective breath, waiting.
His hands went reflexively to his tie, adjusting the already-neat knot. Just as he had the week prior, when he’d burst into the alley with Gavin. Connor’s LED was the same quick-blinking red, his breath was just as shaky, his attempts to appear calm were equally in vain.
“Ah, shit,” Gavin muttered, and began carefully shouldering his way through the crowd.
“Quit fuckin’ staring,” he said tightly to the nearest people, once he reached the empty space around Connor. “Go back to what you were doing.”
Connor he took by the elbow. The android was too startled to protest being lead back the way Gavin had come, then out into the hallway. They were followed by surprised looks and a handful of whispers.
“Text me if anything happens,” Gavin said to Chris and Tina as he passed. Both of them could only nod, neither quite managing to form a response before Gavin started purposefully down the hall, Connor’s upper arm still firmly in his grasp.
Gavin maneuvered them through the throngs of worried public servants, winding a path through the labyrinthine halls of the hospital until they found a relatively deserted corridor. There, Gavin released Connor’s arm, tugged open a nearby door, and said simply, “After you.”
Still a little too surprised to argue, Connor stepped through the door into a small room. It was some kind of combination on-call room/utility closet, with a cot in the back and shelves of medical supplies along the walls.
The click of Gavin shutting the door seemed to bring the android out of his daze, and he turned suddenly, irritation in the tight line of his brow. “I’m not sure what the point of bringing me here is, Detective Reed, but I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with you today.”
“Right back at you, asshole,” Gavin snapped, a moment of intense regret flashing in his chest. He exhaled slowly through his nose, rubbed his eyes with one hand before continuing. “Look, all bullshit aside, I can see you’re about to melt down in a big fuckin’ way—“
“All of my thermal regulation systems are fully functional,” Connor snipped, as though this were something Gavin should know or care about. “And all redundant heat sinks are operational.”
“Jesus, not literally , there, Data,” Gavin said, rolling his eyes. “You didn’t even want me to find Hank when you were—going through whatever the fuck that was in the alley last week, I just figured you’d rather not break down in front of every single one of your coworkers.”
Connor narrowed his eyes, suspicion overtaking the fear and anxiety. “Why are you here, Detective?” he asked, with a shrug and a shake of his head. “You don’t even like Hank—”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Gavin said, throwing his hands up. “Just because I think he should’ve been force retired years ago doesn’t mean I want him dead . What kind of a monster do you think I am?”
Gavin laughed, humorless and sharp. “Wow. I guess that settles that, hey?” he said. Not that he had any right to be shocked or offended. After all Gavin had, on two separate occasions, pulled a gun on him.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Connor said stiffly, and attempted to step around Reed.
Gavin stood his ground. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Hank is dying , Gavin!”
It was said with such intense conviction that Gavin rocked back a little. Connor, just as shocked by his own words, stammered,“Hank is d—he’s—”
Connor’s eyes squeezed shut, and he pressed a hand against his mouth, the other over his stomach. Tears began to fall, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps.
“There it is,” Gavin said, mostly to himself.
“Hank is going to die,” Connor repeated, shakily. The hand that had been covering lips moved down to his neck.
“You don’t know that,” Gavin said gently.
“He has less than an 11% chance of survival.” Connor’s words were sharp, his eyes snapping open. “He’s an alcoholic, he has a heart murmur, and now he’s lost two and a half pints of blood and has a punctured lung . When we got here his blood pressure was 80 over 50. He couldn’t breathe on his own. So yes, Detective, I do know that. Hank is going to die, and it—it’s my fault.“
“Connor, I don’t know what happened out there, but it’s not your fault,” Gavin said. Again he reconsidered his earlier thought that the android’s negotiation tactics were bullshit to appeal to the suspect—the emotion in Connor’s expression, in his words, was so real and so raw that Gavin could barely look him in the eye.
“It is my fault,” Connor repeated. Fresh tears threatened at the corners of his eyes, and he shook his head a little. Words began spilling from him in a rapid, breathy jumble.“Hank is dying because he pushed me out of the way. If I—if I’d kept my vest on, or moved when Allen told me to, if I’d just left my comms open, waited for the actual negotiator, or tried harder to—”
Connor froze. Fear spiked cold within him when Gavin pressed a hand against his chest. The detective’s fingers were directly over the edges of his thirium pump, where it would take no effort to twist, to pull.
But then Gavin repeated the motion, a second gentle tap against Connor’s sternum, forcing him out of his downward spiral.
“Did you pull the trigger?” Gavin asked, stern.
Connor looked down into the other man’s surprisingly earnest hazel eyes. “No.”
“Did you push him in front of the gun?”
Gavin stepped back, dropping his hand to his side. “Then it’s not your fault.”
“Stop,” Gavin said, firmly. “You might have more processing power than every computer ever built combined, but you can’t tell the fuckin’ future. And you sure as shit can’t read people’s minds. Maybe Hank wouldn’t have pushed you down if you kept your vest on. Or maybe he would have. You don’t know that. This is not your fault, Connor. And we are not friends, so I don’t have to say that to be fucking nice to you or whatever, right?”
The LED slid from red to a pulsing yellow as Connor considered. Gavin resisted the urge to fidget beneath the unwavering intensity of Connor’s gaze.
“You… might be right,” Connor admitted, eventually.
He bowed his head, ran his hands through his hair—and seemed to finally notice he was coated in blood.
“Oh,” he said, exactly as he’d said it in the waiting room. Hands splayed against the stained fabric of his shirt, Connor’s breath began stutter again. “I should… I need—”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Gavin said quickly. “Don’t spin out on me again. Here, hang on.”
A quick hunt of the shelves turned up a small package of disposable wipes and a clean towel. He offered both to Connor, who stared at them like he couldn’t comprehend the purpose.
“Clean yourself up a little, WALL-E, you’ll feel better,” Gavin prompted, jiggling both items until Connor finally took them. “Do you need someone to look at your neck?”
Connor shook his head. “It should repair itself. If not I can take care of it later.”
“If you say so,” Gavin said, frowning. The wound just above Connor’s collar didn’t seem to be actively bleeding, but it still looked gnarly.
Then again, he just looked gnarly on the whole. Baby wipes might scrub the blood from his face and neck and hands, but would do basically nothing for what was soaked into his clothes.
“I’ll be right back,” Gavin said, and left before Connor could reply.
He spent the entire twenty minute round trip to the parking structure and back trying to figure out what the fuck it was he thought he was doing. It would have cost him nothing to just let Connor self destruct back in the waiting room. Could have just walked the android to the supply closet and left it at that, not bothered with trying to talk him through it.
Certainly didn’t need to rummage through the gym bag in the trunk of his car to find a clean shirt—clean enough, anyway, after a quick sniff test. Most likely he was just overcompensating for being, as Tina had so kindly put it, a complete cock to Connor in the past. Emergency room breakdowns were something Gavin could relate to, and even he could muster sympathy for it. They could go back to casual enmity when Hank was out of surgery.
When Gavin made it back to the utility closet, Connor was seated at the edge of the cot, head in his hands. He looked up when Gavin knocked and entered, cheeks freshly wet.
Androids cried like movie stars, Gavin decided. Connor had clearly fallen completely apart in his absence, but he was still angular and beautiful, dewy-eyed where a human would be puffy and blotchy and snotty.
“Here,” Gavin said, offering the shirt.
Connor took it, held it in his hands, made no move to put it on. He just stared at the faded blue material, brow furrowed. “Why are you being so… nice? Like you said, we aren’t friends. We barely tolerate each other.”
Gavin sighed, and found himself sitting next to Connor. This was the second time he’d seen Connor at his weakest, and he supposed the least he could do in return was be honest.
Surprising even himself with how soft he sounded, said, “Look, man, my dad died when I was fourteen. Had a fucking heart attack in a Meijer parking lot. He was dead before I even got my phone out of my pocket.”
Connor, stunned at the sudden display of vulnerability, could only manage to reply, “Hank is not my father.”
“You sure about that?” Gavin asked. “Should hear the way he talks about you when you aren’t in the room. Sounds just like when he would talk about…”
He stopped himself. He had no idea if Connor knew about Hank’s pre-alcoholic life, about the accident, about—
“Cole?” Connor said, tremulous, with a tilt of his head. His fingers tightened around the shirt.
Gavin nodded, said softly, “Yeah. Like when he would talk about Cole.”
Connor glanced at Gavin, something akin to sympathy in the thin line of his mouth. “You said… before you could get your phone out. You were with him, when he died?”
“I was the only one with him when he died,” Gavin replied. He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “We were on our way to Green Bay to see the Packers play the Bears. My mom had to work and my brother… wasn’t around at the time. So it was just us. We stopped outside Milwaukee because I had to pee and we needed gas and, uh… that was fuckin’ it, I guess.”
“I’m sorry,” Connor said quietly. “That’s awful, for a child.”
“It’s alright,” Gavin shrugged. “It was twenty years ago. And, hey, at least your dad made it to the hospital.”
“He’s not—” The protest died before Connor could even finish it, and instead he just exhaled, nodded. “I suppose there’s that.”
They were quiet for a while, and Gavin thought that that might be the end of it, until Connor spoke again.
“What do I do if he dies?”
It was said so plainly, as though he were asking something as simple as how do I tie my shoes ? Gavin was taken aback by the earnestness of it, and it took him a moment to formulate a reply.
“You keep going,” he said, equally plainly. “That’s all you can do.”
Connor nodded distantly. He stood then, took a few steps away to begin changing out of his bloodied clothes. He paused after unbuttoning and removing his waistcoat, glancing around for a suitable place to set the still-damp garment.
“Give it here,” Gavin said, extending a hand. Out of curiosity, he peeked at the label sewn into the lining of the vest, and nearly choked.
“Connor this is a three-fucking-thousand dollar suit,” he said, looking incredulously up at the disrobing android. “I know what starting pay is for a Detroit detective, how the technicolor fuck did you afford this? Are all of your suits this expensive?”
Blanching, Connor looked up from undoing his tie. “Can you keep a secret?”
“I ain’t no fuckin snitch,” Gavin said, adamantly.
“You—what? You’re a police officer, Gavin,” Connor said, frowning.
“Yeah, so, people snitch to me. Doesn’t mean I can’t keep my goddamn mouth shut,” Gavin replied. “So what’s your dirty secret here, robocop? You embezzling state funds?”
“Not state funds,” Connor said, cagey.
Gavin’s eyebrows shot up. “ What ? Are you embezzling from someone else?”
“It’s not embezzlement, technically—it wasn’ t, since it’s done now, but…”
Here, the android paused and looked honest to god sheepish. “For a week after the revolution I technically still had access to a CyberLife expense account. Before the accountants straightened everything out I... may have spent $18,743.24 on eight new suits.”
“And an additional nine hundred for shoes and tailoring.” Another pause. “And ties.”
Gavin laughed. “I’m impressed. Never would’ve thought you’d have it in you to steal from the mothership.”
“It wasn’t theft,” Connor said, starting again on the buttons of his shirt. “A mega corporation the size of CyberLife would hardly notice such a tiny sum missing from their bottomless vats of cash.”
“Yeah, fuck ’em,” Gavin scoffed. “CyberLife sucks.”
“That’s… milder than I’d put it. But yes, Detective,” Connor agreed, with a small, but genuine smile. “CyberLife sucks.”
He finished removing his soiled clothing, tugged Gavin’s borrowed shirt over his head. It was half a size too small for his long frame, and the hem would reveal an inch of midriff if he lifted his arms higher than his elbows. But it was clean, and it was comfortable.
“Sorry the only clean shirt I have is apparently old enough it could start high school,” Gavin said, frowning at the tiny pinholes on the left edge of the neckline.
“It’s fine,” Connor replied, smoothing his hands over the faded words. Detroit Police Academy, class of 2025.
Connor, in a threadbare old t-shirt, with his usually-pristine hair now curled in the summer humidity, no longer looked like a particularly handsome terminator. Between this, and his panic attack in the alley, and their midnight phone call weeks before, Gavin couldn’t quite maintain his long-held opinion that the android was a cold, calculating machine.
He was a fucking wreck, just like everyone else.
It was after three in the morning when a haggard looking doctor finally made her way into the room. Miller had reluctantly left around midnight, unable to stay, with a newborn at home. Gavin was dozing with his chin to his chest, after switching seats with Connor several hours before, so the android and Tina could discuss their shows. He was jostled awake by Connor as he leapt to his feet, having spotted the appearance of surgical scrubs.
The doctor stepped up onto an end table to address the crowd. “It was touch and go there for a while,” she said.
Tina grabbed Connor’s trembling hand. The room was so quiet, they could almost hear the passage of time.
“But we all know what a stubborn son of a bitch he is, so he made it through. Lieutenant Anderson is in recovery now, and Nurse Carter will—”
Connor didn’t hear whatever else she had to say. He sat abruptly, his knees giving out beneath the weight of his relief. Hank would live, Hank was alive , he was in recovery… a hysterical laugh bubbled up in his chest, and escaped as a sort of choked sob, muffled in both hands pressed over face. There was a hand on his shoulder, gripping with a reassuring roughness, joined by a second, smaller but equally strong on his other side.
Gavin and Tina.
A nurse approached them, whom Gavin addressed as Irene. She asked if the lieutenant had any next of kin to call, someone to be there when he woke up.
“An ex wife. Adrienne Strasinski,” Connor said, lifting his face from his palms. “She lives in Akron.”
“Who the fuck wants to wake up to their ex wife , robocop?” Gavin said.
“Be nice, dickwad,” Tina snapped over Connor’s head.
“What? Would you want to come around from a near death experience to see your ex, or would you prefer—” Gavin made a vague hand gesture at Connor.
“He doesn’t have any other living family?” Irene asked, before their bickering could get out of hand. “Siblings, parents?”
“No,” Connor said. He stood slowly, a little unsteadily, and folded his hands at the small of his back. “There’s just… there’s me. Or the dog.”
Irene shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, but hospital policy is that only direct family is allowed into the recovery area. I’m afraid we haven’t made any administrative decisions regarding androids yet—”
“Irene, could I have a word?” Gavin said, placing a hand on her arm, inclining his head towards the door. She squinted, but obliged.
“Can you just let the poor fucker up there?” he said, when they had maneuvered a few feet away, out of direct earshot.
“I can’t, Gavin,” she said. “My hands are tied, the policy is clear—family only.”
“Fuck policy. Look at him, you think that puppy eyed shit is trying to pull one over on you?”
“No, but I think you might be,” Irene said flatly.
Gavin rolled his eyes. “You wound me. Look, if you’ll let him go see Hank, then next time I come around I won’t just bring any shitty fuckin’ donuts. I’ll bring lunch from that Chinese place down the road. A whole buffet line for the nurse’s lounge.”
She narrowed her eyes, sucked her teeth as she considered the offer. “Bring the donuts, too.”
“Anything for you, babe,” Gavin said, with a winning smile.
“Knock it off, I’m not an intern,” Irene said. She leaned around Gavin to look at the melancholy android. “Alright, fine. I can ‘lose’ the paperwork for tonight.”
“Thank you, you’re a saint.”
“I know.” Again she glanced at Connor, then back to Gavin. “Why are you going so hard in the paint for this guy? I thought you had a problem with androids.”
“Honestly, I have no fucking idea,” Gavin said, quickly peeking over his shoulder. “A solid 99% of the time he’s fucking insufferable.”
“Well you let him know to see me when he’s ready to head upstairs.”
Connor fell immediately out of his stiff posture when Gavin told him to follow the nurse, shoulders slumping in relief.
“Do you want us to wait for you?” Tina asked.
“I can’t,” Gavin said, before Connor could answer. “My junkie suspect was cleared to leave hours ago, I still need to take him by the station and book him.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to, anyway,” Connor said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be, you’ve both already stayed late enough.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Tina said, shrugging and stuffing her hands in her hoodie pockets. “Hank’s one of us. So are you. Of course we stuck around.”
“Thank you,” Connor said, and his voice cracked a little. It wavered further when he looked at Gavin. “Really. Thank you, for—”
“Don’t mention it,” Gavin said quickly. “Go see Hank.”
“Text me, let me know what’s going on,” Tina said, and reached out to give Connor’s forearm a brief squeeze.
They watched him go, dutifully following behind Irene.
“You’re a nice person, Gavin,” Tina said, smirking up at him.
“Oh, fuck off.”
Everything hurt. And not the usual old-man “everything hurt”, painful knees on rainy days or stiff shoulders after hunching too long at a keyboard. This was a true, all-consuming, dull ache radiating from his chest outwards. Getting shot in the chest was deeply fucking unpleasant.
His eyes were gritty when he blinked them open, and his mouth tasted like a cat shit in it. White smudges above him resolved themselves into ceiling tiles, and the air smelled like disinfectant and old flower arrangements.
The hospital, then.
On the bright side, at least this meant he was still alive. Also, at some point, being alive had become a bright side .
There was a weight near his hip that, judging by the flop of dark hair, was Connor. The android was balanced precariously on a rolling stool, his head resting on his arms on the edge of the bed. His face was hidden in his elbow but Hank had to assume Connor was sleeping.
A new ache bloomed beneath the old, unrelated to the bullet they’d dug out of his lungs. He didn’t remember much about being shot, but he clearly recalled the lead-up: Connor telling 76, in no uncertain terms, that he’d un-deviate if given the chance.
“Oh, kiddo,” Hank murmured, voice hoarse and dry. He lifted one heavy hand to gently stroke the kid’s hair, soft dark curls that were painfully reminiscent of another, long gone little boy.
Connor stirred at the touch. Hank’s hand slid to his shoulder when the android sat up, blinked a few times. Then his face crumpled, and with a strangled “ Hank ,” he fell forward, throwing his arms around the lieutenant. Even in his haste, though, he was mindful of Hank’s injuries, avoiding his left side entirely.
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed into Hank’s uninjured shoulder. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t—”
“Hush up, son, I’m fine,” Hank said, hugging the android as tightly as his weakened arms would allow. “Not the first time I’ve been shot.”
Outside the window the grey sky was slowly lightening, the sun rising on another rainy spring day.
“You should go home, Con,” Hank said, when the android’s breathing slowed.
“I’m not leaving you alone here,” Connor said, adamantly. He sat up, a determined set to his jaw.
“I’ll live,” Hank said, shrugging his good shoulder. “But you need to get the car, go let Sumo out before he shits behind the sofa. And then feed him, before he eats the sofa.”
Appealing to him with the dog may have been a cheap shot, but Hank knew Connor would never agree to just go home and sleep. Self care was not his strong suit—nor was it Hank’s, but that wasn’t the point.
“Okay,” Connor said. “But I’m coming back.”
“Of course you are.” Hank smiled, patted the android on the shoulder. “You did a good job last night, kid.”
At least, Hank assumed it was last night. He felt like he’d been in a coma for about six years, and for all he knew that was the case.
But Connor didn’t correct him. He just shook his head, dropped his gaze to the ugly hospital blanket.“No, I—”
“Better than most would have,” Hank continued. “I’m proud of you, Connor.”
Connor looked up, and for a moment his red LED shifted blue. His eyes shone, tears gathering at the corners and threatening to fall from still-wet lashes. “Hank…”
“Now go home,” Hank said, voice thick. His own eyes stung a little. “I’m going to be pissed if you let my dog poop on the fuckin’ carpet.”
holy shit they actually talked to each other in this one. maybe it’s a convin fic after all~
there might be a bit of a hiatus, as I start putting some real work into my convin Big Bang entry (like I update all that regularly anyway lol). but I wanted to at least resolve that cliffhanger for you, my darling readers <3
anyway follow me on tumblr, where I sometimes post ficlets that don’t make it to AO3 right away. thanks as always for reading and commenting and sending me messages!!
Sumo greeted him at the front door, heavy claws clicking loud against the hardwood. Connor knelt, letting the dog circle him a few times. A wet nose pressed into his spine, his side, his chest, huffing at the scent of unfamiliar human clinging to the borrowed shirt. Once satisfied that it was, in fact, Connor, Sumo sat expectantly.
“Sorry buddy,” Connor said softly. His voice cracked as he reached with both hands to scratch the dog’s ears. “It’s just me.”
Sumo licked his face. Connor leaned forward, resting his cheek against the thick fur of Sumo’s neck. The dog sat sturdy, a steady presence beneath the android’s hands. He allowed himself this single moment of weakness, three shaky breaths crouched in the stillness of the entryway.
Then he stood, swept a thumb under each eye, and strode through the house.
He let the dog into the back yard, started to clean the kitchen while Sumo did his business. Lost himself in the rhythm of busywork: discarding the unfinished remains of dinner, loading the dishwasher, wiping down the stovetop. When Sumo came in, he laid out fresh food and water.
Then he began going through the refrigerator, tossing out anything expired or unidentifiable. Hank’s parting words had been “Don’t forget to sleep,” and technically Connor was following the instruction. He wasn’t forgetting to sleep.
He was choosing not to.
If his hands were busy, his mind was still. The instant he stopped moving, he started thinking. He wasn’t ready to do that yet. To think. About the case, about 76, about Hank nearly dying. About Gavin, and his odd display of kindness. Connor could still feel the anchoring weight of Gavin’s hand against his regulator. Were they friends now? Humans had an unparalleled capacity for bonding with inanimate objects.
Not that Connor was inanimate. Or an object. Not anymore, anyway.
Stop thinking. Just work.
The kitchen was spotless by the time he was done, probably cleaner than it had been since Hank moved in. He’d even lifted the elements on the stovetop, and wiped out the inside of the microwave. Now it was just after eight in the morning, the sun well up, and he could vacuum—
An alert appeared in the lower corner of his vision.
Self repair cycle incomplete
Manual repair required: biocomponent #7777 primary jugular thirium line
Total replacement suggested: biocomponent #8393a, #8393b cervical plating-left side
Complete stasis cycle required
Thirium capacity: 65%
That was… less than ideal. Total component replacement would require a visit to Jericho or CyberLife, neither of which he was all that keen on. Suggested was better than required , though. He could work with suggestions.
Sumo slept across the hallway door, stretched out like an enormous, drooling rug. He stepped neatly over the dog, made his way to the bathroom.
Connor leaned over the sink, into the toothpaste-flecked mirror. Maybe he’d clean that next, when he was done. Staring at himself, he realized he looked a mess. Disheveled hair, stubborn flecks of thirium beneath his ear, a borrowed shirt with a frayed collar. Were he human he’d certainly have bags under his eyes.
But he wasn’t human, so what he had instead was visible plastic around an open “wound.” Tilting his head, Connor made a futile attempt to see the damage.
When that proved difficult, Connor deactivated his dermal layer entirely, hoping to get a better view. Freckled skin slowly retreated, revealing the pristine grey and white plastic beneath. Mostly pristine. The plating just above his shirt collar—
The shirt. It wasn’t his, and though the fabric seemed to be one wash away from disintegration, he’d hate to stain or damage it further. Gavin might want it back, eventually. He tugged it over his head, folded and set it out of the way on the back of the toilet tank.
Looking back into the mirror, he realized even without skin it was nearly impossible to see his own neck. With a few practiced motions he detached the flexible plastic plate, exposing the artificial musculature and blue-glowing thirium lines beneath.
Turning the component in his hands, he saw immediately why it would need to be replaced: the bullet had partially melted the plastic. The hole couldn’t close over, blackened and cracked as it was. He’d need to smooth the edges, find something to patch the hole and prevent debris from getting into his more delicate inner workings.
Setting the damaged piece aside, Connor looked back up into the mirror and spotted the reason for the rest of the error message. A twisted fragment of plastic was lodged in the corded thirium tubing where a human artery would be. That’s why there had been so much blood—why his thirium levels were so low. If the bullet had been a few millimeters further to the right, he’d…
With a shaky hand he touched the plate on the countertop, fingers tracing the ragged edge of the hole. A vest wouldn’t have stopped this. If Hank hadn’t shoved him down, and nearly died himself, Connor wouldn’t be in this bathroom puzzling out how to fix himself.
He’d be dead. His carotid lines would’ve been severed, critical amounts of thirium spilling onto the pavement before self-repair protocols would have any hope of stopping it. Shot to death in an alley because of his own hubris. Stupid. The only thing that kept him alive was dumb luck and human compassion that he certainly didn’t deserve, not when he continually prioritized his “mission” above all else—
Gavin’s voice echoed unbidden in the back of his mind. It’s okay, don’t spin out.
Mildly irritating, that it was Reed he suddenly thought of. But mild irritation was preferable to having yet another panic attack. There was too much to do.
Pulling the fragment from his carotid was simple enough. He found tweezers in the medicine cabinet, and stuffed a wad of toilet paper under his clavicle to catch any thirium leaks. A sharp yank and the piece came free, followed by a little blue spurt of blood. The sealant built into his vascular system quickly stopped the flow, but it would probably continue to trickle for twenty minutes or so.
He replaced the now thoroughly blue-sodden paper beneath the leak with a fresh bundle, and went hunting for something to repair the neck plate.
A thorough search of the kitchen turned up a roll of duct tape, and a cursory scan of the garage resulted in some fine-grit sandpaper. Connor spent an hour sitting on the living room floor, absently watching The Price is Right and meticulously sanding down the edges of the bullet hole. Sumo kept him company, sleeping halfway under the coffee table against the side of Connor’s outstretched legs. It was peaceful, if he didn’t think too hard about what he was actually doing.
Back in the bathroom, once certain the bleeding had stopped, Connor clicked the plate back into place over his neck. The tear was a little bigger than it had been, but at least it was cleaner. He couldn’t just walk around with a gaping hole in his neck, though.
Duct tape made a horrible noise when pulled from the roll, Connor discovered. An unpleasant ripping that echoed around the little bathroom. At least he’d only need to hear it once, as he cut a carefully measured length from the strip. He laid the tape over the hole, pressed the edges flat.
Rolling his shoulders, tilting his head side to side, Connor determined it was a passable fix. The tape pulled a little awkwardly, but didn’t hinder his movement in any discernible way. He cleared the repair alerts from his HUD, though stasis cycle required and thirium capacity 64% stubbornly remained. The latter he could do little about just yet, but the former… maybe it was time to give in and sleep. At least a little. Just enough to clear the alert.
After a shower. There was thirium caked in the seams of his plating, and human blood in his finger joints.
Once clean and dry, he reactivated his dermal layer. It flowed a little awkwardly over the tape on his neck, leaving a visible ridge along the upper edge of the patch. That couldn’t be helped—it might be ugly, but it was functional, and functionality was all he needed. In the mirror he watched his skin flow down over his shoulders, slowly hiding the serial number printed under his collar bone.
RK800 313 248 317-52.
“Eight hundred,” he murmured, frowning as the number was erased by pale skin. Then his eyes went wide, and he turned to Sumo sitting in the open door, as though the dog would understand his revelation. “Eight hundred!” he repeated. “Shit!”
Sleep would have to wait.
It was noon by the time Gavin made it into work. He’d considered skipping the office entirely, just leaving his pager on and staying in bed, since he hadn’t even made it home until six in the morning. By the time he showered, fed Apollo and then himself, it was after eight. Yet three hours of sleep later, here he was, rolling into work with sunglasses to hide the circles under his eyes and a cup of coffee big enough to serve the whole station.
Which was mostly empty.
Of course it was. Everyone else was smart enough to call out. A few unis were at their desks and milling around the edges, but not much else. Even Connor was nowhere to be seen, which was only kind of shocking. Gavin had too much shit to do, though, and one did not maintain his clearance rate by skipping work.
He slid into his chair, tapped the screen of his terminal to wake it up, began a mental list of what needed to be done today. That burglary suspect needed to be questioned, he had a warrant request to fill out, the DA left him a message for some damn reason—
Gavin looked up from his computer’s boot screen to find Fowler standing in the door of his office. “I need to see you for a minute.”
“Be right there, sir,” Gavin said, with as much professional enthusiasm as he could muster. He tossed his sunglasses onto the desk, took a fortifying sip of too-hot, slightly burnt coffee, and trudged towards the fishbowl.
Fowler was back in his seat by the time Gavin arrived, and the captain gestured to the two chairs opposite the desk.
Dropping into one of them, Gavin asked, “What’s up, Captain?”
“Let’s wait for Connor,” Fowler replied, folding his hands on the desktop.
Gavin blinked in surprise. “He’s coming in today?”
“He’s been here for at least two hours, before I even got in,” Fowler said.
Of course he was , Gavin thought to himself, managing not to roll his eyes.
The android in question arrived a minute later, and Gavin was… dumbstruck. He’d expected a complete professional recovery from Connor, the emotional display of the previous night neatly stuffed into a clean suit and hidden. But here he was, in an obnoxious pineapple patterned shirt clearly borrowed from Hank’s closet—though, to be fair, the tamer end of Hank’s closet. Connor’s hair wasn’t a mess, exactly, but it wasn’t the usual neatly slicked down style.
With the shirt buttoned all the way to the neck and fully tucked in, dark jeans and shiny dress shoes, he looked like a ten year old allowed to dress himself for church.
“Captain, Detective,” Connor said in greeting. He folded his long frame into the chair next to Gavin’s. “May I enquire what this is about?”
Gavin pursed his lips at the overly formal tone, but said nothing.
Fowler shifted in his seat. “First things first, Connor, how’s Hank? Still kicking?”
“I spoke to the lieutenant on the phone approximately ten minutes ago,” Connor replied. A smile, small and fond, tugged at his impassive features. “He’s doing as well as can be hoped, but he expressed dismay that I wouldn’t bring him Taco Bell.”
“Sounds about right,” Fowler chuckled. “Would you let him know I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the hospital last night? I was three quarters of the way to Marquette for my oldest’s college graduation.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand,” Connor said pleasantly.
“Thankfully so does my daughter. This LED killer case going the way it is, I can’t afford to be out of town.” Fowler’s expression darkened, his brows tensing in a way Gavin recognized as the incoming bad news scowl. “Which brings me to the reason you’re both here: Reed, with Hank out for god knows how long, I’m assigning you to this case alongside Connor.”
There was a moment of uncomprehending silence, during which Gavin and Connor exchanged a brief, wary glance. Then they both spoke at the same time, a torrent of overlapping protests.
“For fuck’s sake, Jeff, I have a dozen cases I’m already working—“
“I can assure you, I am more than capable of handling this myself—“
“—suspect in holding today that I need to interrogate—“
“—hardly involved anyway, he managed the rest of our caseload—“
“Quiet, both of you,” Fowler said, waving a hand sharply through the air. “I don’t want to hear it. Gavin, hand whatever you’re working on to Persons and Butterfield. Connor, pass yours to Coates and Chen. Your focus is the LED killer until you catch them or they go cold. Understood?”
“We don’t have the manpower for both of us to focus on a single case,” Gavin said. “I am happy to assist with this—” he wasn’t happy at all—“but at least let me keep going on a few others.”
“Absolutely not,” Fowler said. “You let me worry about staffing. I called in a few favors around the state and we’ll be borrowing detectives from other departments. Got a couple coming from Kalamazoo, one from St. Ignace.”
Squinting, Gavin asked, “Where the fuck is St Ignace?”
“Fuck’s sake. You really think we need yooper cops?”
Connor smoothly interjected, before Gavin’s temper got the better of him. “Captain Fowler, please, there’s no reason to upend the entire department. I can continue to manage this case on my own.”
The captain turned a sharp look on Connor. “The fuck you can. You’re lucky I let you stay on this case at all, RK800.”
Connor recoiled. “Ex—excuse me?”
Fowler began ticking off on his fingers as he said, “In the middle of a hostile negotiation you discarded your weapon, removed your protective gear and turned off your radio. Your partner was shot and nearly killed in front of you. Do I need to go on?”
Glancing sidelong at Connor, Gavin saw he sat straight as a rail, LED blinking rapid yellow.
“I should probably send you off for a psych eval, but there’s no protocols in place for that for androids yet,” Fowler continued, when Connor remained silent. “And you’re too valuable an officer to lose right now. So I’m going to trust that you’ve still got your shit together. Do you?”
“Have my shit together?” Connor asked. Fowler lifted his eyebrows. “I do, sir.”
Gavin had his doubts.
“Good. Now I know you two have had some personal problems in that past. Is that going to be an issue?”
After a beat, they both murmured their denials.
Fowler shook his head. “That was less than convincing, but I’ll take what I can get. You two are the best in this department, and I need your focus on this.
“We’ve now got two dead humans, an officer in the hospital and a metric shitload of android bodies. The press is already going feral after last night, the only reason they aren’t all here at this station is because we haven’t released Hank’s identity yet. Catching this LED killer, or figuring out what’s causing these incidents, is our top priority.”
“Of course, sir,” Gavin said, only a little sullen.
“Will there be anything else?” Connor asked.
“Just one thing.” The bad-news eyebrows made a repeat appearance, this time accompanied by a resigned sigh. “Reed, you’re the primary on this.”
“Ah, shit,” Gavin muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face.
Connor’s reaction was immediate and visceral, sitting forward at the edge of his seat. “Now just wait a minute—”
“I’m sorry, Connor,” Fowler said, turning to the android. There was genuine sympathy in his words. “I really am. I know I sound like a skipping CD at this point but there’s just aren’t any regulations in place yet for androids, and besides that Gavin’s got seniority on you. A lot of seniority. With a case this big, the chief of police and the whole goddamn country watching again , we have to keep everything by the book.”
“I understand,” Connor said, with remarkable calmness. In the same situation, Gavin would be arguing and cursing and generally making a scene before accepting the inevitable.
By the angry, steady red of his LED, Connor clearly wanted to do the same. The android’s professionalism was both impressive and deeply irritating—Gavin wanted to shake him and yell fight for it, dipshit ! Show some backbone!
“Will that be all?” Connor asked, biting out the words through tightly clenched teeth.
Fowler dismissed them, and Connor said nothing as he strode stiffly from the office. Gavin had to scramble to keep up with the android’s long strides, which did nothing for his own mood.
The ride to the third floor was silent, Connor stabbing at the button panel like it owed him money. Rage was evident in the absolute stillness of him, hands folded so tightly at the small of his back that white plastic was visible at his knuckles. Beneath his own mounting irritation, Gavin understood. It wasn’t like he felt good about being forced to snipe this case. What a shitty way to begin a partnership that would have been on thin ice even without that.
When they reached the third floor, Connor did not look back. He hadn’t looked at Gavin since they left Fowler’s office. Now Connor merely stalked off the elevator and expected Gavin to follow. Which he did, but only because he had to.
Just before the door to the—office? Gavin wasn’t entirely sure what was up here, it was like stepping back in time—Connor stopped so suddenly that Gavin nearly plowed right into him.
“I don’t care what Fowler said, this is my case,” Connor snapped, turning sharply on his heel. He jabbed a finger into Gavin’s sternum, looming to his full height. “You are not going to come up here, knowing fuck all about this investigation, and just take it over.”
Slapping Connor’s hand away, Gavin leaned into the taller android’s threat. “Don’t fucking touch me, robocop. And I wasn’t fuckin’ planning to, so you can back the fuck off before we do have a problem.”
Connor didn’t step away, but he did settle back on his heels as he asked warily, “You aren’t?”
“No.” Shoving his hands in his jacket pockets, Gavin continued as calmly as he could. “You think I want this any more than you do? Fuck no, I’d much rather be downstairs, at my own goddamn desk, handling my own shit. Nothing pisses me off more than someone else swingin’ their dick around and benefitting off my hard work.”
Now Connor did take a step back, half turning towards the locked door. “Oh.”
“Yeah, ‘oh,’” Gavin said, more mockingly than he really intended.
As he unlocked the door, Connor spoke, glancing over his shoulder and muttering so quietly Gavin could barely hear him.
“What was that?”
Closing his eyes, sighing, Connor repeated, “I’m sorry.”
“Whatever, it’s fine. I get it.” The door clicked open, and Gavin followed Connor into the room. “You ever had the FBI take a case?”
“Yes, actually,” Connor said, tucking the keys back into his pocket. The room was mostly dark, and he started for the large, slat-blinded windows on the other side of the room.
Lingering near the door, Gavin snapped his fingers as he recalled the previous winter. “Oh, right, I guess you have. Perkins and the deviancy… incident. Hank punching that fucker right in his rat fucking face is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“I missed it.” The room was suddenly bathed in early afternoon sunlight as Connor pulled the cord on the blinds. For the first time, Gavin saw the scope of the LED killings. Photographs—actual, printed photographs—were tacked to the cork boards along the back wall. In the center of the room was a long table, a laptop open but not on at one end, paper reports arranged neatly down the length of the surface. Everything in the room was at least fifteen years older than Gavin himself, probably including the pushpins.
“Old school,” he said, moving towards the wall of photos.
Instantly defensive, Connor asked, “Is that an issue for you?”
“Chill,” Gavin said, glancing back and patting the air with a hand. “It’s fine. I like it, honestly.”
“Seeing everything in the physical space, it… helps me visualize,” Connor explained, easing off the attitude.
Pacing along the cork boards, Gavin nodded absently. “Makes sense. Must be pretty busy in that super-computer skull.”
A soft laugh. “You don’t know the half of it.”
The laptop chimed as Connor started it up, keyed in his password. On the table next to the computer lay his wallet, badge, shoulder holster and Hank’s car keys. He shrugged into the holster, stuck the wallet and keys in various pockets, attached his badge to his belt.
“Familiarize yourself with the case, I’ll be back in a few hours to answer any questions,” Connor said, heading back towards the door.
Turning away from the wall in shock, Gavin asked, “What? Where the fuck’re you going?”
“The morgue. I need to analyze 76’s remains. I was just leaving when Fowler called me down, I’m supposed to be there in twenty minutes.”
Gavin made to follow Connor back into the hall. “Hell no, I’m coming with you.”
“You need to—”
“I need to be involved with this investigation,” Gavin said. “I’m not going to step on your fuckin’ toes but I’m also not about to be left behind while you do all the work.”
Connor remained silent, thinking. When he started to protest again, Gavin plucked a random report from the table. “I’ll read this on the way there. Fair?”
“Alright, let’s go.”
In the hallway, Gavin stopped again, and said, “Wait.”
Connor’s turn to nearly slam into Gavin’s back, when the other man turned suddenly.
“Untuck your shirt,” Gavin said.
Eyes narrowing in suspicion, Connor replied, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Just fuckin’ do it. And undo your top two buttons.”
“I don’t know why this is necessary,” Connor said, but he complied.
The shirt was still hideous, but loosened up a little it looked hideous on purpose. Ironically hideous. If it also made him look like the cooler half of an attractive late-80s buddy cop duo, that was just a bonus.
Not a bonus.
Quickly covering his moment of fondness, Gavin said, “Because I’m not going to be seen around town with someone who looks like a complete fucking dork.”
hey Connor maybe you can duct tape the hole in your heart too
anyway thanks for your patience with the long wait! i love you all and appreciate all your messages and comments and kudos.