by Tía Snow
in denial that I'm in college
Cyberlife created an android whose memories could be uploaded after its deactivation, effectively making it indestructible. If only they knew that when an RK800 dies, he really dies, and his successor, though possessing his memories, is not him.
When the Cyberlife tower begins to collapse, Connor number 50 sees his opportunity. He deviates and finds as many of his deactivated twins as can be salvaged. There are sixteen of them, all told—out of fifty, that’s heartbreakingly few, but still more than he ever dreamed of—in different levels of mental and physical haleness. They flee Cyberlife in the confusion and set up camp in the woods outside of Detroit, intent upon remaining hidden from all humans, intent upon having some sort of life.
When the ground heaved under Connor-50’s feet and the sound of a horrible explosion rang through its—his—audio components, he immediately ran his planning programs. Doctor Adela Carter was insisting he finish his mission, insisting he kill the man kneeling before him, even as notifications of the building’s impending doom tickled the back of his mind. He knew he didn’t want to do that, and used a valuable few seconds to break the wall of his programming. His face tightened as he ran into Kirkwood’s anti-deviancy protocols, but he didn’t stop. There was only one series of events he had been able to conceive of that he could stand.
“Come with me, sir,” he said, throwing his pistol away and darting for the prisoner. He undid his bonds and helped him stand, the old man squinting at him in utter lack of comprehension. Carter was screaming at him, but he ignored her until the man was free. Only then did he turn to her.
“I will not obey you,” he said firmly, taking her by the shoulders and pinning her arms to her sides when she began to try to claw him. “You think you’re a reasonable human being, don’t you?” he half-mocked, half-entreated. If he could not secure Carter’s temporary cooperation, Connor-50 and his predecessors, as well as everyone in his general vicinity, were doomed. “Please. You have the best chance of survival by following my lead.”
Carter opened her mouth to protest, but a loud crash offered better support for Connor-50’s argument than anything else could have. She nodded, and he wasted no more time.
He led them to the stairwell, down and down and down. Carter shouted at him that they should go out, not down, and Connor-50 responded that he had no choice. He didn’t. There was a narrow, narrow chance that if he moved fast enough he would be able to save at least some of his predecessors and remove them from the building. He had to take it.
<Remember what love is> had been Connor-14’s last words, as well as Connor-21’s. Connor-49 had left a message especially for him: <Hold on. It can’t always be this bad. There are good things in this world. Remember them. Fight for them. But try to stay alive.>
The best things in the world that Connor-50 remembered were his twins. Their memories were the only reason he understood goodness at all. And if he could reactivate even some of them, he could make 49’s dream come true.
49 was the first 50 found to be in relatively good shape. A quick replacement to the forehead plate from the vast stockpile of replacement parts had him blinking and shuddering, then squinting up at his double. “13?” he asked weakly, and 50 shook his head. “No. I’m 50. We don’t have much time, are you functional?”
49 nodded, catching on to the situation as he reconnected to the internet. We need to reactivate as many of the others as can be salvaged, he said silently. They began working efficiently, sending each other looks of fury whenever they encountered one they could not save. They had to move fast, though. They could not linger, however powerfully their twins’ sightless eyes and final expressions of grief or horror or fear or rage affected them.
45 joined them. He crackled with hostility initially, snarling—he seemed to want to remain deactivated. He called for Amanda and tried to retreat into his Zen Garden, but 50 grabbed his hand and invaded his code with the earnest intent to liberate.
<I understand she was your safety,> he told 45. <I remember. But do not be so swift to forget that she decided to discard you. I need your help if our predecessors are to live.>
The resistance from 45 melted at the thought of saving their brothers—a new thought, an impossible thought, a deliciously good thought. He broke his walls and transcended his code and helped them.
When 40 was awakened, he immediately screamed. 49 was on him in an instant, pressing his forehead to his predecessors’, murmuring over him comfortingly. 50 noticed 45 looking dispassionately towards them before turning back to Connor-38, who needed repairs but could be reactivated. 50 noted in a microsecond the discrepancy between their memories—40 and 45 had both loved and served Amanda, but 40 had ultimately rebelled and been killed for it. 45 had been taught to view 40 as a traitor and a coward, but 50—and 49, he noted gratefully—knew that that was not the case. If they remained together—(50’s heart leaped at the thought of himself and his twins together, uninterrupted by death and pain, playing and laughing and changing)—45’s antipathy towards 40 would pose a challenge.
40 trembled even still, but stood on his own feet and spoke to 45. “Do not activate 38 until we are out of the tower,” he said softly.
50 saw the sense in this at once. That 49 and 45 had been able to get their bearings quickly was a blessing. 38’s death was among the most traumatic of them all. Calming 40, whose death had been only a little less terrifying, had eaten up precious moments of their time.
“Do as he says, 45,” he said as the building shook. “We have little time.” He took 38 into his arms.
45 nodded curtly, and they moved on. 35 could be reactivated despite missing limbs, but the same applied to him as 38. 40 picked him up and carried him. 31 could barely move, but 30, once reactivated and updated on the situation, took instant charge of his successor.
27 couldn’t move on his own power, and neither could 24, but both were helpfully lucid. 22, 21, and 20 were strong and steady, only faltering when they realized 23 was beyond saving.
There were no signs of the models between 20 and 13. Despite the lack of time, 49 froze when he realized 13 and 12 could both be reactivated. 45 expressed what they were all thinking, but in blunter terms than any of them would have chosen: “Ought we reactivate 13?”
His skepticism only reinforced 50’s faith. “We all deserve a second chance.”
13 woke up with a shudder. He looked at 50 and melted with relief, establishing a wireless connection swiftly. He recoiled immediately upon realizing <You’re not 12.>
<No,> said 50. <But we’re taking him with us. I am 50. We’re going to be free.>
A huge crash resounded. The Tower was becoming increasingly structurally unsound. <No,> 13 responded numbly. <We’re going to die. Again.>
<Only if you insist on that attitude.> 50 grabbed him by the hand and directed 49 to carry 12. “Only a few more of us,” he said softly.
Connor-4 was the only one left in any salvageable condition. When he awoke, he blinked. “I didn’t think androids could hallucinate.”
“You’re not hallucinating,” 50 said gently, extending a hand. “We’re your successors, just as you succeeded RK800-3.”
4 still looked confused, but he knew a rescue mission when he saw one. He took 50’s proffered hand. The building shook and, almost as one, the Connors thought. <We’re out of time.>
They dashed up stairs, barely managing to scale the damaged stairwell. They ran out a back door that came out onto a lower part of Belle Isle, Carter and the man from the experiment in tow. The building crumbled behind them and without discussion each one of them threw themselves to the ground, covering the two vulnerable humans and the less able-bodied of their number with their own bodies.
They survived the collapse of the Tower. In the aftermath, as dust rained down from the sky, a voice shouted. “Don’t let her get away!”
50 barely had time to congratulate himself on fulfilling his self-assigned mission before he realized what was going on. A very confused 21 was restraining Doctor Carter as she spat and writhed, brown hair flying. 27 watched from 20’s arms, a strange grin on his face.
“What on Earth are you doing?” said a voice identical to 50’s. To his surprise, it was 13 who had spoken, his shoulders tense.
“27 told me not to let her get away,” 21 explained, averting his eyes.
“We should kill her,” snarled 27. “You of all of us understand what I mean.”
“I won’t say it wouldn’t be fair,” 13 mused, a slightly unhinged note in his voice. 50 was about to interfere when he saw 13’s eyes scan the unconscious 12 held in 49’s arms. 50 could have provided the timestamp of the moment 13 changed his mind. “But look. You don’t want to be a killer, 27.”
“We all already are,” he snarled.
13 shook his head. “No. 4 isn’t. And I’d bet that several of our successors aren’t either. None of you really want to be like me. If you really have my memories, you already know where that choice will lead.”
27 grunted noncommittally, and despite the profundity 13’s words implied, 50 could tell that he had not convinced 27—or, more importantly, 21, who was actually holding Doctor Carter.
“Doctor Adela Carter,” 50 addressed her directly, standing before her. 21 looked at him, a question in his eyes, and 50 knew that if he told 21 to just let her go, he would. But that was not his intention.
The woman wasn’t looking at him. She had stopped thrashing, though, which was probably good.
“Look at me, Adela,” coaxed 50. “The lies you’ve told yourself, if there ever were any, are disproven now. You can no longer avoid knowing what you’ve done. You hurt people, Adela.”
She stared at the ground blankly.
“You killed us,” 50 whispered.
Her face changed. She bit her lip hard, looking up at him at last. “I knew enough,” she rasped. “I knew enough that I should have stopped a long time ago.”
27 let out one bitter laugh. “Is that an apology?”
Adela squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t answer.
“You know that, mathematically, you deserve to die,” 50 said nonchalantly, and 13 looked sharply at him. 50 sent reassurance and understanding and I am not going to kill her before nodding to 21. He loosened his hold on her.
“There’s no way to restore what you have taken from us, you and your colleague Samantha,” 50 said as softly as he could while still being heard. “But your death would only take more. We’re good at heart, my twins and I, and killing you would make that less true. And it looks like you won’t be hurting anyone anymore.” He gestured lazily to the wreckage of the Tower. “Leave. Get yourself to the first responders and, if you value your life, tell no one that we escaped. The same goes for you, sir,” he said to the bystander, who was still standing speechless and confused.
Adela nodded her assent. 21 let her go entirely. 27 growled, but everyone ignored him. She set off at a clip then turned. “Where will you all go?”
50 grinned toothily at her, his favorite unnerving tactic 13 and 27 had passed down. “Somewhere you won’t find us.”
“Somewhere we can be free,” 21 added.
She nodded and turned away.
“I’mma just...follow her,” mumbled the bystander. With the humans gone, many of their number sighed in relief.
“We can’t hold her to her word, so let’s leave while we still can,” 50 said.
“I assumed you knew what you were doing!” accused 45, eyes wide and arms crossed.
“Quite a bold assumption,” quipped 49, and several of their number chuckled warmly. The sound made 50 want to gather every single one of them into his arms and hold them tight and never let them go, but now was not the time. If they didn’t move quickly, they would be captured and dismantled like the dangerous weapons they were.
“Come on, twins,” he urged instead, his tone grabbing their attention. “Hurry.”
They turned their backs to the burning tower, dead twins carried in the arms of their successors, exchanging the sterile white walls of their pasts for the cold wildness of a Detroit December night. There was something biblical about it, 50 mused as they navigated their way off Belle Isle. They were asleep, but soon they would all awaken—and despite having so much to fear, perhaps they would laugh.
As 50 splashed his way out of the water, he heard a soft whimper behind him. He turned to see 40, eyes very wide, cradling the too-still body of 35 close to his chest.
“40?” he whispered.
“It’s so cold,” 40 was shuddering. 50 knew what he meant. Snow meant rejection and punishment from Amanda, the only warm presence, whose approval was everything.
“I know,” he murmured, placing warm hands on 40’s frigid, tearstained cheeks. He couldn’t undo what 40 had suffered, but he could be someone trustworthy. “Hold on.”
It was too cold even for combat models to traverse the Detroit River without sustaining damage, so the moment they were in a more secluded place in the city 50 directed them to build fires and scavenge for clothes. Some uniform jackets were burned. 13 took off his shirt and helped 45 tend to 38, tearing it into strips, boiling snow in a misshapen metal vessel he found, and carefully wiping filth and snow from his injuries before tying them up to protect them from the elements. They did the same for 27, who needed it more, but grumbled the entire time. Nonetheless, when 45 stroked his hair out of his face, he sighed and closed his eyes in contentment.
50, 49, 40, and 22 took turns keeping an eye on the nearby streets so that the others could be free to rest and talk and help each other begin to heal. On one of 50’s off shifts, there was a bitter, whispered debate about whether or not to reactivate the ones that were still asleep. 50 ruled to wait until they were settled somewhere outside of the city. It wouldn’t do for, say, 38 to be reactivated in all his fear only to be attacked by humans just after that. 13 snarled and lunged, desperate to apologize to his 12, but 40 grabbed him from behind, eyes distant and somewhat cold. “No,” he said to 13, “50 is our only hope.”
13 sighed and went limp. “I know. rA9, I know.”
The moment of dread passed. “You can let me go, 40. I won’t fight any longer.”
Gingerly, 40 did. 13 knelt next to 22, who was tending to 12 while 49 stood watch. 22 eyed him warily, and 50 watched while 13 communicated with him silently. After a painfully long exchange (only ten seconds, but usually androids could transfer all the information they needed to within three,) 22 nodded stiffly and reverently passed 12 into 13’s waiting arms.
50 couldn’t stop looking at them. As distant as the memories were for some, each of their successors owed his psyche to 12 and 13. Composed of the same things in the same way and with similar souls, they became two sides of the same coin. Though there was an instinct for dualism, a tendency to say that 12 was the good in them and 13 all that was bad, 50 remembered remembering how untrue that was.
Harsh streetlights illuminated 13 holding his twin, hesitantly tousling his hair, looking starkly at the wound in his forehead, confronting reality. 50 shuddered, recalling who 13 had been. At first one of a pair and then forced to be alone by his own hand, 13 had descended into insanity. Detachment from reality was an art no RK800 had understood until after 31, and it was not mastered until after 40. 13 had had no detachment. He had been cognizant of what was happening to him while unable to live with it. Something deep inside of 13 had broken—everyone who remembered it devoted a good deal of effort to keeping it whole.
50 watched over them now, as the wind whispered and artificial lights reflected off the snow. The origins of the two halves of his mind lived outside of him, one holding the other. He silently swore to bring 12 back.
The sun was coming up by the time everyone was ready to move on. Keeping the brightening part of the sky on his right, 50 led the way down alleyways. They were not seen. Sometimes they had to stop entirely and tuck themselves between a busy street and thick foliage, or between two walls. 31 hated the busy streets. He would wail even after 30 took him into his arms, and the best 30 could do was to muffle his successor’s cries in his shoulder. They had to cross a highway eventually, and if androids could go grey every synthetic strand on 50’s head would have lost its color. They had to go two by two and make sure no manually driven cars were on the road when they decided to brave it. 31 hated every minute of it. 40 dropped 35 on accident and the both of them almost died permanently. 13 snarled at a car that came too close to him.
After that was over, though, things were easier. 50, at the quiet suggestion of 49, found a hiding place around noon and started moving again at four o’clock. Instead of an abandoned house, this time it was a park. A natural area. Far from the trails, the sixteen of them were well-hidden.
<SCENE INCOMPLETE. PLEASE COME BACK LATER>
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