So…things have been a little crazy. I may have severely underestimated how much time was required in packing an entire house *whines*. Anyway, I hope the wait for this chapter was worth it – and the part 2 coming up with it! Yes, there will be a follow on to this prank, you'll all see why at the end.
Shorter entry this time, but I didn't want to add more just for the sake of it!
Special thanks for reviews: xNarielx, AnUnorthodoxDecision, Minecraft Guardiansaiyan and lordvaatithewindmage.
"I ain't touching it."
"Well, I'm not going near it."
"Shall we just agree that none of us touches that box until Markus gets here?"
"Simon, that thing has been sitting there for literal hours! How do we know it's not a bomb?!"
"It's not ticking, that's a good sign."
"Not the time, Josh!"
North, Simon and Josh were all hovering around a box in Simon's research area – a box which had been addressed and delivered to the Jericho apartments early that morning. Since they had been out at a PR event, none of the Jericho leaders had been there to receive the package. It had in fact been Rupert who left it in Simon's lab to be dealt with later, but he hadn't really given any thought as to the strangeness of who was meant to be receiving it.
The trio stared at the label on the top, debating who was going to be the one to take the eventual plunge and open it when Markus reappeared. "So I've spoken to Rupert, and he says this isn't the first time he's had packages turn up here for Connor, oddly. He just normally forwards them on to the DPD – apparently Connor is aware that this has happened before."
"Seriously?" North asked incredulously. "Who would send things for Connor here? It's pretty well known that he doesn't live at the apartments."
"True, but no-one outside of a handful of people know Connor and Hank's address, so this is a good default if you need to get something to them," Josh added thoughtfully.
"But who would want to send something to Connor that doesn't know him well enough to know where he lives?" she pressed, still suspicious.
"A fan? I mean, we've had some funky stuff arrive here for us in the past, wouldn't surprise me if Connor has some too," Simon offered, earning a scowl from Josh.
"Much of the 'funky stuff', as you put it, Simon, has nothing to do with fans, and you know it," Josh deadpanned, which had Markus coughing awkwardly as North and Simon blushed lightly. "That's something I'm not going to discuss, anyway. The question of the hour is, what do we do about this?"
Markus scanned the box in detail – his RK scanners were a blessing at times like this – and he scowled when he saw the contents. "How odd," he started, earning raised eyebrows from the others.
"What do you see?" Simon asked, intrigued by how Markus was staring in utter confusion.
"Nothing, apart from the fact that there's another box inside, one that I can't scan through."
North, Simon and Josh all shared a look. "Wait, what-" North scowled as it clicked. "I get it!" The other three spun to her. "This is a prank, it's bound to be!"
"What makes you so sure of that…?" Josh wondered slowly.
"I'll bet you that thing is rigged with something inside if Markus' scanners don't work," North said with a smirk. "Someone's out to get Connor."
"Well, it is a sizeable list of potential suspects given the number of people now involved," Simon chuckled.
Markus hummed in thought. "But who would send something here? Everyone involved in the prank war knows where Connor lives, or would ask someone who did know where to set as the destination of the box."
Silence. No-one had an answer to that one.
"…I'm laying bets on Richard," North decided with a snigger.
"I don't think so, I'd more suspect someone like Kara," Simon said while using his own scanner on the box.
"After what happened with the backup drive, I don't think anyone is that keen to try an ambitious prank anytime soon," Josh reminded them.
"Okay, smartass, then who was this?" she snapped at him.
"…Votes on calling Connor over to open it and see the results?" Markus suggested with a smile. He wasn't surprised that the agreement was unanimous.
One hour later saw Connor arrive at the apartments with some surprising company in tow. He'd decided not to sit around on his day off and had been enjoying a long spar when Markus' transmission had come through. "You didn't have to accompany me down here, Gavin," Connor told him as they exited the car, locking up before heading for Simon's lab.
"And miss out on seeing what has the Jericrew so intrigued? Nah, I wasn't going to pass this one up," Gavin sniggered as they made their way across. Connor rolled his eyes, but didn't comment further.
Gavin was surprised at the number of androids which greeted both of them as they walked past, but Connor wasn't. Both Katie and Gavin had become rather famous among androids after the events at Zlatko's club, though neither android had ever informed Gavin of this. They hadn't been sure of what his reaction would be, but Connor realised it was about time the conversation was had – especially since Gavin and Simon had stayed in contact after their little team-up at the precinct.
Connor was glad that Gavin was so much more comfortable around androids now. He wouldn't have thought this would be possible a year ago when Katie had joined them.
As they arrived in the lab, both men were surprised to see their partners there, they hadn't realised that Markus had contacted them as well. All eyes turned to the new entrants in slight shock, not having expected Connor to bring company. "Um, hello?" Connor greeted, unsure, though he was amused by the expressions on various people's faces.
"Hello, Connor, Gavin," Markus nodded in reply. "Seeing both of you down here is somewhat of a surprise."
"Well, the dipshit and I were actually busy when you guys called," Gavin told him while wandering over to his partner, pulling her aside for a quiet conversation away from prying ears.
"Busy? Doing what?" Hank asked incredulously.
"Training. You are aware that Gavin has asked me to assist him in advanced hand-to-hand combat, and we decided to continue the tuition since we were both available." Knowing that the conversation would make Gavin uncomfortable, despite the man not listening and being engaged in his own quiet conversation with Katie, Connor diverted his attention to the box instead. "This is it?"
Simon nodded from his terminal at the nearby desk. "Yeah. We've used every scan we think will be safe, but still nothing. Something is lining the second box and preventing us from going any deeper." He joined the others by the table which had the mystery object situated on top. "Are your scanners able to penetrate any deeper?"
"No, I've got the same capability as Markus since his upgrade cycle at New Year," Connor said while running his own scans, "but there aren't any fingerprints anywhere on the box either."
"So they're an android or wore gloves," Hank surmised. "No surprise there, someone wants to leave you guessing."
"Any thoughts on who might be behind this?" Josh asked as Gavin and Katie finished their conversation and wandered back over.
"Unfortunately not, the list of potential suspects is rather high," Connor sighed. "Sending the package here is an interesting twist, but that would only leave me with one notable suspect." His gaze spun to Katie, who shrugged.
"I'm afraid your guess is as good as mine if it's Rich or not, Connor," she said apologetically. "Feel free to pester him if you like, he's sort of ignoring me right now…"
When Gavin growled under his breath, that earned a few raised eyebrows. "That sounds like a story," Markus stated in amusement.
"Let's just say we had a slight falling out," Katie admitted with a blush. "Since he's back stateside for a couple of months, he might have done this out of boredom."
"We know damn well what your brother does when he's bored," Gavin snarled, earning an elbow from his girlfriend as she stared at him.
Hank whistled at the venom in that statement. "Sounds like this was more than just a mere falling out."
Gavin rolled his eyes and let out a long breath. "Whatever, not what we're focusing on right now. Can't someone have just sent this here to throw Connor off the scent, or because they knew it would get a better audience?"
That caused a few of them to share looks, that hadn't really occurred to anyone before then. "Wait…maybe it isn't such a good idea for all of us to be in here," North said slowly, eyeing the box warily.
"I can't see this being another mind switcher or anything like that, I think we all learned our lesson about messing around like that the hard way," Markus stated while pointedly looking at Connor, who smiled contritely. "Gavin might be on to something about this being intended for an audience though."
All eyes turned to Connor, who just raised an eyebrow. "I'm not opening it. Not until I know who sent it."
"There might be a note on the inside," Simon suggested. Hank and North both chuckled at the thought.
"Come on, Connor, it's not going to be anything that bad I'm sure," Hank told him with a smile, but the expression fell when he saw his son's reaction.
"Why don't you open it then, Hank? I'm sure if it was sent to somewhere with lots of androids, a human won't be at much risk," he smiled all too sweetly.
North cackled and started pushing against Hank to shove him forward. "Sounds perfect to me!"
"Get your fucking harpy claws out of me, bitch!" he shouted back at her before the two got into a shoving contest, North leaning against Hank while the human just left his full weight to be held up by the female android. Sighing in mild irritation, Simon shoved North enough to put her off-balance, which caused Hank to fall without his support. The pair fell in a heap on the floor, to which Katie and Gavin started snickering as the other four rolled their eyes.
"Does anyone want to volunteer for opening the box?" Josh asked, to which Katie sighed.
"Sure, I'll do it." Her progress was stopped by a concerned hand on her shoulder.
Gavin looked at her intently. "You sure about this?"
"I doubt it's anything harmful, Gavin, I'm just bracing myself for a face-full of something." Katie marched up to the box, deftly cutting away the tape to open the cardboard layer on the outside to reveal the thick black wood on the inside. There were no clues as to the sender or contents, so Katie took in a deep breath before she undid the latch. Just as she lifted it open, she ducked down under the table.
Connor chuckled at her move. "How very brave of you," he quipped, getting a tongue stuck out at him in return.
"Braver than you were," she shot back, taking the offered hand from Connor when nothing happened. They all leant over to look inside…
Only to find another box, again impenetrable to scanners.
"What's this shit, a box within a box?" Hank mused everyone shared a confused look.
Josh sighed. "Why do I get the feeling there's nothing inside after all this and it's just a massive ploy?"
As they all looked at each other again, Katie held her hands up. "I've already taken the fall once, you guys can have fun opening this one!"
Simon sighed and stepped up, wincing as he unlatched the new box before edging the lid open slowly. As it came up, however, he growled and let the lid go to snap back on its hinges as he found another box, metal this time. "Seriously?"
"I think Josh might be on to something," Katie suggested. "This is a lot of effort, and nothing that big can fit in there now." It was true, the box was now down to only nine inches each way.
Scowling, Markus opened the next lid without much fanfare and they found another, plastic this time, box inside. "Oh for fuck's sake!" Hank exclaimed. "This is just plain annoying now!"
North flipped this lid, and everyone stared at the tiny metal box which she pulled out from the centre. It was only two inches wide, deep and long. It was eerily reminiscent of a ring box. "Someone proposing to you, Connor?" she joked while tossing it to the other android, Connor catching it lazily.
Everyone's eyes widened when Connor went rigid, his LED suddenly shorting out and he collapsed in a heap.
It took almost a minute for Connor to come back online, groaning as he did so. He was suddenly aware of how many people were around him and it took him a couple of seconds to make sense of the voice in his head.
Connor, are you all right?
I…I'm fine, I think. How long was I out?
Only a minute, but your whole system just fully rebooted. It was horrifying to see you crumple like that.
I don't think I've suffered any ill effects, Markus. Would you be able to give me a hand up while I run a system diagnostic?
Now slightly more cognisant, Connor could sense Markus' interface on his arm and grasped back as the other android pulled him back up to his feet. Everyone bar Hank gave them a little more room, the lieutenant, pulling Connor close to look at him. "You all right, Connor?" he asked worriedly.
Just as Connor was about to nod, he noticed something very weird along the back wall of the lab. Turning his attention to it, Connor had a very bad feeling about what had happened. "Umm, unless there really is what I can only describe as a giant lizard trying to crawl out of that wall…Then no, I'm not," Connor told them honestly.
Everyone looked at him dumbfounded as Connor's HUD flashed with a message, his eyes widening.
[I WON'T DO ANYTHING HARMFUL, CONNOR. DON'T WORRY, THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN, I PROMISE.]
"Shit, I think someone's just managed to hijack my systems," he told them slowly.