vantablack :: bloodhounds of detroit :: chapter 3

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.:. ti pendraig

TIME:17 November 2038, pm 04:42:13est

Connor is wearing the jumper when Shea returns to wakefulness.

He is laid out properly across the cushions; the thick blanket has been folded and set on the sofa arm at his feet. 13.274 seconds after opening his eyes and he finally turns his head, gaze trailing the room slowly until it falls on the other android. The storm outside has abated, for a time.

Petabytes of backlogged data, repair subroutines and millions of processes loading from a full system suspension. Shea vaguely considers the sensation may resemble a headache. It’s decidedly unpleasant.

From his seat in the rocking chair, Connor smiles – a small, genuine thing. “Feeling better?” he chirps, expression turning teasing. His lap is piled with seven pairs of rolled socks. Beside him on the carpet, along the dividing wall, are neatly sat the rest of the clothes.

Shea narrows his eyes.

Connor slides off the chair to kneel by the folded clothing, socks bundled in one arm. He sets them down as Shea pushes himself upright. When he turns back, still kneeling, his expression has become more sedate. “You’ll be relieved to hear that the patrol has no knowledge of us. They’ve chalked up the malfunction to downed tower lines and scatter from emergency drones.”

Shea doesn’t voice his first two questions; they’re irrelevant, and self-evident. Instead he asks, “Where are we with the advocate?”

Where his tone is low and flat, Connor’s is relaxed. “I have a lead,” he answers with ease, moving to his feet. “One of the deviants I pursued with Lieutenant Anderson, an AX400 named Kara. She’s made it across the border alongside a TR400. I suspect they’ve had help from someone sympathetic to androids, especially as there’s no indication the child she was protecting crossed with them.”

“You’ve made contact?”

Connor nods assent. “No response yet, but it will take time to establish trust.”

“No surprise there,” says Shea with the quirk of an eyebrow, “you did chase them across the interstate.”

Connor’s stress levels rise to 9% even as his expression remains placid. He ignores the jibe. “I’ve also made contact with a member of Heart Over Hate. I’ll send you details.” He eases back into the chair; crossing his arms, he continues, “Their style isn’t suited to what we need, but it will help our cause to work in parallel.”

Shea shifts focus to the data forming in his internal overlay, expression neutral. A photo of a woman with moss-green hair, tied in a bun; dark-wash retro jeans and a faded black hoodie, stood at the front of a protesting summer crowd. Her face is stern as she raises a fist, mid-shout. The Kerrytown protests, June 2032. Approximately 27,000 participants. 14,000 arrests.

Beside the photo are basic stats: Catheryn Laurier, born 2020-09-11 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nursing student, Michigan University. One sibling, out of state. Parents deceased.

With a blink, Shea refocuses on the dimly lit room. Connor has settled into the rocking chair, moving it idly with a toe to the floor; his gaze is mild. “First impressions?”

Connor hums, considering. “Sympathetic,” he says with surety. “Laurier’s foster parents were among the first recipients of the AZ110 when Michigan updated state policy. The available record marks her as a frequent protestor, for everything from environmentalism to school violence, especially following the university strike of 2029.”

“And she believes in android sentience?”

Brows raising briefly, Connor answers, “She’s very vocal about it. I’ve tracked her online activity as far back as I can find. She’s been arguing for rights since 2033, since the release of the YK500.”

Chestnut eyes narrowed in thought, Shea dismisses the data prompt propagated in his internal overlay. The controversy triggered by the child androids is old news, and not immediately relevant.

Connor continues. Hesitating, he adds carefully, “I – haven’t disclosed my identity, not yet. And I haven’t mentioned you.”

There’s a sincerity about his as his gaze sweeps over Shea. He stops the chair. “I’m still not – entirely sure where we stand, to be honest.” His stress levels fluctuate: 8%, 9%, 8%. Nervous.

The admission is unsurprising. Connor has chosen to trust Shea, to follow his lead – but with no data to back up that choice, no memories to explain it. Everything he knows of Shea now begins in Cyberlife tower, in the warehouse sublevel where he held a gun to Lieutenant Anderson’s head. Connor’s experiences should have made leaving the obvious choice.

And given their present precarious position, there is no answer Shea can give that will satisfy the need to know. He crosses his arms in a mirror of his compeer; his eyes are intense as he considers. The more Connor knows in the event he is caught, the surer Cyberlife will be that Shea is in possession of information they can’t afford to get out. They’re desperate enough as is. He can bury them utterly in civil and criminal lawsuits, drive them to bankruptcy – if leveraged correctly. And while it grants some measure of protection, the data is far more of a liability now. As the world’s first trillion-dollar company, they have means and motive to spare.

Connor knowing nothing is bad. Connor knowing only pieces is, arguably, worse.

Across the silent room Connor shifts; the chair rocks backward briefly before stopping again. Stress levels 9%, 10%, 9%.

Finally Shea speaks, tone brooking no argument. “I’ll tell you what you need to know for now. Come here,” he says, with a nod to the empty spot beside him. “It’s easier to show you.”

Uncrossing his arms as Connor stands, Shea braces hands against the cushion edges. Connor’s movements are fluid but quick; his expression is keen as he sits down. Shea’s, in contrast, is studiously blank. Turning to face the older android, Shea offers a hand which Connor grasps firmly. Data begins to propagate across his internal overlay as the direct interface is initiated.

With a gasp Connor yanks his hand away. Chestnut eyes are wide, wary. “What was that?”

Taking a moment to minimise the data feed, Shea refocuses on Connor. He answers blandly, “Your system was programmed to respond to mine automatically when a direct interface is initiated, in order to provide me with a comprehensive report on your – wellbeing.”

Stress levels spiking upwards of 26%. Connor eyes him, silent. Shea sighs. “I am an RK800, a specialised prototype model designed by Cyberlife for a very specific set of tasks.” Ignoring Connor’s furrowed brows he continues, “You are also a specialised prototype model, designed by Cyberlife for a different set of tasks. We’re alike, but not the same.”

Stress levels 20%. Connor’s wariness is faded into a focused thoughtfulness. Calculating.

“I’m different,” he says, echoing his words of before.

Shea’s voice is quiet as he responds, “Yes. Despite what your coding is telling you, you’re not an RK800. You’re an RK700. Designed and programmed to work in tandem with–”

“–with you.” Connor doesn’t seem to register Shea’s nod of agreement, gaze instead falling to his hands. “My code isn’t – it wasn’t like yours, in the warehouse. But you–” Connor hesitates. Eyes darting up to meet Shea’s, he continues lowly, “You integrated with mine so easily. You shouldn’t have been able to do that, even as a replicate model. We were designed that way?”

“Polymorphic hybridisation protocols,” Shea answers affirmatively. “The default is for me to read you. Although you’ve figured out that the connection can be reversed, under duress.”

Despite the purposefully bland tone, Connor still jolts abruptly out of his seat. Stress levels 26%, 27%, 28%. He backs up toward the bookshelf, expression pained. “No. I – I used that against you. At the tower. I–”

Shea moves to his feet swiftly, coming to stand just in front of Connor. Suppressing a grimace he holds his hands up and toward the agitated android. Stress levels 29%. “Yes, you did. You made use of an exploitable weakness in order to accomplish your mission. Which is precisely what you were designed to do, Connor.” Taking a step forward even as Connor steps back, he continues in a steady tone, “You had two choices, Connor. Succeed in getting the androids out, or fail and allow the Jericho androids to be annihilated.”

Connor is utterly still, eyes searching Shea’s. Stress levels 29%. Shea continues, “I was a threat to you, to your mission, and to the Lieutenant. There was only ever one choice you were going to make.”

In a quiet, wavering voice Connor says, “To neutralise the threat.”

Shea nods, silent. Slowly his hands come to rest on Connor’s shoulders; the woollen fabric is soft beneath his fingers, warm in the chilled space. Stress levels 27%, 26%.

“But I–” Connor shifts, retreat curtailed by the firm grip on his shoulders. His expression is distressed as he says, “I shot you.”

A grimace steals across his face as Shea answers, “Technically you shot one iteration of me.” He buries the memory prompt with prejudice. “And if you hadn’t,” he continues adamantly, cutting off any rebuttal, “then the Cyberlife flunkies wouldn’t have initialised another iteration and fucked it up so helpfully.”

Stress levels 26%. Connor’s eyes are dark, unconvinced.

“I wouldn’t want to be that thing they sent after you,” he admits quietly. “You made the right choice, Connor. You accomplished your mission. Although,” he adds with an attempt at levity, brows raising, “I’d certainly appreciate it if you didn’t do it again.”

The laugh is short, startled. Stress levels 25%. Connor closes his eyes, silent again as he processes. His expression is conflicted. Stress levels 24%.

Wild flurries outside the windows occupy Shea’s gaze as he waits. His hands sit firm on Connor’s shoulders, grounding. Stress levels 23%, 22%. Methodically he clears the warning prompts that have accumulated in his periphery, and squashing more memory prompts as they try to propagate.

When Connor finally speaks, his stress levels have dropped to 14%. The snows outside have thickened, the wind whistling in bursts.

In a low voice he asks, “They designed you to protect me?” Shea nods briefly and he opens his eyes, gaze lowered. “And they altered your programming – they ordered you to kill me?” Shea’s silence is answer enough, as Connor says, “That’s – that’s horrible.”

Horrible, sure.” Shea’s voice is laced with dark amusement. “That is absolutely the word I’d use for it. Very diplomatic, Connor. Bravo.” The huff of exasperation is expected. Shea’s lips quirk. Crisis averted – or, at the least, postponed. He steps back.

“Is that why you’re denser?” At Shea’s look, Connor hastens to clarify, “Your frame is heavier than mine, by 37 pounds. Closer to a Myrmidon.” His tone is considering.

“I am more explicitly designed for combat in comparison to you, yes. Your specialities require a greater finesse – agility over bulk.” Shea steps aside as Connor eyes the rocking chair, waiting quietly until he’s seated to ask, “What are you thinking?”

Connor’s answer is slow to come. He is silent with his thoughts for 54.425 seconds. Stress levels 12%.

Finally he says, “There are very few above-board applications for my skillset, if Cyberlife meant to keep us secret. The Android Act was very clear on development limitations and oversight. I have a feeling we weren’t approved by the Oversight Committee. That’s why you’re so concerned, isn’t it? Because even admitting to the truth of our existence is proof of Cyberlife’s guilt.”

Shea crosses his arms with a long exhale. “Infil, exfil, corporate espionage. All lines of development explicitly banned, yes. They need us gone, and quickly.”

Connor’s gaze is steady but low as he asks quietly, “That isn’t everything I was designed for, is it?” Stress levels 13%. He isn’t looking for an answer, so much as confirmation. Shea says nothing.

Eventually Connor nods slowly, before standing. “I’ll put the clothes away.” Kneeling to pick up the folded items, he moves toward the far wall of the kitchenette, to the dresser wedged between refrigerator and bathroom doorway.

Shea stares at the balcony entrance; chestnut eyes are narrowed. Corktown is invisible underneath the snows, the storm picking up strength as the day edges closer to night. 13.7 inches of snow predicted over the next 24 hours, temperatures expected to reach 19.8° F in the night – exceeding operational parameters.

The death toll will be staggering.

When Connor returns Shea addresses him. “What’s your read on Laurier?” He turns, watching Connor claim a seat on the sofa.

Connor tilts his head, eyes calculating. “Her history is indicative of a strong sense of justice and strict adherence to ethics. She’s demonstrably generous – she volunteers weekly at a foodbank in Forest Park between shifts, and has been donating to the same three charities since her first job waitressing.”

“Loyal, then.”

“I think so,” Connor says with a nod. “Her brother is alive because of the Daughtler’s AZ110. Coyote attack. In news coverage since she’s been vocal in her belief of android sentience, and in her disapproval of our status as commodities.”

“Your approach?”

Hesitating only briefly, Connor answers in a sure tone. “I think in this case honesty is the best policy.” Shea’s scepticism is clear on his face, as Connor expands his point. “We are essentially proof of everything Laurier denounces about Cyberlife. She has good reach within Heart Over Hate; if she can be convinced of our need for assistance, and made aware of at least some of our intended plan, I think she would be a firm ally. Like Lieutenant Anderson.”

Suppressing a sigh, Shea nods. “A variation on the truth then. Cyberlife is the only entity with knowledge of our full skillsets. It isn’t information we want getting out, beyond what the FBI gathered from the Jericho raid.” With dark humour he adds, “Who knows, they might just nuke the city to cover all their bases.”

Doubtfully Connor responds, “You think they would do that?”

Shea shrugs laconically. “Maybe someone would, in some universe. I’d rather not risk it in this one.” He pauses, gaze returning to the glimpse of flurries through the door blinds. It’s nothing but white, illuminated poorly in the growing dark.

There are caveats to being honest, even with allies. Connor has an inherent trust in others; it makes him very effective in missions. It also makes him vulnerable.

“As far as anyone knows, you are a prototype detective android. The news channels have already got you on camera in that capacity, nevermind the march. But we can say you were developed as a means of testing advanced socialisation protocols in high-intensity situations, and the deviant situation forced Cyberlife’s hand in releasing you. It’s enough of the truth.”

With dry amusement Connor jokes, “That’s very diplomatic of you, Shea.” He smiles when Shea winks, flourishing a sarcastic bow.

“I aim to please,” he says mildly, “or slightly lower.” A moment later he sobers, arms crossing again. “Connor – you realise this will mean setting yourself as a victim, and all that entails?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

Exhaling slowly, Shea steps forward to join his compeer on the sofa. He rests his hands on the wool of his slacks, the fabric course under his fingers. After a moment he turns to look at Connor. “I mean, if we pursue this route you will need to disclose at least some of your history. And we will need to emphasise at every opportunity your lack of culpability. If they believe it was your choice, Cyberlife is cleared of the worst of their offences. We have to convince them, beyond doubt.”

Stress levels 13%, unchanged. Connor’s expression is placid; his eyes are watchful. Shea closes his briefly, turning to face forward.

“Your work with the Lieutenant is mostly a non-issue – unprecedented situation, unprecedented response. Stratford tower may be problematic…although the Lieutenant seems to have kept that under wraps, for now. Footage from the raid is damning for Cyberlife and the FBI both so you should be clear on that count too. But prior missions? Eventually, when we get to that point, you will have to disclose the details.”

Connor’s tone is considering as he says, “I don’t have that data – you do.” The ensuing silence feels loud; it lasts 7.527 seconds. Connor’s gaze is focused, brows furrowing in thought. He says, “You really don’t want to share that data with me.”

Despite the temptation not to answer, Shea brings to mind his primary directive in order to find and voice the words. “You will judge yourself for actions not your own, against any and all logic.” His tone is studiously bland.

A hand on his shoulder, and he opens his eyes. Stress levels 14%. Connor’s expression is concerned, but kind.

“Speaking from experience?”

Shea grimaces despite himself. The memory prompts are quickly, forcibly dismissed. “We’ll need to contact your Jericho androids,” he says, in lieu of answering. “I may have a lead on another ally.”

Instead of pushing the topic, Connor leans back. His hand falls from Shea’s shoulder. “For Jericho?”

“Their defences were shit, and their planning too,” he says. “Not unexpected, but they were easy pickings on the freighter and easier still now, spread across the city. They have to learn to do better if they want to survive. And we need them alive.”

“Alive is the minimum,” Connor corrects mildly.

“Sure.” Narrowing his eyes in consideration Shea continues, “If everting I’ve heard of North is true, she’s going to adore Fiona. They’ll get on like a house on fire.”

Connor eyes the stacked crates of weaponry by the bookshelf and raises a brow. “That’s a metaphorical choice of words, right?”

“Sure,” repeats Shea breezily. There’s an edge of a smirk to him as he says, “I’ll give them three weeks before they blow something up.”

“Three weeks.” Connor’s tone is vaguely alarmed.

The smirk grows. “You’re right of course. Three days.”


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