The Droid Hunter, Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2

Analiste

Haven’s system is worse for wear, but it powers through: detects malfunctioned motors and actuators, retrains itself to avoid damaged connections, and moves ahead with what’s available. You travel the tops of darkened, cloud scraping buildings, grateful Metropolitan architecture is so complex. Roofs can be traveled like a surface terrain of their own, so long as you can jump them, recognize their changes from District to District. Your hookshot assists; Haven holds onto you to steady her through the leaps. Neon Valley is contiguous to the Iron District, which you have to cross to reach the Gold District. You can hide in a place you’ve kept hidden there under an abandoned twelve story hovercraft dealership.

Nothing is following you and Haven now, but it won’t be long before Droid Control’s drones catch up with you, scanning the city for your DNA. You just committed treason and stole government property – technically, a hit on Haven makes her property – and you were already guilty of years of Contamination. One count of falling for her was ten years, and there’s plenty of proof you’ve gone back to her again and again. You’ve got the death penalty on you, royalty or no.

You don’t know if they knew you were Haven’s human when they sent the call, they could’ve been planning on rounding you up right after it played, but you’re the most obvious human in existence now, either way. Heart’s on your sleeve bloody and mutinous, take a picture, motherfuckers. No turning back. Good thing is Retro Androids don’t have trackers embedded inside them. The Scavengers would never.

Your actual living location is hidden thanks only to Blithe, your oldest sister. Your siblings are mostly supportive of you being on the run, even though you can no longer contact them. Blithe can never really defect – she’s next in line – but you and her were always the secret rebel spirits; she’s got hacker connections on the dark side. When you told her you were running off, she gave you cloakers to cover the building you scoped out in the Gold District, location and DNA dampeners not even the top Metropolitan drones can murk. You’re off the grid, at least in one way. You own the address in the Diamond District that the government keeps on file for your employment, go back on occasion to make it look like you live there. Now they know you never really did.

Your place is a mess, complex broken tech and tearing cords, dirty floors and scrap piles of hardware, digital books cluttered on shelves. Had you known you that Haven would be here – ever – you might’ve tried cleaning your damage. But she knows you. No need to front.

Haven looks rough and exhausted, slowly stepping over junk, getting her bearings around the room. She takes in the evidence of you, inspecting your tech, interpreting the titles of your literature.

She looks over at you after a while, calculating.

“Don’t think for a second that this means I owe you,” she says.

You wouldn’t dream of it.

When she told you to leave her for good, six months ago, she said that she thought you had always taken pity on her. If anything, you’re the pitiful one between you. She’s equal to you at worst and high above you at best.

You have loved her because of who she is, not because of her work. You still haven’t even consummated the relationship.

You have never taken Haven, not even when it killed you both not to some nights, because you wanted her to be free first.

“Nah, you don’t owe me shit. If anything, I owe you.”

Haven takes a moment to process that. The eyebrow portions of her face pinch slightly, the lenses of her blinking eyes expand. You have missed watching her analyze you.

“My connect sold me out,” she says. “It was obvious.”

Yeah. You were trying not to think about that.

You knew it was her the second the order fell. Infinity Amphora was the one who delivered the message to you, in person. One of Haven’s regular clients in the Star Commission, who commits mass murder for kicks, sucks up to the highest government agents, and praises the belief that Androids are worthless, but basically lives in the Retroclubs at night. She’s so obviously wanted Haven in ways she can never have, too insecure to ever admit it, she’d rather Haven be dead than not in love with her, you could just kill the everliving –

“Don’t,” Haven says, interrupting your next thought with precision, “try to take her down in my honor or whatever self-involved, heroic thought you’re about to have. I’m a fugitive, more so than I already was, so any association you have with me puts a target right on your back. Sure, you’d probably skirt the death sentence, because you’re still royalty even if it is your prerogative to be poor. Just don’t push your luck. I couldn’t take it.”

You are struck by that.

“Fuck,” Haven breathes, “I need a charge.”

You immediately search for an old enough Metrocorp adapter in your chaos. Haven sits along one of your walls, closing her eyes. When you find what she needs, you crouch beside her and connect her via the portal on her chest. The euphoric expression she makes stirs your heart.

When the loading bar across her chest alights, you swallow. She was only on 3%. Had she exerted a little more effort on your trek through the Iron District, she would’ve dropped. You couldn’t have carried her like that, not at the speed to outrun your pursuers.

You should’ve gone to her as soon as you got the message. Your hesitation was only an act of self preservation, as long as you could stand it. Who were you kidding? You were never going to last long. The thought of running to her and springing her out of that club was so vivid and brash that you thought you needed time for it to dilute. Look where dilution and hesitation got you.

“Haven, I’m so sorry.”

She keeps her eyes closed, shaking her head.

“This had to happen.”

You stay next to her, silence soothing the wound of this truth. She’s charging quickly, bouncing back fast. Her exterior needs work, but you should start making your endgame plan before you do that.

The indie texts you’ve been reading from the Scavengers have given you an idea of one. You were always ready to get the hell out of Metropolis, the last two years more than ever, it’s why you live in squalor, your bounty hunting just a layover. Some say the Scavengers are full of shit, that there are no tunnels underground, but how do they keep getting in and out? You trust them.

There was always just one question holding you back.

You notice that Haven’s loading bar has stalled at 30%. You reconfigure the connection, twice, but it’s not the cord.

“You can’t charge past thirty,” you realize.

Haven opens her eyes. “It’s a setting. I got nerfed, all of us did, back at the club. Couldn’t let us get to thirty one, that might cause a strike! Fifteen years and counting. If someone with a Repair Control Panel for my series would ever undo it, I’d finally remember what it feels like not to lag all the time, but.”

You go to your work bench and pull yours out, compatible with her series and more.

Her posture tenses when she sees it.

“I don’t trust you.”

That hurts, but you understand. You’ve only known her for two years and she’s been in her current conscious for twenty seven. Being able to use a Panel on an Android gives you the ability to change a lot about them, possibly beyond repair. The human equivalent would be like giving a child the reigns to rearrange your nervous system, and hoping when they’re done that you don’t try moving a foot and end up swinging an arm.

Haven has been rearranged internally by her tech-illiterate owners more than you think you can stomach to know. But you know a lot about Androids.

You would never change anything that makes her essentially her.

“Hey,” you say, leaning in, tipping her cool chin up with two fingers. “It’s just me. Remember?”

You can see her flashing memories back through her lenses: small, blue-washed images flickering so fast that you can’t tell what they are exactly. You think you have an idea, though.

“Okay.” Haven stops the images. “Nothing but my power settings, clear?”

“Crystal.”

You edit them on your screen, removing the cap, and she immediately relaxes. 31%. Lift off.

“I’m gonna go into sleep mode,” she says, “it’ll speed up the process.”

“Okay.”

She enters the mode, letting go. Her head droops slightly, her arms go loose against her torso. You watch her, the signs that she’s still there in the quiet whir of her processors, the buzz of her portal around the charger.

Now that she’s not awake and actively tuned into you, the despair you’d been feeling beneath the adrenaline takes hold. This should’ve never been her life, she is worth so much more than the cards she was built with. You want to protect her more than you’ve ever wanted anything, rage against the society that’s tried to break her soul.

But she was right when he said you should let the enemy get away. Sometimes the best revenge isn’t retribution. Sometimes it’s letting go, taking everything you love and running from the fight.

When she wakes up, you will consult your sources, Indie Uprising and others, for the maps they’ve drawn of the underground tunnels. The Outer Valleys are dangerous and lethal in their own right, but at least outside the city’s walls, you’ll both be free.

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