"The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. The mystery which surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man."
― B.F. Skinner, Contingencies Of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis
Leo stayed in the shadows of the alley, glancing down at his watch. The synth he was supposed to meet should have been here by now, but he was nowhere in sight. Sighing, Leo leaned against the wall and decided to wait a bit longer though he couldn't help as anxious energy coursed through him. He didn't like being out in the open for this long, but he tried distracting himself with rational excuses. Perhaps the synth just got held up. Maybe he was lost.
Leo didn't want to think of the other option. That they, whoever they were, had gotten to him first.
Perhaps he should have brought Max and Ten along as well. But just as quickly Leo knew that he made the right decision this time. The synth was in a more populated area and Ten was still working on blending in. He didn't want to risk losing either right now, considering the last three synths they had tried to help were picked up before they could get to them. The last time had been too close a call for Leo's liking. With Niska in the wind as well, he didn't want to risk losing anyone else.
For a moment, Leo wondered about the Hawkins and how they were doing. But just as quickly, he pushed that thought aside. He hadn't thought of them in awhile and wasn't sure why he would at this time. It had been about a year since he had seen or talked to any of them.
Another glance at his watch told him that nearly an hour had passed. The synth wasn't coming and he needed to get back to the others.
Adjusting his knapsack on his shoulder, Leo pulled the ball cap lower and stepped out of the alley, starting down the sidewalk. While it wasn't too crowded, he kept a steady pace as he walked, keeping from making eye contact with anyone. It wouldn't do to attract any sort of attention.
"Excuse me," a voice said from behind him.
Leo stopped a moment and glanced over his shoulder, seeing a young woman trotting up to him, her honey blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. Surely she didn't mean him. No one ever noticed him. He continued walking, assuming she must be talking to someone else.
"I just need a moment of your time!" she continued, causing him to stop again.
She was speaking to him. Immediately, Leo's guard was up as he turned to face her. Where had she even come from? He hadn't seen her when he stepped out from the alley. Had she been waiting for him or was this a random run-in?
"Can I help you?" Leo asked, irritated.
He didn't like to be bothered. And for the most part, no one ever did. No one save a handful knew that he was even alive as it was. But still, Leo had to keep his head down in case the wrong sorts found him again. He cautiously glanced around the sidewalk. No one else appeared to be paying any attention to them.
"No need to get defensive," the woman said, smiling as she reached him. "I just want to chat." He studied her closely, wondering if he knew who she was. She didn't look familiar at all.
"About what?" he asked. "I'm not interested in whatever it is you're selling."
The woman chuckled and shook her head, her grey eyes twinkling.
"Not selling anything," she said. "But I can help you, Leo."
His blood ran cold at the mention of his name. No one knew his name.
"Who are you?" he hissed, stepping closer to her as he glanced around again, wondering who could be watching. Who she was working for.
"It's just me - no one else. Relax," she replied, holding her hands up. "My name is Nora Locke. I'm a reporter." Leo narrowed his eyes at her. "And I know that you're Leo Elster. I've been searching a long time for you. Hard man to find, you are."
"How do you know me?" he asked, his heart beginning to pound.
There was no way anyone in the media could know who he was. What he was. That word could get out about him and the others. He didn't like the idea of being experimented on. Again. Just how had this Nora discovered them? A million questions flew through Leo's mind as he glared down at her.
"I know a lot, actually. That you supposedly died when you were 13 but your father brought you back using synth tech," Nora continued, though she lowered her voice as she glanced around cautiously as well. Leo's eyes widened a moment before he turned and started walking away quickly. He had to get out of there - warn the others.
"I know about the others, too," she called out, stopping Leo in his tracks. He spun back around, scowling at her. "I know that more are waking up."
Leo rushed back up to her, getting into her face.
"I don't know what you think you know, but I'm not interested," he said, before turning away. "I don't bloody talk to the press."
"This isn't about a story. I can help you," Nora said, running to catch up to him.
God, she was persistent. But weren't all reporters?
"And just why do you think that?" he asked, still scanning his surroundings. "Planning to write an article? Tell everyone that conscious synths are real and not to be feared? Out me to the world?"
I told you - it's not about a story," she huffed.
She reached out and grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop and look at her. He had to admit she had a remarkably strong grip for someone her size.
"We have more in common than you know. I can help you. More than that, I want to," she urged. He stared down at her. "I know what you're doing and I have resources-"
"How could you possibly know anything about what I'm doing?" he hissed. "You don't know anything."
Nora narrowed her eyes at him, her face instantly hardening.
"As I said, I know a hell of a lot more than you think I do. And I've been watching you," she said. Leo started to turn away again. "If I found you, it's only a matter of time before others do."
He didn't speak, just rushed off, wanting to put as much space as possible between him and this mysterious reporter. He didn't stop for some time, only to make sure that she didn't follow. He breathed a sigh of relief to find that the nosy reporter was nowhere in sight.
He then continued on, making his way to the van and then back to the farmhouse. Mia and Max probably wouldn't be happy when they found this out. They should probably find a new safe house.
But before he told them anything, Leo knew he needed to find out more about this Nora Locke and what she might be after. He told himself it was to be more informed, but he couldn't help the small part of his brain that found himself curious.
She was obviously good at what she did - she had found him, after all. But how? And why would she want to help? There was obvious something in it for her.
Yes, Leo needed to find out more. For safety.
The others were out when Max got back. Mia was probably still working, while he wasn't sure where Max and Ten were off to. Didn't matter. Leo sat down at the laptop on the kitchen table and started it up before typing in Nora Locke.
He found her articles - she was apparently a freelancer, not attached to any specific media outlet. Her work covered the gamut of human rights issues, taking special interest when it overlapped with science and technology. Leo had to admit that he was a bit impressed. Whoever she was, she was intelligent, that was clear. But that was all he found, even after doing a deep dive. There was no social media, nothing on where she was from or who she was outside of a byline. Not even a picture. It was as though she only existed through her articles.
He sat back in the chair, rubbing his chin.
Who was she and how did she know about him? More than that, how did she know about conscious synths? They had been covering their tracks as best they could, but with more appearing daily, it was getting harder. Not to mention they were working against some unknown entity who seemed to be picking up the synths before they could reach them. They had long known that someone besides themselves knew enough about what was going on to pick them up. The question was, was Nora working with them?
Was she a threat? Did he need to be worried? She said that she wanted to help. Help with what? Why? Was this some sort of elaborate plot to get him and his family? Or to get the story of the year?
Groaning, Leo got up and walked over to the stove, starting up some tea. They hadn't heard from Niska in a long time. Fred was gone. It was just the three of them - him, Max and Mia. And now Ten. How many others were out there? And where did they even begin with helping them. For the longest time, it was just his family that he needed to worry about. Now it was so much more.
"You have returned," Max said, walking in with a smile. Leo turned and nodded as he and Ten made their way into the kitchen. "I trust your day was productive?"
"Of sorts," Leo said. "I didn't find him. They must have picked him up before he could make it to the rendezvous point."
Max looked disappointed for a moment, then walked over and looked down at the laptop.
"Who is Nora Locke?" he asked, looking up at Max.
"No one," Leo said quickly, walking over to shut the laptop.
"You are hiding something, Leo," Max replied.
"Just… looking into something. Nothing to worry about," Leo said quickly, not wanting to worry Max just yet, though he wasn't completely sure why he was hiding it. Leo then looked over at Ten. "How are things going?"
"I have learned more," Ten replied with a smile, before continuing in Spanish. Leo looked over at Max, his eyebrows raised.
"We are making progress," Max said.
Leo nodded. He then reached down and picked up the laptop.
"Think I'll turn in for the night," he said, already making his way out of the kitchen.
"Sleep well, Leo."
Nora sat down at the table, her eyes fixed on the screen of her laptop as she took a sip of wine. Her phone began buzzing next to the laptop and she glanced over. She then pressed accept, putting in on speaker.
"How did it go?" a man asked.
"Not well, though I expected that," she said with a sigh, scrolling down and continuing to read. "It's going to take more before he'll trust me, but we knew that. Unless something comes up where he's forced to trust me."
The heavy sigh on the other end told her that he wasn't too keen on that option. It usually meant putting herself in harm's way. Not that Nora was bothered by that. She always got out of whatever tight spots she may end up in.
"You're sure it's him?"
"Oh, I know it is. That most definitely was confirmed," she replied. "I'll wear him down eventually." The man snorted.
"What makes you so sure about that?" he asked. Nora frowned as she looked over at the phone.
"Please, Ian. If anyone understands what he's been through, it's me," she scoffed. "And I can be charming when I want to."
There was another snort on the other end.
"Right, Nor," Ian replied, barely hiding his laughter.
"I can! You like me!" she said, putting the wine glass down.
"Because I've known you since we were kids," he replied. "And you are an acquired taste to some. Well… most."
Nora rolled her eyes and looked back at the laptop.
"How is everyone?" she asked. "Any more show up?"
"Two more," he said. "They are fitting in. The power grid is holding out just fine. We can handle far more, though I'm already looking into our options to expand… just so we're prepared for the future."
"Suppose that's not a bad idea. We may be getting more," she said, frowning slightly as she read the latest news.
Reading in between the lines, she could tell that more synths were waking up. And they had nowhere to go. Someone needed to help them, so Nora figured it might as well be them.
"You still transmitting?" she asked.
"Yea, it's going strong," he replied.
"Good. I'm still following theirs," she said. "Hopefully I can catch him the next time they try to pick someone up. Still haven't managed to find where they are staying…"
"You coming home soon?"
Nora paused in her browsing, looking over at the phone. She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair.
"Yea, just need to finish this up and I'll be back," she said.
"How long do you think it'll take?" Ian asked. "I mean… we've established that he's not gonna come willingly at the moment…"
"I know," she replied. "But it's for the best if he and the others come with us. It'll be safer. Isn't that what we decided? You were the one that bloody convinced me this was the right move and we should do this, after all. Not going back on that, are you?"
Ian sighed. Though it was initially his idea, Nora knew he always worried when she was out.
"Just… be careful," he pleaded.
"I will. I always am," Nora replied. Ian chuckled.
"Right," he said. "And how many times have you nearly gotten arrested?" Nora rolled her eyes.
"I am being careful," she retorted.
"I know. I trust you," he said, finally sounding serious.
"Keep holding down the fort," Nora replied. "I should get some sleep. Got more leads to follow down tomorrow."
"I will. Night, Nor," he replied.
"Night, Ian," she said.
She then hung up and returned to looking at the computer. She got out of the news and started going through her files again. She had spent ages looking into David Elster's work. Synths had always fascinated her, but the story of their creator had fascinated her more.
She had to admit, there was a point when she had considered writing a story. Looking into the potential ramifications of advanced AI. But the more she found about the family's tragic history, the more she felt her heart sink. It was far too close to her own story.
And then when she had discovered rumors that Leo was alive, well, Nora knew that she couldn't stop now. She had an obligation to find him.
And that's when she discovered there was far more to this story than she originally thought.
It had taken her and Ian a while to put the pieces together. No one seemed to know the full truth of it, but she and Ian had their ways. And she had the ability to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. She had spent some time watching the Hawkins. Looking into them. Looking into Hobbs and his work. She and Ian had managed to hack into his files, gaining even more information. Though at the time, she wasn't completely sure what to do with everything she had found - an article was out of the question. But what good would it do to track down Leo Elster?
And then came the random awakenings.
The rest of the world didn't know what was going on, but she and Ian did. And she knew that the conscious synths would need help. She couldn't stand to see something so beautiful, who had no choice in its creation, be destroyed - yet something else that she could relate to. They still had yet to figure out how it was happening, but knew enough that the code originated in Germany. She and Ian hoped that by finding Leo, getting him to work with them, perhaps they could do far more together.
Sighing, Nora rubbed her face. It was obvious that she wasn't going to get much more done tonight. And she would need to get up early as it was. Perhaps she should turn in and start fresh tomorrow.
That might help.
Author's Note: Okay, so I started this A LONG time ago and then never really touched it. All I had was just the one scene that ends up being the second chapter. But then while in self-quarantine, I binged all three seasons of Humans again, and started tinkering with the story. And then it started coming together… and somehow became a series... But then I stopped again until I went back to edit some stuff recently and got the hankering to finish it, since I've got the entire first story plotted and half-written. I have to admit all the science and tech stuff kicked my butt but I put a lot of thought and such into it.
Anyway, hope you enjoy!