Popular culture failed to prepare me for first contact. Countless starships bristling with canon and rail gun turrets did not fill the skies. The aliens didn’t flood our television and radio bands with messages of conquest or world peace or miracle cures. They didn’t present themselves to the United Nations or to any government leaders. None of that. I was sitting in my condo in a suburb of Washington, D.C. when my mother phoned me from California. It was a Sunday afternoon. I’d just ordered a pizza and I’d planned to watch the big game on my new television. But my mother was on the phone. She’d just had a call from her own mother in her tiny mountain village back in China.
An alien had landed.
I charged the plane ticket to my credit card and was on a plane to Beijing two hours later. I didn’t watch the big game and I never got to eat my pizza. (Continue Reading…)
Diwali, the Festival of Lights is a magical time of the year, even on the Indian Battle Station. A hundred tiny oil-lamps decorated our apartment, glimmering along window ledges, glowing at the corners of the rangoli floor pattern, shining in the little niche with the image of Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.
“Savitri!” My sister Ritika called me, a glittering sparkler illuminating her excited face as she held out the firework. “Here! Light yours for the spinners!”
My sparkler spluttered into flowers of light as I touched it to hers. Mom and Ritika quickly moved out of the way and I ignited three ground spinners. The gunpowder-scented coils flung a scarf of fiery sparks across the balcony.
We were the lucky ones. I breathed in the scents of Diwali, smoke from the fireworks, incense from the Lakshmi niche, the warm coconut smell of Diwali sweets sitting on an ornate silver tray. Our cousins down in Delhi celebrated with strings of LED lights and chocolate and factory-made fireworks from China. It wasn’t the same.
We were lucky because Mom vividly remembered her childhood Diwalis, and because she had the Strength to make it real. That Strength was also why we were far from Earth on the Indian Battle Station, currently at war with the JAYAZ Network.
“Can I light a rocket?” Ritika asked. “Mom, please?”
Me, I’d have said no. Bottle-rockets in the hands of daring, impulsive teenagers like Ritika are just asking for trouble. But Mom gave in as usual. “Just be careful, sweetie.”
Ritika lit it, pointing it at the balcony ceiling instead of out toward the sky.
I grabbed the kid away as the thing ricocheted against the ceiling, fizzed, and exploded. “”Ritika! That’s so stupid!”
But before I could scold her properly, the sound of divine footsteps echoed in the hall and inside our heads. We froze.
Was Lakshmi coming to visit on her festival day? Did Mom have the Strength to bring her? We all held our breath.
The door opened. Instead of the radiant Goddess and her owl, there was a fierce blue-faced God with flaming hair. Two four-eyed dogs followed him. We dropped to the floor in obeisance. It’s never a good idea to disrespect Yama, Lord Death. (Continue Reading…)
Carmen would have expected a gold necklace or tarnished antique, maybe some money or a secret family recipe card, but she’d never dreamed her grandmother would try to immortalize herself through an inheritance like this.
The attorney was holding a velvet-covered box in his open palms as he explained, “Maria Elena had these memory grafts discreetly extracted prior to her death. She chose not to inform the family beforehand. I believe she felt her memories could safely be left to the care of the third generation, that is, the three of you.”
Carmen was relieved to see that both her siblings were likewise surprised by the news.
Mr. Hoffman tapped the box with his thumbs. “As you may know, memory grafts are a practical-application variety of memory extraction. They’re a refined amalgamation of all memories and experiences related to specific fields or areas of expertise.”
“So there’s no real estate or stocks. It’s just her memories,” Mario said, eyebrows raised.
“She was never rich to begin with,” Daniela said. “Living in that tiny place after Grandpa died. Unless she was secretly saving up, how did she afford an extraction?”
Andy tattooed his left forearm with Lori’s name on a drunken night in his seventeenth year. “Lori & Andy Forever and Ever” was the full text, all in capital letters, done by his best friend Susan with her homemade tattoo rig. Susan was proud as anything of that machine. She’d made it out of nine-volt batteries and some parts pulled from an old DVD player and a ballpoint pen. The tattoo was ugly and hurt like hell, and it turned out Lori didn’t appreciate it at all. She dumped him two weeks later, just before she headed off to university.
Four years later, Andy’s other arm was the one that got mangled in the combine. The entire arm, up to and including his shoulder and right collarbone and everything attached. His parents made the decision while he was still unconscious. He woke in a hospital room in Saskatoon with a robot arm and an implant in his head.
“Brain-Computer Interface,” his mother said, as if that explained everything. She used the same voice she had used when he was five to tell him where the cattle went when they were loaded onto trucks. She stood at the side of his hospital bed, her arms crossed and her fingers tapping her strong biceps as if she were impatient to get back to the farm. The lines in her forehead and the set of her jaw told Andy she was concerned, even if her words hid it.
“They put electrodes and a chip in your motor cortex,” she continued. “You’re bionic.” (Continue Reading…)
Raya eases power into the singularity engine and all her senses sharpen with the glorious, brutal reality of the moment: dead ahead there’s the blacklight-purple disk of Wolf-Rayet 104, twenty-eight subjective minutes before it goes core-collapse supernova. In her rear view there’s the brown dwarf she’s dragging on a graviton leash. She aims to hurl it down that deep purple star’s gravity well fast and hard enough to nudge it a degree off its axis just before it blows, in turn tilting the jet of its impending gamma ray burst away from an ocean planet and sparing a half-billion bronze-age octopodes from a gruesome flash-boiled apocalypse.
After aeons of waiting and searching, finally everything is in order, all her conditions met: she’s the only one who can do it, this is the only way it can be done, and there’s no scenario that doesn’t end with her being blasted so effectively to smithereens that no tech in the universe can put her back together again.
She cranks up the music (some ancient pre-Unimind death metal) and cracks her neck. She verifies the integrity of her mohawk, the wicked glint of her spiked bracelets in the cockpit lights, the wings of her void-black eyeliner: She’s going to be the first human being to die in a very, very long time, and she’s damn well going to do in style. She plants a kiss on her fingers and transfers it to the photo of the late, eternal Jex Epsilon-James stuck to the cockpit ceiling.
Every night I come home and I drink. I trade away the hope, the guilt, the fear, even the love–I think it’s love, crazy as it seems. I trade them for oblivion, because otherwise I won’t sleep at all. I drink until there’s no life left in me, until I’m able to forget for just a little while the chrome vessel in the corner and what’s at stake. Sometimes I hope that I’ll dream of her. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will.
I have two things that belonged to her. The first is a photograph, taken at a party in what looks like a hotel. Her hair is dyed red—it doesn’t quite suit her, so you know it isn’t hers, like an unexpected note in a melody where you thought you knew where it was going and then it went sharp. She’s holding a glass of something pink and bubbly. Maybe it’s her birthday. If so, it’s probably her twenty-eighth. She’s laughing.
She was really young to be a client. Especially back then, most of the people who thought about life extension were retirees. Mortality was very much on their minds, and they’d had a lifetime to accumulate their savings—suspension was expensive. I wonder where she got the money. Her file doesn’t say. (Continue Reading…)
“I’ve called you here, tonight, to consider a hypothesis.”
Four faces looked up from the conference table below. Arvin and Kim sat on Jerry’s right hand. Facing them were Chris Lister and Marjorie Cheong, two computer scientists who handled the hardware setup and modeling software. Jerry waited to see how they’d respond.
They didn’t. The conference room was a scene of utter silence. As Jerry had expected.
“I want to run through this together,” Jerry said. “Now, be candid. Don’t hold back. If I’m right, we might have an answer to the problems we’ve been seeing. Questions?”
Arvin raised a hand.
“I have a question, Doctor Emery. Um–what happened to you?”
Jerry was taken aback. “Pardon?”
The young man dropped his hand. “You must have gotten engaged or something, right? Or you got a dog? Something’s changed.”
Jerry hesitated. After driving to the compound, this latest time through the loop, he’d grabbed Arvin’s hand and effectively dragged him to the institute. Jerry had done the same with Kim, then gone on to collect Chris and Marjorie, the only other colleagues who were still in the office. Upon recruiting these followers, Jerry had made sure to keep them in sight. No one was going to disappear on him tonight.
News release and academic paper about Zelomorpha effugia – the parasitic wasp species discovered in Costa Rica and named in honor of Escape Pod in July 2019.
(Effugia – plural of effugium: 1: an escape, flight; 2: a means or way of escape)
Lab B-15 (Part 1 of 2)
By Nick Wolven
The young man was sitting outside the parking garage, and right away Jerry thought that was weird. This was the Arizona desert, middle of summer. People didn’t sit outside. They especially didn’t sit outside ugly parking garages, on strips of hot concrete, with no grass in sight.
The boy was Arvin Taylor, one of the lab techs from the day shift. Not a person Jerry saw often, though technically one of his employees. He ought to be working, not lazing around outdoors.
“Arvin.” Jerry pulled up, rolled down the window. “What are you–?”
But Arvin was already hurrying toward the car.
“Doctor Emery.” All the techs addressed Jerry as “doctor.” It was something he insisted on. None of this Joe-John-Jane stuff, everyone on a first-name basis, like they were Mouseketeers or flight attendants. With the work they were doing, they couldn’t afford to be casual.
Arvin bent down, peering in the window, squinting in the sun. He was dressed professionally, but cheaply: Dockers, button shirt.
The boy must have been sitting outside for hours. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He looked woozy, sunstruck.
“I’m glad I caught you, Doctor Emery.”
“How long have you been out here, Arvin?”
“It’s really important.” The young man’s eyes slid sideways, feverish. Jerry worried he might pass out. “I have to tell you …”
And that was it. Arvin’s mouth hung open, tongue moving vaguely.
Jerry put a hand on the gearshift, a gentle reminder. He had work to do, places to be. “I’m due in the office. If I’m not mistaken, you’re supposed to be there, too. Doesn’t your shift go till six?”
Arvin wasn’t listening. His eyes had assumed a peculiar cast, half daft, half frantic, like a circuit inside him had failed to connect. “It’s about … Lab B-15.” (Continue Reading…)
When Leon Kenner left the planet of Acceptance, he asked me to go with him back to Earth. I belonged with people like me, like him.
No, that isn’t where I should start. Stories should be told in chronological order to make them easy to understand.
On our first meeting, Leon took my hand in both of his as if he had known me my whole life, like he knew I was NT — neurotypical — and I liked touching. I could read his mind, and he was reading mine right back. That’s not right. No one has ever proved mind-reading. Mind-reading isn’t real.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ada,” he said.
A pleasure. Meeting me was a pleasure. On Acceptance, greetings are waves of a hand. If you know someone well, maybe a “hi” or “hey.”
The pleasure was mine, but I kept that to myself. Ma was just behind me. There are procedures for how to accept a guest into the home.
“The family schedule is on the screen. So are the rules.” I pointed as I spoke. I noticed Ma looking at my pointing, and I put my hand down. Hand motions confuse people. Speak in one modality at a time. (Continue Reading…)
In the waning light of an artificial sun, Camelia Dunlevy climbed a mountain with her sister on her back. Delilah was a hollow weight, bird-boned from reconstructive surgeries, unbreakable.
The trouble wasn’t her bones, but her lungs. She panted in Camelia’s ear, unaccustomed to altitude, a small sound that might as well have been a war drum. Camelia couldn’t call for help, she couldn’t leave Delilah behind, she couldn’t walk the road for fear of company men.
And her sister was still giving bad directions.
“There’s a path up the western slope,” Delilah whispered, her breath hot and tickling. “I swear it.”
“There’s no path.”
“I came up once, with Aster.”
“Then you were on a tram.”
“Yes. I saw it out the window.”
“I don’t know what you saw, but it wasn’t a path!”
An explosion rocked the mountain, pelting them in pebbles and moon dust. Camelia dashed behind the nearest bush—a sickly, transplanted thing, hardly any cover—and counted the seconds before the familiar grind-whir-scream of a strikebreaker started up. Distant, but not distant enough. (Continue Reading…)