Connor took the portscreen from Cress and tapped it, enlarging the image of Iko. Connor could recognise beauty when he saw it. He was able to transpose the golden ratio of beauty onto any face he saw. It was useful as a detective, as there were a lot of crimes involving beautiful women.
It wasn't Connor's first time seeing someone, human or android, with a perfect ratio, but those moments were few and far between, especially for androids, who were designed to stray away from the ratio, as a way to blend in more seamlessly with humans. Attractive, but not too attractive," Kamski had once told him. Androids had wrinkles, deep tear troughs, assymetrical faces. Iko, however was different. Her dark skin was flawless, her lips full and stained a deep red. Her face was young too, like the human models that Connor had once seen on a billboard who did not look a day older than twenty-five. From the height profile, she was as tall as Connor was. He knew her body was designed to draw eyes towards her.
"She was an escort droid?" asked Connor. "To pleasure humans?"
"Well, that's just her body. She wants to be human, so when Thorne managed to find an android body that she could use to blend in, we swapped their personality chips around. So now Darla powers our cargo-ship and Iko can walk and talk and be human."
"The Rampion," said Carswell in a tone of voice akin to a parent speaking about their overacheiving child. "Originally, Iko was a Serv 2.0 or something, and belonged to the Linh family, but Cinder's stepmother discarded Iko's personality chip because of her deviancy. She didn't want a defunct android. But when Cinder and I broke out of prison, Cinder had rescued her personality chip before it could have gone into the trash. So she transferred her to the first piece of tech that Cinder could find, which was the Rampion. She was just a disembodied voice coming from the speakers and I knew she was unhappy with that, so I won Iko a new body."
It was a lot for Connor to process. He ignored Carswell's comment on breaking out of prison and focused on the portscreen. Iko's profile displayed a picture of her Serv model, which did not look like an android at all. Her previous body was plain white, extremely short and ran on treads. She looked like a very short robot, with a singular blue sensor for an eye. Connor knew immediately that this non-human appearance was how humans regulated deviancy. Nobody would treat androids as human if they didn't look human, androids wouldn't believe themselves to be living and thinking if they didn't look like a living and thinking being. He thought about the replacement body.
"And the other android, Darla, is happy with these circumstances?"
"She is. I think she much rather prefers being a ship than being an escort droid," said Thorne.
Connor nodded. Already, the need to solve the case crept up on him. He'd stayed on with the DPD for years until Hank retired, then he joined Markus and Elijah at Cyberlife to create a better, safer world so androids and humans could co-exist. All for nothing, apparently.
Connor didn't know if it was his programming that made him want to take up this case, or if it was because he wanted to. Maybe it was because these humans were basically demanding him of it. He didn't take orders from humans, he reminded himself. He wanted to figure this out on his own volition.
Did he? His body had been rebooted only twenty-eight minutes ago. The first people he met only woke him up out of their own need. This was not unlike Cyberlife, not unlike Amanda programming him to solve cases of deviancy only. Carswell and Cress did not look unkind, but they had a criminal record and Connor knew that a person's appearance did not negate morality. However what he did know, were that Carswell and Cress were heroes, at least in the eyes of the media. But trust didn't come to Connor easily.
But the world had changed. He might not take orders from humans but there were androids who did not even know they were deviant. Was it not his moral right to help? Especially when Carswell and Cress went to such lengths to wake him up? But was it out of necessity, or something else?
Connor was not going to ask to be shut down, though. He had been repaired and upgraded. He did not grieve the loss of his friends, as he had done so for Hank some time ago. Markus already said his final words to him when Connor left for Cyberlife to deactivate his thirium pump. There was no feeling of bitterness towards being activated again in this new and unfamiliar world. He was only confused. Confused and wary. He had a case, though and there was a rather large part of Connor that was tempted to solve it.
"I will help you," he said finally. Cress and Carswell had been staring at him patiently as he was ruminating and looked relieved to hear him speak.
Cress grasped his hands in hers. "Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!"
"Yeah, imagine if he said no and we had to return him to the museum," quipped Carswell.
Cress' hands slipped from his and Connor noticed a twitch of her eyelid as she stopped herself from rolling her eyes at Carswell.
"Well, I suppose we'd better call Cinder and Kai. Let them know we've got a start on all this," she said. She leaned over Connor, towards the screen that displayed a social forum. In a second, the screen flashed and what Connor recognised as a video call was displayed.
In a few seconds, the screen changed and Connor was faced with a tall, Asian man with thick black hair and full lips. He was dressed entirely in regalia, in a white standing collared shirt with epaulets and golden embroidery on his chest.
"Hey, guys. What's up?" This was Kaito, Connor acknowledged, Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth. His greeting sounded entirely too casual and boyish considering he was the ruler of several countries. He looked at Connor. "Who's this? That's not-"
"It is," said Carswell.
Kai's eyes blinked from Carswell's to Connor's own. He stared at him, mouth agape. "I'd better get Cinder."
In a flurry of movement, Kai disappeared from the screen. Connor looked at the busy background, where he saw people roaming around, removing installations. There were white glimmering pillars and a pergola decorated with peonies. Connor knew this to be wedding decorations.
Within a few moments, Kai had returned with a shorter woman in tow. Her mousy brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail. Her cheeks were red.
"You found him?" was the first thing she said. She pushed Kai aside, making sure she was at the forefront of the screen. She looked at Connor. "You found him."
This was the abdicated Lunar queen? The regent Empress of the Eastern Commonwealth? From the images Connor had seen, she'd either been rallying up Lunars and Earthens alike, a fierce look in her eyes, or dolled up and beautiful, but looking uncomfortable in a dress for a press conference of a public outing. Here, she was not dolled up or beautiful, or trying to rouse a revolution. Here, Connor saw nothing but a girl who, even behind a screen, Connor could tell was stressed and scared and desperately needing his help.
"We found him," said Carswell.
"Hello," said Connor.
Cinder stared at him. "Please, find Iko. She's my best friend."
He was already in detective mode. "Where did you last see her?"
"Two weeks ago. She had disappeared when we were meant to go dress shopping for – for our wedding," she glanced at Kai, her fiancée. "I don't know where she went. I can't get in contact with her."
She raised her hand to brush her hair out of her face. She was wearing a long-sleeved grey shirt, so he hadn't noticed her metal limbs before. Her hand, however was exposed, a grey-silver metal with smooth fully articulated joints. She let her hand drop to her side when she noticed Connor looking.
"No one can find her?" Connor asked. He knew that they would have alerted the relevant authorities to to the disappearance of Cinder's best friend, especially if she was royalty.
"No. Usually, when an android goes missing, you'd be able to find them because their personality chip also tracks their location... but... I don't know what's happened. It's like she's been destroyed, but I know she hasn't. I know."
Connor had been in multiple situations where he had to find a missing android. More often than not, they had been taken by anti-android extremists. It was common. After the protests, after the United States allowed androids their rights, there were people who refused to see androids as living and thinking beings. It had been a case Connor had solved. He found the perpetrator, who stalked his targets and managed to publicise his cause by livestreaming his android experiments. It was a case that hardened Connor against humans, an unshakeable feeling that they would never see him as a being, that they would always see him as a thing. It was only the reverence of Hank that Connor could not despise and fear humans, something that he hadn't felt before turning deviant.
Connor had an inkling that this was not unlike that. At the very least, he had to find a body.
"I will find her," said Connor. The tenseness of Cinder's shoulders left her. She looked like she wanted to cry.
She turned towards Kai. "I have to go. I need to help. Please. I can't stay here while she's not."
"Fine," said Kai, clenching his jaw. "Go."
"Where are you?" asked Cinder.
"Canada," said Thorne.
"We had to get out of Detroit," explained Thorne.
"Is that where you found him?"
"I was in a museum," said Connor helpfully. "They stole me and upgraded my body."
"Oh, that's good. So, I suppose we're going on the run again?"
"Nothing ever changes," Kai's sigh came out as a crackle through the speakers.
Cinder ignored him and turned towards the screen "Send me your location and I'll meet you."
Carswell shook his head. "We'll find you. Go in something the Rampion can track you in. We'll need to be on the move."
"Alright," said Cinder. "I'll see you soon, then."
Cress shut the video-call off, the screen returned to the social forum.
"Come on," said Cress. "We should get back."
Thorne nodded. "You alright to stand?"
Connor did so. He felt as if he had just been newly programmed. Which in a way, he had.
Outside, Connor discovered they were in a library. It was night-time and it should have been closed, but somehow Cress managed to penetrate their security system to allow themselves access. It must have been where Cress and Carswell were able to get access to a charging port, as well as to access the net without having their cargo-ship be traced. They were expert runaways.
They had to catch a train to the cargo-ship because it was so big that they had to land the ship somewhere inconspicuous. That inconspicuous place was a farm where a few goats and horses roamed.
Whatever Connor was expecting the Rampion to look like wasn't what he saw. When Carswell said cargo-ship, Connor imagined something resembling a water vehicle. Instead, the Rampion was bigger than any ship Connor could have ever imagined, sleek yet bulky. There was a slight discolouration on the base of the ship, like someone had painted over something there. It wasn't a ship meant for oceans... it was a ship meant for outer-space.
"Nobody owns this farm," said Carswell. "The only people here are a few squatters. Reminds me of landing on Scarlet's farm with Cinder."
Cress snorted. "Come on. Let us in already. We should meet Cinder halfway."
"Captain is King," said Carswell, walking towards the door, a second later, the hatch to the door opened with a thud against the green grass. A password. Connor saved that to his memory, just in case.
Carswell took the lead up the hatch and into the Rampion.
Connor was familiar with a lot of science fiction media. A few people at the DPD had been a fan of the genre. For Hank, it usually hit a bit too close to home for him to have anything other than a general interest in it. For Connor, he admired the genre. There were some that he had enough of, a few classics that seemed to focus more on the battle scenes than the humanity they were fighting for, and there were some that he loved for its discussion on the human mind and soul. Being familiar with the genre, however, didn't prepare him for the real thing, whereupon stepping inside a military-grade space-ship was something that not many people could prepare for.
Carswell and Cress didn't give him time for the grand tour, though. Carswell pointed out several rooms, like the kitchen, the bathroom, their bedrooms. They stopped at the control room, where Thorne sat at the captain's seat and Cress sat in the set besides that.
"Darla, prepare for take off,"
The ship felt alive and warm. Connor remembered there was an android who powered the ship and the disembodied android voice came over the speakers.
"Preparing for take-off, captain." Darla's voice was lilting and feminine, but came off a little metallic in the speakers. The ground beneath Connor's feet started to rumble. "Oh. Who is this?"
"My name is Connor," said Connor.
"This is what we needed to go to Detroit for. Connor is an android. A detective. He's going to help us find Iko," said Cress.
"You're very much welcome here, detective," said Darla. "I do hope you'll find our friend."
"Thank you," said Connor.
"What destination, captain?" said Darla.
"Track Cinder's ID chip, Darla. We'll be meeting her."
"Indeed, captain. Please remember to sit down, and strap yourselves in. This includes you, detective."
Connor heeded Darla's warning and found himself in the closest seat. The buckles around him tightened. The spaceship tilted backwards, and then rocketed towards the skies.