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.

Forward.

Deliberately.

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.

Run.

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.

Me.

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.

“Ha-ha-ha.”

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.

Smiling.

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.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Too Little, Too Late

Byrant flew into meet me at the friendly neighborhood White Dragon. Took Gaff with him. The sushi master waved when he saw the two. Getting to be old pals.

No food, three Asahis. We found a greasy table and sat down.

"This better be good, Deck. What do you know?"

"I know what they want."

I had his attention and Gaff's contempt. Bryant was considering the possibility that I wasn't a total screw up.

"I'm all ears, pal."

I started to speak. Gaff cut me off.

"Sir. He's told me this theory. He thinks they're still trying to break into the --"

"Shut up, Gaff. What do they want, Deck? You tell me."

"They want life."

"They want life. Christ, Deck. They want life."

"Sir ..."

"We've been thinking too much, that's what we've been doing. It's so damn obvious. Reset the four-year lifespan."

"Only Tyrell can help them with that."

"That's why they're trying to get to him?"

"That's why."

"That’s an elegant delusional architecture, sir. I ..."

Bryant ignored him. Looked me in the eyes, now taking me very seriously.

"What do we do now, pal?"

"Warn Tyrell. Tell him to lock the place down."

Gaff couldn't take it anymore. He exploded.

"It is locked down, sir! It's been locked down since the first two incidents! The pyramid is the tightest of sphincters."

Bryant politely asked Gaff to shut up again. Like a pal.

"How do they get in?"

"There are back doors -- no damn pun intended."

Bryant looked disgusted, let down. Thought I was talking about the Tyrell computer network.

"Jesus, Deck, they've been trying to breach his system since day one --"

"Literal back doors. Physical entrances."

"Why?"

"Black projects. Chimeras, violations of UN law. He's big, but not untouchable. Tyrell has to move things in and out of that damn building without any vid records in case he's investigated."

"Coming from where?"

"Subcontractors. Zaibatsu."

"Guys like Chew."

"No. These guys are off the books. Outside the law."

"So the reps find one of these shady characters, that's how they get in?"

"That's the theory."

"Great theory, Deck. Brilliant deduction ... Or inside information."

Bryant flashed me a look. The look said: Rachel told you this shit, huh? Sure. Far as she knew, she's Tyrell's niece. In on the whole show. She knew about these back doors, shady subcontractors. Pillow talk with a replicant, Deck?

Gaff spat, muttered another curse in cityspeak. Missed the whole implication. Just pissed I'm making points.

"Sir ... it's crazy! How would they even find these people? Even if they cracked Tyrell's system, they're not in the system! No names. Need to know basis!"

I heard him say all this, but I kept my eyes on Bryant. Stated the obvious.

"They'd go through the names they know."

"Yeah. Find legit contractors and beat the names out of them."

"Which explains the social call on Chew -- and he's the only casualty. They got lucky the first time."

"They got lucky yesterday."

"Safe bet they're not wasting any more time, huh?"

I nodded.

"It's only a hunch, sir."

"His hunches are good, Gaff. Yours aren't, lately. Do me a favor and act like a cop, not a damn clothes horse. You mind doing that for me?"

"No sir."

A kick in the balls. Gaff took it. And the next one.

"That's great, Gaff -- now be a pal and warn that lousy mad scientist two wind-up killers are coming in the back way. They'll say he's unavailable. Scream bloody murder, get through to the top security asshole, go through him to Mr. Tyrell. You talk to the boss or you cut of his balls."

"Yes sir."

He hobbled off across the street to the nearest VidPhon.

"I'd tell him to run, but ... you know."

Bryant shouted to Gaff.

"Hey Gaff! While you're at it, get the names of Tyrell black project boys. Names, numbers, addresses. Get the list, flash it to the station. We'll warn these characters too, then lock 'em in place and use 'em as bait."

Telling Gaff how to do his job. When it happens to him, it's funny.

"Deck'll stake out the most likely target. I'll put Resch and his crew on the rest -- depending on who's left alive."

Gaff nodded, then started talking on the VidPhon. Talking turns to screaming. Screaming turned into louder screaming.

"Gaff! You seem frustrated! They putting you through to this Tyrell asshole, yet?"

"No, sir. He’s doing his thing with the stock market. Very special time, can't be disturbed. He says."

"You mention the fucking killers on the way? Got the names?"

"Hai! But he still won't put me through to Tyrell. Pissant thinks he'll get fired ..."

"You mention his balls, yet?"

"Several times, sir!"

"Well, fuck this shit. Tell him we're coming personally then get back here."

Gaff comes limping back. And Bryant stops shouting.

"Deck, trot back to your goddamn conapt and get your car. I'll give you the most likely address over the squawkbox. Gaff, let's you and me take the Spinner. Zip on over to the pyramid, meet up with the SWAT team just like old times."

"Sir, even assuming Deck's crackpot theory is true --"

"Gaff. I think there's a damn good chance he's right and a slim chance it'll do any damn good. I'm thinking it's pretty much too little too late at this point, but let's try, OK? If our happy Band of Brothers does manage to keep the big man out of a body bag, you might get the promotion you're always kissing my ass for. Worth a shot, don't you think?"

Gaff and Bryant flew off and the cavalry rode in. Too little, too late. About the time Shimato-Dominguez hit 100 points, Eldon Tyrell and somebody named J.F. Sebastian stopped breathing.

I was driving down LaBrea when I got the news.

On my way to Dr. Cunningham's clinic. Some crackpot geneticist working on LaMarkian evolution. Would've saved Tyrell a fortune in R&D. Top name, wrong name.

Bryant's voice came through on the com unit. We were talking on the air now.

He told me to forget Cunningham. Forget Tyrell, too, while I was at it. One of those closing the barn door after the horse ran out situations. Roy made it up in a private elevator like I'd figured.

"Turns you were right, Deck. Too bad you weren't right yesterday."

"Tyrell's dead?"

"Well, that's sort of an understatement. One of the smartest brains on the planet, until recently. Now his head looks like a watermelon dropped out a high window. Messy scene, which I had the joy of witnessing personally." 

"How many?"


"Oh, just two. Could've been worse. Body identified with Tyrell was a twenty-five year old male Caucasian by the name of  J. F. Sebastian -- and the kid's not even on the list. Not so messy. Quick kill. Must of liked him, I guess."

"That's funny."

"It's funny 'cause it's true, asshole.

"Why would Roy like him? What's the profile?"

"Well, it's an interesting profile ... IQ 185. Recluse, pretty much, rich, owns that whole damn building he lives in. Says here he suffered Methuselah's syndrome. Boy genius with premature aging. Poor kid's gonna die young."

"Just like Roy and Pris."

"Great minds think alike."

“Hey, J.F. You’re outside society. We are too. Let’s be pals. The friendly approach, as opposed to strong-arm tactics. They set up a happy home."

"Good bet Roy's on his way home."

"Where ...?"

"Address Bradbury apartments, ninth sector. NM46751. Get down there."

I got down there, or tried. A Spinner swooped down on me and cut me off, lights flashing. Police, but no external ID. Voice boomed down at me from a loudspeaker.

"This sector's closed to ground traffic. What are you doing here?"

"I'm working. What are you doing?"

"Arresting you. That's what I'm doing."

"I'm Deckard. RepDetec. Two sixty three-fifty four. I'm filed and monitored."

My blood turned to ice water. That voice from the sky sounded like my voice.

There were rumors -- urban legends -- that the replicants we caught were the tip of the iceberg. That they'd infiltrated the earth to the extent they'd created a shadow network of Blade Runners. Without warning, they'd pick you up and take you there. To their RepDetec station. You disappear. A replicant hits the streets with your face. They pick us off one by one, until we're all replaced. But that's not what happened. He just hovered there.

"Hold on. Checking. -- Okay, checked and cleared. Have a better one."

He flew off.

While I'd been talking, a gang of literally little people ripped some gear off my car -- the air purifier unit. I pulled away, heard one go thud, and kept on going. Just for the hell of it, I called Sebastian's conapt. Unbelievably, Pris answered.

"Hello?"

"Hi, is J. F. there?"

"Who is it?"

"This is Eddie. An old friend of J. F.'s."

Pris killed the call. 

"No way to treat a friend."

I said it out loud. She didn't hear me, of course.

I'd have to tell her in person.



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.


Chew

Gaff woke me up at 5 in the morning, pounding his damn cane on the door. Can't call, system compromised. Yeah I know, but it still pissed me off.

"Aw, I missed you Gaff."

Fuck off. Some guy named Chew is dead.

"Gee, that's too bad. Who the hell was Chew?"

Chew was a closet industry genius who sold bio-tech prototypes to outfits like Tyrell. Zaibatsu, like they say in Japan. A stringer, subcontractor, work-for hire. No dental plan.

Gaff handed me a scribbled address, Bryant's handwriting.  

Another fun ride in Gaff's Spinner. Another crime scene in a lousy neighborhood. Chew’s place had a front office, a tough black guy at the front desk he’d hired for security.

The reps had smashed his skull in.

Inside the cryo-lab, Chew was a human popsicle. You could see the poor bastard behind the glass door, his hands pressed against the glass like a kid looking in at a candy store. A stark naked blue kid.

The reps had ripped off his protective suit. Got whatever it is they’d wanted out of him, then shut him in and set the temperature to absolute zero. Wiped the system memory of course. No faces on the security vids. Just snow, like an old time TV.

Pathetic. And totally unnecessary.

They could’ve left him his shirt, his pants, his damn underwear.

Without that suit he was dead. Setting the dial to absolute zero, he was dead even with the suit

The forensics team got there first. Nothing to do but wait until Chew thawed out. I could hear them in the outer room talking in Japanese.

I thought these things had release mechanisms.

They broke it, idiot.

They also broke the vid monitors, see? So their conversation would be private.

So we wouldn’t know what they want. 


So they wouldn't know. We don't want to know.

They looked at us.

"What the hell did they want?" I said it out loud to Gaff. He was, theoretically, my partner.

The forensics team looked away.

“What are you talking about?"

“The motive? What’s the point?”

Kisasi.

Cityspeak for revenge.

Gaff figured Batty wanted to hurt the man who’d designed them as slaves with a four-year expiration date. He'd programmed them to die. They wanted to return the compliment. But how? Tyrell was untouchable, sitting pretty on the top of his pyramid. Batty knew it, tried to penetrate the system anyway, twice. Mary got fried, Leon got noticed. Roy had sense enough to give up. He knew he couldn’t touch the big people, so he started picking off the little people, the zaibatsu, the vulnerable types like Chew.

"When did you figure this out?"

Right away!

The flash came in saying Chew was dead. Gaff figured this out in a microsecond. Told the boss in the next microsecond. Bryant said hell, maybe you're right. Warned the other subcontractors. Staked out their residences in case the replicants showed up.

I agreed with the action, not the reasoning.

"There's a flaw in your damn theory. You're assuming Tyrell gives a shit about his underlings. He's a cold-hearted bastard. You met him. Killing little people he doesn't care about is pisspoor revenge."

"Then why'd they kill Chew?"

"Why'd they break into the pyramid in the first place?"

"Tyrell. They wanted to get to Tyrell."

"That's why they killed Chew."

"Huh?"

"They're still trying to get to Tyrell."

Gaff called me some more unpleasant names. Used a metaphor describing the Tyrell pyramid involving a part of the female anatomy and alum. Breaking into that place was impossible. Everyone knows that, except for idiots like me who couldn't find their ass with both hands.

All this shouting made the forensics guys nervous. One of 'em pushed the wrong button. The door opened.

Chew pitched forward and shattered like an ice sculpture at a fancy dinner I wouldn't get invited to.

Back at HQ, Bryant debriefed us. Gaff helpfully pointed out that I hadn't touched the evidence from the hotel yet. Bryant busted my balls while he sat there looking smug.

No return flight. Without even asking me, they'd sent some flunky with a universal access card to pick up my car. So, I drove my way home, gliding through the 2nd street tunnel, enjoying all the pretty green tiles. Well, I didn’t drive. My car was fully self-drive, that still worked at least. Good thing, because the windshield wiper was broken and it was raining down like hell like always. Outside the tunnel, like driving through a carwash. But who wants to see what's out there anyway?

My faithful car knew where it was going and took me home. Neither rain nor snow, right? I got home. I went in the elevator, gave it my voice-print, and it recognized me.

"Deckard - Ninety-seven."

It took me up.

97th floor, the doors opened.

Rachel was waiting for me in the hallway.

I almost put a bullet in her brain.

She was shaking.

She was cute.

She followed me down the hall..

“I wanted to see you, so I waited."

That's great, Rachel. Now at least one replicant knew where I lived. Her Uncle must've given her my address. Or she took it. That's just great.

I smelled her perfume. Her fear.

I tried to put my card in the door. Fumbled.

"Let me help."

"What do I need help for?"

"I don't know why he told you what he did."

"Talk to him."

"He wouldn't see me."

Beep. I managed to get the card in.

The door opened.

I went in. Shut the door in her face. That was easy. Then I had second thoughts. Opened the door. Rachel was still standing there. She thought about it, then came in. My conapt was messy and shitty like always. Not expecting company. Not expecting her.

I’d have felt better if she was angry. But she looked scared and helpless. My inner Daddy wanted to put his arm around her. And that was making me nervous. She's not a she, Deck. She's an it.

“You want a drink? No?”

I wanted a drink. I poured one.

“You think I'm a replicant, don't you?”

I know you’re a replicant. But I didn’t say that.

Rachel knew she was a replicant. She didn’t want to know it. She wanted to think she was human. If I believed it, then maybe she’d believe it. So she had to convince me. That might work for awhile. Sure.

You can bullshit me. You can bullshit yourself.

But you can’t bullshit the VK test.

This thing was having an identity crisis. Ridiculous, huh?

And I sympathized with her.

Empathy. For a glorified wind-up doll.

She pulled out one of her fake photos from her happy childhood. Tyrell's niece, thanks for the memories.

“Look, it's me with my mother,"

Yeah. There she was. Little Rachel, sitting next to mom on a porch. They’d mapped her face ran the clock back and put her in the picture.

"A photo."

"Wow, yeah. Convincing."

"I'm six years old. See?"

"Photoshop. They’ve had it since the 80s."

She was crying. It was breaking my heart. Tell me I’m human. Just tell me. I knew she wanted to say that. You're human. I wanted to say that. But I’m a bastard.

I broke her heart instead.

“Do you remember when you were six?” I said.

Big eyes. Looking up at me.

“You and your brother snuck into an empty building through a basement window - you were gonna play doctor. He showed you his, but when it got to be your turn, you chickened and ran. Remember that? Did you ever tell anybody that? Your mother? Tyrell? Anybody?"

Tears, maybe her first. I tried to think of those baby dolls that cried. But she looked like a real woman, which would make me a real bastard. That pissed me off. So I stuck the knife in deeper.

“You remember the spider that lived in a 'bush outside your window'? 'Orange body, green legs'? Watched her build a web all summer? Then one day, there's a big egg in it. The egg hatched..."

She completed the sentence for me.

“…and a hundred baby spiders came out. And they ate her."

Looking at me. What big eyes you have. Wanted an explanation. Not the truth. An explanation where she wasn't a fake human being. That's what she wanted to hear. But it's not what I said.

"Implants. Those aren't your memories. They're somebody else's. They're Tyrell's niece's." 

Now she knew. Knew she was a replicant. Knew Tyrell had shown me the contents inside her skull. I’d won.

I’d destroyed her. I’d damned her. Hooray for me. Goddamn me.

All that water flowing out of her eyes.

I tried to take it back.

“OK, bad joke. I made a bad joke. You're not a replicant. Go home, OK? No really, I'm sorry. Go home.”

She stayed.

I wanted her to stay.

I got up to make her a drink.

Then she left. She left me alone.

I made myself another drink.

I picked up that photo. Rachel and mommy. It came alive for a second. One of the early 3-D captures. The porch shadows flickered. The little girl giggled. Then it went dead again.

Tyrell really did a job on Rachael. Right down to a snapshot of a mother she never had, a daughter she never was. Replicants weren't supposed to have feelings. Neither were blade runners. What the hell was happening to me?

I did a job on her too. I destroyed her. Went right to the heart. The cognitive-associative structure that held her together. Her memories. A lie, maybe. But real for her. The foundation of her personality. I just blew it apart.

Memories.

She was gone. Nothing left to do but work.

I started going through Leon’s pictures.

Leon's pictures had to be as phony as Rachael's. I didn't know why a replicant would collect photos. Maybe they were like Rachael. They needed memories.

Sure. Tyrell had made them that way. The need was built-in.

Rachel wasn’t the only experiment.

Some of the photos were fakes. Some were real, photos they’d taken of themselves. The answer was here somewhere, but I didn’t see it yet. But the machine would.

I fed one of the snapshots into my museum-piece ESPER. First generation quantum computing. In terms of industrial design, it had the elegance and simplicity of a brick shithouse. Black box. Big, ugly and clunky looking, but it still worked great. I turned it on. The 3-D monitor came to life.

It can take a flat photograph and infer the three-dimensional space from shadows and reflections. You can go inside the space and look around corners, way beyond the original depth of field. Obviously, the more you went out from what's actually in the picture, the more guesswork there was. But it's pretty good. Sony developed it to fill in the missing pieces of old movies. The police found other uses.

How’d it work?

Interpolative pattern recognition technology based on fuzzy logic heuristics. That’s the phrase I'd memorized, nerd talk for guess work. I don’t know how it worked, OK? Maybe there was a giant replicant brain inside.

The ESPER screen turned into a window into Leon's hotel room. The flat photo turned into a 3-D space. A cartesian grid overlapped it. X-Y-Z axis.

I told the machine where to go.

"Enhance 224176. Enhance, Stop. Move in, Stop.."

I navigated through the space. Verbal commands. Tedious. The newer models infer what you want to look at from your eye tracks.

I kept that up for awhile. Then I found something.

Clothes in a closet, a showgirl's glittery dress. Moved across the room, peeked around a corner, saw a sleeping woman, whiskey glass. Snake tattoo on her left cheek. Didn't match the incept vid records ... but the lettering in the glass was flopped. Through the looking glass and what the replicants found there. Photo of a mirror, tattoo on right cheek. It had to be Zhora. Blurry, but recognizable.

"Give me a hard copy right there."

The ESPER spat out a photo.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

1187 Hunterwasser

Gaff took off from the pyramid, spent the whole ride bitching about what a slob I was. So, 18 hours after Leon's actual crime, we killed our flashing lights, touched down a block away from 1187 Hunterwasser, and went the rest of the way on foot. Lousy hotel. Completely free of that ugly yellow crime scene/do not touch tape, just undercover cops hiding in the shadows. Don't want to scare Leon off, right? If he's stupid enough to come back.

Desk clerk knew we were looking for a fugitive, assumed it was the human variety. LAPD knows, but knows to keep their mouths shut. Replicants go rogue, we keep it from the public. So, RepDetec put out the usual cover story. Officially, Leon's a disgruntled ex-worker, long-standing grievance with the Tyrell corporation, finally made good on his long string of psychotic threats. Armed and extremely dangerous. Three known co-conspirators, also considered armed and dangerous, blah-blah.

The damn elevator was broken. Better living through technology. Gaff and I humped it up the stairs. I got there first, heard him struggling with his cane. To hell with him. I left him behind and went in. Checked the bathroom first. You want to find shit, check the bathroom. Nada.

Just the faucet dripping. The heartless replicant had left the water running. Apparently, Leon didn’t care that fresh water was a precious natural resource. You can see why he deserved to die.

Went back in the living room. Crappy TV set from the 20th century with a picture tube. Gaff flashes me an ugly look in the doorway. Goes into the bathroom where he'd just seen me come out. Starts looking where I’d already looked.

I hate this petty shit, really hate it. Figuring to show me up, poking his nose in, find some evidence Deckard missed with his sloppy detective work. He’ll bring it to Bryant’s attention back at the station. After he pulls his nose out of Bryant’s ass.

Gaff came out of the bathroom. Now he tells me what I missed. But he didn’t say anything. He hadn’t been looking, he'd been making one of his origamis. I could see it in his hands, couldn't see what it was. Still working on it.

Do your job he tells me in that lingo of his.

Now he was really pissing me off. Our job was detective work, not folding up tinfoil. He should take his own damn advice.

I pulled open a drawer in the battered motel furniture, found some family photographs. Leon's fake family.

"Hey Leon! You looking for these?"

No answer, not surprising. Leon had dropped his real address at the VK session, knew RepDetec had the vid. He'd have to be as stupid as he looks to stay here, waiting nearly a day for the cops to arrive. No. The flat's been empty since yesterday morning. Leon's gone.

Unless he's hanging on the ceiling like a spider. One second, Gaff finishes his precious art project. The next, the thing drops down and rips out his throat. I looked up, couldn't help myself.

Nothing.

But the bathtub ...

Back in the bathroom. Turn on the light this time, flickering old fluorescent. I tapped it. The light brightened for a second, then died again. Bring a flashlight next time. And guess what?

I actually found something in the tub. Missed it the first time. Gaff missed it too. Something nasty, don’t know what. A transparent guitar pick? Lots of em? No. Not plastic. Organic.

Scales.

Whatever was in that bathtub was not human. Replicants don't have scales. And family photos? Replicants didn't have families either.

I put a few scales in a plastic evidence bag. Held it up so Gaff could see it. He didn't look up. Still screwing around with some chewing gum tinfoil.

"You should see this, Gaff."

He didn't look up. Busy hands.

"Hey!"

He looked up. Grunted.

"Know what this is? Take a guess."

Gaff muttered more gibberish. Guesswork is the mark of a lazy mind.

"It's called evidence. I found it. You didn't."

He grunted again. Went back to his stupid origami, then finished his art project.

A little man with his dick sticking out. The eternal hard-on.

You’re a dick, Deckard.

Subtle.

We trudged our way back to the Spinner. Figured we'd drop off the evidence back at RepDetec and Bryant would grill me for another three hours, then pay for a cab home where I'd left my piece of shit car.

Flying over LA again. Gaff having a private conversation with the voice in his headset. Not liking what he's hearing.

Out of nowhere, Gaff asked me a question. Plain English, this time.

"You got an ESPER?"

"What?"

"You got an ESPER?"

"Yeah."

Early-gen fuzzy logic tech. A box from 2011. Obsolete, I kept it in the closet. We patched into the RepDetec system now.

"It's a standalone?"

"Yeah -- Why's that important?"

We were passing the old Capitol Record building. RepDetec was ten miles north, by the Hollywood Hills. The flight path was wrong.

"Where --"

"I'm taking you home, stupid."

Again, totally wrong. Not SOP. Should've gone back to RepDetec HQ. Should've fed my report into the central AI, dropped the evidence off at the lab. Unless they'd broken through the RepDetec firewall.

"The system's compromised, right?"

"Probably."

"Jesus Christ, they hacked into ..."

"That ESPER of yours. It's a standalone?"

"Yeah. A 2011 model gathering dust."

"Good enough. Run the evidence yourself, OK? Like the old days."

"This is bad."

More cityspeak.


What an amazing observation. Thank God your brilliant mind is on the case.

"It's nice to be appreciated."

Fuck you.

"Speak English, OK?"

"Stop wasting time! Bryant says go home, work from home, stay home. No ..."

"No calls from the conapt, I get it."

"You don't get it! They've got your fucking address, stupid. Hacked into RepDetec, hacked into you."

"You, too."

"Just go home. Bryant's orders! First thing, unplug the phone, computer, TV. Sever all connections. You have make a call, VidPhons only. But try to stay inside. We got snipers around your place if they come for you."

"They're not coming for me."

Stay off the fucking balcony, OK? 

"Sure."

Gaff dropped me off. I made it up the 97 floors to home sweet home. Followed orders, pulled the kill switch on the conapt network, pulled the plugs just to be sure. Did a sweep for surveillance devices for extra credit.

Then I walked out on the terrace. Walked right to the edge and looked down at the street, 97 floors down. Olive Street slicing through a canyon of highrises. Stood there, stayed there awhile, nobody shot me. Out of nowhere, Spinner whips around the corner, way over the legal speed, cop in another Spinner right on his ass, flashing lights bouncing off the buildings, siren going. Dopplered as he flew away.

A cop.

Somebody like me.

After somebody. I hope you get him.

Catch your prey. Sink your teeth right in.

I always root for the hunter.

Rachel


Went in with Gaff. They didn’t let us in, not right away. Security check, pain in the ass, took forever. Then some IT guy led Gaff to a secure workstation to check the employee data base in case we missed one. They put me on the secure elevator and sent me up to meet the big man. 

Tyrell wasn't there. The test model wasn't there either. Penthouse suite the size of an airplane hanger, slanted windows looking out on the gleaming Tyrell complex. Nothing but vast empty space and expensive stuff, and I'm here all alone, except for the blinking white owl on a perch. I set up the VK rig on a long table. After that, I had nothing to do for maybe five minutes. I stood there like a clown. Then his niece came out. Rachel. I studied her, figured she was studying me.

Rachel was beautiful, cold. Self-contained body language, wearing a dress that cost more than the police Spinner on the roof. Black Irish features, a hint of Germanic cheekbones from her uncle's side of the family. Exuding class and disgust for sweaty cops who did the dirty work for the family business.

She walked up to me. The kind of walk that takes hours of practice and coaching by trained professionals.

"Do you like our owl?" she said.

"It's artificial?"

"Of course."

Of course. Sure. The owls were all dead. If the damn thing was real, by law they'd have to surrender it to the wildlife dogooders who'd clone it, help reintroduce the species. Something told me it was real. They owned it and they were keeping it. To hell with the planet.

"Must be expensive."

"Very. I'm Rachel."

"Deckard."

"It seems you feel our work is not a benefit to the public."

"Replicants are like any other machine. They're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem."

"May I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure."

"Have you ever retired a human by mistake?"

"No."

"But in your position that is a risk?"

I shook my head no. I lied. Schizophrenics with low affect. Austism, Ausberger's Syndrome. Certain kinds of drug abusers. Of course it's a risk. We didn't make it public.

Tyrell finall showed up. He looked like his owl. If his owl wore big stupid glasses.

He had a way of walking and talking. Like he owned the world. He was one of the five guys who did. Did being successful make you an asshole, or did being an asshole make you successful?

He pointed to my gear. Happy and excited, for some damn reason.

"Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil? Involuntary dilation of the iris?"

"We call it Voight-Kampff for short."

Rachel remembered her manners.

"Mr. Deckard, Dr. Eldon Tyrell."

I nodded. He ignored me. Pointed to the VK rig again. 

"Demonstrate it. I want to see it work."

"Where's the subject?"

"I want to see it work on a person. I want to see a negative before I provide you with a positive."

"What's that going to prove?"

"Indulge me."

"On you?"

"Try her."

Rachel shrugged, bored. Fine, no problem.

"It's too bright in here."

Sky the color of spoiled milk, late afternoon sun still visible. Could affect dilation response.

Tyrell waved his hand. The windows polarized and the room got darker.

We sat down at opposite ends of the table, VK rig between us. SOP.

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

"It won't affect the test."

Rachel lit up a cigarette like she'd practiced that too. I prepped my gear and studied her some more.

She reminded me of somebody. One of those actresses from the days when movies were flat and usually black and white. Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, somebody like that. A wreath of smoke surrounded her face like the clouds around our sick planet. Maybe that's why she reminded me of those dead actresses. They smoked a lot back then, just like now, but for different reasons. Today, doctors tell you to smoke. Back then it was bad for you.

"All right, I'm going to ask you a series of questions. Just relax and answer them as simply as you can."

She nodded and I started.

"It's your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet."

"I wouldn't accept it. Also, I'd report the person who gave it to me to the police."

"You've got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar."

"I'd take him to the doctor."

"You're watching television. Suddenly you realize there's a wasp crawling on your arm."

"I'd kill it."

"You're reading a magazine. You come across a full page nude photo of a girl."

"Is this testing whether I'm a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?"

No, the lesbian test comes later. I wanted to say that, but they don't pay me to be a smartass. I had a feeling she wasn't a lesbian.

"Just answer the questions, please -- You show it to your husband. He likes it so much he hangs it on your bedroom wall."

"I wouldn't let him."

"Why not?"

"I should be enough for him."

This went on for awhile. The results were confusing, at first. Then they weren't.

"One more question. You're watching a stage play. A banquet is in progress. The guests are enjoying an appetizer of raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog."

She looked disgusted. Didn't answer.

Tyrell took charge.

"Would you step out for a few moments, Rachel? Thank you."

She left the room. A little rattled, but keeping it together.

Tyrell stood there grinning, cat that ate the canary, hungry for another canary.

"She's a replicant, isn't she?"

"I'm impressed. How many questions does it usually take to spot them?"

"I don't get it Tyrell."

"How many questions?"

"Twenty, thirty, cross-referenced."

"It took more than a hundred for Rachael, didn't it?"

"She doesn't know?"

"She's beginning to suspect, I think."

"Suspect? How can it not know what it is?"

He gave me a patronizing look. Then gave me a sales pitch.

"Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. 'More human than human' is our motto. Rachel is an experiment, nothing more."

"What's the point?"

Asked the idiot child. He smiled indulgently. Answered the idiot question.

"Well ... we began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions and consequently we can control them better."

A lot of puffy words. Like styrofoam packing peanuts hiding a small, ugly truth. "If we gift them with a past." Like saying, "If we gift them darkies with chains." Slippery bastard. I put it more crudely.

"Memories. You're talking about memories."

Tyrell smiled.

"Yes, I am."

"Or it's a scam," I said. "Rachel's human. You've coached her or drugged her to blunt her affect responses."

"That would be unethical."

I laughed in his face.

"She's Nexus-6, I assure you, Mr. Deckard. In fact, I'll show you."

Tyrell took me into his private vid room. Nicer than the one at the station. Real executive class. Plush seats and all that crap. Made me sign a non-disclosure agreement, do the eyeprint thing.

Then he showed me.

Showed me the tank they grew her in.

Clips showing her gestation. 18 months, like any other replicant.

Showed me Rachel's inception.

Showed me how he read the memories out of his niece’s head. Without telling her.

How he wrote the memories to Rachel’s head.

Then edited them. Changed names, places. Wove them into the narrative of Rachel's life -- the fake legend that she thought was her past. Turned his niece’s memories into Rachel’s memories. Baby spiders eating their mother. Playing doctor with her little brother. He showed me all that. Things I didn’t want to see. Technology that’s not supposed to exist.

New kind of magnetic resonance tech, quantum level. Can measure fields in the microtesla range. Or target fields. Mind reading machine, basically.

Stuff that could pull any secret out of my mind, your mind, anybody's mind. Put stuff in and make you do anything, maybe. All of this was against the law. We still had laws, right? This tech could destroy government security, corporate security, personal security. I'm a cop and he's showing it to me. Theoretically, I should slam him against the wall, read him his rights and throw him in jail. The possibility never occurred to him. That's not the way the world works.

Why was he showing me this? To prove something? Rachel's inception log was proof enough.

He was crazy.

Tyrell had to make them better. Replicants were slaves, right? If you made them too human, they wouldn’t want to be slaves any more.

But he had to make them better. More human. More human than human. His corporate slogan, for chrissakes. Damn it, Tyrell wanted to beat the test. Wanted to gloat and say, you can't tell the difference. She's human, she's not human. You don't even know!

But these things couldn’t be human. That was the law. And it was just common sense.

If your replicant slave wakes up and says, "Wait a minute. I'm a slave. Being a slave sucks," chances are he's going to rebel. That's bad for business. They can't get too human.

They were born as full-formed adults and grew up fast. Tyrell tried to control them with conditioning that kept them docile and a cage of false memories. But they'd mature, think, feel, break out. Either turn psychotic or too human to use as slaves. His fail safe against that? A four-year death clock on the cellular level. The whole system was unstable and dangerous as hell. But that was his business model.

He started boasting again. Just wait till the Nexus Sevens came out. They'd get all the bugs out.

Sure.

This Owl-faced pencil neck geek was going to get us all killed.

I kept my mouth shut. One word from him could get me killed. Death squads. A guy like him, it was easy.

Tyrell asked for my address.

"I'm sorry. We're not allowed to give that out."

"That's all right."

The sonofabitch had it, of course.

He smiled. Light flashed off his big glasses.