Here's an excerpt from Spanish author Rosa Montero's "techno-human nail-biter" Tears in Rain, which is set in a post Blade Runner world.
As a replicant, or “techno-human,” Detective Bruna Husky knows two things: humans bioengineered her to perform dangerous, undesirable tasks; and she has just ten years on the United States of Earth before her body automatically self-destructs. But with “anti-techno” rage on the rise and a rash of premature deaths striking her fellow replicants, she may have even less time than she originally thought.
Investigating the mysterious deaths, Bruna delves into the fractious, violent history shared by humans and replicants, and struggles to engage the society that fails to understand her—yet created her. The deeper she gets, the deadlier her work becomes as she uncovers a vast, terrifying conspiracy bent on changing the very course of the world. But even as the darkness of her reality closes in, Bruna clings fiercely to life.
Both the subway and the sky-trams were on strike, which meant the travelators were so crammed with people that the excessive weight slowed their speed and, in some cases, even managed to stop them. There was no hope of finding an available cab, so some desperate people were trying to hitch a ride in private vehicles. But it was already well known that those few individuals authorized to own their own vehicles were not usually the most sympathetic.
Bruna had left home in good time, anticipating the long walk and the confusion typical of strike days, but even so she was having a hard time forcing her way through the hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians. It was 17:10, rush hour, and she was already ten minutes late for her appointment with Pablo Nopal. The memorist had suggested they meet in the Museum of Modern Art, an uncomfortable and unsuitable place for a conversation. But Bruna couldn't impose her own conditions; she was the one who'd asked for the meeting. Taking them two at a time, she went up the hundreds of little steps that seemed to cascade around the enormous, luminous cube of the museum like a concrete waterfall. She held her wrist mobile up against the electronic ticket machine at the entrance and once in, she crossed the lobby at top speed, heading for the temporary exhibition hall. And there, at the entrance to the hall, she spotted the memorist: white, collarless shirt; wide black pants; lank, dark hair falling over his forehead. The very picture of casual elegance. Such lustrous hair. Was it the result of expensive capillary treatment or his genetic inheritance from generations of rich ancestors? The writer was leaning against the wall with graceful indolence. When he noticed the detective approaching, he half-smiled and stood upright. They had only seen each other on the screen when they set up the meeting, but there was no question the android was easy to spot.
"You're late, Husky."
"The strike. My apologies."
Bruna took a quick look around her. In the main hall she'd just crossed there were some armchairs and at the far end, a cafeteria.
"Where shall we talk? Shall we sit over there? Or maybe you'd prefer to have something in the cafe?"
"Hold on! Are you in a hurry? We could have a look at the exhibition first."
The rep looked at Nopal uneasily. She had no idea what he had in mind; she didn't have a good sense of what his game was, and that always made her anxious. The man was about her height and his eyes were right in line with hers. Too close, too inquisitive. By the great Morlay, how she hated memorists! The detective couldn't help but look away, and faked interest in a poster promoting the exhibition. She read it three times before becoming conscious of what he was saying.
"The History of Fakes: Fraud as Revolutionary Art," Nopal read out loud. "Interesting, isn't it?"
The android looked at him. What was he going on about? Was there a hidden message in his comment? A double meaning? The detective had already heard people talking about this exhibition and she would never have come to see it of her own accord. She was irritated by the fakes phenomenon — the latest thing in the plastic arts. Pedantic critics and delirious aesthetes had decreed that imposture was the purest and most radical artistic manifestation of modernity, the vanguard of the twentysecond century. The most sought-after artists of the moment were all successful forgers whose fakes had been thought authentic for some period of time. Because, as Yiannis — who always knew about everything — had told her, to be a true fake you not only had to imitate to perfection the picture or the sculpture of a famous artist, but you also had to get someone to believe it: a buyer, the owner of a gallery, a museum, the critics, the media. The bigger the deception, the greater the prestige of the fake work once the forgery had been uncovered. And if nobody noticed the artifice and it was the artist himself who had to reveal it after some time had passed, then the work was considered a real masterpiece. This fashion had changed the art world. Now, at auctions, many people bid madly for a Goya or a Bacon or a Gabriela Lambretta secretly hoping that in a few months' time it would be found to be a fake and its value would triple.
"To be honest, it's a topic that's of no interest to me at all," growled Bruna.
"No? How strange; I thought you'd like it."
"Why? Because I'm a copy, too, an imitation, a fake human being?"
Pablo Nopal gave a charming smile. Charming and totally untrustworthy. He started to walk around the exhibition and Bruna found herself compelled to follow him. He was a slim man, and he moved lightly inside his roomy, floating garments, as if he had no bones.
"Not at all. I didn't say that. I thought you'd like it because you're an intelligent person. I've learned a bit about you. And intelligent people know that, one way or another, we're all frauds. That's why I find the fakes to be the most perfect representation of our times. They're not art; they're sociology. We're all fakes. But, I find you extraordinarily hypersensitive — wouldn't you agree, Husky? If I were you, I'd try to analyze the reason behind such an exaggerated susceptibility."
Because you're a damn memorist, condescending and pedantic, Bruna would have liked to reply. She chewed over her words for a few seconds, trying to tone them down a little.
"Well, I don't think I'm hypersensitive. It's more a weariness in the face of prejudice. It's as if people assumed you'd be interested in forgery because of your past. What I mean is, you ought to be used to people looking at you and asking themselves who you really are. Are you Pablo Nopal, the memorist and the writer? Or an individual who killed his uncle and got out of jail because the evidence was tainted?"
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, a little frightened by her own words. Maybe she'd gone too far and the interview would be over then and there. But that air of bored superiority seemed to be asking to be goaded. Bruna knew the type: they liked to be challenged, even humiliated. At least a little.
"Bad example, Husky. I haven't assumed anything about you. You're the one who's imagined an insult and then felt offended. That's another thing they say about you. They say you are easily stirred up and quite intractable. By the way, my uncle was an evil man and I'm innocent. The tainted evidence had to do with another matter."
They viewed the exhibition in silence for a few minutes. The fakes recover the historical, artistic legacy and transmute it into a social intervention, simultaneously reaffirming and negating its meaning. There is no greater act of cultural subversion, read the text written on the wall in 3-D letters. The usual nonsense, thought Bruna. There were works from various periods, from a twentieth-century painting by Elmyr D'Ory, to two pieces by the famous Mary Kings, the most acclaimed artist of the moment, who had invented another persona, an alien painter called Zapulek, and then dedicated herself to forging Zapuleks — in other words, to forging herself.
"Right, let's start again," said Nopal. "What did you want to see me about? Let's sit down over there."
On the other side of the room there was a skylight, and beneath it, two soft armchairs. It was actually a good place to talk, isolated and yet so visible that it seemed to convert the meeting into something accidental and innocent. The perfect spot for a difficult rendezvous, Bruna said to herself, mentally taking note of the fact, in case she should ever have need of such a space. But why had Nopal chosen it? It was obvious that they hadn't ended up there by chance.
"Why did you have me come to the museum?" she asked.
"I don't like people coming to my home. And this is a comfortable place. So talk to me."
Clearly, he was an extremely private person. Somehow he had managed to remove part of his biography on the web. No matter how hard she searched, the android could not find a single detail about his childhood. Nopal seemed to appear from nowhere at the age of ten when he was officially adopted by his uncle. So much mystery was a feat of disinformation in this hyperinformed society.
"My client — I didn't tell you her name before — is Myriam Chi…"
Bruna paused briefly to see if the information was producing any sort of reaction, but the man remained impassive. "She thinks you might be able to help us with our investigation."
"Those reps who suddenly seem to go mad, kill other reps, and commit suicide."
"The tram case?"
"Not just that one. There are, in fact, at least four other similar cases."
"And where do I fit in?"
"It's not public knowledge, but they go out of their minds because they inject themselves with adulterated artificial memories. Someone has started selling deadly mems."
Nopal's thin lips curved in an acid smile; he leaned forward until he was a few inches from Bruna's face, and repeated slowly and sarcastically, "And where do I fit in?"
What an annoying character, thought Bruna. This was one of those moments when the detective wished that the formal way of addressing people was still in use — a usage that was originally courteous in intent but in the end, before it became obsolete, had enabled you to distance yourself disdainfully from the person to whom you were speaking, as Bruna had observed so many times in old movies. Yes, an icy sir would have suited her very well right now. Sir is a revolting memorist, she would have said to him. You, sir, might well be the bastard who wrote the lethal mems. If it would please you, sir, sit back in your chair and stop trying to impress me.
"Well, you are a memorist."
The writer sprawled in his chair and sighed.
"I gave that up — or rather, they fired me some years ago, as
you no doubt know. And before you foolishly make another rude remark, I'll tell you that, no, I don't write illegal memories. I have no need to. My novels sell very well, in case you didn't know. And I have the money I inherited from my dear uncle."
"But you might know of other memorists. There aren't many. Do you know anyone who might be involved in that business?"
"I cut all ties with that world when they sacked me. Let's just say I didn't particularly enjoy continuing my association with them."
"Well, Myriam Chi thinks you might know something."
Nopal smiled again. This time almost fondly, much to Bruna's surprise.
"Myriam has always believed me to be more powerful than I am."
His brow furrowed in thought. Bruna waited in silence, sensing that the man was about to say something, but she wasn't expecting to hear what he finally came out with.
"How old are you, Husky?"/p>
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"I'd say you're about 5/30 years…Maybe 6/31. Which would make it possible."
"Make what possible?"
"That I wrote your memory."
Bruna gasped. Sweat drenched the back of her neck.
"That's a revolting idea," she whispered.
She clenched her teeth to hold back the nausea.
"You know what, Husky? There's another reason I decided to meet you here rather than at home. I've had problems with some reps. On the whole, you technohumans aren't too fond of memorists, and on one level, I can understand why."
"You're not allowed to identify yourself as the author of a memory. It's forbidden. You can't do that."
"I know, I know. Calm down, Bruna. Forgive my earlier comment. Honestly, I'd never tell you. Even if it weren't banned, I wouldn't tell you. Even if I knew. I promise."
The slight feeling of relief she felt at Nopal's words made her realize how terrified she was. She also felt something akin to gratitude. It was a stupid emotion, unjustified and too close to Stockholm Syndrome, but she couldn't avoid it. Four years, three months, and twenty-two days.
"Nevertheless, we memorists not only feel no antipathy toward reps, but we also have a special fondness for you. Or at least I do. To be able to construct a person's memory is a privilege beyond description. Can you imagine? Memory is at the root of our identity, so in a way I'm the father of hundreds of beings. More than the father. I'm their personal little god."
Bruna shivered. "I'm not my memory. Which, moreover, I know is fake. I am my actions and my days."
"Well, now, that's debatable. And in any case, it doesn't alter what I was saying to you, because I was talking about my feelings, about how I see things. And I was telling you that I love reps. You inspire a special feeling in me. A deep complicity."
"Right. Well, forgive me for not feeling the same way. Forgive me for not thanking my little personal god, whoever that might be, for that entire arbitrary fake garbage."
"Arbitrary garbage? It's real life that's arbitrary. Much more arbitrary than we memorists are. I've always tried to do the best possible job; I thought about and wrote every one of those five hundred scenes so carefully."
"You didn't know? A life consists of five hundred memories, five hundred scenes. That's enough. I always tried to balance some things with others, offer a certain illusion of meaning, a sense — in the end — of a harmonious whole. My speciality was the revelation scenes."
"The damned dance of the phantoms."
"My revelation scenes were…compassionate — that would be the word. Enlightening and compassionate. They encouraged maturity in the rep."
"My memorist killed my father when I was nine. I adored him, and a criminal stupidly killed him in the street one night."
"Those things do happen, unfortunately."
"I was nine years old! And I spent five years suffering like hell until I turned fourteen and experienced my dance of the phantoms. Until I found out that my father didn't really exist, which meant that he hadn't been killed, either."
"It's not like that, Bruna. As you know, those five years you refer to didn't exist. It's nothing more than a false memory. All the scenes were inserted at the same time into your brain."
A knot of angry, burning tears squeezed the detective's throat. She had to make an effort to speak, and her voice came out hoarse.
"And the grief? All that pain I have inside? All that suffering in my memory?"
Nopal looked at her gravely. "That's life, Bruna. That's how it is. Life hurts."
There was a brief silence and then the man stood up.
"I'll make a few phone calls and try to find out what's going on among the memorists. I'll get in touch with you if I find anything."
Nopal leaned over and brushed Bruna's tattooed cheek with a finger. Such a light touch that the rep almost thought she had imagined it. Then the memorist smoothed his hair, regained his charming and barely trustworthy smile and, giving a half-turn, walked away. The android — still seated, still stunned — watched him as he left, her thoughts buzzing around in her head like a swarm of bees. Five hundred scenes. That miserable pittance was her entire life? She was trying to gather the strength to stand up when she heard the sound of an incoming call. She looked at her wrist mobile: it was Myriam Chi.
"We have to talk," said the leader without even bothering to greet her.
"I'll tell you in person. Come and see me tomorrow morning at nine."
And she cut the connection. Bruna was left staring at a blank screen, filled with self-loathing. She was bitter about having to obey a client like Myriam Chi, who trumpeted her orders as if Bruna were her slave; and losing her self-control with the memorist made her feel literally ill. The armchair in which the detective was sitting was at the back of the exhibition space, and a slow stream of visitors was passing by in front of her, crossing from the one side of the gallery to the other, and beginning the return walk to the entrance. But strangely, no one was looking at her. No one appeared to notice the tall, striking technohuman; too much invisibility for it to be normal. Yes indeed, Nopal had gotten it right when he arranged to meet her here. Illuminated by the skylight as if by a spotlight, Bruna felt like one more fake. Without a doubt, the least valuable one in the entire collection.
About the Author
Rosa Montero is an acclaimed novelist and an award-winning journalist for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. A native of Madrid and the daughter of a professional bullfighter, Montero published her first novel at age twenty-eight. She has won Spain's top book award, the Que Leer Prize, twice — for The Lunatic of the House in 2003 and Story of the Transparent King in 2005. A prolific author of twenty-six books, her other titles include the short-story collection Lovers and Enemies and the novels Beautiful and Dark, My Beloved Boss, and The Heart of the Tartar.
About the Translator
Lilit Zekulin Thwaites is a Hispanist specializing in contemporary Spanish literature, a literary translator, and former Head of the Spanish department of La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, Tim, and their three children.