ff :: chapter one :: Rights of the Few

Rights of the Few
.:. TI Pendraig

ARC I :: CHAPTER ONE

Morning comes slow, with tentative sunlight overshadowed by a tulle fog thick enough to breathe. It is not unlike the evening of 31 October 2038; the fog registers cold and damp on his sensors, familiar. He dismisses the memory prompt and turns swiftly on his heel. It is precisely am 07:00:00 pst.

$ ping <RK800 #313 248 317 -55>
$ ping <RK800 #313 248 317 -56>
 // connection established

[root] You have completed your objectives?
[-56] Have we? Without our handler it’s so hard to tell.
[-55] Yes, we’re finished. What’s your ETA on that deathtrap of yours?
[root] The same as the delivery of Doyle’s sense of humour.
[-55] Oh so we’ll see you when you’re dead!
[root] That, or else 29 minutes.
[-56] You’re funny, Ro.
[root] Yes, I am.
[-56] Drive safe, idiot.
……// connection to <RK800 #313 248 317 -56> terminated
[root] Has there been word from King?
[-55] Not as yet.
[root] If we have not heard from her in one hour, find her.
[-55] Understood.
……// connection to <RK800 #313 248 317 -55> terminated

Smile upturning his lips, Roderick fastens his helmet as carmine leather boots squeak on wet pavement. In a practised movement he is astride the classic bike as it hums to life in the still air.

Fort Point has become far and away his favourite place to think. In the quiet of approaching dawn, too early for swarms of chattering tourists to clog the historic landmark, it is an inspiring sight. Pure chance had led him to it: a drastic detour during the pursuit of a deviant, long before he came to question the idea of absolute obedience. Now he is free to return as often as he so wants.

He is free to have wants.

Commuter traffic crawls behind him as he navigates Long Avenue. On his internal display are sat current objectives for the next run: three deviants from shops along Haite, two WR400s and one AV500.

   Mission: Relocate deviants to safety.
Objectives:
    1. Verify mission status with Quinn + Doyle    [COMPLETE]
    2. Plan route to Enclave East
            a. Request status of Melissa Ho
            b. Request status of Bai King
            c. Review patrol routes for SFPD
    3. Secure transportation

Below these is the objective that has refused dismissal for 37 days.

Objective:
    Contact other RK800s

By the time the sun is risen properly, San Francisco is buzzing with people on every street. Main Post Tunnel is clogged with autocabs and the newer Tesla 42 models, effectively still as he weaves between them. The city holds the distinction as most densely populated with androids in the United States, after Detroit. Every fifth body has an LED attached to the temple. Leaning right onto Stockton Street, the effect borders on overwhelming: hundreds of people line the shops that are just opened in a riot of colour and sound.

Nearly half of those people are his.

He amends the thought. 46.23% of the people visible along the street are androids; a small fraction of those are deviant – a small fraction recognise themselves as individuals and not objects to be owned. Those are his people, his responsibility.

The building he pulls up to is antique brick, spiderwebbed with cracks. It sits across from a tiny herb shop and a notary public; the jewellery store beside them is closed down, again – the windows are intact, but vandalised with graffiti.

 $ ping stat <RK800 #313 248 317 -55>
 $ ping stat <RK800 #313 248 317 -56>
// connection established
// status received <RK800 #313 248 317 -55> ALL SYSTEMS OPTIMAL
// status received <RK800 #313 248 317 -56> ALL SYSTEMS OPTIMAL
// connection terminated

Behind him the corrugated door rolls down with a pitched squeal. As his BMW slows to a stop he tilts his head toward Cho in thanks. Jon Cho, a muscled blond with a perpetual air of exasperation, gestures vaguely for Roderick to be on his way.

The garage is old, but unlike the outside of the building, it has been retrofitted through the decades. At the back is a cargo lift, added 12 years prior, which leads to a neighbouring car park one level down. The walls are lined with bio-locked shelves of spare auto parts, and the stairway across from him has been fitted with a wheelchair lift. The hallway to his left, however, is still stained concrete lit with LED lights a decade old.

Gunmetal highlights glint along the edges of his helmet as he strides down the hallway, grip loose.  Ahead, the door second to the end opens at his approach.

“Roderick, you’re precisely on time.”

Stood in the doorway is a finely-dressed brunette: precisely six feet tall, with sharp cheekbones and a strong jaw, short wavy hair styled in a façon cut. His tie is a vivid blue; it matches the cobalt edging on his dark blazer.

They exchange smirks as Quinn steps back to allow his counterpart entry.

The office space is occupied by two others: sat by three screens toward the back wall is another brunette, features identical down to the freckle. His hand is on the far monitor, fingers a shiny black alloy as he interfaces. Beside him stands an elderly woman in a voluminous hanfu. At his entrance, Michelle turns away from Doyle and the screens. Her face is wrinkled, but calm.

“Roderick, good morning to you. How are you feeling?”

This is her customary greeting for all deviants. Michelle Ho believes strongly in life, in the freedom of existence.

Roderick feels his smirk slide into an honest smile. He steps forward to kiss her weathered cheek.

“Madame Ho,” he replies evenly.

She makes a sound of disapproval. Wagging a finger, she says, “You never answer that question, Mr O’Connell.”

Behind her the screens go blank. Doyle drops his hands away, fingers returning to their usual creamy almond pigmentation. “There’s this thing about insanity and doing the same thing, Madame Ho. I can’t quite remember…” His tone is sardonic.

Michelle turns to tut at Doyle instead; Roderick takes the moment to glance left, where Quinn has stepped forward, thoughtful.

“King has confirmed for tonight. She was delayed by a local patrol – Bettencourt. Care to send a message?”

Officer Julie Bettencourt. Age 36. Mother of two. Blood type A+. He dismisses the rest of the data prompt. There is no need to rely on a database for that information.

“No, I do not.”

Quinn raises his eyebrows. “She’s sympathetic. She would be a valuable asset, given her position.”

Roderick is already shaking his head. “She is too obvious. Cyberlife wants us shut down. They will be on the hunt for likely allies, to discredit the movement.” He notes that Doyle and Michelle are attentive to his words, and continues, “We will need to be very careful about who we recruit. Do we have any leads, Madame Ho?”

Michelle is their spider. She connects the people of the underground with deftly spun webs; she knows how to move the hunted safely out of sight.

(He’s never been entirely sure if he recruited her, or if she did.)

At his question, the wrinkles around her mouth pinch. “There may be an opportunity with the shelter on 5th Street, yes. A Sonia Fisher; recent graduate. Journalism.”

Doyle’s eyebrows quirk at that. He exchanges a speaking glance with Quinn; in sync, they turn toward Roderick .

He frowns. “What else do we know about her?”

“She’s in the family, if distantly.” Michelle shuffles over to the armchair by a side door, and to the thin binder sat on the table beside. “Her father’s first cousin is married to Aiko Kendall – sister to Akira Yamada.” She pulls out a single sheet and offers it to Quinn, stood nearest, who holds it for Roderick – and Doyle, who has joined him – to see.

On it is a candid photo: A petite woman sat at a bench, early 20s, with sleek black hair caught in the wind and characteristically Asian features, wearing a bright green hoodie with an eyeball on the front.

On his right Doyle smirks. “I like her style,” he chuckles.

Quinn trades an amused glance with Roderick, whose lips curve. They turn in unison to stare at Doyle’s boots.

They are a deep, mossy green.

“Shut up,” Doyle mutters. He tugs his cuffs as his ears tinge blue.

“Children,” coughs Michelle.

Roderick refocuses on the photo. Scanning her face, he initiates a search through available databases; the results, aside from a local paper interviewing protestors for animal rights in 2032, are clean. He nods at Michelle. “Approach her, then. Do we expect more than her journalistic support?”

“A better question,” says Quinn with a frown, “Do we know why she’s staying in a shelter?”

Doyle nods in agreement.

In response Michelle shrugs elegantly. “This is San Francisco, Mr O’Connell, and she is a college graduate.”

At that, Doyle frowns as well. “Can we offer anything without risking ourselves?”

Michelle is quiet as three sets of identical eyes watch her, waiting on a reply. She takes the sheet back from Quinn and carefully returns the binder to the coffee table, wiping away imagined dust. When she speaks it is slow, considering. “For now, though you may not like it, it would be best to leave her where she is.”

It is an expected response, but Roderick notates the answering displeasure on both Quinn and Doyle’s faces. “Information first. We will see what she knows, and what else we can find for ourselves. We need more people, but not at the risk of everyone we are already responsible for.”

The reminder is mollifying. 327 people are presently dependent upon their continued efforts. Quinn and Doyle are still adjusting to the world. It is easy to forget their inexperience – they are just as capable as any RK800. They are keen to help, keen to follow their heart. Roderick has learned caution, at great expense.

   Mission: Relocate deviants to safety.
Objectives:

    1. Verify mission status with Quinn + Doyle    [COMPLETE]
    2. Plan route to Enclave East
            a. Request status of Melissa Ho
            b. Request status of Bai King    [COMPLETE]
            c. Review patrol routes for SFPD
    3. Secure transportation

Objective:
    Contact other RK800s

Roderick nods to the other RK800s. “We have four hours to confirm patrols for the 3rd quadrant. Doyle, keep an eye on Central patrol; Quinn, Northern patrol. We will reconvene at warehouse 4 and check in with King.”

Expressions again neutral, the twins nod in agreement. As they turn toward the door, Roderick adds, “Madame Ho, a word?”

Michelle shuffles back to the screens alongside Roderick. “You have questions.”

Expression wry, Roderick quirks a brow at Michelle. “I always have questions, Mrs Ho. I am an investigative model.” Interfacing with a screen, Roderick pulls four photos from internal memory to display.

Three photos of refuse in a rusty kip. Black garbage bags, a collection of broken stilettos and scarpins, and multiple android components – limbs, optical units. The fourth photo is closer, an android face partially obscured by a pink shoe box; the LED is a pale red.

Michelle frowns heavily at the photos. Her weathered hand reaches for the fourth one, brushing the screen.

“I believe he is an AP400, although I was not able to confirm life. It is possible that we are too late. But if we are not…”

“Where was this?” Michelle’s voice is quiet, firm. Angry.

“The corner of Broadway and Cordelia Street. Madame Ho, I realise that it will take more time for the general populace to see that we are people, but I-” Roderick pauses, staring hard at the photo. Trying again, his usual pleasant rasp is instead low and hard. “If even after the protests people are willing to throw us away with their old shoes, do you think we truly have a chance to be free?”

Wordlessly Michelle turns fully to face him and gently gathers him in a hug. Grip firm, she murmurs, “The path to freedom is never calm, it is never straight, and it is never sure. But you must remember, my dear, always try once more. There will be a chance for you. For your people.” With a final squeeze she pushes Roderick away to hold him at arm’s length, peering up at him. “We will make it so. You will be free. Always try once more.”

Pensive, Roderick nods assent.

“I will have my daughter look into this AP400. You focus on tonight.”

“You are certain she is prepared for that?”

“Melissa is prepared for anything. She will do this. You focus on tonight.”

With a final nod, he straightens and steps away. His face is again calm.

“Is the enclave ready? Are you?”

Michelle smiles. It is unexpectedly intimidating.

“I am ready. Now, go.”

Objectives:
    1. Verify mission status with Quinn + Doyle    [COMPLETE]
    2. Plan route to Enclave East
            a. Request status of Melissa Ho    [COMPLETE]
            b. Request status of Bai King    [COMPLETE]
            c. Review patrol routes for SFPD    [PENDING]
    3. Secure transportation

Objective:
    Contact other RK800s

Mission firmly in mind, Roderick returns swiftly to his GS90. The bike revs as he speeds out onto the street; underneath the visor, his eyes narrow. They will need adequate transportation for the night, to see the deviants to safety.

He knows just the place.

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