Connecting Outside the Network - Deus Ex HR

Chapter 4

It had been a long couple of days and Adam could hardly keep his mind contained – so many things had happened. Right after he got the upgrade from Pritchard, he confronted Sarif about the leak. It turns out that Sarif had opened that back door to get a private investigator's report on him, and knew everything about his SWAT dismissal and psych evaluations. Worse yet, he had dug up things that even Adam hadn't known about himself. Like that his parents weren't his real parents. He suddenly appeared in their custody after a mysterious organization White Helix burned down to the ground when he was 5 years old. The biggest kick in the gut was following the trail left by the neural chip from the Purity terrorist who shot himself in the head. Or rather, was hacked remotely by someone who forced him to kill himself. The locations on the chip led to a warehouse managed by FEMA but currently co-opted by Belltower mercenaries and the special ops group that had attacked Sarif HQ 6 months ago. Before he headed off to Hengsha to investigate the location that one of the mercenaries had uttered in his dying breath, he had to tell Pritchard about the back door that Sarif had created, and see if she knew anything else. He knew he could probably just comm her and briefly explain it, but he also needed to ask her for a favor, and he felt like he could trust her with it. He was starting to question Sarif's motives – if he'd kept the background check secret, what else did he know that he wasn't telling?

"Pritchard, are you in your office right now?" Jensen commed in.

"No, I just went to the LIMB clinic to have my chip adjusted, why?" she asked.

"Well then meet me in my office, I need to talk to you about some things."

"Sounds serious… I should be able to get back in about ten minutes…"

As Pritchard stepped out of the clinic into the streets of Detroit, a helicopter flew overhead and a police enforcement robot was blocking the underpass. The smell of smoke hit Freya before the roar of the protesters. From the looks of it, they were members of the Humanity Front. Pritchard knew their target was the LIMB clinic, and any augmented people in their way.

"Jensen, I'm cut off – the overpass is filled with protesters and I don't think they'll be dissipating any time soon. Is there someplace else that you could get to that I could meet you at?"

"Geez, Freya, you always have the best timing, don't you?"

"It's a gift, what can I say?" she said darkly, nervously watching the advancing mob. The cops were holding them at bay for the time being.

"Okay, hold on, let me send you some schematics – there's an abandoned apartment building just around the corner down near the basketball court and the downtown apartments."

"You expect me to go by myself down an alley filled with petty thieves and hobos? Forgive me for saying, but unlike you, I don't have retractable machetes in my elbows." she said incredulously.

"Fine, I'll come get you. I'll meet you next to the LIMB clinic."

"Wait, how are you getting here?" she asked.

"Don't worry about me, my stealth mods have me covered. That and the rooftops." She could almost picture him winking when he answered her. A little relieved, she went around the opposite edge of the LIMB clinic and waited, hoping no one would bother with her with so much activity going on down the street. Freya was surprised how used she was now to hearing Jensen's voice in her head. She knew him so well now it almost felt like an internal monologue. If she hadn't heard from him for some time, she had to restrain herself not to check in on him. After all, she presumed he was less comfortable with someone in his head than she was, and she wanted to respect his privacy and quiet space.

Sirens were blaring from all over the city and echoed in a near-deafening cacophony. As she edged back towards the end of the alley, her ears picked up some rustling of the pile of black trash bags. When she turned around, she couldn't see anyone there. Thoroughly spooked, she backed up slowly and half screamed when she felt her back hit something hard. She turned around quickly and saw Adam Jensen's form slowly melt into view out of thin air.

"Like the cloaking device?" he asked, smirking at her alarmed state.

"Geez, Adam, do you sneak up on every girl like that?" her upset at being startled quickly faded when she saw it was him. Even so, she kind of wanted to tear that beard off his face.

"No, just you," he teased.

She made a pouting face and he couldn't help but smile inwardly at her.She sure is cute when she gets upset, Jensen thought to himself. Maybe that's why he liked to mess with her. Today she was wearing her hair down for a change, and it fell just past her shoulders, with a wavy layered look. He was tempted to compliment her, but decided against it.

He led her along a rather circuitous path through the back alleys of Detroit and up two flights of a fire escape to finally reach a fairly empty apartment. It had a stock couch and stock bed in the other room, but little else. Right upon entering, Adam instinctively headed to the kitchen to grab some bourbon. It was his drink of choice. Freya had caught hints of that when she saw the liquid level in the whiskey bottle on his desk steadily drop over the course of a week.

"Do you come here often?" she asked.

"Not too often, just when I need a change of scenery, or a place to crash if I'm really far from the apartments. Want a glass?"

"Sure, just a small one, though," she said.

After he poured her glass, Jensen took off his jacket and set it aside on the counter. Underneath his coat he was wearing a black turtleneck underneath some tactical straps, which he was in the process of loosening. While Freya was lost in thought, he handed her a cup of whiskey with an ice cube in it, the cool condensation on the glass sending shivers up her arm. As they moved over to the couch, she felt his hand drop to the small of her back and lightly put pressure on her, urging her forward. Instead of cold and metallic, his hand was warmer than own, and she felt tingles spread up through her spine and into her belly. Somehow she felt like it lingered there a little longer than usual. As her cheeks started to burn she quickly rebuked herself. What's wrong with you? It's just Adam fucking Jensen.

They sat on the couch and Jensen downed half the bourbon in his glass, keeping his optical shades down. She took a sip and felt the burning, smoky flavored liquid reach down her throat and warm her from the inside out. As it hit her stomach, she realized she'd forgotten to eat lunch that day, with everything that was going on. Not to mention she'd found some email correspondences that Adam desperately needed to hear about. She'd considered forwarding them to him, but on second thought wanted to discuss them in person.

"So did you talk to Sarif about the firewall breach?" she asked, watching him recline back on the couch, his arms stretched out on the back. His black glistening prosthetic hand was resting nonchalantly on the back cushion - so close to her it felt like a tease. She wondered if he had picked up the signs that she was suppressing her desire to reach out and touch his augments.

"Yes, he fessed up," said Jensen, downing another sip from his glass. "He basically said that because of all the buzz about me being fired from SWAT he wanted to make sure I wasn't a psychopath who just happened to be Megan's ex. He happened to also dig up that my parents apparently found me after a lab fire when I was 5 that wiped out some scientists who were caring for me."

Freya stopped mid sip and swallowed awkwardly, "Wait, so…you're adopted?"

"Something like that. Also, as you saw while you tagged along in my head, that mercenary revealed a location in Hengsha that might have clues about who launched the cyber attack on us, and where they might be holed up."

"That's some heavy stuff." Freya glanced again at his shining metallic hand, but then continued, "Adam, there's something else. When I was looking for more background on you, I found information about Megan's Patient X. You know, the patient she got her breakthrough genetic code from."

"Right, just before she disappeared she was really nervous about that – saying she didn't know how she would answer where she got the sample," mused Adam, recalling the short minutes of their last walk together. It was painful thinking about Megan – he wasn't in love with her anymore, but she was one of the few human connections he had left and he still cared about her. If he couldn't protect those closest to him, what good was he as a security chief? The only people he had left were Sarif, Malik and Freya.

"Well, it looks like…I don't know how best to say this, so I'll just say it…it looks like Patient X is you. She used your DNA for these tests. That probably also explains why you've taken so well to the insane number of augments that you have. I haven't seen any requests from you for Neuropozyne, so you haven't started suffering from rejection. Or you could be suffering in silence as a 'screw you' to augmentation, I wouldn't put that past you, but based on Megan's research and findings using your DNA, you will never have to worry about that."

He had brought the glass to his lips and paused before taking a sip, letting it sink in. Somehow his calm reaction wasn't what she expected. I just told you your ex-girlfriend used you to further her research. Shouldn't that … upset a person?

"It's funny," Jensen started, rocking the glass to twirl the ice in a circle, "I think I always had a hunch she was hiding something from me. After she started making breakthroughs on her research, she got colder, more distant. She would look at me and get this awful upset expression on her face. It looked like guilt, but I didn't have the CASIE implant at the time, so I might never know, but it came up especially often when we talked about her research. Finally I broke it off, I couldn't handle the way things were. We barely talked anymore. She just withdrew so far away. I guess now I know the reason why. Course that was years ago."

Adam's leg seemed closer to Freya's now, as he leaned forward. She wanted to brush it off as nothing but she knew his augments were so precisely controlled that they were unlikely to have random settling movements. She started reaching out to touch his arm, purely to offer sympathy, but somehow couldn't quite make it there and rested her hand back on her lap.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked.

"I'm going to have another drink, and find out what's going on in Hengsha," he said, standing up and extending his hand for her glass. She considered refusing, but in her hesitation he took the glass from her anyway and placed both gently on the kitchen counter beside the bottle. He still hadn't brought up the thing he wanted to talk about.

As he sat down again and handed her a fresh glass, he sat closer on the couch to her than before and leaned forward on his knees, taking a casual sip of the golden liquid. As his elbows pushed on his knees, his right leg made contact with her thigh and she nervously kept her thigh in place, afraid to move it in any direction.

"I have a favor to ask," started Jensen.

Her heart rate shot up. That unwelcome flush came back to her cheeks.

"Okay, well, shoot." she asked, putting up her usual front and taking a generous gulp of the whiskey.

"I need you to track down the private investigator that Sarif used before he hired me," he asked.

"That'll be no problem, I'll probably have the name before you get back from Hengsha. I see why you wanted to ask offline though."

He chuckled, "That's funny. Offline. Do you see the world as just one giant network, and all the people and things just computer hubs?"

Rolling her eyes, she nudged him, "C'mon, I'm in tech, so of course I see things through that light. You're in security, so you see security threats everywhere you go. How's that a problem?"

"I guess you're right," he said, finishing the drink and bringing his arm down around her, his hand gently holding her right shoulder. She expected it to be heavy, but it was pleasantly light and soft and she fought the inexplicable urge to lean into him. "Shall we go back to Chiron? I need to check some things at my place before I leave town."

She nodded, downing the rest of her glass and setting it on the counter. As they walked back to their building, something flashed into her head. Instead of speaking aloud, she decided to go through the comm system.

"Does it bother you, hearing everyone's voices in your head?" she asked.

His walking pace changed slightly, "I've gotten used to it, mostly. How about you?"

"Same here, but now I'm so accustomed to hearing people's voices that I kind of miss it when I'm by myself. Radio silence is unnerving unless I'm engrossed in coding," she admitted.

"How much access do you have anyway? Just audio or visual as well?" he asked.

"With you, I do have the option of tapping into the visual feed. I haven't done that except occasionally during missions," she added. She didn't need a CASIE to know that nobody likes the idea of someone watching them in their private moments. "I can't speak for Sarif, of course. You do need to be at a computer for that. I can't see what you're seeing right now, for instance, but I could if used my tablet."

"I see. It must be nice being able to control what gets augmented and what doesn't," he said bitterly.

"I'll have you know I was toying with the idea of getting a CASIE myself. You seem to make great use of it, but I think my mother would kill me if I changed anything about my eyes," she replied wryly.

"You do have pretty eyes. If something's already perfect, why change it, right?" he said, wondering if he'd overstepped a boundary there. It was true, he'd been noticing more and more how lovely her eyes were – dark blue, complex striations, long dark lashes. All her features really were quite lovely, from her wavy, layered brown hair that gently framed her face to her rosy pastel lips.

"Thanks, Adam. You have pretty augments," she said. Without the CASIE, he might have thought she was teasing him, but she was being honest. He wasn't sure how to respond. Part of him hated the changes – he missed his old body, but it wasn't like he could get it back. Another part of him relished the thrill of being able to rearrange his arms into various weapons and tools, the accuracy of his shots and maneuvers, his immense strength and finesse. Even so, he still couldn't bring himself to accept anything positive about the bulky, unnatural looking black appendages he now had. He could barely stand to see himself in the mirror. And each night, the memory of having his nerves connected and reconnected in an operating suite kept waking him up in a cold sweat. Each time that happened, it was as if he had just gotten the augments yesterday.

"Right," he replied neutrally.

Well, I said it,thought Freya. At least it didn't piss him off.

"I mean it," she continued, the liquid courage in her belly emboldening her. "Maybe when you get back from Hengsha, you could let me take a look."

"What, you just want to gawk at me?" he responded quickly, an obvious knee jerk reaction.

Okay, THAT pissed him off."No Adam, I just thought maybe since I can appreciate your augments from a lot of perspectives that it might be…"

"Might be what?" he continued, cornering her.

"Forget it. I don't know where I was going with that," she backed down.

She can't be serious, he thought. Why would I WANT someone staring at me like I'm a freak? He reminded himself that he had just observed that she did honestly find them appealing. As they went up the elevator at the Chiron building in silence, he wondered what it would be like to have her see them. To have her run her hands over them in awe, marveling at the seamless integration between polymers and flesh. To see her beautiful dark sapphire eyes entranced by his new physique. Maybe it would be good for him, to see his augments through someone else in a positive light rather than just tools to be fixed and maintained. And if it were her…he might actually enjoy it.

As they reached their apartments, both on the same floor just around the corner from one other, he turned away from her and commed in, "If you really want to see them, you can come over when I get back." He intentionally shielded his eyes from her, not wanting to register her response.

The moment she felt his voice resonate through her, her feet froze and she felt her heart pounding in her throat. Her head snapped instantly in his direction, just as he turned the corner. Even though she'd suggested it, she hadn't really thought he would say yes. She hadn't expected the initial reaction, maybe he'd joke and play it off, but now… After the initial daze and fumbling with her keys, she managed to open the door to her apartment. When she shut it, she pressed her back against it and slid down until she was sitting on the carpeted floor. He had better not be watching my heat signature through the walls. To hell with it if he is.


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