The Human Blend

Free The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster

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Authors: Alan Dean Foster
streetwalker, neither Natural nor Meld paid the least attention to the old man with the cane as he made his way deeper into the heart of Valparaiso’s nautical entertainment district. Interlocked young lovers out for the night looked only into each other’s eyes. Visiting couples from Santiago strolled quietly between show venues and restaurants. Tourists in pairs and in organized groups marveled at old buildings that had been preserved, raised, and moved to higher, safely dry locations. Rapa Nuians holding dual Sudamerican and Commonwealth of Oceania citizenship eagerly scrutinized the contents of souvenir shops.
    “Evening, senior señor.” It was impossible to tell from looking at her whether the young woman was a natural blonde or not. Certainly the golden mane that extended from her head all the way down her spine and ended in a half-meter-long tufted tail was pure meld. Snorting enticingly through her maniped, widened nostrils she let out a little whinny. “Interested in a little horseplay?”
    Looking down he saw that what at first could have been taken for four-inch black heels were in fact feet that had been maniped. In addition to hair and nostrils, she had undergone a full foot meld that had eliminated human heels and toes in favor of highly polished hooves. A small diamond flashed in the depths of the left one.
    “Not my cup of tea,” he replied in a polite quaver.
    As he tried to go around her she stepped in front of him, blocking hispath. Her practiced smile continued to invite. “It’s been my experience that even old men are all equestrians at heart—when they are presented with the right mount.”
    The casually inadvertent “old man” designation did not trouble Molé. His actual age had never been a source of embarrassment to him. Quite the contrary. He took it as a point of pride that someone in his profession had survived for so long. Still, he was averse to the insistent invitation.
    “I don’t have the kind of meld that might make for a memorable evening for you, girl.”
    She laughed horsely. “You’ve got it backward, old man. It’s
job to make
evening memorable.”
    “Then I suppose I can only accede to your persistence.” He extended an arm. She immediately wrapped hers around the proffered limb.
    “A gentleman, too.” She squeezed his arm gently and her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh my—you’re in a lot better shape than you look! I promise you a night you won’t forget, senior. Or if times are difficult, an hour.”
    “I will do my best to reciprocate.” She did not notice that the old man quaver in his voice had disappeared.
    By the following morning she had, too.
    The call that reached Napun Molé a month later differed from many similar calls that had preceded it only in detail. It found him lying on a water-whisking lounge on the beach at Pimento, in northern Peru. Speaking aloud the acceptance code string that activated the receiver-pickup resting in his right ear he answered the secure circuit greeting while alternating his gaze between the wealthy swimsuited women up from Lima and the fishermen demonstrating the use of their traditional reed boats. Most fishermen now were Melds, having had their bodies maniped to feature everything from gills to gengineered swim bladders.
    No one paid any attention to one old man among many as Molé sat up on the lounge and swung his feet over the side. Nor did they remark on his incongruously youthful body, not realizing that the muscles it featured were wholly natural and the consequence of a lifetime of consistent serious exercise instead of a quick meld. The unusually thick soles of the feet he idly dug into the sand beneath the lounge were not manips to support creaking bones but cushions that allowed him to walk and run in near silence.
    The voice on the other end of the call was atypically stressed. Animportant person had met an untimely demise and the usual suspects exonerated. On his person this individual had been

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