Thursday, November 14, 2019

Animoid Row

I went out on the street. Time to do some hunting of my own. Animoid Row was the logical place to start. Those scales. Artificial fish, probably. Salmon, something trendy ...

I started with Boupha's stall. Cambodian woman, specialized in repairs.

I handed her the scale. She studied it under a cheap microscope. High-power but optical. We had electron microscopes back at RepDetec, but that was out of the question.

"Fish?"

"I think it was manufactured. Look. Finest quality. Superior workmanship. There is a maker's serial number 9906947-XB71. Interesting. Not fish. Snake scale."

"Snake?"

Boupha nodded, handed it back to me.

"Try Abdul ben Hassan. He make this snake."

Figures. I knew where he worked. Sleazy bastard's name kept coming up.

Shop just around the corner. Abdul saw me coming, tried to flip the sign to "CLOSED" in the door. But he wasn't fast enough.

"Abdul Hassan? I'm a police officer, I'd like to ask you a few questions. Artificial snake license XB71, that's you? This is your work, huh? Who did you sell it to?"

"My work? Not too many could afford such quality."

"How many?"

"Very few."

"How few? Look my friend."

I grabbed him by his string necktie. Like pulling the string on one of those old Speak-and-Spells. Suddenly, the answer was more forthcoming.

"Taffy Lewis's, down in First Sector, Chinatown."

I made it to Taffy Lewis' place. Seedy place, full of posers and play-actors. Into that whole retro-1940s fad. The clothing. The lingo. Chicks with fancy hats smoking opium. Some bald-headed guy, looked like Mr. Toad, surrounded by drop-dead gorgeous babes. In the normal scheme of things, he'd be surrounded by flies. He had to be the proprietor. I pushed one of the babes out of her bar stool and sat down next to him.

"Taffy Lewis?"

"Yeah?"

"I'd like to ask you a few questions."

The bouncers were advancing.  I flashed my police ID. Taffy squinted his toad eyes and they backed off. Then he nodded to the woman sitting next to him.

"Blow."

Like some character in an old Bogie movie.

She got up and left. He warmed up a few degrees. From hatred to barely disguised contempt.

"You ever buy snakes from the Egyptian, Taffy?"

"All the time, pal."

I showed him the vid-capture. Zhora.

"Y'ever see this girl, huh?"

"Never seen her, buzz off."

"Your licenses in order pal?"

"Hey Louie, the man is dry. Give him one on the house, okay? See?"

Taffy smiled, or tried to. What a nice guy. Suddenly remembered there was an exotic dancer by the name of Zhora. Yeah. The pic had a slight resemblance, come to think of it. If I hung around, she was doing her act in about an hour, I could sit here and watch. See how cooperative he was? Yeah. Thanks, Taffy. I slipped him some money. I knew he'd keep his mouth shut. Didn't strike me as all that supportive of his creative talent.

Out on the street, I called Rachel on a graffiti-splattered VidPhon. Betting she's still at her place in the pyramid. Even chance she's run off screaming or she came home and Tyrell pulled her plug. But she was there. She answered my call.

"Hello?"

Tried to think of something to say. Couldn't think of anything intelligent, so I said something stupid.

"I've had people walk out on me before, but not when I was being so charming. I'm at a bar here now down in the Fourth Sector. Taffy Lewis's on the line. Why don't you come on down here and have a drink?"

"I don't think so, Mr. Deckard. That's not my kind of place."

"Go someplace else?"

She killed the call. I went back into Taffy's. Zhora's act was coming up.

Some announcer's nasal voice was blasting through on the lousy sound system.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Taffy Lewis presents Miss Salome and the snake. Watch her take the pleasure from the serpent that once corrupted man."

Take the pleasure from the serpent ...

The implication — well, I don’t have to spell it out for you. But it wasn’t like that. Miss Salome — Zhora — may not have been human. But she really was an artist. I'm not lying. Her dance was beautiful. The Garden of Eden, the creation of man. Something like that. An accusation. A cry of pain. A dance of loss. Not humanity’s loss. The serpent's. That’s all I can remember. Normally I don't go in for this kind of thing. But it moved me. Damn shame to kill her, but what can you do?

The audience was disappointed. Few boos, here and there. Too damn arty for their tastes. They'd expected dirty dancing with a reptile.

After the show, I followed the dancers herding their way into the dressing rooms. Did my sexually frustrated fanboy act. Caught up with "Miss Salomé" in the hall.

"Excuse me, Miss Salomé, can I talk to you for a minute? I'm from the American Federation of Variety Artists."

"Oh, yeah?"

She looked at me like I'd crawled out from under a rock. Trying not to laugh.

"I'm not here to make you join. No ma'am. That's not my department. Actually, uh. I'm from the, uh, Confidential Committee on Moral Abuses."

"Committee of Moral Abuses?"

Zhora laughed. She couldn't help it.

"Yes, ma'am. There's been some reports that the management has been taking liberties with the artists in this place."

"I don't know nothing about it."

She walked away from me. I trotted behind her. We arrived at this musty, cramped closet. Her dressing room. I followed her in. She didn't stop me.

"Have you felt yourself to be exploited in any way?"

"How do you mean, exploited?"

"Well, like to get this job. I mean, did you do, or- or were you asked to do anything lewd or unsavory or otherwise, uh, repulsive to your person, huh?"

"Are you for real?

"Oh yeah. I'd like to check your dressing room if I may."

"For what?"

"For, uh, for holes."

"Holes?"

Zhora laughed again. I may be an asshole, but I'm funny.

Her dressing room had a portable shower, a dressing table and not much else. She stood there, the snake coiled around her. A question mark from thigh to collarbone. She took the snake from around her shoulders and put it on the dressing table. I watched it undulate in the warmth of the lights.

"What kind of holes?"

I felt myself blushing. That was good. Made my character more believable.

"Little, uh, dirty holes they uh, drill in the wall so they can watch a lady undress."

I bent down and studied the wall under her makeup table. There were, in fact, two neatly drilled holes.

Zhora started taking a shower. Naked. Indifferent to my presence. More of those artificial snake scales washing off her body. She dried her hair in a transparent globe hairdryer that was probably older than my grandmother.

"You'd be surprised what a guy'd go through to get a glimpse of a beautiful body."

"No, I wouldn't."

"Is this a real snake?"

"Of course it's not real. Do you think I'd be working in a place like this if I could afford a real snake?"

I grinned at her like a chickenhead. Gee. No. I guess not.

Zhora smiled. Then walked up to me.

"So if somebody does try to exploit me, who do I go to about it?"

"Me.

"You're a dedicated man." Tossed me a towel. "Dry me."

I started to. She turned her back to me. Then she elbowed me -- like two knives to the collarbone. Before I knew what was happening, she was on top of me, ready to throttle me with my own tie. Some dancers came in. She ran.

I sprinted after her into the street. The damn Hari Krishnas were hogging the sidewalk. Hari, Hari. Hari. I elbowed them out of the way and they stopped their chanting. Zhora stayed ahead of me. Went into a bus -- ducked out. The trafficator started yelling commands. I'd lost her.

Cross now... Don't walk...

Then I spotted her. She's trying to be invisible, frozen like a hunted animal -- then ran like hell. I kept dodging and side-stepping, fighting my way through a tide of pedestrians.

Zhora made it to an intersection, glanced back at me over her shoulder. I aimed my Blaster. Two pedestrians walk into my line of fire. Neo-punks, florescent green, spiked mohawks like human parrots.

"Move! Get out of the way!"

Punks had good reaction time. They hit the sidewalk. I shot her in the back. Zhora flew through a department store window. The glass cut her to pieces. She died, blood all over her transparent vinyl raincoat.

The report would be routine retirement of a replicant. That didn't make me feel any better about shooting a woman in the back. I imagined shooting Rachel in the back.

There it was again. Feeling, in myself. For her, for Rachael.

A crowd started gathering. Nothing good to see, but they wanted to see it. Zhora just lying there, not dancing anymore. I noticed the snake tattoo. Left side of her face, thank God. A cop showed up. Rookie. I'm holding a blaster, and he's ready to take me down with a rubber truncheon. I flashed my badge.

"B-263-54."

Not sure that would work, but it did. He backed off. 

A crowd-controller was hovering. Move on. Move on. The crowd obeyed.

I hobbled into the nearest White Dragon. Not my particular favorite, but close enough. It's a chain.

A lady with an eye patch came up. Wiping a dirty glass with a dirty towel.

"Yeah? What do you want?"

"Tsing tao."

I gave her a wad of old-fashioned paper money. Didn't trust my cards for the time being.

"This enough?"

"Yeah."

Bryant appeared out of nowhere. Gaff too. His faithful lapdog.

"Christ, Deckard, you look almost as bad as that skin job you left on the sidewalk."

"I'm going home."

"You could learn from this guy, Gaff. He's a goddamn one-man slaughter house. That's what he is. Four more to go. Come on, Gaff, let's go."

"Three. There's three to go."

"There's four. That-- That skin job that you V-K'ed at the Tyrell Corporation? Rachael? Disappeared. Vanished. Didn't even know she was a replicant. Something to do with a brain implant, says Tyrell. Come on, Gaff. Drink some for me, pal."

"Two for one special over at Taffy's."

Bryant smiled at me. Walked off. Gaff trotted off after him.

Corner of my eye, I thought I saw Rachel across the street. Bad thing if Bryant and Gaff spotted her. I started after her. Next thing I know, Leon was there.

I whipped out my Blaster -- but his reflexes were beyond human. Leon slapped it out of my hand like a plastic toy.

"Leon."

"How old am I?"

"I don't know."

"My birthday is April 10, 2017. How long do I live?"

"Four years."

"More than you."

Leon punched through the impact-resistant nanotech resin of the garbage truck behind me. Grabbed me and pinned me against the truck.

"Painful to live in fear, isn't it? Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch."

"Oh, I agree."

He slapped me into unconsciousness. Then slapped me awake again.

"Wake up! Time to die."

He kept me pinned with his left hand, did the v-for-victory sign with his right. Then poised the v of his fingers right next to my eyes -- ready to drive them into my skull. When reps go rogue, that's the signature move. They go for the eyes, the balls, the things that make humans feel vulnerable. It sends a statement.

I heard a loud bang. The top of Leon's forehead exploded and misted my face with blood. He slumped to the ground. Rachel was standing there, holding my Blaster. Pretty good for the first shot of her life.

We went back to my conapt. She was quivering.

"Shakes? Me too."

"What?"

"I get 'em bad. It's part of the business."

Her voice took on an edge of pain. Unfamiliar, like a coarse set of clothes.

"I'm not in the business. -- I am the business."

Good way to put it. Could also say you're the product, but I didn't mention it. I went to the sink and rinsed the blood out of my mouth. Adjusted a loose tooth.

"What if I go north. Disappear. Would you come after me? Hunt me?"

"No. No, I wouldn't. I owe you one. But somebody would."

"Deckard? You know those files on me The incept date, the longevity, those things. You saw them?"

"They're classified."

"But you're a policeman."

"I didn't look at them."

Bullshit. Incept date Jan. 16, 2016. Termination date, Jan. 16 2020.

"You know that Voight-Kampf test of yours? Did you ever take that test yourself? Deckard?"

She started playing the piano. I hit the couch and nodded off. My throbbing jaw woke me up again. She was still playing the piano.

"I dreamed music."

"I didn't know if I could play. I remember lessons. I don't know if it's me or Tyrell's niece."

"You play beautifully."

Before we knew it, there was no distance between her flesh and my flesh. She wasn't sure of herself. She needed instruction.

"What do I do now?"

"Say kiss me."

"I can't rely on..."

"Say kiss me."

"Kiss me."

"I want you."

"I want you."

"Again."

"I want you. Put your hands on me."

She got the hang of it, eventually. We did what came naturally. Almost fell asleep. But she woke me up. She was angry as hell.

"...can't you hear me?"

"Yeah. No. What?"

"I'm alive. I said I'm alive. I feel alive. Look at my hand. It's got blood in it. You think I'm a living doll?"

"No. I think you're Rachel."

I turned my head and looked at her.

"Maybe it's not such a bad idea."

"What?"

"Disappearing."

I sat up.

"Look. You need to run."

"What's the point? You said somebody -- "

"If you stay in LA they'll find you faster."

I fished around in a drawer, grabbed a handful of fake credit cards with a fake woman's name on them.

"Don't go back to the pyramid. Check into a hotel room --"

My brain reminded me of my own stupidity. That wouldn't work. Once her face was in the system ...

I logged on to RepDetec -- which Bryant had specifically ordered me not to do. Didn't use my name. Used a scrambler to change my voice pattern.

"Resch, Phil. 345656."

"Recognized."

"Fugitive status?"

"Two replicants at large, presumed greater LA area. Face recognition data not available."

"End."

Two. Bryant hadn't logged her in yet. We'd dodged that bullet. For an hour or two.

But he'll get back to the station. Log in. File Rachel as an escaped replicant. She goes back to the pyramid, hell, she even shows her face, she's ...

"Stay here, OK?"

"Here?"

"In my conapt. Just stay put."

"Why?"

"Smart thing to do if you don't want to die. You want to live, right?"

She slapped me.

"Of course I want to live!"

Jesus. Of course.

Rachel wanted to live. They wanted to live.

All God's children want to live. All Tyrell's children did, too.

"Stay here, OK?"

"Don't tell me what to do, asshole. You know why. That's great. But you don't know how. You're kind of cute, OK? But you're a lousy detective."

Rachel smiled at me sweetly. Then she told me how.

I ran to the street and found a VidPhon.


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