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Joshua Tree

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Sometimes, on hot, hot days, I'll stand beside the cabin and imagine what it must be like in Montana. I don't know why that's the land I focus on. I've never been there. I just imagine that the air is cooler and after all these years in Joshua Tree, I'd cherish the months of being snowed in alone, with no one to bother me when they went stir-crazy and decided they'd rather brave the weather than spend another minute talking to themselves.

I buried Rachel as soon as I finished drinking her tea I'd made for her. It took a few moments for her features to settle into a mask without emotion, for her lips to straighten into a perfect line. Like every other 6, her body tightened just enough to maneuver easily, not so rigid it couldn't be bent through a door, not so loose that carrying it was like hauling fertilizer. Her body remained as straight and prim as it had been when I put the kettle on to boil. She still smelled vaguely of sweat. I buried her close to the cabin, close to the porch she favored. Some would say a proper grave would have been deeper, but I didn't want her to think I was trying to hide her. I knew she wasn't thinking anymore, but I still didn't want her to believe I was trying to hide her.

The next morning I went to the market because sticking to your routine is what you do in Joshua Tree. Sally raised her eyebrows and Rocco bought a bushel of sprouts he didn't need. All he said was "this enough?" when he showed me his money and "thanks" when he hauled the basket off the table. I went home and undressed and lay naked on the bed with my blaster on my chest. I wasn't thinking about anything stupid. I was just trying to decide if I needed it anymore.

Three days later, just after dawn, I heard the faint jets of a spinner circling in the southern sky. As it drifted closer, I mulled retrieving the blaster from its place in the bureau's bottom drawer, but the morning's warmth was just heavy enough to keep me perched on the edge of the porch. When the pilot decided he'd watched me watch him long enough, he tilted down the nose and brought the spinner in, flaring just before it landed on the far side of the garden. I did little more than sip my coffee as its doors lifted open. From behind the controls one of the strongest men I've ever seen climbed out. He was taller than six feet and broad-shouldered, made every movement with perfect control and even through his sunglasses, I felt his eyes bore into me. A prototype, no doubt. A Nexus 7. Well, that shouldn't have surprised me. I turned to watch his passenger emerge and that's when I got slowly to my feet, tossed away my coffee and walked toward her at the same pace she walked toward me. Three rows of cabbage separated us when we stopped. She had the decency not to smile. "Mr. Deckard," she said. "My name is Hannah Tyrell."

"You look like someone I knew."

"I was her model."

"Well, you're too late."

"Actually, I was more concerned about being too early," Hannah Tyrell said. "I had no intention of swooping in before you'd had some time. I can come back, if you'd prefer."

It took a moment for me to put it together. "You knew where we were," I said flatly.

She nodded. "One of the things we wanted to learn was if Rachel could fit into the everyday world. We couldn't do that if we didn't let her have a... Well, a life. She had to come and go as she pleased. So we implanted a tracker. Otherwise, none of the agencies would go along."

"I'm surprised that stopped Bryant."

"Captain Bryant doesn't know. There wasn't any reason to tell him. Rachel wasn't any danger and you certainly weren't looking for trouble. The police still think you're somewhere in the Rockies. Next week, we'll tell them Rachel's retirement date's come and gone and that will be that."

I couldn't stop myself: "That's almost kind."

She touched the edge of her sunglasses but didn't take them off. Mercifully, I thought. I really didn't want to see her eyes. "Eldon Tyrell was a brilliant man. He was a wonderful man," she said. "He spoiled me when my own father wouldn't. But first and foremost he was a scientist. To him, there was no gray area between a human and a replicant. Just a hard, thick line. You'd be surprised by how many people see that line disappear over the years." She glanced at her driver. He stood as he was, stock-still, his hands in his pockets, looking at me with interest but not curiosity.

"So why are you here?"

"To tell you you're off the hook. I'll have this all wound down and you can go wherever you want to go. I'm only going to ask that you keep this conversation between us." She studied me for another moment, then removed her sunglasses and blinked as her eyes adjusted to the light. "What is it?" she asked.

"Your eyes aren't like Rachel's."

"You can't mimic eyes," she said. "You can't mimic eyes and you can't manufacture souls, but in the end that doesn't make much difference." The corner of her mouth twitched. "That's the problem my uncle never accepted. Did you bury her?"

"Over there. Beside the porch."

She looked toward the grave. "She'd have liked that."

"But you'd like to take her with you."

"Of course we would," Hannah Tyrell said. "But we won't. She's not ours anymore. We lost her, Deckard, on the day she met you."