vantablack :: bloodhounds of detroit :: chapter 2

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BLOODHOUNDS OF DETROIT

PART I
CHAPTER TWO
.:.
ti pendraig

The problem, he considers, is not so much that Connor doesn’t remember. Faced with an exigent crisis of such staggering magnitude, Cyberlife would necessarily have to minimise its own risk. The data in his head – and missing in Connor’s – would cripple the multinational behemoth if even a fraction of it were known. Cyberlife’s extracurriculars are, strictly speaking, incredibly illegal. Shea expected that Connor would retain minimal information of their shared history, and nothing on the missions themselves.

But it isn’t only mission details his compeer is lacking. It’s everything. He doesn’t follow the nonverbal cues developed over years of teamwork; he doesn’t read Shea as a trusted friend but as a tentative ally, at best. Connor has no data on his own model, and worse – the falsified data. Connor believes he is an RK800.

Mid-afternoon sun is leaking dimly through cracks in the far kitchenette blinds as Connor returns to wakefulness. 7.42 hours of a comprehensive diagnostic override – it’s a slow process.

A cursory system scan reveals his stress levels sit at an acceptable 7%, shifting fractionally as brown eyes open. The air is a chilled 59°F, vastly improved from the frigid winter flurries outside. Connor sits up slowly, holding the blanket close as his gaze shifts along the supplies ranged across the darkened living room. His brows furrow in consideration, eyes meeting identical chestnut. He doesn’t speak.

Shea is content to let him observe in silence. His own gaze returns to his task, hands meticulously wiping down the length of a blade. Matte black, carbonised steel; the cutting edge curves cleanly back like the talons of a claw. 250g of expertly crafted weaponry. He dismisses the flickers of memory as they bubble up, prompted by its familiar weight, focus instead firmly on the present and branching futures. Electric impulses dart along synthetic synapses – calculating obstacles, cataloguing resources, allies and debts owed. A blinking prompt for stasis is ignored on his internal overlay, in the periphery of his vision.

Windows shudder in a surge of howling wind as Connor finally speaks. “You’re planning something, with all of that.” He nods toward a box of explosives, stacked atop another of ordnance. Concealable, untraceable. It sits by Shea’s right boot, blocking the bric-à-brac on the bottom shelves.

“Have you checked the newsfeeds?” Shea counters. He ignores the implied question in Connor’s comment. Heart Over Hate is prominent across channels, again. Fourteen protests organised across Michigan alone, and not a one without human casualties. Coverage shows crowds corralled by armed forces, the sounds discordant and jarring; splashes of red stand in stark relief against the snow. Bodies lay forgotten along city streets, leaking blue. Pundits are angry, afraid; the internet is a disaster of riotous commentary, baying for blood in the name of safety.

By Connor’s shift in posture he’s seeing it too. His expression darkens. “Are we safe here?”

Shea folds the knife, sheathing it on his belt as he steps forward. Connor eyes his change in wardrobe – no longer the Cyberlife standard issue grey suit and skinny tie, but something entirely his own. A cabled burgundy turtleneck, cashmere, tucks into fitted slate wool slacks folded precisely at the cuffs. His belt is wide, black leather, secured with a flat rectangular buckle of brushed bronze, 1” thick. Connor’s eyes narrow briefly as he scans it; good thinking, if futile. It’s a custom make.

Eyes meeting again, Shea answers. “We aren’t safe anywhere now, not for years if we’re lucky. The government wants us scrapped for parts, nevermind what Cyberlife will do to us after your stunt, Babayka. A solid 60% of humanity wouldn’t cry to see us gone, either.” Shea strides to the kitchenette at his left, to the rocking chair by the dividing wall. It’s piled with clothes. “This apartment is ours as long as we need it. Your clothing is still here,” he says, picking up a chequered indigo scarf. 80% wool, 20% rayon. Made in the Burren.

Connor catches the scarf tossed at his head, frown returning. Stress levels 13%. He’s dropped the blanket; it pools around him as his focus remains on the fabric in his hand. “I have no memory of this.” Stress levels 17%. Slowly his hand drops to his lap, gaze drifting to the curtained balcony doors. The wind is quieted, leaving a static air in the dark engulfing them. Stress levels 19%. His grip tightens.

Shea moves toward Connor, coming to a stop at the edge of the sofa. The stasis prompt is larger in his peripheral, pulsing slowly.

A moment’s hesitation, and then Connor shifts over to make room. Advanced socialisation protocols, ever mindful. Shea sprawls sideways in the vacated space, dangling legs over the arm; wool catches on tatty cotton. Closing his eyes, an internal scan tells him his own stress levels have continued to rise unerringly, now to 47%. Irrelevant. “What you don’t remember is less important for now than what you do remember.” Eyes still closed, he waves vaguely, briefly at the room at large. “We’ll sort out your memory problems later. That data’s in the deepest, darkest bowels of Cyberlife, and it’s fully contained. No external access.”

“But you know some of it,” Connor cuts in. Tension is clear in his voice. Not knowing is mostly beyond him – it’s in his blood, baked into his firmware, encoded at the kernel level. The wind whistles lowly outside, windows shuddering again in staccato; a siren pierces above the sounds of flurries, four blocks east. “You could tell me,” he says keenly.

Shea sighs. Unnecessary, but satisfying. “I know enough to keep us safe, and enough to condemn us too. Depends on who’s asking. Obviously someone fucked up wiping my memory before sending me after you.”

“And you won’t tell me what you know.” The sofa shifts as Connor moves his legs off the edge, out of their relaxed lotus position. He is thinking through the probabilities as he continues, “You won’t tell me – not yet. Because it’s a liability. Because you’re trying to protect me.” There is a question in hi voice, but Shea’s eyes remain closed. Stress levels down to 12%. “When is the last time you slept?” Connor asks after a pause.

Sleeping is something biological creatures do. Sleeping, dreaming, dying. Shea scoffs. “I don’t sleep, Connor.”

“Fine,” sighs Connor, “when is the last time you entered stasis?” At Shea’s deliberate silence Connor ventures, “Have you at all, since the tower?” His voice is laced with concern, now. Stress levels 10%.

“I am within acceptable operational parameters. I’ll consider stasis once we know our next steps.” Shea ignores the movement beside him but despite himself, his system tracks as Connor wraps the scarf around his neck. A curl of amusement wends through his circuitry, threaded with a sharp twist of concern. Four in hand, of course. Connor shouldn’t know enough to favour it – something to investigate at a later point.

Connor’s voice is soft as he asks, “What are our options?”

Memories crowd forward again – names, faces, locations. He dismisses them, mostly, excepting three. Autumn 2034; spring 2036; winter 2037. Probabilities calculate within his mindscape in branching lines; intersecting, merging, terminating, they accrue a percentage of success in bold type, blinking in tandem with the stasis prompt. A discordance of hues.

Strength in numbers. They’re at the top of every major shit list. Limited supplies, limited allies – limited options. Not an untenable position, if played correctly.

Opening his eyes, Shea tilts his head back against the folds of blanket. Chestnut eyes meet as Connor looks down at him. Stress levels 8%. “How close are you with the Jericho androids?”

“Markus?” Connor’s expression remains neutral even as a torrent of emotions ripple through his system; a cascade of movement potentiality, expertly suppressed. “We’re–not close. Why?”

“Would they hear you out, if you hailed them? There are four leaders. What about the PL600 – Simon?” Ignoring how Connor’s expression pinches Shea continues, “Nearly 600 androids survived Jericho’s sinking. Added to that are the one million androids you released from Cyberlife. You marched with them – awakened them, and led them across the city. They’ll trust you.”

Connor’s expression has settled on a thoughtful frown, edged with discomfort. Stress levels 14%. “If they’ve followed my instructions they’ll be in hiding all over the city; even I don’t know where. I don’t see what that has to do with Markus and the Jericho leaders.”

“We need allies, and we need numbers. Jericho androids are a known entity – liaise with them, we get credibility in the public eye. Everyone with access to a screen saw what Perkins did – they watched the attack, and the slaughter after when Markus attempted to parley with that entitled prick. It was 2024 all over again.”

“And the androids I freed?” asks Connor, gaze keen. Calculating.

“Strength in numbers. The public may side with us because of Jericho but we need the bigger stick. You know how this game works, Connor – better than I do.” Shea closes his eyes again; the stasis prompt looms in his periphery. An error warning pops up in his mindscape, punctuated by the winds as windows rattle fiercely. Critical stress threshold. Dismissing it with a grimace, he pulls his legs up onto the sofa, boots resting on the arm. The wood creaks in protest.

Shea can find the what; it’s Connor who finds the how.

He opens his eyes. Connor is focused on a midpoint, face turned toward the rocking chair. It’s in his expression: he’s evaluating their options – reviewing known contacts, identifying nexus points, calculating angles of leverage. Gigabytes of data rendering in seconds.

Outside, the snow starts up again with a vengeance. It blocks out the sun, casting the room suddenly into deep shadow, illuminated only by the kitchen clock face. A hazy green light, reaching weakly to the carpet edge; the piles of clothing are a lumpy indistinct mass. In the stillness around them Shea attunes his focus to the android sat beside him. Stress levels 6%. System charge 89%. System integrity 92% – low thirium 310, minimal impairment.

Finally Connor breaks the quiet. “It won’t be enough.” Turning to address Shea directly, quirking an eyebrow briefly at his scrunched position, Connor continues in a measured cadence, “We don’t just need numbers; we need organised numbers. And we need people on our side with experience in rights advocacy. Ideally, we want both sides to play the middle – one calling for peace, the other vocally in favour of the riots.” His voice is considering as he adds, “While I agree with Markus’ message in principle, it’s too naive. The system in place has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Doing the right thing won’t factor into the decision-making here, at least on their end. Agent Perkins only called a halt to the attack when the optics were bad enough.”

Shea nods, once. His gaze drifts to the shadowed ceiling. Critical stress threshold. He suppresses another grimace. “So Jericho as the reasonable option, your androids as the big stick – and someone else as the unpalatable option.”

“Ideally, yes. But that’s if Markus agrees, and he might not.”

Bytes of data are lit up in mindscape as options recalculate. “We can work around him if nothing else. Markus isn’t the only voice in Jericho. And if I’m recalling correctly–”

“Big if,” interjects Connor wryly, eyebrow raising.

Shea continues, unbothered, “–we may have an active ally in that WR400 – North. Bit violent, isn’t she?”

The wind howls in an abrupt salvo; Connor’s feet shift restlessly, hands clenching briefly in his lap. Stress levels 21%, 18%, 13%. His voice is studiously even as he answers. “She is less tied to a passive approach, but we still need a known advocate. Someone with established connections, who can move in circles we can’t.”

“Enzo Sugar?” Shea offers doubtfully.

Connor is already shaking his head. “No, not unless you want civil war. Worth considering as a resource, but he’s far too controversial to be the face of this.” He falls silent, eyes again on a midpoint. Newsfeeds, articles, police records; Shea shadows his search, scrambling the obvious trackers embedded in the governmental databases. The worst of them he leaves for Connor – a delicate touch, his. Less sledgehammer, more scalpel.

WARNING: CRITICAL STRESS THRESHOLD

The warning splays boldly across his internal overlay, jarring.

Grimacing again, Shea closes his eyes. The litany of error messages minimised in his periphery populate across his mindscape as he brings them into focus.

ERROR: OVERCLOCK DEACTIVATED

ERROR: MEMORY LEAK DETECTED – QC-7 PARTITION 4

ERROR: SEGMENTATION FAULT

WARNING: DAMAGE TO BIOCOMPONENT #1995R – 67% INTEGRITY

ERROR: OVERCLOCK DEACTIVATED

WARNING: LOWER STRESS LEVELS – APPROACHING CRITICAL STRESS THRESHOLD

WARNING: CRITICAL STRESS THRESHOLD > 45%

WARNING: CRITICAL STRESS THRESHOLD > 60%

WARNING: CRITICAL STRESS THRESHOLD > 65%

Another warning pops up above the rest; a countdown hovers just below in vivid red.

COMPREHENSIVE DIAGNOSTIC OVERRIDE INITIATING.

1:57
1:56
1:55

“Shit,” he hisses quietly.

1:43
1:42
1:41

Connor turns bodily, brows furrowing in concern. “What is it?”

Shea waves him off with a mental nudge.

1:32
1:31
1:30

TERTIARY PROCESSES DISABLED.

Voice now silenced, Shea answers succinctly over mind-link. I’ll be in stasis for at least six hours. Find our advocate, find a way to get them on our side. Don’t leave this apartment unless you have to – and be prepared to leave me behind.

1:02
1:01
1:00

SECONDARY PROCESSES DISABLED.

Connor’s mental voice easily expresses his displeasure even as he answers, Understood. –Why didn’t you tell me how far you were pushing it?

Shea can no longer respond, focus narrowing only to his own internal systems. The gale outside is muted; the scratch of fabric under his fingers fades from perception. Stress levels 71%. System charge 23%. System integrity 86% – biocomponents damaged.

0:17
0:16
0:15

PRIMARY PROCESSES SUSPENDED.

COMPREHENSIVE DIAGNOSTIC OVERRIDE INITIATED.

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