Connecting Outside the Network - Deus Ex HR

Chapter 7

It was evening by the time Jensen and Malik reached Detroit. As they flew overhead, he sensed Malik had received some bad news.

"Jensen we've got a problem, I can't land at HQ - a riot's broken out. The boss says to drop you at your apartment," Malik informed him.

"I could use a shower," he replied grimly. Though he wouldn't mind sleeping in his own bed for once.

"You'll have to make it quick, he's on his way to meet you," she told him.

As Jensen went down the elevator from the rooftop and exited into the familiar hallways, he glanced around the corner at Freya's door. I wonder if she's here?

"Freya, it's me," he commed her.

"Jensen? You're back?" she asked excitedly.

"Yeah, listen, I just got back to my apartment. Are you safe?"

"Yeah, since all the action finished up for you I came back to work from home. Why, what's going on?"

"I don't suppose you check the news often but the Humanity Front is rioting in front of Sarif HQ. The boss is meeting me right now, and I want you to listen in. And record it. Can you do that for me?"

"I'm on it."

Taking a deep breath, he approached his apartment door and it automatically slid open on recognizing his unique bio-signature.

"Welcome home, Mr. Jenson. You have new messages," a calming Eliza-esque voice announced to him.

"Apparently that's not all I have…" he murmured, his eyes fixed on the proud figure standing at the center of his living room, facing the windows overlooking the city. One thing about the boss, he always dressed to impress. Perhaps he even made a special effort to do so whilst surrounded by corporate takeovers, riots, and media disasters. His dark grey elbow length dress shirt and lighter grey vest were pressed and starched, dark hair well groomed and face clean shaven – not even a five o'clock shadow.

"Make yourself at home boss," said Jensen, turning to the left into his kitchen and pouring himself a drink.

"It's a fucking mess out there Adam. You've seen the news? Picus is telling everyone we're breeding super soldiers. Taggart's at the convention center telling the UN to investigate," he said, exasperated.

"Is it true?" asked Jensen, holding the bottle of whiskey over a second glass as he waited for Sarif's answer.

"What?, of course it isn't," Sarif answered, with his good 'ol boy attitude.

Jensen took the bottle away and recorked it, leaving the second glass empty.

"Except for the Typhoon. And those defense contracts. And let's not forget that Megan's team was kidnapped right before her research was made public. How do you explain that?" he demanded angrily.

Sarif held out his hands in protest. "I wanted people to see that research – Megan was on the brink of something historic! Something that would have catapulted this company to the top of the Fortune 500 list! Her kidnappers knew it. They knew exactly where her research would take us, and they refused to let anyone else have that much power."

"Anyone else? Eliza was right, you do know more than you've told me," Adam insinuated.

"I suspected!" Finally, an admission. "But these people? They're like ghosts, always in the shadows, always hiding behind lies and proxies." Sarif turned back towards the window, obviously keeping his words vague on purpose.

"Who are they?"

"A name won't mean much. They'll use whatever one suits their interests. Sometimes it's the Masons, sometimes the Bilderberg group. They've had a finger in every corporation, organization or government initiative that's defined modern society."

"You're talking about the … illuminati?" Jensen scoffed, unable to believe such words were coming out of his boss' mouth.

"It's no joke. They're organized and they operate over and above society," insisted Sarif.

"You're serious. So why would the Illuminati kidnap Megan's team?"

"I already told you, Megan found a way to make augmentations safer, for all of us, so we can all become like you."

"…Like me?" Jensen asked sharply.

Sarif looked uncomfortable, it was obvious to him he'd struck a nerve. "Like … you are. Now. More than human. We've got to get them back, Adam." Once again, Sarif tried to refocus Adam, one of his favorite conversational techniques. This time, though, that was what Adam wanted.

"You said Taggart is speaking at the convention center right now?" Jensen asked.

"Bitch even sent me an invite. Doesn't officially start for an hour, but he's getting the crowd warmed up with Q&A."

"You know, his aide Sandoval is neck deep in this. Eliza showed me a recording."

"Yeah, Pritchard send me a copy. I don't know where Sandoval is, but Taggart will. Adam, you've got to handle this delicately. We don't know Taggart is involved and we can't afford another punch in the face. I'm trusting you with this one." With a paternal pat on Adam's shoulder, Sarif excused himself and walked up the stairs out of Jensen's apartment. The door slid shut as he left and Jensen sat on his couch, rubbing his forehead in frustration.

"Freya, you there?" he asked.

"Yes, I got every word. That's … unbelievable, Adam. I mean, I've seen the correspondences about Megan's work, so I completely understand it being a hot commodity, but the Illuminati? This is deep."

He agreed and was silent for a bit, rotating his nearly empty glass in his mechanical hand and staring at the amber liquid roll around. The linear edges of his artificial palm blurred through the alcohol, softening up. As he felt that familiar feeling of revulsion come over him that he always felt when he looked at his augments, he remembered Freya's request from before.

"Can you come over?" he asked.

"Right now? But weren't you going to go confront Taggart?" she asked warily.

"Yeah, but I have some time," he said, not offering any reason or purpose to meeting up.

"Oh…okay. I'll be over in a couple minutes."

Jensen finished the remainder of his glass and walked up over to the kitchen counter where the empty second glass was still waiting for attention. He grabbed two ice cubes from the freezer and gently dropped one in each of the glasses, the precision of his augment barely allowing any clinking from the ice. Grabbing the bottle again, he poured a hefty amount into each glass. He knew it wasn't fair to give her as much as himself, since he could activate his toxin binding nanite augment at will and completely eliminate the alcohol and its metabolites. Of course, he only activated it once he'd thoroughly enjoyed the mind numbing buzz.

He hung up his jacket on the hook beside the entrance and threw his equipment belts to the floor in the corner, leaving him wearing his thin black sweater for the time being. Gently lifting up the two glasses, ignoring the ring of water they left on the counter, he headed for the ceiling length windows that made up the far wall. One thing about the Chiron apartments that he really appreciated was the view. Even at night, with the windows open, the apartment was flooded with light from the cityscape. He could see every major skyscraper in Detroit from his living room.

Behind him he heard the door slide open and Pritchard's cautious footsteps. No doubt she was taking in the view. She probably had a similar view but he rather liked his furnishings and the general layout. An ornate couch with pastel stripes and a rich red wooden backboard with golden filigree design sat at the center of the room. To the left was a shelf with his golden antique clocks, which he had bought at a pawn shop and spent his free time meticulously repairing. It was nice to have a mentally consuming task to occupy himself with. He cringed a little when he thought of his kitchen, which was filled with empty ramen cups and cereal boxes, but hopefully she wasn't looking in that direction.

"Hi Adam," she said, her voice wavered a bit.

As he turned back toward her, his optical enhancement retracted, revealing his golden brown prosthetic eyes. She was wearing her typical orange and black polyester jacket and baggy cargo pants, but beneath her outerwear she was wearing a smooth, form fitting black tank top. It heightened her femininity despite her attempts to wear her usual tomboy garb.

"I poured you a drink," he said, approaching her and handing her one of the glasses.

"Thanks. Sorry, I'm still reeling from everything Sarif just said," she said, shaking her head a little and avoiding his eyes still.

"Well, why don't you sit down," he said gently, politely taking her jacket and setting it aside. She felt his hand gently clasp the bare skin of her shoulder and nudge her forward encouragingly. Where was her playful, obstinate attitude now, he wondered. Once on the couch she took a big sip of her drink and a deep breath, hoping to shake off her nerves.

"Guess our next move is to track down Sandoval and make him talk," she said, attempting to sound nonchalant.

He grinned slightly as he sat on the opposite end from her, "Yeah. If those transmitters are still implanted, we have a shot at getting them back."

She nodded and tried to think of something else to say. It didn't feel like there was all that much to talk about. So much had already been said, and both of them had heard it. There were only so many conclusions you could draw, especially with the limited information they had.

"Are you still interested?" he asked abruptly.

"What?" She almost dropped her glass. She hadn't expected him to broach the subject so openly.

"My augments," he continued, the corner of his normally serious mouth turning up slightly. He seemed to enjoy seeing her flustered.

"Well, yes, I mean..." she started, trying to regain composure. More confidently, she repeated, "Yes, of course I am."

He caught a spark in her natural blue eyes, defiance at being toyed with so. He stood up, took her hand, and led her towards his bedroom.

"You need to see something first, to understand," he started, his voice serious again. As they entered his room, she took a quick glance about herself. His nice computer desk was directly in front of the connecting doorway, and his bed was nestled straight on the carpet in the right back corner. Instead of stopping in that room, he led her on into the bathroom, where she was confronted with his shattered mirror. Cracks like a spider web sprang out from an obvious central point of impact. She raised her hand to the crater, but even before she brought her fingers close, it was obvious to her what had caused it. Suddenly her request seemed childish and cruel. She realized she'd never even thought about what kind of world he lived in. Those six months after the attack he had essentially been alone in his apartment, with a stranger's reflection staring back at him. Every day, for six months. Alcohol, cigarettes, ramen, sleep, and this. So much anger captured in that broken glass. She swallowed nervously and found his eyes in the reflection, watching her from the upper left corner beside her.

"I'm sorry," she said solemnly.

"Don't be. I'm not showing you because I'm looking for pity. I wanted to give you this perspective before you see what I've become. As much as I can't stand Taggart's politics, he has a point. About losing humanity, and how the body can heal but the mind often lags behind." He paused a moment and added, "Aside from Chiron maintenance who keep refusing to replace it... no one else has seen this."

She nodded, feeling even more self-conscious. He finished his drink and turned determinedly back to the main room. She followed after him and felt her throat tighten as he stripped off his shirt, tossing it aside like tissue paper. For a second she reached toward him as if to stop him, but instead surveyed him from the bedroom doorway. He wasn't facing her at first, so she could only see his muscular back. His left hand was resting on the corner of the couch, clenching it tightly before he turned around. The black electro-active polymer fibers glistened in the light falling through the window panes. Even though the faux-muscle units did not follow human anatomy exactly, she couldn't help but recollect the visages of Grecian statues, standing smooth and glorious in ancient temples. There was a slight glistening sheen to the material, probably the carbon Fullerene nanotubules. Despite what she had just seen, she couldn't help but feel awe struck. He looked towards her with an inviting glance and she cautiously stepped forward after downing the rest of her glass and setting it gently on the ground. He leaned against the back of the couch and she nervously extended her hands. When she finally truly met his eyes, she thought she caught a subtle golden glimmer.

"Do you think you could turn off your CASIE for just a bit?" she asked, her voice wavering a little. She already felt nervous enough without thinking about him analyzing her.

"No," he answered, not offering explanation. She didn't argue. After what he'd shown her, she knew she had no right to make any demands.

He knew she probably thought he was being unfair, leaving her so exposed under his computer assisted social interaction enhancer, but he had to know what she really felt when she saw and touched him. He followed her movements, with the CASIE informing him of little details along the way. When her fingertips brushed along his bare biceps region, his pressure sensors sent the tactile information to his neural chip. Unexpectedly, he felt a spreading warmth along his whole arm, tingling wherever she touched. He followed her delicate hand as it traced up towards the junction between metal and flesh. As she went from augment to skin, he was surprised that the sensation was seamless. Despite what he had expected and cynically told himself, her fingers really felt the same whether it was his original body, or the new prosthetics. Although he could tell her heart was racing, he felt his own pounding more heavily as well. It had been so long since anyone except a detached technician had touched him, that he was unsettled by the feelings it was stirring up.

Freya daringly brought her other hand up to the other shoulder and pressed more firmly, tracing down his arms simultaneously. It was hard to explain - it looked so different and yet it felt so realistic. She passed over his elbows, where her thumbs traced along the circular components that created a hinge. When she reached his hands, she noticed a more distinct difference between the more "muscular" parts of the augments - it was still warm, but the softness diminished. She brought her hands back up and felt along his clavicles and sternum where there were several nodes hooking into his chest wall, likely to lend stability across his frame. She glanced nervously up at him, wondering if he was expecting her to react differently, or was having second thoughts. As she held his gaze, staring into his copper brown eyes swirling with golden apertures, she wished she could read his expression - it was one she had never seen before. Gently he slid one of his hands down around to her waist and the other up towards her face, gently pushing a lock of brown hair back.

Without intending to, she speechlessly commed him, "Why?" She blushed immediately, wishing she hadn't let that slip out.

He smiled gently and pulled her closer, his voice resonating deep inside her, "I wanted to." As she absorbed the gravity of his words, she realized how oblivious she had been. She'd been so worked up over whether he would let her touch him that she never stopped to consider, or hope, that he might feel the same desire for her. As he bent forward, he tilted her head up towards his, his lips just grazing hers. She felt dizzy and took in a quick breath, helpless with anticipation, her hands gently resting on his chest.

In a jarring, unexpected stroke, a surge of grating electric dissonance shot through her brain. She held her head in her hands painfully, taking a step back and falling to her knees. Jensen too was knocked back, but it was worse for him - his optics crashed and his arms and legs seized in searing spasm. It took both their breaths away, and just as suddenly as it came, the glitch passed, though it felt like an eternity. Stifling tears, she coughed reflexively - the surge must have sent an errant signal down her vagus nerve.

"A-are you okay?" she asked, breathing fast and coughing again.

"What the hell was that?" he exclaimed, blinking and frowning as his visual display came back online. He quickly ran to the window and looked down at the street. Even from that distance he could see a few people reeling still, sitting on the sidewalk in a daze.

"It wasn't just us?" she asked. For a split second she had wondered guiltily if it were some kind of interference between the two of them.

"No, it looks like a system wide issue," he said seriously.

"Look, Adam, I don't know what happened, it could have been an isolated glitch but... my gut is telling me..."

"... that you need to investigate this, right?" he finished her thought.

"With everything that is happening, I can't believe that this is unrelated. Illuminati, conspiracies, the Humanity Front connection, now this. It's just..."

He smiled in understanding, saying, "Keep me posted. You keep doing your job, I'll do mine. You take care of the tech, and leave the interrogations and beating evil doctors to a pulp to me."

She laughed and nodded, running her hand through her hair in frustration. It was a shame to be interrupted, especially like that, but at least it was something intriguing. After he pulled on his shirt and jacket, he walked her back to her apartment, his arm around her shoulders. She put her arm around his waist, holding him close for those last few steps. At her door, he paused for a second and kissed her forehead lightly.

"To be continued," he smiled. She nodded and made herself go back into her apartment, trying not to think about whether that would be the last time she saw him.

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