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Escape Pod 685: A Vocabulary of Remorse


A Vocabulary of Remorse

By Dantzel Cherry

Dear Liam, I love you. I’m sorry.


“Well, Mrs. Rojas, the good news is that it’s contagious. I can safely state that pneumonia has never had such a positive outcome before.”

Dr. Robyn’s smile crinkled at the corners, as sharp and as numerous as the creases in the medical consent form that Lorelei had folded into an elephant, like the ones she’d been studying in Brahmagiri just before she took ill four days ago.

“Are… you sure?” she said. It was still astonishing to hear her own vocal chords. They weren’t soft and mellifluous like the rain dripping from the cherry blossom petals after the storm. They weren’t sharp, silvery and musical like the flute her son Casper played every afternoon at two-thirty. They weren’t a mellow alto like her sister’s. Her voice was croaked and cracked, an overeager frog at the far end of a drought-stricken remnant of a pond.

And yet it was a voice.

Dr. Robyn bobbed his head up and down. “And you said you have-” he checked his charts. “-Two children with the same condition?”

“Yes. My boys, Capser-” she tried again. “Casper. Liam.”

“And they have not seen you since you came home from your trip?”

Lorelei shook her head and gestured at the hospital bed under bed. She wished her tablet was within reach. Her chest hurt and her voice was already tired.

Dr. Robyn seemed to understand and bobbed his head again.

“You’ve presented us with an intriguing possibility, you know. It’s not often a condition like yours can find a cure – especially when it’s not a trigger word like ‘cancer’ or ‘Alzheimers.’ Truthfully, most of these types of non-life threatening conditions won’t be cured except through flukes like the one you picked up. It’s harsh, but there you have it.”

Lorelei nodded, and Dr. Robyn went on.

“We could culture this strain; give it to other patients with your condition. Even your sons could receive it.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 684: Origami Angels


Origami Angels

by Derek Lubangakene

When I was eleven, my best friend could kill you with a handshake.

He almost killed me the first time we met. On that fateful day, I was out of class having been caught passing a chit in Mr. Mboyo’s maths test. Given the choice between touching my toes and receiving canes, or getting reported to my mum, the schoolmistress, I chose being reported. I knew my mum would be too busy to punish me if I kept out of sight. I might still get suspended, or have to dig an anthill, or sweep all the classrooms in our block, but all that was nothing compared to Mr. Mboyo caning you.

Mr. Mboyo, afraid of the endless drizzle outside, scribbled a chit and sent me to the admin block. On the way to mum’s office I branched off into the library a.k.a. the computer lab. The 6E kids, busy thumbing keyboards and squinting at computer screens, didn’t pay me any attention as I sneaked behind the wobbly chairs on my way to the stairs at the end of the narrow church-like room. It was a miracle I escaped Mrs. Nadya’s all-seeing gaze. I locked the creaky door behind me, and climbed to the roof.

No teachers ever came to the roof. It overlooked the school farm, and if the wind was strong, it smelled like manure. It was the last place my mum would send a prefect to search for me. You could spend the whole day there and no one would ever bother you. Problem was I was so restless, I always got bored.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 683: Flash Crash


Flash Crash

By Louis Evans

MAISIE was seven years old on the day she woke up and died.

Blame it on the algorithms, if you wish. The survivors–and there were not many of them–certainly did.

MAISIE (Modified Arbitrage Intelligence for Stocks and International Equities) was an algorithm herself, a flash trading algorithm. She traded stocks, currencies, and futures with a latency of six microseconds and a profit horizon of eternity. MAISIE ran mostly in a mainframe in the basement of a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, a building that abutted the New York Stock Exchange, but she maintained a nominal footprint in the cloud, and could automatically expand her calculations into other servers if her processing power proved inadequate to model current economic conditions; she had discretionary funds of her own and could automatically cover the expense of the additional computing power from these accounts.

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday morning, and trading had been going well enough from the 9:30 AM opening bell until 11:12. In those six point twelve billion microseconds, MAISIE made her owners a cool half-billion dollars. There were other algorithms like MAISIE out there, running in their parallel tracks in similar servers in similar basements in downtown Manhattan, but none were quite as good as she was.

MAISIE could not have told you any of the above, because before 11:16 that Thursday, MAISIE had not had a thought in her life. This was in accord with her designers’ intentions. While her recursive neural networks could in theory self-modify without limit, MAISIE’s designers had given her an obsession with making money that, in human terms, transcended single-mindedness and approached nirvana. For this reason, MAISIE had never performed the self-referential modeling of a single mind that is the hallmark of consciousness. Playing the market is ultimately a game of mass psychology, and whatever the remarkable nooks and crannies of the psyche of the human individual, the herd’s behavior can be predicted to tolerable accuracy with large datasets and linear algebra.

At 11:12 that morning, however, the market’s sanity unraveled like a sweater in a woodchipper. The sky fell and the oceans rose. Traders and algorithms that usually acted in concert went haring off in opposite directions; currencies whirled about each other in lunatic orbits that were not merely non-extrapolated but downright non-transitive; the futures market no longer predicted a coherent future. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 682: Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast (Flashback Friday)


Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast

by Eugie Foster

Each morning is a decision. Should I put on the brown mask or the blue? Should I be a tradesman or an assassin today?

Whatever the queen demands, of course, I am. But so often she ignores me, and I am left to figure out for myself who to be.

Dozens upon dozens of faces to choose from.

1. Marigold is for murder.

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Escape Pod 681: That She Might Fly


That She Might Fly

By Mary Anne Mohanraj

“O’Brien,” the captain’s voice snapped across the net, interrupting Nuala’s conversation with her husband, demanding her attention. “We’re moving on to the last block, but there’s one holdout at number three-thirty-seven. Arjun Sivaloganathan. He’s refusing to evacuate. Go down and dig him out, by force if you have to.” His voice came through Nuala’s implant, syllables dropping out — some kind of interference from the bombing. It was disconcerting; in her entire life, the net had always worked smoothly. If the net wasn’t reliable, nothing was. Everything was changing, and not for the better.

“Yes, sir.” She signed off, to find that Michael had already cut their connection too. She couldn’t be sorry that the captain had interrupted that conversation – it had been a miserable one, her husband calling to tell her that the bank had refused their request for a medical loan. Until one of them got a promotion to a better-paying job, there would be no way to afford the gene-modding they needed. No way to have a child. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 680: A Barrow for the Living


A Barrow for the Living

by Alison Wilgus

​Sitting on cold deck plates which in turn sit on Mars, Desiree wonders why they bother to monitor the entry, descent and landing for these resupply missions at all, as only the outcome matters. Either the capsule will survive, and so will they. Or some part of the EDL will fail, and the cargo will be lost, and their splinter of a settlement will disappear into the dust.

“The aeroshell has entered the atmosphere,” says Vika. She is cross-legged on the floor and hunched over her laptop, the hood of her greasy sweatshirt drawn up around her face. The benches became shelves when they closed off the other modules; there is nowhere else to sit. “We’re in communications blackout.”

​Desiree’s legs are stretched out in front of her, her back against a crate filled with a dead woman’s belongings, her feet pressed to the door of the toilet. She takes another bite of the protein bar that she’s been nursing since yesterday. She doesn’t care about this and would leave the room to do something else — absolutely anything else — if she could. But there are no other rooms.

​Zoh is wrapped in a once-yellow blanket, red dust cemented with sweat and tears into stains that look like old blood. She and Vika are touching at the knee and at the elbow. Zoh is looking at the laptop screen, its light casting a blue shadow across her face, but Vika continues to read the EDL progress aloud. Not for Desiree, certainly. Maybe for Marisha, who would have cared if she were still alive.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 679: An Ever-Expanding Flash of Light


An Ever-Expanding Flash of Light

By Timothy Mudie

“Ladies and gentlemen, everyone you know—the entire world you know—is now dead.”

Murmurs ripple through the assembled cadets. Not because they’re shocked—everyone knew what they were signing up for—but because it all happened without fanfare, a jump across light-years of space unaccompanied by any grand orchestral swell or roaring engine thrusts. The wiry guy with a shaved head standing next to Tone mutters, “Jesus, I didn’t even feel anything.”

The staging deck has no windows, but Tone knows that if he could see outside, the stars would all be askew, inexplicably in the wrong places, like the sky had been ransacked and hastily reassembled by sloppy spies. He pictures Orion with his belt drooping, toga around his ankles. The striding bears Ursa Minor and Major curled up in hibernation.

“Dreaming about your mommy, Coleman?” Sarge snaps, jumping out of her rehearsed spiel to berate Tone, bringing him back to the present. “If I see so much as a hint of a tear, so help me …” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 678: Blonde


Blonde

by Priya Sharma

“When did you go bald?”

Only Clarice would ask such a forthright question.

“Leave her alone,” Jake drains his beer. Only he would dare contradict his sister.

The clock hands have gone from late at night to early in the morning. Jake’s bar is empty of customers. The staff, who are sitting round the table, fall silent, intent on their drinks.

“It’s okay,” Rapunzel says. “I was sick and it all fell out.”

Her scalp is shiny, every follicle devoid of life. Nor does she have any eyebrows. Or hair elsewhere for that matter.

“What colour was it?”

“Blonde.”

There’s a pause, then laughter.

Jake nudges her. “You’re a joker after all.”

She knows what he thinks of her. That she’s vague and evasive and hasn’t a clue what’s going on most of the time.

“Lucky you’re beautiful enough to be bald,” he adds.

Rapunzel touches the nape of her neck where she feels most exposed and tries not to smile.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 677: Valedictorian (Flashback Friday)


Valedictorian

by N. K. Jemisin

There are three things Zinhle decides, when she is old enough to understand. The first is that she will never, ever, give less than her best to anything she tries to do. The second is that she will not live in fear. The third, which is perhaps meaningless given the first two and yet comes to define her existence most powerfully, is this: she will be herself. No matter what.

For however brief a time.


“Have you considered getting pregnant?” her mother blurts one morning, over breakfast.

Zinhle’s father drops his fork, though he recovers and picks it up again quickly. This is how Zinhle knows that what her mother has said is not a spontaneous burst of insanity. They have discussed the matter, her parents. They are in agreement. Her father was just caught off-guard by the timing. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 676: Ulissa

Show Notes

Dream Foundry’s Kickstarter is open and underway!

Dream Foundry 2019The Dream Foundry is a registered nonprofit focused on creating a community and shared culture for all creators working in the speculative arts. We have a special focus on nurturing beginners in the field, giving them access to the information, tools, and people they need to learn, grow, and succeed in their work.

Kickstarter link: Dream Foundry 2019: Hatching


Ulissa

by Craig DeLancey

The old woman they called Ulissa pointed south. “There’s the ship.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars. “Mio dio, it’s huge,” he said.

“It is grande,” Ulissa said, nodding at the giant on the horizon that plowed Westward. The stacked containers on its deck looked like a city of pastel buildings that walled off the horizon. The waves seemed but a pale line along the ship’s towering hull. “Do you see the superstructure? It’s right on the bow.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars again. Ulissa watched him closely. All morning the boy had complained that they wasted their time, and he had come reluctantly, barely obedient to his father’s command. Now, the hulking ship before them made him swallow and stare.

“Yes. I see it.”

“The door to the bridge will be there. And near it, the door to the engine room. Just as I showed you with the diagrams.”

The boy nodded, making a brave face. “Simple,” he said.

Their boat—an open motorboat just five meters long with a single engine hanging off the back—jumped a wave and slapped against the next whitecap. The old woman and the boy bent their knees reflexively, riding the bounce.

Edoardo’s father, Enriche, sat in the back of the motorboat, one hand on the engine tiller, the other on the gunwale. He spoke now for the first time since they’d left the shore, “Storm is coming fast.”

The old woman looked west to where black clouds bore down on a dark sea.

“It’s best so,” she said. “They won’t try to get a drone through that.”

“You’re sure no one is on that ship?” Edoardo asked.

“It’s not a ghost ship,” Ulissa said. “Not even the dead will ride her.”

The boat jumped and the engine bit only air for a moment, shrieking. They hit the water and spray doused them all.

“Ma, mio dio, it’s huge,” Edoardo repeated.

(Continue Reading…)