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EdgeOfHuman

BOOK: EdgeOfHuman
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'Don't you see, Deckard?' The voice soft and gentle, stammer evaporated. 'That's what the business of the Van Nuys Pet Hospital was all along . . . turning fakes - what
you'd
call fakes -- into the real . . . right under the noses of the blade runners and all the rest of the LAPD; who'd ever think of raiding a pet hospital? Hm? And then when the escaped replicants get here . . . I
fix
them. And when I get done fixing them . . . they can pass an empathy test . . . So, given that there've been some real humans who've flunked the empathy tests . . . I guess that makes my fixed-up replicants realer than real, huh?' . . .

'If they exist at all . . . If they existed, we would've caught them eventually. At least some of them.' Deckard could hear an old brutality setting steel in his voice. 'And it's got nothing to do with being a blade runner. It's about being a cop. And what cops know. You're talking conspiracy, buddy. Anytime you got that many in on something, some of them are gonna crack. They're not as strong as the others, they're not as good at hiding, at sweating it out when they know they're being hunted. All it takes is one, and then the whole game's up. And that's how we would've caught your fixed-up replicants. If they existed.'

K. W. Jeter is one of the most respected science fiction writers working today. He is the acknowledged heir to the spirit of Philip K. Dick whose novel
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
was the basis for the movie
Blade Runner
™ . In
The Edge of Human
Jeter resolves many of the discrepancies between the movie and the novel upon which it was based. He is the author of twelve novels which have been described as having a 'brain burning intensity' (
The Village Voice
), 'hard-edged and believable' (
Locus
) and 'a joy from first word to last' (
San Francisco Chronicle
).

BLADE RUNNER™ 2

THE EDGE OF HUMAN

K.W. JETER

An Orion paperback
First published in Great Britain by Millennium in 1995
This paperback edition published in 1996 by Orion Books Ltd,
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EA
Blade Runner is a trademark of, and is being used under
license from, The Blade Runner Partnership
Copyright © the Philip K. Dick Trust
The right of K. W. Jeter to be identified as the author of
this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior
permission of the copyright owner.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is
available from the British Library.
ISBN: 0 75280 360 3
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

Living and unliving things are exchanging properties...

Phillip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly

For Laura, Isa and Christopher
Los Angeles – August, 2020
1

When every murder seems the same, it's time to quit.

"That's good advice," Bryant told himself. "I'll drink to that." A hard swallow, and jellied gasoline spread across his ulcer; he could barely breathe as he set the small glass back down on the desk and poured another shot. "That's why I went to a desk job."

The sticky-backed slip of paper, with its words of wisdom, floated at his vision's limit. He had pulled open the bottom drawer to fetch the square bottle out, and the past had clung to it like his own half-shed snakeskin. Every brilliant thought, 3 A.M. illumination, unacted-upon suicide note, he'd pitched in there. Until the drawer held a shifting dune of yellow scraps, the residuum of his entire goddamn cop career, that plus enough cash in the pension plan to blow his nose on. The drawer's slips of paper, some carefully folded, some wadded up, were an exact replica of the contents of his skull; if the police department's shrinks ever looked inside either one, they'd ship him out on a permanent psychiatric leave so fast . . .

"Bastards." Between one thought and another, the glass had drained itself again, without him noticing. Bryant dug a finger into the loose wattle of his throat and tugged his necktie loose. The station's oxygen, soured with pheromones of fear and despair, trickled into his lungs. The fan on top of the filing cabinet struggled to move the dust-heavy air.

Under his feet, through the soles of his dumb-ass cop shoes, the earth shivered. In an unlit tunnel, the rep train slid along its iron rails, carrying its silent, watchful cargo to another darkness. He tilted the bottle, liquid brown splashing over the glass's rim.

"You drink too much."

Bryant knew that wasn't his own voice. None of the voices inside him would ever have said anything that stupid. He squinted to bring the distant side of the office into focus. By the fall of shadow across cheekbone he recognized the other person.

"I drink," Bryant answered, "because I must. I'm dehydrated."

That was true at least. He'd come back into the cathedral cavern of the station from a department funeral, standing under the battering sun while one of their own had been dropped into an empty rectangle of earth. That stupid sonuvabitch Gaff had finally managed to talk a bullet into his gut, big enough that he could've been buried in two boxes. A double row of the department's ceremonial honor guard had lifted their silver-lensed faces to the sky, fired, reholstered their weapons, turned on their shining boot heels, and marched away. He had felt blood-warm sweat crawling under his collar.

He'd stood looking down at the brass plate in the raw dirt and dead-yellow grass after everybody else had left. The inscription under Gaff's name was in that infuriating affected cityspeak. That was when he'd really been sorry about the heat wringing him dry: otherwise, he could've whipped it out and written his own name across the steaming metal. He'd never liked Gaff.

The other person in the office inhaled, exhaled smoke; the slowly pivoting fan smeared it into blue haze. "If whiskey were water, you could've swam to China by now." A thin smile moved behind the cigarette.

"Tell you what. You can help save me. From drowning." He brought the second glass from the drawer, set it beside his own, filled it; he watched as the other person drew it back beyond the desk lamp's reach. "It's a bad habit to drink alone."

"Then you should try to keep your friends longer."

"I never had any." Bryant's turn to smile, all nicotine teeth and too-bright eyes. "Just the poor bastards who work for me." Another fiery swallow. "And blade runners are too far along the Curve to be anybody's friend."

A smile even colder than his. "That's their excuse, too."

He looked away from the other, toward the pitched blinds covering the office's windows. Through their narrow apertures -- not the L.A. night, stifling in airless heat -- the darker spaces of the police station's ground floor were visible. When he'd come back from the funeral, thirsting and radiating contempt for the department's goddamn primitive blood rituals --
When I buy it
, he'd fiercely mused,
they can just throw what's left of me in the dumpsters out back
-- he'd walked by members of the elite squads, tall and sweatless in their jackboots and black-polished gear. He'd felt like a rumpled bug next to them, their hard-edged gaze setting a needle's point between his shoulder blades. Pinned beneath the contempt of the fiercely beautiful, he'd scuttled into the decaying security of his office and moved his drinking schedule up an hour's notch.

Goddamn stormtroopers
-- they were all gone now, black leather angels drawn upward through the police station's spiral of floors by the setting sun. In this season the dry winds rolling over the horizon brought the night temperature down to the mid-nineties; that was low enough for the city's life to creep out of its holes, and the patrol units to fan out across the sky. To watch and descend . . .

"It was raining then." Bryant murmured the words against the rim of his glass. "I remember . . ." L.A.'s monsoons, the storm chain across the Pacific, Bangkok its terminal link. Memory flash like ball lightning: he could see himself turning back toward the spinner as diluted blood threaded into the gutters, leaving that poor bastard standing there. The watchcam's tape had caught his words:
Drink some for me, pal
. That was his standard advice to everyone.

There'd been somebody else watching as well, across the street, the rain a shifting curtain before her. He'd glanced in the spinner's mirror and sighted her; he could've had Gaff turn the spinner around; he could've gone back and killed her himself. But he hadn't. He'd wanted Deckard to do it.

That'd been a long time ago, when it'd been raining. "Not that long . . ." A whisper, as he set the empty glass down on the desk. His vision shifted from memory to the dim, high-ceilinged space beyond the blinds. Abandoned now, locked down, sealed tight . . .

Another thought troubled Bryant, an itch inside his skull. He swiveled the chair around. "How did you get in here?"

"There are ways." The person in the shadows regarded the glass held in one hand. "There are always ways. You know that."

"Yeah, I guess so." It'd been the wrong question. "But why? Why'd you come here? I never expected to see you here again."

"I brought you something."

He watched as the glass, its contents barely sipped, was set down beside his own. The other person leaned back in the chair, reaching inside the jacket and bringing out a handful of black metal. His breath stopped in his throat when he saw what it was.

There wasn't time for another breath. The shot echoed in the office, loud enough to clatter the blinds' knife edges against each other.

The bullet struck his heart full-on, lifting him from his chair, splaying his arms, stretching his throat taut as his head snapped backward. He saw a red spatter write over the acoustic tiles' map of stained islands.

What a surprise
, thought Bryant. The chair toppled over, spilling him onto the office's floor, where he marveled at this new darkness that washed over him. The last seconds of consciousness became elastic, stretched out as he'd always been told they would.
But I should've . . . I should've known . . .

He saw the other's face float above him, making sure that he was dead. Or as good as. A yellow scrap of paper, with something that had once seemed important on it, drifted against his numbed fingertips.

The blinds had stopped rattling, the shot's echo fading in the empty reaches of the police station. From far away, Bryant heard the office door pulled open, the other's footsteps departing.

His mouth welled with blood he couldn't swallow. His last thought was that he wished he could shout, to call after the one who was already gone . . .

So he could say how truly grateful he was.

2

A razor of light cut the sky.

Deckard looked up through the interlaced branches, the dense weave of the forest. In silence; whatever had left the hair-thin wound in the night, fire leaking through, was too far away to hear. He tracked its progress beneath the stars' cold points: from south to north, banking east. From L.A., then; where else?

The long spark faded, leaving a red trail more inside his own eye than in the upper atmosphere. He kept looking, head tilted back, as he knelt down to scoop more of the fallen wood into the bundle he already held against his chest. Whoever was up there had throttled the engines back from long- to short-range; that was why the light streak had cut off so abruptly. The spinner could descend anywhere within a hundred kilometers from this point.

Getting one arm around the bundle, he stood up, turning slowly and listening, though he knew the vehicle would be right on top of him before he heard it. With his other hand, he reached inside his jacket and touched the grip of the gun he found there.

Silence, except for the smaller creatures that crept through the mat of dead leaves and pine needles beneath his feet. Once more, he glanced at the bare night sky, then began the slow uphill trudge toward the cabin.

"Honey, I'm home."

It was a bad joke; the silence inside was the same as out.
Why don't you put the gun to your head? That'd be just as funny.
He pushed the plank door closed with his heel, and dumped the bundle into the corner by the rusting stove. He'd let the fire go out hours back; while he'd slept, his exhaled breath had formed ice on the one small window. He'd uncurled himself from the nest of blankets on the floor -- he always slept next to the black coffin, as though he could wrap his arm around her shoulders and bring her close to himself, hold her without killing her, merge his wordless dreaming with hers while the clock hands scraped away the last minutes of her life.

But instead he slept alone except for his own hand pressed against the machine's cold metal, as though he could feel through the layers of microcircuitry the glaciated pulse of her heart, hear the sighing breaths that took hours to complete . . .

BOOK: EdgeOfHuman
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