EP136: Bright Red Star

By Bud Sparhawk.
Read by Paul Haring (of Escape Pod Classic).
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2005.

Survivors isn’t exactly the word. What they found were sixteen bodies without arms, legs, and most organs. What remained were essentially heads hooked up to life support and fueled by oxygenated glucose pumps. There were a couple hundred strands of glass fibre running from the ship’s walls into each skull, into each brain, into each soul. Four of the sixteen were still functioning–alive is not a word to describe their condition.

There was no hesitation on the part of Command. They ordered everyone, except combat types like us, from the most likely targets. Humanity couldn’t allow any more people to become components for the Shardie offense.

But civilians never listen. Farmers were the worse, hanging onto their little plots and crops until somebody dragged them away, kicking and screaming at the injustice of it all. That’s why we were here. Forty settlers had stupidly refused to be evacuated from New Mars. Forty we didn’t know about until we got that one brief burst.

My mission was to make certain that they didn’t become forty armless, legless, gutless, screamless weapon components.

Rated R. Contains strong violence and heavy moral themes.

Referenced Sites:
Reading is Fundamental
Starship Sofa

Comments (21)

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  1. Vivid and intense!

    This story called Heinlein’s Starship Troopers to mind, but with a post Viet Nam ruthlessness.

    While I wouldn’t call this my favorite story, the writing was excellent. So much imagery and history in such a short story. As opposed to Sparks in a Cold war, where I was left with lots of questions about the world and the politics, this story was very clear, even if the situation was a lot more black and white.

    Excellent, episode, though I think we need something a bit cheerier after this one. =)

  2. Dan says:

    Great story. I thought it a little odd how they the soldiers were just suicide troops.

    All those modifications seem expensive for suicide soldiers. Wouldn’t they rather pick the guys that weren’t awesome soldiers?

  3. Lee Murdock says:

    Darkest … Escapepod … evar… Great job!

  4. Ericdean says:

    Although I haven’t watched Starship Troopers in a while, the Mormons settling a planet – causing the war with the aliens was a good plot point.
    Mix in the plot of Space Above and Beyond, make it boring and dull, and you have got the photocopy of a photocopy called “Bright Red Star”.
    I hope the chigs – oops shards don’t attack without apparent reason or rationale, or do anything to the human’s brains…. cause that would be just a blatant rip off. Wouldn’t want that…..

  5. bod says:

    Bleak, but brilliant. Listened to it twice, and both times the ending got to me.

    My new favourite since “Cinderella Suicide”.

  6. ComputerKing says:

    Awesome. Although I got an idea of the full extent of the soldiers’ mission early on, it wasn’t predictable or derivative in any way I can describe. Maybe it’s my own bleak view of things, but I kept thinking “a rescue ship’s not practical at this stage” whenever the little girl mentioned it.

    I loved the description of the soldier’s enhancements, especially the failsafe at the end. The shards’ use of the “survivors” was a great twist, as well.

    What put the icing on the cake, however, was the reader’s voice. He has the deep rumble I would expect out of such a shoulder, without overdoing it (And without making me expect him to burst into a Movie Promo Voiceover).


  7. Gab says:

    This was really good.
    Wasn’t expecting them to be suicide troops at all.
    That was an awesome ending in my mind.

  8. jazzmodeus says:

    This one didn’t grab me for some reason. I agree with Dan that the extensive modifications on suicide troops seemed weird — maybe the mods are cheap enough to make them a matter of course? But then why would the settlers be so frightened or surprised by them?

    I also wondered whether it was meant to be a surprise that the mission was to kill the colonists. I got it from the first conversation with Becky, and kept waiting for a further twist to prove me wrong.

  9. Windup says:

    I liked the reader as well, but like jazzmodeus, found that this one just didn’t grab me. Maybe just a tad too bleak.

  10. Josh says:

    For me, this story was a little too close to real-life war propaganda for comfort. The utterly evil, rampaging enemy who hates us for no reason and must be stopped at all costs, the need to commit atrocities to stop their horrible crimes, the foolish civilians who just don’t understand, the need to utterly destroy the enemy so they don’t destroy us. This is what societies convince themselves when they commit genocide.

    And the thing is, the story doesn’t give us any real proof the threat is real. Unless I’m forgetting something, we never really see the aliens or their actions – just hear accounts of them. And the accounts mostly come from a soldier who, by his own account, has been modified in every way to be the perfect soldier against this enemy. As a result, I can’t see him as reliable – if they did so much to modify his body, they could’ve done just as much to modify his mind and indoctrinate him.

    All of this could make for an interesting story, but I don’t get the feeling that the author thought much about any of it. Instead, it seemed like we’re supposed to accept that the aliens are pure evil and must be annihilated. And, while the story is suspenseful and well-written, I found it awfully disturbing.

  11. Dirkson says:

    Bright Red Star is a neat piece with a good twist… But it was a neat piece with a good twist a couple years ago wben I read it in Analog/Asimov’s. Far be it from me to make disparaging comments, since I’ve been listening and loving escapepod since the beginning, but re-published stories are always such a let down for me. I get all hyped up because it’s Thursday, and it turns out to be something I’ve read before. Admittedly, my friends tell me I’m something of an odd duck for only reading, listening to, or watching passive entertainment once, but I think my point still stands.
    Anyway, keep up the stories. I’m fantastically excited about the upcoming (Very upcoming. It’s been upcoming for months. By now it should be upcame.) podcastle, and can’t wait for that to start up.

  12. Marion says:

    Bleak and powerful. One of the very few I listened to twice. But, as others have pointed out, this is a strictly black and white vision. I think reality is more complex.

  13. BJ says:

    Awesome! Great story, great reader.

  14. Stephen Middleton says:

    Real class stuff, great atmosphere – certainly one of the best Escape Pod. Only slight downer was the ending was too predictable.

  15. I read this story in Year’s Best SF 11 back in June ’06 and found it pretty ho-hum-yawn. I liked the narrated version better, though it still wasn’t a great story.

  16. john says:

    You know the MBA thinking that goes, “we’ll make it up in volume.” It seems to me that this same strategy is being applied in the story. “Let’s kill everyone so nobody falls into the enemy hands” is a bit like selling things for less then it costs to make. That somehow these items will cause everyone to flock to the store to buy and while there will buy other items that are more profitable. Eventually the store has to close because they never made a profit. Applied to the story at some point there won’t be any people left.

    Seems to me that the enemy has already won. Twice.

  17. Judy says:

    I almost thought this story to be true. Our world today is so close to this that it is’nt funny

  18. Bud Sparhawk says:

    I am amazed that no one realized this was a 9/11 story.

  19. rubso says:

    you mean the ending means that they were suicide soldiers??? The reades was soooooo great that I almost yelled out … “ouch”

  20. Raving_Lunatic says:

    Incredible story.

  21. Julio says:

    This story blew me out. Amazing. It made me wish there were whole novels about this universe. I really liked old man’s war, but I think this is what that book wanted to be.