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PseudoPod 689: Ages of Man

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Ages of Man

by Alexis Ames


Nothing lives on the edge of the solar system.

Nothing organic, at least, which is why AX-983 has to run a quick diagnostic to make sure his photoreceptors aren’t malfunctioning. They aren’t; the data his brain is receiving is accurate. An adult human male is strapped to the table. A real human—one who is alive, breathing, and visibly frightened.

“He’s perfectly healthy. There were no errors in the DNA at all,” the trader, B-423, says as AX inspects the human. The human’s eyes, a dull gray, track AX warily.

“DNA?” AX asks. “Where did you get it?”

It had to have come from Earth, of course, but how had it managed to survive for almost two hundred years? The DNA sample must have been in some kind of stasis, perhaps a cryo-chamber. It doesn’t matter, not really. What matters is that AX is seeing a human for the first time in two hundred years, and he isn’t hallucinating.

B doesn’t answer. “I grew him a year ago.”

“Can he speak?”

“Yes, of course. He’s been taught three different Earth languages.”

“You haven’t taken proper care of his body.” AX notes how thin the human is, how his legs and arms are atrophied and how AX can count every rib through his paper-thin skin.

“I feed him nutrition supplements every day,” B says. He senses AX’s  interest, and adds, “His body is functional, his organs are healthy. He should have a normal human lifespan of a century or so. I’ll sell him to you for the price of your ship.”

He’s a fine specimen, perfectly average, and AX knows that he will never get another chance at this.

“How many others know about him?”

“Only me.”

“That’s unfortunate for you.” AX shoots him in his central processing unit, and B crumples to the deck. “But I thank you for that.”

The human stares at him, wide-eyed.

“Don’t hurt me,” he whispers. “Please, I don’t -”

“Hush.” AX approaches him, cups the human’s face in both hands. The human’s warm flesh heats his mechanical fingers, and the human shivers at his touch. “I would never kill you. You’re very special to me. You’re going to come back with me to my ship, and I will give you a wonderful life. You’re going to be my Joachim.” (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 688: The Tunnel Ahead


The Tunnel Ahead

by Alice Glaser


The floor of the topolino was full of sand. There was sand in Toni’s undershorts, too, and damp sand rubbing between his toes. Damn it, he thought, here they build you six-lane highways right on down to the ocean, a giant three-hundred car turntable to keep traffic moving over the beach, efficiency and organization and mechanization and cooperation and what does it get you? Sand. And inside the car, in spite of the air-conditioning, the sour smell of sun-dried salt water.

Tom’s muscles ached with their familiar cramp. He ran his hands uselessly around the steering wheel, wishing he had something to do, or that there were room to stretch in the tiny car, then felt instantly ashamed of his antisocial wish. Naturally there was nothing for him to do because the drive, as on all highways, was set at “Automatic.” That was the law. And although he had to sit hunched over so that his knees were drawn nearly to his chin, and the roof of the car pressed down on the back of his neck like the lid of a box, and his four kids crammed into the rear seat seemed to be breathing down his shirt collar—well, that was something you simply had to adjust to, and besides, the Topolino had all the five-foot wheelbase the law allowed. So there was nothing to complain about.

Besides, it hadn’t been a bad day, all things considered. Five hours to cover the forty miles out to the beach, then of course a couple of hours waiting in line at the beach for their turn in the water. The trip home was taking a little longer: it always did. The Tunnel, too, was unpredictable. Say ten o’clock, for getting home. Pretty good time. As good a way as any of killing a leisureday, he guessed. Sometimes there seemed to be an awful lot of leisuretime to kill. (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 687: The Yellow Cat


The Yellow Cat

by Michael Joseph


It all began when Grey was followed home, inexplicably enough, by the strange, famished yellow cat. The cat was thin with large, intense eyes which gleamed amber in the forlorn light of the lamp on the street corner. It was standing there as Grey passed, whistling dejectedly, for he had had a depressing run of luck at Grannie’s tables, and it made a slight piteous noise as it looked up at him. Then it followed at his heels, creeping along as though it expected to be kicked unceremoniously out of the way.

Grey did, indeed, make a sort of half-threatening gesture when, looking over his shoulder, he saw the yellow cat behind.

“If you were a black cat,” he muttered, “I’d welcome you—but get out!”

The cat’s melancholy amber eyes gleamed up at him, but it made no sign and continued to follow. This would have annoyed Grey in his already impatient humour, but he seemed to find a kind of savage satisfaction in the fact that he was denied even the trifling consolation of a good omen. Like all gamblers, he was intensely superstitious, although he had had experience in full measure of the futility of all supposedly luckbringing mascots. He carried a monkey’s claw sewn in the lining of his waistcoat pocket, not having the courage to throw it away. But this wretched yellow cat that ought to have been black did not irritate him as might have been expected.

He laughed softly; the restrained, unpleasant laugh of a man fighting against misfortune.

“Come on, then, you yellow devil; we’ll sup together.” (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 686: The Phantom Rider


The Phantom Rider

by Otis Adelbert Kline


Big Bill Hawkins laid the trap with admirable precision. Every little detail had been worked out with the utmost nicety.

The care-free manner of his partner, Seth Ormsby, indicated that he suspected nothing, though he did seem somewhat puzzled by Big Bill’s unwonted loquacity and unprecedented joviality. He had shown a strange lack of enthusiasm when, after a summer of unrequited toil, the prospectors had stumbled on the vein that promised to make them both independently wealthy: During the days spent in preliminary work with a view to replenishing their depleted larder, he had been unusually taciturn, even sullen at times.

As they rode abreast along the trail, followed by the two pack-mules, the foremost of which bore in its saddlebags enough gold dust to purchase the entire general store at Red Dog, Big Bill outdid himself in his efforts to be agreeable. At the same time he was thinking, planning. (Continue Reading…)