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Redemption

by Mark Hinsley 


I

A blade runner’s duty is to “track, locate, positively identify and retire Replicants.” That’s what the oath says. Along with a bunch of other stuff about public safety and the good of the people. But which people? It never worked out so well for the Replicants, did it? And I can tell you, I’ve known enough, and killed enough, to tell you that they are people.

I’ve always disliked killing. I’ve seen and done enough for ten lifetimes. I’ve had to kill Replicants. And humans. You see, since World War Terminus, there aren’t too many people who’ve killed both. Even among cops and soldiers. So very few people have a frame of reference like mine. And in my experience, there’s no difference. They die just the same.

My name is Frank Driver. And killing is what I used to do. Some guys call it ‘retirement’. Even to themselves, but I don’t have such illusions. I’m a killer. I never liked it, but I was always good at it. I make no excuses and I take my full measure of responsibility. I entered into a life of service. I put on the uniform. I swore oaths. And I fulfilled them. Now I’m paying the price.

Seattle, July 2023. One week ago:

I literally woke up in the gutter. In some goddamned back alley in sector 6, little Cairo. My head was hurting some but not as much as it might for the amount of whiskey I’d had earlier. Not real whiskey from real mash, mind you, but synthetic stuff. And not the best quality either. My ears rang and my clothes were wet right through, cold and slimy feeling. So I knew it had been raining while I slept. I remembered the previous evening and it blurred into the evening before and the one before that. Bars and whiskey. Sometimes a hooker. My kind of life had robbed me of a family. And the killing had robbed me of my humanity. Few Blade Runners marry. Even fewer can make it last. Emotional problems. Believe it or not, some old-time Blade Runners can fail a Voigt-Kampff test. It’s all the killing. It dulls empathic responses. The Police Department would probably rather I didn’t spread that around.

As I sat up, I rubbed my stiff neck with one hand while a checked for my watch and wallet with the other. The ringing in my ears cleared a bit and revealed itself to be the soft humming sound of a gray, unmarked spinner idling at the curb nearby. As I stumbled to my feet, I accidentally leaned on a dirty, yellow parking meter, giving me a painful electric shock that made me let go with a yelp. “Dammit.” The passenger’s door of the spinner opened and a familiar voice called out, “get in.” Rubbing my face to clear the bleariness, I got in.

It had been over a year since I had seen Captain Kendrick. As thin as ever, his sharp face looked haggard and worn but I’m sure I looked worse. “Jesus, Mercer and Buddha. You look like hell, Frank,” he said.

I managed, “nice to see you too,” and he snorted.

“I’d heard that you’d gone to hell but I didn’t know how bad it had become.” When I said nothing, he continued, “Do you still have that place south of town?” I nodded and he lifted the spinner quickly. “I’ll give you a ride home,” he said brusquely.

After a few minutes of silence, I had to know. “What brings you down here, Kendrick? I thought you hated…”

“Listen up Sergeant,” he said in a pleasant, yet menacing tone. He used my old rank to put me in my place and the tone was one that I’d heard before. It usually preceded unpleasantness. “We got a bad bastard on the loose, needs to be taken down.” Kendrick never used the term ‘retire’ either. He dropped a dossier in my lap. I didn’t open it. “Why me? Haven’t I done enough?”

“Don’t be stupid,” he sneered. “There’s never enough. He’s a real sweetheart, this one. Military-trained, served in the colonies, lots of action. And there’s more. About as dangerous as any you’ve ever gone after.”

“I’m through with killing, Kendrick, I can’t do it anymore.” Every time I killed someone, it felt like part of me died too. It seemed that if I went on there’d be nothing left of me. And then I’d die, too. What was left of me. “Get someone else.”

It started to snow and Kendrick flicked the wiper switch before answering. “There is nobody else, Frank. You’re it. You’re drinking yourself to death anyway. You may as well do one last worthwhile thing before you die, you asshole.” Kendrick never was one of those sensitive-type officers. He was old-school. Mission accomplishment came before personnel-welfare.

I sighed and tucked the dossier into my coat. I’d knew I’d regret it.

A few minutes later, I was climbing out of the spinner onto the roof of my apartment building. Without a word, Kendrick lifted, rotated and flew off northward. I watched him go. After over a year, this was the first time that I had seen someone from my previous life. And it may well have been the last.

Entering my darkened apartment on the 27th floor, I went to the kitchenette and poured a straight rum into a dirty glass, then sat down on the lounge to read the dossier. I whistled tunelessly at first but soon realized that I had stopped. His dossier captured my complete attention. As I read, I recognized the old anticipation begin to build, but more intense. The thrill of the hunt. But it was more than that. This would be the assignment of a lifetime, if I could pull it off. This one deserved to be killed, and then some. It suddenly seemed so clear to me that I absolutely had to kill this one. I had never felt this way before. I had always killed because it was my job. Never out of conviction. But this one was very special. It was important that he be killed. As soon as possible. A lot of lives could be at stake. If I killed him, and in so doing, saved many others, perhaps it could even outweigh all of the bad things that I had done over the years. Perhaps I could reclaim all of the little pieces of myself that had died over the years, as I stood over the bodies of my enemies. It seemed as if my whole life had been preparing me for this moment. Redemption, if I wanted it, handed to me on a silver platter. All I had to do was reach out and take it. As I closed the dossier, my hands trembled.

It was early evening when I awoke. I don’t require much sleep, usually. And I’m plagued by bad dreams. Dreams of the day they had told me about my parents’ accident. Dreams about the orphanage. The academy. And what came later. Like all dreams, they weren’t really memories. They were dark and terrible flights of fancy, nightmares built by my mind to fit around memories. I find that drinking helps.

I stood in the shower long enough to get a warning vidphon call from the water agency, threatening a hefty fine for over-usage. It seemed strange in a place that rained or snowed for nine months of the year, but the rain and snow wasn’t fit to drink any more. Only a small percentage could be captured and sterilized. I’d known water-rationing for all of my life. I wouldn’t be shaving today, anyway.

It took some foraging to find some decent clothes. Most of mine had had a hard time recently. I finally dressed in an old black army coat, grey shirt, blue utility trousers and workboots. I don’t own any suits. And I find that a slightly working-class appearance makes people more open and co-operative. I strapped on two blasters: A 12mm caseless automatic on my belt and a 10mm caseless mini-auto in an ankle-holster.

I checked again the last known address from the dossier and took the elevator to the street. Silas Kruger awaited me.



 
II

I managed to hail a cab to sector 6, and after wandering the streets and alleys of little Cairo for an hour, found my car. It was a ten year old, slightly battered, brown ground-car. In Seattle, only the affluent, the emergency services and the police used spinners, so they weren’t very low key. And that made them useless to me.

The address was in a middle-class neighborhood downtown, on the 102nd floor of a medium-sized apartment building. I parked in the alley on one side of the building across the street and crossed over on foot, hunching into my coat as the evening drizzle started to turn cold.

The place was in fair condition. It was dirty and grimy on the outside but not crumbling, like the building I lived in. Inside the lobby was worn and faded but dry and clean. I shook my coat and headed for the elevator.

“Voiceprint identification: What floor please?” The voice was piped from a small speaker next to a digital display. I pried open the access panel and hotwired the security board. It was a trick known to every cop and many criminals. It wouldn’t work in the newer buildings but Silas Kruger was living on modest means. “What floor please?”

“One-oh-two,” I replied. “Thank you,” said the elevator, and I was pushed down hard as it accelerated upwards.

The corridor was well-lit but there was a greenish quality to the fluorescent light that made the off-white walls seem dirty. There were framed prints hanging at intervals, each depicting a nature scene with forests full of green trees and snowy mountains in the background. At least the mountains still existed beyond these paltry images, I thought. The beige carpet was threadbare but I was grateful that it silenced my approach. I stopped outside a yellow door with a black plastic plaque that read: 10283 S. Kruger. Drawing my blaster, I knocked.

No answer. Good. It would be better this way. There was a cardswiper on the wall next to the door and I hotwired it as I had done the elevator. Then I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. Reaching into a coat pocket, I retrieved a small battery-powered motion sensor and placed it on the floor, aimed at the door. It had an inbuilt transmitter that would cause the tiny remote unit, taped to the back of my left forearm, to vibrate. If somebody came home, I would know about it immediately.

The apartment consisted of one bedroom with ensuite, and a lounge with the kitchenette arranged along one wall. There was an outside window along the opposite wall that currently glimmered golden with the setting sun. In the middle distance, the silhouetted form of the UN blimp could be made out, accompanied by distant, yet haunting calls.

There was no desk so I began to rummage through the kitchen drawers and bedside tables. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for. But just like the old days, I’d know it when I saw it. It was a way of learning something about the nature of my quarry, I suppose. My search turned up nothing of particular interest to me: Besides the usual domestic kipple there was an old military-issue blaster, some financial records and an old photograph album. What struck me, though, was the order. The place was a bit faded and careworn, but it was also very neat and tidy. Everything was in its place. This then, was the home of an ordered mind. A methodical mind. Intelligent perhaps, but not too creative or flexible. No surprise there.

There had been an opened bottle of red wine in the kitchenette and I was tempted to swig straight from the bottle before leaving. Instead, I returned everything to how it had been when I arrived. Retrieving my motion sensor, I pulled the front door open and almost collided with him.

He stood right in the doorway, a big grocery bag cradled awkwardly in his arms while he managed the cardkey in one hand, about to swipe his front door open. We stood about ten centimeters apart and his eyes went wide in surprise and terror. I felt mine do the same. Years seemed to pass, although it was probably only milliseconds. We were both, after all, well-trained killers…

Then, abruptly, we both acted at once: I went for my blaster but I still had my hand in my jacket pocket from replacing the motion sensor. In the split-second it took me to withdraw it, Kruger threw the grocery bag at my face, two handed, basketball-style. I should have ducked it in time but I was too slow. Maybe it was the alcohol still buzzing dully, slowing my reflexes or maybe I’d lost my edge in the last year. Either way, the bag seemed full of canned goods as it hit the right side of my face heavily and the force of the blow was momentarily stunning. I saw a flash of blackness from the impact and then he was gone. Running down the corridor away from the elevator and toward the fire escape. They always run. In the end.

Recovering quickly, I finally pulled my blaster and launched after him. I only took one step however, when my right foot came down on his cardkey, dropped in his desperate flight, and the slick plastic slid on the carpet, taking my foot right out from under me. I fell heavily as a loud boom sounded and a blaster-hole appeared in the drywall where my chest was a half-second earlier. I rolled with the momentum of the fall and brought my blaster up as I still rolled, firing desperately in Kruger’s general direction to buy myself a moment.

Another bang. This time it was the heavy fire-escape door, shutting after Kruger. I groaned as I got to my feet and started jogging after him a little more slowly this time. I raged to myself and found that my mental voice sounded like a drill-sergeant that I had known at the academy: Idiot. Are you trying to get yourself killed? That was sloppy and clumsy. You almost got killed twice in ten seconds back there. You’re better than that. You’re not that out of form. You need to concentrate or he’ll KILL you.

Reaching the fire-escape door, I stood to one side of the doorjamb and kicked it open. No blaster-fire, just the sound of frantic footsteps echoing from above. He must have a spinner on the roof. I pursued, into the damp gloom of the concrete space, treading as softly as my haste would allow, so that I could hear his footsteps over my own. I needed to hear if his footsteps stopped. It could mean ambush. But his footsteps didn’t stop. They barely slowed as we continued upwards. My own breath became ragged and I was acutely aware of how great a toll my recent activities had taken on my health and fitness. He was evidently in better shape and I was actually relieved when I heard another banging fire-door. It meant an eventual ending to my painful upward grind.

On the top landing, I paused for a few seconds. Although I was breathing hard, I didn’t hear a spinner starting up, so I suspected that he was out there with his blaster aimed at the door, just waiting for me. There was nothing for it, though. Standing to one side of the doorframe, I kicked the door open full force and stood my ground. Nothing. The door began swinging closed again and I dived outside at knee-level, rolled to my feet and running for a nearby steel box, housing an air vent. It was gloaming now, almost dark and the rain still drizzled. My eyes were darting everywhere, looking for him, but I saw him nowhere. My splashing footsteps sounded loud in my ears.

Taking shelter behind the air vent box, I peered around the rooftop. There were about a dozen spinners parked in various positions, more vent boxes and four animal cages. Two empty, one containing a sheep, grazing dully and the last, a horse, with glowing red photoreceptors where his eyes should have been. Artificial. No sign of Silas Kruger, though.

Slowly, holding my blaster out in front of me in a two-handed grip, I began to softly pad around the rooftop checking around, behind and under any obstacle or hiding place. The spinners. Cages. Vent boxes. Everywhere and no sign. The nearest building was at least twenty meters away, and about twenty stories higher. There was no way he had jumped. And no spinners had left. He had to be here someplace. The UN blimp drifted close now, its giant screen showing a geisha-like figure, smiling as she competed with all of the antenna and mast lights on the machine, a visual bombardment in the darkening night. As it passed overhead, its giant screen and bright lights played disorientingly across the rooftop. I checked all the obstacles again. Finally lowering my blaster, I scratched my head. And that’s when he made his move.

I was standing near to the concrete block that housed the fire escape door when, in a pool of red light cast by the airship, the large square shadow moved. I dived for cover but it was too late. The blaster shot hit my right shoulder from behind and above. He had been on top of the concrete fire escape structure the whole time. Two meters above my head, just waiting to get a close shot at a slow or stationary target. And it had worked.

My blaster went skittering away across the rooftop and I ran, stumbling, in the opposite direction, trying to reach the nearest spinner for cover. He fired again three times but none of them connected. I dived face-first across the canopy of the bright red spinner and collapsed in a heap on the other side. Looking at the exit wound, I could see that it wasn’t a very serious hit but it hurt like hell and I was bleeding. Touching the wound with my other hand made me feel dizzy. I brought my blood-red hand away.

Then I heard the sound of his feet hitting the roof as he jumped down from the 3-meter-high concrete block and began walking briskly in my direction. He saw my blaster laying fifteen meters away from the spinner where I sheltered and he thought that I was unarmed.

My right arm was throbbing terribly as I awkwardly used the bloody left one to raise my trouser leg and, clawing at my ankle-holster, I managed to draw my backup blaster, the 10mm.

I didn’t want to wait until he stood over me. I crawled to the rear of the spinner and quickly leaned out, firing immediately while he was still about 5 meters away. I fired five shots in quick succession and there was a loud yelp from Kruger as I ducked back behind the spinner. Now I heard his footsteps running away, evidently I had caught him by surprise and he didn’t want to shoot it out in the open at close range with an opponent behind cover. He knew that from my position I could cover the fire escape door, too. So he was running toward the nearest of the animal cages, one of the empty ones.

Raising myself high enough to see through the spinner canopy, I saw him stumbling like he was hurt. Good. Maybe I got him, too. He didn’t stop at the cover of the cage, though. He kept on shambling right towards the edge of the roof. Surely, I thought, he wouldn’t kill himself. Not knowing what to expect, I staggered to my feet and took off after him, blaster in my left hand and bloody right arm hanging limp.

He looked back over his shoulder and I saw fear there. I kicked something and it skittered along in front of me. A blaster. Not my dropped blaster, though. It was his. That was why he was running, then. He’d lost his blaster and unlike me, wasn’t carrying a backup. Closer and closer he got to the roof’s edge and I was beginning to gain on him. I stumbled for a moment as I passed the animal cage and when I looked back up, he was gone. He’d jumped over the edge.

That doesn’t make sense, I thought. Some do kill themselves rather than be killed. And others just give up and hold still while you shoot them. It never makes sense. The whole damned game makes no sense and this part least of all. This guy, though, didn’t fit the profile. I couldn’t believe that he’d jump.

I walked unsteadily over to the roof’s edge, blood loss and adrenal aftershock made me feel sick and weak. Carefully lowering myself onto one knee, with my good hand flat on the roof to steady myself, I leaned out over the edge and looked down, through the drizzle.

Three floors below me, there was a balcony. Some meager plants languished in a window-box and there was a small, round plastic table with two chairs. One of the chairs lay on its side and the table was bent and bloodstained. Kruger was gone, though. Slippery bastard.


 

III

My hands shook violently as I drove, one-armed, back to my apartment. Once there, I skipped the shower, having already exceeded my water-ration for the day. Instead, I stripped to the waist and sat at the kitchen table with a med kit and a bottle of cheap whiskey. My hands still shook somewhat, even as I tried to clean and dress my wounds.

The vidphon bleeped loudly and I jumped. My trembling left hand jabbed the suture-needle right into the entry wound and I let out a high-pitched gasp of pain. I pulled it out and let it hang from the thread in my shoulder as I answered the ‘phon, left handed.

“Frank.” It was Kendrick.

“He got away,” I said dully, finishing my sutures as I spoke.

On the screen, Kendrick’s sharp features twisted with anger. “That’s not good enough is it Sergeant? You have to try again.”

“He’ll be expecting it next time. It’ll be a lot more difficult.” Jesus and Mercer. This time had been difficult enough.

“We’re committed now. You can’t walk away. Of all of them, this one can’t be left walking around. You know that.” I knew, all right. But Kendrick’s apparent lack of concern for me pissed me off. Perhaps out of spite, I replied: “Why not? Does it really matter anymore?” There was a long pause before his reply.

“Okay Sergeant, You sit tight and I’ll come over there for a chat.” He was trying to sound comforting but it sounded forced. And there was an edge of fear in Kendrick’s voice that unsettled me. He broke the connection before I could reply.

Exhausted, I sat back and began to replay the events of the evening in my mind. I poured myself another drink. I had come close tonight. I had been sloppy and almost got myself killed. No. I wasn’t really that sloppy at all. I had been arrogant. Even knowing that he was as well-trained as myself, I somehow still hadn’t grasped that he could really kill me. In my mind, I was the killer. I was the one who came unannounced and took it all away. I was the one who had to live out my days with the burden of my actions. I had been killing for so long that I had forgotten that I could be killed. I had always thought that I felt pity for my victims, but before today, I hadn’t understood what they felt. I was frustrated with myself.

Kendrick’s loud knock at the door woke me with a start and in my rush to my feet, I bumped the table, spilling my drink. Muttering, I grabbed a dishtowel as I headed for the door.

“Sorry, I’ve just made a mess on the kitchen…” As I unlatched the door, it burst open, pushing me backwards. The first thing I saw was the large muzzle of the old military-issue blaster swinging my way as Silas Kruger’s face came into view behind it. Badly off-balance and still staggering backwards, I forced my legs to go limp as he pulled the trigger and the heat wave from the passing blastershot scorched my forehead, as I fell backwards beneath it. He was stepping over the threshold now and, laying two meters away, flat on my back, my left foot connected with the nearby kitchen chair I had been dozing in moments earlier. It crashed into Kruger’s legs and I used the distraction to roll to my feet. He brushed the chair aside with one hand while aiming with the other. Another blastershot rang out as I ran, hunched over for the bedroom. I should have taken that blaster from his apartment when I had the chance.

Crossing the threshold, I slammed the door closed behind me. Even though there was no lock, it would buy me a few seconds while he prepared for a possible ambush. The reality though, was that I couldn’t ambush him. Both of my blasters were on the kitchen counter, along with his dropped blaster, that I had recovered. And even if I could disarm him,

any attempt to take him in unarmed combat would be madness with my injured shoulder. As much as I hated it, I knew that I had to get away and regroup.

I crossed the room in three strides and threw open the window to the old-fashioned, outdoor fire escape. I was halfway out the window when I heard the bedroom door slam open behind me. Frantically, I ran down the slippery metal stairs, slipping two or three at a time and having to arrest my descent with frantic grabs at the handrail. I heard a clattering from above and felt the extra vibration through the handrail that told me Kruger was on the fire escape too. Without looking around, I ran blindly on.

I reached the street before I realized that snow was gently falling. I was fortunate enough to still be wearing my trousers and boots, but I was bare-chested and the air was bitter cold against my skin. Twenty running paces from the bottom of the fire-escape a blaster shot exploded into the alley floor beside me. Snow turned to steam and a cloud of concrete dust exploded upwards. Some of the bigger shards peppered me and left small cuts on my bare back. I kept running, not slowing as I rounded a corner onto a busier street.

It was not as busy out here on the edge of the old city as in the downtown sectors. There wasn’t a thick enough crowd to disappear into. But there were still many people out. However, even in a city as crowded and diverse as this one, a shirtless man on a snowy night, running desperately through the streets attracts attention. I would be easy to track.

Jostling through a crowd of partygoers, spilling out onto the sidewalk from a bar, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Kruger, about thirty meters behind me, blaster drawn and eyes locked on mine. Cursing, I turned my eyes forward again and kept running, knocking a graceful geisha into the gutter. It did no good to run blindly, I knew. I wasn’t going to be able to shake his pursuit. If I stayed among people, I stood out enough that with some questioning, he could easily track me. And if I headed for quieter streets, my footprints in the snow would lead him to me. What I needed was to find a place to make a stand. Someplace where I could even the odds a bit. And I needed it quickly. My chest was heaving with the exertion and I couldn’t keep up this pace very much longer. Beginning to stumble as I ran, I rounded the next corner and spotted my salvation.

Across the nearly empty street and down a couple of buildings, a dark blue spinner sat idling at the curb, while a well dressed young man held the passenger door open for a young woman in a blue fur coat, getting out. I lunged. I hoped that I could overpower the young man very quickly, if need be. Any delay could kill me. I was halfway there when I knew that Kruger had gained on me. Another blastershot whizzed by, and another. He was desperate now, firing in the street. He had the advantage over me and he knew he couldn’t allow me to get to the spinner. The young couple were looking now, with wide eyes. Watching life-and-death being played out, just for them, on an otherwise empty street. Kruger fired again and I cried out, feeling it scorch the insides of my calves as it literally passed between my sprinting legs. Now the young couple were heading for the front door of the building, running crouched over. Unwittingly, Kruger had removed that obstacle for me.

Reaching the spinner, I barely paused as I threw open the drivers door and slipped inside. The passenger door slammed shut as I yanked on the purge and throttle violently. In a cloud of smoke, the spinner leapt ten meters into the air and accelerated forward rapidly, engines groaning in protest. In front of me, below and a little to the left, I saw Silas Kruger, standing still in the middle of the street and bringing his blaster up to fire on the spinner. I knew that his chances of hitting a fast moving spinner, even low to the ground, were pretty slim and that this was my chance to make a getaway. On the other hand, though, I had this opportunity to swerve and run him down. He was in the middle of an empty street. For the next split second, I had the advantage. And I took it. I jerked the control yolk to the front left and the spinner, still accelerating hard, veered left and angled sharply downward. Kruger filled the center of the windshield, now, firing over and over, head-on. Blaster impacts wracked the hood and canopy and just as he dived for cover, I hit him at 80 kilometers per hour. Take that, you bastard.

The nose of the spinner hit Kruger’s legs and lower body throwing him like a ragdoll, cartwheeling over the canopy and back down to the snowy street. The spinner hit the ground hard and skipped, like a stone on a lake, as I wrestled with the yolk to pull it back into the air. It clipped a fire hydrant and the front-right thruster was crushed, throwing the vehicle into a sharp, right-hand spin. Countering, I pushed the yolk left again but it was too late. The spinner had made a wide, full-throttle arc across the street and smashed directly into the brownstone façade of an old building. Finally, it came to a stop, crumpled, across the footpath, about 100 meters from where I had run over Kruger. I wore no seatbelt and I was thrown into the canopy on impact. I blacked out.

“WAKE UP, SERGEANT.” My eyes fluttered. I was disoriented. My whole body screamed in pain. I was laying outside, flat on my back. I was ice-cold, looking up into a dark sky. It was the deep purple/black of city-glow reflected against heavy clouds. Snowflakes fell around me and some fell into my eyes, stinging.

There was a shadowed face looming over me, but I couldn’t seem to focus. God my head hurt.

“I want you awake when I kill you, you son of a bitch.”

I started and blinked, slowly pulling the face into focus. It was the bloody, swollen face of Silas Kruger. He grinned, rictus-like and looked like the angel of death.

“You have a lot of nerve, coming after me,” he said. “Big mistake, smart guy.”

He was laying on his stomach, propped up on his elbows. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw a bloody trail through the snow, confirming that he had dragged himself over here. The impact with the spinner must have broken his legs and hips at the least. He was built tough, this one. In the distance, police sirens wailed. The cavalry was coming but they would be too late.

I tried to swallow and suddenly realized that he had a cord of some kind wrapped around my neck, each end in one of his hands. My eyes went wide with the realization that he was about to garrote me. I looked into his eyes and his grin faded. He jerked his hands apart, then, snapping the cord tight around my neck, while the tendons in his neck stood out from the effort. My neck tensed and I couldn’t get my breath. My hands grabbed the cord and tried to pull some slack into it but he just pulled tighter. I felt my pulse being slowed and blackness started creeping into the edges of my vision. My ears rang and I was holding my breath. I had garroted someone, once. I had killed dozens in my career. Never was there one that I had wanted to kill. And now the only one that I had ever wanted to kill was about to kill me. I should have escaped in the spinner. Should have fled when I had the chance. I was going to die now, without my chance at redemption. I would die a killer, when I could have died a savior. NO.

With the most supreme act of willpower in my life, I took my hands from the cord and laced my fingers together behind Kruger’s head. Perhaps he sensed what I was about to try because he pulled the cord tighter still with another jerk and his bared teeth and straining face showed that he was giving it everything. My vision failed altogether and his grunting sounded a long way away.

Behind Kruger’s field of view, I had been raising my left leg straight up, pointing my toes to the sky. And now I brought it quickly down, stiffening my back and abdomen, it caused my head and shoulders to rise suddenly from the concrete, towards my hands which I pulled violently downward at the same time.

My forehead hit Kruger’s nose and it exploded in a fountain of bright, arterial blood across his face and mine. Cartilage snapped and his cheek bones shattered. He screamed with the pain and slackened his grip on the cord. I slipped a hand between the cord and my neck and pulled it off. Then, reaching upward, I punched him as hard as I could on his ruined nose, causing him to scream again. Blood poured from it, showering me. With desperate speed, I rolled to my left, raised on one knee and managed to launch myself awkwardly onto Kruger’s back. His arms collapsed under him and I placed my hands carefully on his crown and chin. Beneath me, he gave one final struggle to rise as I rotated his head sharply right. The neck snapped and the head faced nearly backwards before the body stopped thrashing. Gasping for air, my vision, not fully returned, began to dim again. And I passed out laying face down on top of Silas Kruger’s body. The last thing I heard was the approaching sirens. I’d done it.



  
IV

“WAKE UP, SERGEANT.” I woke with a start.

“Where am I?” my whole body hurt like hell. I was lying in a hospital bed with white sheets and there were clean white dressings and bandages all over my darkly bruised body. The walls, floor and ceiling were all plain concrete and the air was damp. The only other thing in the room was an armchair that Captain Kendrick was sitting in.

“This is a safe house. I set it up some time ago,” he replied, stroking his coat across his knee. “That was a close one Frank, I just got there in time.”

“He came to my apartment, Kendrick. I thought it was you at the door…Jesus…”

“Relax, Frank,” he said placatingly. “You had no way of knowing that he’d find out where you lived. We underestimated this one. We knew he was the most dangerous we’d come up against yet, and we still underestimated him. I don’t know how he got your address.”

I thought I had the answer to that, now. “He must’ve seen me get in my car outside his building and followed the tracks. It was just beginning to snow, I think. He must’ve jogged halfway across the south side of town. And tracked my car through some busy streets. Unbelievable.” My throat burned. It was worse when I talked. “I could use a drink, Kendrick.”

He smiled, and reaching into his coat pocket, removed a small flask, which he passed me. Uncapping, I skolled the whole flask.

“That’s it Kendrick. That was my last job. One way or another.” I spoke calmly.

He nodded, understanding just what I meant. “How long, Frank?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know for sure. I have memory implants, remember? But I got the scar on my right arm on Triton, so I know that was real, and that was July 2019, so I can’t have more than a few days left. Maybe a week.”

Kendrick was staring into space, seeing with memory rather than with his eyes. “My inception was about eight months later,” he said.

Captain Kendrick hadn’t been my commanding officer on Triton. Lieutenant Baty had.

“How’s the mayoral campaign coming along?” I asked, changing the subject.

Kendrick smiled mirthlessly. “Good. It looks like our guy is going to win by a landslide, now that that suspicious bastard Kruger is out of the picture. He would’ve found the connection, eventually, you know. Just bad luck, really. After all our searching, we finally find the perfect candidate to back, and make an agreeable deal, and it turns out that his main rival has a brother who’s a goddamn Blade Runner. But it’s all good now. Thanks to you Frank. Once our guy wins the election. Things will become a lot easier for our kind, here on Earth.”

I smiled. Maybe I had earned some degree of redemption. I still remembered the faces of everyone that had died at my hands. But maybe now, they would leave me alone to sleep peacefully.

When I feel my time coming close, I’ve decided that I’ll take a spinner out into the mountains. Where I can see the stars. They hold no fear for me now. Just beauty.






Copyright © 2008 Mark Hinsley