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Twice as Bright, Half as Long

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They considered going off-world, where it would be safer. A more justified place, technically, for Rachael to be -- at the very least, people would not look so hard for a replicant who'd run off, or they'd assume she was right where she was meant to be. (She does not think hard about this. About ownership as a concept that relates to her.) She and Deckard could disappear together into the lawless waste. She could disappear alone, find others like her.

But a voice says, there are no others like you. It's her uncle's voice. You are unique, he told her long before she knew what that meant. You are a marvel. There will never be others, she realizes in that moment. Even if there were meant to be, once. She wonders how to feel about this. Lonely or reassured. She would like a middle ground, at least. Someone like her but not exactly. She's not likely to get what she wants, but it's good at least to know.

She also knows she would not fit into the lawless waste, so that was never a real option. She'd be robbed blind in minutes or worse. She's got her wits, and a gun with four bullets, but she was not made to survive in the wilderness. She was made to survive in society -- to blend one moment and to stand out the next, to charm from a distance. She was made beautiful; it was no accident or luck, no effort on her part. It's strange to know this as a fact. To see herself objectively, as an object.

This doesn't mean she isn't strong -- she suspects she is stronger than she ever realized, more than ever would have made sense to her before -- but she reeks of civilization, of the sheltered upbringing that comes from money, the hardness in her eyes the result of a good education rather than lived experience. (This is the greatest lie of all of them. Her memories of empathetic childhood tutors and lusty-eyed college professors are nothing but a shadow. Her life is all she has to rely on.)

So they will stay on Earth instead, a place not made for people like her, one step ahead of people like him. They will keep moving until they reach someplace remote. He seems to believe they've been granted a kind of unofficial clemency, but that it's better not to push it. It's better to be gone, and stay gone, just in case. And there isn't anything left for her in the city, and her uncle is dead, so she listens. He will have many ideas about things to do, ways to live and things to avoid, ways not to attract attention, ways to make oneself invisible even to the smallest tricks, and she tries not to think about how well he knows these situations from the other side. She refrains from saying it, at least.

She has spent days asking questions of what she was made for, and one thing she's come back to is: An assistance. An accessory. She writes it down and grimaces at the page.

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There are memorials on the television for days -- round-the-clock, it seems, on some channel or another, they are discussing her uncle's legacy, his innovative and capitalist spirit, what it means for the future of the Tyrell Corporation. The gory details of his death are less reported on. Only a few fringe publications have even speculated on what might have occurred to make his demise such a sudden and closely-guarded mystery, the rest respecting the wishes of the police and his remaining shareholders not to pry for too much of an explanation. It wouldn't fit the story of the moment to have his life end in such an ironic, troubling manner. There's too much profit to be made on a lie. Someday, she imagines, the veil will be lifted when people can profit a different way.

So instead: He was old, of course, and not in perfect health. He was powerful and the neighborhood was dangerous.

No one says: he played God, and had the fate of all gods at the hands of their creations. Her pen hovers on her notebook but she stops herself from writing this. She doesn't know if she even believes it. She sees Deckard watching her, silent and uncomfortable as the news plays over again, and turns it off with a flick of her wrist.

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As long as she can remember, truly remember, she has been good at keeping notes. It was a large part of her job. Tyrell would not often introduce her as his niece, not betray to many any sort of nepotism or narcissistic attachment to her. She took notes, archived and inventoried his life. Maybe it was all preparation -- not intentional, but in a cosmic sense -- for doing the same with her own.

One of the first thing she buys, when she starts buying new things -- new in every sense to her, her own things like nothing may have been in her life before -- is a small notebook, deep blue with a spiral binder and faded, empty pages.

In the notebook she begins keeping records of her own memories, including and especially the false ones. Through this, maybe, she will see a purpose for why she was given them at all.

Memory: Learning cursive script. Handwriting was the neatest in class.

Like the piano lessons, this seems to be something innately part of her now, a blur of the not-past and present. She still prides herself especially in the letters not in her own name, the ones rarer and less practiced. Her lowercase S is exemplary. Her L's are more personal though.

Rachael Tyrell.

This, here, she sees as a clue. Tyrell was her mother's brother. Her father had a different name entirely. That Rachael, the young Rachael, who died at 17, would never have used the last name she does now. The flourish of her L's, two looping at the end of her last name like twins, is both a testament to his egotism and a surge of individuality she wants to cling to.

Her name and no one else's, not the other girl's. Her name but the name of her creator, the real father of legions who are like her and not. She wonders if their short life spans are because these sort of contradictions would drive them mad if given more time.

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She packed very few of her own belongings ("her" belongings) when she left her old life -- she can categorize them as things with sentimental value imposed on her against her will, and others with value she came to all on her own, but at the moment it was so hard to differentiate the two that she didn't have the time for it, and had to put it off for later. Her mother's diamond ring. A photograph. A page of sheet music.

The ring, of course, is what everyone tells her to ditch -- not just Deckard but strangers too. An older waitress at the diner picks up on it almost immediately, the one who's supposed to be training her (to carry trays, to keep her hair back, to smile). "That's a hell of a stone," she says.

"It's nothing," Rachael lies, having already uselessly turned the gem inward. "It's very old actually."

Something shifts sympathetically in the other woman's face, as if she regretted saying anything even before she stopped talking. "Oh, hon," she says, "I don't need to know what it is you're getting away from. But you ought to get rid of that if you don't want to get asked."

In the bathroom Rachael slips it off her finger and breathes steadily, her curls slipping out of a messy hair tie and falling past her shoulders. For a moment with the waitress outside, she felt she might cry, and now she is almost willing it to happen. She's seized with this feeling sometimes, of wanting to cry, even though tears (of course) have only come naturally to her at the times she least wanted them. She thinks of the things that made her cry before, but outside the moment, feels nothing. Only irrational. Indulging in her own irrationality.

In the back of her notebook are scattered keywords: hate, love, fear, anger, envy.

She has concerns, replicant or not, that she's never been expressive enough. That she's feeling too little, too much, or incorrectly. She kept things inward, her mother (not her mother) used to say. Another Rachael's mother.

She tries to feel something for her uncle, for example -- sometimes opens the book and searches for concrete memory. Not other Rachael's, but her own. A certain way he looked at her, an unimaginable sort of pride. An affection that she would've taken as a spark of her mother, some reflection he recognized and loved, but that she now knows was the look of an artist.

Memory: Carried around the house on shoulders. Mother or father? (Uncle?) Landing softly on bed, laughing until I couldn't breathe.

Her happy "memories" are the most elusive, most difficult to conceive as real, and the least likely to carry anything but the opposite emotion when she looks at them now.

She washes her face, drawing lines of water under her eyes and drying them away, before slipping the ring back onto her finger.

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She couldn't say why she went to Deckard first. She knew on some level, maybe, that he wouldn't lie to her, wouldn't have a reason to. That he'd say something to her straight, with no emotion or vagaries. There was something else, possibly. She wanted to see herself through his eyes. He wasn't soulless, she gleaned that when they met, for someone in a vile business of making people like her disappear. He'd never done it to the wrong target, not even by mistake, and the distinction meant something to him.

There was emotion, still. She didn't anticipate it from herself. Her eyes stung and this would be the first tangible, unassailable memory she has of crying. When he told her a moment later that he was joking, it was a glimmer of something like guilt, but more than that just a desire to end the conversation, to be away from the whole thing. An off switch.

She ran outside and lit a cigarette, understood that her hand was shaking and this would calm it.

Memory: A gold case of cigarettes on her mother's dresser, a spinning carousel that would just as easily hold lipstick. Saw this in a magazine. The models are glamorous.

She knew she would have to talk to her uncle next. He would have already finished his dinner by the time she got back. The thought of food had suddenly made her nauseated and she sat down on the street, which was concrete and cold. The sirens and notices had become very loud and the people rustling past her ominous and overwhelming. She was very aware of many pairs of shoes clicking on the ground, and stood up again if only because she wasn't sure what to be more afraid of. That someone would talk to her, bend down and ask her what was wrong, and she would not know what to tell them (on a basic level, not able to form words to answer). Or that no one would, and she would feel more and more starkly alone in the great apathy of the universe.

Someone moved down the street shouting about sunglasses and watches. He repeated himself five times, and she got to her feet and kept walking.

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Memory: Deckard took the gun when we were inside. There was blood on him, a lot of it his own. Felt my hands should still be shaking, but they weren't. It was a reaction to the recoil.

He said, "You ever shot anyone before?"

"Do you think I have?"

His tone perked up in a humorless way and he shrugged. "I'm done making any kind of assumptions about you."

"No," she said. "I haven't killed anything in my life."

"Well, it doesn't, uh..." he trailed off then, not finishing the thought. He pulled a bottle of aspirin from a cabinet.

After a moment she said, "You called him anyone." (He had also not disputed killed, about someone like her.)

He leaned against the wall, studying a part of the room that wasn't her. "I guess I did."

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The people at the restaurant like to know each other's birthday, so she thoughtlessly gives them the other Rachael's. She regrets this immediately.

The truth is she has been trying to nail down her actual incept date. It's another thing she takes notes about, separating false memories from real. "Why do you want it so badly?" Deckard asks, sounding bitter and exhausted, when she makes the mistake of telling him. "What difference does it make? You want to know if you're a Pisces?" She wonders if her novelty is wearing off on him so early, or it's just his inability to help her that's gradually become an irritation to him.

He knows why it matters, but he insists it's not a thing he understands, to want a clear idea of the exact amount of time you have left in the world.

She finds that hard to believe, and tells him so. "It's not human to want that?"

"Okay," he says. "Okay, okay." Maybe it is human, he relents. Maybe it's human to want it, but not to get it.

He takes a half-full bottle of liquor into the bedroom and shuts the door. He doesn't like games, but she thinks he's daring her to leave him sometimes. Letting her leave, because he won't.

She has tried to be more unique than all this. He's indicated to her enough that the others obsessed over it, and that for a whole lot of reasons he'd prefer not to think of her like them. Like instructive Bible stories: the righteous who accepted and made best of their time in this world. The rebels who squandered what was left of their lives chasing something unattainable.

And maybe it's true, that it's something natural to wonder but that she wouldn't know what to do with the information. Anyone could die any time, she knows logically. And everyone is finite. And any time can be eternity in the right frame of mind.

Memory: Holding mother's hand. Father in closed casket, a looping video of him projected above, at family's request. Memorizing the dates, too young to know their meaning but somehow grasping there was something of her father contained in them. Tracing them with an electronic pen until mother saw what I was doing and her eyes went far-away. Why give me this? Why if not to make me wonder?

In time she does what humans do, and puts it out of her mind.

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She studies the keywords on the back page of her notebook, trying to trigger a memory, but is stuck on her own life and not the other Rachael's. This may be a good sign. She sees fear and thinks about fear of death, fear of unknowing. It's a theory -- one Tyrell shared with her -- that fear is the first emotion replicants could develop, the most fundamentally similar to other living creatures. But he had no way of being sure if that was natural, some kind of primary feeling, which would be a psychological revolution -- or if it was only subject to their experience.

What was undeniable is that they could learn it, some form of it, so close to human that it was useless to even bother testing. If it wasn't, none would ever rebel or run. (Or is it the opposite? Maybe all would run.)

She may have been a test for this, among other things. He gave her memories for context, but nothing to be afraid of.

On a back page, near the trigger words, she has written, People are born every day not knowing what they're made for. It normally takes ages for this to bother them. If her death will be accelerated, it's fitting that this is too.

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Tyrell was finished with his dinner, by the time she got back. He looked at her, something in her face, and simply said, "Ah."

She straightened her back. "Is it true?" She was worried he'd make her say the words, and she didn't want to.

"I knew this would happen," he told her. It was the last time they spoke, after she'd left Deckard. Before she put a gun in her purse and followed him again. How much did he know, of everything she'd do? "You're very intelligent. You would have suspected by now."

Which made her think, of course. He was not only prepared for this, but it was inevitable when he had her take the test. He couldn't resist showing her off, but knew the side effect would be forcing this conversation. She felt a wall go up between his words and hers, a filter of distrust, in the knowledge he had rehearsed this.

"I can imagine," he said next, "you've very confused."

She kept her gaze still. "Am I? Tell me what else I am."

"You're angry." He was smiling a little too brightly as he said it, and why wouldn't he be? "You shouldn't be." It was funny for him to say, for so many reasons. "It's not because you can't," he went on, well-practiced. He listed the emotions she'd soon commit to her notebook, waved his hand indicating others. "I hoped you would understand them better."

"It'll take me some time," she said, "to work out being an experiment."

"All children are experiments," he told her. The tears returned and she looked away.

"And you spoke to him already," she heard him murmur then, less planned than anything else he'd said. "They're not all that good-looking, it was your bad luck. And you'll go back to him. I really wouldn't advise that."

She didn't like his tone, the leering quality of it and the condescension. Like he knew all her thoughts and reasons, judged them, and the worst part was he was wrong about it all. Her mind was burning too much to ask the other things she planned, or the things she'd think of later. How long she'd been real, how much more time she had.

She'd meant to ask, What am I supposed to do now? but it suddenly distressed her to even think of asking him that, rhetorical or not. She didn't want his answer. She didn't want to be told.

She wonders if that's why the spiders devoured their mother, and what idiotic god would reveal that to her so young.

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On the night that's not her birthday, she gets drinks after they close up the diner -- two other waitresses, the boy who mopped up, a cook, and a local, harmless drunk who'd hung around longer than reasonable, until he was like a friend too. They're playing a game of questions when she starts to feel saddest.

They all seem much younger than her, though many are in their 30s, and even the youngest has more years of true life than she would ever have. Every question in the game had a sexual component, even the ones that don't seem to at first. "What's the wildest thing you've done in bed?" "Do you gag on toothpaste?"

When it came to her, she plays along and asks, "How old were you when someone first touched you?" She will be able to hear and average out the answers before she has to choose something herself, so not to say twenty-four. Or six months.

But in her mind she thinks, Are all of your parents alive?

Do you dream in abstract sounds and ideas, things you've seen on television? Do you feel you are in the woods?

What is your favorite thing you own? What would make you give it away?

Are all of your parents alive? Could you call them right now and ask them questions about yourself, the parts they gave you? Do you ever imagine being the one to hurt them?

How would you feel about your husband looking at pictures of naked women? How do you feel when you look at them? What is the trick to this question, the right answer? What does it have to do with the tortoise?

Are all of your parents alive?

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She collected her coat, her small bag of things, the gun she'd bought for protection, all out of his eyesight. "You're a marvel," Tyrell was saying from the other room. "You are unique. I expected so much from you."

"Then maybe we'll both disappoint each other," she murmured.

He laughed. He hadn't meant to, she could see; he stopped a moment later to look -- possibly -- legitimately hurt, but couldn't control it in the moment.

She faced her uncle, the last time she would see him, and did not say I love you or I hate you. She said, "I've written my resignation."

"I can't accept that," he said gently. "All of this is yours, you know. You were always meant to continue my work."

"I am your work," the words moved through her like a shudder before she knew what she was saying. "I am your work," she said again.

"Yes," he said. There was an awkward, searching hesitation before he managed to say, "And I love you, Rachael." There was something pained behind it, not quite sincere in anything but desperation -- a prompt so calculated that it made something seize in her stomach when she recognized it. She had context for this feeling. Pride, hurt, anger.

Memory: A boy pushed me to the ground because he wanted the first choice of cakes. It wasn't the shove, which happened so fast it barely registered in that second. It was the way he stepped over me, running so haphazardly that his foot landed right on my hair, a gentle tug on the scalp as he ran past. I hated him. I hated him more than he even thought about me. I still hate him.

"I love you too," she said very slowly, as if the words were in another language, and his expression deflated. "I need to go."

A part of her was thinking, If he waits for me to come back, or tells them I've escaped, to retire me and start over, then I'll know something. Herself in his eyes, an object.

But she already knew the answer, deep down. It wasn't a surprise.

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The next bag she packs is somehow smaller than before. She leaves the ring. She thinks of swinging by the restaurant, giving it to one of the girls there, but she knows it's not in their nature to save it. So she leaves it on the table while Deckard sleeps. She sees him in her mind, likely breaking something in a rage, maybe throwing the ring itself into a river some day far in the future but not yet.

This day he would be practical, pore over her notebook for some kind of explanation or clue. He would set about tracking her movement, employing skills he hasn't used in years to hunt her down and - what? He'll see the irony in this, once his mind is clear. Or maybe he never will, and will always be one step behind her as long as she breathes. She doesn't know why it comforts her to think this. She never did learn how to say love believably, unprompted.

After a year, she has stopped asking questions she can already guess the answers to. She's intelligent enough to work it out herself. What happened to the others, when they didn't die violently? Most of them probably did, for one thing. They worked until they couldn't anymore. They may not have even known it was coming -- the first sign, the first struggle to lift something that came with ease, or to hold their legs up, or to pull the trigger on a weapon. They would be noticed doing this, or confront a superior about it, and they'd be told it was nothing to worry about, and that night someone would come and put them out of their misery before it ever had a chance to begin. Perhaps others were set free, to wander off-world and peter out in uncertainty of what had happened. It all depends on things like ownership.

She has tried to be more unique than all this. She may grow older than any of the others. She may die at any time. Until there is numbness in her hands, it's better not to think about it. By then, at this rate, she will feel like she's been alive for decades.

Deckard did tell her something, once, without even any prompting from her, like it was something he needed to unburden all for himself. That it seemed painless, peaceful in a way, and she knows him better than to think he was only saying it to be nice. On the other hand, anything would look relatively peaceful next to a bullet. She said this, and he laughed.

She decides very simply one day that she doesn't want to die around him, or be in the process of dying. And from this it's a short leap, to realize she may be better living that way a while too.

She looks through her notebook a last time, leaves behind everything but the last page, which she folds carefully into her bag. Hate, love, fear, anger, envy. In pencil, on another day, she'd added happiness, and a question mark, that no one else had ever asked.

Underneath she'd written, All children are experiments.

She is many things, but not afraid.