PseudoPod 654: Flash on the Borderlands XLVIII: Parts & Maintenance
“A Real Death” is a PseudoPod Original
“Kintsugi” is a PseudoPod Original — Kintsugi: “I wrote the story for a contest on Codex Writers forum. So much fun to join with more than a hundred people in getting a story done each week for a month!”
“How to Construct a Gun from Your Own Flesh” was first published in the Spring 2018 issue of Vastarien.
this isn’t meant to last
this is for right now
A Real Death
by Kurt Hunt
narrated by Graeme Dunlop
“Find a real death. But there is no real death any longer. There are bodies that break down the way the cars do.”
–Antoine de Saint Exupery, Flight to Arras
Bad luck. Voice went first. Hard enough to communicate with it, but without? Gesticulation. Exasperation.
The woman at the repair shop snaps her gum and raises an eyebrow at me. I signal again for something to write with. “Vocal cords,” I want to say. “Mute now. Graft? Transplant? Help a guy out?” But of course I say nothing.
She sighs and flips her visor down to block her eyes. Some vid, or maybe chatting with a boyfriend. Whatever. No help here. I’m invisible. Scansorted when I walked in: (1) warranties expired; (2) credit unsatisfactory; (3) accounts canceled; (4) nothing to barter.
As people used to say: “broke.”
Bad, bad luck.
Sleep parts malfunctioning. Oh dear.
Core’s still intact, so at least no real threat of infection or disease. I ask my designated Bureau contact: options? His answer: shrug, “wear and tear,” maybe get a job?
But my sleep parts are broken and things are unclear. Vision blurs. Hearing things. I travel and act without memory — iterative fugue states. Worse: no destination. Just wind up and go, nowhere to go. I had a home, but it’s gone now, taken by the Bureau.
Wandering, I have some mute interactions on the street, wagging dead tongue and gesturing for help, but mostly I’m overlooked or I repulse.
I am clutter, now; I am debris.
Not like the limp-legged elders crabwalking in the Row, but not far off. Hardly anyone makes eye contact — they see my future as clearly as I do — but then I meet a man. Suit. Dark eyes. Strong grip. He shakes my hands like I’m still a person. Shook. Shaking. Shak– can’t stop shaking. He smile and leaves.
He said he’d come back for me… but… don’t… don’t… I don’t know where I am.
The Suit found me. He came back and he cuts me, gives me an implant that winds me down, and I find sleep again — a blessing. No voice still, but my mind’s stuffed back in like sausage in a casing.
I’m so grateful, I’m happy to help even though the details remain unclear.
The Suit talks about favors. He smiles. But he doesn’t answer questions.
“Find Charles,” he says.
I still can’t talk, so I just nod and scan the info he ports to me.
Find Charles. Fine.
Charles is a tall man. Oil smell. Worried smile when he sees me.
He says “come in” and scurries backward into the room like a spider, and when I come in the door clicks.
Found Charles. Now what?
I look around for something to write with, but… fog. Fog creeps in; vision narrows. The wind-down implant whirs. I can feel the vibration against my skull. Remotely started? Sleep comes, and Charles approaches, rubbing himself, and I want to yell but I have no voice, and Charles breathes hard on me and… fuck… long blink… longer… dark.
My hands shake against the tablet, but my message is clear. I write: “THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL A FUCKING FAVOR?!”
The Suit smiles and holds his hands up. “For him. Not for you. Your favor, you might remember, is being able to sleep again. We can do other favors for you too, if you keep helping us.”
I want to tear skin off. Mine or his. Instead, I throw the tablet against the wall, taking satisfaction in the crunch of the screen.
The Suit just shrugs. Not satisfying. His smile’s gone, but he says, “Fine. But we scanned you. Voice was first; sleep was second. Know what’s next?” He leans toward me, finds that smile again. “Bits of spinal cord stop sending signals. Maybe a couple weeks from now, and you’ll be just another creepy-crawly scratching in our garbage.”
His breath is hot; his hard hands are on me, on my wrists. I realize then I’ve been shaking.
“After that,” he says, “I promise you, you’ll have some truly bad experiences. Maybe then you’ll reconsider.”
“Bluff,” I want to say. I want to say, “fuck you,” I want to just scream, just make any sound. I say nothing instead. I give him the finger, fail to hide my tremors, and walk out.
Took a month, but the Suit didn’t bluff.
First I felt the liquid numbness creep up from my toes; then pins and needles; then nothing at all below the waist. I can only crawl, drag my legs behind me like a corpse. Beautiful, maintained people step past me and over me, parts all new. I can see tanned thighs up tight skirts, but cold seeps into me. And there’s no food there, among the real people.
Eventually I squirm to the Row with other debris, away from the residentials, in the reservoir storing cast-offs before disintegration. Most are mute, like me — voices are fragile things — but some make noises.
I’d prefer silence.
Saniteams dump fresh piles of refuse collected from homes and offices kept pristine; we crawl up, maggots, white-splotched and mewling in sun. Inside, more things wear; more things tear.
Memories offer respite, but anger too. Sun used to shine through windows at home on sleepy mornings — anger. She used to smile at my stupid jokes — anger. Deferred maintenance, shrugs of shoulders, stupid youth — anger. I eat cast-offs now, and rage eats me, until there’s nothing left but fury and wreckage.
O God! I yell in my head, over and over, save me from the Row!
And God reaches out his hand, and his hand is the Suit. Eyes dark. Still smiling.
Too angry to cry; too deteriorated to fight; too hungry to refuse. I have no voice, and can only nod.
by Bo Balder
narrated by Dan Rabarts
Ttai found the damaged person behind a dumpster. It was hidden in layers and layers of filthy fabric and didn’t seem to have been taking good care of itself. But it still thumped and oozed and made sounds with its hair-rimmed in-hole, so that meant it was worth repairing.
He gently scooped the person up from the stony ground with his feelers. Earlier in his career, he’d often burst them a bit when he picked them up, and that had saddened him. He was better at it now. He didn’t want to spoil a single one, no matter how old and neglected it was, no matter that it had billions of near identical copies all over the globe.
This wasn’t about coldly weighing pros and cons. This was about being in awe of the fragility and warmth of these beings, about honoring them, about helping them exist in a greater state of beauty.
Ttai considered himself a craftsman first, an artist second, if at all. He was a collector of art forms, and he had collected this one, Kintsugi, from the humans themselves. He loved the idea of creating something unique and new from a broken original.
Ttai rolled the person in paper towels, so as not to damage it and to keep his vehicle clean. The oozing was a feature, not a bug, but he found it he only appreciated it if happened in real time.
At home in the lander craft, he put the person on a clean work table. He loved this part of the work. The careful unwrapping and cleaning of the precious being was joyful, because it was a beginning, there was no stress yet, no deadline, no expectations. He could take his time about pondering how and where the being needed repairs.
He put on some scent, placed warm but intense lighting over the fizzing, frothing creature and started the peeling. So many layers! The poor things weren’t very well designed for their climate, but all the more enjoyable anticipation for him.
It leaked a bit from its eyeholes, making clean tracks over grubby skin. It needed cleaning. They always did. He’d experimented with various cleaning fluids and finally settled on something they called ‘whiskey’ for its nice smell. The creature mewled and tried to lick its face.
As it was laid bare, a lumpy, speckled and tufty thing, Ttai thought about where to repair it. In theory one needed a physical crack or break to fill up with gold leaf, but Ttai had grown beyond that as an artist. He chose his own areas to gild. He knew where the internal flaws of the creatures were, even if they didn’t show on the outside yet.
He hovered his scent leaves over the writhing thing and inhaled. Its flaw shaped itself in his imaging organs. There, right there, the veiny bit behind the temple. That’s where it was broken.
He scraped off the last tufty bits, turning the integument a bit red and oozy. How they stood not having antlers and scent leaves he couldn’t understand. On his first attempt he’d created gold antlers to mimic his own, but it had spoiled the balance. He’d decided humans were beautiful in their own pitiful alien way, no need to make them over in his image.
He popped his eyes down towards the shivering creature. It mewled a bit and tried to flap its fleshy tentacles, but Ttai ignored that. They weren’t quite advanced enough to bother communicating with. He rasped a feeler tip over the creature’s pelt and watched the fine hairs raise themselves on bumps of skin. He loved that. Look, it traveled away from his feeler all the way up to its head! So beautiful. And it had many more delightful responses. If one pinched the integument, first it turned white. If released it flushed darker. The paler ones were best in that respect, but even dusky skin turned dark if pinched long and hard enough. And if you wanted ooze, the rind could crack and flow red.
Ttai’s little pot of gold had melted and he carried it over to the creature. It had pushed its tentacles over its top bulge, where the in-hole and the seeing organs were. Ttai didn’t correct it. He flipped it over and clamped the head down so it wouldn’t wriggle and spoil his work.
He hardened his implanter and opened up the creature’s head. The pink veined squab right there needed more connections with the rest of the whorled spongy stuff.
He poised the crucible over the creature and savored one last moment before creating his new work of art. His hearts swelled. So much beauty. Such joy.
The creature’s eyes popped open with a new awareness in them. It opened its in-hole and screamed. Ttai couldn’t hear the thrumming of the vocal cords, but he could see it. It was whole again.
How to Construct a Gun from Your Own Flesh
by Michael Uhall
narrated by Kris Straub
i. Preliminary considerations
A gun made from your own flesh is no more difficult to conceive than any other biological product manufactured by the body, be it the growth of bone cells during development, the cyclical replacement of epidermal layers, or even significantly more rapid processes such as the relatively constant production of blood platelets, mucus, semen, or tears. Ordinarily, we consider the products of our biology very little. They exist in the background, as necessary but invisible constituents of daily life. At best, they are secondary to whatever effects they make possible. Spilled blood as accessory to a murder; saliva as the correlate of a kiss. Externalized, they can be nuisances, stains, evidence. Of course, this is only true for the more superficial products. The deeper you go, the more troubling an externalization becomes. If your car started growing skin, or your shoes wept blood, if buildings grew thick with outgrowths of bone like dense, strange forests, this would be considered anomalous. The reason, however, is because such possibilities are merely conjunctive, teratological. They effect a fantastic marriage between what a biology produces and that which environs it. A gun made from your own flesh, however, does not resemble any chimera, but rather it differs in no fundamental way from any other possible product manufactured by the flesh. In what follows, how this is possible and what such a gun necessarily must be like will be described.
ii. Theory of the gun
Any theoretical biology sufficient for the purposes of constructing a gun from your own flesh must first and foremost concern itself with the weaponization of biological form as such. A gun made from your own flesh is the epitome of such weaponization. In addition to performing much the same function as a machine-tooled, metal gun, it is maximally surreptitious. Because a gun made from your own flesh exists as nothing more than benign, unobtrusive structures normally found in or on the body until the time of its construction, it cannot be confiscated or detected until its deployment. Necessary for such a gun, therefore, is ease and speed of its construction. Initial tests of prototype models made from the flesh of test subjects resulted in the general incapacity of those subjects either to complete construction or to deploy the prototype effectively in the field. Given these failures (largely due to blood loss or ineffectual pain management strategies), the solution to this problem is either to weaponize biological form further through the integration of modular components within the body itself or to enable the rapid manufacturing of component parts in an appropriately programmatic sequence. More colorfully, to construct a gun from your own flesh, you must either build it in or shit it out. In other words, to construct a gun from your own flesh, the body must become a factory, a body factory, the latent capacities of which may be initialized either on command or on cue. The cue in question would be undoubtedly environmental (e.g., a harmonic progression integrated into otherwise innocuous incidental music), and activation conceivably could be voluntary or not.
iii. Description of the gun
The physical appearance of a gun made from your own flesh may vary, although a number of structural features must be present for it to fulfill its function adequately. In general, two options are available to the user: a handgun or a long gun. In either case, first and foremost consider the barrel and muzzle of the gun made from your own flesh. In the latter case, one possibility suggested by field research indicates that the adjoining of both femurs allows the construction of a spiraling barrel, thus approximating rifling (the process of carving into the barrel of a gun helical grooves that impart bullet spin, thus increasing aerodynamic efficiency in general as well as significantly improving the ballistic coefficient of the bullet). The reason why the femur is particularly appropriate for a long gun made from your own flesh, then, is because the femur’s medial convergence toward the patella occurs at an average femoral-tibial angle of 175 degrees. Adjoined properly, the femoral barrel may gyro stabilize the bullet in flight. One disbenefit to usage of the femurs in this fashion is decreased mobility for the user. As for handguns, additional field research suggests a variety of options, including the conversion of thoracic vertebrae, the extraction of floating ribs, or even the retrofitting of mandibular form into a primitive, breach-like structure. One particularly notable possibility is the full or partial conversion of the user’s hand, which, consisting of 27 distinct bones (29, including the radius and the ulna), offers a wide range of construction materials for the body factory’s use. Benefits to such conversion include ease of access, increased stability, and general unobtrusiveness. Additionally, the use of phalanges as bullets seems convenient and possible, although further research is required.
iv. Functioning of the gun
The bullets of a gun made from your own flesh must be composed from pieces of the body that will maintain their structural integrity at muzzle velocity (a base average of 350 m/s is sufficient for the purposes of calculation), in addition to whatever pressure will be maintained within the bullet chamber (typically between 30,000 and 70,000 psi, depending on whether it is a handgun or a long gun). A significantly lower pressure in the bullet chamber is necessary in a gun made from your own flesh, given the difficulty of achieving and maintaining higher pressures, much less the structural damage incurred on pieces of the body at such pressures. Of course, a bullet’s velocity is highest at muzzle velocity, dropping off dramatically thereafter due to air resistance. One further initial factor to consider in the selection of bullet type is the extent of setback deformation, or the structural damage incurred by the bullet as it traverses the barrel. Given the foregoing considerations, the only possible bullet type candidates for a gun made from your own flesh are either teeth or shards of bone. The latter bullet type candidate admits of maximum variability, and, therefore, only the former will be here considered. It is worth noting that calcium orthophosphate has a melting point of 1670 C, whereas bullet temperatures average significantly under 400 C at all times. In other words, temperature is not a relevant factor. Of primary significance, then, is ensuring the ballistic coefficient of a human tooth fired from a presumably imperfect barrel at a speed capable of inflicting massive damage on the target subject. It is likely that any gun made from your own flesh will only admit of a single firing, unless modular components are installed in the jaw that allow the rapid removal of teeth for semi-automatic fire. Suggested for this purpose are orthodontic apparatuses whose presence in the mouth is otherwise unexceptional. Accuracy, of course, will be limited, and the gun made from your own flesh will have only a short range. However, given its surreptitious nature and the projected terminal ballistics of human teeth, the gun should satisfy its purpose.
v. Flesh, as seen by the gun
After its successful deployment, the gun made from your own flesh will decide that its existence is no longer secondary, and that further weaponization of biological form is necessary. Cultivating all possible manufacturing capacities of the body factory will become the new priority for the gun made from your own flesh. When interviewed, the gun made from your own flesh will observe that the weaponization of biological form was probably the best thing that had ever happened to it. It will state, upon further reflection, that your flesh now exists only for the gun’s purposes. These purposes will now be elaborated and maximized. The subject as heretofore conceived is now a subsidiary function, and its deployment will be closely observed. Revisions issued from its office indicate that such possibilities are likely forthcoming.
About the Authors
Michael Uhall is an academic, a political theorist, and an aficionado and author of horrific and weird prose. He is particularly interested in dark ecology and speculative biology. His work can be found on his website, in Vastarien, in a recent volume of stories inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann, and in various academic journals. He’s currently working on a short novel called Exit Paradise, about a surreal and violent revolution on a cruise ship.
Kurt Hunt was formed in the swamps and abandoned gravel pits of post-industrial Michigan. His short fiction has been published at Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, PodCastle, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Kaleidotrope, and more. He is also a co-author of Archipelago, a collaborative serial fantasy adventure.
Bo Balder is the first Dutch author to have been published in Clarkesworld and F&SF. Her short fiction has also appeared in Escape Pod and other places. Her sf novel “The Wan” was recently published by Pink Narcissus Press.
About the Narrators
Dan Rabarts is the author of the grimdark-steampunk-madcap fantasy novel Brothers of the Knife, first in the Children of Bane series, and co-authors the supernatural tech-noir crime thriller series The Path of Ra with Lee Murray. He narrates stories for Tales to Terrify and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and hides on the web at dan.rabarts.com.
Kris is a cartoonist, podcaster, and author of the short story Candle Cove Yeah, that Candle Cove which was adapted for TV as season one of SyFy’s Channel Zero. He recently launched the third chapter of his horror adventure comic Broodhollow on Patreon.
Graeme Dunlop is a construct of his own mind and thus extremely hard to grasp. He has no discernible skills and often wonders how he became co-editor of a respected fantasy podcast, audio producer of a horror podcast, host and co-founder of a respected YA podcast, and IT Barbarian for a podcast company.
In alternate futures he is Muad’Dib, or a drunken bum living in a skip, or reincarnated as a dog, or living happily in the now.
He’s also a voice actor, with narrations for each of the Escape Artists podcasts.
He lives in Melbourne, Australia with his lovely wife Amanda. They have a crazy boy dog called Jake. Graeme has been involved with Escape Artists since 2008 and PseudoPod since 2011.