Friday, November 15, 2019

Tears in Rain

I finally made it to J.F.'s place at Third and Broadway, right across the street from the Million Dollar Theater. Ancient office building crouched in the shadows of the steel superstructure holding up the shiny new stuff. The Bradbury, according to the Art Deco letters above the entrance. Pretty once, maybe. Beat-up and ugly now. Fate of old buildings, old whores. Somebody said that once. My universal access card got me in.

The Bradbury building looked like shit from the street, but it was worse on the inside. The roof leaked, water pooled, mildew grew, and I was right in the open. Lobby. Big open space. Had to cross it. If Pris and Roy were waiting in the shadows, this wouldn't take long. I kept my Blaster out. Kept cursing myself.

Could've had the element of surprise, but no. Like a chickenhead, I had to make that call and let 'em know I was coming. Maybe Gaff was right about me. Rachel, too. I'm a lousy detective. Explains a lot.

Lobby seemed clear. They weren't here. Not where I could see them, anyway.

Walking through puddles, looking around. Open courtyard, three balconies, all looking down at me, perfect shots on all sides. Every square inch wrapped in iron-wrought kudzu. More like New Orleans than LA. Definitely pretty once. And definitely familiar ...

Felt wave after wave of deja vu. Couldn't shake it. Finally placed it.

Yeah, I’d seen this place before. In a black-and-white TV show from the 1960s, forget the name. Some science fiction thing about a robot from the future who'd come back in time to save humanity. Hilarious, right? Nobody’d want to film here now.

One of those damn advertising blimps was passing overhead. I could see it through the skylight. Hypnotic samisen music, geisha popping a pill, searchlights shining down and lighting me up.

Forced myself to look down, study the likely points of attack in the shadows. Daddy's not home yet, pretty sure about that. If Roy was here, I'd be dead already. Pris could still be here, somewhere. Probably not. But if she was dumb enough to answer the Vid-Phon, she might be dumb enough to pull the typical Replicant response. Go to ground. Play possum. If so, I'd find her and retire her from a safe distance.

Finally made it across the big open kill zone, headed up the stairs. Iron cage elevator's a dead giveaway -- if it worked at all. Trying to walk soft, step by step. But that's just kidding myself. If Pris was here, she'd hear me. Replicant audio acuity is way above human range. Like wolves.

Second floor hallway, no attack so far. Front door to Sebastian’s lair. I went in. Two sentries greeted me. Midget-sized bots dressed as cute little toy soldiers. Synthetic, not organic.

"Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Good evening J. F!"

Marched up to me, one of them marched into the wall, bounced away. Defective I guess. Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys. J.F.'s whole decaying flat was full of them.

I padded my way inside, inching my way back from room to room. The place was stuffed with bots, all varieties, DNA-based, electronic, mechanical relics from the Victorian era. One of 'em had a big red nose like something the missus might hide under the bed. It was thrashing around, strapped into this rig that looked like S&M-type stuff. I found out later, the gear was actually its charging unit. The bot was Sebastian's home security, all dolled out in a cute little guard uniform like the other two, but this one worked. Roy put it in there to get it out of the way. It was fighting to get out, warn his master. I didn’t know that at the time. I just thought J.F. was a sick puppy.

Room next door was full of dolls, mostly female, all clustered together. I spotted her, right in the middle. Pris. All decked out in a bride's gown, veil obscuring her face. Not moving, blinking or breathing, but they could do that for hours. It was her, probably. But I wanted to be sure. So I made an amateur move.

I came up closer and lifted her veil.

Pris kicked me across the room like a mule.

Why didn't I just shoot her, damn it? I knew better. Bryant actually thinks I'm good at my job.

Pris ran up to me before I could move, jumped, got her legs around my neck. Not as much fun as it sounds.
Powerful thigh-grip. I felt like a damn walnut in a nut cracker.

She giggled, really enjoying our moment of intimacy.

Keeping my neck pinned with her thighs, she grabbed my ears with her hands. Then turned my head around beyond the normal turning radius of my neck, like that kid in The Exorcist who spit up pea soup. At this point, my head's turned backwards and I'm looking up at her. Pris smiled down at me, put two fingers inside my nostrils. Quick kill if she jabbed them into my brain. She thought about it, but changed her mind.

Pulled her fingers out, opened her thighs. Then two knife-hand strikes to the sides of my neck. I dropped to the floor like a sack of rotten meat.

I heard her running away across the room.

Then she screamed. A martial arts kill cry.

And started coming back.

Pretty Miss Killer closed the distance fast, doing cartwheels like a really pissed-off cheerleader with superhuman strength. My strength was mostly gone. But I had enough left to fumble my Blaster out.

I blew a hole through her stomach. She slid across the floor and hit the wall.

Pris started kicking and screaming.

I shot her again.

She kept kicking and screaming.

I shot her again.

Eventually, she stopped.

It seemed like a good time to leave.

But Roy was coming up in the elevator. The mechanism was pretty damn loud and even I could hear it.

Yeah, I know. I call Pris "her," call Roy "it." She's cute. It's a goddamn nightmare. It's an it.

I ducked back in Sebastian’s madhouse apartment. Hunkered down across the big open space of the living room, watching the doorway on the other side. I knew exactly what it’d do. Instinct. It’d come in the front door, smell blood, look for Pris. It’d find her, in the room to the left of the doorway where I can't see it. It'll mourn his mate for awhile. Then come out looking for me. I’d see it first in the doorway, ambush him. One shot. Easy kill. I just had to be patient.

That's exactly what it did. Roy found her. I heard it saying something. Last rites for Pris, whatever. Then silence.

It finally came out.

But moved too fast. Impossibly fast.

Just a flash in the doorway. 

I shot him, shot at him. It.

I missed.

The shot echoed through the building, kept echoing.

Then its voice started echoing.

“Not very sporting to fire on an unarmed opponent. I thought you were supposed to be good. Aren't you the good man?”

Yeah, I guess. Am I?

It actually got me to thinking about this stuff.

I’m the good man and you’re the evil not-man. Replicant, android, killer robot, Frankenstein, monster with a bad haircut, whatever. But man created you, it, how could evil come out of the good? What is the good ...

Jesus, Deckard. Concentrate.

Cat-and-mouse crap. The thing was playing mind games -- and its mind was just plain better. It knew I’m having my doubts about my line of work. It was reading me, somehow. More human than human. Obviously superior. How superior? It hears my heartbeat, infers my thoughts. I don’t have a chance. Run.

To hell with that. I wasn't going to panic.

I forced myself to move. To keep moving.



Going deeper.

Into this rotten place.

No panic. In control.

Moving forward into the black, shitty, wet, mildewy maze of corridors.

Roy was in there, somewhere. On the other side of one of the dripping walls. Next time it shouts, pinpoint its position, sink Roy's battleship, kill it. That’s what counts. That’s what I need to think about. Me, it. Roy’s a body in space. I’m a body in space. We’re trying to kill each other. If I kill it first, I win. Where is it?

He knows where you are. It’s better.

To hell with that. Take another step. Be in the moment. Zanshin. There’s more to that stuff than old Japanese Samurai movies.

Go forward.


No. It wants you to run.

With an amazing feat of willpower, personal courage and stupidity, I kept creeping down the hallway, gun extended like a cross to ward off vampires.

Roy's voice came through the walls.

“Come on, Deckard. Show me what you're made of."

Blood, guts, DNA, hope, fear. Same as you, more or less.

No. Not the same.

Where the hell was he? It?

I found out.

It knew where I was. My worst fears turned out to be right.

Doing my duty like an asshole, I kept on walking until it punched its hand through the wall, grabbed my right hand, the one holding the gun, and pulled it through the hole in the wall, along with the Blaster.

I wound up standing on my tiptoes like a clown -- with my shoulder pulled up to that hole.

Because Roy was holding onto me on the other side.

Holding onto ...

My Blaster, my arm, my hand.


I was helpless.

I was dead.

The only question left was what they’d write on the autopsy report.

Roy gave me time to think about all this.

That was all I could do.

It had my hand in its grip. Like a baby’s hand in the hand of one of those steroid-pumped masked wrestlers at the Million Dollar Theater.

Heard its voice again. Taunting me from the other side of the wall.

"Proud of yourself, little man?"

No. Right now, my answer would have to be no.

Here it comes.

I figured Roy was going to rip my arm off, piece by piece, like a killer in one of those torture vids the sick kids like.

But it didn’t.

"This is for Zhora,” it said.

Then it broke my pinky finger.

I yelped, but pulled it back.

Pain, you know. I guess there’s a lot of nerves in the hand. Shitload of pain. It comes with the job. You detach from it. Kill now, hurt later.

The pain was there. I wasn’t feeling the pain. I was someplace else.

Thinking ...

Just the finger? That’s it? Or is Roy just taking his time?

“This is for Pris."

Roy broke the next finger.

Yeah, it’s taking its time.

I figured it’d keep going. This little piggie goes to market. This little piggie stayed home.

Here it comes.

The long, slow torture sequence. The protracted vivisection.

But Roy surprised me.

It let me go. He let me go.

It put my weapon back in my hand and let me go.

I pulled my hand and the weapon out of the hole.

Pain exploding behind my eyes like white hot magnesium flares. Hard to ignore, at this point.

Do the job. Kill it.

I was trying to do the job. My brain was sending down orders. But my hand wasn’t following them. My right hand still holding the Blaster.

It was taunting me again. Like some jerk in high school football setting me up for a smashmouth sucker play.

"Come on, Deckard. I'm right here, but you've got to shoot straight."

I did a hand-off, shifted the Blaster from right hand to left, the one that still worked.

Then I shot him through the hole in the wall.

Did I hit it?

I couldn’t see if I’d done any damage. Maybe. Maybe not.

Fireworks again.

Its voice again.

"Straight doesn't seem to be good enough.”

Kill him.

My brain informed me this was wrongheaded thinking. Roy was going to kill me. Running away was a bad idea before, but the situation's changed. Right now, it's an excellent idea. Run.

It’s amazing how fast I didn’t give a shit about a crazyass replicant with a bad haircut let loose on the unsuspecting people of earth. My own survival became much more important.

Fuck the RepDetect Unit. Fuck the Tyrell Corporation. Fuck earth.

I ran. Roy's echoing voice followed me.

“Now it's my turn. I'm gonna give you a few seconds before I come. One, Two, Three …”

Counting. Like a kid playing hide and seek.

Like it’s playing a happy game with me.

But I didn't want to play anymore.

Pumping my legs like hell, I made for the front door of the Bradbury. Was the damn thing still chasing me? Hell, I didn’t see it. I didn’t look back. I had plenty of time.

Then, a day and a half after his death, Sebastian’s home security system kicked in. His Napoleonic sentinel bot worked its way out of the restraints, pushed the panic button, and died.

The front door slammed shut, bolted itself. I was trapped.

So I doubled back.

The only way out was up.

I still couldn’t see it.

I fought my way up stairs, through rooms filled with water and pigeons and mildew and shit.
Then, out of nowhere, the adrenaline wore off. The pain I wasn’t feeling came back.

I’d been trained. I knew what to do under the situation. Why my nerves were screaming at me.

I pulled my index finger back in place.

And screamed.

Roy screamed back at me.

Call and response.

Like a wolf. Howling back at another wolf.

This little piggie …

The other finger.

I howled.

It howled.

Then it started making with the dumbass nursery rhymes.

"Four, Five, How to stay alive."

Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

It knew. It was putting itself in my place.

Roy’s scaring the hell out of me. It wants me to run. It’s not running after me. He’s holed up somewhere, staying in place, I don’t know why, holding a wake for Pris maybe, but now’s my chance, kill him ... it.

My brain said, hey, Deckard, that’s a stupid fantasy from an old detective movie. You’ve got no chance. Kill yourself. You know what he’s going to do to you.

Always save a bullet for yourself, like those soldiers in Afghanistan in the Kipling poem. Blade Runner lore.

The Fives would rip you to pieces.

But Roy’s not going to kill me. Nah.

Or maybe yeah.

Could see him running down the hall. I'm standing at the wrong end. Cornered. Like a chickenhead, I'd miscalculated. One room left, ducked into it. Climbed up a rotten wardrobe or something, dropped my weapon, punched a hole through the ceiling, climbed up to the next floor. I had fought my way to this flooded bathroom. I could make it outside to the ledge ...

Then the damn thing bashed its head through the bathroom tiles—from the other side of the wall.

Roy was looking at me. Like one of those clowns you throw balls at the carnival dunk tank.

A scary fucking clown.

"You better get it up, or I'm gonna have to kill ya. Unless you're alive, you can't play, and if you don't play..."

It hesitated. Like one of Sebastian’s toy’s running down.

Pulled its head back through the hole.

On pure instinct, I ripped a piece of copper pipe loose from the ancient plumbing.

It came around the doorway, doing that nursery rhyme countdown again.

"Six, Seven, go to Hell or go to Heaven,"

Go to hell, Roy.

I bashed the daylights out of him with the pipe.

Right in the face.

Roy didn’t blink.

I hit it again.

The other side of its face.

The bastard grabbed the pipe.

And encouraged me

"That's the spirit!"

Like my old coach.

I kicked out the window and made it to the ledge. I ran. Running on the razor's edge. Like a Blade Runner, you know? That corny nickname for the RepDetec unit, I always hated it. Yeah, I ran, but the ledge was sheeted with water, so I slipped. Almost slid off, grabbed a flag pole, swung out over the street on an old rusty thing that used to fly American flags in the days the sun was shining. Then swung back around. I got on my feet again, but slowed my ass down.

I tried to go back in through another window.

But Roy popped out of the next window. Just its head, streaming blood.

“That hurt. That was irrational of you. Not to mention unsportsman-like”

I smiled at him.

Yeah, you caught me Roy. I’m a lousy cheater. From your point of view, I guess that’s true. Kill the replicants, sure. But do it fairly.

Pretty damn funny.

It smiled back at me. My brother in arms. Still hanging out the open window.


Roy went blank again — like this kid I knew in school with epilepsy. Petit mal seizures. One second he’s there. Then he’s not. He stops talking, eyes roll to white and he's gone.

Roy slumped in the window frame. Gone.

If I’m lucky, it’ll fall out, and fall down, down, down.

At the last possible second, Roy pulled himself back through the window.

Just to complicate matters, now I had hope.

Roy was dying. Running down.

If I'm really lucky, I won’t have to kill him. And he won't kill me.

I just had to run out the clock.

Get to the roof. Climb.

So I did. I made it up the side of the Bradbury building with my left hand and the three working fingers of my right hand. Never did this kind of thing before. I'd always thought mountain climbers were assholes, but it’s amazing what you could do when an inhuman, artificial person was going to rip you to pieces.

Roy popped out another window and watched me climbing up. I didn’t look down but I could hear him.

"Where are you going?"

Where do you think, asshole?

With any luck, Sebastian’s bot had sealed off the roof when it pushed the panic button. Steel doors, most likely, to protect his home business. Roy'll take the stairs and get nowhere. Sure, the thing could climb after me up the side of the building, but by the time it did, with a little more luck, his planned obsolescence would kick in.

I climbed.

I made it to the roof, a crappy collection of neon signs and dead power turbines they slapped up after the big panic of '99. With any luck, Roy wouldn’t be there waiting for me.

But it's not my lucky day.

Roy took the stairs.

I made a run for it—then I saw him.

Coming out of the door to the roof. Steel door, all right. Unsealed. The lock-down system worked on the front door, didn't on the roof. Roy had no trouble stepping out here. Padded out like a wolf in some old nature show, saw me, smiled, froze.

He just stood there a second, holding a dove, like Jesus in an old painting. Or Charlie Manson with a peroxide blonde haircut. I always get the two confused.

Then ran after me.

I ran the other way. I kept running until I ran out of roof.

I jumped.

The building across the alley was a ten meter jump away. Humanly possible, if you’ve trained for the Olympics.

I jumped.

I made the jump. Almost.

So there I was hanging from a steel I-beam in the driving rain. Sixteen stories up. Holding on for dear life with my one good hand. Existential situation, I guess that’s what you’d call it.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes, just six months of sitting on my ass at the noodle bar.

I kept hanging on. The rain kept hitting.

Roy was behind me, on the roof of the Bradbury building. Couldn't see him, but I could hear him. Panting like a steam engine, or that fire breath they do in yoga, getting all stoked up for the big finish. The jump would be easy for him. He’d be coming. I knew what was coming. Bryant had told me.

The thing hadn’t just killed Tyrell. It had gouged out his eyes and crushed its head like a melon. I guess Roy met his Maker and didn't like him. Sebastian went quick; he severed the Vegus nerve with his thumbnail. I figured he liked Sebastian. It was a good bet he didn’t like me.

I was still hanging on with one hand. Pretty damn surprised at my upper body strength.

I didn’t hear it jump. But he must have jumped.

And there he was. He, it.

Right there above me. 

It was looking at me. Looking down.

Maybe he was going to save me, but probably not. Up close, he definitely didn’t remind me of those pictures of Jesus in Sunday School.

Just looking at me.


Sadistic bastard. Sure, he could feel my pain. He was enjoying it.

I could call for help. I’m sure Sebastian called for help.

Right now, falling sixteen stories seemed like a better plan.

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.”

Roy wanted me to know how he felt. The damn thing was giving me an empathy test.

I spit in his eye and let go. Dropped.

It caught me by the wrist and hoisted me up on the roof like I was one of Sebastian’s dolls. One of the small ones.

He looked at me.

With empathy.

Brother to brother. Kin. One slave to another.

Jesus, he wasn’t going to kill me.

Then he slumped to the ground. Winding down for good.

Nothing much surprises me anymore, but this did. He started spouting poetry like a dying Samurai. Poetry, seriously. Not too shabby. They've come a long way with language processing.

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die."

He fought it. And then he just stopped. His muscles relaxed. The dove flew out of his hand.

Then Gaff showed up, on the other side of the roof, like he’d been waiting in the wings for Roy to die.

"You’ve done a man’s work sir."

A man's work. What the hell's that supposed to mean?

He tossed me my Blaster.

"Too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?"

Gaff flew me back to RepDetec. I did my police report on the way – voice record, obviously. Bryant poured me a drink, and an imaginary drink for himself, slapped me on my back, and gave me his usual jolly bullshit.

They patched up my hand in the med-unit, shot me up with some stuff for pain and infection, then sent me home in my self-drive car. As a bonus for the last two kills, they'd fixed the turbine. It could fly now. I made it home.

The place was dark, stayed dark. The interactive lights ignored me. I walked through the darkness.

Maybe Gaff had been there.

Maybe Rachel was dead. Or she'd run.

But she was still there. On the couch.

Gaff knew she'd be there.

A man's work. Was I a man? A real man would kill her.

She was there under a blanket. Alive.

I pulled my Blaster out. For a second, I thought about killing her. Not for police reasons. Mercy killing. A few months on the run like hunted animals, that’s all I could offer her. What I wanted. For my own selfish needs. Kill her. Maybe the right thing to do. The manly thing to do. But not the human thing to do.

I needed her. Hell, I was selfish.

I kissed her awake.

"Do you love me?"

"I love you."

"Do you trust me?"

"I trust you."

I kissed her again. We made it to the hallway, headed for the elevator. There on the floor, I saw it. Tinfoil geometry. Gaff’s origami. His final message.

What the hell was it?

I picked it up. Studied it.

Recognized it.

A unicorn. From dreams I never told anybody.

Fuck it.

I crumpled it up.

We got the hell out of there.

We made it to Alberta. Nobody came for us.  One day she just stopped. Like Roy. We were talking. She laughed. Then her face froze. like a hand on one of those old grandfather clocks somebody forgot to wind up. Alive. Dead.

Bryant showed up at the funeral. He had nothing to say. That's OK. I didn't want any words.

He put a ticket in my hand.

A one-way ticket off this world.

That's what I wanted.

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