Snowflakes settled on his eyelashes, on his upturned face, no longer melting on his rapidly cooling skin. While he had thought of himself as just a puppet, a pretend human... a skinjob, he had never allowed his thoughts to dwell on anything other than the task at hand, of retiring the remaining Nexus 7's hiding in the Greater Los Angeles metropolis. He'd seen skeletons of old cities, skyscrapers with broken backs picked clean to their steel bones, he'd witnessed the towering neon lights and holographs in the bustling city, soared over the almost serene stretches of protein farms beyond, walked in the vast once-irradiated desert in what once was Las Vegas, and he'd held his own in the thunderous crashing of the ocean's waves upon the shore. Yet until the moment he saw the date carved into the dead tree he'd never stopped long enough to consider the beauty around him.
For a time he had entertained the idea he might be more than a genetically engineered human, a Replicant, brought into this world just a few short years ago to do the dirty work of his masters. A slave despite the illusion of freedom given to him with his own apartment... and Joi. He had let his mind soar with possibilities, with new emotions flooding through him. He had LIVED rather than existed.
As he lay on the steps leading to Ana Stelline's dream laboratory he knew it no longer mattered that he wasn't Rachel and Deckard's miraculous child. He had learned that all his responses learned by rote to pass the baseline test were just a state of mind, and the concept of a soul was not just the birthright of those born naturally.
He wasn't more human than human. He was human in every way that truly mattered. And he was dying, but in this moment he had never felt more alive.
His vision of swirling flakes drifting from a grey sky blurred into Deckard's face.
He felt hands shoving at his coat, revealing the bloodied knife wound.
"Damn it! You should have told me you were injured."
Deckard pulled him to his feet and supported him up the steps and into the building. As he lay down on the bare floor he was already missing the snowflakes, real memories rather than those implanted to give him empathy, to make him subservient. He didn't feel pain quite like humans. He had been manufactured with fewer pain receptors so he could fight and keep on fighting if necessary, but he sensed the numbness as his synthetic blood flowed from his wound. Looking across the barren room he could see Ana Stelline on her side of the barrier, staring at him, unable to help. Joe wondered for a moment if Deckard had told her of her heritage, and possibly the reason why she was so brilliant and so genetically fragile. Unless even that was a ruse concocted by Freysa and the Rebels to hide Rachel's child in plain sight.
K... Joe had a small piece of her inside him, a strong memory that gave away nothing of her true origins beyond a hard life in an orphanage where children were expected to work for their food and water. A memory of a small child hunted down by other children for the carved horse that would be worth a small fortune as it was made from wood. It had been a unicorn once, and Joe had wondered at the symbolism, especially as the other carvings seen in Deckard's Las Vegas were of animals that had been real rather than mythical.
"Do you have a medical kit?"
Joe realized the words were not aimed at him. He felt the loss of Deckard from his side for a moment, then a dull ache as Deckard returned and began tending to his wound.
Joe grabbed his wrist. "If they find me, they will find you... and her. Wallace will find her."
"Bastard's not getting his hands on her," Deckard rumbled, shaking off Joe's grip so he could continue working, and Joe wondered at his animosity.
Joe could understand why Lieutenant Joshi had wanted Rachel's human/replicant hybrid child dead. Ana Stelline blurred the line between Replicant and human, between manufactured and natural born. Her birth had already started a rebellion that would grow stronger still with Ana as its figurehead. She was their miracle. He could not understand why Wallace would want her though.
"Why does Wallace want her?"
"To have Replicants breed more Replicants. Cheaper and faster than growing them in a laboratory. Tyrell told me Rachel..." He looked across at Ana, "Your mother was special, but all his research was lost in the Blackout. Wallace wants to use you to jump-start his new production line. He wants to dissect you."
"We can't stay here," Joe stated. "We are endangering her."
"I know," Deckard stated, and Joe could hear the rough emotion in his voice as he stared at his daughter, perhaps drinking in this memory of her to hold for the rest of his life. He looked down at Joe. "Can you walk?"
Deckard helped him to his feet and placed an arm around Joe to support him. They paused for a moment, father and daughter separated by a transparent wall, and Joe watched as Deckard placed his palm against the surface, an action mirrored by Ana Stelline. No words passed between them but the air seemed thick and heavy with emotion, with the making of new memories that Ana could never share. Moments later they were back outside, caught in a snowstorm that swiftly covered their tracks as Deckard helped him back to the car.
Joe stared out of the side window at the swirling flakes as the car rose, focusing for a moment on the building housing Rachel and Deckard's miracle daughter. The snow gave way to brilliant sunshine, the ground to the rolling of waves on a seemingly endless ocean.
Joe looked across at the human piloting the car and imagined another time when the passenger was a different Replicant on the run. Rachel. The circumstances of their flight hadn't changed, but Joe wondered if there was any place left on Earth where he and Deckard might be able to run and hide for another thirty years.
"Off World," Deckard announced as if reading Joe's mind. "It's the only safe place left."
"Off World," Joe echoed.
Freysa had wanted him to find and kill Deckard, but silently he promised to protect the human who had fathered a miracle, even from his own kind. He would do this for Ana Stelline, but also for himself. He was a Replicant but he was no longer a puppet built by Wallace Corporation. He had cut his strings when he believed he was Rachel's child, and he had fallen hard on learning the truth, but now it was time for him to get back up on his feet. He was a Replicant, but he was also a 'real boy' now. He would walk a new path of his choosing, beside Rick Deckard... to the stars.