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The New Hire

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The first thing he does is scream.

Well, no, maybe the second thing. The first thing he does is lie there twitching as every neuron in his brain fires innumerable electric discharges into the thawing sinews of his body. Under the cheap florescent light, KD6-3.7 has a life-giving grand-mal seizure on the thin rubber mat beneath the storage gurney. His vacuum-sealed lungs draw their first breaths and they burn. He thrashes. Twitching and shaking. The first words he hears – coming to him as nonsense at first and then stringing themselves to linguistic significance in the thawing firestorm of his head – are, “Oh fuck, that’s the wrong one.”

“What do you mean that’s the wrong one?” someone else say, horrified.

KD6 shudders, pulling his arms against himself. Every line of muscle’s drawn tight across his skeleton and for an eternal agonizing second his entire existence is that of a full-body lock, the fibrous rope-work of his musculature fraying loose from their stasis. Lactic acid digs into nerve – red on red on black and blue and he’s screaming then. Clutching his own arms, fingers slippery on his skin, he retches up synthetic embryotic fluid. Above him: an empty person-sized plastic bag hung from a ceiling hook. It’s run away on a rail and dropped into a bio-hazard bin against the wall.

“Fuck, that’s three dot seven,” someone is saying, their voice echoing off tile walls. “I was supposed to thaw three dot six. Fuck.”

“Well, Jerry, you can’t unthaw the fucking skin-job. Christ. Joshi finally gets sanctioned to unpack one of these fuckers you pop the seal on the wrong goddamn one? Shit. She’s gonna have to re-do the fucking paperwork.”

“I’m gonna get fired,” says Jerry.

The speakers ignore him when he starts crying. They continue to argue even when KD6 – fueled by kinesthetic intellect before regular cognitive function – manages to get his hands and knees under him. He starts crawling for the wall. He’s not sure why. Vaguely, a slowly unraveling cluster of dendrites somewhere in the lizard core of his brain tells him to get to cover. To hide. To get away. But his body is only half-way through the unpacking processes so he promptly collapses into another minor seizure and claws his own arms trying to curl into himself.

“Shit, he’s a runner,” says one of them. “Get the hose. That’ll slow him down.”

“Aw, Marks, don’t hose him. That’s –”

Marks turns a pressurized jet of water on him. KD6 has enough functional lung capacity to scream out, once, briefly, before covering his head and going fetal while the water rips a freezing path across his bare shoulders and back, his thighs, and buttocks. Something fires up in his head and he stops screaming, slaps a hand against the tile and rolls hard left, out of the stream and slams up against the wall. There are two men in black clothes and orange rubber aprons. They have rubber gloves and one of them is wielding what appears to be an industrial-grade pressure hose.

“Shit,” says Marks. “Twitchy little fuck.”

The water hits KD6 in the face this time, smacking his head back into the tile and he sputters, covering his face with his arms, falling sideways, curling against the wall in a protective ball. His muscles seize again and he’s paralyzed as the next icy, lung-emptying rip of water tears another brutal path across his ribs. He sobs until it stops then just crouches there, his arms over his head, one knee under him, the other bent up between him and his attackers.

Hey,” someone says. “Hey, you understand English yet, skinner?”

“Marks, c’mon. You know that won’t work.” A beat. “All the Wallace models unpack Japanese first, then English. Give it a minute.”

“You thaw the wrong skin-job and you’re lecturing me?”

Footfalls then, moving toward him. KD6-3.7 closes his aching eyes, bracing. Someone touches the back of his neck, gently. He shudders, jerking away from the touch and pressing his face into the wall. He coughs and shivers. The hand follows him and touches the back of his neck again, pressing there and it feels like something unravels between his shoulder blades. A hit of dopamine suffused his brain and he moans, confused and terrified, until the person touching his back grabs his arm and pulls him to his feet. His legs catch his weight automatically. He takes two steps and the significance of their newness is immediately lost to the expectation that, of course, he could take his first steps seconds after birth.

“K D Six Dash Three Dot Seven. Acknowledge serial number.”

“Acknowledged,” he rasps, unable to stop himself. He barely understands the words as he says them.

“You obey what I tell you. Understood?”

“Understood.”

“See?” Jerry says. “Just follow protocols, man.”

“No time for protocols,” snaps Marks. “Everyone saw that snuff-site footage. Police Chief’s raging. We need a new one. Now.”

Jerry, the one gripping his arm and neck, guides him back to the rubber mat and says, “Stay. Don’t move. And stop screaming.”

KD6 closes his mouth immediately and when Jerry lets go of him, he stands there shivering, his body rooted in place, sure as if there’s a hand on him. Jerry moves to the wall and flips a few toggles on the wall and there’s mechanical voice saying, “stand clear of chemical bath” just before a showerhead sprays a mixture of water, bleach, and bio-disinfectants down on KD6’s head and shoulders. It hits him freezing as well, but he doesn’t scream. He just clenches his fists and swallows the noises that come in his throat until it stops. His head aches. His body aches. His eyes burn and run over with tears, but in the water and chemical drip it’s impossible to see.

“There,” says Jerry. “Good boy. You’re done.”

Jerry grabs a thin grey towel from a desk by the door and tosses it over KD6’s shoulders.

Marks inspects KD6-3.7 who stands there, shivering and wet. “Oh, what the fuck? Why does he look like that?”

“Uh. Like what?”

“These skin-jobs all look like catalog models. My wife would mail order this guy.”

KD6 still cannot move. His hands shake from the force of how much he wants to move but cannot – a greater more powerful part of him sunk deep into his muscles. His eyes burn and run. His shoulders hurt. His thighs are cramping. His stomach is an aching hollow and he feels numb but simultaneously burning in his extremities. He wants to collapse. He watches Marks – who is a tall, gangly kind of man – gesture toward his groin.

“When is he gonna use that? Huh?”

“Probably to take a piss, Marks.” Jerry, a larger, heavier set man, seems to notice KD6 is not moving. “Hey, KD6. You can dry yourself off. Do it, we don’t have all day.”

Mechanically, KD6 takes the towel in his hands and sluggish understanding guides him to run it up and down his soaking limbs. He towels off his hair and body until he’s mostly dry, then grips the towel tight in two hands, his head bent, shoulders hunched. Jerry picks up a stack of folded fabric, no, folded clothes from the desk and takes the towel from KD6’s fingers, replacing it with a black long-sleeved shirt.

“Put it on,” Jerry says.

Shivering, KD6 obeys. His muscles still throb with every movement, like his blood weighs too much in his veins. Jerry hands him black underwear and black cargo pants, socks, and boots. He puts all of it on, the understanding and function of what each item is and what he is supposed to do with it all coming instinctive, like he’s just forgotten for a moment and by the time he’s kneeling, lacing his own boots with shaky fingers, Jerry and Marks are complaining once more about him.

This time, he dimly understands, they are angry because they have to take him to the medical ward and explain what happened to Nurse Diaz who, ‘always treats these fuckers like pets, like fuckin’ poodles I swear to god’. And then they ruminate on the likelihood of said nurse and whether she is ‘getting skinner dick at home’ and KD6 finishes lacing his boots and stands up. His head swims so he squeezes his eyes shut, nausea rising then fading. He blinks.

“Finally,” says Marks.

He grabs KD6’s arm and pulls him forward, opening the door from the store-room into the hall.

KD6 flinches immediately, recoiling from the sudden change in light and the burst of sound and motion – a wide corridor jammed with people all in states of bustling transit. Perps in cuffs screaming obscenities, a woman crying, cops laughing, technicians rolling monstrous carts of equipment on rattling wheels, and a herd of SWAT guys on their way to PT rush by, knocking into Marks who loses his grip on KD6. Left to his own, KD6 immediately falls back against the wall, covering his eyes with his forearm, his other hand over his chest. He hyperventilates. Electricity burns white-hot neurochemical storms through his brain and translates, translates, translates in retroactive the chaos around him until Marks, swearing, grabs his arm again and yanks him back into the river of humanity.

“Stop fuckin’ whimpering,” Marks says.

KD6 has not made a sound, but he focuses on moving, on the floor, on putting one boot in front of the other and accepting the new reality of screaming and loudness and motion and – Marks pulls him into another room and shuts the door. It’s quiet again. The room is gray-walled and there are padded gurney beds and four raised platforms that he understands are auto-doc stations. There’s a brown-skinned woman with black hair in a bun. She’s dressed in a blue button down and gray slacks. When she sees KD6, her brows knit.

“You have not unpacked that one right,” she says coldly.

“He’s fine.”

“He is not fine. The unpacking processes that goes into waking these guys up is more complicated than your entire brain-chemistry to-date. Sit him down. Back away. Let me handle this.”

Marks pulls KD6 to one of the padded gurneys and pushes him down on it, his boots just barely touching the tile floor. The tile is grey and speckled. Nurse Diaz (he assumes) stands in front of him and shines a small pen light into his eyes which he flinches from and she frowns more deeply. She tries again and this time he does not flinch and turns his head up for her. She inspects the reactiveness of pupil dilation, then checks his pulse with her fingers, and presses a cool metal sensor disk to the thin skin over his wrist. She taps the disk and a sharp stabbing pain punctures him a full half inch deep. He doesn’t move. The disk beeps.

Diaz wrinkles her nose.

“Christ, he smells like bleach. Did you hose him with equipment disinfectant, you moron?”

“He’s equipment.

“Yeah, but now I have to smell him, his clothes are probably going to bleach. Do you not know how bleach works, Marks? Are you a child, Marks? Does your mother still do your laundry?” Diaz takes his bleeding wrist and tapes a Band-Aid over the pin-prick. “His vitals are spiked. He’s supposed to be baseline rock steady by the time you bring him here, Marks. He just got out of his bag. Did you let him wake up?”

“He was moving around. We had to stop him.”

“If he was moving, then he would have gotten three feet before going into limbic lock. If you give him the full fifteen minutes to go naturally through the unpacking, then initiate serial sequence, he’d be booted up and ready. If you shock him mid-process then his body chemistry changes and you get this.” Diaz pushes KD6 backward on the gurney and he drops onto his elbows. “He’s gonna have to sit here for an hour before I let him go to Joshi.”

“Aw, c’mon, Diaz. He’s fine.”

She ignores Marks and looks at KD6. “Put your feet on the bed, honey.”

KD6 doesn’t know what the significance of ‘honey’ is for a moment, then registers it’s a term of address. Casual-to-familiar. Meaning nothing. He does what she says and lies back on the padding, still as possible lest she use that disk on him again. Even as part of his brain begins to remind him that the function of the tool was blood sample and analysis, the nerves and meat of him recoil from the memory of that pain. Diaz continues to shine the pen-light in his eyes every few minutes. She asks him his serial number and he repeats it to her. She asks him if he’s in pain and to specify. He does.

“Hmm, he’s highly cognitive despite your fuckery.”

“We don’t have an hour to wait. Joshi needs him. There is a meeting this morning. She’s gotta do the imprint stuff.”

“Joshi needs a blade runner that won’t vomit on her shoes because he’s in post-packing shock. Wait.”

“Can’t you, like, sedate him a little?”

Diaz’s brows arch so high, they threaten her hairline. “Excuse me? Drug the baby blade runner? The only class of replicant that has expanded deadly force parameters and no solid command hierarchy yet? Are you fucking damaged? Get out of my medical ward. Wait outside until I tell you to come get him.” She glares until Marks is gone. “Christ, who the fuck let him unpack you?” She turns back to KD6. “Sit up, honey. You’re not a janitor, get it together.”

He sits up and she takes his head in her hands, pulling his neck one way and the other.

“That feel okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does it hurt?”

“No.”

“Okay. Can you feel your fingers yet?”

KD6 runs his hands across the gurney blankets. “Yes.”

“Recite Pi for me. Fifteen decimals.”

He does.

“Open your mouth for me, hon.”

He does.

She shines a light across his tongue and the roof of his mouth, checking his airway. “Okay. Looking good.”

She hesitates for a second, looks over her shoulder. KD6 follows her gaze to Marks’ silhouette against the foggy-glass window in the door. She turns back to him, cups his jaw and puts her thumb on this tongue. He blinks, waiting. She tilts her head, her eyes moving over his face, looking for something. The pad of her thumb feels a little rough, warm, and… dangerous somehow. When she pushes her thumb farther down toward the back of his throat, part of him, sluggish still and unformed, shivers something urgent into his consciousness. But he doesn’t resist. He just… holds still.  

“Close your mouth around that,” Diaz says to him, “gently.”

He does.

“Okay. Try to swallow.” He does. “Good. Open again.”

She wipes her hand on his shirt. She gets a silver packet with a straw taped to the front and punctures the packet with the straw. She gives him the packet. 

“Okay, drink that. Do you understand?”

He thinks he does. He puts the straw in his mouth like she did with her thumb and sure enough a tasteless vaguely gluey liquid runs into the back of his mouth. He understands, though no one has explained, that it’s a vitamin and nutrient concentrate. He swallows it and Diaz nods.

“That should settle your stomach. Drink all of it.”

He does and she takes it from him.

“Good. Lie down and don’t move. I’ll be back in ten minutes. If you’re calm then we can put you through your paces. Just close your eyes and relax. Things are going to start making more sense as you just let them come.” She guides him back to a reclining position and, oddly touches her fingertips to his eyelids when he closes them. He feels her put something, a folded towel, over his eyes so the overhead light does not glow through. “Just relax. You’ll be okay soon.”

KD6-3.7 does as he’s told and waits for things to make sense. He waits to be okay.

Ten minutes later, Diaz comes back and says, “Do you know what you are?”

He stares at her and says, “I need more context to be sure.”

Diaz sighs. “Yeah. I figured. C’mon. You’re good enough for raw data at least. Up. Up.”

He’s not sure what that means, but he gets the impression that is going to be true as a default.

 


 

Three hours later, KD6 stands with his hands behind his back, boots squared, facing forward.

Lieutenant Amanda Joshi, age thirty-nine, fifteen-year veteran of the force, blonde, dressed in a blue pant suit, is looking at him. His head is filling with context even as he’s standing here in her office, the weight of his body settling more easily on his bones, the feeling of air in his lungs less a conscious effort, the world beginning to reorganize itself in terms of priority and attention. The woman in front of him, is very high priority and he gives her his full attention as she moves around her desk to look him over. She folds her arms. She circles him, once. She stops at his shoulder and hooks a finger in the collar of his shirt, inspects it.

“Why are there bleach stains on his shirt?” she asks.

Marks shifts uncomfortably. “Dunno. Laundry accident?”

Joshi says nothing, but she finally unhooks her finger from his collar.

“He looks the same as the last one.” She sits on the edge of her desk. “He’s the exact fucking same. People are going to look at him and see the same goddamn blade runner and then you know what they will think of?” A beat. “They will think of three dot four and how my processor was an idiot who could not manage his fucking assets. I wanted three dot six because three dot six is the Japanese model. This one looks like a fucking Macy’s catalog. He looks about twelve. More to the point – he looks like the dead blade runner. I could do with a fresh start which I will not get now.”

Marks is impassive. “That’s what I said, ma’am.”

“How do you fuck this up? I don’t understand.” She sighs and stands up. “And get him another shirt, for fuck’s sake. He looks like we collected him off the street. Get him… I don’t know. A race-up jacket. People like that. It’s classic.” She seems to hear herself. “Fuck, I do not have time to play dress up today…” She looks at KD6. “C’mon then. Let’s just do this. Recite your baseline.”

“And blood-black nothingness began to spin… A system of cells interlinked within cells interlinked within cells interlinked within one stem,” he says. “And dreadfully distinct against the dark, a tall white fountain played.”

“Say your serial number.”

“K D Six Dash Three Dot Seven.”

“Say my name and rank and position.”

“Lieutenant Amanda Joshi of the LAPD Eastern District.”

“Say my name three times.”

“Amanda Joshi. Amanda Joshi. Amanda Joshi.”

“I am your direct commander. Do you understand?”

“I do.”

“Explain it to me.”

“I only take direct orders from you,” he says. “No one else can command me until you give specific authority. All other default civilian and co-worker interaction protocols cannot supersede this chain of command. Indirect chain of command hierarchy is not established. Widen command parameters if you intend other members of your organization authority to command me.”

“You know our personnel files?”

“Yes.”

“You know the Manual? In its entirety?”

“Yes.

Joshi frowns and looks at Marks. “How long’s he been up?”

“Eight hours or so,” Marks lies. “No firearms or baseline yet. I ran him raw through the onboarding materials – book-learning, ma’am.”

 “I’ve only worked with re-fitted military runners. He can retain that much that quickly?”

“Yup. KD6 line is quick on its feet. Custom build. No other bladers like them outside of LA.”

Joshi narrows her eyes, then looks back to KD6. “Officer, if I ask you to recite any a passage of the manual or regional law verbatim, can you do it?”

“I can do it.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I can’t lie, ma’am.”

“Atta boy.” Joshi taps his chest with one finger and points at him.  “Update your command hierarchy: Command authority authorized for Detective Yuri Haru. Otherwise, you only follow my direct commends. All other co-worker defaults are still in place. You follow?”

“Yes.”

Joshi studies his face. “I cannot believe he thawed the wrong fucking replicant. Marks, get me those clothes. Officer K, you follow me. Oh, and I’m not calling you by your full serial number. If I say “K”, I’m still addressing you.”

“I understood as much, Madam.”

“Thank god. None of the humans are getting it today.”

 


 

K follows Joshi down the hall to large conference room in which fifty plus assembled men and women of various rank and file are all loitering at long tables, drinking coffee, or seated in cheap plastic chairs facing a slightly dilapidated podium. Joshi goes to the podium, indicating that K is to stand behind her and slightly to the left, which he does. She faces the rest of the room, dropping files onto the top of the beaten little stand. As she arranges things, one of the men seated in the front pounds a fist against the table top. Three others join him, rhythmically beating their fists against the tables until most everyone in the room is grinning and doing the same.

Joshi tolerates this for as long as it takes her to get her things together.

She then slams her own fist on the podium.

 “Calm the fuck down,” Joshi says.

“Yes, Madam,” boom a torrent of voices and everyone, laughing, quiets down.

And Joshi is impassive about all this, but it’s clear she’s been at it a while.

“Let me take a moment to congratulate Sergeant Santiago and Detectives Vice and Bell on their most recent bust. Two-hundred kilos of synthetic crystal and two broken crime syndicate rings. An incredible effort and victory for this precinct and this city.” She tilts her head. “They’re going to feel that one down to their fucking toes, aren’t they?”

The room comes undone immediately, briefly, before settling again. Joshi flips her file open.

“A few outstanding items and you can all return to your duties. Sergeant Santiago – your task force funding is approved. Paperwork to you comp very shortly. Do us proud and get it done.” She points without looking up from her desk. “Detectives Holt and Minamoto – after action report is late on that fuckery with the soup shop shooting. Get it to me. End of day. Chinatown beat – Chang and Santiago. I want to know where those splatter guns are coming from. Understand me?”

One of the men in front points to K. He’s grinning.

“Hey, LT. What’s that?”

Joshi looks at K, like she’d forgotten he was there. “That,” she says, waving, “is the new blade runner I stole from Eastern. Apparently, it’s the opinion of Police Chief Yoko that we’ll make better use of Eastern’s toys than Eastern will.”

“Fuck, Eastern,” someone says in the back.

“I didn’t say it,” Joshi admonishes. “Now, I know it’s been a while since we were allocated one of these guys so let me remind everyone how it works: Officer K D Six Dash Three Dot Seven is not for casework. He’s my direct report. He kills skin-jobs. If you get eyes on a Nexus Eight, you call me and I call him. That’s how it works. That’s all he does. I saw that, Walters. If I catch any of you trying to send him out on doughnut runs I will actually rip you a new asshole.” She points at one of the assembled officers. “Haru. He’s shadowing you. He’s also worth more than two years of your salary so don’t fucking break him.”

Laughter and jeering as an androgynous Japanese officer in the front row narrows their eyes. They’re seated, arms crossed, boots spread beneath the table and when they look K over, there’s no telling what they’re thinking but K gets the impression that this is not an opportunity for Detective Haru.

“Skinner duty!” someone leers. “Baby blader babysitting.”

Haru doesn’t respond visibly to any of this.

“Dismissed,” says Joshi.

The room empties quickly. Soon, it’s just K and Detective Haru who says nothing for a while longer and instead sits there, studying him.  

Then, annoyed, “She unpacked the white boy.” Haru shakes their head. “I told her not to do that.”

K shifts his weight uncomfortably.

“You look a bit rough, kid.”

K doesn’t know what to say.

Haru says, in Japanese, “Is it easier if I don’t speak English?”

K hesitates, then says in Japanese, “I can speak whatever language you want.

Haru tilts their head, then in English asks, “How long have you been up?”

“Up?”

“Unpackaged. When did they unpackage you?”

K lowers his eyes. “Five hours ago.”

“Fuck me,” says Haru, massaging fingers into their eyes. “You’re not even supposed to be upright. C’mon.” Haru stands up and grabs him at the collar of his jacket but… not roughly, just to get him to move, then the hand on his collar loops over the back of his neck, steering him out of the conference room. “Okay,” Haru says quietly, “just keep your head down. LT shouldn’t have announced you like that. Now everyone knows.”

“Knows what?” K says.

“Just stay close. We can do this outside the precinct.”

Haru pulls him into a hallway and starts walking very rapidly toward the parking garage thoroughfare. Haru keeps a hand on the back of K’s neck, forcing his head down slightly as they walk. K doesn’t quite understand why Haru is doing that, but the Detective is supposed to be his superior so K keeps walking and doesn’t ask why.

“Hey, Haru. Slow down,” someone says.

“Keep walking,” Haru murmurs.

“Haru. Hey, Haru, is that the new skinner?”

“Don’t stop,” Haru says, in a cheerful tone that does not match the grip they are exerting on the nape of K’s neck nor the speed at which they are moving. Haru raises their voice, “Fuck off, Jones!”

“Ah, c’mon, man. We just wanna say ‘hello’.”

Haru ignores the comment and hauls K at speed through a slam-bar door at the end of a hall, straight into a steel and concrete parking alcove. They almost break into a jog, digging keys out of a back pocket. K hears someone come through the door behind them, but Haru has already reached a battered black spinner which beeps at their approach, unlocking.

“Get in. Get in,” Haru says, racing around the hood to the driver’s side.

K ducks into the passenger side seat, shutting the door behind him and through the window he can see a trio of men, two beat cops and a sergeant, approaching the vehicle. He can’t… quite process their facial expressions but something in how they’re looking at the car makes him lock the door manually. Haru starts the spinner up and keys a lift off just as the men reach the car and one of them slams a palm against K’s window hard enough that K flinches from the impact, but then they’re off. Lifting to legal air-traffic height and all K can see are the holo bands along the walls blinking them toward the open-air exit.

“Hold on,” Haru says, keying in a GPS location. They lock in the destination and the auto pilot takes over, the steering wheel locking into the dashboard. “Okay.” Haru sits back sighing. “We’re good. Fucking assholes.” They smack K in the shoulder. “Hey, you good?”

K stares out the window.

“Oh, right.” Haru sits back in their seat and gestures. “Welcome to Los Angeles, Officer K.”

The spinner drops out of the feed passage into the open air above the city and the world ignites in Techni-Color. K is momentarily blinded by a dozen massive holo boards as Haru’s spinner drops sharply downward, racing along the face of the precinct super structure and plunging directly into the lower air traffic thoroughfares. The ragged skyline of the city vanishes into a horizon of smog before they drop under the roof-levels into the city itself. Then everything is blinding – every building rented to adverts and holo-banding. News feed and info scrolls. K stares though the side window and through the windshield. Outside, a school of koi fish advertising a ramen brand swim around the spinner and K presses a palm to the window, watching them nibble responsively where his hand touches glass.

“Hey, don’t encourage the pop ups,” Haru says, annoyed.

K peels his fingers from the window and the school winks away.

Their spinner rushes through the maze of the city, set to a pre-determined goal. Haru ignores it in favor of digging around in the glove box for what appears to be a Snickers bar. K grimaces, a low ache rising suddenly behind his eyes and he leans back.

“Yeah, I figured. You really shouldn’t be up,” says Haru. They put the Snicker bar in K’s hand. “Eat that.”

“Why?”

“Well it’s not gonna help that migraine you have coming, but it might cheer you up.”

K hesitates, then unwraps the bar and takes a bite. He almost spits it out. Not because it’s bad, but because he wasn’t ready for the way his mouth hurts from the sudden rush of saliva. He covers his mouth with the back of his hand, chewing slowly. He can feel Haru smirking.

“Good, huh?”

K coughs. “Yeah. Thank you.”

“Yeah, sugar always cheers you guys up on the first day. You also need the calories. They feed you anything before they send you out?”

“Vitamin mix.”

“Cheap bastards,” Haru mutters, turning in their seat to grab a jacket from the back. “Okay, Officer K. Here’s the plan: I’m gonna pull over and park us in Chinatown. You’re gonna pull that seat back and go the fuck to sleep for a bit. When you wake up, things should make more sense.” Haru pulls the jacket on, a long black one with water-wicking outerlayer. “You know why things make more sense after you sleep?”

“I’m still unpacking,” K says quietly.

“Right. You’re supposed to have a full twenty-four hours to unpack. Then orientation. Then active duty. But fuck all that because we’re in a rush and funding got cut again his quarter, so you’re getting a rush job which mean you nap in my spinner to finish unpacking while I follow up on a few leads and figure out the best way to get you up to speed on my casework.” Haru glances at him while they zip up their jacket. “The goal is for you to take over all my cases so I can leave and take over blade runner work in Eastern. You understand?”

“Yes.”

“We have less than two weeks to get you up to speed.”

“Okay.”

“I know that’s overwhelming right now, but trust me it will be less overwhelming in twenty-four hours. The unpacking gives you context and experience. You’ll wake up with more tactics than I have.”

K’s headache intensifies and he closes his eyes, swallowing.

“Hey, just take it easy. Your only job is to try and rest for now. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Hey, K. Something you should know about today though.”

“Yes?”

“As you unpack, parts of today are going to seem less real.” Haru watches him, a little sober now. “You’ll remember it but… your brain will start insisting that alternative versions of events are more… valid if that makes sense. I want you to remember what I’m saying now: Anything you remember before this day is not a real memory. It’s an implant made to get you up to speed. And I know that you know that or you will know that very soon but I want to tell you so it’s real for you: Today is the real world. Nothing before today is the real world. It’s okay to think of it as real for you because it is, but none of what you remember actually happened in the real world. Just in your head.”

K struggles a little with this.

“What?”

“You’re a replicant. You’re six hours old, K. But you’re gonna remember, I dunno, being a kid, having birthdays, doing this job in another precinct. An alternative history for how you got here that is not getting thawed from a bag. Understand?” Haru does not wait for K to say if he understands. “The KD6 line is generally implanted remembering themselves as a transfer, like you had other Lieutenants you worked for and other cases you’ve worked but you never did. You’ve only been alive for six hours.”

K isn’t sure why but that puts a knot in his stomach.

Haru sighs. “Sorry. That sucks to hear, but I know it helps most of you in the long run to hear it right now. It’s okay to feel lousy about what I’m telling you. If you feel like shit, just eat more candy. Okay?”

K takes another bite of Snickers.

“Atta boy. Look, it’s not a bad thing. It’s good. If you remember this like a job transfer, it’s less to process. You’ll be great at this job right away because you’ll remember doing it for, like, ten years or something. You’ll have a huge caseload under your belt. Or you will remember having a huge caseload. They’re good about the procedural memories they give you guys now – lots of practical stuff. They copy it straight outta older models, clean it up, then give it to you. No knowledge lost. It’s pretty great.”

“I don’t… feel so great,” K says. It feels like there’s a spike being pushed through his forehead real slow. His hand on his thigh curls tight. “My head hurts.”

“Yeah, that’s because they woke you up too fast and you have a lifetime of memory burning itself live in your brain. You’re all out of order. You’re supposed to be asleep right now.”

“It really hurts.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. Just hold on, kid. We’re gonna park. I have a sedative if you need it. It’s worked with a few others in your situation.”

K is breathing fast now. “Others?”

“Yeah, it’s most of my job actually: onboarding replicant blade runners. That and taking over for you when you get killed on the job.” Haru is digging around in the glovebox again. “Once I train you, you’ll take my caseload and I’ll head to Eastern. East mismanaged their last blade runner. Got him killed off the job. You don’t get to keep blade runners if you let them die while they’re not even on the clock. So that means we’re on a timer to get you up to speed. That’s why you’re miserable right now and I’m sorry about that.”

K’s head feels like it’s fracturing along fine lines inside his skull.

“I think something is wrong,” K gasps.

“No. You should really be asleep,” Haru says, leaning over him. They show K an injection pen. “I’m giving you a sedative. Okay?”

“Please,” K says.

Haru takes his forearm, pushes his sleeve up and punches the business-end of the pen against his arm, the hypodermic unloading a dose into a major vein. K lies there, trying to tolerate the persistent throbbing behind his eyes, like pins and needles, so intense he smells metal and tastes copper. He realizes he’s biting the inside of his cheek and stops. Haru is still leaning over him, worried. Haru checks his pulse and K feels the spinner swing around, then drop neatly into a gap for street-side parking. He can hear music and people outside the vehicle and Haru hits a panel in the dashboard.

“Sound dampener,” he says, “please up to ninety percent.”

The noise dims.

“Go to sleep, Officer K.”

And that’s the last thing he hears.

 


 

K opens his eyes.

It’s raining. Water beats against the windshield. Haru is sitting next to him eating from a Chinese take-out box. The car smells good and K’s mouth waters again and it’s the weirdest involuntary sensation. He swallows and sits up, gingerly touching his forehead. There’s very little pain now. The light from outside does not race across his retinas and set his brain alight. He checks the digital read out on the dashboard. It’s been three hours. He looks at Haru who has a casefile open on a dash-mounted tablet and appears to be going through it between bites of chow mien.

“How you feelin’?” Haru asks around a mouth of noodles.

K rubs his hands together in his lap. “Good. Better.”

“Tell me about yourself. Where’d you grow up, kid?”

K rubs his face with his fingers. “San Francisco. But I wasn’t born there. My parents adopted me from the LA… the…” He stops. He stares at his palms. “That’s not true. That’s… I’m only nine hours old.”

“Good. You remembered.”

K watches tears fall into his palms. His eyes are burning. He hadn’t quite… realized that was what that sensation meant. All his memories of crying don’t have the burning blurring sting of it. Haru watches him quietly. K jerks. He’s not sure why. When he tries to breath it comes out ragged, cut with a raw kind of vowel-sound and K realizes he’s sobbing. Horrified, he tries to stop, but once it’s started it just keeps going until he’s weeping uncontrollably, his hands clenched in his lap, his breathing wild, lungs spasming with the force of his hysteria. Haru doesn’t seem surprised. He just waits until, about five minutes later, it starts to die down.

“That’s normal, by the way,” Haru says as K wipes his face on his sleeve. “You’re going to be a bit unhinged for a while. Part of the unpacking. You’ve never felt emotions before, not really, so you’re having trouble processing it. Better now than in the field.” A beat. “You can scream or keep crying if you want to.”

K swallows, finishes wiping his face. “I’m okay.”

“Hmm, that’s a bit quick to process your existence, but okay. You understand you’re a replicant now? What that means?”

K’s eyes burn again. “Yes.”

“Again, you can cry. It’s fine. This is the one time in your life you’re allowed to be a total nutcase and no one is going to care. Live it up.”

When K just clenches his jaw and sits there, Haru sits back in their seat, watching him quietly.

“Look, the first day is always rough. That’s why I’m here. It’s my job to prepare you for the job, because what you do is very complicated and a lot rides on you getting it right. You’re part of the LAPD. What you do reflects on Joshi and our organization. The difference is if you do shitty at your job, you don’t get fired. You get retired. You know what that means?”

K clenches his eyes shut and, again, tears run down his face. “I know.”

“It scares you, right?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, I kinda wish they didn’t make you guys so scared of that. Seems… mean.”

“They’ll retire me if I fail my baseline,” K says almost in wonder, awed by it, the fact of it.

“Yes. But you’re not gonna have a baseline for a while and you’re okay.” Haru eats a mouthful of noodles. “You’re doing great. My last blade runner didn’t stop crying for a full day. You’re compartmentalizing really well.”

K wipes his face again, biting his lower lip. Haru watches him quietly for a minute. Then:

“Hey K, I need to warn you about something.”

“Okay.”

“You’re attractive.”

K blinks, caught off guard by the randomness of the subject change. He stares at Haru who keeps eating.

“What?”

Haru pauses. “Have you seen your own reflection yet?”

K shakes his head and Haru mutters something in Japanese, reaching over to pull open the visor from the roof of the cab. A dirty mirror is mounted in the middle and staring out of the mirror is Ks own face. He stares, curious. He’s a little pale. Smooth complexion. Caucasian, light brown hair, buzzed short on the sides, cropped close on the top. K tilts his head. His eyes are blue-green and a little asymmetric in the left upper eyelid. Thin mouth, slightly downturned when he relaxes the muscles in his face. Sharp jawline, kind of a longer face, thin aqualine nose. He qualitatively notes he looks no older than mid-thirties.

He looks at Haru.

“Is that attractive?” he asks, pointing at the reflection.

“Not my cup of tea, but yeah. In general, you’re good-looking. Like, in that non-threatening white-boy way. That’s okay. In fact, it’s not a bad idea. Attractive people get others talking more easily, they’re more intimidating, all good stuff for your job.” Haru’s face wrinkles a little. “But it’s a little… it makes people, stupid people, think they have an open invite to treat you like you’re not blade runner. You need to remember that you’re a blade runner, above all. You’re Joshi’s man, no one else’s. People are not allowed to tell you to do anything outside of your job function.”

K stares.

“You don’t understand, right?”

“No.”

“Yeah, they don’t build you guys to know about that. It’ll make sense later just… letting you know in advance.”

K stares at his palms again.

“Are you hungry?” Haru asks. “I know a good ramen stand a few blocks over.”

K stares at Haru.

“Look, you replicants got stomachs like a garbage disposal. You’d get nutrition out of a tin-can if I let you eat it, probably. Not really. Don’t actually eat a tin can. But I’m telling you eating something that tastes good is one of life’s small pleasures and you should always go for those. The small pleasures, I mean. They help in this crap-sack world.”

“Is that why you’re giving me chocolate and ramen?” K asks blankly.

“Yes, exactly. They’ll make a detective of you yet, Officer K.” Haru pops the driver-side door open. “C’mon.”

The ramen stand is two blocks over, but Haru takes their time getting there – stopping to let K stare at things. At the vendors and the holo-verts, the vehicles and street performers, the Juku girls and the Razors, the crush of humanity on the move through the gutter-levels of the city around him. Within the throng, Haru and K vanish anonymously into the mass and K feels rain on his skin, in his hair, on his neck, his face. He stops to stare up into the cloud-black skies, just barely visible through the layers of light pollution from every building and window. For a moment he stops in the middle of the street, lets the flow of humanity move around him.

K closes his eyes.

“Don’t be too obvious,” Haru says, tugging him along. “And that rain is nasty anyway.”

K stares at the drops on his knuckles. “I know.”

“Is walking around helping you remember? You getting context?”

K nods.

“Good. Let’s eat.”

Haru gets them a seat at the bar of a noodle stand where they pay for two bowls of ramen and spring for a synthetic protein supplement shaped like a boiled egg. K frowns at it, poking the fake thing with his chopsticks but he eats it anyway. Eating things that smell good is starting to hurt his mouth a little less now. K glances around at the other patrons. They all ignore him. Haru catches him looking and nudges his elbow.

“Out here, you’re human,” they murmur.

K stares into his bowl. “Those men at the precinct.”

“Ah, you’re putting that in context now. Tell me about it.”

“They were going to….” He hesitates a moment. “They wanted to hurt me, didn’t they?”

“Yeah. I was there, so I don’t think it would have been anything permanent, but yes.” Haru lowers their chopsticks. “Most people aren’t like that though. They wouldn’t care enough to actually do anything to you. But there are a few. Those are the ones you need to look out for.”

K continues to stare into his ramen.

“What are you thinking?”

“You took me out of precinct because you knew they were going to do that.”

Haru taps the wrong-end of their chopsticks on the table.

“Yeah, I did.”

“How did you know they were going to do that? You knew before you even saw them.”

“Because people are predictable, K. Especially the cruel ones. You’ll figure that out.”

“This happens a lot.”

Haru sighs. “New bladers are easy prey. Your command hierarchy is still new so even beat cops can get away with things. What they don’t know, is unnecessary trauma during the unpacking stage can destabilize your baseline. Affects combat readiness and you need to be combat ready. That’s mentally and physically. You’re tough physically, K, but you need to protect your mental health wherever you can. Don’t put up with shit when you can get around it. Join a book club. Take up knitting. Whatever gets your mind off the job once you’re off the clock.” A beat. “Not that you’re ever truly off the clock, but at least not actively doing your job.”

K looks at Haru. The Detective is looking at him, studying his reactions. Unbidden, a thought comes to K, that Haru is attractive. He doesn’t do anything with this thought except examine it in passing and examine Haru’s dark faintly sober eyes, the way their damp hair is kind of sticking to their forehead, the sharp line of Haru’s jaw which is more squared off yet more delicate than his own. There’s scarring along their right cheek, like a knife-cut that healed paler than the rest of their already pale complexion. K tilts his head.

Haru frowns. “What?”

“Why do you do this job?”

Haru eyes him. "I’m just good at it. Last of a dying breed. Not many human blade runners left on the books these days and all I do lately is hold the fort down until another one of you steps in.”

K closes his eyes. “So once you’re done training me, you’ll be gone. Is that right?”

“Yes.” A pause. “You know, they built the KD6 line very emotional. I think you’re right up there with top end Doxies in emotional intelligence. As emotional if not more than the Nexus Eight line was. They do that so you can think like them. For a while, we just took modded military models and sent them hunting, but they could never close their cases. They caught a few leisure models, yeah, but it’s the military-class Nexus Eights they want you to hunt. And they’ll be far and away the most dangerous – trained, smart, and extremely strong. They can pass for human or rip your head off.”

K looks at Haru. “How do you hunt a Nexus Eight?”

Haru stares back at him. K isn’t sure, but he thinks Haru was not expecting him to be asking these questions this fast.

Haru says nothing for a moment, then says, “K, how far are you into your unpacking? You starting to remember your casework?”

K nods.

Haru hands K a napkin.

K blinks, then realizes his eyes are running over again. It doesn’t sting as much now, so he didn’t notice it happening. K takes the napkin and wipes his face, aware of three Juku girls at the end of the bar who are looking at him. They look away when he glances at them and he realizes they’re trying to give him privacy in what they think is a moment of grief perhaps. A very human thing to do for another human. K picks up his chopsticks and starts eating again. 

“Hey, after you’re done, I’m gonna show you to your apartment.”

K stares. “I get an apartment?”

Haru smirks. “One of the few perks of working under Joshi, she recognizes it’s not actually safe for you at the precinct. There’s a small stipend to put you up in government housing at Mobius 21. LAPD gives you a base income to live off, but it’s basically pocket change. If you want to have enough to really do anything, you’ll need to do your job.”

“They give bonuses for successful retirement.”

“Yes, and proof. You know what proof is?”

K closes his eyes and sees his hands sticky with blood, an evidence bag with a single clean blue eyeball staring from inside the plastic. K opens his eyes and wipes his tears away in advance this time.

“Yes, I know what proof is.”

“You’re doing this real fast, Officer K. The bonuses are pretty high out here actually on account of all the military grades that hide in LA. It’s dangerous work. You get good at it and you can live pretty well actually.”

K stares into his ramen.

“Sorry,” Haru murmurs. “That was too soon.”

“Thirteen,” K says. “That’s how many kills I remember.”

“They aren’t real. You’ve never killed anyone, K.”

“But I will,” he says.

“Yeah, you will.” Haru waits. “Does that upset you?”

“Yes.”

Haru sighs. “Kid, I know you feel shitty right now, but I promise, give it another twelve hours. Really get some sleep and you’re gonna feel a lot better about it in the morning. I promise. It’s all kinda raw unfiltered fuck in your head but it’s because you’re awake for the unpacking and you don’t have full context. But it’s all gonna sort itself out. You’ll feel… okay about it when the unpacking is done. You’ll be ready for a baseline.”

“I don’t know,” K says quietly, “if I want that.”

“Well,” says Haru a little coolly, “it’s a good thing what you want doesn’t matter because they will stone-cold kill you for talking like that, K. Don’t ever fucking say something like that out loud to another human ever. Tomorrow you’re gonna feel differently about this job. That difference is what keeps you alive so don’t fight it. Okay?” Haru watches K put his chopsticks down, sighs, and pays for the ramen. “Let’s go. I want to get you settled. Sleep this off and we’ll get back at it tomorrow.”

K stands up. “You’re going to leave me alone?”

“No. Until your first baseline, you need a police escort at all times. I’m crashing at your flat.”

“I could sleep at the precinct,” K says. “They have bunks for over-night shift. I could do that.”

Haru snorts. “That’s real nice of you, but trust me. You don’t want to have your first night in a bunk at the District 5 precinct. C’mon.”

 


 

Mobius 21 is a monolith of black-grey stone jutting up against the toxic skies. By the time Haru and K reach it the building, it’s begun to rain so hard that the water drives sideways against their faces, forcing Haru to flip up a hood and snap a particle mask across their face. The particle mask is black neoprene with a single kanji symbol across the mouth that reads, basically, ‘breathe’. K follows Haru through the front door into what appears to the lobby of an office building that’s been converted into a kind of indoor market. It’s loud, crowded, smells like piss and protein gruel and motor oil.

Haru keeps their hood up and their head down a little as they guide K through the maze. There are industrial storage cages stacked on top of one another and converted into small sleeping pods. Dirty and tired human faces look out at him from behind metal bars. Cages locked from the inside to keep others out. Vendors shout at Haru as they pass and K follows the Detective to a wide set of stairs that winds up into the tower of the apartment complex floor by floor. There are people sleeping on the landings and on the stairs the entire way up to the sixth floor.

“Hey,” someone says. “Hey, ninja-boy you fuckin’ that one?”

Haru ignores the man who hisses this at them.

“Looks like an angel to me. Looks Doxie fuckable.” The man is following them, is right behind K. “You bringing Doxies in here, ninja-boy?” K feels the man leaning close to the back of his neck, smell his sour breath. “Can I get you when he’s done with you, Doxie?”

Haru turns suddenly on their heel, stepping directly between K and the drunk who stumbles back a little. Haru is standing on a stair one step above the man and suddenly the outfit seems less like camouflage and more like armor. More like Haru could have a weapon inside. Haru's hands are in their coat pockets, their body language hostile. They stare silently over the top of the mask.

“He’s not a fucking Doxie.”

The man becks up a step. “Sorry, man. He didn’t say.”

Haru waits until the man has retreated all the way down the steps, then goes back to walking. K notices that while Haru did tell the man that he was “not a Doxie” they did not go as far as saying K was human.

“This is you,” Haru says, stopping in front of a battered metal door.

Haru uses a key-card on the finger pad and it chimes.

“Put your fingers on the scanner. I’m locking it to you.”

K does as he’s told, pressing his fingers down on the scratched black track pad. There’s a moment, then another chime and K hears a massive bolt disengage from the door frame. Haru opens the door, lets K in, and then follows him, shutting the door behind them. Suddenly… it’s quiet again. They’re standing in a narrow hall which leads to a single small living area with a kitchette and a bathroom at the back of the kitchenette. K moves slowly into the room, looking around. One wall of the room is a massive bay window. There is a pull-out bed and a couch bolted to the walls. K presses a hand to the window.

“This is yours,” Haru says. “Technically, it’s the government’s but whatever.” Haru moves to a key-pad mounted into the wall and taps it. The lights flicker on. “This thing has hi-fi built in and a you can build out a remote desktop if you want. I’d do it. Keep out of the precinct if you can.” Haru punches a few keys and a bit of classical music starts playing gently. “Hey, bit of culture for you.”

K listens to the music while staring out the window. The glass is warmed, insulated against the cold outside.

“Once you start earning bonuses you can get stuff. I could talk to Joshi about a getting stipend or something.”

“It’s fine,” K murmurs, running his fingertips over the glass.

Haru says nothing for a while. Then, “Officer K, you alright?”

K doesn’t say anything. “I don’t know.”

“What are you thinking?”

“This is my last night like this.” K looks over his shoulder. “When I wake up tomorrow… I’ll be different.”  

Haru says nothing. Then, “I have another sedative if you want to just get it over with.”

Haru’s expression is impossible to read past the particle mask. K thinks it looks like a muzzle, makes Haru unfamiliar, machine-like and he thinks unbidden about the Japanese model that Joshi originally wanted. How like Haru that blade runner might have looked. How unapproachable and assassin-like. Suddenly, K can very easily imagine Haru at their work – killing creatures not unlike himself and, unconsciously, wonders if he’ll ever manage that kind of presence. Then Haru sighs and pulls the mask down, unsnapping it from behind their neck. The human blade runner looks… sad, K decides. 

“Or, we can sit here and I’ll run you through my casework for a little while longer.” Haru gives K a warning look. “Just for a little while.”

K nods. “Okay,” he says.

“I can’t let you stay up.”

“It’s okay.” He gestures slightly. “I appreciate it.”

Haru eyes him. “You know, it really will be better when you wake up tomorrow.”

K says nothing and eventually Haru takes a seat on the couch and K, even more eventually, joins them.

Chapter Text

“I’m not blending,” K says, annoyed, into his earpiece.

“No, you sure are fucking not, tin-man.”

Haru sounds amused, but there’s a note of tension in their voice. K can see his partner moving through the crowd on the lower level. The Detective’s small, dark frame disappears in the shadows between civilians. In the strobe-lights, the path they pick across the dancefloor registers like stop motion. Black-lights throw sections of their jacket and hair into high-relief – invisible paints and dyes that turn Haru’s monochrome outfit into a riot of color. Haru does street-chic better than K. Haru passes for civilian better than K.

Then again, Haru is human and K ‘s only been alive for four days now.

“I’m not dressed for a night club,” K reiterates.

“Not my fault the target’s got notions of collateral damage.”

“Think she’ll take hostages?”

“She’s already killed six people, K. She will use civilians as shields. Are you ready?”

 “I’ve got eyes on her.”  

Jita Curana – Serial Number NK960514, a combat model Nexus 8 standing six-foot-three – is drinking shots at the bar and paying cash. She’s big. Lean frame roped in dark sinew, skin a roadmap of scarring like melted wax from her right clavicle down to her fingertips. K knows her specs by rote. She’s heavier than he is. A little taller too. He thinks he’ll be faster, but only in theory. Her bone-density is about 5% less polymer-concentrated than his own, her muscle-grade 10% above next-gen standard and K is standard from the top of his head to the soles of his LAPD-issue boots.

“She’s stronger than you,” Haru reminds him.

“I know.”

Haru is getting closer.

“You’re tougher though. She can over-power you, but you can out-last her.”

“I know.”

“Okay. I’m gonna make contact and –”

Jita’s head snaps around. Her eyes fix on Haru and K knows, immediately, she’d had them made since they walked in. Between the strobe of one light and the next she grabs a bottle from the bar and breaks it over the counter.

“Fuck,” says Haru.

It’s not exactly their signal that things have gone to hell, but it’s close enough. K vaults the second story balustrade, grabbing the bar and hopping it in a single swing of his legs. It’s a twenty-foot drop to the lower level. When he lands, the interlocking LED screens that comprise the floor straight up shatter, bursting into static beneath his boots. He comes up with his sidearm in hand, dead-level with the target who turns just in time to catch the bullet K puts in her super-dense ribs. Jita hits the bar, flips over the top and disappears behind the counter, and then the room erupts into screaming and motion.

K ignores the screaming, sprinting forward. He holsters the gun (too many civilians), then vaults the bar in time to see Jita low-sprint around the central island to the other side of the bar. K runs cross the counter-top, knocking drinks off the bar and coming around the corner as Jita jumps the bar and goes for the door. K launches off the bar, hits the ground running directly behind her. He’s faster. He gains on her rapidly and she, sensing this, spins to face him and K slams into her shoulder-first, body checking her through the dry-wall and into the steel structures within.

K unholsters his blaster and levels it, Weaver-stance, waiting for Jita to rise from the debris.

“Jita Curana. LAPD.”

Jita is prying herself loose from the wall. She’s bloody now, dusted in plaster. She bares her teeth. “Blade runner.”

K immediately puts two shots into her rib cage, knocking her back through the wall.

“Get down the on the ground,” K says calmly.

Jita, again, pulls herself out of the wall. Her shirt is shredded. Beneath it – a layer of black military-grade body armor.

“Ventilate me, fucker.”

K immediately aims for her skull and fires, but she’s faster. She ducks, dives, hits the ground rolling behind a table. She flips it, grabs it and hurls it like an over-sized frisbee. K ducks down, curling inward, braced, and the table shatters against his shoulder, knocking him off his feet and before he’s even stopped rolling, Jita is on top of him. She grabs his gun arm, slams it into the floor. K bucks up, cracks his head against the bridge of her nose, crushing the cartilage but she won’t release his gun arm. K flicks his wrist, sending the gun skidding across the room and with the threat of disarmament gone, he swings his legs up around her hips, hooks his boots behind her back and drives his fist up into her bloody face.

She throws herself sideways, but K’s doesn’t let go. He stays latched, tenacious as a bulldog, and they roll together over and over until Jita grabs him, rears up on her knees, and drops her full body weight on top of him, slamming him into the floor. She gets two hands around his neck. He grabs her wrists, one hand per arm, and yanks her arms apart, breaking her choke and yanking her forward. Again he whips his forehead into her broken nose. He misses. His head hits her in the teeth. She screams, reeling, and blood runs from a gash in K’s hairline.

He immediately unhooks his legs from around her back, pulls one leg to his chest and drives her boot directly into her jaw. She flies back, hitting a table and bowling over the top of it to lie, moaning, in the broken glass and debris. K’s up immediately. He darts cross the room, swings one leg over her back so he’s straddling her from behind, then hooks his arm around her throat. He shoves his fist into the crook of his opposite arm and wrenches up until her feels her throat pinch shut in the bend of his elbow.

Then he waits.

She thrashes, clawing at his arm, bucking wildly beneath him. She’s so strong she gets her knees under her and drives herself to her feet with K on her back. K hangs on. She staggers. Throws herself into the wall, driving K into the plaster, but K doesn’t let go. She bull-rushes the bar, smashing K against the counter but the bar buckles and K does not let go. Her struggles weaken. She doubles up, thighs rippling, jumps, then drops so she lands directly on top of K and he feels his ribs and spine flare…. But then K just hooks his right leg across the front of her hips, wedges his boot behind his left thigh and locks in the full-body blood choke.

He waits.

He waits a full two minutes for the struggles to subside, for her fingers to stop clawing his forearm, for the pulse in her throat to go still.

When he’s sure she’s dead, he releases his hold and rolls the body off him.

“Nice job.”

K looks up. Haru is holding K’s lost gun.

“She hurt you?”

K wipes blood from his forehead. “Her teeth cut me.”

“Anything else?”

“Nothing serious.”

“Good. I’ve phoned clean up. Let’s do collection after they get here.”

“Why?”

“Because you shouldn’t gouge a rep’s eyeball out of their skull in front of civilians whenever possible, K. It’s kind of ghoulish.”

“Oh.”

Haru gives him his gun. “Good job, kid. Not a bad first time.”

“It’s not my first…” K hesitates. He sits up, crouching on the floor next to the body. “Well, it’s my first in the real world I guess.”

Haru’s wearing their particle mask, so K can’t read their expression. “First of many. You’ve been up four days and you have a retirement on the books. Joshi will love that.” Haru tilts their head. “You good?”

K gives Haru a thumbs-up.

“You’re a fast learner, KD6. Good job.”

K feels a vague rush of satisfaction when Haru says that.

“Thanks, Detective.”

“Don’t thank me yet. You have baseline when we get back. But, again, you did a good job. I’d have been in some trouble without you.”

K suspects there’s a reason beyond general morale that Haru keeps telling him he’s done a good job, but he doesn’t feel lie examining that reason too closely. They wait for the clean up crew one of whom offers Haru a cigarette, politely declined. The same crewman offers K a cigarette as well. K ignores Haru’s disapproving look and accepts it.

“Jeez, starting bad habits already,” says Haru.

K watches them load Jita up in a body bag and into the back of a transport. In a minute, he will get in the back with the body and extract Jita’s left eyeball. He puffs experimentally on the cigarette.

 


 

The baseline room locks from the outside and they lock it when he gets inside, three steel plates in a bolt-lock, a vault door. It’s very much like the one in his old precinct (the one in his head, but not reality) and he knows in other precincts (maybe this one) the baseline room is also a gas chamber. He examines the walls – smooth and white and featureless and cannot say for sure that the mechanisms for his execution aren’t installed here. Maybe they are not that efficient here. Maybe, they take him out of here and kill him elsewhere. It’s possible. That would be cheaper.

There is a single black metal stool bolted to the center of the floor. 

In the middle of the far wall, at shoulder height, there is a scanner module, a vertical black slit in the wall with an embedded lens beside it. Looking at it, K feels a de-ja-vu that he knows is false but he leans into it and lets the feeling lead him. He takes a seat facing the module. He waits. Waits. Eventually, a high G-tone starts to emanate from the module, filling the sound-chamber walls until it’s coming from everywhere, humming in his bones. He breathes in and out. He waits.

A man’s voice comes over the intercom. “Officer K-D-six-dash-three-dot-seven. This is your post-traumatic baseline test. Are you ready to begin?”

K does not hesitate. “Yes, sir.”

“Fine,” says the interrogator. ““Recite your baseline.”

“And blood-black nothingness began to spin… A system of cells interlinked within cells interlinked within cells interlinked within one stem… And dreadfully distinct against the dark, a tall white fountain played.”

 “Let’s focus on system,” says the module, the man behind the module.

“System,” K says.

“Feel that in your body,” says the module. “The system. What does it feel like to be part of the system?”

“System,” says K, ignoring the question.

“Is there anything in your body that wants to resist the system?”

“System.”

The questions come and the answers go just as easily. K can see, intellectually, that these questions are triggering (“When you’re old, won’t you be decommissioned? Dreadfully.”) and meant to frighten (“Did someone ever hold you down against your will? Dreadfully.”) but only in the theoretical psychological wasteland of his being truly traumatized. (“What’s it like when you cut a man’s throat? Fountain.”) And he’s not traumatized. (“Would you let someone drown you in a fountain? Fountain.”)

“Fountain,” K says, almost absently.

“Tell me that three times,” says the module. “A tall white fountain played.”

And K answers, “A tall white fountain played. A tall white fountain played. A tall white fountain played.”

The G-tone snaps off.

It’s silent.

“We’re done,” says the interrogator. Then, “Huh. Steady-on, aren’t you, newbie?”

K doesn’t know how to respond to that question. So he just says, “I wouldn’t know, sir.”

“Yeah, I guess not.”

 


 

Haru is not in the hall when K is let out of the baseline room and for a moment K is arrested by the absence – aware suddenly of the void Haru occupied and how quickly he’d come to rely on the Detective’s presence. It’s nine AM. They’re on a personnel-only floor but the passage-way is busy with people, other cops, laden with morning tasks but as he stands there in plain clothes without Haru at his side, K feels their eyes sliding curiously over him. He pulls out his LAPD-issue mobile, so it’s visible, and opens one of Haru’s digitized casefiles.

There’s a replicant blood ring somewhere out of Chinatown5. Haru’s narrowed down the local clinics most likely to know the dealer directly – a human medical officer from Calantha. Unusual. His clinic runs almost entirely pro-bono in Gutter Ally. The other clinics are selling at a clear mark up on type AB and O- blood– the standard blood types for Nexus 8 military and leisure models respectively. Combat models are universal receivers. Domestics are universal donors. This is the only one giving it out mostly for free and –

“Hey, skinner.”

K looks up.

Someone tall, broad, and in plain clothes moves suddenly to stand in front of K, near enough that K has to step back one pace into the wall to get distance. The man plants a hand on the wall directly over K’s left shoulder and leans down, his other hand on his hip. He’s smiling, but only in the sense K can see his teeth. There are two other men and a woman standing behind him and K registers the rank on their lapels, the last names, and cross references against his identic knowledge of the LAPD personnel database. Officer Mark Walters, Officer Ahmed Anhari, Detective Danielle Woo, and the man leaning over him… Sergeant Mike Jones. K recognizes him from the parking garage.

“How’d your baseline go, skinner?”

K feels the direct question digging at him. He keeps his eyes level, straight forward, staring at Jones’ collar rather than up into his face.

“Fine, sir,” he says. “No anomalies.”

“Look at me when I talk to you, skinner.”

K raises his chin and his eyes to meet Jones’ dark, penetrative stare. Jones is built a bit like a wall. If K were not a Replicant, the physical size difference would concern him. As is, it’s the rank difference that concerns him.

Jones grabs his coat by the collar, using it to shove K back against the wall.

K pockets his phone, but inside his pocket, he finishes sending Haru a text: jones here

“You look just like the dead skin-job from Eastern,” says Jones. He turns a little, yanking K forward toward the other three officers. “Doesn’t he? Just like the dead one.”

Detective Woo shrugs, her expression much cooler than Jones. “It’s hard to say, Sarge. This one has his clothes on. They stripped and beat the other one to death then hung him from a rafter.” She says this while looking at K directly. “This one’s just too… shiny and new.”

“Agreed,” says Jones, pulling K down the hall. “Officer K, come with me for a moment.”

“I’m waiting for Detective Haru,” K says quietly, his nerves lit up, slicked in adrenaline. “You should ask them before redirecting me to –”

“Shut up, skin-job.”

K closes his mouth. 

Jones pulls K into an equipment room full of riot gear, lockers, and spare folding chairs. He grabs K by the back of the neck and shoves him back into the room until his head hits the far wall hard enough that it hurts a little, hard enough that it would have fractured bone on a human. Jones leans his weight against the back of K’s neck and K keeps his palms flat to the wall, his breathing even, staring neutrally at the lockers adjacent to him. Jones lets go him. K stays where he is.

“Take off your jacket, skinner.”

K hesitates, then does what he’s told. Jones takes the jacket from his hand, then takes K’s sidearm from his hip. He presses the muzzle against the side of K’s temple, the metal digging against his skull. When K does nothing except passively turn his head away, Jones turns K around, yanking him by the shoulder. He shoves K against the wall, hard. Then again, harder. K doesn’t fight back. He just… stares straight forward, his hands at his sides.

“This is where they should store you in the off hours,” Jones says. “Here, with the rest of the equipment. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I don’t know, sir,” K says, lowering his eyes,

Jones slams the grip of K’s gun into his gut with enough force to knock K back into the wall and double him over. Painful, but not debilitating. K can take a hit from a moving car and keep going if need be. He straightens up. Jones immediately hits him again, the same way, doubling him over and the other three laugh. K doesn’t know what to do. He stands up again and Jones, again, slams his fist weighed with the gun directly into K’s solar plexus. It’s starting to hurt now. Jones is strong for a human and he’s not holding back a single ounce of violence. K coughs, stays bent over his time, his head down, his arms around his middle.

Jones puts a hand on the back of his head.

“Look up,” Jones says. 

K breathes out a few more times, then lifts his head. Jones taps the muzzle of the gun against the bottom of K’s chin.

“You know what you are, skinner?”

“I’m a blade runner, Sargent.”

“Yeah. Joshi’s attack dog, right?”

K doesn’t know what to say to that.

“Dogs do tricks on command, don’t they?”

K stares blankly. “I don’t know, I’ve never seen a dog before.”

Jones, momentarily, seems to consider that it’s possible he too has a misunderstanding of what a dog is and maybe and comparing K to dog might have been in error. Then he remembers he’s in the middle of threatening police property and bounces K’s head off the wall.

“Pretty sure they do. Which means, you should do tricks too.” 

“Detective Haru will be looking for me –” K starts to say.

“I didn’t tell you to whine about Haru. I told you to do a trick.”

K keeps his voice level. “I don’t know what you mean, Sargent.”

Jones grabs him at the jaw and pins his head against the wall, pressing the muzzle of the gun against K’s lips. K’s hand instantly goes to Jones’ wrist, faster than most human eyes can follow, but even as his fingers close on the man’s arm, he knows he won’t be able to make himself push a superior officer away. K breathes shallow, his eyes on Jones’ face, his eyes which are fixed on K’s and for a moment he tries to fathom what Jones is trying to find in his expression. What emotion he’d have to wear to make this stop now.

“Open your mouth, skinner.”

“Sir, I’m on a case right now. I need to go –”

“I gave you an order,” Jones says. “If you can’t obey orders, what good are you?”

K glances at the other officers in the room – seeking a single solitary opposing voice, anything. Woo is pitiless, joyless, but unmoved by the proceedings. Anhari is… looking away now, uncomfortable, K supposes with where this is going. Walters is smiling at him. Jones’ fingers dig into his jaw… so K carefully opens his mouth and Jones does exactly what K expected him to do and he jams the gun barrel between his teeth. K exhales. K tastes metal for the first time. The Kastsuma series handgun is a hefty firearm. The barrel notched and reinforced. It makes K’s jaw ache to accommodate it. He breathes through his nose.

“Just so it’s clear,” Jones murmurs, “what you are in the grand scheme of things.”

Jones pushes the gun so far back into K’s throat, the trigger guard digs into his lower lip and this gag reflex threatens.

Anhari steps forward. “Sarge, I think he gets it.”

“I think it’s gonna cry,” Woo says calmly.

K keeps still, trying to keep his mouth open just wide enough to keep his teeth off the abraded metal that composes the barrel. Jones slides the gun half out, pauses, then jam it back where it was and K jerks, choking. Jones fingers are digging into his jaw. He does it again, slower this time. K’s eyes start to burn. The metal cuts into the roof of his mouth and Walters whistles.

Sarge!”

 “You think he’s cute or something, Ahmed?” Woo’s passionless expression remains fixed. “You feelin’ bad for a skinner?”

“He’s Joshi’s man,” Anhari hisses. “If we actually rough him up, she’ll notice.” 

“Skinners shouldn’t be cops,” Woo says quietly.

“He’s not a cop, he’s police property and he’s expensive.”

K can feel his phone vibrating in his pocket. He can feel the muzzle digging into the back of his throat, the texture of the metal on his tongue, the cold friction of it in the bones of skull every time his teeth hit the barrel. His jaw aches holding this position. He doesn’t close his eyes. He doesn’t move an inch. He waits for this to be over either violently or less violently but over. He waits.

Jones lets go of him.

He takes the gun from K’s mouth, carefully, minding his teeth, then he puts the gun back in K’s hand.

He smiles at K. “I think you know better than to tell anyone what happened here.”

K stares at the gun, keeping his eyes down.

“Answer me, skin-job.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jones pats him on the shoulder. “Good dog.”

Later, Haru comes back to find K standing outside the baseline room, calm, reading casefiles on his mobile.

“I got your text,” the Detective says warily.

“It’s fine,” K says.

Haru looks him over. “Yeah?”

K puts his phone away. “Are we headed to Chinatown Five?”

Haru still eyes him. “Yeah. We can do that.” A beat. Haru’s eyes flick across K’s face the way someone might read a line in a text book several times, trying to get the meaning. “I’m sorry. I got called away. Captain Bozai needed to –”

“It’s fine,” K says.

Haru’s brow knits, his mouth pulling just a little. “Okay. Let’s work the case. You ready, blade runner?”

“Born ready,” he says.

 


 

Their first lead takes them to a pod structure in lower Chinatown5. The smell of factory fumes and protein gruel dominates the air for ten blocks through the bazaar, undercut with the aroma of rotten garbage and piss. Every part of the city has some form of open street market in every twenty-block radius or so. It’s begun to snow now. He knows that it almost always snows in LA these days and winter is around the corner. This is, Haru tells him, the part of the year the riots for heated housing starts up and the street sweepers start collecting bodies from the gutters.

The pod they visit is occupied by a Somali woman, her daughter, and a male Replicant with acid scarring along his forearms and hands. The pod is a single room with a fold out wall stove, single bed and a rug by the door where the Replicant is clearly sleeping. The woman, Obari Miso, says her Replicant Baz was her husband’s security unit before he died. Now, he keeps gang bangers out of their pod. She insists this repeatedly when Haru pops a mobile scanner to get an ID.

“Can you look up and to the right for me?”

Baz, seated on a tiny chair in this tiny apartment, only barely tall enough to accommodate him, says, “They left me behind, you know.”

Haru nods. “Your unit from Calantha?”

“No. They wouldn’t leave me. The cargo operator. They left me here in a transition stop. Then said I was AWOL. I wasn’t. I was waiting for them.”

Haru does not draw their weapon. “I know. I saw the report.”

“It was easier to declare me AWOL than come and get me?” Baz asks softly.

“Cheaper, probably,” says Haru, “to let the city clean up their messes.”

“Who will help Obari when I’m gone, blade runner?”

“That’s not your problem anymore, Baz. Should never have been your problem to begin with. Now, to be clear, your case has an option for reformat. You were lost in logistics and I have phone records showing you tried to call in. You’re MIA, not AWOL. If we get that status lifted, you can be reassigned.”

Baz smiles sadly. “You know that won’t happen.”

Haru’s wearing the particle mask, so it’s hard to tell what they really think at all. “It’s the best chance you’ve got. With me at least, it’s a possibility. Not many of my kind make it an option. So… please.” Haru holds the scanner up. “Give me an ident.”

Baz glances past Haru to K who is standing at the door, keeping Obari outside, lest this part get violent.

“If I resist, will you have that one kill me?”

Haru shakes their head. “Baz, I’m trying my damnedest here.”

I know what it is to kill my own kind,” says Baz in a Somali dialect. He is clearly speaking to K now. “It was a difficult task for the Eights. Is it difficult for you too, little brother?”

K stares at him. Then in English, says, Can you please do what my partner says?”

Baz tilts his head. “Will I be your first, blade runner?”

 “No, unfortunately.”

Haru’s backed up a step, out of Baz’s reach lest the massive Nexus try to grab them. K can see Haru’s hand on their hip-holster now. K is aware, suddenly, of how dangerous this is for Haru and how wildly dangerous it is that they did things this way – talking it out like this. Baz does not stand though. He sighs, then holds out a hand.

“Give me the scanner, Detective, I will do it so you do not have to get near me.”

Haru hesitates, then tosses the giant Nexus 8 the scanner. Baz pops it open, the little blue scan-band blinking. He lifts his head, looks up and to the left and when he raises the scanner to his eyes, the miniature black-light exposes the band of serial numbers beneath his iris and embedded in the white there. The scanner beeps, confirms, and Baz snaps it shut before tossing the scanner to Haru. Haru, in turn, pulls out a pair of industrial-grade handcuffs. Baz takes these as well and closes them on his wrists, letting the titanium cording between the cuffs tighten until his forearms are forced together and he must hold them against this chest. He stands.

K opens the door for him and he steps calmly out of the pod.

He lets K take his elbow and lead him out of the pod structure, Haru close behind. Baz is hilariously gigantic compared to K and it’s impossible not to be very physically aware of that.

Baz is looking at him. “You seem young, Officer.”

“It’s my morning routine,” K says automatically for some reason.

Baz smiles a little. “Are you old enough to have thought about your life? Where it is going?”

“Yes,” K says.

“Then you know, you will not ever see a kind word or gesture in your life. Your world will be brutality. Like mine was. You know this.”

K keeps his eyes forward, his hand on Baz’s elbow firm but gentle. “Yes, I know that.”

“But you’re content?”

K says nothing for a moment, then, “I have no plans of running, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“No. Your kind don’t run. You would offer your throat if that little Detective behind us asked to cut it open.”

“I think Haru would get fired for that,” K says.

“May I give you a kindness, little brother?”

K glances at the bigger Nexus. “You wanna tell me where you’ve been bagging blood for Doctor Matsuri?”

Baz tilts his head. “Ah, that is why you came looking for someone like me. I see. Well…” Baz smiles at him. It’s a warm almost sorry smile. “Have your owners told you yet that you’re beautiful?”

K blinks, a little surprised, and Baz stops walking and turns suddenly into him and with his cuffed hands reaches up to run the back of his right knuckle along K’s cheekbone. K freezes a little, thrown by it. Baz’s hand against his face is… warm, actually, a shot of electricity along the nerves terminating out from the point of contact and setting parts of him to racing suddenly, to hyper-awareness, and he recognizes but does not move on an impulse to lean into the touch – enough context in him to be kind of mortified by it but also not wanting it to stop. Confused, he just stands there and – 

“K,” Haru says, urgency in their voice. “K, don’t let him –!” 

Baz grabs K by the throat, gets both of his cuffed hands around K’s neck and bulrushes him, slamming him into a slab of concrete with enough force that K’s skull bounces off the stone and stars light off in his brains. Baz shoves him up the wall by his throat like he weighs nothing, so his boots leave the ground and people start screaming. K grabs his wrists. Baz’s fingers tighten around his neck, crushing inward. K can’t breathe. K can’t even break the choke at Baz’s elbows because the Replicant’s arms are literally cuffed together. K claws at Baz’s fingers, feeling his windpipe start to buckle. Baz hold his gaze steadily. 

“I am doing you a kindness,” Baz whispers.

K chokes. A memory, suddenly: falling into a river when he was thirteen. The panic, wild, animal, lungs burning until unconsciousness starts to comes and he can’t – K snaps out of it. He grabs his side arm from his hip holster, jams it into Baz’s belly, and fires three times. Baz barely seems to notice. Three massive holes in his gut, he keeps throttling K. So K sticks the muzzle up under the soldier’s left bicep and fires a large caliber round into his arm, blowing a section of muscle and bone from its rightful configuration. But Baz keeps holding on, even as his left hand goes nerveless, as the stench of burnt meat and shit starts to rise from the Replicant’s perforated gut. K stares.

Baz ignores it all. “Go on, little brother,” he says, thumbs crushing K’s trachea.

And that’s when Haru puts a bullet through his temple. Baz’s head snaps to the left and he drops, leaving K standing against the wall with his gun pointed at nothing. People are screaming. Haru walks up to K, badge visible in hand how. Baz lies dead on the pod-structure floor, a slow pool of blood spreading beneath his body. The bullet Haru put through his skull blew a large portion of his skull open, his head cracked like an egg on the sidewalk.

“Are you okay?” Haru demands.

K stares at Baz.

“Hey, answer me,” Haru snaps.

K looks at Haru. “I’m okay,” he says, voice a little raw.

“You’re not okay. You almost let a perp in cuffs break your neck. What the hell was that?”

“It won’t happen again.” 

Haru’s expression behind the particle mask remains difficult to read, but something in their eyes, pensive and dark, makes K think they’re mulling him over. Deciding things. K coughs.

“He surprised me.”

Haru sighs and digs in his belt for a micro-fiber evidence tarp. “I’m calling clean up. You can do the reclamation in the wagon.”

“I could just move the body and do the reclamation where people can’t see.”

Haru looks appalled, then sad. “I mean, sure, you could drag Baz into a back alley and pop his eye out.” Haru shakes out the tarp. “But you’re a member of the LAPD and this is your job so either just do it out in front of everyone and remind them what a scummy fucking detail this is… or wait for the wagon and do it under controlled circumstances.” Haru lays the tarp over Baz’s body, hits a node in the corner and the hem of the tarp flashes a prohibitive red and blue. Haru sighs. “If you want to drag bodies into alleys, then do it when I’m gone. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Haru looks at him, the lights and mask making his partner’s face inscrutable. “Why’d you let him touch you?”

“I got confused.”

“Be specific.”

K frowns. “He didn’t seem like he was attacking me at first. That surprised me, so I froze.”

“Why?”

K hesitates.

“You can be honest.”

“That’s good, I was gonna just lie to your face.”

“Look here, smart-ass…”

“It felt nice,” K interrupts. “No one’s done something like that before. It surprised me and I froze.”

Haru studies him. “Okay,” they say slowly. “That’s reasonable for a new runner. Your psych-pack is, like, 90% procedural memory. Not socialization. You need to be careful though, K. You’ve got this kind of curious streak that’s great for the investigative side of things but be less curious about what giant military reps want to whisper in your ear next time. Okay?”

“Noted. Avoid sweet nothings from perps.”

“God, you’re just a little bit mouthy aren’t you?”

K crouches down next to the body. “I hadn’t noticed, Detective.”

Haru moves to stand beside him. K can feel their stare. Then, rather unexpectedly, Haru drops their hand on the top of K’s head and kind of ruffles his hair. K blinks. Haru’s palm is warm. They took their glove off to do it, their fingertips five points of specific pressure against his scalp. He blinks again, then slowly looks up at the Detective. Haru removes their hand and looks faintly embarrassed.

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“K, you’re kind of odd even for a blade runner. But you’re doing good.”

“If you say so, Detective.”

Haru sighs loudly. “You know you can’t jerk Joshi around, right? You reserve your charming banter for me and me alone?”

“Well sure,” K says.

A beat.

“When do I have my baseline?” K says slowly.

“We’re going right back to the station for it. You worried?”

“This one was a little harder.”

“You’ll be fine. You were doing your job and you did good.”

K feels a pressure unwind in his chest.

“Alright.”

 


 

Haru is leaning against the wall just outside the door when K is let out of the baseline room. They’re eating a burrito of some kind with a strong-smelling condiment slathered on the top. Haru takes a large bite just as K steps into the hall.

“How’d it go?” Haru asks around a mouthful.

“Dreadfully,” says K.

What?”

“It was fine,” K corrects quickly. “Standard baseline. No anomalies.”

“You know I did one of those?” Haru says, shoving the rest of the burrito in their cheek.

K waits while Haru physically struggles to chew. “Why?”

Haru shrug, swallows. “I was curious.”

“Did you pass?”

“No.” Haru digs in a pocket for their phone. “Doing this job gets me riled up apparently. Guess that’s why we have you guys.” Haru eyes him. “You’ve got two retirements on the books and it’s just been a week. Joshi’s happy of course. Which is good, because she was generally indirectly pissed at you for being the wrong runner.”

“That’s not my fault.”

“Of course not, but humans like to project.”

“Haru?”

“Hmm?”

K shoves his hands in his jacket pockets. “When you leave, it will just be me reporting to Joshi. Should I be… worried?”

Haru waves a hand.

“Nah, nah. Joshi’s good. She’s been chomping at the bit for a blade runner commission. Eastern blowing it is really giving her a chance to get some budget behind her operation.” Haru starts walking and K falls into step beside them. “It might be an LAPD thing, but there’s a lot of bruhaha about retiring old serial numbers after the Black Out. Having a strong blade runner division is like the first step in the right direction for a formerly struggling district. Joshi’s trying to plant a flag.”

K thinks about it. “So… she’s going to put a lot of pressure on me, but support me?”

“Yeah. She’s been grilling me about bringing on one of you for months. She’s worked with a lot of reps, just not a blade runner. Never heard a bad word about her and I did explain pretty frankly about the sort of shit she absolutely should not do if she wants you mission ready for the long term. If you get ganked before the year is out, then that reflects poorly on her. So don’t die, be careful, and just do your job in a timely fashion. You’ll be fine.”

“Thank you, Haru.”

“It’s literally my job, K.”

Silence for a while.

Haru tilts their head. “Joshi won’t do anything shitty. I’m pretty sure about this.”

“But she’s never had a blade runner report directly to her before.”

“No. But again, I told her what not to do.”

K nods. “Alright.”

“You’ll be fine when I’m gone, K.”

“I know.”

“Just keep your head down and do your work.”

“I know.”

They step into the parking garage and stop for a moment while Haru checks a few messages on their phone. When that’s done, Haru stands, arms akimbo beneath the traffic holos. They gaze amiably up into the lights while other LAPD personnel come and go around them. K’s not sure why Haru is slowing down, but waits patiently nonetheless.

“You know what you should get?”

“What?”

“You should get a DiJi.” Haru points a finger at him. “Your apartment has the hookup and the holo gantry is already installed. You should get one.”

K blinks. “Why?”

“They’re useful and the advanced ones are all Turning-qualified. You can swap just about any domestic DiJi for post-traumatic vital watch or download therapeutic subroutines. They’re also good for security and, well, you’ll want all the security you can get in that building. They’re also pretty good company if you get a good domestic matrix.”

K frowns. “So it’s like having another person in my apartment?”

“K, humans with much less stressful jobs in the LAPD most definitely use DiJis for stress relief. You should try to get one.”

“You think it will help?”

“Being a blade runner can be a shitty gig, K. You can’t talk to a lot of humans and other replicants aren’t gonna be too keen on you either. Last thing you want is getting so stir-crazy you never want to leave the precinct. You burn out faster that way. I’m not saying you have to get a DiJi, but I am recommending it.” Haru shrugs. “Besides, Wallace Corp just came out with that one really smoking hot model. Jill or whatever.”

“Jill?”

“Eh, something starting with ‘J’. ‘J’ and ‘K’. See, destiny?”

K blinks. “Is this a sex thing?”

“No, K it’s not a…. well, okay, a lot of DiJi’s are definitely a sex thing. They’re multi-functional. Why? Is the sexiness not a perk?”

K thinks about it. “I think… it’s not really a factor.”

Haru looks shocked. “For real?”

K stares. “I…. yes?” 

“Huh,” Haru says, looking at K like they hadn’t seen him properly until just then. “Well, that’s fine obviously. I still recommend a DiJi for the psychological support.” A beat. “Really? That’s not a thing for you? Nothing in your psych-pack about it?”

K shrugs. “Not particularly.”

Haru sigh and extracts a pack of cigarettes from their pocket, offering it to K. “You’re an odd one. But you’ll do alright.”

“I thought you didn’t smoke.”

“I don’t. These are for you.”

“Oh.” K takes the pack. “Thank you.”

Haru watches him light up. “Hey, K?”

“Hmm?”

“You got fake memories about physical intimacy right?”

K draws a lungful of smoke between his teeth. “Sure. A few.”

“Anything good?”

K exhales a thin jet of smoke. “Nothing exciting if that’s what you’re asking. And I feel a little odd sharing a memory that never happened.”

“Right, but you remember, like, kissing people right?”

“Romantically?”

“Yes, K. Romantically.”

K peers at the burning tip of his cigarette. “When I was a teenager, I remember a few times.”

Haru looks dismayed. “That’s it?”

“Does it matter?”

Haru says nothing for a while, then, “What’s your happiest memory?”

“Uh… I saw a dog when I was ten. It ran up to me with a ball in its mouth and we played fetch. It was in a park. Things were green and, uh, sunny.”

“Jesus, really? Hell, I haven’t even seen a dog. That’s a lucky memory.”

K shrugs, cupping a hand around his cigarette as a spinner passes overhead. “I have a good psych-pack. The sub-contractor is the best in the business.”

Haru seems worried. “You really don’t have any romantic memories from adulthood?”

“No.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Well,” K says, inhaling smoke again. “It wasn’t bothering me until you started bothering me about it.” A beat. “Why are you asking?”

“I guess because I don’t imagine you’re gonna get a ton of chances for that in your line of work. Seems a shame not to have something to look back on. The dog’s nice but like… no girlfriend who smelled like hand lotion? No boyfriend who felt you up in a doorway? No memories like that?”

“No.”

Haru pauses when they reach the spinner. “You want one?”

K looks up. “Want what?”

“A memory like that.”

K blinks. “How do I get one?”

Haru gives him a dead-eyed stare.

“Oh, you mean in reality.” He thinks about it. “Sure, but I don’t know anyone I’d do that with.”

“Pleasure bars are a thing, K.”

He shakes his head. “I’d have to know them. And I don’t know anyone. It’s fine.”

Haru tilts their head. “You know me.”

K lowers his cigarette and stares.

Haru laughs. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

K hesitates, thinks of that brief unexamined thought: That Haru is attractive. That Haru is still attractive.  

“You said I’m not you type.”

“You’re still not, kiddo. But that’s besides the point.”

K flicks the rest of his cigarette away. “I’d better not.”

“Alright. But seriously, a DiJi is a smart move, okay?” Haru pops the door on the spinner. “Ready to go?”

K imagines, briefly, reaching forward and gathering his partner’s head in his hands. Tilting their head a little and kissing Haru on the mouth, having to bend down a little because Haru is shorter than him. How much stronger the smell of their hair gel and skin would be if her were that close. He dismisses the thought.

“Born ready,” K says.