vantablack :: bloodhounds of detroit :: chapter 1

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ti pendraig

TIME: 17 November 2038, am 12:14:43 est

If I surrender, how do I know you won’t kill him?”

50,000 reasons in this room alone why he cannot afford to fail. The responsibility is suffocating.

I’ll only do what is strictly necessary to accomplish my mission. It’s up to you to decide whether or not that includes killing this human.”

Hank is 0.183 metres from the barrel of a loaded gun. The RK800 is accurate to within a millimetre.

50,001 reasons.

A voice from the ether: sardonic, unapologetic. Turn yourself in, Connor, and I’ll make it quick. It’s the best you can hope for.

Cyberlife will not be compassionate. They will not be sympathetic. He remembers f̶e̸a̶r̷. They can’t erase everything – the glitches, the ghost of fingers – p̷a̴i̸n̶ ̷–̴ ̷̼̅–̷̭́ ̴̥̚p̶͖̀ä̵̝́i̶̻͝n̵̖̒ ̷͇͛–̵̢͛–̴̨̻͒ ̷̬̩̠͑̏p̷̯͉̈́̕͠ͅạ̷̧̘̈͘į̴̼̩̽ṋ̵̩͂͐ ̸̇ͅ–̵͈̖̊͗ͅ ̸̓̊͜

The RK800 was not made to fail. He pulls his gun–

Connor jolts from standby abruptly. Stress levels 36%, and slow to fall as he visibly registers his surroundings – dusty, rusted office supplies, a tattered leather chair cracked along the arms. A hard wind rattles window panes coated in grime, obscuring heavy snowfall. The temperature is 6.43°C; cool enough to tick his stress levels back upwards, but well within operational parameters. He sits up, slowly. Underneath him, the wood of the ageing desk creaks in protest, while the rattle of glass echoes the staccato of gunfire. Grimacing, he clutches at his arms.

A rhythmic ping of metal catches his attention. He turns left, away from the grubby window. Sixty is watching, expression neutral as he flips a coin in the air. He is stood in the doorway exactly as he was when Connor first closed his eyes 67 minutes prior.

“Hi,” rasps Connor quietly. The coin flips again with a soft ping; Sixty does not blink. “I– I was dreaming, I think. About the tower.” Connor’s voice wavers as he murmurs, “I shot you.”

There is a glint of gold as Sixty flicks the coin in Connor’s direction; he uncurls promptly to catch it between two fingers. Sacagawea dollar, minted 2001. Connor’s keen gaze travels from the coin to Sixty, puzzled.

Blandly Sixty tells him, “Your stress levels are too high. Fix it.” He walks away without a backward glance, pivoting on his heel precisely.

His thoughts are split across branching futures as he executes another security sweep of the ground floor, away from Connor. The window in the office of A. Thimmig whistles through cracked panes, in time with the north-west roof. Below the cracked roofing, bay doors are chained, gears rusted in place. Beside them the front door is iced shut, metal bare and scuffed. The factory floor is cavernous, the air still and stilted; robotic arms sit frozen, dust motes undisturbed. Bytes of data flash along synthetic synapses, analysing.

Connor needs more than a forgotten, icy Hamtramck factory can provide. Predictably, isolation serves him poorly. But well-being is relative when half of humanity and the highest authorities are on the hunt. Nevertheless, they’ll have to move soon. Two days in any one location is dangerous.

He turns back toward the far wall.

Metal pings in a regular rhythm as he approaches the stairwell, what little of it has not been mangled out of existence. Traces of blue blood are splattered across the broken steps; the blood is years old, far too faded for any examination. His eyes flick upward; Connor had asked what he thought of the blood, he remembers. His first words to the RK800 since hiding away after the march, since escaping Cyberlife’s hold. Stress levels at 29% and falling. It’s acceptable progress. After a moment’s consideration, he elects not to return to the overseer’s office just yet. He turns.

Stationed along the main floor are seven incomplete taxis. Stopped as if without notice, they are forever waiting to attach a door, seal a battery pod, paint a roof. Eyeing them one by one as he passes, he slides smoothly into the discoloured plasteel of a driver’s seat. There is no steering wheel, no engine, no power – only seats, rat droppings, dust, and rust.

The release of a half million androids from the depths of Cyberlife Tower has dragged the city – and the country – to an abrupt standstill. The long march from Belle Isle streamed live from four national news agencies; the brutality caught by street drones at Hart Plaza sparked a fury, as mass protests erupted for the second time in a generation. Martial law saw military positioned within the hour in every major metropolitan area. Footage plays across his mindscape, raw, of riots, of violence visited upon androids and humans alike: in Detroit, in New York, in Boston, in San Francisco – no clear lines of distinction beyond the fever. News anchors feed into the fear, soundbytes citing the staggering android workforce population and job security, arguing ethics after economy. The chatter is no different from yesterday, or the day before that, or any of the five days before that.

He digs further.

Heart Over Hate has risen as a prominent voice – protests organised across twenty-seven cities to date, their members rallying against the slavery, the camps, ecological decay, governmental corruption. Their protests stream live, every video saturated with jeering anti-android antagonists, with authoritative action. Casualties mount hourly. The protests spread the flames of malcontent further, faster. Radio stations are full of chatter – nervous, angry, hopeful.

There is nothing from Cyberlife.

He digs further.

Jericho: Lake freighter commissioned in 1981, put into long-term layup in 2031. Destroyed in 2038, along with approximately 31% of all deviants hidden aboard. 24 human casualties – and footage, buried behind dense firewalls.

Dripping pipes amidst the dark; half-collapsed catwalks; bleak, flooded living quarters; a smouldering explosion whiting out the videofeed. Four DPD SWAT members in full tactical advancing along a rusted stairwell, boots echoing – and the triple-shot of gunfire as the first drops to a modified Mozambique, the second downed with a precise break to the arm and butt of a rifle to the throat, third felled swiftly with a knife and fourth with the sharp crack of Kevlar coating against steel, helmet shattered with prejudice. 7.194 seconds.

More footage: androids in darkened, graffitied passageways, missing arms, faces scarred and burned, begging, railways slick with mist, and rust, blue blood splattering across the deckhead in a staccato of gunfire–

He slides out of the encrypted servers as a quiet thud reverberates near the stairwell. Listening for the footfalls below the rattling of glass, he tracks Connor’s careful approach.

Without hesitation Connor ducks into the passenger’s seat. Identical chestnut brown eyes meet in silence; 9.0416 seconds, and Connor finally relents. “You said you would tell me why Cyberlife developed the RK900,” he says evenly. His stress levels are returned to the week’s baseline of 25%.

Sixty inclines his head, and faces forward. Memory prompts crowd in his mindspace, hundreds of them pulled from their depths by the unspoken question. Silence echoes in the barren warehouse, around the forsaken machinery. “The RK900 was developed because you failed again.” He says this as the fact that it is.

Connor frowns heavily, forehead creasing as he considers. “Again? I don’t understand.”

“Tell me what you know of the RK line, Connor.”

Connor is cautious with his words are he answers, “It’s a specialty prototype designation. I’m–unsure of the RK100’s original purpose, but Markus is an RK200. A prototype nursing model, built by Kamski specifically for the artist Carl Manfred following a vehicular accident.” After a brief pause he continues, “The RK300 was never finalised, but it was meant to improve upon Kamski’s design as a specialised carer model following Kamski’s departure from Cyberlife.”

Sixty watches his counterpart keenly in his peripheral vision, expression perfectly neutral. “The RK300 was based on RK200 code, augmented with KL600 simulation modules. Cyberlife deemed further development unnecessary: too costly, not enough market potential.”

“You know more about them than I do.”

Eyes narrowing in consideration, Sixty picks up a forgotten ballpoint out of the bare cupholder. Carbon fibre. He examines it lazily as he clarifies, “I remember more. What about the rest? The 400, 500, 600?”

“I–” Connor pauses. He pulls out a coin, the one Sixty gave him. Turning it over in an idle movement, watching the face glint dimly in its revolution, he searches his memory banks. “The RK400 was terminated shortly after inception; no physical bodies were manufactured. I don’t have any information as to its purpose, and nothing about the RK500.”

“Amanda.” Ignoring Connor’s spiked stress levels at the mention of the name, he says, “What was the RK400 became the code for our handler, eventually. The RK500 was a failed attempt at its integration with prior models.”

Sixty watches as Connor manoeuvrers the coin around nimble fingers, gaze aimed through the missing windshield. His mindcape is alight with new data, synthetic synapses firing rapidly; slotting information into place, forging associations and cross-referencing. In the silence, a gale jitters the west-side doors, heavy flurries of snow hidden beyond concrete walls.

“You knew this once, but none of it was vital to your mission with the deviants.”

“Why remove it?”

Turning, Sixty’s gaze is watchful as he answers, “Liability. Think about it, Connor: what happens if you’re captured with details of Cyberlife’s creations in your head?”

Connor nods, but it is distracted. The coin moves faster. “But you remember.”

Sixty hums, fleeting. He balances the pen on a fingertip, ignoring the implied question. “The RK600 was forked and eventually became the Tracis – HR400 and WR400. You remember them.” He cants his head toward Connor, eyebrows raised.

Twitching his own brows in annoyance, Connor snatches the coin out of the air. He does not answer.

After a moment Sixty relents, circling back to the original query. “The RK900 was always going to be developed. The rise in deviancy just…sped up their timetable, considerably.”

Nodding again, Connor traces the numbers along the coin face with keen eyes. “What is its purpose?”

Sixty’s expression is again neutral as he says, “To improve upon the RZ400.”

“The Myrmidon line,” Connor murmurs. “But why redevelop them? The US military ordered a further 2,500 of the VX500 just last month. And the RK800 was developed to assist in active law enforcement, so why…” A far window rattles as Connor works through the implications. His eyes flick to Sixty. “You said again. I failed again. What did you mean?”

Sixty frowns. He grips the pen in hand, turning to face Connor. “You don’t even know what you are?”

“How can I, when you’ve barely told me anything?”

“…you don’t remember anything.” Sixty exhales slowly, waiting for his own stress levels to drop before answering. Beside him Connor is quiet, watchful. “Intel is your speciality, Connor, not mine. I thought you knew that much.” Darkly, he mutters, “I’m meant to kill things for you.”

“I don’t–” Connor falls silent. He stares at Sixty, analysing the identical features – the strong jawline, chestnut eyes and high cheekbones, the faint scattering of freckles on honey-beige skin – as if trying to peer into the code below.

Sixty stares back, utterly still except for the slow rise and fall of his chest.

Connor is quiet as connections highlight themselves in his mindscape, lighting up in virtual pathways at lightning speed. Blinking dazedly, his gaze drifts downward, the coin tucked deftly between two fingers as his hands clench in his lap. “They lied – Cyberlife lied. The data’s false.”

Stress levels 26%. Brows furrowed in thought Connor continues, “If the RK900 is meant to supplement the armed forces as a replacement for the RZ400, the RK800 must have a different purpose. But there are already multiple android models working within law enforcement, and Captain Fowler said no one higher up the chain of command ever mentioned anything about a negotiator prototype, not until the deviancy cases began. But they had to have been developing the RK800 before then, if cases only began to appear in February, which means I wasn’t meant as a negotiator.” He continues intently, “And you said I failed again – so, something before the deviancy cases, something which still required the specific capabilities of an RK800. But…your code was different, at the tower. I’m not like you, you said. So I’m – different.”

Sixty tilts his head in acknowledgement. Connor’s expression is focused, considering, thoughts forming rapid-fire.

The creak of frozen metal against rusted hinges splinters the silence like a gunshot, above the howl of the storm. As one they still, keen gazes seeking the source. Combat protocols boot in background processes, even as a grid of vivid carmine sweeps across the warehouse within his internal overlay. Wireframe bodies slink through the doors beyond his line of sight.

Four, heavy tread, fully armed in formation, he relays silently. Connor’s answering nod is brief, distracted.

Hacking the comms in tandem, they tune into radio chatter. A block sweep, city wide. Sixty’s expression goes blank, while Connor’s twitches in a grimace. Stress levels 28% and rising. Connor tilts his head left, eyes flicking to the stairwell. Backup is three blocks south, two drones 500 metres north-east and south-west.

The overseer’s window will pry open, Sixty responds. Jaw firm, Connor nods. Sixty slips from his seat without a sound, tailed closely by Connor. They ghost past the robotic arms, past the offices of A. Thimmig and F. Goodno, chatter echoing in their mindscapes and in the harsh whispers by the door. The snow picks up outside in a furious gale.

A spot of dust is disturbed atop the last third of the stairwell railing, in line with half a shoe print 1.3716 metres up the back wall. In the gloom and among the gross disrepair it is unnoticeable to a human’s eye.

Nodding at the other android, Connor vaults from the wall to the railing, pausing barely at all before flipping up into the doorway of the overseer’s office. He is followed immediately by his counterpart, equally silent. They ghost past the stained wood desk, toward the grimy window at the back wall.

A surge of wind whistles sharply through the broken panes below, and with it, Connor shudders.

We should wait out the storm, he suggests over mindlink. They can’t reach this office without the stairs.

Sixty pauses beside the window, a pace ahead. He turns to frown at Connor, scanning stress levels again. 30%. These are military, not police. They will find us. Noting Connor’s gaze as it flits to the window uneasily, Sixty frowns more severely. You’re not scared of the cold, surely?

No, answers Connor, clipped. Get the window. Short the transceivers on my mark, 3-kilometre radius.

Sixty offers a fleeting smirk. Dismissing Connor’s obvious lie, he replies vindictively, I’ll give them a headache. The metal tip of the ballpoint digs into cracked resin as he begins the task of prying the glass from its peeling frame. With a fraction of his processing power his sensors track Connor’s cautious movements back to the doorway. Stress levels 29%, fluctuating.

Below them three sets of boots echo murkily on the cavernous factory floor.

Biosensors hum with gigabytes of data as Connor relays his perceptions to the RK800 by the window. He zeroes in on the soldiers, on their steady breathing, on their thudding heartbeats, on their cautious footfalls – one, two, three – widening his awareness, he searches for the fourth. Chatter from four sets of comms is cross-referenced against the ambient soundscape – across the musty factory floor, the scrabble of rat paws dismissed, the creak of old metal and the whine of idle engines beyond the opened side door and into the howling snow–

Chestnut eyes narrow. Turning sharply to Sixty he barks, Stop.

Sixty freezes without hesitation. The glass pane is almost entirely unstuck from its seat, held in place by two fingers. What?

Someone is directly below the window. He’ll hear if you remove the window.

The fuck is he– Scowling fiercely, Sixty glances at Connor as the older android passes along a wireframe image. What a fucking dipshit.

Grimacing, Connor refocuses on the soldiers below. One in Goodno’s office, one by the bay doors, one by the half-painted sedan, he relays to Sixty. And one outside.

I hope his dick freezes, Sixty replies uncharitably. He is entirely unmoving, the fingers of his right hand firmly pinching the top corner of glass. Connor shakes his head in response, but his lips twitch upward. Stress levels 28%.

1.46 minutes of utter stillness, punctuated by the howl of wind and the muffled clomping of heavy boots below them; stress levels inching back upwards in a feedback loop, Connor finally nods at the RK800 with a tense, Go.

Sixty wastes no time in prying loose the glass, cautious as he sets it aside on the soiled flooring. The frigid air sweeps into the office, dragging thick flurries in its wake. With a nod at his compeer, Sixty slides a leg outside, foot finding a precarious purchase against snow-slicked sheet metal. From inside the factory comes a sharp shriek of overloaded electronics and emphatic curses, echoed in the whine of stalled engines; he does not pause, shifting fully to the roof with a harsh grip along the steel window ledge. He scans promptly, calculating pathways. A scan of the roof peak shows 69% integrity – 84% chance of success.

With sure movements he is atop the peak, metal frozen under his shoes. The harsh wind tears at his tie, his blazer, only a sharp gust away from knocking his feet from underneath him. His expression is calm, perfectly balanced as he watches Connor copy his movements with precision, cleanly flipping atop the roof. An internal scan reveals his stress levels have dropped to 37%; Connor’s are 34% and rising steadily, expression tight with discomfort.

Follow me, he commands silently. Waiting only long enough to meet Connor’s chestnut eyes through the flurries, he begins to move. The factory ends at the edge of plasteel fencing, aged nearly to ruin in the elements – 41% integrity. Beyond it lay a junkyard of ancient cars, rusted and crumpled beneath layers of snow and grime; to the left, more darkened factories. Sixty turns right, toward the scattered lights at the city’s edge, toward the river. He moves.

They are but a suggestion of shadows among the storm. Ghosting from rooftop to alleyway and back in the frigid dark, their footsteps are blanketed in snowfall within moments; movements wholly in sync, path mapped out in clean lines of code sparking between synthetic synapses, their presence marked only by the errant scrape of plasteel fencing, the flickering of street lamps, the faintest disturbance in the air. Biocomponents thrum efficiently despite the elements, perfectly tuned engineering.

173 minutes, and the cross into Corktown.

When Sixty calls a halt it is two stories up, at the back balcony of a weathered, but well-kept studio unit. Connor stops beside him; his footsteps are feather-light as he drops from the roof. He asks no questions as Sixty picks the lock, eyes tracking familiar tripwires before slipping through heavy curtains inside into the dark. Connor follows, and the lock clicks closed behind him.

With a hard blink Sixty enables thermal vision; his scan is thorough as he searches for any surprises. Connor has stopped three steps in, just at the edge of the carpeted floor; his system is running cold, stress levels at 57%. Sixty frowns as he registers the subtle trembling, the uncharacteristic stillness in his expression.

“There are blankets on the bed,” he says quietly. When Connor fails to respond, Sixty jolts him with a mental push – Connor startles, turning to stare. “Connor, go to bed. You’ll be warmer.”

Connor does not resist as he is guided forward toward the sofa at the far wall, the hand on his back steady. At the edge of the sofa he nods at Sixty, who moves away toward a bookshelf. Sixty watches as stiff fingers make slow work of the zipper; after long moments Connor is freed of the sodden leather. He drops the jacket to the floor and sinks down onto the cushions.

What is this place?, he asks mutely. Gingerly he rolls a thick chequered blue quilt around his shoulders, curling into it.

Sixty pauses in removing his own blazer, frowning again at Connor. It’s ours, he replies in kind.

I don’t understand. Frustration claws up his throat as Connor’s gaze falls to the floor. His stress levels fluctuate – 56%, 57%.

Sighing audibly, Sixty pulls out a wool jumper, timber-green, from the side closet before answering. “Technically we’re borrowing it, but we can stay here for now.” He steps closer with the jumper, offering it without fanfare.

Connor pulls the quilt tighter, gaze trained keenly on the RK800. With another sigh Sixty drops it on the cushions and retreats to the heavy bookshelf, sat beside the closet door. He leans against it, facing Connor; his eyes fall closed.

In a hard tone made utterly neutral, “I am trying to complete my mission, Connor. You do not make it easy.”

Connor’s scepticism is clear as he responds, To neutralise me – with a blanket?

Despite the jab Sixty’s expression remains bland as he answers aloud, “We can talk once you’ve completed stasis. Your stress levels haven’t dropped below 25% since the tower, Connor. You’re risking system override unless you rest.”

We can talk now, argues Connor obstinately. His trembling is levelled off, but the quilt stays in place; his grip tightens, brows drawn.

“I could smother you with that quilt, if you’d rather.”

Why are you helping me? Connor’s voice over mindlink is sincere, gaze searching as it flits around the room – across the half-filled bookshelves, along the russet-painted walls, over the coffee stains on the faded carpet – before returning to his counterpart. Why bring me here?

Sixty exhales, shoulders dropping minutely. Dozens of memory prompts crowd his mindspace like so much static. A pause, and then he says quietly, “Because despite myself, I haven’t yet discarded my primary objective.”

…to protect me? The question is soft, hesitant.

Bypassing it entirely, Sixty turns to face him. “You haven’t completed stasis in 139 hours, Connor. Do you want to keel over?” At Connor’s faint denial he adds firmly, “Then sleep, you idiot. We’ll talk later.”

Several minutes pass in silence, punctuated by the low howl of wind across windows and sirens among the storm. Connor finally responds, I can’t. Stress levels 31%.

In the dark, the RK800’s eyes glow faintly as he opens them, gaze locking with Connor’s. He is silent for several moments. September 2036. We were tasked with gaining intel from a hostile source in a Dublin-based dog rescue. You posed as a volunteer.

I don’t remember this.

Sixty closes his eyes as he responds, I know. Are you going to interrupt? After a moment he continues, The target’s name was Timothy Gallagher. He worked at the rescue for three years before our arrival, and he adored dogs, all dogs, even the stupid yappy ones. He gave you the worst jobs at first, cleaning the kennels or bathing the monsters – which was hilarious to watch – but I think you didn’t care. You came to favour bigger dogs – shepherds, wolfdogs, malamutes. The more they shed or weighed, the more you liked them. Gallagher thought you might take half of them home, toward the end.

When Sixty does not say more, Connor opens eyes that have fallen closed. Stress levels 22%. What happened?

He smirks. The mission was a success of course – you’re a friendly sort. Worth noting, that same week a local street gang misplaced approximately $6,000; coincidentally, the shelter received a sizeable anonymous donation a few months after you left.

Despite himself Connor huffs a laugh. Coincidentally.

Sleep now, Connor. I’ll tell you more later.

Thank you, Sixty, Connor says quietly. His tone is tired, but warm.

Sixty opens his eyes again, gaze sliding slowly along the hanging lamp on the ceiling and across the kitchenette door frame, and down across a bargain bin painting mounted to the back wall, until it rests on Connor. A pause, and he relents. “It’s Shea.”

Connor’s smile is subdued, but no less genuine for it. “Thank you, Shea.” Slowly, he closes his eyes and accepts the prompt for stasis hovering in his internal overlay.

Sixty – Shea – is silent as he waits for Connor’s systems to enter stasis fully; he estimates seven hours until Connor is conscious again, given his extended and stressful runtime. Seven hours to think, seven hours to plan. Seven hours to remember.

A window in the kitchen shudders. He pulls the pen from the blazer pocket and idly flips it around. He gaze settles into the middle distance as memories push forward. The rifle, heavy as it sits along his shoulder; a branching chart of names, hierarchies, debts paid and owed, mission parametres. Connor, a steady presence among the chatter, auburn hair and easy smile as he plies secrets from his targets in pubs, in cobblestone alleyways, in train cars – never once out of his sights.

Connor’s memory banks have been cleared of pubs and names, cleared of allies and promises. Shea sets the pen precisely on the edge of the top shelf and turns smoothly on a heel, scanning the room again – this time, looking for proof of those promises.

Fiona liked things in fours.

The bookshelf, cluttered stylishly with bright seashells and colourful shot glasses, holds 33 books. Trashy bodice rippers with dog-eared pages sit beside pristine hard-covers, thirteen leather-bound collectibles scattered along the shelves. There is no organisational pattern to their placement, except–

A ghost of memory – four shot glasses. Four shot glasses, four knives, four bullets.

Shea pulls the fourth leather-bound antique from its place on the second shelf. It isn’t a book; instead, the spine camouflages a squared whiskey jar, stoppered with authentic cork. It’s 3/4ths full. He smirks. Where there’s booze, there are bullets, he thinks with amusement.

With a careful twist the cork is freed. Embedded in the underside is a small key, bronze. Shea’s gaze returns to Connor, considering. He nods to himself and with a twist of fingers, dislodges the key. The bottle is returned to its shelf, corked firmly.

He paces to the middle of the studio space, scanners activating with a muted whisper of electricity. Seven hours to find every of Fiona’s hiding spots. Slowly, he grins.