The Edge of the Blade

The Voight-Kampff machine lay on the table between them like a spider, like a scorpion, like a multi-limbed, breathing, dangerous being. Of course, the Vee-Kay device wasn’t alive. It was just an illusion caused by the inhalation of the breather attachment. Rick Deckard knew that. He also knew that the slender, neatly dressed young man who sat on the other side of the table was not a human being. He looked like a human being, but that was an illusion too, or rather, a trick, like the way the apartment looked twice as big as it was because one wall was covered with mirror-blocks.


“Just a few more questions,” Deckard smiled his professional smile, the one that made his face look harmless and bland, but could not quite disguise the alert tautness of his body. He rolled his riter slowly between his fingers, put it down and carefully placed his hand on his lap. With his other hand he adjusted the eye magnifier if the Vee-Kay. The eye mag showed involuntary dilation of the eye which indicated a positive emotional response to questions, something only a real human could supply.


“I was on my way out when you came. I have to be at work at nine. I’m going to be late. I keep telling you that this is a waste of time,” insisted the young man. He had blond wavy hair and a finely chiseled face. “I was picked up by a street random checkpoint Vee-Kay team two days ago and I passed their test. This is all really a waste of… “


In mid-sentence the young man stood up and pulled a long thin rod from the inside of his jacket. Before the rod cleared the coat flap, Deckard’s hand was inside his coat, hauling out his heavy-duty service weapon from its shoulder holster. He’d aimed and fired before the replicant could bring the rod into firing position. The shot hit the replicant square in the chest, knocking it off its feet. A convulsive hand movement squeezed the rod trigger and sent a pellet thumping into the ceiling.


Deckard came around the table quickly, gun in a two-handed grip, wary of the weapon in the replicant’s hand. Thrashing and groaning feebly, it let go of the pellet rod. Deckard swiftly kicked away the weapon and stood poised over the rep. It whimpered and looked up. It had very blue eyes. Its lips moved as if it were trying to say something. Deckard stared. What would a rep have to say as it died?


Then it was dead and it didn’t matter anymore.


Not dead, Deckard reminded himself angrily. Retired. Replicants don’t die because they can’t. They can’t because they were never alive.


Deckard looked down at his hands. They were starting to shake. Worse than the last time, he was sure. Each time it was getting worse. When he tried to put his gun away it took him three attempts to get the muzzle lined up properly with the holster because his hands were shaking so badly.


The replicant’s eyes stared up at him. That bothered Deckard. He looked around the clean, tidy apartment to find something to cover up the replicant. He saw a coat on the sofa. He remembered the replicant had been about to go out when he had turned up at the door requesting a follow-up test to the one given at the Vee-Kay checkpoint.


Reaching for the coat, Deckard picked it up by the sleeve. Something jabbed into his finger. Attached to the coat by a plastic staple with a jagged edge was a tag. Reliable Professional Cleaners said the tag. Deckard looked at his own rumpled coat. It hadn’t been to the cleaners since his wife had gone Off-World, although sometimes he hung it off the balcony to air it out. Deckard looked at his finger where a drop of blood welled from the pin prick.


Deckard dropped the coat on the floor. He couldn’t cover up the rep like it was a human body. When the street beat cops got here to clean up the mess they would think he was crazy, treating a skin job like a real person. Deckard stared at his haggard face in the mirror wall. He was sure he hadn’t looked that bad this morning when he’d left his apartment for work. Maybe he was going crazy.


* * *

Deckard’s apartment was not neat. It had been neat, once, long ago, when he and his wife had first moved into it, but that was many long years of neglect ago. His wife had fought the clutter for awhile, then gave up. Later she had given up on Deckard himself. She’d gone Off-World to one of the colonies looking for a better life. Or maybe, just a neater one.


It was getting near lunch time, but Deckard wasn’t hungry. He searched through the dirty clothes and books and spare mechanical parts until he found a half-filled bottle of vodka. He didn’t bother looking for a glass. It was a hopeless task.


Besides, his hands were shaking again and that made holding a glass difficult and drinking messy. Deckard took a gulp from the mouth of the bottle, swallowed and waited, as if expecting something magical to happen. It never did. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and carried the bottle to the couch. He stretched out on his back, wriggling against the cushions, settling in for a long afternoon and a longer night.


Deckard knew he was going to collect a good chunk of bounty money for the replicants he had found. He tried to think of something he could buy with the money. He remembered the old times, in the very beginning, when he’d first joined the Replicant Detection Squad. He would rush home all excited, and he and his wife would decide together what to do with the extra money. He remembered how happy they’d been when they had bought the piano. Now all he seemed to buy with his bounties were more and more additions for his home Esper unit so he could work more efficiently.


The vid-phone buzzed for attention. Bottle in hand, Deckard got up to answer it, wondering who it could be. He didn’t know anyone who would be calling him. He snapped on the vidscreen and a face came into focus. It was Captain Bryant, head of the Rep Detection Unit. It was not a happy face.


“Deckard, get your butt over to headquarters,” Bryant snarled, his moustache arching over his mouth as he twisted out the words.


“What’s the matter? What…” Deckard stopped in mid-sentence because he was talking to a blank screen. He took another gulp of vodka, put down the bottle and began to hunt through the rubble for his coat. He swore the damned thing moved around by itself.


* * *


Deckard slid his long body into a lumpily-cushioned chair in front of Bryant’s desk. The chair was uncomfortable on purpose. Bryant always liked to remind people that their comfort, their positions, their lives were in his control. The dim lamp on the desk illuminated every wrinkle in Bryant’s face as he glared at Deckard. Deckard looked back through narrowed hazel eyes. Something was very wrong.


“I read your report on the skin job you aired today, Deck.”


Deckard tilted his head to one side. “I do something wrong, filling out the report?”




“Then what’s the matter?”


“Damned if I know. All I know is that Section Leader is sending a special agent to investigate.”


Deckard sat up straight. “Investigate what?”


“The skin job, I guess. How the hell should I know? I just know I don’t like upstairs snooping around my territory, and I don’t like people who cause upstairs to do that.”


Deckard shrugged helplessly and tried to look innocent and inoffensive. He slumped back in the seat, futilely rearranged his rumpled coat and folded his hands on his lap. He stared down at his hands. His nails needed trimming. He suddenly remembered the replicant at the apartment had long, slender fingers, the nails neatly trimmed and buffed. Then he remembered the hand spasming convulsively when he kicked the rod out of its reach. And he remembered the blue eyes staring up at him. Deckard saw his own fingers begin to tremble again.


“Skin jobs take a lot out of you anymore, Deck.”


Deckard looked up. Bryant was watching him; his eyes slits in his lined face. Deckard shifted uneasily in the lumpy seat.


“A rep is a rep.”


“You’d better keep thinking that,” Bryant advised, “or else you’ll be falling off the edge of the blade and I wouldn’t like that.”


Falling off the edge of the blade. Deckard hated that expression. Those with fanciful and philosophical minds likened a Blade Runner to a person moving on the edge of a blade, a person who would one day fall off on one side or another. Deckard wasn’t sure what the philosophers imagined to lie on either side, but he knew that for a Blade Runner a fall meant death. It was usually an ugly, messy death by violence, but sometimes it was a slow, lingering death in the high narc shops or the alki-alleys.


Bryant’s vid-phone buzzed. Deckard picked at a rip in the upholstery of the chair arm while Bryant swore and argued with someone Deckard could not see or hear. He did hear Bryant snap off the phone and heave himself out of his chair with an explosive grunt.


“Upperhanding already! This damned Ripper is on the roof garage and wants me to go up there!”


Deckard, in the process of rising, froze. “What did you say?”


“I said the upperhanding has started already.”


“No, you said ‘Ripper’. They sent a Ripper!”


Suddenly there didn’t seem to be enough air in the room to breathe. Deckard felt sweat break out on his forehead and run down through his short hair into his ear. He flicked his hand at it as he straightened. Blade Runner was the code name for replicant hunters. Yet there was another special hunter, coded even above the Blade Runner, the Ripper. No one knew exactly what a Ripper did, but Deckard had heard rumors that Rippers were supposed to hunt down renegade Blade Runners. He tried to think why they would send a Ripper to investigate him. Suddenly, an appalling though crossed his mind, flare up like the flames from a corporate smokestack high above the city.


“I didn’t retire a human by mistake! I know I didn’t! I gave that rep the Voight-Kampff test before I retired him. Besides, he tried to shoot me. Would a real person try to shoot me?”


“Did I say you retired a human? Did I? No, I didn’t.” Bryant put a heavy hand on Deckard’s shoulder and steered him toward the office door. “Anyway, you know you’re the best Vee-Kay man we have. If you say it was a rep, then it must have been a rep. Now, move along.”


Deckard trudged out of the office and across the hall toward the elevators. His feet felt entirely too heavy. He was sure they hadn’t been that heavy this morning. As they stopped in front of the elevators Deckard rubbed his fists against his eyes. He had nightmares about this, about retiring a human by mistake.


“The reactions were too slow,” he muttered. “The questions were good. The reactions were too slow. I’m too sure.”


“Sure, sure,” Bryant soothed absently. An elevator gaped open before them. Bryant stepped inside and crooked a finger, beckoning for Deckard to follow.


Deckard eyed Bryant suspiciously as he pushed a button for the roof garage. “If I’ve done something wrong, really wrong, you’d warn me, wouldn’t you?”


The elevator began to ascend. Bryant gave Deckard a benevolent smile. “Deck, you’re the best Blade Runner I’ve got. You’re the best I ever had. Better even that Dave Holden, and he’s got a few years experience on you. You got the instincts, you got the moves, you got the ol’ Blade Runner magic. I wouldn’t let you get away. I need you.”


For some reason he did not understand. Deckard was not comforted by the smile or the speech. He responded with a twitch of his mouth and focused his eyes on the floor indicator panel where the flashing lights counted off the floors as they rose toward the roof — and the Ripper.


The rooftop garage was covered by a high dome roof. Along the dome’s raw metal ribs they had stretched illumi-strips which cast light in a striped pattern on the floor far below. Decked saw a spinner shoot through the mouth of the garage, passing through light and shadow as it sank to its resting place. Outside it was raining as usual. The sound of the rain beating on the garage’s arched roof could be heard clearly despite the sound bafles guaranteed to eliminate the noise. Deckard pulled his coat a little tighter as he trailed in Bryant’s footsteps. Manufacturers were always promising things they couldn’t deliver, like replicants who wouldn’t run away or kill their masters or try to say something as they died. Shut down, Deckard corrected himself quickly. Reps did not die, they shut down. They weren’t killed they were retired. But was the young man with the wavy blond hair a replicant? Deckard shivered. The trembling had nothing to do with the dampness of the garage.


It used to be so easy. The old Prototype 400’s, the Prometheus 17’s, even the Nexus One’s, with their flat, expressionless voices, their inability to respond to the unexpected. There was never any worry about making a mistake. You knew. You just knew. You didn’t need the Voight-Kampff test or the spinal arc test. You just knew. But it was getting harder and harder. The reps were smoother, slicker, more human. Maybe too human? Maybe all human?


“Damned punkfaced of this special agent to expect me to come up here,” Bryant complained as he stamped through puddles of water and lube fluid from the parked spinners. A few mechs glanced up then quickly buried themselves under their spinner hoods when they saw the expression on the Captain’s face. He marched toward the very edge of the roof hanger where the VIP parking was located. The only vehicle parked in the section was a large, super-custom spinner, black with silver markings. Deckard put his hands in his pockets and clenched his fists. He knew that it was no local car.


“Captain Bryant?”


The voice coming out of the shadows made Deckard turn very, very fast, showing the agility that made him a good cop. A figure stepped from the darkness into a stripe of light.


Deckard saw a woman in black, very tall, very thin, as if the flesh had been consumed from her bones. Everything about her, the line of her body, the tilt of her head said Hunter. Deckard felt a tightening in his chest and knew it was fear. It wasn’t the fear the hunter feels when he is stalking dangerous prey. It was the fear of the hunted when he knows the eyes of the hunter are on him.


She moved toward them with lithe grace. She wore a one-piece black uniform with silver piping on the seams. She had a nonregulation thigh holster. She did have a regulation haircut, cropped short like Deckard’s. However, her coffee-colored hair lay smooth and sleek against her head. Her skin was white, bloodless. The bones of her face stood out, raw and ugly. Her eyes were dark brown, deep-set, framed by thick brows. Deckard flinched as the eyes flickered over his body then snapped toward Bryant.


“Captain Bryant, I’m Ripper Three.”


“I want to know what the hell is going on here!” Bryant bellowed. “All we know is that it had something to do with the skin job Deckard aired out this afternoon. It was a skin job, wasn’t it?”


The Ripper turned her head slowly and looked at Deckard. Her eyes were cold, remote, detached. Deckard felt sweat trickling down his back. He tried to swallow, but couldn’t. His mouth was too dry. Deckard clenched his fists so hard, the untrimmed edges if his nails caught and tore his skin.


“Mr. Deckard, the results of the bone marrow test show the body was a Nexus Three unit on the bounty lists for Seven Sector. It was part of a shipment from Tyrell to the Dermion Colony that escaped while enroute to the spaceport.”


Deckard’s hands opened as his muscles went weak. The ends of his fingers felt numb. His lungs hurt. He sucked in a huge breath. He had not made a mistake. At least not this time.


“Then Deckard isn’t in any trouble?” Bryant demanded loudly.




“Then what the hell are you doing here?”


Deckard pulled the lapels of his coat together and looked at the Ripper expectantly. What the hell was she doing here anyway? What did she want? Deckard knew what he wanted. He wanted to go home, get his half-filled bottle of vodka and finish it, then he wanted to sleep without dreaming for a long time.


“Twelve units escaped from the spaceport. Five have already been retired. The seven remaining units are now in this sector.”


“No problem,” Bryant grinned mirthlessly. “My Blade Runners will clean up the rest in no time at all.”


“It is essential that I personally supervise the hunt for and retirement of the remaining units. This will be impossible if you follow standard procedure and parcel out the seven remaining units among your Blade Runners. I must ask you to assign all remaining units to a single Blade Runner with whom I shall work. I require the services of your best Vee-Kay man.”


“Deckard,” Bryant said without hesitation.




Deckard looked from Bryant’s lined, calculating face to the Ripper’s impassive one. Neither looked at him.


‘When do you want him?”


“Immediately. I do not wish the Nexus units to be moved again,” The Ripper nodded curtly toward Bryant. “Thank you for your cooperation, Captain. I shall return Mr. Deckard when 1 am through with him.”


“In one piece,” Bryant demanded. “He’s valuable merchandise.”


Bryant hunched his shoulders and strode away, leaving Deckard standing with the Ripper.


“Nobody asked me,” Deckard mumbled.


If the Ripper heard him she gave no sign She turned and moved with smooth sliding grace toward her spinner. Shrugging, Deckard followed. Seven more Nexus Three units, seven more sets of staring eyes, seven more mouths trying to say something to him. Deckard’s feet did not feel any lighter. Maybe his shoes were waterlogged.


Deckard grabbed a pile of dirty clothes off the ripplecloth couch and after a moment’s frantic search located another place to stick them. He flashed the Ripper an apologetic smile. “Don’t mind the mess. You want a drink or something?”


“No,” said the Ripper. She sat down on the couch and gazed at Deckard’s Esper unit which squatted on what had originally been a stylish coffee table.


“Best home Esper unit you can get. My last four bounties went into it,” Deckard patted the top of the machine. The Ripper blinked, but said nothing. Deckard rubbed the back of his neck. She had not spoken more than four words running all the way from the police tower. He picked up some dirty breakfast dishes from the table and carried them into the kitchen. Finding an almost empty vodka bottle on the kitchen counter, Deckard rinsed out a glass and filled it. He watched the Ripper through the door of the kitchen alcove. There was something compelling about that pale, chiseled face and something frightening, too.  She wasn’t bad-looking, Deckard thought, not at all. She was a little too thin, but she had those incredible eyes. Deckard knew he was attracted to women with interesting eyes. His wife, for instance, or that young woman with emerald eyes who had been “into” Blade Runners, or the woman from the Animal Theft Squad who had been killed in the shootout with an animalnapper gang. Eyes, he thought, and dark hair and maybe long legs — maybe.


“You married?” Deckard asked as he came out of the kitchen, glass in hand.


“Not anymore. He took my daughter and went Off-World.”


“That’s what my wife did,” Deckard tilted his head to one side. “I guess it was over between us when she left. I mean it was three days before I realized she’d gone. Is that why you didn’t go with them?”


“I was a Blade Runner.”


Deckard frowned. It was true that Off-World, where reps were legal there was no employment for Blade Runners, but that was no reason to leave someone you loved.


“Well, you could have quit.”


“Blade Runners can’t jump off the edge of the blade, Mr. Deckard, they can only fall.”


Deckard made a face when he heard that hated expression. “Unhhh, listen, how do you want to work this? Am I your partner or back-up or what?”


“I merely wish to observe, Mr. Deckard. I shall, of course, assist you in an emergency, but otherwise please proceed as if you were on a typical assignment.”


Deckard shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Proceed as if it were a typical assignment, hunting seven replicants by himself with a special agent hovering around, staring at him with those great dark eyes.


“You said twelve reps ran away on their way to a spaceport?”


“They overpowered their van driver and escaped. Tyrell Corporation said it was a freak flaw in their brain case construction.”


Deckard sighed and sipped his vodka. Another manufacturer’s excuse. He looked at the Ripper over the rim of his glass. “Is that why you’re on the case? You usually get assigned when a bunch of them goes missing?”


“There was a serious dereliction of duty in the — Seven Sector Replicant Detection Unit. I was assigned to the case to correct it.”


Deckard took a gulp of his drink. He didn’t like the sound of that.


“What happened?”


“The details do not pertain to your function in this case.”


“And what is my function in this case?”


“To find and retire the remaining replicant units.”


“Then I’d better start my prep work,” Deckard set down his glass to clear a space on the couch in front of the Esper.


“Mr. Deckard, although some of the Seven Sector files will be available to you, those of Blade Runners Phillipon and Macavoy have been sealed to anyone under Level Twelve security clearance.”


Deckard turned to stare at her. Level Twelve was very high. Bryant was cleared for Level Eight and Deckard, as a top Blade Runner, only to Level Five. He sat down in the space he bad cleared, took a rather noisy gulp of his vodka, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and went to work.


According to the files to which Deckard had access in a General Info Call-up, four of the missing replicants had been retired without incident by Seven Sector Blade Runners. Then the remainder had simply dropped out of sight and stayed out of sight for over two months, until 8:00 that morning when Deckard had retired the fifth unit. Deckard assumed that the abrupt disappearances, the sealed files of Macavoy and Phillipon and the Ripper’s presence were all connected. He decided that he really didn’t want to know what had happened.


Ident photos appeared one by one on the Esper screen. The first four had the word ‘retired’ printed over them. The fifth was the blond rep Deckard had retired that morning.


Deckard was glad that the face, the blue eyes and the black-printed ‘retired’ flashed off the screen quickly.


He took his time familiarizing himself with the seven remaining units. Three were pleasure units, two custom-made females — a Eurasian and a Nordic blonde type — and a male pleasure unit, a Tyrell “Muscle Beach Model,” with curly red hair. The final four were military drones, almost identical; tall, broad-shouldered, powerfully built.


Two things about the replicants puzzled Deckard. The first thing was the fact that none of the reps were above C level mentality which, even in Tyrell’s new Nexus Three edition, wasn’t that high, especially in the area of initiative. He wondered how they had engineered a move en masse from Seven Sector without detection. The move also puzzled Deckard. The older type replicants, which worked strictly from logic, would have split up after the escape at the spaceport. This group had remained together. They seemed to be sticking together for mutual support. Deckard sighed and rubbed his eyes. He had noted that increasing sophistication made the replicants increasingly illogical. Almost as illogical as humans.


Whatever it was, their actions were a weakness and it was the mark of a good hunter to exploit a weakness in his prey. The replicant Deckard had retired at the Philana Garden Apartments had been calling himself Charles Ogden. Deckard had tied his Esper into the City Central Computer to ask for security checks on all residents of the Philana Garden Apartments and also on anyone working at the food distribution complex where Ogden had been employed.


After examining the last file, Deckard shut off the machine, sat back and rubbed his neck. The vodka sat untouched on the table. Deckard checked his watch and discovered he had been working for almost three hours. Startled, he looked toward the Ripper. She was sitting in exactly the same spot, staring at nothing in particular. If she hadn’t blinked, Deckard would have thought she died while he was using the Esper. He cleared his throat to get her attention. She turned her head slowly toward him.


“A possibility, Caroline Wright. Lives at the Philana Gardens where I… retired the rep today. She moved in two weeks ago. l don’t know, there’s just something… wrong. I want to go Vee-Kay her. Now, if it’s all right.”


“Speed is imperative,” said the Ripper. “We must take them quickly. I do not wish them to be moved again.”


Suddenly, she was up and striding toward the door. Deckard grabbed his coat, his Vee-Kay’s carrying case and tore after her.


At the Philana Gardens the Ripper commandeered the building superintendent to let her into Charles Ogden’s apartment to inspect the premises. Deckard went up to see Ms. Caroline Wright alone.


Ms. Wright was a hostess at the Top of the Tower restaurant in the Falsing Tower. Although Deckard knew she had gotten off work at two, she apparently hadn’t had time to change. She answered the door in her hostess uniform, a sapphire blue cling suit that hugged every inch of her tall shapely figure. She had dark hair, but her height and her features were wrong for the Eurasian-type replicas. However, Deckard could not discount the possibility that she was the other female. Dyed hair and makeup could change a lot in a woman.


“Official business,” Deckard announced. Unable to see into the rest of the apartment he kept his right hand hovering near his gun. He set down his Vee-Kay to use his left hand to flash his badge at Ms. Wright. “Replicant Detection Unit.”


“I don’t understand,” Ms. Wright’s brow wrinkled above her crystal blue eyes. “What do you want with me?”


“There’s been an illegal replicant apprehended in this area,” Decked explained as he pushed into the apartment. “It’s standard procedure to run spot checks — Voight-Kampff tests. You must have heard of them.”


Ms. Wright’s face brightened. “Oh, you mean like the random street checkpoints? I took one of those tests. And passed, of course.”


“Of course,” Deckard smiled agreeably. The statement might have been a ploy or it might have been the truth, whether she was a replicant or not. Charles Ogden had also passed a Vee-Kay test given by an ordinary operator. However, a street beat cop using a Vee-Kay and a manual was not the same thing as a Blade Runner. Deckard let his smile brighten to match hers. “Then if you’re familiar with the test you know that you have nothing to worry about.”


The apartment was almost identical to the one where Deckard has shot Charles Ogden. The same plexiplas furniture, the same ripplecloth couch running along the mirror wall. He could see into the kitchen and the sleeping alcove, where a frilly spread was stretched unevenly over the bed. On top of the spread was one of those square plastic boxes they gave you at dry cleaners. It was partially open, revealing another cling suit, a spare hostess outfit. Satisfied she was alone in the apartment, Deckard picked up his Vee-Kay and carried it to a plexiplas table in the eating area.


“This will be fine. The chairs are lined up perfectly,” He smiled at her reassuringly. “Just sit down. Ms. Wright.”


She moved with a tantalizing sway of hips and slid into place. She watched with mild curiosity, but no sign of fear as Deckard set up the machine. Deckard sighed. He hoped he was wrong. The thought of ripping holes in that sleek form made him feel ill.


Deckard centered the eye mag on one blue eye and started asking questions. Ms. Wright seemed terribly amused by the test and laughed a lot. By the time Deckard had reached standard question twenty-seven, his voice had lost its amiability.


“In a magazine you come across a full-page color picture of a nude girl. The girl is lying on a large, beautiful bearskin rug. Your husband likes the picture. He wants to hang it in your bedroom.”


“Do you hang pictures like that in your bedroom?”


“I’m the one asking the questions,” Deckard snapped. She gave an enchanting giggle and tossed her head, pulling her eye out of line with the eye mag. Deckard re-adjusted it. He glared at the needles on the Vee-Kay gauges and bit his lower lip. There was something strange going on here.


Deckard had no doubt a street checkpoint operator would have already sent Ms. Wright on her way. Her verbal responses were in the high range and her reaction was excellent. However, her physiological responses — eye, body chemistry, heart rate — were in the lowest range for a nonempathic human. The discrepancy was difficult to notice though because Ms. Wright was using textbook methods of distracting the Vee-Kay operator. Of course there was no textbook, only Blade Runners who talked about the thumbs that annoyed them.


“Have you ever been married to or involved with a Blade Runner?”


Deckard had not meant the question to be part of the test, but her reaction was enlightening. She stopped laughing and looked at him blankly for a moment, then abruptly, gave him a dazzling smile. “No, but there’s always a first time, if you’re interested.”


Deckard’s stomach snarled up like a midtown traffic jam. She was a replicant. It had been the right answer, the perfect answer, but it had come too slow and the facial expression in between the question and the response had been wrong. If she had been a human woman taken back by his abrupt question, she would have looked puzzled. Mrs. Wright’s beautiful face had been blank, inhumanly blank. It had only been for an instant, but it had been one instant too long. She tilted her head to one side, still smiling.


Maybe I’m wrong, Deckard thought desperately. Maybe this once I’m wrong. Maybe the old Blade Runner magic has run out. Maybe… In the meantime, he had to do something. He drew his gun smoothly and pointed it across the table.


“I’m arresting you for suspicion of being an illegal replicant,” Deckard said as calmly as he could. “You have the right to go to Police Headquarters for a spinal arc or bone marrow test to verify your identity.”


He offered this as a last hope that perhaps he was wrong, but he knew he wasn’t. She had not screamed or protested. She hadn’t even flinched when he drew the gun. She just sat looking at him.


“Get up… slowly.”


Her long elegant hands gripped the edge of the table. Suddenly the table tilted and its edge slammed into Deckard’s stomach. The force of the impact knocked him over backward. The next third Deckard knew he was on the floor pinned between the table and his overturned chair.


The Voight-Kampff machine, which had gone up in the air when the table went over, now landed square on Deckard’s chest, knocking what little wind he had left out of him.


Struggling for breath, Deckard looked up and saw the replicant snatch up the Voight-Kampff machine. As he lifted it in a two-handed grip, Deckard realized she meant to smash it down on his head. Fear and adrenalin gave him the strength to twist out of the way. The sleeve of her cling suit brushed his ear as the machine slammed into the carpet. Deckard kicked the table out of his way, rolled over and got to his feet. She leaped at him, screaming. She had a piece of metal, part of the Vee-Kay, clutched in her hand like a knife. Deckard fired twice. At less than a foot the impact of the shot sent blood everywhere. Her body went over backward to fall twitching on the beige carpet. Gasping and shivering, Deckard watched as the sleek blue-clad form convulsed once then went still. Her dark hair spread out in a fan beneath her head. Beautiful tapering fingers rested against a curved cheek. She might have been sleeping if it hadn’t been for the trickles of blood dripping out of the corner of her mouth and the two gaping holes in her torso.


Deckard turned away and came face-to-face with his reflection in the mirror block wall. He was covered in blood. His coat and jacket were drenched. There were purple circles under his eyes, hours-past five o’clock shadow on his jaw, since he’d forgotten to shave that morning and flecks of drying blood splattered over his forehead and nose. He tried to hoister his gun, but his hands were trembling so badly he dropped it on the floor. He left it there. Deckard went to the bed and pulled off the frilly spread. As he yanked, the plastic box fell off the bed. The blue cling suit fell out and landed on his foot. Deckard noted there was blood on his shoes. It spoiled the clean cling suit. He savagely kicked at the suit and the box, shoving them under the bed. He threw the bedspread over the body, then he went to the nearest piece of furniture, a metal desk, and began to ransack the drawers, looking for clues, for evidence, for a link to the other replicants.


Deckard stood by the Ripper’s spinner, watching the clean-up squad carry Caroline Wright’s body into a waiting van. Deckard kept his hands in his pockets to hide their trembling and averted his face when he saw the other cops look at him. Deckard wanted a drink and he wanted a shower. He could feel the blood soaking into his shirt. It had dripped down his hands and was drying stickily between his fingers.


Deckard tried to think about the next step in the hunt but his mind kept going to staring eyes and bloodstained faces. He opened the spinner and got inside, sitting hunched in the cushioned, comfortable seat. Through the open spinner door, he saw the Ripper come out of the Philana Gardens, striding through the puddles. A uniformed officer trotted at her heels.


“Officer Gilfor, this is Mr. Decked,” said the Ripper as she reached the spinner. “He is the Blade Runner assigned to this case. There is no other. Allow no other person beside myself or Mr. Deckard to enter that apartment. It is under a Code Twelve security seal. If any other person attempts to enter the apartment, no matter what credentials he offers, have him detained. If he resists, kill him. Do you understand?”


Officer Gilfor, a wiry young black man, nodded firmly. Deckard thought he saw disdain in the brown eyes as Gilfor checked him out, but he was too tired to care. Gllfor saluted smartly and marched off.


“Mr. Deckard, are you sure you were not injured in the struggle with the replicant?” the Ripper inquired, looking down at him.


“I’m just tired,” Deckard rubbed the back of his neck. He could feel the tremors in his hand against his neck muscles. “I didn’t find anything of use in Caroline Wright’s apartment except that grease stain you sent to the chem lab for analysis. It was weird. There wasn’t anything — no papers, no bills — none of the little bits and pieces they like to keep around.”


“I believe the replicant returned to the apartment and discovered the pleasure unit calling itself Ogden had been retired. It then removed any evidence from both apartments.”


Deckard squinted up at the Ripper. “So she cleaned out her apartment and Ogden’s and was about to run when I showed? Then she must have told the others!” Deckard sat up straighter. “I could use the Esper to tap into the Communications Computer and learn if she made any vid calls.”


“We cannot be sure if it communicated with the others. Certainly not by private vid-phone. It would know we have the capacity to tap the Communications Computer. It would not remove evidence then leave so blatant a trace of its whereabouts.”


“They did in Sector Seven,” Deckard protested. “That’s how the local Blade Runners caught two of them.”


“They would not do so now.”


Deckard shrugged. “Look, I don’t know what else to do then, except run security checks on the people where she worked and hope something turns up.” Deckard looked down at his hands, flexing his bloodstained fingers. “Maybe you want to ask Bryant for another Blade Runner?”


“I am satisfied with your progress, Mr. Deckard. You have taken two of them in less than twelve hours. You have moved with admirable speed.”


“And lost the trail,” Deckard said sourly.


“Not necessarily. You have taken two of the group and the others may not even be aware of it. They will be taken off guard for sure and make some rash move. A quarry that flees is easier to find than one which hides.”


Deckard yawned and rubbed his eyes. It was hard to think straight. “First, I gotta go home and get cleaned up.”


“Yes. I shall drop you off at your apartment,” said the Ripper. She went around the spinner, got in and started up the turbines. The spinner lifted, revolving slowly as it ascended above the city rush hour traffic. “A few hours rest would not be inappropriate, Mr. Deckard. I promised Captain Bryant I would return you in good condition.”


“Sounds good to me,” Deckard sat back, his head on the cushioned seat rest. The spinner cab was filled with the familiar chatter from the radio and the vox instruct devices giving altitude, distance of local traffic and other data.


“You know, there is something really strange about those reps — about the Voight-Kampff, I mean It’s like they knew the answers… Oh, I’m going to have to requisition a new Vee-Kay. Mine…”


Deckard broke off, remembering the broken machine lying by the broken body. He tried to push away the thought and concentrated on watching the Ripper operate the spinner. Her hands were long and thin. They moved with crisp precise movements that were elegant in their economy. The red glow of the spinner’s overhead light filled the cab. It lent color to the Ripper’s white skin, making it seem warm and glowing. Deckard watched her lashes throw shadows on her high cheeks.


“What are you going to do after you drop me off?”


“Go back to Police Headquarters. I have been traveling since nine this morning when we first received word on the Nexus unit you retired. I should also rest. There are always a few bunks open in the barracks for the use of visiting officers.”


Deckard knew about the bunks in the barracks. He had spent a few nights there when his wife had been mad at him back when he still cared when she got mad. The bunks were stacked up on top of each other like drawers. They were cold and lonely, like his apartment. Deckard stared at the Ripper’s sharp profile, white against the darkness of the window. Impulsively, he said. “Don’t go there. Come back to the apartment with me.”


For a moment there was no sound by the chatter of the radio, then the Ripper said, “Yes.”


The plumbing in Deckard’s shower was shot. He had been meaning to get it fixed when he got some money. As he watched the blood wash off, he realized he would have the money now. He had retired two replicants in one day. He would collect two bounties. There was a horrible irony to it all, killing replicants so he could fix the plumbing so he could wash away their blood better. He decided he needed a drink.


Deckard put on his robe and went out into the main room. The Ripper was sitting on the couch. She had found a box of crackers and a tin of cheese spread, probably the only edible things in Deckard’s kitchen. She was making sandwiches and methodically piling them into a neat pyramid. Deckard was sure he made no sound, but the Ripper suddenly tuned her head to stare at him. He gave her a weary smile and was met with the impassive, expressionless face.


“I thought you should eat something. I promised Bryant I would return you in good condition.”


Deckard felt the tremor in his hands. “I need a drink.”


He spotted the glass he’d left on the table earlier, picked it up and drank its contents. Root around, he discovered the half-full bottle he’d had that morning and brought it over to where the Ripper sat. As he filled his glass he asked, “You want a drink?”


“I don’t drink.”


Deckard cocked his head to one side. “A drink is the best thing for the shakes. Don’t you get the shakes?”


“Not anymore.”


Deckard took another sip of vodka.and reached for the crackers. He munched his way methodically through the entire pyramid and discovered he felt a little better. The Ripper had said nothing while he ate. He’d almost forgotten she was there. Now he was painfully aware of her presence. He was so close he could feel the warmth radiating from her body. He knew what he wanted and it wasn’t another drink.


Deckard reached out, cupped his palm against the Ripper’s cheek. Her skin was soft and cool. She said nothing, just watched him, the dark eyes still remote and detached. Deckard moved his fingers back, over her jawline, past her ear into the soft tendrils of hair at the nape of her neck, still damp from the rain. He leaned forward and nuzzled her ear. He moved his lips along her cheek until he reached her mouth, then he kissed her, a long, searching kiss. She did not resist, but she did not respond either.


He tried again, this time the kiss was more hungry, more insistent. He unpeeled the velcro patches on her collar and slid his hand under the cloth, across her warm skin. over her collarbone andup her long throat. He pushed her back on the couch and kissed her again. Still she did not respond. Puzzled, Deckard pulled back, staring down at her.


“Is this what you want?”




The shrill clamor of the vid-phone woke Deckard from a sound sleep. He climbed out of bed, clawed his way into his robe and lurched over to switch on the phone screen. Bryant’s mustached face grinned at him, eying his bleary condition.


“Two in one day. Going for a record, Deckard? Heard you painted the walls with that last skin job. Had to go for the gutbuster shot, eh?”


Deckard rubbed a fist against his eyes. He thought of Caroline Wright’s luxurious curves and remembered the blood on his clothes, his hands, his face. Bryant was saying anything he hadn’t said a hundred times before, but today the conversation, the Blade Runner slang, the Rep Detect captain himself, disgusted Deckard.


The LED time display on the vid-phone read 2:00 A.M. Deckard scowled at Bryant. “You want something?”


Deckard sighed. “Yes.”


Bryant grinned nastily. “Don’t wake her. This is just a courtesy call, her being a special agent and all, to tell her that the grease analysis came back from the lab. I had it fed into your Esper. It’s lube fluid used in very expensive cars. Only that skin job calling itself Wright, didn’t have a car. Better fire up your turbines, Deck, and get moving if you want to score the rest of those bounties,” Bryant leered at him. “But, then you must be tired. You scored a little extra tonight, didn’t you?”


Deckard grimaced at the old vulgarity. “We’ll be in touch,” he said and snapped off the vid-phone.


When he went back to the bed, the Ripper was still sleeping, or at least her eyes were still closed. Deckard stood looking at her. It had hardly been a romantic interlude. Deckard had been too preoccupied with his own wants and needs to seek anything more than a swift and selfish release. The Ripper had not complained. In fact she had not said a word once she had sucked in a deep breath and released it in a long shuddering sigh, but aside from that, she had made no sound at all.


Deckard did not feel he was an emotional person, although his wife claimed that once, long ago, he had been. Still, he could remember, very dimly, making love with laughter and passion. The memories were grainy, like the old photos he kept on his piano, but they were still part of him. And he remembered the feeling of connection, of contact, of belonging. Last night there had been nothing like that, not even the fleeting illusion of it he felt in his casual relationships since his wife. There had been nothing. Even in union, they had somehow been separate.


Suddenly, the Ripper opened her eyes and looked at him. In their depths, Deckard saw no warmth, no greeting, no affection. He saw a cold, bare recognition of his existence, nothing more. Then she was up, gathering her uniform and moving toward the bathroom. A moment later he heard the water running.


Deckard rubbed his fist against his eyes and went into the kitchen. He made some coffee and looked around for something to eat. When he came out with two cups of the liquid and a box of only semi-stale nutribars on a tray, he saw the Ripper standing on the balcony. He set the tray down on the table by the Esper and joined her. Above the sky was a familiar dull red, the reflection of city lights on rain clouds. Far below, little flickers of light showed traffic moving at its most rapid pace of the day. Deckard cleared his throat to announce himself as he stepped through the glass doors, but she did not turn to look at him.


Deckard stood silently, watching her. She had a hand on the balcony rail. It was such a thin hand, nothing but skin stretched over bone. Yet, even in her thinness there was no vulnerability for Deckard knew that beneath the skin ran corded muscle. He had made no attempt to speak to her or touch her. She was only an arm’s length away, yet seemed distant and unapproachable. There was about her the sense of taut alertness, of power restrained, of a huntress in abeyance. She turned her head slowly and peered at him in the grey light.


Deckard felt the tightening in his chest, the fear. He felt as if he were the hunted, not the hunter, as if he were her quarry, not the replicants. He had a very clear sense of the knife edge of the blade under his feet and his balance faltering.


“Bryant sent on the lab report,” Deckard blurted. “I made coffee if you want it. I’m going to get dressed and start working again.”


Deckard retreated quickly into the living room. He saw his coat draped on the ripplecloth couch and scowled at it. He was sure he had put it on the piano bench when he’d come into the apartment. Maybe the damn thing did move around by itself. It was certainly dirty enough. Deckard picked it up gingerly. It was stiff with dried blood. Have to take this to the cleaners. Deckard thought, or maybe just put…


Something snapped in Deckard’s memory like a malfunctioning mechanical pet nipping at its owner’s fingers.


Cleaners? Something about a cleaners?


“Son of a bitch!” Deckard dropped the coat on the floor and bolted for the Esper.


“Is something wrong, Mr. Deckard?”


Deckard flinched at the Ripper’s voice. He looked up to see her standing in the balcony doorway. He shrugged and grimaced. “I don’t know. Something… the old Blade Runner magic, like Bryant calls it… something about a cleaners.”


Deckard switched on the Esper and punched in an Information Call-up on Reliable Professional Cleaners. “There was a tag in Ogden’s coat this morning for a dry cleaners and later I saw the same name on a box in Caroline Wright’s apartment. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but maybe it does. She’d gotten rid of all the other evidence. Maybe she was getting rid of the damned box when I got there.”


Deckard punched in the proper codes for a Computer Scan Security Search, asking for any employee of the Reliable Professional Cleaners who matched the physical description of the missing Nexus units. Faces began to appear. Deckard squinted at some thoughtfully, rejected others instantly. Finally, a strong, flat-featured face with straight, slicked back hair appeared on the screen.


“Got it,” Deckard said softly and shut down the scan sequence. He looked around for the Ripper. She was sitting on the piano bench She had her back to the keyboard and was staring into space again, eyes vacant. She reminded Deckard of one of them, but he knew she wasn’t a replicant. They didn’t bother to build replicants with pregnancy stretch marks.


Deckard coughed and raised his voice. “I found one of them.” She turned toward him slowly. He waited until she had focused her eyes on him before continuing.


“Elmo Sargent. Works for the Reliable Professional Cleaners, matches the description of one of the missing units.”


The Ripper stood and walked over to the couch. She leaned over the back, peered at the Esper screen, then said. “That is a Nexus Three military drone.”


Deckard could feel the Ripper’s breath on the back of his neck as she leaned forward. He felt the fear again. He looked at the face on the screen. What if he wasn’t a replicant? What if it was just a coincidence? What if the old Blade Runner magic was wrong? What if Elmo Sargent had nothing to do with all this?


“Where is it now?”


Deckard gritted his teeth It. She had already decided Sargent was a replicant. She had already stripped him of his humanity.


“He lives at the Richmond Hotel,” Deckard said, stressing the pronoun. “According to the payroll computer, he works the night shift. He left work at the usual time. If he is one of them, why didn’t they warn him to get out sooner?”


“It works in the delivery department,” said the Ripper calmly. “If it were out on pick up calls all night there would be no way to contact it.”


Deckard turned his head to look at her. He saw something new in the great, dark eyes, something dark and feral, something that bespoke the unleashing of the power Deckard had glimpsed in her earlier. The fear came back, squeezing his throat like a too-tight collar. It was suddenly very hard to breathe.


The Ripper wheeled and headed for the door.


“Where are you going?”


“It went off shift at three. It was almost four now. The replicant might not have been able to get across town in the traffic,” said the Ripper as she paused to snatch her raincape from a bookcase where she’d draped it. As she swept it around her shoulders, it swirled, shiny black beneath the pale face. “If we take the spinner we might get to the Richmond Hotel before it does.”


By the time Deckard stood up, she was already in the hallway. He followed, moving slowly. He picked up his bloodstained coat and shrugged it on as he shut the door of the apartment behind him. The Ripper was at the elevator. She stood motionless, face upturned, watching the floor indicators above the doors. Yet there was something about her, a sense of motion, of power, of something dangerous. Deckard rubbed his hand against his ribcage and shuffled to her side.


The spinner sliced tough the rain as it descended toward the street level entrance of the Richmond Hotel. The Richmond was an old building, built on the edge of the waterfront section. It was no more than twenty stories high so newer buildings had been built over and around it. As Deckard squinted at it through the spinner’s windshield, he thought it seemed to be squatting beneath giants, hunched like something in pain. Deckard shifted his eyes to the Ripper. Her face was rigid, pallid.


The spinner settled in a flooded street a short distance from the hotel. The Ripper hit the release button on the doors and they slid upward. She was out of the car, moving through the rain before Deckard could clamber out. He ran after her, splashing the puddles.


It was after four in the morning, around the time that the night shifts got out, so there were people in the streets. Deckard saw people who ordinarily wouldn’t budge for a Metrokab sidestepping quickly out of the Ripper’s path. As he passed them, he saw the fear flicker across their faces. They knew. They had seen it too.


The lobby was dark and shabby, decorated with relics that told of former elegance and present decay. The night clerk was a thin young man with a withered right arm that probably kept him from emigrating Off-World to the better life, the one promised by the ad-blimps. Deckard flashed his badge and got the pass lock-plate from him, then joined the Ripper who was waiting by the elevators.


The trip up seemed to take a long time. Deckard had forgotten who slow the old conventional elevators were. He felt it would take forever to get to the fifteenth floor.


“It’s four-twenty-two,” announced the Ripper, checking a watch in the light of the elevator’s sole illumi-strip. “If the replicant left work at three, there is a possibility that it got here before us. Give me the pass plate.”


Deckard fumbled in his pocket, then handed her the flat metal plate. He felt sweat dampen his forehead. “What if we’re wrong? What if he’s not a replicant? I don’t have my Vee-Kay. I can’t –“


“You don’t need the Vee-Kay. Only your gun. It is the replicant.”


She took her gun from its holster. She was going in shooting. Deckard’s lips felt dry. He licked them, but it didn’t seem to help.


“Did… did you ever retire a human by mistake?”


“Not by mistake,” said the Ripper as the elevator doors opened.


The halls of the Richmond Hotel were high-ceilinged and gloomy, lit only by the single service bulb near the elevators. As Deckard and the Ripper moved away from the light toward Room 1523, Deckard pulled open his coat and took out his service weapon. He could feel the tremors of his fingers against the cold metal.


The only sounds were the snoring of hotel residents and the occasional low mumble of a late night vid-broadcast. There was no light under the door of Room 1523. Deckard stared at the crack between the floor and the door, not knowing whether to be relieved or upset.


Holding her gun at ready, the Ripper used her other hand to put the lock-plate in the slot by the door. The locking mechanism, added on to the original door, hummed and buzzed, then gave a bleep of sequence completion. The Ripper pushed the door open and entered.


The place was old and smelled musty, but was quite spacious as such places went. Two long, meter-wide windows, let in the glare of advertising scene-signs on the larger buildings outside. In the erratic flickers, Deckard glimpsed some chairs and a couch. The Ripper moved further into the room. Deckard crossed the threshold, stretched out his hand to grope for a light switch, then froze. Something, some small noise, shadow or change of air current warned him the room was not empty. The Ripper had halted too, peering across the room toward the windows.


An object flew through the air toward Deckard’s head. He ducked with a Blade Runner’s reflexes and still it brushed against the top of his head. He got the impression it was small and heavy and knew it would have smashed in his face if it had struck him. Trying to regain his balance, Deckard heard the harsh explosion of the Ripper’s gun. A body fell, passing through a band of light from one of the windows. In the brief span the body was silhouetted against the light outside. Deckard saw that it no longer had a head. No regulation gun could have done that.


There was an animal roar from the darkness, then a chair was sailing through the air. It struck the Ripper broadside and she went down. Deckard fired wildly in the direction from which the chair had come.


His shot smashed the window, letting in the wind-whipped rain. Before he could fire a second time, a huge figure rose up from the shadows. It came toward Deckard at tremendous speed; an ability carefully crafted by the Tyrell Corporation into their Peerless Combat Soldiers. Decked fired again and missed, then the replicant was right in front of him. Deckard saw an arm the size of a club swing at him. He felt a pain in his head and saw an interesting display of flashing lights that came from no ad-blimp he’d ever seen. The next thing Deckard saw was a huge foot, inches from his nose. He realized he had been knocked down. He didn’t remember falling.


He saw his gun in his hand, although his fingers did not seem to register its existence. He tried to re-aim it, but the foot stomped down on his wrist, making him release the weapon. The foot kicked the gun out of his reach. Deckard remembered kicking the pellet rod from Ogden’s hand that morning. Deckard looked up into the flat-featured face of the replicant and saw something there. He thought it might be hatred, but how could it be that? Replicants could not feel hatred, could they?


A hand that matched the foot for size reached down and grabbed Decked by the throat and hoisted him to his feet. Deckard grabbed the hand with both of his and pulled, but there was not.the Least loosening of the massive fingers. The fingers tightened and blood roared in Deckard’s head like a subcab on a rail between his ears. Then above the roar, he heard a familiar sound. the bark of his service weapon. The replicant’s body jerked. Deckard saw the spray of blood and instinctively shut his eyes. The fingers let go of his throat and let him fall. Deckard hit the ground with the hollow thud of floorboards, but no groan. Nothing came out of his throat. He sucked in air, ignoring the pain. The replicant, standing over him, turned slowly. Beyond his shoulder, Deckard saw the Ripper. She was holding his gun. He wondered what had happened to her own gun. Blood was pumping out of the drone’s shoulders, but the Tyrell Corporation designed its solders to take more than one body hit. It turned completely and launched itself at her like the heat homers they used Off-World.


The Ripper’s face was as calm and remote as ever she fired three more shots. The drone’s body recoiled at each impact, but he didn’t stop. On the fourth shot, the gun clicked empty. The drone gave another inarticulate bellow. Still the Ripper’s face did not change. The drone loomed over her, massive arms outstretched. At the last instant, she dropped into a crouch, grabbed one of his feet, and somehow, as if she’d given him a boost up, flung him into the air. He went over her shoulder in an arc and crashed into the broken window frame. Bouncing off the frame, he fell through the shattered window. He screamed. He continued screaming for a long time, then there was silence.


The Ripper darted smoothly toward the fallen chair, stopped, straightened with her own gun in hand and sprinted through the door into the adjoining bedroom. She returned a moment later, holstering her gun. Deckard had sprawled, just where the replicant had dropped him. As he tried to organize his limbs into a more comfortable and more upright position, he heard sounds from outside the room that warned that hotel residents had been disturbed by the commotion.


The Ripper opened the door and put her head out into the corridor long enough to announce in a very clear, commanding voice that it was a police emergency and that anyone not remaining in their rooms would be subject to criminal charges. Since interfering in a police emergency brought a minimum sentence to two years in a penal colony, which was about two steps from hell, Deckard doubted if they’d see any curious bystanders.


He had managed to sit up. He wanted to stand, but his legs responded to his brain’s commands with a few feeble twitches. As he watched the Ripper move toward the window, he remembered the chair hitting her. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. With an effort, he managed a hoarse whisper. “Are you all right?”


“I am still functioning, Mr. Deckard,” she said as she leaned out of the shattered window frame and Looked down. When she pulled her head back inside, water glistened on her face, lit by the garish neon signs across the street. “There is a crowd gathering below. I believe the replicant landed on some pedestrians.”


Deckard’s stomach lurched like a spinner with a stabilizer malfunction. A body that weight falling fifteen stories. There must be nothing left but smears. Deckard looked up at the Ripper. His eyes searched her face for some sign of emotion, any emotion: horror, disgust, pain, but there was nothing. Nothing at all.


The Ripper went back to the door and turned on the lights. She glanced down at Deckard as he sat blinking in the change of light. “If you have recovered your voice, please call this in to Captain Bryant.”


She crossed the room, bent down by the headless corpse and began slowly going through its pockets. Deckard turned away. He tried to get up, but his legs still wouldn’t obey him so he crawled on his hands and knees to the vid-phone which was perched on an old table. On his knees by the table, Deckard punched up Bryant’s number, but his fingers were trembling so badly, it took him four tries before he got it correct.


The Rep Dect Captain’s face, puffy and sour as ever, appeared after the second buzz. “Christ, you look like hell, Deck.”


“Two,” Deckard forced the word from his raw throat. “Two more. She blew one’s head off and three the other one out of a window. Two of the military drones.”


Bryant’s mustache stretched into a strange shape as his face wrinkled in shock. “Two Tyrell Military Drones? By herself? What the hell were you doing?”


“Getting myself choked!”


“Sounds like you succeeded,” Bryant said cheerfully. “I’ll send a clean-up squad for the skin jobs.”


“We’ll need more than that. The damned rep she threw out the window fell on some pedestrians. It fell fifteen goddamn stories on some people.”


“That’s too bad. The department frowns on civilian deaths,” Bryant rubbed a hand against his stubbly beard. “Shit, now I’ll have to think of something to tell Upstairs.”


“I’m sure those poor bastards are real sorry for inconveniencing you by getting squished!” Deckard yelled. His voice cracked painfully. He slapped down the shutoff switch. Bryant’s startled face disappeared. Once it was gone Deckard could see his own reflection in the blank screen. The side of his face where the replicant had hit him was dark and swollen. There were splashes of blood on his face again. They looked like the Fun Dots the party girls put on their faces. He could see blotches amid the shadows around his coat collar. He knew if he looked closely he would see the marks of the replicant’s fingers as it tired to squeeze the life out of him. Tried to murder him. Tried to avenge his friend?


Deckard rubbed both fists against his eyes. That was crazy. Replicants couldn’t feel friendship. Or love. They couldn’t feel anything. Then what had he seen in the eyes of the drone when it had been strangling him?


“Mr. Deckard, your service weapon?”


Deckard, still on his hands and knees by the vid-phone table, turned his head. The Ripper was kneels by the headless corpse. She had some small object in one hand. The other was pointing toward his gun, lying on the hardwood floor where she had dropped it.


“I believe it needs to be reloaded, Mr. Deckard.”


She got up and went to the nearest light to examine whatever she had found. Deckard grabbed the edge of the vid-phone table and hauled himself to his feet. He hurt. His throat hurt inside and out. He felt as if claws were digging into his stomach. His body was one long ache. Even the roots of his hair hurt. He wanted to go home and get drunk and stay drunk. Maybe forever.


He forced his legs to move across the room, gritted his teeth to lean over arri pick up the gun. Fumbling, he took an extra clip from his pocket and tried to reload the weapon, but his fingers were shaking too badly. Annoyed, he concentrated fiercely until his whole world seemed to narrow to a circle of blurry vision containing his gun and his traitorously trembling fingers. Suddenly, a pair of thin, strong hands thrust into the circle and pulled the gun and clip from him. The Ripper’s lean fingers pushed the clip home with a sharp snap. She put the gun back into Deckard’s hand. He raised his eyes to her face.


She was smiling.


The gun dropped out of Deckard’s fingers.


“I have him,” said the Ripper.


Deckard stared at her. Me tried to swallow, but couldn’t. The fear was back, clawing at his lungs, his guts. It wasn’t just the smile, the out-of-place stretch of lips over white teeth. It was something more.


The power he had glimpsed earlier, waiting below the surface for release, had been unleashed. He knew it; he could see it. Every instinct for self-preservation told him to run. And he knew why. The huntress was on the blood scent and closing fast. But she’s after the replicant, Deckard thought desperately. Why am I so afraid?


The smile vanished, a mistaken muscular contraction. The lips returned to their former state and the dark eyes regarded him cooly. “Look at it.”


Deckard forced himself to focus his eyes. The object she held.was an advertising riter, decorated with the slogans and address of the Bellyetta Garage which specialized in repairing custom vehicles. Deckard’s mind groped for some half-remembered bit of evidence, and after a moment of sluggish fumbling, got hold of it.


“The grease stain in Wright’s apartment, the expensive lube fluid?”


The Ripper nodded.


Decked squinted at her. “It… it’s a long shot, what–“


“He sent another drone to warn the unit that called itself Elmo Sargent. The second drone was wearing mechanics’ clothes and it had this. And l know he is there.”


Now Deckard realized why he was afraid, why he had been afraid from the beginning. He. She never gave the replicants the dignity of a pronoun. Deckard knew she was not speaking about a replicant. He took a step away from her.


“You’re not after the skin jobs, are you? You’re after a Blade Runner. A Blade Runner, like me.”


“I told you from the beginning. Mr. Deckard, that I was not interested in replicants. I am a Ripper Agent. This was a routine case involving four Blade Runners in Seven Sector who were sent to retire the Tyrell units. At some point during the assignment, Rep Detective Macavoy fell off the edge of the blade. He began to help the replicants escape. When another Blade Runner, Philipon, managed to track down and retire one of the reps. a pleasure unit. Caucasian school-girl type, Macavoy shot and badly injured him. Soon after, Macavoy engineered the flight of the remaining units from Seven Sector.”


“That’s how they managed to stay hidden so long without a trace,” Deckard said. “That’s why they knew the answers to the Vee-Kay questions, because Macavoy was prepping them. That’s how they passed the other tests… “


“Until you ran a second, more precise test on the unit calling itself Ogden. As I told Captain Bryant, I was alerted immediately and came here to correct the situation.”


“Correct the situation,” Deckard echoed her words harshly. “What the hell does that mean?”


“Macavoy fell off the edge of the blade, Mr. Deckard,” she said in the same calm, indifferent voice. “He became an embarrassment to the Department. That is my function. To remove such embarrassments.”


“You’re going to kill him?”




Deckard had heard rumor for years about such things, but had never believed, never wanted to believe. He remembered Bryant’s eyes as he watched him in the office, the look on his face when he warned him about falling off the edge of the blade. Bryant knew. He knew about Rippers and he knew how close Deckard was to falling.


“Are you all right, Mr. Deckard?”


“What the hell do you care?!”


“I promised Captain Bryant that I would return you in good condition.”


Deckard glared at her, realizing that there was no sympathy in the statement, no kindness in her voice. There never had been. He’d imagined it. Suddenly he was angry at her, at himself.


“I’m not a spinner you signed out!” Deckard raged. “I’m not an object or a piece of merchandise! I’m a human being!”


Deckard’s voice broke. Pain ran up his throat with the angry words and stuck at the back of his mouth, just beyond his tonsils, just where he couldn’t reach it to rub it with his tongue or sooth it with a swallow. It hurt too much to talk so he glared at her, feeling his face getting hot in the blood flush of his mute fury.


The Ripper bent, picked up his gun and put it into his hands. She closed his fingers around the cold metal.


“I know what you are, Mr. Deckard,” she said softly. “You are a Blade Runner. Don’t forget that, Mr. Deckard, not for a moment, because the moment you do forget, you’re dead.”


She walked past him toward the door. Deckard looked down at the gun in his hand, his fingers started to tremble again. The shakes. They were the first sign you were on the edge. Then came the vodka or the narcs or the nightmares — sometimes all three. Then came the fall. Then came — what? The Ripper?


Deckard shoved the gun into his holster and went after her. He knew where she was going. And he knew he had to go with her. If he wanted to stay alive.


The spinner pinwheeled through the driving rain as the Ripper brought it down on a street near the Belyetta Garage. It was an industrial area, traffic was sparse, pedestrians few. She landed the spinner in an empty parking lot some distance from their destination.


Deckard stared gloomily at a graphic on the dashboard computer screen. It showed the layout of the garage. There were two exits, the main door in front of the building and an adjoining door between the garage and a steel shop which had once been part of the garage before it was subdivided. Deckard knew he was expected to cover the adjoining door, to go in firing, to air out the remaining Nexus units. But he was tired, so tired. He had not spoken since they’d left the hotel and his throat was less raw, but the claws still scratched in his guts. He was nervous and jumpy, even watching the Ripper’s long thin hands on the spinner controls unnerved him. He wanted a drink, he wanted a bottle. He wanted the rain to be vodka so he could just lift up his head and drink his fill, maybe drown himself in it.


The Ripper shut off the engine and suddenly leaned toward him. Startled, Deckard pressed back against his seat cushion. She reached past him to open a small compartment in the console. She removed a clear plastic case. Inside were two tiny vials of clear liquid and a pressure hypo.


Deckard watched as she carefully put one of the vials in the hypo, locking the dose in place. She held it out to him.


Deckard did not take it. Squinting at her suspiciously, he demanded, “What is it?”


“Life, Mr. Deckard, that one extra second of warning heightened senses will bring you that strength you’ll need when even adrenalin fails you “


‘What is it?” Deckard repeated, staring now at the vial in the hypo.


“PHRS 234.”


Deckard’s eyes shifted to her face. “That’s an illegal high narc.”


“On the street, yes, but not for the Department. They are on the official use list. It is not illegal for special agents to use it in completion of their duty.”


Duty. There were still four replicants left. Deckard stared at the hypo again. He was tired and sore beyond memory, beyond belief, beyond imagination. His hands, clenched into fists and hidden in his pockets, were still shaking. He thought about going up against the military drones in this condition. He thought about the edge of the blade. It was a long, long fall into the darkness and he didn’t want to go.


Deckard shrugged out of his coat and rolled up his sleeve. The Ripper gave him the hypo, but he’d never used one before and held it awkwardly. His fingers were still trembling. She took it from him. He felt her fingers, cool against his skin as she traced down the flesh over his ver. The hypo made a strange little hiss when she pressed it down.


Deckard felt it immediately, swift and magical, like the feeling he’d always been waiting for with the vodka. More than relief from pain, it was strength, energy, power. He looked down at his hands. His fingers had stopped shaking. He felt alive, alert, heard every noise, saw clearly into every shadow. He felt the way he had long ago when he was first starting out.


The Ripper put the hypo back in the box.


“Isn’t the other one for you?” Deckard asked, remembering the chair flying out of the darkness. “You must be pretty bruised from that chair. You must need it.”


“Not anymore.”


Then she was out of the spinner, moving fast through the rain, black cape fluttering behind her.


* * *


The first floor of the buildup had once been a very large depot for industrial vehicles. It was now cut in half with both the steel shop and the Belyetta Garage inheriting one of the massive roll-up vehicle doors. The garage door was shut. There was a smaller door on tlat side, a door for people, cut into the larger vehicle door. The Ripper took a position there while Deckard went through the steel shop. The steel shop door had not been built with a secondary opening — at least that’s what the spinner comp had reported. Deckard couldn’t tell for sure since the door was rolled up, leaving a wall-sized gap at the front of the building.


Deckard ran right in. He noted another door set into the stone wall at the side of the shop, but it vs heavily locked, with a complicated new locking mechanism jutting out all amund it. The roll-up door was the only exit.


The steel shop was a high-ceilinged place, with huge old-fashioned lights hanging from the roof struts. It was filled with large machines, piles of metal sheets and pipes, and a maze of shipping containers, piled in row after row of stacks, reaching almost to the roof and stamped in dozens of languages.


There were a few graveyard shift workers in the shop, maintenance workers. he supposed, checking the equipment. They were either on break or just bumming, because they were sitting around a table playing cards. However, his entrance, at top speed with gun held in a two-handed grip, attracted their attention away from their game. Four startled faces stared at him. None of the faces notched any of the replicant ident photos he had studied.


Wide eyes shifted from his gun to his bruised face to his bloodstained clothes, trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted. Decked changed his grip on the gun, reached inside his pocket with his free hand and flashed his badge.


“Police emergency — get out!”


If they had any ideas about protesting the sound of gunfire and shouts from the garage next door changed their minds. They overturned the table in their haste and stampeded past Deckard to the open vehicle door.


Just as Deckard started toward the door connecting the steel shop and the garage, it flew open. He fired His shot hit a man in midchest, just as he crossed the threshold. He was young, good looking, curly-haired. He looked at Deckard with an expression of astonishment, then slid down the metal door jam to the ground, leaving a smear of bright red blood behind.


I made a mistake, Deckard thought despairingly. He wasn’t one of them. He couldn’t be one of them. Replicants don’t feel surprise. They can’t feel anything.


Another figured rushed into the steel shop. His face was the same as the face Deckard had seen above him in the Richmond Hotel and his expression was the same too — hatred, fury…


Deckard shifted his aim for the difference in height and fired. The military drone took the hit high in the right shoulder and kept coming. It was death coming at him and Deckard froze. For just a moment, just an instant, but it was enough. The replicant’s heavy arms swung in an offensive blow preprogrammed into him by the Tyrell Corporation with a ferocity fueled by an emotion the corporation had never planned.


Deckard needed the extra second of life new from the narc and he got it. Flinching away from the killing blow with a speed even adrenalin could not push from his weary muscles, Deckard twisted his gun hand around and fired. The muzzle was pressed almost against the body. Even Tyrell engineering couldn’t deal with that. The body came down heavily on top of him, knocking him to the dirty floor. Deckard heaved it off. There was blood and viscera everywhere. Deckard’s stomach pinwheeled like a spinner as he struggled to his feet. He heard the sound of the Ripper’s nonregulation gun from the garage. A small, slight form in black raced into the steel shop. Deckard had to take a moment to focus on the figure to make sure it wasn’t the Ripper. He had a glimpse of a small, round face, delicate and beautiful, taut with fear. It was the last female replicant, the Eurasian who called herself Mara. Then she was gone, darting into the stack of crates.


Deckard knew she was trying to get to the open roll-up door. Frantically he looked for the control, spotted the panel and ran over to shut the vehicle door. The massive metal portal slammed down, trapping the rep inside the shop. He thought about shooting the control panel, but decided against it, not knowing whether a short circuit would seal the door or open it again. He grabbed the slender control lever and wrenched at it. The metal bent a little.


He applied more pressure. The metal snapped suddenly. The sharp edge slashed his palm and blood ran down his wrist.


Deckard raced unto the garage. It was dark and silent. He moved from the doorway so he wouldn’t be a silhouetted target in the light, although he doubted if the reps were armed. Macavoy might be, but so far the only weapon Deckard had heard had been the Ripper’s and knowing her ability he thought they were warning shots to flush the replicants out of the darkened garage into the stell shop and into Deckard’s line of fire.


Deckard heard a rumble and wheeled, firing a shot at whatever was coming at him out of the darkness. It kept coming and he jumped out of the way. It was a cart on wheels. Scrambling to his feet, Deckard saw two figures rush through the door, one broad and muscular, the other tall and thin. There were no gangly replicants on the missing list from Tyrell. That must be Macavoy, the Blade Runner.


“They’re trying to get out the other door,” the Ripper called from somewhere in the darkness.


“I already sealed it,” Deckard yelled back.


He sprinted through the connecting door. As he dove through the opening, he was the last of the military drones, trying to manipulate the broken door control. Deckard fired, hitting the replicant in the back. It turned slowly, like the one in the hotel had done and stared at him with the same flat-featured face, the same angry eyes. But this one didn’t charge. It lumbered to a stack of intricately cut metal plates. Without any visible effort, it picked up on and flung it clear across the steel shop. Deckard dropped flat. The metal sailed over his head, smashing into the wall behind him and gouging a hole through it.


Deckard knew the plate would have decapitated him if it had hit right. He fired at the drone and beinga good shot, scored on three out of four hits on the stationary target. The drone, still on its feet, laughed. It laughed, then toppled over like the trees of Deckard’s childhood. Deckard, getting to his knees, was aware of a harsh, rasping sound. It took him a moment to realize that it was his own breathing.


There were bodies splattered around the steel shop. The Ripper, gun in hand, stood in the connecting doorway, her eyes on the maze of stacked shipping containers. Deckard knew it was not over. There was still one replicant left, the female — and there was Macavoy.


The Ripper did not go near the stacks. It was too dangerous and there was no need. Reinforcements were on the way. All they had to do was wait. Macavoy would know that. He would know he had to make his move.


“I should have known Section Leader Colbin would send you,” Macavoy called from somewhere in the stacks. “You’re the best Ripper he has — the best he ever had. He just as to point you at people and you kill — like a gun — without thinking, without feeling.”


Deckard stood up, tense, looking for a target, but found none.


“Replicant Detective Macavoy, you failed to complete your assignment,” the Ripper declared in a cold, impassive voice. “An offense punishable by a departmental reprimand.”


There was a harsh laugh from the shadows of the maze. “A departmental reprimand — you mean a death sentence.”


“You were in violation of departmental regulations. You then shot and injured an enforcement officer in the completion of his appointed duty. This is a felony violation. You are also suspected of cohabitating with a female replicant –“


“I love her!”


“…which is also a felony violation,” the Ripper continued, ignoring Macavoy’s angry yell.


Deckard tightened the grip on his gun. He’d heard about such things. It wasn’t uncommon Off-World, where restraints were almost non-existent, but on Earth it was one of the last taboos.


“I don’t understand,” Deckard shouted into the crates. “How can you love a skin job? They’re not human.”


“She’s warm and gentle and kind. And, she’s alive. She feels. She feels things the way I used to — raw and clear and sweet. I couldn’t help loving her.”


“It is not a human being,” said the Ripper.


“Neither are you. Not anymore.”


Deckard felt a chill run up his spine at Macavoy’s use of those familiar words. He looked at the Ripper, but her expression had not changed.


“You used to be — once,” Macavoy continued. His voice seemed to be coming from another location. “I remember, in the beginning, when we were partners. When I loved you… “


Deckard watched the Ripper, but still her expression did not change. She was cold, impassive, indifferent, waiting for him to show himself. The huntress waiting for her prey, the gun waiting for the squeeze of the trigger.


“I fell off the edge of the blade,” said Macavoy, “but you stayed up there, didn’t you? I’m an embarrassment to the department now. I’m a dead man. But, what are you? Just a shell. What’s left of the human being when the soul is burnt out?”


There was just silence in the steel shop. Deckard heard the wail of spinner sirens as the clean-up squad approached. He tensed, knowing Macavoy had to make his move soon.


There was the briefest warning, a scrape, then a pile of metal tubes collapsed as the chain fasteners holding them together were pulled away.


The pipes rolled toward Deckard like an avalanche. He jumped out of the way, behind a huge machine and heard the pipes clanging and crashing around him. He heard Macavoy’s voice yelling to the girl to run.


Looking toward the connecting door, Deckard saw the replicant slip through into the garage. He saw Macavoy gallop across the open space between the crates and the door. He saw the Ripper standing in the middle of the aisle between the machines and the crates. She raised her arm, stretched it straight out and fired.


Macavoy’s body arched in midstride. For a strange, sickening instant, Deckard could see into the garage through the hole blasted into Macavoy’s body by the Ripper’s weapon. The impact and momentum kept Macavoy going a few steps more, then he went down, sprawling, ugly and boneless, about a meter from the door.


The sound of the approaching spinners was louder. Deckard stood up. The narc had worn off and he was tired again. Or maybe the narc hadn’t worn off. It just wasn’t powerful enough to cope with Deckard’s exhaustion. He started to move toward the Ripper when he saw a shadow flicker through the doorway, heard a voice.




Deckard gawked in astonishment as the female replicant came back through the door. She looked at the body, then at the Ripper, then sat down beside Macavoy’s corpse. Deckard stared at her face. There were tears running down her face. He hadn’t thought replicants could cry. He couldn’t believe she had come back. She could have gotten away. Why did she come back? An answer occurred to him, but he didn’t want to think about it. It wasn’t possible for a replicant to feel — not hatred, not love. They weren’t real. They weren’t alive. It must be some kind of mistake, a flaw in the chemicals like the Corporation said.


Looking away in confusion, Deckard’s eyes focused on the Ripper. She was not looking at the replicant. She was looking at him. He felt it again. The fear. And he knew why. He felt the edge of the blade beneath his feet, felt the cold of the long, long f all into the dark.


“You are the Blade Runner on the case, Mr. Deckard. It is your duty to finish it.”


Deckard raised his gun and aimed it. The replicant didn’t even look up. She began to weep out loud, rocking back and forth in her grief. Deckard couldn’t keep his arm steady. It was trembling too badly.


“I can’t,” Deckard lowered the gun muzzle. “I can’t shoot… not… not when she’s doing… that. I can’t.”


The Ripper brought up lier gun. It was aimed, not at the replicant, but at Deckard. “Failure to compete one’s appointed assignment is a severe dereliction of duty, demanding a department reprimand.”


Deckard’s mouth went dry. The claws returned, tearing at his gut. He looked into the dark eyes. There was nothing there. No warmth, no regret, no humanity. Nothing but the darkness, the darkness under the edge of the blade.


Deckard fired.


The replicant’s slight body was thrown backward by the impact. As Deckard watched she twitched feebly, turned around and tried to reach Macavoy’s hand. It was like some pathetic remake of an ancient tear-jerker movie. The fingers twitched one last time, missing their goal by several inches.


Deckard let the gun fall out of his hands. He hated it. He hated himself, but he didn’t know why. It was just a skin job, just a collection of human cells and bits of mechanical things. It was a replicant. But replicants weren’t supposed to cry. And Blade Runners weren’t supposed to care. Caring could make you crazy, feeling could bring you to the edge of the blade. And you had to stay on the edge no matter what.


The Ripper walked up to him. She picked up his gun and put it into his hands. He let it fall to the floor again. It made a loud sound in the silence. He peered at her face, looking for something there, but there was nothing.


“You were partners once, weren’t you — you and Macavoy?” he asked. “And Lovers, too. And you shot him. Don’t you feel anything?”


“Not anymore.”


The Ripper holstered her gun. “The clean-up squad will be here soon. Please, take charge of things. I have other duties… “


“I quit.”


The Ripper who had half-turned away, now turned back. “You can’t jump off the edge of the blade, Mr. Deckard, you can only fall.”


Deckard wasn’t sure about that. But he had seen the price for falling off the edge of the blade and he knew the price was staying on the edge too long. He was looking at it, at something that had once been a human being. but was now less human than the replicants she had once hunted.


“I’m getting out.”


“What will you do?” asked the Ripper in a reasonable voice. “How will you support yourself?”


“I don’t know.” Deckard shrugged. The future seemed far away, unimportant, unreal compared to the urgency of his feelings now, his desire to escape. He wanted to get away from the skin jobs, the Rep Captains, the Rippers. He wanted to run as far and as fast as he could. “I… I have the bounty money coming to me. That’ll keep me for a while. After that… I don’t know. I’ll drive a Metrokab. I’ll pick up garbage. Anything but this.”


“Bryant will not let you go.”


“Bryant can go choke on a spinner,” Deckard raged. “He doesn’t own me! I’m not a thing! I’m a human being!”


“You’re a Blade Runner,” said the Ripper quietly, “and you’re good. Bryant will not let you go. You are too valuable to him. Sooner or later, he’ll find some way to force you to come back. And then you’ll either be too slow and you’ll get killed, or you’ll be too soft and you’ll fall off the edge of the blade — like Macavoy.


“And then I’ll come hunting for you.”


Deckard felt the tightening in his chest and knew it was fear. The fear of the hunted when he knows the eyes of the hunter are upon him. The Ripper turned and walked away. Stepping carefully over the bodies, she went through the door and was gone.


Deckard picked up his gun and put it back in his holster. The wail of the back-up team’s spinner was very loud. Maybe she was right, maybe they were all right. Maybe there was no way to get off the edge of the blade once you got on it. But Deckard was going to try. He had to, if he wanted to stay alive.