“It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection.”
It’s 7:48 in the morning, I haven’t even had my coffee yet, and I’m watching as they’re hauling my body out of the river. Of course, I don’t know that it’s my body. That comes later.
“What do we have, lieutenant?” I ask stepping up next to an old, battered cop with a ten o’clock shadow and a droopy mustache.
“Not much, detective,” he says, looking at my badge as I wave it in front of his face. “Looks like a jumper off the GW Bridge.” I light up a cigarette and let a long trail of cancer slither its way into the wind. A junior officer runs up and offers me a cup of tar-black Columbian. It tastes like shit and smells even worse. “How long has it been?” he asks, looking at my head.
I run my hand over the short stubble. It’s a standard question asked of any download. You can identify them by their snug skin and shaved head. “Six days now,” I say.
“Six days? And you’re already back to work?” he says. “Good for you.”
I ignore him, throwing the cigarette down, crushing it under my heel. I walk away to find the primary officer on duty. My download is a sore subject for me, because I have no idea how I died.
The rain drizzles down, blanketing the docks with a fine mist. The wood shimmers.
“Detective Quinn,” a grey-haired officer shouts, fast-walking over to me. He’s wearing an NYPD windbreaker and has a cell phone in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other.
“It’s pronounced ‘Cheen,’” I say, not making eye contact and looking out at the boat slowly trudging its way toward the docks.
“Excuse me?” He says, confused.
“My name, Qin. It’s pronounced ‘Cheen.’ It’s Chinese.” I say, drinking from my coffee.
“I’m sorry, Detective… Qin.” He gestures over to where a collection of beat cops are gathered. “Right this way.” I head over, where they’re looking over a collection of maps of the river. “We found the body a half-mile north of the George Washington Bridge,” he says, pointing his pinky at the spot while grasping his coffee cup. “We think it was a jumper, but no one reported seeing anything in the last day or so.” He pointed to the boat out in the water. “We’re hauling the body in right now. It came up in some netting from a civilian boat. Spooked the captain. We haven’t pulled it out of the nets yet.”
“Why not?” I asked, looking carefully over the map.
“We didn’t want to disturb the body until we had CSI’s to look it over.” I nod, taking a swig of coffee with one hand while still studying the map. Across the river, the cityscape of New York City rises up like a jagged cliffside, looking down on us with judging eyes. The skyscraper for the EMBR Corporation is most imposing of all, a large flame glowing in LED across the uppermost floors. The city has continued to sprawl for years, extending north as far as Poughkeepsie and swallowing Long Island whole.
“The boat’s here!” We hear a shout from one of the junior cops and I’m pulled from my reverie.
“There’s one problem,” I say, as I set down the map and throw the empty coffee cup in the trash.
“What’s that?” the officer asks.
I point at the river. “If this guy jumped, how did he end up north of the bridge?” My finger traces the direction of the river, north to south. I walk off toward the dock to see what poor soul drowned himself in the river.
“Detective?” I hear a voice behind me. I turn, but wish I hadn’t. “Detective Qin,” the blonde woman says, shoving her credentials in my face, as she does every time. I brush them away without looking at them.
“This is a crime scene, Taylor. You need to go.”
She shrugs. “What do you have here?” she asks.
“I don’t know, Taylor,” I say. “I’ll let you and the rest of the press know once I know anything.” I turn her around, shove her back toward the police line and shout. “Rayburn!” A uniformed officer turns. “Get her out of here.” I point to her, and he leads her back beyond the police tape.
I move toward the dock.
There’s a flurry of activity as I see a team of three crime scene investigators huddled around the netting. I stand back to let them do their job. They expertly cut the lines. I can see the body begin to spill out, his arm flopping over, but one of the guys catches the body and slowly lowers it to the deck. They begin looking it over. “Body’s been in the water at least a week,” I hear one of them mutter. They’re inspecting his clothes, which are pretty nondescript: light blue button-up, black slacks, black shoes. They make their way up to his face, and pause.
“Detective?” one of them shouts. All three CSIs turn to look at me. They’re tense, like they’ve seen a ghost. I suppose they have. I move forward and stop at the feet of the body. My own swollen, dead face stares back at me.
I’m not sure how I ended up here.
“Problems, Jay?” the bartender asks. I look up. Paul, my regular barkeep. Also, my father. He reaches across the bar and rubs my stubbly head.
I had fled the docks, hopped in my car, hyperventilated… and somehow drove myself here. My mind is in a blur. Why was my body in the river? What possible reason…?
“This about your download?” dad asks. “You’ve been having a rough time this time. You don’t return my calls, you don’t swing by the bar for a month…”
“Sorry,” I dully reply. I hear the door swing open behind me, feel the presence of someone walking up beside me, hear him sit down to my left. The smell of cheap cigarettes wafts around him, clinging to everything he comes in contact with. “Commissioner,” I mutter, lifting my shot of whiskey in his direction without making eye contact. Richard Simms, New York City police commissioner. Must be mighty important to come all this way down to a dive in Alphabet Town.
“A little early for that, wouldn’t you say, Jonathan?” he says, his voice steady and measured. It’s not a question, but said as a statement. I look up momentarily. "I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to you since you downloaded.” I nod, looking up and down the old redwood bar. Now that all the redwoods are gone, this thing’s worth a fortune.
“Jonathan, I hear you haven’t uploaded in a while," he says, leaning forward, trying to make eye contact. “Report I saw on my desk says you hadn’t uploaded for nearly a month before we had to res you.” I finally meet his gaze, but say nothing. I know what’s coming, but I don’t have an answer for him.
"What happened?" Simms asks. "You’re supposed to upload at the end of every shift."
"I know, sir, I know," I say. "I don’t know what happened." I shake my head. 36 days gone. "I was surprised David wasn’t there for my download." David is, well, was, my partner on the force.
“He’s been off-grid,” Simms says. “Took some Leave to go to the Bahamas or some other tropical paradise. Deactivated his phone. We were going to let him know about your Upload, but he’s completely unreachable. Should be back in a couple weeks.” Simms shakes his head. "This is why you’re supposed to upload, Q."
I sigh. "I know. I know.” And now my body’s in the coroner’s office.
“Maybe you should take a few more weeks off,” he says. “I don’t want your first case back to be your own murder.” He stands up, picks up his jacket, pats my back. “Head home, get some rest.” He looked at my father and nodded. “Mr. Qin.” My father somberly nods back.
"Make sure to upload every night. It’s not cheap, but the department pays for it because you guys are worth it," he says, heading for the door. "Glad to have you back, Q."
I down my shot.
I should explain myself.
My name is Jonathan Qin. I serve as a detective in the New York City Police Department, and have for the last 6 years.
I’m an Upload, a clone. I’m on my fourth copy. The first two were accidents, hit by a car at 10, drowned in a pool at 17. My third death was under the bullets of a group of hoods in Chelsea on my first week in uniform. Every time, I don’t remember it, just find myself in a hospital bed, blinded by the bright lights.
Early in childhood, if your parents can afford it, they map your genes, replicate your DNA, and make a copy. The rich can afford a few extra copies on ice. As a cop, I get to keep one on hand for free. Lucky me.
Every night, we’re required to Upload our memory banks, to be loaded into an iced copy in the case of our death on the job. The convenience is that when you die after Uploading, you’re not going to remember the pain of your death. For some reason, I hadn’t uploaded in the 36 days prior to my death.
I arrive at my door, 1314, exhausted. Uploading is huge strain on the body, especially for the first few weeks. Your body has just spent years inside a vat of goo, not using any muscles, and now you’re expected to be up and walking. The key slips into the lock, but I have to jiggle it violently to turn the tumbler. The door creaks open and I slump in.
The living room is mess and has been completely rearranged. The couch is where the table was, the TV where the couch was. I tend to do that to think. The kitchen is just as bad. Everything is still where it was, it’s just covered in a fine layer of dirty dishes and grime. Pizza boxes and ready-to-eat meal packages litter everything. It looks like it’s been a couple of weeks since I cleaned up. Not unusual if my focus is elsewhere. I wander into the bedroom, tripping over the loose floorboards near the archway. This place is falling apart and I’ve been meaning to tell the landlord, Hank, about the boards.
The bedroom is actually in pretty good shape: clothes picked up, dresser and end table are clear. The pillows on both sides of the queen-sized bed are upended and the sheets are disheveled.
I wander into the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. My hair is short and stubbly. It takes a few weeks for your hair follicles to begin fully working again after uploading. This, unfortunately includes eyelashes and eyebrows, so my face has a bit of an otherworldly, alien appearance. Poking out of my button up shirt, I see my numbers. Every body you own has a tattoo on the left side of your chest. Mine says 004. This is my fourth upload. Within a couple weeks or so out of cold storage, the tattoo will fade, only visible by black light.
It’s nice to be in a fresh body. I feel younger. I look a few years younger than my 32-year-old self. My skin is tighter, not yet developing the wrinkles that come with use. My nose is no longer broken from the brawl I had with a juiced-up perp three years ago.
I spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the mess. I start easily, with the bedroom, moving out to the living room, and finally into the kitchen.
I’m halfway through the dishes when I notice a strange fingerprint on one of the glasses. Maybe it’s my detective training, but fingerprints are always very noticeable to me. I see them everywhere; on desks, on windows in the subway. The fingerprint isn’t one of mine, unless sometime within the last 36 days, my old body lost a chunk of thumb. From an angle, in the light, I can make out a strong thumbprint, which cuts off in a jagged, diagonal line. Whatever took part of this person’s thumb, it wasn’t a quick, clean cut; it may even be torn. The prints on the glass are particularly greasy, making them easier to see, and I should have an easy time pulling them to check them against my own.
Who was this nine-and-a-half fingered person, and why were they in my apartment? I pull out a plastic sandwich bag and drop the glass onto it.
I know I need to retrace my steps, and hope my computer at work will reveal the information I’m looking for.
It’s evening when I arrive at the precinct. Half the desks are empty, their occupants heading home to families or out to drink with friends. As I head toward my desk, one by one, they turn to look at me. They’ve all heard by now the news of my… passing. I can see the precinct captain back in her office, the blinds up. She’s chatting with someone in a suit, but they stop when they see me.
I head to my desk, drop into the seat, and begin scouring through the papers, tossing them everywhere.
“You okay, Qin?” I look up to see the captain, Valencia Timm. Her sleeves are rolled up, her tie loose around her neck. The man in the suit stands beside her. He’s a big guy, imposing. His suit is perfectly tailored to his massive frame. His hair is cut short. He’s black. His face is deeply serious, but springs to life when I focus on him. He gives me a big smile.
“Fine,” I say. “Who’s this?” I begin straightening up my papers.
“This is Eli Brand,” Val says. Though she appears relaxed, I can see her shoulders are tense. Brand throws out his hand.
“Eli Brand,” he parrots. “Chief of Operations at EMBR, we designed the techn…”
“I know what EMBR does, sir,” I say, looking back down at my papers. I’m not seeing anything of use. “I appreciate your company uploading me.” EMBR, or the Electronic, Mechanical, and Biological Research Corporation first invented Uploading nearly 35 years ago. Now, through their closely guarded technology, immortality is in the hands of nearly half of the developed world.
I pause from my digging. “What can I do for you?”
“Mr. Brand wants you to know…” Val begins.
“I want you to know that you have our full support, and we want to help you with your transition. We want to help you find out who it is who killed your last body so that you can have closure.” He reaches out his hand. “Anything you need at all, just call me.” In his hand is a two-inch-by-two-inch black card. On one side, the familiar orange flame of the EMBR logo seems to actually sparkle and glow; On the other side, simply his phone number. No name, no title. Very slick.
“Thanks,” I say, shoving it in my desk drawer. Brand stands there for a minute more, I guess hoping I’ll say something else, but I don’t, so he nods and leaves. Val remains.
“Something I can help you with, ma’am?” I ask without looking up.
“I spoke to the commissioner this afternoon,” she says.
“Yeah, how’s Commissioner Simms?” I ask, continuing to look through my papers. There’s gotta be something here, but everything is dated more than 36 days ago.
“He said he spoke to you this morning. He suggested you take some more time off,” she says.
I pause, set my elbows on the desk, and look up at her. “And that’s what it was,” I say, slowly. “It was a suggestion. I’m fine.” I begin pulling out drawers. They’re just as bad as the desk is.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Just looking around,” I say. “Doing desk stuff.”
“You won’t be on this case, Jon,” she says. I stop.
“I’m pulling you from the case. You shouldn’t be on this one.”
“Why not?” I say, standing from my desk.
“You’re not emotionally equipped to handle this case. You’re too invested.”
“It was my murder!” I shout. The precinct goes silent as everyone turns to me. “This is my life we’re talking about! Somehow, I ended up at the bottom of the Hudson. I deserve to know why.” She shakes her head.
“I don’t have time to argue,” she says. “I’m putting York on it.”
“York? York?! York can barely solve a sudoku puzzle, much less a murder.”
“You’ve got some strong feelings about her, I can see,” she says, smiling slightly. Rachel York and I dated for a while, through breach of protocol and a lot of people looking the other way. We were the worst kept secret on the force. Now she’s married, and just arrived back from her Honeymoon in Maui.
“Damn it, Val!” I say, grabbing my jacket and stalking across the room toward the door.
“It’s Captain Timm,” she shouts after me. I stop. I slowly turn around. Every eye is on me.
“I apologize, Captain Timm.” I wheel back around.
The door shudders so hard the glass nearly breaks as I slam it shut on my way out.
“Damn it, Dave, pick up your damn phone,” I say as the voicemail of my old partner picks up. I’m sitting in the parking lot of the precinct in my car. “I need someone to talk to. They’ve put Rachel on my murder case. Rachel! I need you to tell me what I’ve been up to for the last month. Call me back.” I hang up the phone.
The passenger side door swings open, and I reach for my sidearm as someone drops down into the shotgun seat. “Whoa, whoa there, cowboy.” It’s Rachel. She’s holding coffee and a brown paper bag. Her hands go up defensively. I relax.
“Damn it, York, you could have gotten hurt,” I say, settling into my seat.
“Calm down, Qin,” she says, passing me the coffee. “Here you go. Better than that stuff they were serving down at the pier this morning.”
“You were there?” I ask.
“Of course I was there.” She pulls a foil-wrapped burrito out of her back. The interior light clicks off, and we’re bathed in darkness. A street light six cars down barely lights the inside of the vehicle. “I heard who they pulled out of the river, and had to come see for myself.”
“Hoping I was dead for good?” I ask, smiling around the white lid of the coffee.
“Of course not,” she says, unwrapping the burrito.
This is how life used to be. Rachel and I would sit in the parking lot of the precinct, staring as people walked by, talking about… well, anything, really.
“How was Maui?” I ask. “It looks like you got a tan.”
“You can’t tell in this light,” she replies. “It was… raining the entire time.”
I chuckle. There’s silence.
“You can’t take this case from me,” I say.
“No one’s taking the case from you,” she says. “It was never yours to begin with. You’re not allowed to investigate your own murder.”
I sigh. “That’s bullshit.”
“You’re telling me,” she says.
There’s another moment of silence, which echoes through the interior of the car. It’s getting chilly, so I turn on the heater. It begins clicking. Everything in my life is crap.
“What were you up to over the past 36 days?” she asks. “No downloading… most of the cops say they’ve barely seen you at all. You’ve been like a ghost for more than a month.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’ve got nothing, and nothing to tell me what I’ve been doing. I can’t even get a hold of David.”
She finishes her burrito, nodding sagely. She looks at me as though she’s about to ask a question, but thinks better of it.
“I think I may know a way you can still work on the case,” she says. “But you’ll have to give me some time.” I’m about to ask her how, when she pops open the car door and hops out. “Have a good night, Jon. Get some sleep.”
The car door slams shut, and I’m left in the silence of the car.
“If you have the power to resurrect the dead man, firstly, be sure that he is a good man!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
The following day, I arrive at the precinct, ready to argue why I should be on the case. As I walk in the door, I see Rachel and Val standing in Val’s office. When Val sees me, she gestures me into the room.
I step in, and Val gestures to a chair. “Have a seat, Detective Qin,” she says.
“Listen, if this is about our conversation last night, Captain…”
“Shut up, Qin,” she snaps. I shut up.
The captain crosses his arms and leans against the desk. “Detective York here says that she wants you assigned to work with her on the Hudson River case,” she says. “This is highly problematic, but I’m inclined to agree with her.” My mouth drops open.
“With all due respect, ma’am, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I say.
“Last night you undermined me and shouted at me in front of the entire precinct because I didn’t want you to work on the case. Now you don’t want to be?”
“He doesn’t want to work with me,” Rachel says, crossing her arms. She’s not wrong.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Val says, exasperatedly. “You two worked so well together two years ago. Then you had to go and fuck each other and screw it all up.” Both Rachel and I stare at each other. “Oh, yeah, I know. The whole damned city knows. You were both so eager to get into each other’s’ pants you went and ruined the good thing you had going. This is why we have regulations like this!” She turns to Rachel. “You’re in charge here, York. He’s working for you. You’re a married woman now, so try to keep it in your pants.” She turned to me as Rachel began blushing. “And you! You’ll do everything Detective York tells you to, without question. I catch a whiff that you’re going against what she or I say, and I’m pulling you off the case.”
She walks around to her chair and sits down, scooting in her seat. “I want to find out who killed Detective Qin. We can’t have cop killers running around this city, even if our cops can jump right back up.” She begins shuffling through papers on her desk. “Now get out.”
Rachel sits on my desk next to me as I’m going through my email. “What’s the last thing you remember before you uploaded?” She asks. She seems particularly peppy for having just gotten an ass chewing.
“Placing my face into the Downloader,” I shrug. I have a lot of emails to go through…
“No, but before that?” She sips at her coffee, but does it the way she knows I hate, with that soft slurping sound.
“I don’t know… I had just gone out to dinner, gotten a coffee on my way back to the office here.”
“Dinner with whom?” she asks, glancing over her shoulder to look at my email. I close the browser quickly.
“Why, are you jealous?” I ask. She scoffs.
“Hardly,” she says. “I’m trying to establish the facts about the case.”
“I don’t know, everything’s hazy,” I say. “David and I went to dinner. Talked about some cases.”
“Which ones?” she asks, pressing me.
“Do we need to take this to the interrogation room?” I asked. “You’re getting very pushy.”
She leans back away from me. “Like I said, just trying to establish facts.”
I sigh. “We were talking about a few cases of illegal uploading: Black boxes, wireless transfer, skill implants. The usual black-market stuff.” David and I had dealt a lot with Upload Fraud and Abuse.
EMBR’s technology was refined and advanced. No one had been able to copy it yet, not with any precision, and their airtight security meant that the secrets to the technology would stay that way: secret. Still, there were those who would try. Lots of people had died through black-market uploads and downloads, their brains fried, or accidentally uploading someone else’s entire memory on top of their own. It could drive someone crazy.
“I need you to think, Jon. Was there anything else?” She grabs a rolling chair from an unoccupied desk and sits down.
I rack my brain, as I had since the day I was uploaded into this new body. I have nothing.
“No.” I turn back to my email. Frustrated, she gets up and leaves.
I have nothing to go on, no leads, only 36 missing days. I need to start checking people off my list. I need another look at my body.
“I’m not seeing your name on my list,” the junior medical examiner says. She’s rapidly scrolling through her pad. I put on a pained expression.
“Joanna, it’s me,” I say.
“I know, I know, I’ve let you in before,” she says, still looking, maybe hoping to find my name on the approved list of people who can enter the morgue.
“No, Joanna,” I say, “it’s literally me. It’s my body we’re talking about.” I point to the door. “My body’s on the other side of that door.” Air slips out of her lips as a nervous sigh creeps out. “I don’t have a right to see my own body?” She looks nervously down the hall, just over my shoulder, then nods. I follow her to the door, where she waves her hand over the scanner. A quick beep, and the door slides open.
The room is colder than the hallway. The lights shine like spotlights over empty tables and stands of surgical instruments. Over in the corner, I can see they have a body opened up, its torso spread open like a stargazer lily.
The JME leads me over to the rows of body lockers. As we draw close, she presses something on her pad, and one of the lockers slides open. I tense, steeling myself before advancing. When I finally step forward after what seems like minutes (but was probably just seconds), I’m surprised at how unphased I am. Maybe it’s because I had seen my body already, at the docks, maybe it’s the slight bloating and discoloration of the skin that makes it seem… not my own.
“There was frothy fluid in the airways,” Joanna says, reading from her pad. “An admixture of bronchial secretion, proteinaceous material, and some pulmonary surfactant.” I look at her, confused. “Drowned,” she replies.
“Accidental?” I ask, turning over the hands. They’re shrivelled up, wrinkled. I can feel the fingers beginning to separate, internally, from the hand. Water exposure will do that, eventually. I look at the wrinkled fingertips. We have different prints; The only way to tell the difference between copies.
“One would… hope,” she said. “Unfortunately, the signs point to no.” She turned the pad around, showing me a photo of the back of my neck. “Bruising indicates the victim was held underwater while they asphyxiated.”
I sigh. “Poor bastard.” I set down my hand. “Poor me.” I figured that would at least get a chuckle, but nothing. I turn, and she’s looking at me wearily.
“There’s one more thing,” she says. She sets the pad down, pulling on gloves. She grabs my corpse’s shoulder and rolls him over slightly. I realize now that the photo I saw of the back of my neck didn’t show the back of my head.
Well, what would be the back of my head. It’s gone.
It looks like something high-powered and precision-aimed removed the back of my skull, and a good chunk of the brain is completely gone. My stomach turns.
“Pretty amazing, right?” she asks.
“Yep…” I say. “Pretty amazing.”
She walks out, and I look over my body.
What were you doing? I ask myself. What did you see, and who wanted you dead? It’s strange looking at my own face. It’s me, but not. He wasn’t even me. He was a copy himself as well. We had both been xeroxed into existence. He’d been put through the shredder.
I’m standing next to David. We’re in a dark warehouse. I can sense that it’s a dream. I don’t know how, but I can tell. David has dropped to his knees. He’s sobbing. I know what happens next; I don’t know how. I shut my eyes and hear the gunshot, hear the body hit the concrete floor like a wet bag of sand.
I sit up, breathing heavily. Reaching over to the end-table, I check my phone. It’s a message from David.
I hear you’re Up.
I text back.
I hear you’re in the Bahamas.
Virgin Islands. Close enough.
I may never leave...
Do you remember anything at all?
I was hoping you could tell me.
I wait a while for a response, but don’t hear anything back. Eventually, I go back to sleep.
“Had you seen me at all in the past 40 days or so?” I ask my dad as he wipes down the countertop.
He had owned this bar since I was a kid. I grew up in the apartment above the place. His dad owned it, and his dad before it. My great grandfather bought it when they moved from China when my grandfather was 2. They called it “Qin’s Place.” I call it “home.”
“Nothing,” he says, shaking his head. “Nothing for a month! We tried calling, tried emailing, texting. Your mother was worried sick!” I know this is probably true. My mother would frequently fall physically ill if any of her children didn’t respond to her phone calls or if anyone did something which displeased her. Her malady would instantly clear up the moment one of us called and begged her forgiveness for slighting her. I shake my head.
“He stopped by here one day,” Lenny says, poking his head out of the small kitchen.
“What?!” my father turns. “You didn’t tell me?”
“I didn’t think to,” he says, shaking his head. Lenny has been here for the last three years. A large Italian guy with a nose like a hawk, he’s a better cook than my dad has ever been. To spare ourselves from his wrath, none of us have ever said so, though.
“When was this?” I say, pulling out my phone.
“About… three weeks ago?” he says, scratching his nose. “You came in, headed toward the bathroom in the back, then came out a few minutes later and left. I tried to get your attention, but you didn’t say anything.”
I head for the bathroom. The place is pristine. Though the hole-in-the-wall nature of “Qin’s” doesn’t seem like it should look so immaculate, my mom takes pride in the cleanliness of the place. I look around the bathroom for any indication of what I was doing here, but my mother has been thorough. The place is spotless.
I step into the stall to do my business, and notice something. When the stall door closes, I notice there’s a business card taped to the door.
“Tyger Tyger Tattoo” it reads. The face of a roaring tiger fills most of the card. A small barcode marks the bottom corner of the paper. A place up in Midtown. Whether I left the card or not, it might be worth checking out.