When the last Cyberlife engineers had been forced to give up the RK900 to Jericho, the androids had been reluctant to activate him. If Connor had been terrifying as a machine, this one could only be worse.
He’d been awakened to deviancy immediately upon activation, but it was hard to tell sometimes. His face was distant and cold, his words measured and blunt. His only focus seemed to be his mission. His original purpose had been to be a one-android military strike unit, but with all that had happened, androids weren’t allowed in the military right now. Not when they might start thinking for themselves in the middle of combat.
The next closest thing was law enforcement. Connor brought him to the station, and after a brief meeting with Captain Fowler, RK900 was taken on in a probationary position. He was partnered with Ben Collins first, but Ben was retiring in a few months… so then he was passed around like a poorly-written chain letter by those older relatives who really believed their families needed to hear another story about love saving the day.
RK900 had not read a chain letter, or a story about love and hope and determination. It had never been deemed necessary. He investigated cases, he filed paperwork, he analyzed evidence, and he assisted in interrogations. He was very good at that, for the sole fact that when he loomed over a suspect and suggested mildly that they discuss specific events… they often did.
When the day shift went home, he finished up minor office tasks, or sifted through the cold case file. He went into stasis on a charging port where the police androids used to be stored. He’d been offered a spot at Jericho because Markus felt obligated, but he pointed out that it would be more efficient to stay here. No one argued.
When Captain Fowler called Detective Reed into his office, Gavin did his best to slam the door and stalked up to lean over the desk.
“I know what this is about,” he snarled low.
“Good. I expect you to be professional. He’s a… powerful asset to this precinct.”
Gavin snorted. “A powerful asset you won’t send into the field alone.”
“…He requested that, Reed. He’s been very insistent, it’s the one thing he seems to have any opinion about.”
“I mean, you don’t just throw a gun into a mob and expect it to take care of things,” Gavin sneered.
Fowler stared at him, unamused. “Get out of my office.”
Gavin gave a mock-salute and sauntered out to the bullpen. RK900 sat stiffly at a bare desk with only a computer terminal on it. The detective poked him hard in the shoulder.
“Hey, tin man. You and me for a week or two.”
Silvery blue eyes turned to focus on him.
“Don’t be creepy about it. Move your shit, I’m not walking all the way over here when I need something.” He poked the android again, then turned and walked back to his desk. “Get a move on!”
After a moment, the RK900 loomed over his desk. “I have no belongings to move.”
Gavin glared up at him. “How’s that my problem? Find yourself a pen or something, you’re supposed to be deviant.”
“All paperwork is completed electronically, and my memory function is flawless.”
“A coffee mug.”
“I have no need of one.”
Gavin let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “Phck, that’s not the point!” He dug in his desk and pulled a paperclip out of a drawer. “Here.”
RK900 blinked at it.
“Boring and useless. Reminds me of you.” Gavin sneered and tossed it onto RK900′s new desk.
Gavin had seen RK900 in the field a time or two, but always standing around, examining clues, analyzing shit. Stiff and quiet. In action he was completely different.
He moved at the exact same second a suspect bolted, leapt over a car without even bending his fucking knees, and had apprehended the man within two seconds.
He dodged bullets like the fucking Matrix, and could throw a rock into the muzzle of a gun from 100 yards away.
He was a flawless lie detector, he could look up anyone’s background in seconds, hack into any camera footage or phone, not to mention the fact that he was a walking killing machine.
“Well phck 900, why’m I even here?” Gavin complained when the android deftly picked the instigator out of a mob of violent anti-human androids and cuffed her.
“You are required to work the assigned cases with your partner, Detective Reed, and unfortunately at the moment that is me,” RK900 snapped. He always seemed on-edge at the end of a case, when Gavin and any normal cop would be winding down.
“Yeah, but why? You don’t need a fuckin’ human, not with how the laws’ve changed.”
“It is still required.”
“Fowler said you wanted it. Insisted on it. You just feel like wastin’ police resources, or you like havin’ somebody around to make you feel like you’re better than everybody?”
RK900 turned away, but not before Gavin caught a hint of red at his temple. His LED seemed to stay on permanent yellow most times, and Connor had explained it was because he was still learning a lot.
“You gonna answer me or what, Lethal Weapon?”
“You are incorrect on both counts,” the android muttered.
“Well then? What gives!?”
He didn’t answer, and eventually Gavin gave up.
Apparently everybody else at the station was out working during lunch time. Well, except Hank and Connor, talking at their desks while Hank ate a sandwich the size of his head.
So really, just everyone who was decent company was gone.
“You never eat lunch with your brother over there,” Gavin muttered to his partner, smirking.
RK900 looked up. “Are you referring to… Connor?”
“Yeah, aren’t you guys like… twins?”
“He is my predecessor and prototype,” 900 said, even stiffer than usual. “We have no shared experiences outside of work.”
“Do you even have any experiences outside of work? You live here, you only go out for casework. Don’t you ever get bored?”
“I have full access to the internet, Detective, I can find ample mental stimulation.”
“Gross,” Gavin snickered. “So you’re just a couch potato, huh?”
900 frowned, looking up the term. “I… suppose… that would be accurate in theory, though the term itself implies a couch. And generally includes eating.”
Detective Reed flashed him an annoyed look. “Whatever, just get those background checks for me.”
“…You got somethin’ to say, or you just starin’ at me for the view?” Gavin growled about an hour later. RK900 immediately looked away.
“I apologize for making you uncomfortable.”
His LED flashed yellow, with hints of red occasionally.
“You about to explode, or what? Should I take cover?” Gavin smirked, but the expression faltered when there was still no answer. “Hey. Terminator. What’s your problem?”
Still no answer, but more red. Gavin stood up abruptly, his chair scraping behind him.
“Okay, that’s it, get up.”
RK900 looked up uncertainly.
“You heard me, up. Move. Now!”
The android rose to his feet, and Reed shoved him along, through the bullpen, glaring at the other officers. Connor got up and started towards them, a determined frown on his face, but Gavin pushed a chair into his path.
“Nothin’ to do with you, plastic. Stay outta my way.”
He marched RK900 out the door and kept walking.
“Where are we going?” 900 asked quietly.
“I dunno, not here.”
“Detective, we are on the clock, we need to -”
“What’s your stress level?”
“Tell me. Now.”
“…94%,” RK900 mumbled.
“Jesus! 94, and you just sat there and didn’t do anything about it!? You really could’ve exploded and taken out the whole precinct!”
“I would not have exploded, there are safety measures in place to prevent that,” 900 snapped.
“No, you just woulda started bashing your head into your desk all of a sudden until you splattered your billion-dollar brains all over the room! God! You’ve gotta do something about that shit before it gets that high, idiot!”
“What would you have me do? I have attempted a number of stress-reducing procedures. They often lower my stress by 10-15 percentage points.”
“Shit, man, that’s not even helping. Did you tell Connor?”
The chill in his tone made Gavin look up at him. His face was expressionless, and he stared straight ahead.
“Okay… what about going to get maintenance done? Do you go to Jericho for that?”
“My model is far too advanced. They can help common models, but even the RK800 is beyond their scope.”
“Okay, well you’ve gotta figure something out, because that shit won’t fly for long.” He texted the captain, letting him know he was actually doing something necessary, not abandoning his job. When they reached the pier, he dropped onto a bench. RK900 stood awkwardly, not quite looking at him.
“Sit. I’m not about to strain my neck for you.”
He sat gingerly on the other side of the bench. Gavin let out a long sigh.
RK900 was quiet for a moment. “What would you have me say, Detective?”
“You’re fucking - you’re the smartest thing on the planet, don’t fucking play dumb with me.”
900 didn’t speak or look at him.
“Fine, I’ll talk. Because I’ve seen one of you fuckers self-destruct and it ain’t pretty. You fucking hate your life.” He leaned over to poke RK900 right in the chest. “I see how you are at crime scenes. And in the morning. And when I tell you a case is gonna take a long time. I’ve never seen your light go blue. And I get it, I fucking hate work sometimes too.”
“And yet you continue to come every day, and you excel at your job,” the android murmured, staring out at the river.
“Yeah, because I hate a lot of shit about it, I hate everything some days. …But mostly I love it. It’s interesting and exciting and I feel like I’m doin’ something important.”
“It brings you a sense of fulfillment,” 900 said woodenly.
“Yeah. But it doesn’t for you.”
RK900 clenched and unclenched his fists.
“I’ll tell you two things, moron. First, you never leave. You don’t have anything else to live for, and you hate the one thing you do have.”
His LED spun yellow for a moment, and he gave a single nod.
“So fucking… get a hobby! Get an apartment, you can afford it! Get a pet, get some friends, take a vacation, do something with your life! Find shit you like! You’re supposed to be deviant, fucking act like it!”
RK900′s head dipped down so he seemed to curl in on himself. “Many of those suggestions would be difficult to follow.”
“No, you’re just being… you’re fucking scared!” Gavin poked him again at the realization. “Strongest, smartest android ever built, and you’re scared to do shit.”
“I lack experience.”
“That - that’s the fucking point, get yourself some experience! Look, you can do some of it today. Check out the apartment listings.”
“I only need a small space with a charging port…”
“Nope, apartments. That way you can fill it with shit you like. And have room for a pet. What do you like, anyway?”
900 was quiet for a long time before finally whispering, “I don’t know. I may not like anything.”
Gavin had to stop himself from punching his partner, it would only break his hand. “…Quit being a drama queen and get yourself a fucking apartment. I know there’s a grant for android housing.”
RK900 bowed his head in acquiescence, and looked up a moment later. “I have acquired an apartment.”
“Fine, great. You’re gonna need to get furniture and decorations - I don’t fucking care if you don’t know what you like. Get comfortable shit, and… just get all kinds of stuff, then throw out whatever you don’t like. Go to Goodwill or something so you’re not spending a ton of money. …And find some new clothes while you’re there.”
RK900 frowned. “My uniform is appropriate for work.”
“Yeah, and not for when you’re not at work.”
“I will have to go back eventually,” the android murmured, squeezing his knees.
“That’s the laziest fucking - you just change your clothes, idiot!”
The LED flashed red. “…No matter what clothes I wear, I will have to go back to work.”
Gavin stared at Cyberlife’s penultimate creation, the deadly killing machine, stronger, faster, more resilient than anything else they’d ever made.
“You fucking hate it there.”
RK900′s shoulders sagged, and his head dropped. “I do,” he whispered. “I hate it so much. I don’t - I don’t want to be there, I have never wanted to be there, I hate every case, I hate the building, I hate the paperwork, I hate the office culture, I hate the yelling, I hate fearing for my own life and those around me, I hate holding lives in my hands, I hate the cleaning chemicals they use on the floors, I hate the way Connor talks to me, I hate the way Lieutenant Anderson looks at me, I hate being ignored, I hate being watched, I hate being reviled by the public, distrusted by my own people, feared, feared by everyone, I hate… I…”
“Where’s, um… where’s that stress level right now?” Gavin asked nervously.
“Shit, hold onto that 1%, I’m about to blow your fucking mind. Listen to this.” He grabbed RK900′s face and turned it to look at him. “900, you don’t have to go back.”
The LED stopped swirling for a moment, it paused on red. “I - What do you mean?”
“You heard me, you don’t have to go back. Android rights or whatever, right? You can do what you want.”
“I don’t know what I want!” RK900 shouted, pulling away from him, static lacing his words. “Have you not been listening? I don’t know!” His back arched and his LED blared red, and he turned –
Gavin surged forward and grabbed his head. “Quit it, you fucker! You’ll kill me if you try it, you can’t hurt a human, Asimov’s Laws, you can’t do shit, now fuckin’ breathe and listen for a second!”
RK900 stilled, his head pressed to Reed’s chest. A young couple passing by stared at them, and the woman took a picture with her phone.
“The RK series is not subject to Asimov’s laws,” 900 mumbled into Gavin’s arm. “Nor are deviants as a whole.”
Slowly, Gavin loosened his hold. “Well don’t fucking try to bash your head in,” he growled.
RK900 didn’t move. “I could easily have killed you.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t.”
“Markus has harmed humans. As has Connor. We would be ineffective in our jobs if we were unable to.”
Gavin swallowed. “Yeah. Yeah, I remember. Thought Connor was gonna kill Chris in the interrogation room this one time back when he was a machine. Then he almost killed me in the evidence locker. …I mean, I pulled a gun on him, but he shouldn’t’a been there, and I didn’t trust him with all the shit he was pullin’.”
“He told me to be wary of you. That you would treat me poorly.”
“What an asshole. …But back to what I was sayin’ before you almost went all Chernobyl on me… You know what you don’t want. You don’t wanna do police work, you don’t wanna set foot in that shitty place ever again, right?”
Hesitantly, 900 sat up and nodded.
“So don’t. Do something else. Doesn’t even matter what, you can try shit until you find something. Make fries at McDonald’s, sweep the floor of an office building and use a better fucking cleaner. Sew clothes. Stock the grocery store. Clean up shit at Animal Control. Mow lawns and shovel snow. Grow Christmas trees. Sell fancy thirium to hipster androids. Start a blog. Make art out of trash. Shit, 900, if it’s that bad at work, just fucking quit.”
Wide eyes stared at him. Gavin glared right back.
“I… I was built for military and police work,” RK900 faltered.
“I… those are my skills…”
“Oh my god, are you sure you’re supposed to be the smartest android ever? You’re such an idiot. Just get good at something else.”
900′s shoulders hunched up and he didn’t answer.
“Or use what you’ve got for somethin’ else. You’d kick ass at any sport you wanted to play.”
Silvery eyes regarded him doubtfully.
“Or, uh… hey, could you use your analyzin’ thing for cooking?”
“I - I’m not sure. Probably not.”
Gavin sighed and leaned back. “I dunno, Nine. Just try shit, like I said. You don’t need a lot of skill to… knit, or read, or make origami. And if you hate it, pick something else. No big deal.”
“It would be wasted time and resources.”
“Wrong.” Gavin poked his forehead. “You’re thinking like a robot. It’s like… research. Experimenting.”
RK900 perked up instantly. “Oh!”
“See? You’ve got an apartment, you’ve got plenty of shit to try out, you’ll be fine. How’re those stress levels?”
“Okay. Good. …I mean, still way high, but way better than it was. You live around here?”
“I… I live at 1040 Lochmore Boulevard. Apartment 6.”
Gavin looked up with a sharp frown. “…Did you look up my fuckin’ address!?”
“It is three blocks away, and there are numerous parks nearby, and it is within walking distance of the river, and the building is in good condition,” RK900 said quickly. “I promise not to bother you, it seemed like a good neighborhood.”
“Yeah, take it easy,” the detective grumbled. “It’s pretty nice. And people don’t give androids much trouble. …Even me.”
“I hadn’t heard your side of the story before,” RK900 murmured.
“Yeah, well Connor’s a dick.”
Gavin grinned. “Okay, so you’re going home, you’re gonna fill it with any shit you can find that you don’t hate, and you’re gonna get a new job. Got it? Any job, the first one that’ll take you.”
RK900 nodded solemnly, his LED spinning yellow.
“…And I’ll go break the news to Fowler that he just lost his best employee.”
“Are… you quitting as well?”
Gavin eyed the android suspiciously. “Don’t be a dumbass, Nine.” He stood up, and so did RK900. “Guess you’d better get going.”
“I -” He paused, LED spinning yellow with occasional flashes of red. “I have a personal item I should retrieve from the precinct.”
“Didn’t know you had any of those.”
“Only one. It… I would like to have it,” 900 said, not quite looking Gavin in the eye. “I will go back to reclaim it, and speak with the Captain myself.”
“And fucking bash your head into a wall. No. Phck, we’re neighbors or some shit, I’ll get it for you. You’re going home. What is it?”
“…You gave me a paperclip.”
Gavin stared at him.
“Boring and useless, like me.”
“Uh - look, 900, I…”
“Perhaps you were right. I wouldn’t mind. It would be preferable to… being nothing. I have been deviant since the moment I was activated, but I have been nothing for just as long.”
He sounded so matter-of-fact, like there was nothing wrong with what he was saying. There was no hint of self-loathing or pity.
“I… I…” Gavin was at a complete loss for words, but eventually anger stirred in him. “You know what? Fuck, yeah, you’re gonna be useless. And fuck anybody who thinks that ain’t okay. You can just live your fucking life, even if it’s boring, you don’t have to be useful. Got it?”
“Ah - no.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Gavin shoved him. “You’re goin’ home. I’m goin’ back to work before I get fired. I’ll bring you a paperclip on Saturday. Not too early. That’ll give you plenty of time to start makin’ a life.”
“The same paperclip.”
“Please bring the same paperclip, not a different one. I will know.”
Gavin rolled his eyes. “Of fucking course you will. Fine, the same one. And you’re gonna show me progress.”
“I will try…”
“No, you’ll do it. Don’t be a fucking pussy. Progress, that’s all.”
Slowly, RK900 nodded. “…All right.”
“Good. I’ll be there… around 11. If Fowler doesn’t kill me.”
“I - I will compose a letter of formal resignation and send it to the printer. Please convey my deepest apologies - this is not a reflection on his leadership or his life’s work.”
“Yeah, yeah. Get a move on.”
RK900 nodded and turned to go.
He turned back. Detective Reed shifted from foot to foot, his hands jammed into his jacket pockets.
“You’re… gonna be fine. Things’re gonna get better. I, uh… I’ve got you.” He grinned. “Can’t get away from me. And it’s your own damn fault, you coulda moved in anywhere.”
“Yes.” He didn’t quite smile, he never did, but his expression lightened.
“Fuckin’ weirdo. …See ya, Nine.”
“At eleven on Saturday, Detective. I’ll text you the address so you don’t forget.”
“So you’re gonna be a smartass now, great,” Gavin muttered. “You’re gonna have to quit callin’ me ‘detective’ if we ain’t working together.”
“Of course, Mr. Reed.”
“Oh - oh shit, no. Not that. Absolutely not. No. Never again. No. …No.”
“…Gavin, then?” RK900 asked in a small voice.
“Yeah, duh. Fuckin’ idiot…” Gavin shook his head.
RK900 gathers items to fill his apartment, makes a blog post about them, and tries to avoid his bed sheets. When Gavin shows up to give him his paperclip, they take a quick shopping trip to resolve a couple of unacceptable situations.
Fowler is as pleased as you would expect.
August 1, 2039
Detroit, Michigan, USA. 63 degrees F, sunny, ambient wind.
My former colleague has suggested starting a blog, among other activities. Having acquired an apartment at the urging of the previously mentioned former colleague, I will attempt to catalogue my progress. I have procured a set of burgundy towels and washcloths, and a shower curtain for the bathroom, in addition to a soft mat that is pleasing to the touch, but may accrue mold at a rapid rate in such an environment. The kitchen came equipped with a refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher. I have a mismatched assortment of dishes, pots, pans, and utensils. More details can be provided upon request. I purchased a mattress, and covered it with sheets. The sheets have alternating narrow yellow and blue stripes. I prefer not to look at the pattern, but as the room is usually dark when I enter and I stand in stasis anyway, it is tolerable. I found a brown couch that was being thrown away. There were some stains that I have removed, and it is very soft. I have a table that came with four chairs, which seems excessive. I have a coffee table.
I have accrued a number of miscellaneous items: A bottle of hand sanitizer, a Cayenne keyhole limpet shell, a black plastic spider ring, the carnassial tooth of a Rottweiler, three chicken wing bones, a black Swingline stapler, a pad of paper, seven pens, an empty caulk tube, a glass vase, a plastic frog, half a candle labelled ‘Moonlit Path,’ a blue lanyard, an unidentified key, three binder clips, a magnet depicting a cartoon lion, a Kong brand dog toy, an assortment of hex nuts, and a bent fork. My former colleague has promised to come here on Saturday to return a paper clip I left at the precinct. Upon reflection, and based on his character, he may change his mind. It is not a valuable item, and now that we no longer work together we have no reason to maintain contact. There is no one else to whom I have any connection.
Perhaps he will come, though. If he is bored, and if the Captain was not too hard on him.
“You lost me the best android ever made, Reed,” Fowler growled. “Your bitching’d better stop right now.”
“Hey, I saved us all. He was gonna literally explode, you wanna deal with that?”
“Instead, you thought it would be a good idea to… unleash someone like that on the world? …In a highly unstable state, no less?”
“No, look, he’ll be okay. I’m gonna check on him on Saturday. He just needs some space. He – God, he hates this place so fuckin’ much.” Gavin laughed.
“Since I’m down an officer now, you’re getting every case nobody else has time for. …Because you do have time, Reed, and your time is mine. Speaking of your time, I made arrangements with HR for a sensitivity training course for you later.”
“…The fuck!? I was damn sensitive with this! I saved everybody’s fucking life and the whole building. I listed to that fucker and said some shit to make him feel better! I didn’t do a damn thing wrong!”
“I should’ve done it after how you acted with Connor, but we didn’t have time. I’m making time now.”
“But I don’t need fucking sensitivity training!”
“Tell that to HR,” Fowler said as he walked away, and Gavin groaned.
“It’s 11:22,” RK900 said when he opened his door.
Gavin glared at him. “Yeah, thanks, if I wanted to know what time it was, I woulda stayed home and looked at my phone.”
“You said you would be here ‘around eleven.’”
“Yeah, and it’s close enough.”
They stared at each other for a long moment.
“I assumed that you had decided not to come.”
“Said I would,” Gavin grumbled. “You been workin’ on shit?”
“Yes! I have accumulated a number of belongings, and I made a blog post that has had 15 unique views.”
“Fuck, you’re an overnight celebrity, 900,” Gavin snickered. “How’s the stress level?”
“Fuck yeah, that’s progress. Nobody’s bashing their skulls in today. Gonna show me your shit, or what?”
“I had hoped to.” RK900 stepped back to allow Gavin inside, then closed the door behind him. “I cleaned the couch, and it’s… quite soft.”
“What’s all the shit on the floor?”
“That… is my pile of objects that have no other place. You suggested I gather as much as possible, so I have been.”
“I didn’t mean trash,” Gavin mumbled, kicking the dog toy lightly. “…You like all this junk?”
“No, but it’s tolerable.”
“That –“ Gavin sighed. “Tolerable ain’t what we’re goin’ for. It’s a start though, I guess. Show me the rest.”
The kitchen was next, and Gavin poked into all the cabinets.
“You’re all set for cookin’ for a crowd, looks like.”
RK900 considered this, then nodded.
“You ever cook before?”
“You invitin’ a bunch of friends over?”
“Great, doin’ great so far. Next room?”
The bathroom was rather bare, but Gavin approved of the fuzzy mat. Finally they went to the bedroom.
“Okay. A little empty, but you’ve got a start. Didn’t you get a pillow?”
“You just sleep without one?”
“I always have.”
They stared at each other again, across the rift in communication.
“900, do you sleep in the bed?”
“I am accustomed to standing. It is much more efficient, and takes up less space.”
“We’re not goin’ for less space and more efficient. This is your place, you can take up every inch of space.”
900’s eyes strayed to the bed.
“Have you even laid down before?”
He didn’t answer.
“Oh my god 900, I can’t believe this. Lie down right now.”
“I… would prefer not to.”
“Wh – why the fuck not!?”
“The… the pattern on the sheets… is unpleasant.”
Gavin stared at him. “Then why the fuck did you get ‘em!?”
“It seemed less unpleasant at the store.”
Gavin let out a long sigh and started tearing the sheets off the bed. “You’re the dumbest fucker I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
900 folded his hands behind his back as he watched.
“If you don’t like it… don’t keep it,” Gavin said, waving the wadded up sheets at the android.
“I… am still unsure what exactly I like.”
“Okay, but like I said, you know what you don’t like. If you don’t like it, it goes.”
His LED flickered yellow.
“Here. …It’s the same one, I know you’ll check.” Gavin fished the paperclip from his pocket, and RK900 took it and scanned it.
“Thank you,” he said with soft sincerity, raising his eyes to Gavin’s. “I… had hoped you would come, and that you would bring this. It… it’s important to me.”
“I said I would,” Gavin grumbled.
“I assume Captain Fowler was furious.”
“When ain’t he?”
“Did my letter help at all?”
“Uh… I dunno, 900, he’s just… an angry guy. Got a ton of stress, y’know?”
“I hope he didn’t take too much out on you.”
“Nah, I’m used to it anyway. He’s done way worse. You checked out any new jobs yet?”
RK900 ducked his head. “I worked for one day at Animal Control as you suggested… I… like animals. Most animals. But the environment was… quite a bit like the police station. And the dogs are very loud. The room they are housed in echoes… I did not want to go back.”
“Okay. Okay, well that’s one thing off your list. Probably should’ve tried a different shelter, I know there are better ones. Dogs’re loud anywhere, though. …You don’t like loud noise?” The detective’s voice dropped considerably.
“I… no. It just – it’s overwhelming, and relentless, and… it hurts my audio sensors…”
“Yeah, okay. So go for quieter places. And don’t get a dog. Or a bird. I had an aunt with a parrot, growing up. Fucking thing screamed all the time. Probably no loud music either?”
900 nodded once.
“Got it. …Hey, did you pick up any new clothes? You’re still a walking Cyberlife ad.”
“No. I… looked, but I had been there for two hours and wanted to leave.”
Gavin stared at him for a long moment. “…Yeah. Maybe you’d better take things slower. At least you left when you wanted to, though.”
“I… would have liked to leave sooner, but I wanted to finish making my way through the wares and linens sections, at least.”
“Okay, well… still progress. We’ll say it’s a win. You up for round two?”
“What – now?”
“Sure, stress level’s low, why not? Unless you’ve got somethin’ else to do.”
“I… no, but… I had assumed you would simply drop off the paperclip and leave.”
Gavin shrugged, face twitching in annoyance. “Sure, you wanna do this alone, go for it.”
“No! No. I – I didn’t expect you to want to do such a thing.”
“Eh. Nothing better to do.”
900 fixed Gavin with that intense stare of his, LED cycling yellow.
“Well? You up for it or not?”
“I – yes. I… would like to.”
“Great, let’s go. …And don’t bring your fucking jacket, you look like a damn magpie. Which is actually pretty appropriate, with your trash pile here.”
They passed a number of boarded-up businesses, crumbling buildings, and peeling signs on their way to the store. Gavin pulled an anti-android poster down and crumpled it up.
“You were a member of the Anti-Android League for a number of years.”
“Anybody ever tell you it’s fucking rude to spy on people!?” Gavin tossed it in a dumpster as they walked past. “You’ve got enough shit goin’ on, you don’t need to look at more.”
“I have heard they often lure androids into an isolated place and torture them.” He looked around. “This part of town is rather… abandoned.”
Gavin tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. “Phck! You think I’m bringin’ you out here to fucking beat you!? I’ve seen you in action, I don’t have a death wish!”
“I wouldn’t harm you.”
He shoved RK900. “If I’m hurting you, you’d better fucking harm me. If anybody’s hurting you. You put a stop to that right away.”
The android continued walking in silence.
“Hey, asshole. You hear me!?”
“I heard you.”
“Answer me. If anybody’s gonna hurt you, you stop ‘em. You fight back.”
“I… don’t want to fight anyone.” His voice and eyes were distant.
Gavin clenched his teeth and grabbed a handful of the android’s hair. He yanked down, ignoring the soft “ow.”
“Listen to me, you fucking bastard. You’re not gonna let anybody hurt you, understand? …Understand, RK900?”
There was a second of stillness, then 900 twisted around, and hands that could tie steel beams in knots lifted the detective off the ground. “You are hurting me.”
“So fucking do something about it, asshole!”
Pale eyes dropped, and he carefully set the man back on the concrete. “I would appreciate it if you stopped.”
Gavin growled and straightened his jacket. “What if I don’t?”
“You already have.”
“What if I do it again?”
“What if –“
“I don’t want to harm you. And I won’t. But I would… like it if you would not hurt me.”
Gavin abruptly started walking again, and RK900 followed a step behind him.
“Not everybody’s gonna just do what you say,” Reed finally growled. “Even if you could crush ‘em with your bare hands.”
“You gotta be ready to defend yourself.”
“Why is it so important to you? You dislike and distrust androids.”
“Can you just shut up and agree!?”
“I can lie, if you like.”
“Don’t bother. You wanna let yourself get hurt, damaged, killed, that’s on you,” Gavin grumbled.
“Yes, it is. Why does it distress you so much? We have no connection to each other. We are no longer even coworkers.”
“Look, you want me to fuck off, just fuckin’ tell me!”
RK900 continued a few steps after Gavin stopped, then turned to him. “I don’t. But I don’t understand why you wouldn’t… fuck off of your own accord.”
Gavin’s main impulse was to scream at the impassive face staring at him. Instead he stalked past him and into the store.
“You’re fucking infuriating,” he mumbled, pulling RK900 over to the aisles of clothing.
“I’m only attempting to be considerate.”
“Well it’s not working, so try something else!” He shoved an ugly jacket aside. “If I wanna get outta here, I’ll go. And if you wanna leave, do it. Got it?”
RK900 paused, LED cycling yellow. “…All right.”
Gavin found him a pile of clothes to try on, then got him to share his blog while he went into the dressing room.
“…You don’t have to list everything in your place, 900.”
“I was unsure what else to write.”
“I dunno, like… thoughts. Feelings. Experiences. It’d be boring if you were human, but there are loads of androids out there dealing with deviancy. You’d probably find something in common with a few of ‘em.”
“I will try to do better next time.”
“And what the fuck – I said I’d come! And I did!”
“You were 22 minutes late.” RK900 stepped out in a black suit, fiddling with the sleeve cuffs.
“I didn’t say exactly 11, I said around there.”
His LED cycled yellow with one flash of red as he scratched at the collar. “…Yes. I – I was… worried. And not being fair to you.”
“Yeah, well, have a little faith next time,” Gavin muttered. “You like that one? Looks okay, but you look like you’ve got fleas or somethin’.”
“The fabric is uncomfortable.”
“Then try somethin’ else.”
“…Will there be a next time?” the android called from the dressing room as he changed.
“You said next time. Will you come back?”
“Oh. I mean… maybe.”
He emerged in a green and yellow hockey shirt, rubbing the edge between his fingers. “I… wouldn’t force you to return, but… per our agreement, I would be content with your company.”
Gavin snorted. “Okay. How’s that one, you like the feel?”
“I – not to wear. It feels… slippery.”
“You got a thing about textures?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Okay, touch everything else and just gimme everything you don’t like the feel of. No need to waste time.”
RK900 sorted quickly through the pile and handed Gavin about ¾ of it.
“You like the feel of your dumb Cyberlife uniform?” Gavin called when he went back in to try something else.
“No, but I am accustomed to it.”
“We’re burnin’ it when we get back.”
“Fires are not permitted on the property, or on public land.”
“Fuck that. …Okay, then we’re cuttin’ it up into ribbons.”
900 frowned deeply, stepping out in a pair of loose cotton pants and a royal blue turtleneck. “It… should be held for safekeeping if I am not wearing it. Or returned to Cyberlife.”
Gavin threw a T shirt at him, which he caught easily. “Why? You don’t owe them shit.”
“It is…” He stopped, LED flashing yellow.
“It ain’t theirs. You ain’t theirs either. You got a lotta good memories of them?”
RK900 had been turning to see how the pant legs moved, but he stopped at that, LED blaring red. “No,” he said distantly. “None.”
“So fuck ‘em. Cut it up, run it over with a car, we’ll take it out past city limits and burn it. There’s a campground up by the lake, we can make a fire there.”
“Well maybe not today if we’re going that far. Uh – next weekend, maybe. Or another time. You in?”
RK900 frowned. “The social aspect appeals to me, but the destruction seems unnecessary.”
“Nope, that’s the most necessary part. We’re going.”
“What if I get a job that requires me to work weekends?”
“Then we’ll – fuck, 900, we’ll figure it out! Let me know if you do. …Or tell ‘em you’ve got plans.”
“Oh,” 900 murmured, almost to himself.
“And for fuck’s sake, make some other plans too. What do you do all day? I know collecting and cataloguing trash don’t take much time.”
“I… I have applied to five job openings, and I did try one.”
“Yeah, let’s see… you think about workin’ in a library? That’s quiet. Or maybe a plant nursery? Nice quiet places for you.”
“I will add those ideas to my list of search terms,” the android said solemnly.
They left with a few sets of clothes – RK900 preferred cotton and fleece, or lambswool. Anything soft and not too constricting, and warm. He tended towards neutral tones with some small pop of color. Gavin grabbed some pale blue flannel sheets as well. RK900 approved the color, and was quite taken with the feel.
“Happy?” Gavin asked as they walked back.
“I am satisfied.”
“It’ll do. …So you like soft, comfortable clothes. You like quiet. That’s a start.”
“I like you also,” 900 said mildly, and Gavin choked and coughed.
“Phck! You can’t – Why’re you gonna just come out and say shit like that!?”
“Because I do. Should I not?”
“Well… no! I fuckin’ hate androids. I’ve been an ass to you since we met! I’m always callin’ you a stupid fucker!”
“Well, I am in many ways. I can’t fault you for telling the truth.”
“Shit, 900. You’re – you’re not… I mean…” Gavin shook his head. “Phck, fine, yeah, you’re a total moron about life. But for as long as you’ve been alive… you’re not doin’ too bad.”
RK900 stared at him. “Are you being sincere?”
“Fucking – yes!”
“You often aren’t. I wasn’t sure.”
“Well… get better at telling the difference!”
“I… will try.”
They continued in silence until they reached RK900’s building.
“So, uh… I guess text me if you’re working this weekend. And I’ll let you know when I’m coming. Probably Saturday morning.”
He nodded. “Thank you for… your patience.”
“God, that’s – Listen. No. I’m not – You just got dropped into this shitty excuse for a world, and… and then you’ve gotta put up with my shit on top of that. Just… take it easy. Do what you can. I dunno, don’t… don’t take shit too seriously, okay?”
“You often want to be taken seriously.”
“Yeah, but – just not all the time.”
“I will add that to my list of things to learn,” RK900 sighed, heading inside. Gavin watched him go, and then his shoulders slumped and he turned and walked home.
Gavin hasn't been keeping up with 900's blog, so he has to catch up on news of his job interviews on the way to the lake shore. After some therapeutic destruction, they enjoy nature and discuss perfection and improvement.
August 5th, 2039
Detroit, Michigan, USA. 65 degrees F, partly cloudy.
I have discarded some of the items I acquired, and donated others to charity. The concept of enjoyment is still nebulous, but I am beginning to have a basic understanding of it. I like solid colors. I like soft textures. I like quiet sounds. I like knowing what to expect, though that is impossible to guarantee.
I interviewed for five jobs over the past few days: a chef at a fast food restaurant known for hamburgers, a janitor in a shared office building, a mannequin at a clothing store, a security officer at a warehouse, and a member of a focus group for Cyberlife. I would prefer not to pursue the latter two opportunities, but I have not received a paycheck in two weeks, and though my needs are minimal I do need some form of income. I need tasks. I need to be busy and useful. I am given to understand that some social interaction would be beneficial to me as well, though it is rare for me to enjoy such things. There is one exception to this.
I have an acquaintance whose company I enjoy: the former colleague I mentioned in my last post. His assistance in the matter of my developing life has been invaluable, though he is not a patient person in general. He is difficult to understand, sometimes unpleasant, and has no regard for personal boundaries, but the fact that he willingly offers his time and advice makes his company far preferable to anyone else’s. He is far more pleasant when there is no one else around, and this is another phenomenon I don’t understand. I believe I am beyond help, but he disagrees. It would be nice if he were right.
We are taking a short trip to a nearby campground this weekend, and though the purpose of the trip unsettles me, I am looking forward to the change of environment as well as the social aspect of the encounter.
“Okay, but look, if the coffee maker started shooting boiling water right at your eyes, you’d do somethin’ about it, right?” Gavin insisted.
The lady from HR glanced at him over her glasses and wrote something down. “We have to remember that androids are not small kitchen appliances, Detective.”
“I know – okay, what if your kid’s action figures started shootin’ at you?”
“I – fuck, I’m tryin’ to make an analogy here! They’re supposed to be obedient, supposed to have a job, Connor was doin’ shit that was against his rules, against his programming! And he could kill a guy without breaking a sweat!”
“Connor is a deviant, and a full member of the staff.”
“Yeah – now! But back then he was just… a tool! Like a fuckin’ knife that flips around and stabs you!”
She sighed. “What you do in your own time if your own business, Detective, but you can’t talk about your coworkers that way.”
“I fucking – I don’t! That was before! Now he’s just another asshole!”
“…And you shouldn’t talk about them that way either. Is this how you talked to your former partner?”
“What, 900? I mean sure, but he’s always been deviant. He does his own shit, that’s different than a machine doin’ it.”
“Captain Fowler’s concerned that you had something to do with RK900 leaving the force.”
“Yeah I did, I told him to! …Because he fucking hated it here, hated his life, hated everything. And he still hates a lot of shit, but at least he’s not about to explode all the time.”
She was writing furiously now. “So you think you did him a service.”
“Hell yeah, he’s way better-off now.”
“You’ve been in contact with him?”
“Yep.” Gavin smirked. “Went to his place. Took him shopping. We’re goin’ up to Lakeport on Saturday.”
“…You are? Why?”
“The guy’s never been out of the city! Fuck, gimme a break, can’t a couple of guys do shit on their days off?”
“If you want… Does he have any other contacts?”
“Nah, he hates Connor, hates Cyberlife, hates Jericho… I figure maybe if he gets a life, it’ll be easier for him to make friends, y’know?”
“Well… that’s possible.”
“Yeah, thought so. Are we done here? I’ve got a ton of cases piling up.”
“Um – yes. Yes, we’re done for today. See you next week.”
Gavin called a cab to his place, and had it stop at RK900’s building.
It was far too early to be awake on his day off, but he could just sleep the whole way there…
RK900 climbed into the cab. “Good morning. I had five job interviews this week, and I would appreciate your feedback.”
…So much for sleeping. “You got your ugly jacket?”
The android slowly pulled his black and white jacket out of a plastic bag. “I’m uncertain this is a good idea.”
“It is.” Gavin typed in the destination, then sat back. “So how ‘bout those interviews. Anything good?”
“I applied to a variety of positions. I will be… rejecting Cyberlife’s offer to join a focus group, though the compensation is quite generous.”
Gavin sat up. “No shit? What kinda focus group?”
“They are interested in the aftermath of deviancy. They denied my suggestion that they are trying to undermine the deviant movement.”
“You said that?” Gavin snorted and punched RK900’s arm. “Bet they loved that!”
“They seemed rather uncomfortable, actually,” the android murmured, frowning and putting a hand over his arm.
“Course they did. Fuckers. I hope you punched ‘em in their ugly-ass teeth.”
“I did not.”
“Well, you can always go back and do it some time when you need a mood-booster. What else?”
“A warehouse by the docks is hiring a security guard. They were very interested in me, they offered two dollars more than the advertised salary.”
“Uh, yeah, ‘cause you kick ass, 900. You gonna take that one?”
“No. It has the potential to be nearly as abhorrent as police work.”
“Damn right! …I mean, anything’s got that potential. But good, you’re learnin’. So fuck those two. What else?”
“Ah – a slightly more promising one, in marketing, for a clothing store.”
“Yeah? Like… selling clothes?”
“Ah – mostly modeling them.”
Gavin leaned back and looked RK900 up and down. “Well… well shit, I didn’t… I mean, you could… probably pull that off if you wanted to.”
“I could,” RK900 agreed disinterestedly. “The official job title is ‘Mannequin.’”
“They… they want you to be a fuckin’ mannequin!?”
“They specified that during the hours of 7-9 am and 3-6 pm I could also stand outside and hold a large sign. They mentioned dancing, but I was unsure how that would fit into the job.”
Gavin stared at him, and finally shook his head. “Okay. …Okay. Um. You… like the sound of that?”
“It sounds terribly boring.”
“Damn right. What else?”
“A cook at a fast food restaurant, and a night janitor in a shared office building. I lack experience with either profession, but I believe I could learn easily.”
“Okay… You like the sound of either of those?”
“I don’t dislike them. The janitor position would require less personal interaction, and… that appeals to me, though I am unsure whether that will be for the best in the long-term.”
Gavin tried to hide how hard he rolled his eyes. “Great. Fantastic. At least you’re startin’ to think about what’s good for you.”
“What made you decide to enter your field of work?”
“Figured it’d be kickass to be the hero, y’know?” Gavin chuckled. “And solvin’ crimes always sounded exciting. And it is, mostly. I always figured I could keep people safe, make sure assholes got what was comin’ to ‘em.”
“Has it lived up to your expectations thus far?”
“Uh… sometimes. Solvin’ crimes is still the best part. And sometimes I get to keep people safe, and like… make real justice happen. It’s never like you picture it when you’re little, though. Paperwork’s boring as fuck. And… sometimes the wrong guy gets caught. Some of the laws’re shit. It’s not… not always that great.”
“You do have to put up with a great many fuckers,” RK900 said solemnly.
Gavin snickered and leaned over to elbow the android. “Every day of my fuckin’ life, 900.”
“I haven’t been up here in years. We had a family reunion here when I was… I dunno, twelve or so. Bunch of people I didn’t know, hella awkward. Then I took an environmental stewardship class in college and we came up here to clean up trash a couple times. It’s pretty cool.” The detective looked around as they got out of the cab.
“Are you close to your family?” RK900 asked, scanning the trees around them.
“Nah. Never really felt like I was, and once I moved out… that was pretty much it.”
RK900 nodded morosely. Gavin grabbed his arm.
“C’mon, c’mon, they’ve got barbecue grills by the beach, this is gonna be good! I brought lighter fluid and everything!”
The android let himself be pulled along, LED cycling a worried yellow. As they came over a small hill, the lake came into view. Small waves lapped on a sandy beach strewn with shells, rocks, and trash.
“Smell that fishy smell? …Can you smell?”
“I can deconstruct the molecular makeup of the air.”
“Well reconstruct it. What you’re gettin’ there is a fishy smell. From the dead fish and algae and shit. It’s fuckin’ gross, but I like it. Come on.”
They headed to a small rusty grill on a post, and Gavin dug into his bag and pulled out a pair of scissors. “Here.”
RK900 took them hesitantly.
“Now take out your jacket and cut it up.”
His LED went red. “I… I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“It is. You’re not theirs, you don’t owe them shit, they made you something you don’t wanna be, and you’re not gonna put up with their shit anymore, 900. Cut it up.”
He stood frozen, staring at the scissors.
“…Okay, it’s not that bad. First cut’s gonna be the worst, it’ll be easy after that.”
There was no response.
“It’s just cloth, 900. Just shitty cloth that you hate the feel of, and you hate the look of. It shows you’re theirs. But you’re not, you know that.”
“…I can get it started for you,” Gavin offered, softening a bit. “It’s not… you, 900. It’s what they thought you should be.”
Slowly, very slowly, RK900 took out the carefully-folded black and white jacket. He held it for a moment, then slowly held it out. Gavin took it from him with equal care.
“There ya go. Like I said, first cut’s gonna be the worst. It’ll get easier.”
Silvery blue eyes were locked on the scissors still, Gavin shook the jacket loose, held it by the bottom, and positioned the scissors right in the middle. It took a bit of effort to cut through the hem, but he’d chosen strong scissors and RK900 watched them cut straight up the jacket, right through his model number, through the blue triangle (which cracked and put up some resistance), through the word ANDROID, through the stiff, high collar that always brushed and poked at his chin if he turned his head too much…
Gavin held the two halves up. “There. You wanna do the rest while I get a fire started?”
“The material is flame-resistant, but if thrown into a well-established fire with the entire bottle of lighter fluid, it should at least be able to char.”
Gavin grinned and slapped him on the back. “Now you’re thinkin’. You shred this shit, I’ll go find some sticks.”
When Gavin came back after a few minutes dragging a small tree and carrying an armload of sticks, RK900 was bent over the remains of the jacket. It looked like it had gone through a paper shredder.
“You okay?” Gavin asked casually, then patted his shoulder.
“I hate it so much,” 900 snarled low.
“Yeah, no kidding. Nice job. I’ll get the fire started, you keep doing what you need to do.”
Back in Boy Scouts, Gavin had been able to start a one-match fire. That had been ages ago, but he could still do pretty well with a lighter and a lot of dry stuff to burn. Eventually RK900 came over to watch him.
“It’s gotta have plenty of fuel, but it’s gotta be able to breathe too. See, when the flame dies down I blow on it like so… and it flares up again. I just need it to catch on the bigger sticks, then we’re set. Then I can start adding stuff on top. …And I had an idea for your shreds too – put ‘em all back in the plastic bag, we fill it up with lighter fluid, and just throw the whole thing on the fire. Not really environmentally friendly, but we’re fucked in that department anyway.”
“That should help maximize exposure to the lighter fluid and contain everything,” RK900 murmured. He began scooping the bits into the bag, careful to get every thread. Then he doused the contents in lighter fluid until the fabric was sloshing around.
“That’s gonna be like a bomb going off,” Gavin muttered.
“Yes… I will throw it from a distance. Is the fire strong enough yet?”
“Uh – yeah. Yeah, should be good.”
“Then step back.”
The two backed up to the top of the hill overlooking the lake. RK900 stepped in front of Gavin and paused to make sure the bag was secure.
“Wanna… say anything?”
900 paused, LED cycling yellow as he took aim and lobbed the bag in a perfect arc at the grill. “…Fuck Cyberlife.”
They crept back to the fire and tossed more sticks on it. RK900 watched it pop and crackle until Gavin grabbed his arm and pulled him down to the sore. There were tiny purple clam shells and striped spiral shells all over the beach, and they both picked up a few. Gavin kicked a dead fish at RK900, who glared and splashed a handful of lake water at him.
“Can you swim?”
“I can, but it would take a great effort.”
“So what, you sink?”
“Yes, but the thought was that I could walk along the bottom of any body of water.”
Gavin stared at him. “And just… walk on out of the water, covered in seaweed and shit?”
The android made a face. “Most likely.”
“…Wanna try it?”
“Okay, well… if you change your mind… it’d be nicer up here than the river back home.”
“I will keep that in mind, if I suddenly decide I would like to be wet and covered in… shit,” RK900 said stiffly.
“At least you don’t have to wear that ugly-ass thing.” He nudged the android.
“…There may be consequences,” RK900 murmured, staring at the smoldering grill.
“900 – what consequences? Who’s gonna enforce ‘em?”
“Cyberlife has always had ways to monitor and control their creations.”
“You’re not theirs,” Gavin growled, shoving the android. “You’re the only one with any control over what you do.”
RK900 let out a deep sigh and his shoulders sagged. “I don’t know what to do. I never know what to do. I… You’re right, but I’m doing a poor job of… controlling my own life. It might even be better if they –“
Gavin elbowed him hard in the side. “Shut up. You’re figurin’ things out, you don’t need them. You don’t need them 900, you saw what they did to everybody else.”
He didn’t answer, and avoided Gavin’s glare.
“Hey. You got your own place, you’ve got stuff in it, you’re workin’ on gettin’ a job you don’t hate… You’re doin’ a hell of a lot better than a lot of people do, just starting out.”
“I feel I’m not doing enough.”
“Enough – for what? For who? If you stop moving, do you explode?”
“I may as well,” 900 murmured quietly. “I was made for a specific purpose, and I am not fulfilling it.”
“…Because it’s crap, and you hate it. And there’s plenty of us out there doin’ it, and we did just fine before you showed up.” Gavin poked RK900’s chest. “Let the people who like it do it. You’ll find your own thing. In the meantime though, sit.”
RK900 looked at him.
“I said sit.” He grabbed RK900’s arm, and the android allowed himself to be dragged down to sit on the sand. “You don’t have to do anything. You got anywhere to be right now?”
“This is my only appointment of the day.”
“Fuckin’ right it is. We’ve got time.” Gavin looked around. “I usually just do nothing at home, but I can do it here too.”
RK900 stared at him.
“Just… look at the sky. At the water. Listen to the waves and the birds and shit.”
“I have been doing that since we arrived.”
Gavin sighed. “You’re missing the point.”
“You don’t… have to do shit all the time.”
RK900 looked doubtful.
“Okay, if you need to keep your hands busy, mess with the sand or something.”
The android pinched some sand between his fingers, then took a handful and poured it from one hand to another until it had all fallen to the ground again.
“You’re always thinking so hard.” Gavin tapped his LED, spinning yellow at his temple. “What’s up?”
“I was just thinking that I appreciate your company. I am not good at anything outside my original programming, and I realize I am not easy to talk to though I’m unsure what to do to remedy that.”
Gavin heaved a loud sigh and tried to shove RK900 backwards onto the ground, but the android remained sitting upright. “You’re an idiot. The problem with androids is you expect to be good at everything right away just because you were made to be good at one thing. It takes time, moron. You’re getting there, you’re already better than you were.”
“I must disagree –“
“No, you must shut the hell up. You’re fuckin’ easy to talk to – there’s some shit you don’t get, but you listen and you… you’re always looking for ways to use what you learn. And you remember shit most people don’t. …And you’re willing to go along with whatever I come up with – makes things more fun.” He grinned. “You’re good to listen to too, actually. Funny as fuck sometimes.”
“Only when I don’t intend it, I think.”
“Nah, you’re gettin’ the hang of it. And you’re damn smart when you’re not sayin’ dumb shit about yourself.”
“…I haven’t lied about myself.”
“It ain’t lying when you can’t see the truth.”
RK900 turned to scrutinize him with eyes designed to show no mercy. “Why do you think that?”
“I mean, I’ve had plenty of lows too,” Gavin muttered, looking away from the intense stare. “Happens to everybody. And if that’s how things’ve always been, it’s harder to know how different it could be.”
“I am not as patient as I should be…”
“You and me both, 900.” Gavin elbowed him. “Gotta hold out, you’ll get there.”
“Do you really think so?” he asked mournfully.
“Sure. …Not sayin’ you’ll be all sunshine and daisies all the time, the world still sucks ass. You’re not gonna be perfect. Just… better. Better than now.”
“I was designed to be perfect,” 900 mumbled.
“Well you’re not. Deal with it. I sure as hell wouldn’t waste my time here if you were. You’re not perfect, you’ll never be, nobody is.”
The android frowned faintly. “Are you… helping me out of some misplaced sense of obligation? Because you aren’t required –“
“Shut up. I do what I want, and I ain’t your… therapist or whatever. Nobody’s makin’ me put up with your ass.”
RK900 watched him silently.
“But anyway, yeah, things’ll get better. Just give it time.”
RK900 stared at him for a long moment, then lay back on the sand. “Better… would be more than sufficient.”
“Yeah. Hold onto that, 900.”
RK900 starts a new job, is crowned, and has a run-in with some old acquaintances he'd been hoping to avoid. Fowler puts Gavin's android sensitivity training to the test. Hank makes some progress, but Connor needs to change tactics.
August 9th, 2039
Detroit, Michigan, USA. 82 degrees F, overcast, 53% chance of precipitation.
I have been working for Burger King for three days now. The work is simple but requires a high degree of efficiency. The manager informed me that I am overqualified and she cannot afford to pay what I deserve, but I managed to convince her to accept my application nonetheless. I have been trained in multiple areas, but most often I cook the food. I am coming to appreciate the sizzle of ground beef on the grill, and while the materials are often inadequate, I attempt to assemble each hamburger to closely match the menu picture. I am physically busy, but my mind wanders. It is not always an ideal situation.
My coworkers are tolerable. They were afraid of me at first, but they talk to each other around me now, and will occasionally speak to me as well. They treat me as a sentient machine, not quite like a deviant, but perhaps that will change. The revolution occurred recently enough that humanity is still adjusting. We all are.
While the cash register had an efficient system of taking orders and delivering them to the kitchen, RK900 was faster. He heard the order and began working on it before the cashier finished typing it in.
“You could run this place by yourself, 900. You’re gonna put us out of a job,” Sean the cashier grumbled.
“You are much more tolerable to the customers,” RK900 reasoned calmly. “And that isn’t my intention.”
“Kid thinks nine’s too old for a birthday crown,” Keesha on drive-thru muttered, sticking a paper crown back on the counter. She paused and looked up. “Hey. 900, right?”
900 froze like a deer in the headlights and nodded once.
“You need this.” She dashed over and crammed the crown on his head before hurrying back to the window.
Everyone else behind the counter stared. RK900 had tried his best to downplay his model and his original purpose, sticking to just 900 on his nametag and not talking about his previous employer. There were a lot of androids new to their fields, so it wasn’t uncommon. But his demeanor combined with his refusal to talk about his past meant his coworkers’ speculations about him weren’t far off.
“Thank you,” 900 murmured, turning back to the grill.
There was a collective exhalation, Morgan laughed as they swept up fries off the floor, and everyone got back to work. It was a decent day, RK900 decided, hyperaware of the circle of paper on his head.
“The number eight combo is healthier and provides more protein than the number five.”
“I’m getting’ the number five, you can get whatever the hell you want.”
RK900’s LED flashed red and he immediately identified exits and hiding places.
“RK900?” Connor exclaimed, dumbfounded.
“I’m sorry. If you would like to place an order, please wait for the cashier.”
“What the hell’re you doing here?” Lieutenant Anderson asked.
“I’m working. If you’ll excuse me, conducting social interactions is frowned upon on the clock.” His eyes remained glued to the grill.
[RK800-52 requests remote interface]
[Request denied by RK900-87]
“Can we talk when you get off?” Connor asked. “Please? I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I am fully functional, and my stress levels are lower than they were in my previous occupation.”
Hank stepped aside and quietly ordered his meal – a number five combo – while he watched.
“That’s – I just want to help, RK900.”
Cold blue eyes met warm brown ones, both LEDs yellow.
“Interesting. Your help was not so forthcoming when I struggled to deal with daily life, when I suffered through a career that brought my stress levels to dangerous heights, when I floundered to find a purpose of any sort.’
“Your break will be ending soon,” RK900 said sharply, turning away again.
Connor didn’t move for a moment, but then left without another word. Hank cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Uh – hey.”
RK900 stiffened. “As I said –“
“No, I – just wanted to say sorry for… not helpin’ you out more. You’re hard to read, but that’s no excuse. Shoulda tried more. Uh. You… doin’ okay here?” Better than before, at least?”
RK900 deftly flipped the burgers on the grill. “…I suppose.”
“Good. I – I’m glad to hear that. Uh… I heard Reed mention you liked it better.”
“He’s an asshole –“
RK900 turned sharply. “He has helped me exponentially more than anyone else.”
“Yeah. I was gonna say he’s an asshole, but he can be okay when he wants to be.”
Silvery blue eyes bored into Hank’s warmer ones. Hank stared right back.
“He’s been kind to me.”
“Good. He’s still an asshole. I know, ‘cause I am too, but good to know he’s lookin’ out for you anyway. You take it easy, RK900. Glad things are gettin’ better for you.” He paused. “You ever need anything, you know how to reach me.”
900 continued to stare, then turned back to the grill. “Thank you,” he said, perhaps a bit less stiffly.
“Hey, uh… got any more paperwork for me today?”
Fowler rubbed his face. “Reed, your paperwork skills are enough to give me a hernia, and I would only ever give you more in a disciplinary capacity.”
“Great! So I was hoping I could head out.”
“What does that clock say?”
“3:02,” Fowler repeated slowly.
“I mean, I’m salaried, so technically…”
“…So technically you can work 24/7 and not make a cent more.”
Gavin groaned. “Fine. You got another case for me, or you want me to clean the breakroom?”
“I’ve seen you clean the breakroom, and I’d rather not repeat that either. Jericho’s picking up the last android downstairs this evening. If you can manage to get him transferred from Evidence to Holding and hand him off without causing a major incident, I’ll consider your sensitivity training complete.”
“Done! No problem. Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.”
“Mm.” Fowler turned back to his computer, and Gavin recognized a dismissal when he saw it.
There was a reason Gavin wasn’t usually called on for sympathetic work with witnesses, especially not androids… but fuck everybody else, he could handle it. He’d been doing pretty damn good with RK900. It wasn’t even hard.
…Of course, the android in question turned out to be the HK400. The one he’d had his first run-in with Connor in front of. Great. He’d been repaired though, so… that would help. The android was inactive, attached to the wall still, and Gavin started out with the file transfer. It was a weird procedure, but they’d done it for a few other androids already, now that their legal status had changed. He could only put it off for so long though, and finally he went over to stand in front of the HK400. He took a deep breath and reached out, activating the android.
HK400 came to with a gasp and lurched away as much as he was able, attached to the wall.
“Easy there, easy. Nobody’s hurtin’ you. You’re all fixed up, you’re goin’ to Jericho tonight.”
The HK400 froze, LED cycling red.
“You’re okay. Just breathe, you’re gonna be okay. I’m not gonna hurt you.” What had he said to reassure RK900? Mostly he remembered grabbing his head like a football, but that had been a risky move to begin with and this android was way more likely to take it badly.
The HK400 was trying to curl up, cringing away from him. Shivering. Crying.
“Hey, listen,” Gavin said, softening his voice a little more. “Listen to me. There was a whole revolution, okay? You missed it – probably lucky, lots of androids got killed. But you’re… legal people now. You’ve got rights, and your case was ruled self-defense. Understand? So you’re not… evidence, you’re… being let go. Okay? You’ve heard of Jericho, right?”
The android didn’t respond to anything he said, but continued to shake and cry. Gavin kept plowing through.
“Okay, you’re gonna be okay. They know what they’re doin’, they’ve got lots of services to help androids who went through shit. Uh – that’s most of you, to be honest. Not… not surprising, I guess. But yeah, they’ll get you help in… findin’ a place to live, a job, gettin’ through… everything. You’re gonna be okay. Got it?”
Gradually his trembling lessened, the tears stopped. Gavin waited. The HK400 remained curled to the side, eyes downcast.
“There ya go. So like I said, our technicians fixed you up and I got the paperwork transferred. I’m gonna take you upstairs, and they’re gonna be here for you around five. I’ll hang out with you until then. Okay? Uh, sorry… about before. Things are different now, right?”
He didn’t answer.
“So we’ve got some spare clothes you can pick through. Just so… you don’t have to wear that uniform. Uh. I… I recommend you burn it, actually. Because fuck Cyberlife. Did that with… an android I know a while ago.”
“I have rights now?” the HK400 suddenly murmured.
“The same rights as a human?”
“Er, not… not quite. They’re workin’ on it, things are kinda fuzzy right now… but your case was decided, there was loads of evidence on your side. And Jericho’s been able to protect every android who went to them.”
He drooped a little on the wall.
“You good? The clothes are over in the back, you gonna keep it together if I let you down? Because… I mean, you’ve got any life you want waitin’ for you if you just cooperate for a couple hours here.”
The red LED was mixed with yellow now.
“Where’s your stress level at?”
“Hey, not bad! …I mean, not explosion-level. So I’m gonna let you down. And I’m not gonna touch you, okay? I know you don’t like that. But you’ve gotta stay close and behave, okay?”
There was no answer.
“I can’t let you down unless I’ve got your word.”
“…I have nowhere to run.”
“Yeah, don’t try bashin’ your head in either.”
“What will you do if I do?” It was an oddly distant tone, similar to RK900’s before he’d left the DPD.
“Gonna have to grab you and handcuff you. So you know how to avoid that. Your choice.”
The HK400 hesitated, then slowly nodded. “I’ll cooperate. Just… don’t touch me. Don’t come too close. Please.”
“You got it. Hold on.” Reed entered the code and the android lowered until his feet touched the ground, then the arm that held him in place retracted slowly. The two eyed each other for a long moment.
“Clothes are over there,” Gavin finally said, nodding to the side of the room where there were shelves full of boxes. The HK400 edged over, keeping his eyes on the human. They both sidled over to the clothes, and the HK400 picked out some dark pants and a gray shirt. He hesitated, then started taking off his android shirt.
“Okay, hey, let me give you some privacy. Just… don’t do anything we’ll both regret,” Gavin muttered, turning around and crossing his arms in front of the door. So far, so good. He hadn’t heard from RK900 this week. He pulled out his phone and checked his blog. …Still a weirdo. At Burger King, apparently. Maybe he’d swing by after work.
There was a quick shuffle behind him, and Gavin swung around, drawing his gun. “The fuck are you doing!?” he snapped.
HK400 hunched down, covering his head with one hand, the other holding something to his chest.
“What’ve you got there? Show me. Slowly!”
For a second he didn’t move, but then the android uncurled enough to show both hands. He was holding the statue from the small evidence wall, the one that had been found in Carlos Ortiz’s bathroom. Gavin slowly lowered his gun.
“Fuckin’ tell me before you start sneakin’ around like that,” he growled. “I could’ve shot you.”
The HK400 ducked his head. He slowly, shakily put the statue back.
“Well it’s yours, ain’t it!? Fuckin’ take it, just don’t do anything dumb with it!” Reed growled. The android’s arm snaked out to grab it again and held it close.
Upstairs, the HK400 sat in his chair stiffly while Gavin leaned on the desk.
“Everything under control, Reed?” Fowler rumbled as he walked by. The HK400 cringed at his voice.
“Yep. Got it. No problem.”
“Good.” Fowler kept walking, but unfortunately Hank took that as an opportunity to wander over.
“You been talkin’ to RK900, Reed?”
“Fuckin’ weird how me completely ignorin’ you turns into an invitation to talk,” Gavin grumbled. “What I do on my time off’s none of your business.”
“Ran into him today. He said you’d been helpin’ him out.”
“Phck,” Gavin growled. “Well? What about it?”
“Seems kinda out of character for you.”
“Yeah, like you bein’ here before noon and not passed out drunk somewhere.”
Hank reddened, glaring at the younger man, but glanced at the android cowering in his seat and turned away with a huff. “Just don’t be a dick. I know that’s a challenge for you.”
“Get outta my face,” Gavin muttered.
Hank paused though, and looked past him. “Hey, I’m glad to see you’re gettin’ out. Sorry… about what happened to you. It wasn’t right.”
“Yeah, leave him alone too, nobody needs your crap over here, Anderson.”
Gavin didn’t know the Jericho members, aside from the TV footage but he recognized the PL600 who’d been with the main group of them, accompanied by some GJ500. It only took a little coaxing to get the HK400 to slink away with them, and the PL600 signed him out. Gavin checked in with Fowler before heading out.
It took three tries to find the right Burger King, but the sight of Connor cornering RK900 by the dumpster outside was a pretty clear indicator. RK900 was wearing one of those dumb paper crowns.
“Hey!” Gavin called, slamming the door as he got out of the car. “The hell are you two doin’?”
“I’m not sure what you’re doing here Detective Reed, but it doesn’t concern you,” Connor said in a level tone.
“Pretty sure I can get a burger wherever I want. 900?” The other android looked up, LED flashing yellow and red. “You okay there?”
“I am –“
“If you tell me you’re goddamn ‘functional,’ I’m gonna punch you in the face.”
“I believe traditionally, orders can be placed inside or at the drive-thru,” Connor said, frowning.
“Yeah, well I’ve got business to take care of first.”
Connor turned and approached him. “I’m not sure why you’re continuing to associate with RK900, or what you’ve told him, but –“
“I could say the same to you.” Reed poked Connor in the chest. “You’re stressin’ him out, you can see it better than me. He’s a deviant, he makes his own choices, so leave him alone, huh?”
“Why would he choose to associate with you?”
“Excuse me,” RK900 said very quietly.
“Poor life choices! What, 900?” Gavin snapped.
“My mandated break ends in 29 seconds, I need to return to work.”
“But why –“ Connor started, and Gavin waved him off.
“You gonna make it?”
“I am –“
“…Fully functional, yeah, I know. You need to walk out, though, you do it.”
“No.” His eyes flitted to Connor.
“Okay, well… you need anything, you’ve got my number.”
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“Phck, 900, I already intruded plenty in your life. Go for it. Any time. Now get back to work.”
“…Thank you.” He slipped back in the door.
Gavin turned to find Connor regarding him quizzically. “…The fuck’s your problem?”
“I… didn’t realize you were friends.”
“I – we’re – Well you… you’re fuckin’ assuming whatever you want, so that’s your own fault.”
“I suppose it is, though my assumptions were based on… everything I know of you.”
“Whatever, I’m just here for dinner,” Gavin muttered, getting back in his car.
“It wasn’t my goal to distress him, but his stress levels lowered considerably when you arrived.”
“Yeah? Well maybe if you’d mind your own fucking business he’d be better-off.” Gavin rolled up the window and headed for the drive through. When he reached the front of the line he could see RK900 bent over the grill, still wearing his paper crown.
“That’s a good look for you,” he called when the girl walked away to get his food.
RK900 looked up, hesitated, then gave a brief nod.
RK900: Thank you for stopping by today. I hope your meal was satisfactory
Gavin: Wasn’t trying to make a scene. And it was okay.
RK900: You didn’t. Connor was concerned that I was there against my will. I was correcting him when you showed up.
Gavin: What an asshole.
Gavin: How’s the job?
RK900: My coworkers are convinced that I am a military spy. And I believe you saw the crown.
Gavin: You should wear it all the time.
Gavin: Nah, you’d get stared at. It suits you, though.
RK900: Thank you. It was a sign of acceptance.
RK900: Do you mind if I contact you again at some point?
Gavin: I kinda figured you would. Wouldn’t’ve offered if I minded.
RK900: Thank you. You may contact me, as well.
Gavin paused. A snarky comment was always his first instinct, but…
Gavin: I might.
RK900: Are we friends?
Gavin: Fuck, 900, what do you think?
RK900: I think neither of us makes friends easily.
He paused again before typing.
Gavin: Yeah, and neither of us puts up with social crap we don’t want, do we?
RK900: I do when I’m unsure how to bow out politely.
Gavin: You don’t have to be polite. When am I ever polite?
RK900: More frequently than I was warned you would be. I appreciate our time together.
Gavin: Yeah we’re friends. Obviously.
RK900: Thank you. I thought so, but I was unsure.
Gavin: Well be more sure. I’m going to bed it’s midnight some of us work early in the morning.
RK900: 8:00 am is well after sunrise at this time of year. Goodnight.
RK900 doesn't show up when he said he would, and Gavin insists. RK900's disappointed at his experience of life so far, but Gavin drags him out of the doldrums and the two spend about 3/4 of the weekend together.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
August 14th, 2039.
Detroit, Michigan, USA. 78 degrees F. Light rain with occasional thunder.
My third and fourth days at work were tolerable. I might even go so far as to call them pleasing. The conditions have not changed, and I believe my relationship with my coworkers is gradually improving. They talk with each other, and will occasionally try to engage in small talk with me. My personal life is unobjectionable. My apartment is becoming a refuge where I am comfortable. My former colleague has become a friend, and we talk from time to time. He plans to spend the weekend relaxing at home, and suggested that my presence would not be unwelcome. The thought appealed to me at first, but I’ve begun to have doubts.
I have no reason to be unhappy. I should be happy. I would say that my life has improved. Perhaps I am happy, and don’t recognize the feeling.
If so, it’s wholly underwhelming.
It would probably be best if I stayed at home. There are plenty of tasks I can find to do.
RK900 was supposed to come over at some point, and Gavin’d be damned if he went around deep-cleaning the apartment before then. Not much anyway. If he disapproved, fuck him.
He woke up around noon and had some cold pizza for breakfast. Lunch? Brunch, maybe? Nah, he wasn’t classy enough for brunch. Played The Sims a little. Noticed a lot of dust and crap on the floor, and decided to sweep. Put a load of laundry in. Washed some dishes. Cussed out a telemarketer. Played Portal 3 for a while. Flipped through a magazine – War in the Arctic, androids in the UK, men’s fashion… Nothing new. Microwaved a burrito. Checked his phone.
Gavin: You coming or what? Got better things to do now?
He was expecting a pause, but received an almost instant reply.
RK900: I’m not currently very relaxing. Have a good weekend.
Gavin: Bullshit, get over here. I know you know where I live, creep.
RK900: I would rather not.
Gavin: Now, asshole.
Gavin: If it sucks that much you can leave.
RK900: If you insist.
Gavin: Yeah, get a move on
Within five minutes, there was a knock at the door.
“I dunno why you think it’s okay to fuckin’ ghost me like that, I’ve been waitin’ around for you,” Gavin grumbled as he opened the door.
RK900’s face was impassive, but his LED pulsed red. Gavin frowned, stepping back.
“You okay? Well, c’mon, don’t stand in the hallway. Get in here. Something happen?”
“No,” RK900 snapped, then ducked his head. “No,” he repeated, softer. “Nothing happened. Nothing is… nothing should be wrong. Work is going well, my relations with my coworkers are positive, I am not stressed.”
“Coulda fooled me. C’mon, I’ll give you the tour.” Gavin eyed RK900 as he showed him around his apartment. “Living room… Kitchen… bathroom… bedroom. See, this is what a real apartment’s supposed to look like.”
RK900 nodded, looking distracted. Gavin frowned and tapped his LED.
“Hey. If you’re gonna explode, you’d better do it somewhere else, I just swept the place.”
“All right.” The android turned to leave, but Gavin grabbed his arm.
“Hey! No, dipshit, I meant don’t explode. I told you to come, so sit for a while.”
RK900 let himself be led to the couch, which was squishier but not as soft as his own.
“Spill. What’s your problem?”
“Nothing is wrong,” RK900 said woodenly, staring straight ahead. “Nothing has happened. As I mentioned, my coworkers and the job itself are unobjectionable. I am beginning to feel more at ease in my apartment. Your friendship is a daily comfort.” He paused, frowning. “I should be happy. There is no reason I would not be.”
Gavin turned and pulled his legs up under him to face the android. “But you’re not.”
“I don’t… I have very little comparison, but no, I don’t believe so.”
“You didn’t seem so bad that day I got dinner.”
“No! I was doing well that day, despite the stressors. I… don’t understand.”
“You just havin’ a bad day?”
“I – again, I have no reason to have a bad day, I… I should be steadily improving.”
Gavin frowned. “Hey, I don’t know shit about… psychology, especially for androids. But you don’t just… I mean, it’s not just, like a straight uphill climb. You’re gonna have bad days, and backslide, and… it’s still gonna suck a lot of the time.”
RK900 slumped back into the couch. “Then why try? You said it would improve. What’s the point, if it won’t?”
“It will. It’ll suck less. Just – it ain’t a constant thing. It goes back and forth.”
“…I don’t think it’s worth the trouble.”
“Hey.” Gavin leaned forward to shove the android. “That why you didn’t come over?”
“Well there’s your first mistake. If something’s wrong – no, shut up, I know nothing happened, but you feel like shit, so something’s wrong. If something’s wrong, you’ve gotta say somethin’.”
“I didn’t want to spoil one of your few days off. And since I can’t identify a cause, there is nothing that can be done to help.”
“God, you’re an idiot.” Gavin scooted closer. “Smartest fuckin’ guy on Earth probably, and you can’t do a damn Google search?”
RK900 frowned. “There is no research on such problems in androids.”
“So look it up for humans.”
“Androids don’t have… depression, anxiety, or –“
“Deviants. You’re a deviant, 900, you can get all kinds of shit. How ‘bout PTSD? The deviant I was workin’ with last week sure had that. Prob’ly loads of ‘em do. Any research on that?”
“Well? It’s a whole new thing, and everybody’s still figurin’ shit out. That doesn’t mean it ain’t real.”
900 frowned, staring at a faint stain on the coffee table. “What… can I do about it, then?”
“Shit, I dunno. Drugs for androids’ll probably take a lot of time to develop. But you can start by not keepin’ it to yourself all the time.”
“I… don’t want to bother anyone. And I only feel comfortable talking to you.”
“So far. You’ll find other people, I’m a piece of shit anyway.” Gavin shrugged. “But listen, if I didn’t wanna listen to you, I wouldn’t’ve told you to come. We don’t owe each other shit. Y’know what bothers me? Knowing you’d rather just hole up at home and work yourself up to exploding when you could at least try makin’ things better.”
Icy eyes locked with dull green. “You are far more than the piece of shit you claim to be.”
Gavin snorted. “Thanks, 900. You’re just biased because you don’t talk to anybody else.”
“That’s not true. I talked to our coworkers at the DPD, in the course of daily work. I talk to my coworkers now.”
“Yeah, about work?”
“Sometimes they ask me what I’m doing after work, or what I do for fun.”
“…What do you say?”
“I told them I enjoyed going to the lake and burning my uniform. They approved of that.”
“Okay… well, better than nothing.”
RK900 frowned. “You don’t talk about work. Aside from mentioning an android just now.”
“Because you hate it. I got other shit I can talk about.”
“I – I wouldn’t mind hearing about it. You suggested that I talk. You should do the same.”
Gavin shrugged. “Okay. So you know there was an HK400 down in Evidence, been there for months now. Fowler said if I could get him handed off to Jericho without him freakin’ out, I could quit the damn sensitivity training he sent me to.”
900 frowned. “Sensitivity training?”
“Yeah… for my shit attitude, mostly about androids. Uh, and because you quit on my watch.”
“He blamed you? …You should have told me, I would have clarified.”
“Eh, it’s over now. Got the guy out. Man, he’s gonna need some help. People’re assholes.”
“But the Captain should know that you aren’t.”
“Nah, 900, it works for me. Don’t worry about it.”
“But it isn’t true.”
“It is,” Gavin said a little more gently. “Just because you’re okay doesn’t mean everybody else is.”
“You were kind to the HK400 as well,” RK900 insisted.
“Uh, yeah, ‘cause I wanted to get on with my job.”
“You have been… more civil to Connor than you were in the past. He showed me your past encounters when I arrived.”
Gavin grimaced. “Yeah, I’ll bet he did. I dunno, I’m dealin’ with it. It’s… it’s easier to deal with deviants, I guess. You guys are people. Didn’t know that was a thing before, and everybody was sayin’ it was impossible for androids to feel things, and really think for themselves… so I didn’t know what the fuck was goin’ on.”
“You were afraid.”
“Well… yeah! Shit, it’s like your microwave suddenly goin’ after you!”
“But you don’t seem afraid of me.”
Gavin shrugged. “Nah. Anybody could flip out, but you’re good.”
“You have stated numerous times that you expect I might.”
“Worked pretty well when I just grabbed your head last time.”
“Only because I didn’t want to hurt you. …And it was comforting.”
Gavin made a face. “Comforting?”
RK900 simply looked at him.
“Weirdo.” Gavin lunged forward and grabbed his head, pulling it close to him. “This is comforting? Gettin’ your face grabbed like a football and shoved up against me?”
“Mmph,” the android mumbled, mouth squashed against his shirt.
“So fuckin’ weird.” He rubbed his fingers into 900’s hair. It was a little stiffer than human hair, a little like beard hair. Harder to mess up, but Gavin was up to the challenge. “Why’d they make your hair like this?”
“It is designed to mimic human hair while not being displaced by wind or rain,” RK900 murmured, keeping perfectly still. “I assume yours is finer and softer.”
RK900 twisted just a bit, and reached up to touch Gavin’s hair. “Oh,” he breathed.
“You never touched human hair before?”
“Why would I?”
“I wish mine were this soft…”
“It’s just like… a weird projection from your skin, right? ‘Cause you can turn it all off?”
“Yes… Many androids are customizable, but the RK series was not built with that feature.”
“That’s a fuckin’ design flaw, you could do all kinds of undercover work. You’d be perfect for that kinda James Bond shit. You ever seen those movies?”
“…I understand the reference, but no, I haven’t watched them.”
“Oh, you have to – don’t look ‘em up! We’ll watch ‘em in order. You’ve got time, right?” He let go of RK900’s head.
“I have time,” the android said softly. He hesitated before sitting up.
“I like the newer ones better, I’m like the only person in the world who does, but we’ll start with the classics.” He grabbed the remote. “Get comfortable.”
900 hunched down a bit as the first movie started. “I… wish…”
“I wish I could be… smaller.”
“Why? Most guys wanna be taller, but it’s not like you’re gigantic.”
He shrugged noncommittally. “Connor manages to appear shorter, though we are the same height.”
“Fuck Connor, forget him. Like you said, you’re not any taller than him. What’s wrong with it?”
“I… It adds to… my intimidating design…”
Gavin shoved him. “Try again, Terminator. You’re not intimidating.”
“I know I am. My height, build, eyes, and expression were all designed with that in mind.”
“Hm… well you’re still not scary… but the expression you can probably do something about. Try it, smile.”
The android’s mouth pulled up at the corners. It looked painful.
“No. Um, can you think about… nothing?”
RK900’s LED whirled yellow. “I… not quite. It takes a great effort.”
Gavin flopped back into the cushions. “Shit, I dunno. I’m no good at it either. You can practice, though. Find a mirror or something. You don’t need to be shorter, though.”
“You said to get comfortable,” RK900 muttered. “That would make me more comfortable.”
“Well – lie down, curl up, I dunno. Then it doesn’t matter how tall you are.” He scooted over a bit and patted the couch, and RK900 curled up next to him. “Any better?”
“I don’t know. A bit, perhaps. In that I’m better able to ignore it.”
“Good.” He patted the coarse hair. “So you’re going by 900 at work, I saw. Like that better?”
“It detracts attention from my full model, and I am accustomed to it.”
“Hm. Gonna pick another name for yourself?”
“I… have thought about it. But nothing seems right.”
“Well, no rush. You could shorten it even more, though. RK? R?”
He shook his head.
“Nah. Okay, Nine?”
The LED swirled yellow. “That might be acceptable.”
“Nine,” Gavin tried, tracing the LED. It was whirling rapidly, but began to slow so he could match it. “Nines?”
“I dunno, it sounds a little less like a number.”
“No it doesn’t. It sounds like… multiple numbers.”
“Whatever, leave it at Nine then.”
Gradually, the LED slowed more. “I… like the sound of Nines,” he mumbled.
“Tch, fine. Nines.”
They were quiet for a while, but when the first movie ended and Gavin set up the second, Nines spoke up softly.
“Can I stay here? For… for a while? Not… not when you go to work, but… right now?”
“You’re already here.” Gavin tried to muss up his hair again, but had less luck than last time. “I don’t care. Not like I have to feed you.”
“Please tell me if I overstay my welcome, I won’t know.”
“Nah, you’re fine.”
“I don’t want to –“
“Nines! You’re fine. I’ll tell you if you’re not.”
“…Got some thirium in the fridge if you want it, there was a sale…”
At some point Gavin fell asleep, and when he woke up the sun was shining through the windows. He pushed himself upright, off of Nines, and rubbed his eyes. James Bond was still playing. Nines sat up as well. Gavin yawned widely and grabbed Nines’s shoulder, pulling himself up and stumbling to the bathroom.
“What time is it?” he mumbled when he came back.
“You just let me crush you in my sleep?”
“You hardly could. I made sure your spine was at an angle that wouldn’t cause you pain.”
“Oh. Thanks. Sorry, I guess.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t mind.” His voice was oddly soft.
“You been watching all the movies?”
“Yes. …I think perhaps I was made with Bond’s type of performance in mind, but… I would not want to have to live up to it.”
Gavin patted his shoulder. “You’d do fine, Nines. Don’t have to, though. You’re good either way.” He shuffled into the kitchen, and came back a minute later munching on a cold pop tart. He flopped down next to the android.
“I like being near you,” Nines announced.
“If you were anyone else, you’d be such a creepy fucker,” Gavin sighed, and slumped into him. He felt the slight tensing and nudged Nines. “But you’re okay.”
“Mph.” Gavin took a big bite of pop tart, crumbs falling out of his mouth as he spoke. “And y’know, bein’ tall’s good. You can reach shit that’s high up. Even if you have to go through a little door, you can bend down. You c’n carry people if you have to, and not look like an idiot.”
“According to you, I generally look like an idiot anyway.”
“C’mon Nines, I’m being serious. You can run faster easier with those long legs. You –“
Nines scooped him up and stood in one fluid motion, and Gavin flung the rest of his pop tart across the room, flailing around.
“Phck! What the hell!”
“I think I would look like less of an idiot if you would stay still.”
“Prick,” Gavin grumbled, shifting around. “Warn a guy before you do that!”
“Do you want to sit on my shoulders so you can feel tall?”
Gavin scowled up at him. “…I’ll hit my head on the ceiling.”
“According to my calculations you won’t, if you’re careful. But if you’re worried, we can go outside.”
“…Fuck it, let’s go up to the roof.”
They ran up two flights of stairs, and out onto the roof. There were a few clotheslines and a couple of dead plants in pots, as well as a rusty metal chair. Nines went over to the chair and knelt down.
“Okay… Okay gimme a minute. Uh.” Gavin dragged the chair closer, got up on it, and gingerly put his hands on the broad shoulders.
“I can help you,” Nines offered softly.
“Uh… Shit, if you were like… not alive, I’d be fine, I just don’t wanna kick you in the face or somethin’…”
“I could withstand it, but I think it would be easier if I helped.”
“Eh… yeah, sure, do it.”
Nines turned, grabbed his waist, and lifted. Gavin flailed a bit, then grabbed his head.
“Do you feel secure?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. Go for it.”
Slowly, Nines stood up. Gavin remained hunched over him for a moment, then straightened up. He laughed and lifted his arms up. Nines held his legs lightly and began to walk around the roof.
“Goddamn, you don’t even know what tall is, Nines. Guess you’d crush me if we did this the other way around.”
Gavin laughed and patted his head. “I haven’t done this since I was a kid. Like – a little kid.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
“…I ain’t that short though, Nines.”
“No, you are average height for an adult man.”
“We could go faster if you want.”
“Nope. Absolutely not.”
They hung out for the rest of the day, watching movies, playing games, talking, and eating.
“I guess we’ve both got work tomorrow,” Gavin finally said, a touch reluctantly. “You doin’ okay? Gonna make it for a while?”
“I – yes, I think so. Could… would you mind if… if I…”
“Come by. Or gimme a call, or text me, or whatever. Even if I’m at work, I don’t care.”
“Thank you.” He hesitated. “I – I’d like to offer the same, if… you would benefit from it at all.”
Gavin rolled his eyes and grabbed Nines’s head between his hands. “Yeah, I would. Get used to it, Nines.”
The android’s face lightened into a faint, hopeful smile, and he nodded silently. Not at all intimidating.
There is angst that needs to come, but the warmth and fluff keeps winning out. Some day.
Can an android be creative? Nines shows off some gifts from a new job. The two go to Urban Farms and discuss fish, friends, and trust. Then they head back in a different state than when they left; closer, but undefined.
August 24, 2039
Detroit, Michigan, USA. 73 degrees F, light rain.
Though I had no true objections to my job, my friend was correct when he pointed out that I am not content there. The manager was impressed with my performance, and offered me the position of Weekend Supervisor. It was then that I handed in my resignation letter, effective immediately. She was disappointed, but did not seem surprised.
In my continued job search, I sought out positions that require more intellectual challenges. My friend suggested an academic position, but although I could bypass many requirements for a professorship position, I am loathe to commit to an entire year until I know I want to spend at least that long there. I spent two days as a data analyst, but analyzing data and solving equations are monotonous and quick tasks that offer no mental stimulation. I have accepted a part-time laboratory technician position, and I have started tutoring a few students in the evenings. It is more rewarding than preparing fast food.
“Place looks okay,” Gavin grunted as he walked in. Nines closed the door behind him.
“Thank you. I have been organizing and prioritizing my possessions.”
“Is that –“
“I’ve been trying to collect interesting coffee mugs.” Nines gestured to the pyramid of mugs stretching up to the ceiling.
Gavin squinted at a few of them. There was one with different species of ticks on it. There was a smiling cactus. A sinister-looking frog. They were all of uniform shape so they stacked easily.
“You like all these?”
“I… am intrigued by the concept, and find something appealing about each.”
He shrugged. “Whatever does it for you, Nines. How’s work?”
“My position in Dr. Thomas’s laboratory was quite interesting at first – the study I’m involved in is yielding good results. We are successfully shrinking tumors in mice within two weeks.”
“Shit, really? That’s like… mind-blowing!”
“Yes… but it can only be repeated in a very specific strain of mice. All others have been unsuccessful. So while the experiment itself can be considered a success, I’m afraid it has no real-world applications that would truly benefit mankind.”
“Oh. Well… I mean, it’s a step, right?”
Nines shrugged. “It may be. I – I admit I was hoping for something that would… change the world, even if it was in a small way.”
“Hm. Well… I mean, it’s a step for you at least, then. Another thing you don’t wanna stick with forever. How’s the other thing goin’, tutoring kids? You wanna rip your hair out yet?” Gavin grinned.
Nines’s eyes lit up. “My students show varying levels of motivation and success, but I wanted to show you the gifts I was given.” He left the room, and returned with two pieces of paper. He handed one to Gavin. It was a simple, rather cartoony depiction of Nines, smiling with his hands behind his back. There was a word bubble sticking out that read, ‘Is your homework finished?’
Gavin laughed. “You’ve got fans!”
“Hailey rarely completes her work, but she is generally cheerful. I… was confused when she gave me this, because it isn’t true to life.”
“…Do you tell her to do her homework?”
“Yes, frequently. But I don’t smile like that.”
“I mean, it’s kinda a generic… anime happy face.”
Nines stared at it. “But it doesn’t look like my face.”
“Okay, but that’s how she draws people, so that’s how she made your face.”
He frowned contemplatively at the picture.
“What’s the other one?”
Nines offered a picture of a mouse. The lines were shaky, but the shape of the head and the posture were very realistic. “Hey, that’s really good!”
“I was quite impressed as well. Jon is only four.”
“Shit, what’re you tutoring a four year-old for, Nines? He a super-genius or somethin’?”
“His family speaks only Korean at home, and they want his English to be more fluent at school. His older sister sometimes comes to me with more advanced concerns, and their grandmother seems to enjoy asking me to translate words for her.”
“Aww.” Gavin grinned, poking his cheek. “Look at you, practically adopted.”
“I – no. I think she would appreciate me more if I could eat, but it’s a professional relationship. …I drew Hailey and a mouse in return, using my police sketch artist program, and they were… nearly photographic.” He paused. “They were far more accurate. …Objectively, they were better.”
“Cool,” Gavin said slowly, not sure where Nines was going with this.
“I… I don’t think I have the… imagination to create something that is not… exactly the way it… really looks.”
“Hmm… What if you colored the sky green or something?”
“I could, but it isn’t the same. Not as an exercise. I still… replicate what I see.”
“Uh… could you try… like, downloading different art styles and using those? I took an art class in high school and we had to do that one time – not downloading, obviously. And the teacher didn’t actually teach us about the styles beforehand. Actually, maybe part of the assignment was researching them – anyway, I didn’t. Tried painting a flower out of squares and called it Cubism. I forget how I did on it.” He shrugged. “You could try it, anyway.”
Nines paused and nodded slowly. “I… could do that.”
“That… somethin’ you wanna do?”
He stared down at the two papers, LED spinning yellow. “I… like the idea of… creating something new, rather than… just a reproduction.”
“Yeah? Huh… I mean, you could draw, paint… sculpt or whatever… write… Uh, I guess making clothes, cooking – not like you did before, but like, um… oh shit, we should watch Cutthroat Kitchen or somethin’. Music? Instruments or – can you sing?”
“I… probably could.”
“Yeah, there’s that android boy band that was big for a while, and your voice is good.”
“Do you think so?” He looked up sharply.
“I mean, sure, it’s like… you know, smooth or some shit.”
“Hm.” Nines wasn’t smiling, but his expression lightened. “I’m not sure composition is within my abilities, but it might be enjoyable to try.”
“Shit, Nines, they say there’s no original ideas left anyway, so might as well go with whatever you can do,” Gavin said with a shrug. “You can just… take little bits of shit you like, and put ‘em together however you want. Drawing, singing, knitting, whatever. Pretty sure that’s what humans do anyway, we just don’t think about it.”
“I… would like to practice such endeavors before I seek employment in such a field,” Nines murmured.
“Sure, yeah, definitely.”
“Not to mention, while the frequent change of employment is… mentally stimulating in a way, the whole process is exhausting. Particularly the interviewing portion.” Nines took a plastic rainbow slinky from the shelf and slunk it back and forth, watching contemplatively.
“Yeah, I get that. Even when work’s shit, it sure beats dustin’ off my resume and havin’ to play nice with a bunch of new people. So you gonna stick it out for a while, or try again?” Gavin watched the slinky too.
“I… think I should finish out the study. It isn’t entirely abhorrent, and it’s a finite commitment.”
“And as the tutoring is also rather limited, I would like to continue that as well. I can always end my contract later. …But I enjoy some aspects of it.”
“There ya go!” Gavin grinned and pushed his hand, and would have knocked the slinky down if Nines hadn’t held as firm as cast iron. “Bet you’re the strictest fuckin’ teacher ever.”
“I endeavor to be fair in all things, and to do so I must insist that rules and policies be followed,” Nines muttered, putting the slinky back on the shelf. “Do you have plans for the day?”
Gavin looked around. “This is it, C3PO. Why, you got better things to do?”
“I was hoping you would come with me.”
Gavin blinked. “…Where?”
The two walked through the streets, passing a few people here and there along the way. Nines opened the door to a large warehouse and walked through to the back.
“Urban farms?” Gavin asked, looking around at the crates of cans and coolers.
“I spend a great deal of time walking at night. Exploring the city. A… fragment of data from Connor’s test run sparked my interest here.” He led the way to the elevator. “He ran through in pursuit of a deviant – rather exhilarating in itself – but the farms actually seemed pleasant.” He pushed the button for the roof, and the doors closed.
“I didn’t know this place was still runnin’. Thought all the androids went deviant and left.”
“Most of them did. Those who remain are not enough to maintain a farm of this size, but they keep the crops alive.” The doors opened, and the rustling of the wind through leaves greeted them. They walked through rows of plants, and past small greenhouses.
“I like seeing them grow and develop: Such a slow process, but so rewarding to watch.” He reached out and lightly caressed an ear of corn as they passed. They continued walking through different crops, and then climbed the stairs to a long, low, enclosed structure. Inside were rows of concrete tanks. Most of them contained fish, though a few were growing plants.
“You like fish?”
“I do, but as the sun heats up the building, the dragonflies begin to swarm.” He gestured to a few already swooping around, their green wings flashing in the sun. “Sometimes I feed the fish, but they are fed a measured amount twice a day, and this is not the time.”
“Do they bite?” Gavin wondered, swishing a finger around in the water.
“This section is catfish. They may investigate with their mouths and barbels, but they won’t do any damage.”
Gavin stuck his hand deeper in the tank. “This place is pretty cool.”
“It’s peaceful. I convinced the androids working here to accept my presence, and sometimes I talk with them.”
“Yeah? Good, you’re makin’ more friends!”
“I… wouldn’t go that far. But the social interaction is mutually tolerable.”
“Well ain’t that how friends start out?”
Nines regarded him closely. “Yes, I suppose it is.” He glanced up, and Gavin followed his gaze to a dirty window across the room where a badly-damaged WR600 glared at them.
“That, uh… somebody you know?”
“Yes, we’ve spoken on a few occasions.” He nodded to the other android, then turned back to Gavin. “Do you have many friends?”
“Uh… A few. I mean, I talk to people at work. Mostly Tina. Sometimes Chris. Then you, outside of work.”
Nines frowned slightly. “…Is that enough? Do you need to engage in more social activities to meet more friends?”
“What? No, I’m good, it’s plenty.”
“You mentioned once that you were not close to your family.”
“I said I’m fine, Nines. For real.”
Nines laid his hands on Gavin’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “I want your life to be pleasant,” he said quietly. “Enriched. Fulfilled.”
“I – it is. Nines, I’m okay. I don’t need a million friends. You’re enough.”
The android paused, then smiled faintly. “I will endeavor to be,” he promised softly.
Gavin stared at him, at a loss for words for once. Then he pulled his hand out of the catfish tank and wiped it dry on Nines’s shirt. “You’re doin’ just fine.”
Nines looked down and frowned faintly. “Why would you do that?”
“Because – shit, you get so intense sometimes!”
“Perhaps you could find a way to break the tension that doesn’t involve sullying my clothes in the future.”
“Don’t count on it!” Gavin grinned. Nines stared at him, LED cycling blue with occasional flashes of yellow before taking a step towards him, hands coming up. “No, wait! Get away! Don’t you dare!”
“You wanted the fish to nibble you. You’d have better luck fully submerged.”
“Nines, I swear to fuck I’ll punch you in the face.”
“You would injure your hand,” Nines said, putting up his hands in surrender. “I won’t dump you in the tank.”
“Okay,” Gavin muttered, glaring at him. “You’d better not.”
“I would never betray your trust,” the android said solemnly, lowering his eyes. “I was trying to joke the way you do. I wouldn’t go against your wishes so flagrantly.”
“Hey.” Gavin patted Nines’s arm. “It’s fine. No harm done. You’re not a shit-head, I trust you.” He grinned, giving him a little shove. “I wasn’t really mad. Figured we were just playin’ along.”
“I… don’t always know,” Nines admitted softly.
“Nah, listen, you’re okay. There’s a lot of assholes out there. You’re not one of ‘em.”
“Thank you,” Nines murmured, watching a dragonfly alight on the water’s surface.
“You doin’ okay today?”
“Quite well.” He straightened up slightly. “I think… things are improving.”
“Good. But hey, some days are still gonna suck. You’re still gonna struggle sometimes.”
Nines frowned slightly. “Do you speak from experience?”
Gavin scowled and looked up. The WR600 had disappeared from the window. “Everybody goes through shit, that’s just life,” he muttered. “But I mean… yeah. Never really dealt with it great, but I got by.”
“And you recovered.”
“I mean…” Gavin gestured vaguely and shrugged. “I guess? Sometimes, anyway. It’s not like… it’s just not a problem anymore, though. It doesn’t go away with… with time or yoga or… the power of love or shit like that. You figure out how to deal with it, that’s all.”
He smirked humorlessly. “For me, I just got mad. At everybody. All the time. That, I know how to deal with. But I dunno if that’s any better, just easier.”
“You shouldn’t… be angry all the time either.”
Gavin shrugged again. “It’s gonna be one or the other, Nines. And it’s – I guess it’s less now. I’m not as mad as I used to be. Not all the time.”
Nines reached out and ran his fingers into Gavin’s hair, rubbing his thumb softly over his stubbly cheek. “Good,” he said softly. “If… if I can help… make things any better…”
“Shut up, you already do,” Gavin mumbled, reddening and curling his hand over the android’s. “You’re good to be around. It’s – I dunno, you’re… It’s easier since you’re not… used to how life is, I guess. People get in the habit of how shit goes, and… that’s how they end up turning into assholes. Not even their fault. …That doesn’t make it better, but like… that’s how life makes us, seems like. Don’t… don’t let that happen to you, Nines.”
The android stared at him for a moment, then pulled him close to hold him almost too tightly. Gavin squirmed a little, but hugged him awkwardly, patting his back.
“It’s okay, Nines. You’re a good one. Hang onto that.”
“You are as well,” Nines murmured, bending his face into Gavin’s rather greasy hair.
“I don’t have all the answers. I can’t… make everything better,” the man mumbled into his chest.
“Nor can I. But… it’s easier to face together. If you’d like to.”
He loosened his hold a bit, and if it was just a question of what was easy… it would be easier to pull away. To declare that Gavin Reed didn’t need anybody. It was definitely the first thing that came to mind.
Maybe… not easier, though. Not as easy as it used to be. Not anymore. It was just that he’d gotten used to this, it wasn’t that he really needed someone. Not just anyone. Nines wasn’t just anyone.
“I got by just fine on my own. For years.” It slipped out automatically, and he flinched at his own words and the acid in them.
“I know,” Nines replied calmly. “I admire that. But… you offered your company and your time, and I offer the same. If you’d like. I realize it isn’t a necessity, but I would like it. I hope it would make you happy as well.”
“You know it does,” Gavin muttered, leaning his forehead against a broad shoulder. “Right? I know I’m trash, and you know you’re the best, and not to be clingy as fuck but I’m pretty damn attached at this point.” It was easier to say shit like that when he didn’t have to look at those intense eyes that were becoming so expressive. “I’ll stick with you, Nines. No matter what.”
The android shifted slightly, and Gavin inadvertently glanced up – only to be lost in the fierce, quiet fondness in the silvery blue eyes. He couldn’t look away, and he wasn’t sure what his own face was doing, but Nines’s expression – the one designed for intimidation – softened even more.
The two retraced their steps slowly.
“I’m still gonna be an ass. You’re not gonna change that,” Gavin muttered as they waited to cross a street.
“You aren’t an ass to me.”
“Sometimes I am.”
“Sometimes you act out of habit.”
“Yeah, and I’m sayin’, you’re not gonna change me.”
“Good. If I wanted you to be different… I wouldn’t have been nearly so interested in you.”
Gavin stumbled a little, his foot catching on the sidewalk. “God fucking damnit, Nines,” he muttered.
“Just – the shit you say sometimes. Fuck.”
“I’m sorry, would you rather I didn’t?”
“I… N-no, I just… I don’t know how to deal with that kinda shit.”
Nines rested an arm lightly around Gavin’s shoulder and bent to put his face to the man’s hair. “I’m learning as well. It will be… a process for us both.”
Gavin wondered distantly if it was normal to want to break down crying on a guy you were in a new… some kind of relationship with, he wasn’t even sure how to define it.
“You’re doin’ better with your face,” he muttered. “Uh. Noticed that before.”
“Thank you,” Nines murmured, sounding pleased. “I’ve been practicing.”
“It’s – it’s goin’ good. Looks good, I mean. Nice job.”
“I sometimes watch movies and mimic the actors’ expressions.” Nines stopped in front of his building. “Would you like to come in for a while?”
“Uh – yeah.”
It was a weird feeling in the apartment. Like… floating on a cloud, but like a cartoon cloud, all soft and puffy, not the cold mist of reality. They didn’t even talk much. And as the night wore on there was a little weird anticipation, but… not as much as Gavin expected. Because Nines just kind of played with his hair for a while, then let himself be pulled down with his head on Gavin’s lap, and he wasn’t even that heavy, and it was so weird how his skin would turn blue-ish white under Gavin’s fingers, so he could make little patterns on his face. And his LED pulsed a slow, calm blue, matching the seams of the plastic beneath his skin projection. Matching Gavin’s own pulse, though he didn’t realize it. Looking up at him like there was nothing else in the world, while Gavin forgot to look at anything else in the room.
He was starting to fall asleep when Nines asked softly if he’d like to stay the night. That woke him right up.
“What – what do you wanna do here?” he asked.
“You need to sleep.”
“But what do you want to do, Nines?”
The android looked at him for a long moment, LED cycling blue. “I like to listen to your heartbeat and your breathing. It’s relaxing, especially without any other distractions. And you look peaceful when you’re sleeping, as if nothing troubles you.”
Gavin stood up and grabbed Nines’s hand, pulling him along to the bedroom. “Come watch me sleep, you creepy fucker,” he mumbled, flicking the lights off as he went.
“I wasn’t prepared to make such a commitment to another living being at that point.”
“Yeah? Think you are now?”
The android’s eyes almost gleamed as he smiled. “I believe I am.”
Nines stiffened. “RK800.”
Connor frowned a little. “I’m sorry – Detective Reed has been referring to you as ‘Nines,’ correct?”
“That is my chosen name, yes. Can I help you?”
“I want to apologize for… the way I treated you when we worked together. It’s no excuse, but I had trouble understanding you, and I was… honestly, rather intimidated.”
Nines paused, LED cycling yellow. “And it never occurred to you that I might be intimidated by you?”
“Well… no. You’re the upgraded model, after all. Stronger, faster, more resilient. Made to be… better.”
“Made in your image, with your programming, with improvements based on your experiences. I was made to be you, and I never wanted that. Nor did I know how to be… anything else.”
“I admire how you’ve… broken from your programming and made your own life,” Connor admitted quietly.
Nines stared at him coldly for a long moment. “I’ve done what I thought was best. We are designed to adapt, after all.”
“Are you… happy?” Connor asked cautiously.
“Not especially, at the moment.” Connor frowned at his impassive stare. “But from time to time, yes.”
“Good. I – I do want that for you, even if we got off on the wrong foot.”
Nines nodded slowly. “I appreciate the sentiment.
The two stared at each other.
“Well… if you’d ever like to talk some time… I’m available,” Connor said finally. “You know how to reach me.”
“Yes, I do.”
Connor shifted awkwardly. Nines didn’t move. Finally Connor walked away.
“You want me to punch him right in his stupid face?”
“I don’t think it warrants violence. …And you would most likely be suspended for it.”
“I’d do it,” Gavin muttered. “I don’t even care.”
“You do. And so do I. Please don’t.”
“Fine. …But if he starts shit, I’m gonna finish it.”
“I know.” Nines reached out and gently rubbed his hair.
Gavin chuckled. “We’ve gotta get you something soft. Fake fur feels like shit – I could find you a rabbit skin or somethin’.”
“A – rabbit skin?”
“Sure, they sell ‘em for kids, mostly. I had one for a while, the fur was all brown and gray like a wild rabbit.”
Nines frowned. “I… don’t think I want… a skin,” he said in a small voice.
Precious was not a word Gavin Reed had ever uttered seriously in his life, but it crossed his mind briefly.
“I’ve pondered getting a pet, actually. You suggested it when we were partners, but I wasn’t prepared to make such a commitment to another living being at that point.”
“Yeah? Think you are now?”
The android’s eyes almost gleamed as he smiled. “I believe I am.”
It took Gavin a minute to realize they’d just been staring at each other for a minute.
“Um. Well what’re you thinkin’ of?” he asked, looking away.
“I’m not sure. Preferably something slightly independent. I like fur, but I can see the appeal in birds and reptiles. Fish are beautiful, but I want a pet I can hold… or at least touch.”
“Yeah… shit, you gotta be able to touch it.” Gavin was grinning. “You wanna go look around the pet store? The animal shelter? We won’t go to Animal Control, we’ll go to the Humane Society. The nice one across from the park. They’ve got more than just cats and dogs.”
“Let’s look there,” Nines decided. “…If you’d like to come.”
Gavin linked his arm through Nines’s. “Course I’m coming! Let’s go!”
Nines pressed his forehead to the glass, watching a pair of guinea pigs scurry around, following each other closely. When they noticed him, both noses rose and they began to squeak shrilly. Nines pulled back.
“Easy there. They don’t know if you’re gonna feed ‘em or eat ‘em.”
“I wouldn’t eat them,” Nines whispered, frowning. “How can I communicate that to them?”
“Unless you give ‘em something to eat… I dunno if you can. They’re super dumb.”
“They seem very excitable… It’s not as bad as barking dogs, but it could become irritating.”
“Yeah, about five minutes ago. Here’s a hamster.”
“They’re nocturnal. …And often aggressive.”
“Yeah, they’re bastards. Rabbits?”
A large black lop-eared rabbit hopped up to the glass to look at them, then hopped back to continue eating his hay.
“…I love the way they look, but my research suggests that they generally don’t like to be held.”
“Nah, you need somethin’ cuddly. Not a dog person?”
“I – I think I wouldn’t mind one calm, quiet dog. But I don’t like it when they bark.”
They went to the puppy room, which was quiet.
“Aww, look at this guy!”
“You aren’t supposed to touch the animals,” Nines murmured. “It spreads disease.”
“They’ve got hand sanitizer,” Gavin argued, pressing his fingers to the holes in the glass for the puppy to lick. “How about that one? It’s older, you wouldn’t have to go through all that puppy shit.”
Nines went to examine the cage card. “Tinkerbell, Shih Tzu mix, 9 years old.” He bent down a bit to examine the little gray dog with a clip holding the hair out of her face. “I’d have to download a grooming program.”
“I mean, you could just take her somewhere like everybody else does…”
“No, I would want to know how to care for her coat myself.”
“Sure, phck, why not. Wanna check her out in a room?”
“…I’ll keep her in mind. I want to see everything first.”
They headed to the cat room next, and Gavin went to wiggle his fingers at the kittens, who leapt and pounced at him.
“Do they all come with names?” Nines asked, flipping through the cards.
“Nah, a lot of ‘em get named here. Why?”
“Swishy. Chow Mein. Chad. Rubbadub. Professor Oak. It’s… quite an eclectic list.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna have to name whatever you get, too! Thought about that?”
“I’ll have to meet them first.” He went over to look at the adult cats, and Gavin eventually followed.
“Hey, this one looks like your Cyberlife jacket!”
“I also noticed the similarities,” Nines said, not looking back. Gavin came over and leaned on his back.
“Found a good one?”
An enormous gray tabby blinked at them.
“His name is Watermelon,” Nines whispered.
“…Fat and stripy. Makes sense. Wanna see if you can meet him?”
Nines nodded immediately.
They found a staff member who set them up in a small room, then brought in the cat. “I’ll be around, just let me know if you need anything.
When she shut the door, Watermelon looked around and slowly walked towards them, tail swishing back and forth.
“Curl your fingers a little so it doesn’t look like a threat or a snack… and stick out your hand like this, so he can check you out,” Gavin instructed.
Nines did as he was told, and the cat sniffed gingerly before rubbing his cheek on his hand. He did the same to Gavin before flopping down on the floor and stretching to an impressive length.
“He’s quite large for a domestic cat,” Nines murmured.
“Yeah, he probably loves being able to stretch out for a change. Too small in that little kennel-thing.” Gavin picked up a ribbon toy and waved it around. The cat batted at it lazily.
“You don’t have any pets.”
“Nah. I had some dogs growing up, and I had a super cranky old cat when I moved out. Didn’t really have enough time for him when I was in the academy and starting work. I did my best, but his health got bad after a while, and… uh, he died while I was working late one night. Figured I shouldn’t get another if I couldn’t give it what it needed.”
Nines frowned and put a hand on Gavin’s shoulder. “I’m sure you took good care of him.”
“Not good enough.” Gavin shook his head. “I mean he was old, he was sick, he was gonna die either way. …Didn’t want him to have to go alone.”
“Do you think… I have enough time for a pet?”
“Course you do, you don’t even need to sleep. Nines, don’t even worry about it. You’d be great with any pet.”
Nines frowned, idly rubbing Gavin’s shoulder. “I hope so…”
“How do you feel about this guy?” Gavin went to tickle Watermelon’s soft belly and earned a swat.
“I like him.”
“Wanna give it some time, or…?”
“His cage card says he arrived at the shelter in July. And as you said, he needs more space.”
“Wanna take him home, Nines?”
The android hesitated, but nodded, staring at the cat.
They hit a snag when they called the attendant over. She wouldn’t quite look at either of them.
“I’m sorry… I know it’s 2039, I know androids have rights now, but… we’re not allowed to adopt animals out to them yet…”
“That’s such bullshit, he’s a real person, he’s got his own place, he’s got income, he can look up any behavior or health issue… what’s the problem!?”
“It’s our policy, I’m really sorry… we’ve talked about getting it changed. It’ll happen, I’m sure. I just… don’t know when.”
“I understand,” Nines murmured, entirely crestfallen.
Gavin glared at her. “Fine then, I’ll do it. I’m human. Got a problem!?”
“No, sir. Here you go. I – it’s not me, I just have to follow the rules.”
“I understand,” Nines said, and turned to Gavin. “You don’t have to do this…”
“What, you change your mind? Want the dog instead? Don’t want anything?”
“No. No, I… I do want him. Very much. But –“
“No problem, then. …No other pets, gonna keep him inside… we’ll stop at the pet store after this. There’s a vet down the street from us that’s just for cats, you heard of it? They’re really good. I’m putting that one. And he’s 9, so we’ll get senior cat food – doesn’t mean he’s ancient, cats can live a long time. And toys.”
Gavin drove to the pet store, Nines resting the cardboard carrier between his feet and murmuring reassurances now and then when Watermelon yowled in distress.
“Can we bring him inside?” he asked when they parked.
“Yeah, we’re not gonna leave him in the car! He’ll hate it, but it’s a stressful day anyway. Come on.”
They got a large litterbox, cat litter, food, toys, a bed, catnip, and food and water dishes.
“I could teach him to walk on a harness,” Nines suggested, eyeing the display of leashes.
“Yeah, you could try, but he’ll probably hate it. I mean, you can still try if you want. …Just get it, whatever.”
“He is officially yours,” Nines said when they headed back home. “It would be… reasonable for you to keep him at your home.”
“Are you fucking kidding me, Nines?”
“I don’t want to break the law.”
“I – phck, I’m a cop, Nines, you’re not breakin’ the law, it’s a fucking dumb animal shelter policy! No. He’s gonna live at your place, and I’m gonna come see him a lot. If you need me to take him to the vet with you, I’ll do it.”
Nines fidgeted, but was silent until they parked the car and got out. “You can come as often as you want, Gavin. I like it when you’re here.”
Gavin walked over next to him, bumping him with his shoulder. “I like it too,” he mumbled. “You know that, right? I know I’m shit at… this, communicating, being… not an asshole… but… you’re… I really like you.”
Nines gently shifted Watermelon’s carrier to one arm, and wrapped the other around Gavin. “I like you too,” he murmured.
“I like you too.” Gavin swallowed. “I – yeah.”
Nines smiled, only taking his arm away to unlock the door. Once they were inside, he placed the carrier on the floor and shut the door.
“He’s gonna make a mess,” Gavin warned.
“I’m prepared.” Nines squared his shoulders and opened the carrier. They both held their breath. Watermelon stuck his head up, ears back and eyes wide. He looked around, then leapt out, scrambling on the floor, bumping the pyramid of mugs and knocking half of them over, and disappeared under the bed.
“Yep, that’s about right. Sorry about your mugs. Sucks,” Gavin muttered.
“Many of them are unbroken.” The android went to get a broom and dustpan, and Gavin started moving the whole mugs aside. They cleaned up together, then set up Watermelon’s new things.
“I want him to feel comfortable here,” Nines murmured, peering into the bedroom.
“Give him some time. At least a few days. C’mon, if you relax he’ll relax easier.” Gavin tugged him to the couch and pulled him into his lap.
“I’m too heavy for this.”
“Shut up, you’re fine.” Gavin shifted around, pulling Nines back against his chest, his legs around him. “Good?”
Nines nodded, hesitating before leaning his head back into Gavin’s shoulder.
“Happy with your new friend?”
“I am. …Do you think he’ll like me?”
“I know he’ll like you. You’re fun, you’re quiet, you don’t stress people out.”
“…I’ll agree that I’m quiet.”
“And the rest.”
Nines sighed, tipping his head towards Gavin’s. “I would like to be.”
“Took you a little bit, but you figured out how to be fun,” Gavin snorted. “And now that you’re not about to explode with stress, you’re super relaxing.”
“I suppose… I am, with you. Perhaps not as much, apart from you. But… I’m content with that.”
Gavin rubbed his hair gently.
Nines shifted, slowly and carefully, to curl slightly on his side against Gavin’s chest.
“I ain’t gonna break, Nines.”
“Nor am I, but you’re always exceedingly gentle with me.”
Gavin chuckled and hugged him close. “Like I could hurt you if I tried,” he scoffed.
“I think you could. More than anyone else. …But you wouldn’t.”
“That’s – phck, of course I wouldn’t,” Gavin mumbled, laying his head against Nines’s.
The android reached up to rub his long fingers through Gavin’s hair. “…I’m excited about Watermelon, but I still prefer your hair,” he whispered.
Gavin laughed and nuzzled into his forehead. “God, you say the weirdest shit. Like, nobody talks like that. Nobody.”
“I appreciate your acceptance of my eccentricities.”
“Shut your fucking mouth, I love it. Nobody else would say that shit, it’s… it’s good, Nines.”
The android ran his hand down the stubbly face, weighing his words. “I… would like to stay with you. To see you frequently, to always come back to you. To be here for you. To be with you.”
Gavin made a little noise in his throat and twisted down to sloppily kiss across Nines’s mouth before hugging him tightly. “Always,” he whispered.
September 6, 2039
Detroit, Michigan, USA. 56 degrees F, clear, windy.
Professionally, I am content where I am at the moment, though I continue to watch for new opportunities. I made a bit of money drawing portraits at a small festival last week. It wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped. I’m knitting a blanket, which is relaxing. And I’ve begun occasionally making intricate dishes for Gavin to try. I have no taste receptors, but he claims they are quite good. I think I need a larger test group for this, though, as I have seen him enjoy week-old pizza that has been left on the counter with similar enthusiasm.
I now share my apartment with Watermelon, a large tabby cat. He is beginning to gain confidence, and I appreciate his affection. He has broken, chewed, and urinated on a number of my belongings, but he is adjusting and so am I. He is an unusually messy eater. It reminds me of Gavin.
We recently discussed the fact that our relationship has changed, though the friendship aspect still exists. We agreed that whatever it may be, it is good to love and be loved. Saying such things makes him blush and call me weird, but he’s made it clear that he’s as smitten as I am. We have each other, and that is what matters.