Born From Nought

“What are we doing here?” Kenny asks from beneath the balaclava pulled low over his face which muffles his voice just enough so that his words are still distinguishable.

“You know the answer to that; I already told you.” Fran replies with an irritated bite to his tone of voice. He hates repeating himself and has already been forced to twice thus far. There is no way he’s repeating himself for a third time. If Kenny doesn’t remember then tough, that’s on him no one else. Still, it’s shocking that his partner in crime, literally, forgets why they do anything. After all, breaking, entering and stealing is all they ever do. Well, Kenny gets as high as a kite too, which may explain his inability to ever recall anything Fran tells him. In some ways that might be beneficial as if they ever get caught, they haven’t as yet, then at least Kenny won’t be able to rat him out. Fran isn’t sure he’ll be quite as honourable. He has a family to look after. Well, a kid to pay for that he never gets to see. You bitch Elizabeth, Fran thinks as a snarl, hidden by his balaclava, curls across his face.

“I know we’re here stealing Fran, I’m not stupid.” Kenny fires back.

“You could have fooled me.” Fran mutters under his breath quiet enough that Kenny doesn’t catch it.

“What I mean is why here? It’s an industrial estate. We don’t have the gear to move big heavy machines. Even if we did how would we sell them? No contacts for that kind of stuff. Unless you’ve been holding out on me that is.” Kenny is rabbiting. He does this often. Usually it happens when he’s nervous, and he’s always nervous before they go stealing. Yet, Fran can’t doubt that Kenny is one hell of a thief once he gets into it. Just the droning on before hand is annoying as all hell and why he rolls his eyes.

They are both sat in the front of their van. Its Fran’s really, is dark blue in colour, though you wouldn’t know that to look at it right now in the dead of night. It looks black, plus bears no insignia and has had its plates removed. There’s no better way to avoid identification than to ensure there is nothing that can identify the vehicle in any way.

“Cause I’ve seen some big items come this way, like TV’s and computers, plural. Not just singular and in addition to those I’ve spotted a few other deliveries of large expensive looking boxes.” Fran replies.

“So, we can get that stuff downtown. Why come all the way out here? Plus, we’re in a business area where there’s bound to be security. You know cameras, sensors, scanners and all that kind of jazz.” Kenny still doesn’t seem to get it. He doubts what Fran has staked out and seen with his own two eyes while impersonating a maintenance worker. Easiest disguise ever that no one ever pays any mind to.

“Cause where we’re hitting has none of that security junk.” Fran reminds confidently and while realising that he is, whether he likes it or not and he definitely does not, going over this for a third time.

“How can you be so sure though?” Kenny is looking for an out. He always gets like this, but once they start he becomes all business. Fran wishes they could skip this part. It’s boring and consistent, and not in the good way either.

“Saw it with my own two eyes. How many more times do I have to say that?” Fran says through gritted teeth.

“Oh. That’s all good then.” Kenny sounds chirpy now. Fran checks his watch and chuckles, once, to himself realising that right on cue Kenny is becoming the consummate criminal professional.

“You ready to go?” Fran asks soon after.

“Yeah.” Kenny replies with a nod. He’s also smiling now but Fran can’t see that due to the balaclava. Not that it changes the man’s next statement, which is an order really. “Let’s get going then.”

With that the two men clamber, quietly, out of the van. They are careful to make as little noise as possible and even resort to pressing the van doors closed instead of pushing them. It’s a good call as the night air is silent, plus a little chilly. Kenny shivers twice before shaking the feeling off and stepping carefully around the van’s front to join Fran. There is just enough light cast by the overhead street lights so the men won’t end up fumbling about in the dark, at risk of clattering and making noise they can’t afford to make.

Still, they’ll stay out of the street lights proper. Kenny isn’t sure they should be called street lights as he turns, following a half step behind Fran, off the street where they have left the van. They don’t want to draw unwanted attention and the van would definitely be that. The lights now are affixed to the walls of the buildings on either side of them, which is why Kenny feels calling them street lights is inaccurate.

“We’re heading for unit sixteen. It’s at the far end.” Fran informs.

“Is there not a quicker way there than a walk down this avenue, it’s pretty well lit?” Kenny enquires.

“Afraid not.” Is Fran’s honest reply that comes right after.

“Hmm, OK. It looks like there’s a narrow section down the middle that should keep us hidden.” Kenny advises trying to be cautious, encase there are cameras recording, and yet remain positive at the same time. At any other time he’d already be finding reasons not to go through with it and back out.

“We piling and then picking?” Kenny queries more than a few minutes later once they are three quarters of the way down the avenue with the buildings standing at attention on either side of them.

“Yeah that’s the idea Ken.”

“Cool.”

It takes Kenny and Fran a few more minutes to reach their goal, their prize. Once they arrive the pair waste no time as Fran indicates that they need to climb the fire escape staircase on the side. It’s a single flight of metal steps which they both creep up while making sure to keep low. The only thing on this side of the industrial unit is scrub land covered in weeds, overgrown and out of control bushes, unkempt trees and overly long browning grass. If it were later in the year the pair of crooks would have to contend with the threat of crunchy leaves. But autumn has not hit quite yet. It’s close however, and once this job is done they’ll lay low for a while. Live off the proceeds they’ve accrued over the months since late winter. They rarely go thieving during the autumn months exactly because of the leaves, and only sometimes during winter. To be honest winter thefts depend heavily on the weather. This winter it had been heavy snowfall. Too heavy to have any decent hope of making a getaway if they’d got caught in the act.

Kenny always struggles when they aren’t ‘working’ because of his drug habit. He refuses to call it that but that is what it is. Plus, he’s a lazy bum when he’s not on the make, which is why he’s single. No woman, man or whatever his preference might be, Fran hasn’t a clue, would never put up living with him. If they tried he’d have them running all over his apartment, as small as it might be, doing this, that and the other for him. Mostly that would entail getting him a beer or his latest drug of choice so he can take another hit. How he’s never been caught and put behind bars Fran isn’t sure, and Kenny is never forthcoming. At one time that might have worried Fran, and it had. When they’d first started out Fran had been sure Kenny was an undercover. It turned out he wasn’t, and that he’d never served. He’d always been a druggy and a thief. Not one on the take from the authorities either and that made him a rare breed indeed. That is exactly why Fran and he are still running round together doing this.

“Door’s here. Stack and ready.” Fran mutters now that they’re almost upon the one way they’ve got inside. They can’t go through the front door. Well, they can but Fran is in no way inclined to do so. He might be sure there is no security for this place but that doesn’t mean he’s about to waltz in without a care and risk getting caught. Especially as it is entirely plausible that he could be wrong, and he knows it. Anyway, being careful is how he’s stayed out of prison. Apart from the short stints in juvie when he’d been a teenager that is. He doesn’t count those. They were back when he didn’t have the smarts he needed to live a life of crime.

“All set.” Kenny confirms once he’s in position. His confirmation follows a quick glimpse to check that they aren’t being set up. He knows Fran wouldn’t do that too him, but that doesn’t mean no one else would. It could be the cops, or someone else, have this joint under their watchful eye encase people like them, criminals, come by looking to steal whatever isn’t bolted down. It’s how a few of the kids Kenny grew up with had been stung in the end. A couple of them are still behind bars as a result. Though, that was mostly because things had gone very wrong and some people had got hurt, on camera. Kenny isn’t afraid of violence. He grew up with an abusive mother and an absentee father. Or at least his mother, Mandy, had been abusive until he’d got a little older. Then she’d stopped because Kenny was the same size as her, and still growing, but quite a bit stronger. It’s what living most of your life on the streets in the slums will do to a kid. After that Mandy had skipped out on Kenny entirely, though she did leave him with money. That had surprised him and yet he’d never been inclined to find out what had happened to her.

By contrast Fran was from an even more screwed up family, because he didn’t have one. He’s an orphan. His parents abandoned him. Or at least that is what he’d been told by the orphanage. He didn’t rightly care one way or another. Much like he didn’t care that he was in the minority of orphans when it came to turning to a life of crime.

Fran reaches for the doorknob expecting it to be locked. It’s why Kenny has his picks. Too his utter astonishment it isn’t and with a quick twist and a light push the door opens. His jaw drops and his eyes flutter prior to him casting his gaze toward Kenny who finishes shaking himself out of whatever disbelief he’d been in. Right after that he shrugs. Following the initial shock the pair breach the unit. As they do so Fran pulls a hammer. It’s what he’d been intending to break the door in with if Kenny’s picks didn’t work. They always work and yet it pays to be ready just encase.

Inside the unit is twice as dark as the world beyond its walls. Not a single light illuminates the space. Kenny grumbles silently to himself concerned that he might take a wrong step. Fran, who is right behind him, flicks his tongue along the inner edge of his teeth. He can hear the sound it makes, just, in his ears. The pair of crooks descend, very carefully for fear of falling and breaking something more than alerting anyone that may or may not be present, the stairs on the inside of the unit. These internal steps are much steeper than those on the outside, yet they make it to ground level without issue. Both breathe a sigh of relief over that.

So far Kenny and Fran would have to admit that everything is going a little too well. It’s like the unit is vacant. Especially, as they have covered a good half a dozen metres, since leaving the steep stairs behind, and are yet to find anything but wide open space.

Kenny wonders if whoever was here has vacated. Fran will be pissed if that’s true because he was so sure that this would be a decent, easy horde that would tide them over for the next few months, at the very least. If it turns out that Fran has been wrong and that this place is empty, it’ll still have been a decent run this year. However, Kenny needs the money to pay off a few debts he’s accrued due to his habit. Fran isn’t aware but Kenny isn’t just into drugs. He dabbles and places a few bets here and there too. However, because of a particularly poorly chosen few, due to him having been high, he owes a few thousand to some shadier than he would like people. They’re the kind that’ll break fingers and toes because legs and arms prolong the period prior to you being able to pay them back what is owed.

“I see something up ahead.” Fran whispers hopeful.

Kenny looks up, studies ahead of him, agrees that there is definitely something ahead in the darkness and nods. He dares not speak as he tends to have a loud voice which only ever rears its ugly head at the least opportune moments, such as this one.

As they creep closer toward the shape, which looks like a house wall that has been erected within the unit, Fran loses his balance. It is sudden and due to having trodden on something hidden by the darkness around them. He doesn’t know what it is but its presence has caught him off-guard. Still, he manages to stop himself going over, barely. However, he can do nothing about the loud alarm which roars to life alongside a flashing red light. Kenny and Fran leap to their full heights, having lost their element of surprise. Their heads snap left then right over and over as they study the space around them confused as to what has transpired. Then lights flick on. They’re blinding, painful and momentarily render both men visionless as they raise their arms to shield their faces. It half works but doesn’t change what happens next as a man’s voice booms, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Kenny throws himself out of the way following an order he heard uttered by Fran, who barrels forwards at a full sprint. The hammer in his hand is raised high above his head. Narek catches sight of it immediately. His eyes go wide and he recoils shocked at the sudden charge toward him.

The next moment Fran is upon Narek, who avoids the swing of the hammer not one or twice but three times by either retreating or sidestepping. The curly dark haired man is dressed in an open collar blue shirt, darker blue slacks and a pair of tan slippers. The slippers are a newer addition to help cut down on the noise when he traipses about the units’ concrete floor, plus due to him being sick of the cold sensations he got every time his bare feet touched the surface.

While Fran is busy with the man, Kenny circles around ready to pounce. Clearly the average height man with short curly black hair is oblivious to Kenny’s presence. It’s like he’s forgotten that there were two intruders in the first place.

With the lights on the units interior has been revealed to be largely empty save for what looks to be a central section that has house-sized walls and a low hanging light gantry erected. Kenny doesn’t understand why it’s all here and yet he isn’t about to overthink right now. They have to stop this guy, whoever he is, from gaining the upper hand, he recites to himself. That is why as soon as Kenny is able to rushes headlong toward the man, Narek.

As Kenny hurls himself forward he dips his shoulder ready to tackle the guy who has his back to Kenny. Fran is well aware of what Kenny is intending and while he isn’t sure it’s going to work he isn’t about to draw attention to his partner in crime. They have an element of surprise, again somehow, which is why Fran has pulled back on his hammer swings. Narek on the other hand has his fists balled and raised like a boxer. A couple of the more than a dozen jabs he’s unleashed have connected and forced Fran to withdraw momentarily as a result. After all, he isn’t about to let this thug best him and take whatever it is he is here for. Yet, at the same time Narek is not arrogant enough to belief he can best a man wielding a hammer. One strike would likely be enough to end his duel. Rather, Narek simply wants to drive this thief back so that the unit can be safe once more. How his building was infiltrated he’ll ascertain later and then likely implement perimeter security to avoid such issues in the future. Yet, his internal security measures had prevailed and alerted him to the presence of… Suddenly Narek recalls that there were two figures. His eyes go wide and his attention, drawn, sees him begin to turn his head when all of a sudden he is tackled hard from behind. The force of the hit is immense and sees Narek fly forward toward the man with the hammer. The man’s eyes, hazel in colour, go wide. Fran wasn’t expecting Kenny’s tackle to force this curly haired man toward him.

Fran can do nothing to stop his mid-swing, though he tries. Seconds later the hammer smashes into Narek’s head. In response the hammer is wrenches out of Fran’s hand. Then Narek’s body hits the floor. Immediately blood begins to spurt out onto the concrete floor while Kenny lays semi atop the still body slightly dazed.

It takes Kenny a while to blink the blurriness out of his visions and fight through the haze. Once he has he cannot fail to see the still body of the man, as well as the growing pool of blood around him. His immediate reaction is to scramble away frantically, which is precisely what he does. Then he turns toward Fran who is stood there breathing slowly. Fran looks calmer than Kenny would have expected him too, and that unnerves him. When Fran speaks Kenny’s unease doubles.

“We need to hurry. Get whatever is worth some dough and get out of here.” His voice is cold, stern and sure. Meanwhile his eyes linger on Kenny, who can feel them burning with intensity. Yet, at first Kenny refuses to meet them. When he does there is no hint of remorse present in Fran’s hazel eyes. Due to that Kenny is inclined to say nothing and so Fran growls, “Come on!”

With that Kenny shakes himself out of his daze and hurries off in pursuit of Fran who is already at the threshold of the wide open door in the house-sized wall. It’s the door that the now dead curly haired man appeared through shortly after the alarm began to sound. It’s stopped now. It had been on a timer and once that had ticked down everything had fallen quiet once more.

As soon as Kenny steps across that threshold and is greeted with the space beyond he is confused by what he sees. It looks like the inside of a normal apartment and that makes not an ounce of sense to the man who has to pinch himself to be sure that this isn’t part of some strange dream. He isn’t. Though, he is pleased to find Fran stood next to him with much the same expression, from what Kenny can tell due to the presence of the balaclava, as he. A second later the expression is gone from Fran’s face and he mutters, “Weird but we’ve got no time to waste.”

Following that utterance the pair explode into a flurry of activity as they search, assess and extract the valuables. There isn’t as much as Kenny thought there would be. In truth he’s a little disappointed. From what Fran had said Kenny had envisioned a mountain of stuff ripe for the picking but following roughly ten minutes of frantic analysis they have about what they’d get out of a small apartment.

“Check that door back there. There might be some more stuff worth taking.” Fran commands out of the blue while indicating a door Kenny hadn’t even noticed the presence of, if he was being honest. Kenny makes no attempts to argue as he makes a b-line for it. Just as he readies himself to go through Fran advises, “I’m going to go get the van. Make it quick in there.”

With that Fran departs. He doesn’t wait for a reply he just hurries off leaving Kenny with whatever is behind this door. Kenny doesn’t like how casual Fran is being. It seems wrong. Not because Kenny wasn’t prepared to kill but because he expected there to be a reaction, yet there hadn’t for more than a few short moments. Kenny really wishes he could take a hit right now but he never takes gear with him when he’s on a job, so he’ll just have to do without.

He bursts through the door. It had been locked, which had forced him to shoulder it. The lock had been weak, as he’d expected it would be, and exploded under the relatively minor force exerted upon it. Still, Kenny can see nothing as he peers into a pitch black room. Once he is across the threshold however overhead lights spring to life.

His jaw drops and his eyes gleam with twinkling star-like gems. He cannot believe what he is faced with, a…laboratory. At least that is what he thinks it is as his eyes scan around and are drawn to the computers, the cables of which are haphazardly snaking all across the floor, and the monitors. Some of the screen are suspended from the lighting gantry, which has a ceiling above it that successfully blocks out the main lights of the industrial unit they’re in. Kenny is impressed and pushes deeper in. His eyes never rest on any item of interest for more than a few seconds before being effortlessly drawn to the next. He feels like a kid in a candy shop.

When he gets to almost the centre of the room, which is much bigger than he would have been inclined to believe it might be before he entered, at roughly the same size overall as the apartment area connected to it, he spies something. At first he swears it’s in his head and yet he cannot bring himself to look and check. When he finally does convince himself some time later he finds that it really is a body, as he had first suspected. Nevertheless, Kenny leaps back a full step quite literally and feels cold shiver ripple down his back. His right shoulder twitches and rolls subconsciously trying to dispel the shiver. It only half works as he realises he can’t bring himself to avert his gaze from the body that is splayed out on the metal autopsy table now that he is looking at it.

“What the…” Kenny suddenly hears beside him. The exclamation from Fran causes Kenny to jump out of skin and then nervously turn while shaking.

Fran’s expression, even with the balaclava, is exactly what Kenny can imagine his own looks like and so he simply nods.

“I think we found something.” Are the words Kenny manages finally a while later.

 “Yeah, but what…” Fran gulps loud enough for Kenny to hear and notes how he finds it odd that now Fran isn’t himself. Not following the accidental murder of the curly haired man but at the discovery of this room and its lifeless occupant.

“I don’t know.” Kenny mutters in reply as he takes a step forward.

“What are you doing?” Fran enquires with a panicked tone.

“I…I don’t know.” Kenny admits without explaining that he feels drawn to the body of what is clearly a woman. She isn’t dressed. At least Kenny doesn’t think she is. From this angle it looks live she is simply covered by a thin single layer of cloth. It makes the entire scene look even more like a morgue than it did at first.

“Let’s just go.” Fran blurts hurriedly as his eyes, no longer fixed on the body, flit left and right. It’s like he thinks someone is going to leap out of nowhere at any time. To say what and for what reason he cannot say. It’s just the thought that has crossed, is lingering and now refuses to leave his mind as he watches Kenny edge ever closer to the body.

Kenny is moving as though he expects the body to sit up at any time. Something tells Fran that is not going to happen. That body is clearly lifeless, dead and that recalls the fate of the curly haired man. Fran feels less than he thought he would at being the most responsible party in someone’s death, an accidental death albeit.

Now that he is within reach Kenny raises his arm, but hesitates to outstretch it and check on the woman by touching her neck to check for a pulse. Her eyes are closed and while she clearly isn’t moving something about her skin pigmentation suggests to him that she isn’t dead. Her chest isn’t rising and falling! A voice in his head exclaims but he ignores its insistence and reaches forward until finally his fingers touch her neck. She isn’t cold. Kenny thinks that’s a good sign but has nothing to base that on as he repositions himself so that he can properly feel for her pulse. As he does so Fran exclaims, “Stop!”

Kenny snaps his head round and blurts, “Why?” His voice is more terrified than he expected it to be and his fingers, now a few millimetres off the surface of the woman’s skin, are shaking.

“She’s not real.” Fran adds right after. Kenny furrows his brow but says nothing.

“Look…” Fran spins a monitor mounted to an arm round to reveal a bunch of graphs, charts and readouts that Kenny can honestly say mean nothing to him.

It seems Fran reads as such from the look in Kenny’s eyes and so launches into an explanation, “She’s…synthetic. She’s not alive. She’s…yeah, something else I can’t explain but this is reading her upload progress.” Fran leaves it at that, which leaves Kenny to wonder if that is because his partner can’t explain further. It seems likely and yet now that Fran has pointed it out Kenny can see it. Before he couldn’t, not at all, and yet the knowledge he now possesses isn’t enough for Kenny who sidesteps around until he is stood at the head of the woman. Fran says nothing even as Kenny drops into a squat and discovers a cable, thick and long, inserted into the back of her head. Kenny lets out a sigh of relief, drops his head, nods it barely perceptibly several times quickly and then stands. Fran has his eyes on his partner in crime. He can’t take them off him and hasn’t throughout.

“Yeah, you’re right she’s not human.” With those words spoken Fran lets out a huge sigh of relief of his own. It’s a much longer, louder and deeper sigh than Kenny’s but signifies that he didn’t actually believe the words that had previously passed his own lips.

“Let’s get the goods and get out of here.” Fran suggests back to his normal self again and as he turns to head for one of the smaller monitors. He has a screwdriver in hand, which he flips in the air.

“Yeah.” Kenny replies without thinking. His eyes still fixed on the woman who isn’t a woman, even as he shuffles away from her body heading for Fran. He intends to grab hold of the monitor while his partner continues to loosen it. It’s the safest option. After all, they don’t want to alert anyone else to their presence. Not that Kenny thinks anyone else is present. He really doesn’t and yet can’t get the woman, who isn’t a woman, out of his head. His eyes continue to flit her way every now and again as if he’s checking on her. Fran has noticed here and there which is why he’s passed comment a few times. Nothing he’s said thus far his dissuaded Kenny, which is why Fran finally says, “You want to take it with us, don’t you?”

“Yeah I do.” Kenny admits without elaborating.

“Why? We can’t sell it and it doesn’t look like it runs, so what’s the point?” Fran demands to know as he gesticulates with his right arm, the screwdriver in it acting as a pointer.

“How do we know she doesn’t run?” Kenny fires back undeterred.

“Oh fuck you think it’s some kind of sexbot don’t you, you sick…” Fran starts, his tone is disgust and his face is scrunched up, which even with the balaclava over his head is obvious.

“No. What the hell is wrong with you? I think she’d be…” Kenny begins before Fran cuts in, “…useful. Like I said before you’re sick.” And that’s without Fran pointing out that Kenny keeps referring to the thing as a she.

“We might be able to sell her. Then we’d be set for life, wouldn’t we?” Kenny counters.

“Only if it runs could we make a sale. Though, who too I haven’t…” Fran begins starting to soften to the idea. Kenny seeing the opportunity interjects to cut him off and state, “Then I’ll see if I can get her running.”

With that and without Fran agreeing, Kenny glides back over to the unconscious… Kenny doesn’t know what to call her and yet is in no way deterred as he begins to examine her. Fran meanwhile sighs and makes a number of frustrated disbelieving noises. Kenny ignores them. He doesn’t care. This could be a real score. The big time that could set them both up for retirement. At least in his mind it could… Suddenly Kenny catches the ear of the woman who isn’t a woman. Her eyes shoot open. Kenny recoils in response which draws the attention of Fran, whose eyes turn nervous.

“Hello, I’m Allie. That is short for Artificial Life-Like Intelligence Engine. It is nice to meet you. What is your name?” Allie says while still laid out on her back. She’s made no attempt to move a single of her artificially created muscles or limbs. Though, she blinks and her eyelids flutter just like they do for Kenny, Fran or anyone else and that surprises Kenny.

“I’m Kenny. What are you?” He feels compelled to ask before noticing Fran has his eyes locked on him, scowling.

“I am a synthetic personality created by…unknown. It seems some of my data is missing.”

“Turn her off and give me a hand with this.” Fran sneers through gritted teeth in warning. This is the first time he’d ever be inclined to call Kenny’s behaviour during a job unprofessional and unfocused. He doesn’t know what has come over his partner but he needs it to stop right now.

“No, you said if we got her working she’d be coming with us.” Kenny fires back.

Fran growls to himself annoyed that he allowed those words to pass his lips. He did say that but he never actually thought they’d get the thing working. Stupid!

“Fine.” Fran accepts begrudgingly.

However, Kenny doesn’t rush over to help his partner. Instead, he aids the…whatever she is that Fran and Kenny don’t know what to call. He knows they could call it by its name and yet that seems… It sends an uneasy shiver down Fran’s spine.

Regardless, they manage to get away safe and sound with everything the unit had had to offer, plus this Allie-thing. Fran, who is driving the van, still isn’t sure about this. He especially doesn’t like how chatty and friendly Kenny is being with it. It’s like his partner has found a pet. At least that is how he’d describe Kenny’s interactions with it. It certainly isn’t how he, Fran or anyone else would interact with a person, a real one not this….yeah.

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