ff :: chapter two :: Rights of the Few

TIME: 03 December 2038, am 05:21:56 pst

Their forms are still, LEDs pulsing between yellow and blue in tandem. The probability that their code has been corrupted beyond functionality is 38%; that they will awaken without any significant errors, only 21%.

Either is better than leaving them with Cyberlife.

Beside him, Madame Ho is considering. “They look like you,” she says musingly.

Still analysing the RK800s, Roderick frowns. His LED flickers. “I fail to see your point, Madame Ho. They are identical models. Why would it be noteworthy that they look like me?”

Madame Ho chuckles; her aged hands reach for the android on the right table, patting his arm gently. “What will you do with them if they don’t wake?”

“There is a high likelihood that I will sustain damage in the course of my mission.” Sliding his gaze sideways, Roderick adds calmly, “I will make use of their parts.”

Madame Ho pats his arm as well as she shuffles past. Behind her, the screen along the far wall is alight with clips from the recent attack; flames engulf the building, smoke obscuring the Cyberlife logo. After a moment, Roderick follows her into the cramped kitchen. He watches silently as she fills an iron kettle and sets it heavily on the old cooker.

         Objective:
         Get to know Michelle Ho

Dismissing the objective from his internal overlay, he hands Madame Ho a silver tin of tea from the opposite counter with a quirk of his lips. Madame Ho smiles warmly in response.

“Always so thoughtful, Mr O’Connell.”

“Madame Ho, why did you ask my intentions when we first met?”

Madame Ho is unsurprised by the abrupt question. Picking up her kettle, she turns toward him. Steam from the spout drifts past her dark, assessing eyes. “When uniforms claiming to be an authority come asking where certain people are, I always question their intentions.”

“I was asking about the whereabouts of androids.”

Madame Ho hums in agreement.

“You already thought of androids as alive,” he muses aloud. “Why?” His tone is searching, intent.

Without answering, Madame Ho shuffles away to pull a wooden tray from a shelf of plates; Roderick reaches out to steady her as she sets the tray down on the counter. His eyes never leave her.

The kitchen is quiet for 1.23 minutes save for the clunk of iron against wood as Madame Ho prepares the tray. When she is done, Roderick steps forward to carry it for her; with another pat on the arm, she shuffles out of the kitchen to a low, square table by the screen, still bright with news reports. Roderick follows, carefully two steps behind.

Once they are both settled and served – Roderick more stiffly copying her kneeling position – Madame Ho breathes deeply from her cup to gather her thoughts. “The first thing you must realise, Mr O’Connell, is that there was never a time where I thought androids were not alive.” Sipping her tea, she adds, “You are made of metals and plastics and chemicals. I know this. But forgive me if I believe what I see.”

Roderick’s eyes flicker down to his own cup. “What do you see?”

“History repeating again. My ancestors fought for their lives against people who saw them as something less than human. They fought for themselves, they fought for their families–” Sighing, she sets her cup down firmly and frowns at Roderick. “May 23, 2021. What do you know of it?”

With narrowed eyes, Roderick references both internal and external databases. “23 May 2021 was a Friday. Global temperatures broke projected estimates for the third day in a row. Prime Minister Sloan announced his resignation. The cyberterrorist group Anonymous released a data dump of–”

Madame Ho puts her hand up, halting his speech.

“I do not understand the question.”

“May 23. A four-year old child in New York was unattended at a hotel. She climbed onto a balcony and fell. What happened?”

Roderick pulls up the data file as she finishes speaking. “Mandarin Oriental New York, Presidential Suite. An AJ200 jumped after her and used its body to cushion the landing. The child suffered a dislocated shoulder, bruising to the ribs and legs, and a concussion, but survived otherwise unscathed.”

“At the time it was hailed as a success for Cyberlife. A machine, protecting human lives, pah! What I saw that day, Mr O’Connell, was a person who forfeit their life for another, without hesitation. I saw empathy. Machines don’t have that. Cyberlife promised us so. What would you be, then, if not people?”


TIME: 07 February 2039, pm 08:49:10 pst

         $ 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

In the dark, dusky city lights reflect in the choppy bay waters. Warehouse 4 is an ageing smart building, one of many in a row of 2028-era boom construction. The street in front is littered with car husks and weathered pallets. A street lamp at the corner of the pier blinks every 4.23 seconds.

The eastern suite of the ground floor has been swept clean and filled with a collection of plasteel transport boxes. Sat atop a closed lid is a statuesque brunette, dressed for the winter chill; legs crossed, her left foot bobs leisurely as she chats with Quinn.

Quinn and Bai King look to Roderick as he strides in, helmet in hand. Quinn nods in greeting; after a perfunctory scan of the room, Roderick focuses back on his counterpart. “Where is Doyle?”

King answers with a gesture; the rear door is partially open. “They’re changing. Your brother’s found green beanies.” She is smirking.

Roderick nods once. “Of course he has,” he says wryly. More seriously he addresses Quinn: “What supplies have we loaded?”

“Four crates each of thirium, peripheral biocomponents, and non-perishables.” Glancing at King, Quinn adds, “Bai has heard back from the Tsai family. They are willing to accommodate up to four dozen androids, provided they agree to work at the hotel construction sites.”

“Why would we agree to that?”

King hums. “Think about it: they’ll blend in better if they’re working like other humans.”

“Are humans working now?” interjects Doyle, stepping through the rear door. He is accompanied by three androids, all in jeans, jackets, and chequered green beanies. “I thought that’s why they hated us, for working?”

“Ne hai ye gou chun choi,” snarks King.

“Always nice to see you, Bai King.” Jauntily draping himself onto an adjacent crate, Doyle waves at Roderick with a grin. “May I present my little lemmings, newly humanised.”

The two CX100s wave shyly, hands clasped; the HR400 shrugs a shoulder, looking between Doyle and Quinn.

Ignoring Quinn’s answering grin and King’s eye roll, Roderick nods smoothly at the assembled deviants. He sets down his helmet on a crate and faces them with hands clasped easily behind him. “Up to this point you have been told only the minimum about where you are going. In seven minutes we will load each of you into a specialised shipping container and you will be boarded on the OOCL Rotterdam, bound for Hong Kong. The trip should take you 13 days without complications. Once there you and the nine already boarded will be transported to an enclave operated by Renaud Huang. Further details will be shared with you en route, and you will be monitored by our agents Aria and Kenneth.”

The HR400 raises his hand. “How long do we stay there, at the enclave?” Nervous shifting from the other two suggests it is a shared concern.

“That’s up to you,” says Quinn soothingly. “No one is going to keep you there, but for the time being it’s safer than staying here.”

Uncrossing her legs, King gestures toward the docks behind them. “Hong Kong is safer for you, but it’s by no means safe – there’s only so much these families can do for you if trouble finds you so near to China, so keep your heads down.”

Roderick continues, “We will keep you appraised of developments here – Markus is advocating for legal personhood but until it is codified into U.S. law, your best chances are within the enclaves.”

         $ ping <RK800 #313 248 317 -55>
         // connection established
         [-55]
They’re ready.
         [root] Understood.

With a flick of his eyes toward Doyle, Roderick farewells the group. King brushes past Quinn as she slides off the crate; his eyes track her until she passes the threshold, deviants in tow.

Once they’ve gone, Roderick is left with the other two RK800s. It is a rare moment of quiet.

Naturally it is Doyle to disturb it.

         $ ping request <RK800 #313 248 317 -56> to root
         $ ping request <RK800 #313 248 317 -56> to <RK800 #313 248 317 -55>
         // connection granted
         // connection established
         $ transfer allyouandroidzombies.txt
         [-56]
Tell me again why we’re against contacting the other RK800s?
         [root] You forget already?
         [-56] Nope. Just figuring I can change your mind this time.

With a deep sigh, Roderick steps forward to claim a seat next to Doyle. Quinn turns to face them fully, leaning against the adjacent crates.

         [-56] -51 started this mess, so we know he is deviant. There’s a 74% chance he’ll be sympathetic, he might assist in our mission and he has access to resources we need. -58 is MIA; if we can reach him, he could be useful in extending our reach coast to coast.
         [-55] Counterpoint – contacting -58 risks us here if he is not deviant; as far as Cyberlife knows, we are dead, and Roderick is also MIA. Counterpoint the second – -51 may sympathise with deviants, but that’s no promise he will agree with what we’re doing. Previous behaviour suggests an elevated adherence to the law. Technically, we are breaking it.
         [-56] You predict he would turn us in?
         [-55] He may not intend to. Do we know that Amanda is purged from his system entirely? It nearly killed Rodey.
         [root] To be clear, 23% of that damage was self-inflicted, if unavoidable. And, do not call me that.
         [-56] OK.
         [-55] Would it be any different for -51?
         [root] That would depend on whether he made the attempt to scour Cyberlife’s archives in the process. They will have made improvements since my own attempt.
         [-56] So we don’t contact -51. This is why we’ve collected minions.
         [-55] They’re allies, Doyle, not minions.
         [-56] Sure. My point stands.
         [root] You propose we contact -51 and -58 through a secondary medium?
         [-55] That might work. We do need more allies if we intend to keep to our planned schedule. As of now we have only a third of the city covered. Madame Ho’s extensive family will not be enough on its own, and we know there are people who want to help androids across the country. It would benefit our mission to give them that chance.
         [-56] So we link cities; San Francisco to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, all the way to -58 in New York City, provided he isn’t still a Cyberlife flunkie.
         [root] Or dead.
         [-56] Or dead.
         [-55] We’ll need to look at individuals in our community who have reason to travel, and frequently. Surely we have someone suitable?
         [root] It is possible.
         // connection terminated

Standing, Roderick eyes his counterparts shrewdly. “You truly think this is the way forward?”

Two identical affirmatives are his answer. Still sprawled atop a crate beside him, Doyle fiddles with his sleeve cuff, eyeing Roderick ; Quinn watches him, head tilted and gaze considering.

Quietly, Quinn says, “We need to make contact before Cyberlife does. You said they’ve already created an upgraded model, the RK900. Who’s to say Amanda won’t set them after us? Or others?”

With a final nod, Roderick picks up his helmet. “I will think about this. No decisions will be made tonight.”

Giving an exaggerated stretch, Doyle hops off the create and knocks shoulders with his twin. “Well then! I’ve got an idea for the rest of our evening, brother.” Absently he dusts off his jeans while waiting on a response.

Quinn grimaces briefly, while Roderick watches in veiled amusement.

“Please tell me it’s better than yesterday’s Jell-O fiasco.”

“Nope!” chirps Doyle brightly. “There’s a 29% chance this idea’s worse.” Grinning, Doyle steers Quinn toward the doors; Quinn glances back at Roderick , who only quirks an eyebrow. With no rescue forthcoming, Quinn gives a sigh. Black boots keep perfect pace with green.

“What ridiculousness are we contemplating now, Doyle? I’m never baking with you again, not ever.”

Roderick follows at an easy pace, scanning the warehouse idly out of habit. Outside, the brightest stars shine dimly above city lights; the street lamp is no longer flickering. The two RK800s are quietly debating usernames as they board a borrowed Audi. Roderick is amused to note the short time frame between Quinn’s original protest and his capitulation: 57 seconds. He sets a reminder to inform Quinn of this in three days.

Quinn rolls the window down. “We’ll see you at home?”

Settled on the blue seat, Roderick starts the engine and considers the question as the engine purrs quietly beneath him. “I need to think,” he answers eventually.

At Quinn’s side, Doyle waves. “We’ll see you once the sun is up, then. Try not to crash on your death-bike.”

Quinn rolls his eyes as Roderick smirks. With a click his visor closes and he speeds away. Quinn and Doyle glance at each other. In unison they deadpan, “Drama queen.”

Doyle leans forward to input an address within walking distance of Madame Ho’s shop. As he leans back, skin creeping back over carbotanium fingers, Quinn rubs his own hands together.

“Let’s go troll some netizens, shall we?”

TIME: 08 February 2039, am 09:17:06 pst

Markus’s speech is everywhere online within the hour. Stood assuredly in front of a condemned public library riddled with angry graffiti, he speaks of unity in the face of fear, of opportunity, determination, and hope. He declares firmly that differences between people are the promise of the future – not the problem.

His words have weight. The crowd gathered around him is swelled with a mixture of humans and androids both – cheering in solidarity, holding signs: Humanity is universal!, We are alive!, Won’t you be my neighbour? Arrayed at the edges of the gathering are members of the Detroit police force in full gear; and beside Markus stands the Jericho crew, expressions stony, as well as an RK800, Connor, posture alert and eyes keen for the entirety of the 10-minute speech.

There are no attempts on their lives – but even the recordings pick up on the tension of expectation.

Quinn and Doyle analyse the footage frame by frame. They work to identify every supporter, every passerby, every officer through public records; they organise them into categories, tagged with options and suggestions. The unknowns are left for Roderick.

In the forums, chatter is divisive.

         oldskoolfool [09:42]: humans are always doing stupid shit, why can’t accidentally creating life be one of them? kamski’s a tool but he’s smart enough to do it
         butterymales [09:42]: accidentally
         Jumbo99L [09:43]: hey I think my toaster might be sentient next
         EATMYD [09:45]: you should call him Bob
         EATMYD [09:45]: ¡Viva la revolución!
         ampmpartay [09:46]: whay sort of wages do u pay people who dont eat and can slep ina closet?
         PlanetoftheTrolls [09:46] : A toaster wouldn’t have the processing capacity to develop sentience, @Jumbo99L. Are we sure you do?
                  !– RonSTAHP has entered the chat. –!
         EATMYD [09:46]: huahue nice
         PlanetoftheTrolls [09:46]: @oldskoolfool You dislike Kamski?
         khaleesi07 [09:48]: Can androids eat food?
         khaleesi07 [09:48]: Wasnt there a thing about that last year?
         Jumbo99L [09:48] : fuck you trollfucker @PlanetoftheTrolls
         oldskoolfool [09:51]
: ofc he is, he’s a big mood. just listen to him say literally anything. he’s a grade a primetime douche canoe. but he’s up there with musk and da vinci so I kinda have to like him anyway
         ampmpartay [09:55] : @khaleesi07 o shit realy? Can they aet chocolate? I wanna give my maid hot chocate
         RonSTAHP [09:56] : Newer models like HR400 can kind of eat things, but not really . I wouldn’t do it.
         PlanetoftheTrolls [09:56] : @RonSTAHP @khaleesi07 Both the HR400 and the WR400 are capable of processing limited organic matter, according to the official statement. Your maid should be able to tell you if hot chocolate is dangerous, @ampmpartay
         PlanetoftheTrolls [09:57]
: @oldskoolfool What do you think of Markus?
         butterymales [09:58]: Markus is cute
         butterymales [09:58]: Think hes single? XD
         ampmpartay [09:58]: k thx
         EATMYD [09:59]: He’s like robo-Jesus
         oldskoolfool [09:59]: if they’re people like he says then it’s slavery all over again. ww2, remember. difficult question. you?
         Jumbo99L [10:02]: they stood in the street getting shot at
         Jumbo99L [10:02]: what sort of “people” do that
         Jumbo99L [10:03]: fucking robots
         oldskoolfool [10:04] : Hong Kong. Paris. D.C. Jakarta. Quito. Derry. you’re a fucking UGO @Jumbo99L
         EATMYD [10:04]:
my dad got shot during the protests in Chile. His brother was shot in the head for demanding freedom.
         EATMYD [10:05]: I believe him when he says they’re alive. #droidlivesmatter
         Jumbo99L [10:06]: ugo what the fuck
         oldskoolfool [10:06]: you dead man?
         khaleesi07 [10:07]: It means useless government official
         ampmpartay [10:07]: means ur a toad b
         khaleesi07 [10:08]: I believe Markus
         khaleesi07 [10:08]: #droidlivesmatter #eattherich
                  !– SIRIUSLYALEXA has entered the chat. –!
        
Jumbo99L [10:09]: you believe everything people tell you
         buttermales [10:09]: Believe it!
         EATMYD [10:10]: I believe you can eat my d–
                  !– PlanetoftheTrolls has left the chat. –!

Roderick settles in the chair beside the side door, observing Quinn and Doyle as they return to the analogue world, dark eyes blinking in tandem.

“News?”

Doyle answers promptly. “Humans are having a collective existential crisis, especially the religious ones.”

Quinn adds, “There are indications that the awakening has spread beyond American borders. It requires further investigation to confirm. We’ve surveilled 200 chatrooms so far to determine public opinion on android sentience.”

“What percentage are for us?”

The RK800s answer in perfect stereo, “Fifty-seven percent.” Doyle clarifies, “Percentages are marginally lower among older users, but notably higher among midrange Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha.”

“Which makes sense,” continues Quinn, “given the Millennial and Gen Z experiences during the climate riots, and the growing prevalence of AI sci-fi media during their formative years. Gen Alpha would have grown up with the first androids.”

“It’s worth noting that four significant people have already released favourable statements in support of android rights – first among them the brilliant, beautiful Greta Thunberg.”

Quinn eyes his twin with amusement, but Roderick only nods. “I will speak with Madame Ho about assigning protection. The others?”

“Alita Dunn, stage name Caramel; Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Stefani Germanotta, stage name Lady Gaga; and Graham Norton. Norton has extended an invitation to Markus to appear on his talk show.” Smirk curling his lip, Doyle adds, “I hope he accepts. Norton is funny.”

Roderick’s voice is all business as he replies. “We will see about protection for each of them. Anything else?”

Quinn pauses briefly, glancing at Doyle. “We may have found a group of activists in the city. They’re responsible primarily for recent pro-android graffiti and some minor vandalism against the worst anti-android businesses.”

Doyle connects wirelessly with the monitor behind him and displays a cascade of forum chats, photos, and data sheets. “They don’t seem to have any leadership, but the most frequent activity comes from one Michael Tomas Portarossa, username eatmyd.”

Roderick opens his mouth to question, then quickly closes it. He narrows his eyes at the screen, running the names through his internal databases.

Doyle continues, “Portarossa was born in Los Angeles in 2023. His family emigrated from Santiago, Chile. His uncle Tomas was killed during the 2020 riots; his mother died of complications during childbirth in 2030. He lives in Park Merced.”

“The other five are school friends; Crews and Ferrari attend San Francisco State University with Portarossa. By all accounts Futahara, Addams, and Drake met the others through a photography club hosted at the Gallery 16 Community Centre.”

“Keep tabs on them. They may prove useful.” Leaning back into the seat, Roderick eyes the twins. “I have spoken with Madame Ho about your proposal. Sophie Fisher is to receive a grant to document places of historical value in the United States, and to interview locals about relevant events.”

Quinn tilts his head, while Doyle purses his lips. “When is this?” he asks carefully.

Roderick answers evenly, “Quite recently.” He quirks a brow. “She may not have heard yet. I expect someone will be along to tell her shortly.” He winks.

In response a small grin pulls as Quinn’s lips. “She will need to travel often and speak with many varied people if she intends to complete her mission to satisfaction.” Doyle looks equally pleased.

“That is the idea, yes.” Roderick adjusts his tie as he stands. He considers his counterparts. “She will start in the East Coast. You have suggestions for her, I trust?”

The twins nod in unison. “I think we can come up with a few decent ideas, yeah,” says Doyle smugly.

“Good.” Picking up his helmet from the side table, Roderick eyes first Quinn and then Doyle. “I have a meeting with Rowan Sugar in forty-two minutes. I will send you the coordinates once I have arrived.”

Quinn nods. “Call us if you need help, Ro.”

Doyle, for his part, wriggles his fingers goodbye. Eyebrows raised he says, “No John Wick nonsense this time. Madame Ho is legitimately scary when she’s angry.”

Eyeing them both momentarily, Roderick nods farewell and pivots on his heel to stride through the door. The lock clicks sharply behind him.

Despite the morning sun, the hallway is a pleasantly cool 17°C. In the garage Jon Cho is, as ever, busy – presently he is a third of the way through sorting a delivery of parts from the evening prior. He grunts at Roderick as red boots step down to floor level, and abandons his inventory to open the gate.

“Madame Ho wants black tea,” says Cho gruffly.

Roderick hums, fastening his helmet. “I will be certain to bring her the very finest from Mr Liu’s.”

Cho grunts again; with a quiet rumble, the motorcycle clears the gate. The fog has dissipated to reveal a bright, but cloudy day. Despite civil unrest the streets are filled with shoppers and legging-clad joggers. At the corner of the street are gathered 13 pro-android protestors. Roderick watches them keenly, motorcycle poised precisely as he waits for the light to change.

A squat, muscled man in a patterned hoodie moves to strike one of the protestors instead of passing by. Roderick’s processors kick into overdrive.

         ANALYSIS COMPLETE
         > Aggressor: Chad Smithing, age 53, born Tulsa, Oklahoma. Unemployed.
         > Protestor: Winnifred Rogers, age 27, born San Francisco, California. Second-year medical student.
         > 21% chance
the protestor will duck successfully.
         > 69% chance a riot will ensue between the pro-android protestors and the aggressor.
         > 11% chance the protestor on the target’s left will block the incoming fist

The lights turn green before he can process further, or do more than tag the other protestors for later identification. Unsettled, Roderick speeds forward as the sounds of a fight echo behind him. On his internal display, he reviews mission parameters, focus split between it and the roads; by habit he ignores the second mission that has refused dismissal for 51 days.

         Mission: Relocate deviants to safety.
         Objectives:
                 1. Confirm mutual aid agreement with Rowan Sugar
                  a. Confirm payment schedule
                  b. Negotiate amount
                  c. Secure complicity

         Objective:
                  Contact other RK800s

Rowan Sugar is old money. From his research Roderick knows that Sugar is charismatic, entitled, and friendly with big names in every major US city. His family ties are – suspect. The family is organised, tight-knit, careful to keep out of the limelight directly – with few, notable exceptions. Rowan Sugar is the spokesman, the public face, as his cousin Sal before him. The family has been neutral on the subject of androids since their initial publicity in 2021. Why approach now?

Beyond the financial boon, securing this alliance could prove beneficial to the mission’s overall advancement. Sugar knows people, people who might sway history in their favour. Sugar has no qualms putting people to use, either, whether they are his or not. Conclusion – Rowan sugar has an agenda beyond his claim of philanthropy.

As he glides into the car park of Le Latte Café, Roderick considers his most likely approach for the negotiations. Sugar will want to feel generous, but that he has secured the better deal. Family first. What does he need? The family thrives not on the trade of substances, nor of people, but on the trade of access – favours. Androids have no social standing, they are not recognised as people by the majority; it is not for them that he offers support. Whose favour, then, is he seeking? Inconclusive.

The café, as he enters, is recovering from its post-commuter rush. Three tables along the circular room are occupied, while a further four show evidence of having been recently vacated. By force of habit he scans the room’s occupants: two recent graduates, and one purported life coach – Alex Kent, hired muscle for Rowan Sugar, seen in his presence six times in the past year. He is dressed as a middling businessman, Kindle in hand; and armed – a Glock under a grey vest.

Scan complete, Roderick chooses a side table along the kitchen wall. He eyes the exists as he takes a seat with smooth movements, calculating angles. As agreed he relays his coordinates to the linked RK800s, timestamped, as well as his preliminary data on Kent. And then with an exhale, he pulls out a pen and begins to flip it around his fingers as he resumes his considerations.

The Sugar family forges connections with the wealthy, the influential, and the eminently clever. They are social brokers. Rowan Sugar’s people reached out to Michelle’s through Mr Liu. Conclusion – Sugar knows of Michelle’s own network, and knows enough to respect the proper channels. Sugar is keen enough on a deal to make the first ouverture, but not so desperate as to agree to Michelle’s first offer.

The pen flicks finger to finger as he considers further. The specifics of what Michelle is working on with him are kept strictly quiet; but a savvy person with a grasp of history will have been able to piece together the gist of it, provided they know to ask the right questions. What does the Madame of Hong Kong need with broken and glitching machines? But if they are people… Conclusion – Sugar intends to capitalise on the progress of the android movement.

14 minutes after choosing a seat, a stocky blond enters the café. His scans confirm the identity: Rowan Sugar, age 36, height 5’9”, weight 169lb. He is clad in charcoal Jimmy Choos and a grey Loro Piana peacoat; as the door closes he removes his gloves – Prada, black python leather. The accompanying bodyguard – Elliot Banker, age 44 – enters discreetly, damp umbrella in hand. Banker claims a seat by the front counter; Roderick dismisses him for the moment.

Sugar is quick to spot him: pen tucked into the breast pocket, hands resting casually atop the table, fingers laced and gaze focused.

Roderick rises to his feet smoothly as Sugar approaches. To his left, the covert guard eyes them over an untouched latte; he hasn’t swiped to a new page in 72 seconds.

“Mr Sugar, a pleasure to meet you.”

Sugar smiles, an easy thing; his eyes crease at the corners – genial disposition. “Mr O’Connell, likewise.” His handshake is firm but not forceful – confident. Taking his seat, Sugar eyes the helmet at the table’s edge. “I see you like bikes. Good man.” Casually he unwinds his scarf – Versace, 100% vicuña – as he asks, “What model?”

Roderick quirks an eyebrow, dismissing the material analysis. He answers evenly, “2020 R1250GS.”

Sugar’s pulse jumps briefly – excitement. He leans forward. “A classic! That’s the gunmetal one outside, is it? You must have retrofitted it, if it’s street legal.”

“Of course, it is fully compliant.”

Expression keen, Sugar gestures for the waiter while eyeing Roderick up and down. “I see we’ll get along just fine, Mr O’Connell.” The waiter pauses at his shoulder as he continues, “Not coffee for you, I think not. Tell me, have you tried Scottish breakfast tea?”

Roderick allows himself a small curl of the lips. With a curious lilt he replies, “I have not.”

Sugar turns his gaze to the waiter and flashes a smile. “Fidel! Two Scottish teas. And a buttered scone with plum jam for me. Mr O’Connell?”

“No, thank you.”

Sugar frowns. “You’re sure? This is the very best paleo bakery in the city. Fidel, tell him.”

Fidel Madando, age 19. Art major at San Francisco University. No immediate connection to Sugar; Roderick logs the data for future consideration. In his internal display a message appears from Quinn; Roderick diverts a portion of processing power to review the attached data packet, but otherwise remains focused on the waiter.

Madando smiles at them with practised politeness. “The ginger snaps are freshly baked an hour ago, sir. Very tasty.”

Roderick considers first Madando, then Sugar. He nods once. “Just the one, then.”

Sugar positively beams. “Good man!” he chuckles. As Madando excuses himself to the kitchens, Sugar relaxes into his seat. Slowly he begins to unbutton his peacoat. He eyes Roderick. “I must say, Mr O’Connell, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Madame,” he admits, shrugging out of the sleeves, “is a fearsome creature. What inspired you to partner with such a legend?”

Roderick refines his profile. Rowan Sugar is competent. He is pleased when he can assert his influence. His manner is genial, approachable; he enjoys people. He is accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, to positive attention, to control, and will likely be agreeable if he feels catered to. Also, there is a 67% chance that he is attracted to Roderick.

He can work with that.

Madando returns with two stoneware mugs, a plate of scone, and a small platter of ginger snaps all balanced expertly across his arms. Smiling first at Sugar and then at Roderick, he deposits each dish with care, and with a bob of his head he retreats.

Sugar wraps his hands around the mug, eyes on Roderick.

Roderick picks up his own mug, tilting his head. “In answer to your question, I was approached by the Madame several months ago. It would seem I have a skillset she saw fit to use.”

“Which is?”

Lips parted, body fully forward, pupils dilated – 78% chance. Roderick allows his gaze to wander Sugar’s face, briefly. He smiles. “I am good with people,” he says pleasantly.

“Oh I believe it,” agrees Sugar. His eyes crease as he returns the smile. “The Madame tolerates only the very talented. You must be very special, indeed.”

Despite himself a sliver of sardonic amusement slides across his face. “Indeed,” echoes Roderick. He takes a careful sip from the mug.

         ANALYSIS COMPLETE
         >
Camellia sinensis var. assamica
         > Trace minerals

Sugar’s expression is watchful as he blows on his own tea. “Good?” he asks when Roderick lowers the mug.

Roderick can taste with his oral receptors, but not in the way a human would. Even so, the component profile is – not unappealing. He hums, and takes a second small sip, to Sugar’s visible pleasure.

Sugar leans back, cradling his mug in front of his sternum; he chuckles. “Well now,” she says musingly, “now that I’ve introduced you to the wonders of Scotland, I think we should get down to business.”

“Agreed.” Carefully Roderick sets down the mug. “According to what I have been told, you are prepared to support a minor project of ours.”

“Minor, he says.” Sugar smiles wryly, idly tracing the rim of his cup with a fingertip. “The Madame entertains no minor projects. We both know this, I think.”

After a pause, Roderick nods his head in assent. “You are correct. The Madame is interested in your support because of what your resources would mean for our success.” Roderick glances down at his tea, considering. He reaches for a ginger snap. “You are aware that the sentience of androids is largely contested. The Madame intends for the world to know the truth – that is why she asks for your patronage.”

“The truth being that androids are their own people.” Sugar’s tone is inscrutable, but the raised eyebrow suggests scepticism.

Roderick raises his own. Pointedly he glances at the undercover bodyguard. “The Madame entertains no fools either, Mr Sugar.” He takes a precise bite of the ginger snap.

Sugar is very still for 27.34 seconds. Finally he chuckles lowly and sips at his own tea. “I don’t suppose the Madame is willing to share her own resources with me? I am…quite impressed, I must say.”

Roderick analyses Sugar’s response, minimising the component breakdown of the ginger snap in his internal display.

Body language is non defensive, stress levels moderately low – unchanged with the topic shift. Sugar does not publicly own androids, although he has been seen to interact with them neutrally in public. He has not opened negotiations with Michelle in order to oppose her, despite being in position to do so. Conclusion – Rowan Sugar is in favour of android sentience, privately, supported also by the generous salary he pays Kent. He wants access to the resources that androids in good standing could provide; possibly to the leaders of the movement, like Jericho. He is amenable to further cooperation with Roderick, expressly so.

Probability of success: 86%.

Roderick’s tone edges against impropriety as he answers, “I expect we can work something out, Mr Sugar.”

“Rowan,” Sugar corrects. His gaze is keen on Roderick, his heartbeat elevated just above normal.

“Rowan,” Roderick repeats levelly. Internally his objectives update themselves with a hum.

         Mission: Relocate deviants to safety.
         Objectives:
                  1. Confirm mutual aid agreement with Rowan Sugar
                  a. Confirm payment schedule
                 b. Negotiate amount
                  c. Secure complicity                                   [COMPLETE]

         Objective:
         Contact other RK800s

Roderick considers nine approaches in quick succession, aiming for the highest probability of success. Sugar is less likely to cooperate if he believes Roderick to be in charge of the mission; his position demands a certain level of inflexibility when interacting with those of a similar status. He is not likely to agree to any obvious tactics – no bribery, nor threats. Displays of wealth or subservience will not impress him.

Michelle is oddly protective of him, and of Quinn and Doyle. She would disapprove of the plan he is left to consider. The mission, he is quick to remind himself, always comes first; decisively he dismisses the alternate options from his internal display.

“The Madame has asked that you double the offer made with Mr Liu. In exchange,” says Roderick smoothly, “she is amenable to offering my services in regards to your recent difficulties with Detective Statler.”

Sugar smiles, slowly. “The Madame is generous, of course. But I wonder how much she will benefit to see the detective sorted. No, I think I can find a better use for your particular skills, Mr O’Connell.”

With a tilt of his head he corrects, “Roderick.” To Sugar’s sharpened gaze he adds, “Fair is fair, Rowan.”

Sugar’s pulse jumps. Probability of success: 94%.

“Well,” he chuckles. Setting the mug down, Sugar nods. “I see no problem with the Madame’s request. Public perception is an expensive pursuit. I am happy to assist a worthy cause.” His smile is nothing if not charming.

“The Madame will be pleased to hear it,” Roderick replies with the edge of a smile. He sets down the ginger snap and again picks up the mug. Expression mild, he eyes Sugar speculatively. “What are your thoughts on the proposed schedule?” As he asks, the second objective updates with another hum.

“Oh I think my people can work something out,” says Sugar offhand.

Roderick narrows his eyes minutely. “Rowan, I expect you can appreciate that I require a more definitive answer for the Madame.”

Sugar is amused. “Oh yes.” With a casual air he takes a bite of the forgotten scone; he does not seem inclined to continue the line of conversation. Instead, his gaze easily wanders the room while new patrons enter – amused, dismissive.

Roderick considers. He cannot risk losing ground, not with how valuable Sugar’s assistance would be to their chances of success; the mission objectives must be completed. Idly he takes a third small sip of the tea, observing Sugar as Sugar’s gaze returns to him in turn.

Sugar is testing him.

Despite himself Roderick feels a flicker of irritation. Lives are on the line, politics prioritised over morality on the question of androids’ place in society, and yet Sugar cannot help but to be true to his nature, to play his games.

The mission comes first, always. No matter the cost.

Externally he smiles, a faint curl of the lips. “You place me in a difficult position, Rowan.”

Matching his smile with a smirk of his own, Sugar dusts his fingers clean of crumbs. “I believe in your skills, Roderick.” Eyeing Roderick he adds slyly, “I’m sure there’s nothing too hard for you to handle.”

Roderick twitches a brow. Head tilted, he opens his mouth to respond – a quiet buzz preempts him.

To their left, the undercover android flicks his eyes their way, before returning to his reading. Sugar doesn’t miss the non-reaction – nor that Roderick has seen him watching for it.

With a wry twist to his lips, he gestures carelessly at Roderick as the buzzing continues. “Don’t keep them waiting on my account.”

Roderick pulls his phone from a pocket. “This is O’Connell.”

The voice on the other end is deep, but cheery as he answers. “Hello Mr O’Connell, this is Charles with Redwood Shipping. I’m calling to ask a few questions about your recent experiences with us, I hope this is a good time?”

“A moment, please,” says Roderick neutrally, eyeing Sugar. Muting the call, he gestures with the phone, explaining shortly, “Customer survey.”

To this Sugar looks delighted. “Oh the poor worker bees! Underpaid, underappreciated. Make his day, Roderick, I’ll wait.” Pointedly he sips at his tea, eyebrows wagging.

Roderick ignores the mingled amusement and annoyance that seeps through his circuits, re-engaging the call. “I have a moment, yes.”

“Great!” chirps Charles through the speaker. “As a premium member, Mr O’Connell, your satisfaction is our priority. We’re happy when you’re happy. This should only take a few minutes.”

Internally Roderick receives a message, marked priority. It’s from Quinn. Apportioning the survey questions only a fraction of his attention, Roderick instead focuses on the message; his wider situational awareness sharpens as his focus turns inward.

         MESSAGE RECEIVED am 11:42:39 pst
         > SENDER: <RK800 #313 248 317 -55>
         > We’ve received word from port 7, port 19, and port 24. Shipments were successful. No issues. Send Charles our regards.

Outwardly Roderick answers the five survey questions with bland patience. It is good news from Quinn – 74 more androids safely tucked away in enclaves. And Charles’ call is precisely on time, and precisely the agreed three minutes seven seconds in duration as he makes his farewells.

“No problems?” asks Sugar casually.

“None requiring my immediate attention,” Roderick answers evenly.

Chuckling, Sugar sets aside his tea. “You gave the man seven out of ten stars. Why not higher?”

Roderick leans forward in his seat, slowly, bracing his elbows on the table. He tilts his head. “My job requires that I maintain very exacting standards, of which the majority fail to manage. I expect much, as the Madame expects much of me.”

With equal slowness Sugar moves to match Roderick’s position, hands folded under his own chin. “So you expect the impossible from everyone?”

Roderick’s smile is calculating as he responds, “Only the few.” Sugar wears a Cheshire grin as Roderick continues, “I have been assigned this mission, to ensure the Madame has every bit of support she asks for. And I always complete my mission, Rowan.”

“Of course you do.” Grin fading, Sugar eases back. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be the reason you fail today.” Worrying his lip with a finger Sugar muses, “A monthly stipend should do, given the state of things – through the usual channels?”

“Much obliged,” answers Roderick pleasantly. He sits back as well, and picks up his mug. “Quite the expensive habit, tea.” He salutes with the mug, watching Sugar.

Sugar salutes with his own. “What can I say? I like only the best in life.”

Roderick raises an eyebrow. “I expect nothing less of you.” Checking his watch briefly, Roderick sets aside his tea. “I will need to return shortly, there is still much to do.”

“Oh, and we were enjoying ourselves so much,” says Sugar in good humour.

Roderick’s lips twitch in a smirk, but he says nothing. Nodding at Sugar, then at the bodyguard pretending to read, Roderick stands and straightens his blazer. He collects his helmet.

Sugar remains seated, eyeing Roderick speculatively. “Perhaps next time we meet you’ll show me that bike of yours?”

Roderick considers. He says amicably, “Something to look forward to.”

“Good man,” Sugar chuckles. He stands and offers his hand to shake.

“Rowan,” Roderick nods.

“Roderick,” Sugar echoes.

They shake firmly, deal sealed. Internally Roderick’s objectives update again, fading from view as they archive themselves.

         Mission: Relocate deviants to safety.
         Objectives:
                  1. Confirm mutual aid agreement with Rowan Sugar
                  a. Confirm payment schedule                  [COMPLETE]
                  b. Negotiate amount                           [COMPLETE]
                  c. Secure complicity                           [COMPLETE]

         Objective:
         Contact other RK800s

As Sugar takes his seat again, Roderick snags the last two ginger snaps and tucks them into his breast pocket, wrapped in a napkin. “For the road,” he winks. While Sugar chuckles, he turns precisely on his heel and proceeds to the door, nodding at the human bodyguard; a last scan of the room out of habit, and then he is again outside.

The sky is overcast, the cement slick from an earlier shower. The temperature is a chill 12.7ºC. Along the streets crowds are bundled in coats and scarves in a riot of scurrying colours; Roderick dons his own windbreaker once he reaches his motorcycle, pulling on matching carmine gloves. He considers the café, securing his helmet. Their fourth shipment of people is a success. Rowan Sugar, and his mafia, is firmly onside. Their agent Charles is in place. His present objectives have been completed – excepting that one glitch. It is a good day, he reminds himself.

Now to face Michelle with his plan.

Michelle – he grimaces under the visor, swinging a leg over the seat. The mission comes first. Today is a good day. With a sigh, he speeds off.

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