You know what would be cool?

Hank is a scientist who volunteers to go to the North Pole to conduct research on thirium. He does it because he wants to be alone and away from people and feels like a burden to the few he still considers his friends. He figures he’ll fit right in,
in a snowy void on the literal top of the world, with nothing to do but peruse data and collect samples of stuff in a world of endless ice and sky.

Maybe he even wishes he won’t make it back. These missions aren’t as dangerous as they used to be, but they’re still not /safe/.
Any number of things can go wrong so volunteers are few and far in between, especially since they started sending androids up there to do most of the legwork. The people who loved the hands-on of it all frankly resented it, and anyone else with less love of the work
would most likely rather pick /anything/ over the utter isolation of such surroundings.

So he goes. The research base he was assigned to is supposed to be one of the smaller ones, and he’s supposed to be alone, just the way he wants. There’s plenty of supply drops,
he could probably live out the rest of his days here if he so wished.

Lo and behold, however, just because a research station is small, doesn’t mean it’s uninhabited. Or rather, no one considers the androids there as anything other than rather fancy equipment.
As it turns out when he shows up, Hank had a rather... outdated view of what the base might be like.

He’d seen pictures from back in the day, but foolishly he’d assumed things wouldn’t have changed all that much. He’d imagined tiny and scattered cabins, dim rooms.
Tiny spaces stuffed full of nothing but computer screens and wires and papers and other equipment , like in the good old days.

Jericho research station is nothing like that. And though he’s taken away from the large central dome and outwards to a smaller encampment, even that
defies his expectations.

It’s... shiny. And modern. There’s more /glass/ than he expected, at least on one side of the building dome, like a quarter of a bubble encapsulating what looks like a tiny biome from far away. As he gets closer, he realizes it’s a small dining area,
surrounded by a visibly thriving garden. Strange, unexpected, but it doesn’t set off the alarm bells it should in his head. Not until he gets out of the snow-crawling tank of a vehicle he’d arrived in and makes his way around the other side to the door.
Because, of course, he’s immediately greeted at the door, by a face entirely too cheerful.

“Hello, Doctor Anderson! My name is Connor. I’m the android sent to assist you in your research efforts.”

Hank sighs. Not so alone after all. But perhaps he could be easily ignored.
Connor ushers him inside though, and instead of fucking off to do whatever it is robots usually do, he starts circling Hank like a butler. Or a... bee. A very busy bee, flitting back and forth to help him unload his equipment and take off the outermost layers of his clothes.
Hank bristles, puts his hands up defensively. "What are you doing?"

Connor smiles, a bright sunbeam of a smile, hands still on Hank's jacket. "Helping. My directive is to make sure all your needs are met, and-"

Hank grits his teeth. "Yeah? Well right now, I need to be alone."
Connor's smile dissolves into something cool and - almost neutral, if not for a flicker that Hank could - interpret as hurt feelings, if he didn't know any better. Which he does. Of course he does, but...

He still feels bad. Of course. He sighs, drags a hand down his face.
He doesn't understand why an android had to be given the world's most expressive, doe-eyed face, but here they were, and... he was being an ass. To a computer, but feeling guilty about it anyway because it pouted at him.

"I'm sorry," Connor says quietly. "I'll give you space."
And then he backs off, smile returning stiffly to his features, and walks away.

Hank takes a deep breath. He's fine. He's fine. Everything's just hitting him all at once, the quiet, the cold, the soft hum of the research station welcoming him in its familiarity.
The inside is quickly warming his face though, and he sheds his coat and looks around. It's definitely - different, but still the same. Everything's a little more spacious, more comfortable. There's room for him to put his equipment away and then head down from the entryway to
the main research area. There's still computers, although they're slim and clear like sheets of hovering glass. The light is better, a little warm, like daylight -- entirely unlike the fluorescent crap he remembers. The windows are blacked out, but there /are/ windows, and the
heaters are working hard to keep the space pleasant. There's a thermostat on the wall, more equipment lockers, the floor is covered in carpeting that mutes the sound of his footsteps, turns every sound into something dull and cozy.

He's not sure where Connor's gone off to,
so he explores a bit further. Down the hallway to his left he finds the bathroom and his bedroom, small but well-organized, with a comfortable-looking bunk, desk, and a window. Here, the blinds are up, and letting in blinding sunlight that bounces off the snow and makes it glow.
It's more than enough, he thinks. He goes back through the workstation and finally finds the common area, complete with a couch, television, and easy access to an inviting looking kitchen. It's all there, everything one needs to survive indefinitely as long as there's supplies.
Except, then, where is...?

There's another door, slightly ajar, just by the kitchen, and Hank figures Connor must be there, so he pushes it open.

He finds the dome, the one facing the ice, greenery surrounded by glass, and freezes in his tracks. It's /bigger/ than it looked,
and it throws his brain for a loop. Someone - Connor - took very good care of the foliage here, and it grows tall and strong, framing the edges of the room. Here the floor is tile, and there's little tables and chairs like on a patio, and amidst it all, they're surrounded by
absolutely... nothing. The nearest base outpost is a speck on the horizon, barely visible from here, and aside from that it's just ice, and more ice, and miles of sky. It's like being on the edge of the world, or a different planet.

Connor's sitting in a little folding chair.
There's a pot of tea on the table next to him, and a mug. He looks up at Hank, eyes sharp.

"I thought you might like to warm up."

He's clearly recovered from Hank's grumpiness throwing him off balance, because his voice is as chipper as before.

"Sure. Thanks."
Hank sinks down into the chair, and takes some tea, and then stares pointedly at the horizon far in the distance. The little bubble they're in is warm, and it's strange feeling almost overheated in his hoodie while looking at all the cold outside, but... he likes it.
He can absorb the quiet like this, too, and that's nice in its own way. The station has a distinct hum to it, but aside from him - and Connor - there's no one else here. There are other scientists on the outer bases, but Hank deliberately learned as little about them as possible.
He'll be alone here to conduct his studies, run tests, and send his findings back to Detroit. And he has the whole place to himself. It's perfect.

Well, close to perfect, he thinks as he feels Connor's gaze pinned to his face. /That/ is unnerving and heavy, being stared at.
He takes a sip of his tea.

"I've never met a human before," Connor says after a beat. "You're not what I expected."

"Yeah," Hank says tiredly. "Sorry."

"No, I-- that's not what I meant."

And Hank doesn't really have an answer for that.
He came here, in large part, to avoid small talk, or talking about himself, or forming anything resembling an attachment to anything or anyone. And Connor's not anyone, maybe, but staring at Hank like that, he feels close enough to it that he's uncomfortable.
He's a piece of equipment, Hank reminds himself. An advanced computer. There's no reason to feel anything, least of all uncomfortable. Hank could probably run around the base naked if he felt so inclined, and Connor wouldn't even blink.

That knowledge is a bit at-odds with
the way Connor tilts his head when Hank meets his curious gaze.

"Listen," Hank manages. "It was a long trip here. I'm gonna - go. Turn in. Okay?"

Connor looks like he wants to protest, but says, "Of course. You can take all the time you need to get acquainted with everything."
Right now the only thing Hank wants to get acquainted with is his pillow.

He goes to his room and takes about four seconds settling in. There’s not much he wants to have here, and making the bed is more than enough for tonight.

He’s just tired. Too tired to do much else
but draw the blinds, collapse onto the mattress with his face pressed into the sheets and let the sound of the wind outside lull him into some space close to sleep.

The walls of the base creak faintly, like the building is breathing. He tries not to think about Connor,
or what he means for Hank’s dreams of solitude.


The next few days pass about as expected. Hank unpacks what few personal belongings he brought with him - his clothes, his personal laptop, a beat-up old music player - a picture of Cole, carefully wrapped in soft fabric
to protect the glass.

Once he’s done with that, he goes to unload the supplies and provisions, only to find that the work is already done. The fridge and cabinets are stocked in the kitchen, there’s soap and shampoo and toothpaste in the bathroom.

He looks for Connor.
He finds him in the little garden bubble again. This time he’s not just sitting around - he’s got a light glass tablet in his hands, and he’s scrolling through some data too fast for Hank to see.

“You didn’t have to do all that,” Hans says, gesturing at the kitchen.
“Maybe not, but why wouldn’t I?”

Inexplicably, irritation crawls up Hank’s throat. “You’re not a servant. You should be doing —“

“My designated task. Which is to keep the base running smoothly, ensure the health and safety of the team, and take over any tasks requiring
either the precision or the constitution of an android designed by—“

“Stocking kitchen cabinets requires precision now?” Hank growls.

Connor turns to look at him, face carefully blank. “It falls under the ‘keep things running smoothly’ category of my instructions.”
The irritation spikes. Something about the faux-innocent look on that smug little face— “Yeah? Well, you know where you can stick your instructions?”

Hank almost misses it, but Connor’s mouth twitches for a split second, and then his eyebrows rise ever so slightly. “No. Where?”
Fucking bullshit, is what it is, and he can smell it from a mile away. There’s something artfully calculated about this face, and it’s both infuriating and disarming. He even /bats his lashes/, as if Hank is supposed to fall for that.

“Right. Never mind,” he says.
Annoyed more with himself now, for getting into an argument with a machine in the first place.

A very human-looking, very — /lifelike/ machine. Connor even breathes, his shoulders rising and falling slowly. He blinks, he tilts his head. He bites his lip. Just slightly.
It should really be more unnerving than it is, that the only thing that betrays him as anything other than human is the cool, blue circle glowing steadily at his temple.

Hank’s not unnerved. He’s just annoyed. He came to work, forget. Not chat and have someone do work for him.
He decides to retreat into his own, grumpy bubble. He can ignore Connor from now on. It’s not rude. It’s not weird to not want to talk to a computer.

As it turns out, however, Connor does not enjoy being ignored.

As Hank soon finds out - he’s /everywhere/. All the time.
He must never sleep, because he’s always up before Hank, always fresh and chipper, working at a computer or running some maintenance, and occasionally fixing equipment. He’s always up as Hank gets ready for bed.

He spends a lot of time following Hank around, too.
The first time he ventures out onto the snow to collect some ice samples by hand, Connor is right there behind him, excitedly talking about all the research that had already gone placing the base on such rich mineral reserves.

Hank does a decent job of responding only
with the occasional grunt, but then he makes the mistake of looking up, just to glance at him, and—

“Jesus, Connor. You’re going to freeze!”

Connor smiles at him mildly, hands folded behind his back. All he’s wearing is that stiff little android jacket. “I don’t think so.”
Maybe Hank is jealous, because to go out, /he/ has to put on a coat, and gloves, and drag with him a backpack full of equipment for taking and storing samples. It’s not that cold, today. But still too cold for him to go out without turning into an overdressed sphere.
Connor follows him out. The sky is clear, and in full daylight he looks just as pale, although oddly — like he belongs out here. There’s a sharp wind coming in that stings Hank’s cheeks, but Connor is unfazed, and simply accompanied Hank in pensive silence.
It’s still summer, and a balmy -4 degrees centigrade. The flat ice around them is not featureless, but it is /vast/ and the details - the dips in it, the crevices and slowly freezing pools of thaw - only bleed together into a wide and open expanse that blurs at the horizon.
It smells /clean/ and crisp above all else, and Hank likes that. It’s a smell almost forgotten these days, especially in the city, and although the wind picks up and makes his face burn, it’s a satisfying feeling to spend time out here, just as he has intended.
“Should you wish to confirm anything before getting back to the lab,” Conor informs him, “You may use my built-in analysis software.”

Hank grunts. The ice is crisp as they walk out towards where he imagines the sea is, just miles away. It must be a sight right now.


“I can’t help but feel— some hostility from you. Is it something I said?”

Hank looks up, expecting another one of those /looks/.

Instead, he gets an odd eyeful of a boy that looks naked surrounded by so much cold, and dark eyes that look... genuine. Perturbed.
And that, of all things, grabs at something in his gut, twists, and doesn't let go.

"No, it's not- it's not you. You're just doing your job."

Connor shifts, still visibly troubled. "I was designed to integrate smoothly among humans. It... bothers me that you find me annoying."
Hank kneels, jabs the ice with a pick and sighs. "It's not like that. I'm just interested in the work. That's all. And I'd prefer to do it myself."

Connor eyes him skeptically. "I can do much of it faster, and more efficiently than you can."
"Yep," Hank grits out. "I don't doubt it."

"You could have more free time. More freedom to focus on the work you prefer to do and leave me with the rest. Even if that includes - chores."

He stutters a bit on that last part, enough that Hank looks up again.
"Yeah, that's a hard pass from me, Connor. I don't want to be waited on, and I'm sure you have better things to do. If you want, /you/ can take that free time."

The LED at Connor's temple flickers, spins yellow. He looks blank, almost like he's stuck on something Hank said.
"I'm not sure what I'd do with free time."

Hank works a sliver of ice out of the ground, then places it carefully inside it's designated vial. He marks their coordinates, sticks down an orange marker with the correct label nearby. "What do you usually do?"

"I go into stasis."

He's not sure how he's so /sure/ there's something else. But there must be. At least that's how it feels.

"Sometimes I - take care of the plants. In the dome. It doesn't fall firmly within my instructions, but..."

"There you go, then. You can do more of that."
"I'm not sure --"

"Come on. Let's just keep walking, okay?"

Connor falls silent.

It doesn't last very long. As they walk towards the next location, he begins asking Hank questions, apparently encouraged by their short exchange. He wants to know, apparently, everything there
is to know about Hank's life.

And it starts innocently enough, with things related to work, and how he prefers things, and the years of research he's done and his degree, than Hank doesn't even notice when the conversation moves to other, more personal topics.
And maybe it's those doe eyes again, but Hank somehow doesn't have the heart to ignore him or tell him off.

By the time they get back to the base, Connor knows about Hank's favorite movies and music, he knows where Hank's studied and worked, he knows - just about everything.
Maybe not the conversations Hank actively flinches from. He shuts down any talk of his family or friends, and as it turns out, Connor does have /some/ understanding of when to stop prying. He goes quiet in fact, properly, and they walk only with the sound of their boots in snow.
Hank doesn’t really think twice about that silence, chalks it up to Connor taking the hint for once. He’s grateful for the reprieve from the questions, and he thinks about the work still to be done at the base, and making dinner.

The wind just keeps getting stronger.
He loves that sound, and he doesn’t even mind that it gets harder to breathe and to walk. There’s something bracing and primal about it, like being on the open sea.

He doesn’t realize there’s anything remotely off until they walk back inside into relative quiet and warmth.
He locks up the door, and he’s about to silently slip past Connor to drop off the box of samples in the lab, but the he notes - this odd stiffness in his shoulders, worse than normal. His LED is still blinking sluggishly, but he looks - uncomfortable, maybe even pained.
“Hey. What’s wrong?”

Connor blinks, and even Hank can tell his lashes are frozen solid. “Nothing. I simply need a moment to readjust my internal temperature.”

Hank frowns. “Thought you were designed for this shit.”

“I am. Nothing is wrong.”

“You look... cold.”
“It doesn’t bother me. My systems are simply working a bit harder to keep me stable after a prolonged exposure to the wind. This is supposed to happen.”

Hank eyes him. His chin is tipped downward, and maybe he’s imagining things, but Connor seems to be breathing harder.
“So... you’re cold /and/ tired.”

“I don’t feel it the way you do. But... if you wanted to get technical, then yes, I suppose I am.”

Hank sighs and drags a hand down his face. “Put on a coat next time, alright? And - listen, I’m going to go unpack. Why don’t you take a shower?”
“A shower.”

“Yeah, kid. A hot shower. It’ll warm you up? I assume you’re waterproof.”

Connor shoots him a scathing look. “Of course I am.”

“Good. Then off with ya.” Hank claps him on the shoulder. He means to walk off, really, but a small noise Connor makes catches him
off guard, and he does a double take, his hand lingering. “Did you just /beep/?”

Connor clears his throat. He looks almost... affronted. “I beep sometimes. It’s fine.”

“Huh.” Hank pulls his hand away. “Right. Anyway. Have fun. I’m gonna go make some food.”
“I... don’t have access to my own shower.”

Hank shrugs. “So use mine. It’s not rocket science, Connor.”

Connor opens his mouth like he wants to say something, then closes it. Hank takes it as a sign to retreat.

It bothers him, for some reason, that Connor feels cold.
But he doesn’t have answers for why, so he just goes off to the kitchen to cook up something simple.

He makes a simple bean stew from canned vegetables, takes a few slices of bread, and brews some coffee. Then he finds a place to sit in the common room, by the windows.
He watches the sky turn slate as the wind blows in a cover of clouds.

Connor takes a long time in the shower, and Hank can tell because he can just barely hear the water running in the background. So long, in fact, that Hank manages to finish his food and his coffee.
Unthinkingly, he tries to remember the last time he’d had a meal accompanied by the sound of someone else just... existing in close proximity. And god, it’s been years, and he didn’t think he’d missed /that/ of all things, but it’s oddly /nice/.
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