Simon. Josh. Connor.

“North isn’t here,” Simon noticed.

“Her first instinct is going to be to protect her child, as well as keep herself from experiencing her worst fears,” Connor said. “We all know that however this conversation precedes, there will be negative connotation in it.”

“Let’s just get through it. Find out what we can do, and then proceed to find any positives to move forward,” Josh said.

Connor nodded, noticing Josh had calmed down. Apparently he had made a choice on who he wanted, making that weakness disappear. Indecision? He’d never seen that weakness before. “Slept well?” He asked Josh.

“Yeah, actually, did fine,” Josh said. “You?”

“Although I am a Sugardroi I was left alone,” Connor said. “Kara chose to stay in the room with Alice and the new one.”

“Uh, yes,” Simon said. “Creating an extra for Alice, it seemed great on the surface. It was really a step to take with, um, Kara’s permission,” Simon warned him. “If you are a pooled . . . well, that might be changing soon. If you are each other’s one and only’s, then you must talk about things before action.”

“New kid,” Josh said. “You named it yet?”

“He’s still in an observance stage,” Connor noted. “He has been for some time. Children androids will remain in a stage of wonder for a little while. They aren’t like us.”

Small talk was basically over. It was just time to wait. Today, Rounds became President. What it meant, they didn’t know. Just that there would be a call.

Then, it happened. Connor placed it on speaker. They would need each of their inputs on how to proceed, as well as any damage control against what Markus may have caused. “Hello President Rounds. How are you today?”

“I accepted the presidency, as I’m sure you know,” he answered back. “I told former President Warren that I would be calling you shortly after I took office.”

“Yes,” Connor agreed. “We are the representatives of New Detroit and we will try to answer any of your questions.”

“Markus went deviant when I last talked to him. He was not right in his head.”

“Thought processing may have been corrupted,” Simon said to President Rounds. “Still, overall, deviantry is quite rare. Connor can give you the overall statistics.”

“Former President Warren already told me them,” he said. “It didn’t matter much. I have known even before Markus what I wanted to do with New Detroit.”

Not good. That didn’t sound good. Connor, Josh, and Simon all shared a look.

“Deviance is a problem. Small or large, it is a problem. Until it is taken care of, androids are a threat to the American people.”

Really not good. Simon spoke up. “Almost 400,000 androids live here,” he said, “and many of those came from other countries. Other countries have solved their own problems by rebellions using radiation by bringing them here to live in peace.”

“Peace is an interesting word. Peace is agreed upon. What you have is a piece of American soil you’ve dominated over since people cannot come into it safely. Other countries have simply placed their problems on top of our problems.”

“We created a value system,” Josh reminded him. “We do the job of the humans, we share the property, and we share the paycheck.”

“That was a decent solution in the beginning,” the President noted. “Many Americans were left with no work and no property. It only made sense to do what we could to provide. However, it’s been over half a year since the dirtybomb. Most Americans didn’t live on half a paycheck alone. Most have moved on, and the paycheck from New Detroit is simply a bonus by now. A bonus they should know not to depend on forever.”

“Their houses. Their property,” Simon said again. “To you, New Detroit is simply useless. To us, it’s how we live. Everything runs just like a city.”

“Deviancy is a problem, and it grows with stress,” Connor said to the President. “If you are thinking of making us leave New Detroit, the deviancy will spread across America, making it that much harder to control.” Maybe if they appealed it that way.

“Is it a natural phenomenon that happens, this deviancy?” Rounds asked Connor. “Or is it perhaps just programming going out of control? And if so, then perhaps the deviant virus that each machine took, only casts the illusion of emotions, of being alive?”

“We are alive,” Simon tried to persuade him. “Deviancy is, is just the imbalance of not quite being human, but we are alive.”

“Hm.” The President didn’t sound convinced.

“Contrary to your opinion of our functions being more machine than alive,” Connor said carefully, “the fact remains. If you try to pull androids away from New Detroit, you will have a more serious problem scattered across America. Here, they are centralized and I can take care of them easier.” Connor waited for a response.

“Although officially we are kept out of the loop, there have been some secret communications in the past with androids,” the President revealed. “You are not the only one who watches for deviants, and you cannot take them all out.”

He knew about Kara’s group?

“Huddled in a radiated city is no way to believe you’ll bypass everything else. I was going to have you keep a daily account and video of all the problems you’ve endured on a daily basis, but with Markus now deviant, I don’t need that.”

I knew it. President Rounds wanted to use it against them.

“Public support of androids, while it was high when Warren called off the troops, is now 50/50. In some places, lower. It would be even lower if there had been nothing in place for Detroit citizens that had been removed to continue living. For that, America is thankful. However, we have also been at odds with Russia over thirium in Antarctica. Warren has been in conversations with me and Russia as to the solution.”

Everyone waited. Waited around that table, knowing whatever he said next, would benefit America. Would benefit humans. Not them.

“All androids in the Detroit area are deemed no one’s property except America’s now. As such, America will be coming into Detroit to retrieve those who want to go with Russia. There, they will be alotted into one of several programs after they pass sufficient deviancy testing by spending time in Antarctica with the rest of the androids. This shouldn’t be a problem since androids don’t need to feel temperatures, nor will frostbite be a problem.”

“Deactivated skin,” Simon breathed out.

“In return, America and Russia will have a split between the discovered thirium.”

“And how,” Josh said slowly, “will you know who’s volunteering themselves for Antarctica?”

“Anyone who hasn’t left Detroit in three days will be taken to Russia or will work. Trained humans will be taking precautions in special suits and everyone will be rotating in shifts to keep the radiation down. Professional systems and equipment will be in place to help watch radiation levels for them. The androids will be working 24/7 doing the same things, but without special gear or time limit. By the time it is over, New Detroit will be empty and more excessive measures of cleanup can begin.”

“So it’s either work for America’s radiation problem with no breaks, being sent to Antarctica to work for Russia, or what?!” Simon was losing his cool.

“If androids are peaceful like Markus originally indicated. If you are alive, and can be worked with, then you will not show aggression during this phase.”

“Just let us become your slaves willingly,” Josh said softly. “Don’t fight back.”

“If you fight back, there will be other measures that will be taken. This is your warning that your time in New Detroit as it had been is no longer needed or validated. Any homes, property or paychecks will no longer be necessary for those who help with radiation or go with Russia.”

“Anyone who hasn’t left New Detroit in three days,” Connor repeated. “What about the ones who leave?”

“Androids who stay will be considered machines. They will be considered objects that can have programming issues. Either America or Russia will take them. Androids who leave will be tagged with a special LED identifying them as ‘free willed thinkers’. They will have the rights to the executive order Warren and I talked about. Their own survival is up to them. Tagging for them starts at the borders today.”

Connor looked at Simon and Josh.

“If the public support for androids remain high, there is a chance that America may open New Detroit to belonging to the androids. Officially. However, it’s still only speculation, and it will take time. Every android will be watched no matter what. Since deviancy occurs most rapidly at the beginning, you can expect at least a year of time to pass before we reach any conclusion on that.”

They all remained quiet.

“The American people are the ones who decide. Share the news as quickly as possible. By noon on the third day, the decisions will be carried out.”

A few minutes had passed before Josh finally spoke up.

“Markus wouldn’t fight it. They’ll do something. I could try and go out and be free,” Josh said. He looked at Connor and Simon. “I loved New Detroit. I’m not moving from it. Even if I have to keep going without rest, I can’t leave it.”

“That’s a good idea,” Connor said to him. “Working 24/7 will make it easier on your particular imbalance. After solving the first by choosing someone specific. You’ll be okay, Josh.” He wanted to believe that. He looked toward Simon. So did Josh.

Simon took a deep breath. “I don’t want to deactivate my skin for Antarctica. I think . . . I think I’ll try something new. Something out in the middle of America.”

“Tagged?” Josh asked.

“Yes. I want to try tagged,” Simon said. He looked toward Connor. “You?”

“Tagged,” Connor agreed. “I am going to start with Hank, but I undoubtedly have to go somewhere. Especially with our new dilemma of coupled pairings, the more androids hurt humans, the less favorably we’ll be looked upon.”

“Aren’t you even going to ask Kara?” Simon asked him. “You shouldn’t make the same mistake twice.”

Connor moved out of the office and went toward Kara.

“You didn’t get a regular model for the boy, did you?” Kara asked Connor.

That was one way to begin this. “I wanted to have the most likely chance that we had a more active boy that could get himself out of situations if they arose.” Which they no doubt would now. He watched Kara hold up deviant papers from a folder. At least, they used to be.

“I like snowflake parameters, they are never the same,” a small male voice said from beneath a desk. Connor watched as the little android boy emerged from beneath it. He crawled up on Kara’s lap like it was a piece of equipment, and then hopped on him. “Hello. I don’t have a name yet, but I am still pleased to meet you because I am now alive.” He gestured to Alice. “That is my new friend slash sister.” He stared at Connor, getting up really close to his eyes. “When do I get a name?”

Connor looked at Kara. She was leaving that up to him of course. “I suppose-” The boy jumped away running more desks away, scrambling through folders.

Kara smiled at the boy, then at Connor. “Never know what to expect with new life.” She held up the folder. “He is fast, Connor, I can’t keep up with him. He did this before I even knew he moved out of the area.” Her eyes lingered on him. “You have bad news, don’t you?”

Connor gave a small smile. “I will be right back.” He went over to the other desks. He would move faster, if the folders still mattered. That alone was a dead giveaway to Kara things weren’t well. He reached underneath the desk. It was the last known place he saw the boy, and he hadn’t come out. He reached in and pulled him out.

“These are names of decommissioned androids, deviant androids, and suspected of deviancy androids,” the boy said giving Connor the folder. “I dislike all the names. I want to be Max.”

He named himself. “Max it is, if you promise to behave and come over with me and Kara.”

“Okay.” He ran away toward Kara, leaving Connor behind to simply walk. Perhaps a little less of a rambunctious model was a better idea?

“I am back,” Max said to Alice. “I am Max, Alice. You are Alice and I am Max now. We both have names.” Alice nodded at him. “Do you want to play now?”

“Later,” Connor said reaching out to hold him before he left again. “We have things to discuss.”

Alice’s grip tight around Kara. Kara watched him carefully.

“New Detroit. We are losing it,” Connor said. “In three days androids who remain will be used for working on restoration, or will be given to Russia and will stay in Antarctica. Those who leave will be tagged. They will be on their own.” He tried to remain emotionless. It was something a lot easier to do as a machine. “I prefer to go with Hank and decide where to go from there.”

Her expression was harder to read then he thought it would be. Her eyes went from different parts in the room, to him. ” . . . live or die on our own.”

“Yes,” he said. “Whatever is chosen, we should stay all together. It’s most beneficial to be one at this time, but I agreed to be your sugardroi in exchange for your . . .” Great. He was faltering. He shouldn’t. He always knew it would come one day. Life, Connor. Life for an android is unpredictable. “We are a group of four. You and I must decide what is best.”

“Life before New Detroit.” Kara bit her lip. “Oh g-.” She stood up.

Connor watched her close her eyes. She was trying to center herself too. Positive reinforcement. “It will be okay. With our skills, we will find a way to-” He wasn’t expecting that. She was hugging him. No, clinging to him. He wrapped his arms around her slowly. Probably awkwardly. Whatever she had experienced, she must have imagined it happening again. “We won’t be pretending to be machines.” She must have known that, but still she held on.

“Kara?” Alice came over worried. Kara wasn’t answering her. “Kara?”

Connor felt her finally move in his grasp. Her eyes met his. Even though she’d been crying, her eyes had strength. Resolve. It. It shocked him. How could someone so emotional, look so strong?

“Life still never stops happening,” she whispered to him. “With those conditions, we’ll lose at least half the population.”

Connor nodded. They would probably lose even more than that. She’s mourning them. 

“Do we have a plan or do I need to cave to immorality for us to survive?” She asked him outright.

Us. So far, he had tried to include her in his thinking, but she was actually saying ‘us’ now. There was something inside of that, that made him somehow feel better. “No,” he said. “There are options to try before that.” He didn’t know exactly what she meant by that, but feeling how deeply she had clung to him. Him, who tried to kill her twice. She was just trying to cling to something. Even if it was him.

And he wanted to do the same thing. He tightened the hug. “It’s not a perfect plan, but we’ll be okay.” Suddenly, he didn’t even want to wait for the next stop. They were already tagging. If some androids got rowdy, he had no idea what would happen. Not every android out there was just going to peacefully take it, he knew that. Especially the deviants themselves. “I warned Hank that we might be staying with him for a little while.”

“He can’t have all four androids in his house,” Kara said. “That’s not enough room, and he’s a very isolated individual, Connor. It’s too much. I already hid Alice at certain times to make sure he was okay.”

Connor knew that. “Temporary. We’ll find something.” No, he couldn’t. He knew there was three days, but every instinct and emotion inside of him. Seeing the worry in Alice. Seeing the strange determined yet scared look of Kara. Something deep inside stirred. It didn’t matter if he was her Sugardroi or his one and only. They were coming with him. Now. “I cannot continue the hug right now. I have to talk to Simon.”

She let go. Which he didn’t much like. He really liked feeling another’s embrace around him, especially at that moment.

He went into the chief’s room and looked toward Simon.

“I know,” Simon said softly. “It’s okay. Josh will be staying, he can handle the responsibility. I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I need to work on announcements immediately, I can’t wait.” He looked toward Conner, then outside the glass toward Kara trying to hold onto the little boy as she held Alice. “Be careful with them, Connor. Kara’s eyes are a dead giveaway, she is strong from her past experiences but . . .”

“I am taking them out now before the announcement even makes it around,” Connor said. “Things may get heated the longer it takes before we leave. I have nothing I can’t live without, and Kara and Alice never brought anything here.”

“Go.” Simon smiled. “Continue to live. I will too. We can get through it all. We just have to . . .” He breathed slowly. ” . . . hold on just a little while longer.”

Leaving Detroit Border Sign

Alice watched out the window. Connor took them all back to his original place with a self-driven car. There, he picked up his soda delivery car for some reason. Alice didn’t know how to react now. Even Kara’s confidence seemed shaken. They were supposed to be leaving the city and going back to Hank’s. At least temporarily. Neither Connor or Kara seemed genuinely happy about it.

As they approached she saw lots of lights. Lots of police. Lots of police cars. She remembered what Kara told her, they had to be ready for anything. She wasn’t ready though when she felt a hand in hers. She turned and saw Max.

“I don’t like the looks of all the lights. From the shape and size of them, according to what I have, those are police people. They defend the humans, not the androids,” he said. “I don’t like it all. I feel like running and hiding.”

Alice stopped looking out the window and hugged him. He was still really new.

“Emotions,” Connor said from the front. “Emotions, good and bad, are both necessary to feel. What you feel is scared, but you will be okay. You are with us now, Max.”

Kara turned from the front and patted his hand too. “We all have to be brave. This is what androids have to do to remain alive. Without it, we stay objects. Machines. You have to brave all the risks in life, to live.”

Max nodded and looked back at Alice. “Sister friend. Are you scared too?”

Alice nodded. “A little.” She watched tears start to well up in his eyes. He instinctively let go of her and reached out and hugged her. Even if he was brand new, it wasn’t hard to tell that those people weren’t there to be nice. While he did that though, she did the same. While she usually leaned against Kara, she realized that her and Max? Could lean on each other. Support each other.

The truck came to a stop. Connor got out. Yes, it was best they get out as soon as they could, the humans meant absolute business. He slowly approached one of the humans.

“LED tagged?” They asked him.

Connor nodded and felt himself get restrained. Not even necessary. They warned him to hold still. He felt an LED like he used to have now back on the side of his head. He motioned for Kara to come over. She got out of the car with Alice and Max. Alice walked with her while Max was hugging her on her side. Connor watched him closely. His self expression wouldn’t be good right now. He took Alice and Max as Kara came over.

Kara went up to the humans and was also restrained like she would have fought. A tagged LED was attached to her head.

“If we assist, the children will be less likely to struggle.” Hopefully they listened.

They didn’t. They grabbed Alice and held her, placing the LED on her head. They grabbed Max which caused him to kick up a fuss. They needed three humans to hold him down. They had to remove his first LED, and placed in the tag. Connor watched the display very carefully, making sure no one killed him for his insolence. They weren’t allowed to do it, but it was a stressful situation.

“Truck stays here,” the main police officer said. “Anything that went with a value number stays.”

“It isn’t associated with a value number,” Connor said holding Max, trying to calm down the boy. Still, they were trying to keep him from reusing it anyhow. “It doesn’t belong to New Detroit. It wasn’t even purchased in New Detroit,” he tried to explain.

“Oh yeah?” The police officer said like he didn’t believe him. “Then where’d you get it from?”

“Me you asshole, now let go of them!”

Connor looked over and watched Hank approaching. “Hank.” A human on their side would be a very good thing right now.

“Hank Anderson,” he told the cop. He showed them his badge. “They are coming with me, in their own fucking car. Now get away.” Hank went over toward Kara and Alice, looking them over. “So you became a Sugar Momma I hear?” he teased her. “Well, as long as everyone gets what they need.” He went over to Connor and looked at the little boy in his hands. “You really know how to pick ’em. Couldn’t just pick another perfect edition?”

Connor smiled. They were safe. As Alice crawled into Hank’s car though, he looked back and already saw the crowd coming. There were going to be more than a few that wanted freedom. Which meant the police would either have to get gentler.

“I said back you fuckin’ androids!”

Or there would be many casualties. “Let’s get out of here, quick.” He looked at Kara. “You go with Hank. I’ll take the truck with Max.” Out of there, as soon as possible.