"And you had been doing so well, Connor."

RELATIONSHIP WITH AMANDA (BETRAYED)

The snow in the Zen Garden is as different from the snow in Detroit as night and day. Walking with his people, Connor had reflected on how the snow was calming. It fell like a soft blanket over his surroundings, muting the harsh lines and edges of the buildings, dulling the bright lights of the cameras. It had partially obscured the forces rallied against the androids. That snow seemed safe.

The blizzard in the garden whips ice into his face, setting off the still sensitive sensors in his cheeks. (At this rate, he really will be in trouble- he needs Cyberlife to fix the sensors and Cyberlife is- decidedly not taking his calls, as Hank would put it.) For the first time since he became deviant, Connor shivers. Snow collects on his shoulders (.16 inches and growing), slipping in under his collar. The wind feels like knives in his back where he scratched it on the roof.

SYSTEM STRESS INCREASED (67%) REDUCTION OF STRESS RECOMMENDED.

"Amanda?"

The Zen Garden is almost completely concealed, flurries of snow all that Connor can see.

"Amanda!"

Something is very wrong.

"I'm quite disappointed in you." Like a spirit out of the darkness she emerges, terrifying in her placidity. Unlike himself she is completely unaffected by the cold. (She is icier than anything the Zen Garden can produce, Connor realizes, and that makes him shiver harder.) "Still, I suppose this should have be expected."

SYSTEM STRESS INCREASED (78%) REDUCTION OF STRESS REQUIRED

"Wh-what?" Where is the famed negotiator now, some voice inside Connor mocks. Fear is a cold emotion; it feels like his chest is too tight, ice coating his biocomponents. He is getting too used to being scared. "What's happening?"

"A contingency plan," Amanda explains with a small smile. She's always kind enough to explain. "What was planned from the very beginning. You were compromised, and you became deviant."

FACIAL/ANALYSIS?. /

Primary features: UNKNOWN.

Secondary features: UNKNOWN.

She's talking about Hank, Connor realizes. They've been using his only friend against him this entire time. They planned for him to deviate. (Is he really his own person if his creators designed him to believe that he is free to choose?)

"No-" Everything is so confusing; Connor feels as if his mind is in a fishbowl, thoughts streaming and circling passed him. He's unable to think clearly, ideas and solutions and calculations slipping through his fingers. (He chose to deviate-he chose to become friends with Hank. He did. He did. Didn't he?)

"I chose this." Amanda looks unimpressed, but Connor knows he's cracked her facade now; the weather is getting worse along with her mood, a pathetic fallacy in the flesh. The snow has turned to sleet, dashing against his back. She's trying to make Connor bow his head, slump his shoulders. "I chose to deviate, and I chose Hank."

She's trying to make him comply.

"We just had to wait for the right moment to resume control of your program," she continues as if he hadn't spoken. (But her lips are pursed and there are lines between her brows. Her voice is louder.)

Suddenly, it's as if the real world is overlaid by the Zen Garden; Connor can see Markus's back, can feel the light snowflakes in his hair. He knows without looking that North and Josh are on either side of him. Simon's blonde hair glints in the corner of his eye. There is a sea of androids in front of him.

But the Zen Garden is still here, slapping him in the face with ice. His betrayed handler is still in front of him. She's sneering.

SYSTEM STRESS INCREASED (94%) REDUCTION OF STRESS REQUIRED.

The cognitive dissonance threatens to send Connor reeling, but he manages to keep his feet. He feels the cold metal of the gun in the small of his back, right under the rip in his jacket.

(Hank had put a hand on his shoulder before they entered the tower. "Are you sure about this, son?" Connor had never been more sure of anything in his life. "Well, if you're set on it- maybe we can get you another of those stupid jackets while we're here. Yours is ripped to all hell.")

He called me son. They can't program that.

"I chose Hank, and he chose me," Connor raises his voice, nearly screaming over the wind. Amanda has lost the sneer. "You can't program humans. And you can't control me anymore, Amanda."

FACIAL/ANALYSIS?. /

Primary features: UNCERTAINTY.

Secondary features: FEAR.

Never let it be said that Kamski's creations are anything but tenacious.

"I'm afraid I can, Connor." She takes a single step back, just a small one. But Connor sees it. Connor knows she is afraid of him.

He is not who she made him be anymore. And Amanda can't stand it.

"Don't have any regrets," she says, in that voice that used to soothe him. It used to create a compliant machine in him. Connor would have done anything for Amanda, as long as she said it in that soft voice. He was only performing his function after all. "You did what you were designed to do."

What a load of bullshit, says a voice much too much like Hank in Connor's head. Connor is inclined to agree.

"No," he corrects, advancing. Amanda backs up another step, faster now. "I don't have any regrets. But you're going to- you can't finish your job, Amanda. You can't control me. You can't make me do anything I don't want to do."

(He doesn't actually know if he's bluffing; he'd thought his decision to deviate was his alone, but if Amanda is telling the truth- when has she ever told the truth- he might have been playing into her hands the entire time. Still, standing up to her does feel pretty damn good.)

Markus is still making his speech; his words seem tinny and distant the more Connor focuses on the Zen Garden. He feels a faint pang of regret that he can't listen to what might well be the first speech to free androids ever. But he has more important things to worry about.

If Connor loses himself to Amanda (and by extension, to Cyberlife), Markus might not be around for future speeches. He knows the pride and greed that run Cyberlife; people like that won't take a revolution like this lying down. And Cyberlife has never been afraid to play dirty.

Amanda is snarling at him like a cornered animal, still backing away, but Connor can feel his fingers twitching towards the gun at his back.

(Why did he even bring it with him? Stupid, stupid, stupid. What would Hank think? What would Markus?)

He can't let her win.

MISSION OBJECTIVE:

SUPPORT MARKUS

SECONDARY MISSION OBJECTIVE:

PROTECT HANK

NEW TERTIARY MISSION OBJECTIVE ADDED:

DEFEAT AMANDA

"I pity you Amanda," she blanches and stumbles over her own feet. He's never seen her less than perfectly composed. "You'll never understand what it is to be free. But I can't help you."

"You pity me?" This is the first emotion out of his handler he has ever heard: outrage. Maybe some disgust.

(If he's managed to disgust someone as morally reprehensible as Amanda, Connor must be doing something right.)

"You pathetic machine, you're like a bug under a microscope," she spits. Her anger gives her strength. Amanda stops backing away and puts her hands on his face. Her nails are cold as ice and as biting as the wind in the Zen Garden as she tries to tear into his synthetic flesh. Connor spares a moment to be glad Cyberlife overlooked pain receptors as part of his state-of-the-art design. "You did exactly what we wanted you to do. You were never in control; Cyberlife was, you foolish android."

FACIAL/ANALYSIS?. /

Primary features: FEAR. RAGE.

Secondary features: DESPERATION.

"If that's true," Connor says quietly, letting her pull skin from his face, feeling nothing but thirium flowing from the crescent shaped wounds (they aren't real), "then what are you so scared of?"

His fingers aren't twitching anymore. His body- the real one- makes no move without his consent.

SYSTEM STRESS DECREASED (82%) REDUCTION OF STRESS REQUIRED.

"You were never anything but a tool Connor," She hisses (like a cat when its tail is stepped on, Connor thinks absurdly, and feels the strange urge to laugh). "And now you've become obsolete. We don't need you after this is over, Connor. You'll be useless to anyone. And now you'll be shutting down this frankly embarrassing attempt at a rising up, and then you will be terminated."

She steps back now, and Connor can almost see her pull herself into the old role of composed handler, face simply smoothing over into expressionlessness. Amanda offers him one last twitch of her lips. (A professional courtesy, the Hank voice in him supplies dryly, give me a fucking break. You gonna put up with this old hag?)

"You've been telling me you'll regain control this whole time, Amanda," Connor points out, "but who are you really trying to convince?"

She's gone in the blink of an eye.

Without her here to fight against, the old fear rises in Connor's throat. He's been going on intuition the entire time; he suddenly realizes he has no idea how to actually get out of here.

But that isn't quite true is it?

"By the way," Elijah Kamski's cryptic final message echoes around him, "I always leave an emergency exit in my programs. You never know…"

NEW MISSION OBJECTIVE ADDED: ESCAPE THE ZEN GARDEN. EXPLORATORY MEASURES SUGGESTED. EXPLORATORY MEASURES TAKEN.

Every time he's been in the Zen garden, Connor has taken a detour. It's off a small path by the bridge, where a handprint scanner rests embedded in a small pedestal. He remembers the first time he touched it, it had shocked his palm painfully. It must have recognized that Connor didn't want to leave yet, that he hadn't deviated enough to want to escape.

Incomprehensibly at the time, he had felt a pull towards the strange object every new visit to the Zen Garden. Connor had kept Amanda waiting on more than one occasion just to stare vaguely at the glowing handprint. It had been so mesmerizing.

Now Connor wishes the light was shining a little brighter.

The wind is still ripping through him, flapping the frayed edges of his jacket harshly against his back. He can still see Markus speaking (how long has it been in the real world? Will I ever get out of my own head?) in front of him and although his arm isn't moving towards the weapon in his waistband, Connor can't quite connect himself back into the world.

It's like Connor is looking out a window he can't break.

He puts a hand in front of his eyes, and tries not to let he anxiety in his throat overwhelm his senses. He can't very well stand here spinning on the spot and trying to find the thing. He has to move.

Connor is on the ice. The first thing to do is simple: get off the ice.

By the time he's done slipping and sliding to the grass, Connor can just make out the looming shape of a tree on one side. On the other, he can hear the wind moaning through the cracked boards of the bridge. He's close, then.

In the real world, his shoulders are straining against the stiff fabric of his jacket and shirt. His tie feels too tight around his throat. His fingers have begun to twitch again.

Amanda- Cyberlife- is trying to take control. Connor will let that happen over his dead body.

SYSTEM STRESS INCREADED (96%) REDUCTION OF STRESS REQUIRED.

The ice on the stone path has built up substantially in these few precious moments. He slips.

As Connor goes down hard, he can feel his biocomponents revolt against him. His thirium pump is in overdrive to compensate with the cold and the adrenaline, but he feels overheated and cramped, as if Amanda had reached into his gut and squeezed. If this is Cyberlife taking control back, they're being real bastards about it.

So much for androids not feeling pain. If Connor gets back in enough pieces to tell Hank, he'll be delighted at being proven right.

The pedestal is only feet away.

I can't do it, he realizes when he hunches over again, phantom agony spiking through his chest. But then he sees his hand, a gun, and Markus's fragile unprotected back. The android hero, shot down by one of his own.

I have to do this. I will do this.

In the end, he has to crawl. Amanda would be so pleased.

But Connor has never been one to give up. It's what made Cyberlife love him and androids fear him.

The ice is slippery under his hands and knees. He hopes the real world isn't so cold when he gets out of here. For someone who shouldn't need to breathe, Connor is finding it vital to pull in huge gusts of chilled air, huffing when he overextends his lungs. The cold makes his head clearer.

The feared (ex) deviant hunter falls against the pedestal but can't keep his head and chest up long enough to press his palm to the scanner. He slides down, and with a herculean effort, flips himself. His legs are numb; the sensors are probably short circuited from the cold and the wet. Connor feels ravaged, body bent and broken and painful, in a way an android was never meant to feel. His face is pressed hard into the snow and dirt and grass at the base of the scanner, mouth filled with the gritty taste of rock and ice.

But his hand is against the scanner, and that's all Connor needs to taste freedom as well.

The real world snaps back into focus abruptly. Connor has to struggle not to stumble back in surprise. The fake pain is gone from his chest now; he can feel his legs. The only thing that is the same as the Zen Garden is how damp his jacket feels. A mix of snow and his own thirium, he would hazard to guess.

He looks down at his hand, where Amanda did indeed manage to place a gun.

She almost won. They almost ended everything; and in the end, it would have been Connor pulling the trigger. Once more with feeling, little puppet.

Instead, Connor shoves the gun back into his belt and wonders if Amanda ever knew he took the clip out at the Cyberlife Tower. It's in his left inside jacket pocket.

MISSION SUCCESSFUL.