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Escape Pod 625: Herd Mentality (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

Herd Mentality originally appeared on Escape Pod on July 21, 2005 on episode 011.


Herd Mentality

By Jay Caselberg

(Excerpt)

Einstein was getting old now. All of them. Not so old that he was past it, but you had to wonder. When our troops liberated the Spemann Lab complex in 1945, the Einsteins had been just five years old. The Government had done the humanitarian thing and brought them back home. Eventually, someone had leaked the information and slowly, slowly, public pressure and outrage had grown. The big hush-hush operation our government had mounted was shut down and the Einsteins were released‚ or rather, they were integrated into society in a humanitarian manner. That was the wording the government press releases used. Two hundred and fifty is a lot of Einsteins.

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Escape Pod 624: Fandom for Robots


Fandom for Robots

By Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Computron feels no emotion towards the animated television show titled Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード). After all, Computron does not have any emotion circuits installed, and is thus constitutionally incapable of experiencing ‘excitement’, ‘hatred’, or ‘frustration’. It is completely impossible for Computron to experience emotions such as ‘excitement about the seventh episode of HyperWarp‘, ‘hatred of the anime’s short episode length’ or ‘frustration that Friday is so far away’.

Computron checks his internal chronometer, as well as the countdown page on the streaming website. There are twenty-two hours, five minutes, forty-six seconds, and twelve milliseconds until 2 am on Friday (Japanese Standard Time). Logically, he is aware that time is most likely passing at a normal rate. The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.

After fifty milliseconds, Computron checks the countdown page again.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 623: Surveillance Fatigue


Surveillance Fatigue

By Jennifer R. Donohue

Is this woman a terrorist? It’s my job to decide.

My typical first step is social media, before I delve into the emails, the school records. Fortified with overbrewed office coffee, I take an afternoon and read through all three years of her 140-character thoughts, brief conversations with other users, occasional pictures. We’re encouraged to have our own process, and my entire workload, the entire organization’s workload, takes place on glowing screens large and small. We are constantly reading, listening, watching, bionic earbuds ensconced, AR glasses feeding us a constant stream of information. At the end of the day, we stumble out into natural light like people waking from a dream. The building which houses the organization is officially something too boring to look at twice, data storage or legal processing, office upon shell office of generic secretaries designed to deflect public inquiry.

She seems to like mystery books and horror movies. Here, I diverge to the school records. Drama club in high school. She majored in Communications and got good letters of recommendation from her professors. Moved to a city where she knew no one and got hired on at the temp agency. Maybe it’s her new friends which have put her on this list, writers and artists who still photocopy zines in fluorescent-lit shops, trimming them crookedly and stapling them together to hand out at open mic events.

Her government ID photo is serious, dark skin a stark contrast to the mandated white shirt, hair braided back, smile strained and not reaching her eyes. Her government ID does not reflect who she is; few do. She posts a lot of selfies, though. Far more than I do. There is an official metric of normalcy based on how many selfies one takes and posts and I, like my coworkers, try to do slightly more than minimum so as not to stand out. Of course, we’re graded differently, because we’re in the know. We are not to take this to mean we are immune to scrutiny. The opposite is true. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 622: Anna and Marisol in Time and Space


Anna and Marisol in Time and Space

By Tim Pratt

The big day came, and Anna was tempted to tie up Marisol and stash her in the closet just to be safe, but instead she put on her makeup and her pale blue gown (it was prettier than she remembered) and called, “Marisol! Are you making a whole new dress from scratch in there? We gotta go!” just like last time.

Marisol emerged from the bedroom, sliding a dangly earring into place, and even with everything on her mind, Anna stopped and stared and took her partner in: those pale green eyes so striking against the darkness of her skin, her long black hair, her dress patterned with tiny flowers and ruffled at the hem, made elegant both by Marisol’s craftsmanship and because she looked good in everything, basically. How many hours had Anna spent staring at photographs of that face? “Oh my god, let me get a picture.”

Marisol rolled her eyes. “I thought you were worried about being late?”

“It’s not my fault you look this good. I didn’t account for a hotness delay.” Marisol snorted laughter, and Anna’s phone snapshot caught her at the perfect candid moment: happiness frozen forever in pixels. Anna looked at the screen. The picture wasn’t exactly the same, but it was probably okay—

Marisol tapped her on the arm. “I’m flattered, babe, but you can gaze upon my splendor later.” They grabbed the wedding gift bag and pelted down the stairs and out the lobby door to the street. Their timing was perfect, anyway: the car Anna had summoned pulled up, shiny and black, just as they reached the curb. They slid into the back, adjusting hems and getting comfortable: it was about a twenty-minute ride to the park where Del and Kelsey were getting married.

“The first of the college cohort to fall,” Marisol said. “How much do you want to bet they set off a domino chain reaction thing among the guests? We’ll probably have to go to ten weddings next summer.”

Better than ten funerals, Anna thought. Or thirty. She checked her purse for the thousandth time. She knew it was in there, and she knew it worked—she’d tested it extensively—but she couldn’t help but worry. You only got one second chance. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 621: Assistance (Artemis Rising)


Assistance

By Kathryn DeFazio

“Would you like to discuss your coping plan?”

Astor did not want to discuss their coping plan. They didn’t want to think about their coping plan, or the trip itself, or the airport, or the subway, or— “No, thank you.”

“Do you think it would be—”

“Manual override.” Astor sat heavily in the armchair.

“Hmm.” The little android tilted its head slightly. “I’m sorry, Astor, I don’t understand the command. Could you rephrase?”

It had been worth a shot. “Never mind.”

“The value of coping in advance allows you to prepare for the most likely scenario and therefore decrease feelings of helplessness and fear. Would you like to discuss your coping plans?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 620: Promise (Artemis Rising)


Promise

By Christi Nogle

Brochures fanned across the lace tablecloth in Grandma’s dining room. Up close, I saw the recruiter’s immaculate makeup starting to crack, the silver showing against auburn at the part in her hair. She slanted forward with briefcase on knees and weight on the balls of her feet. I was meant to think she’d bolt and that I’d lose my chance, which made me wonder why she was so desperate.

“An innovative, community-owned academy.” The paper was thick, graphic design on point with a subtle white font over a background of the canyon at sunset. The recruiter dropped names I only pretended to know, graduates who were making waves in the gaming industry, townspeople treating academy kids like a semi-pro sports team. I tried to trust the images on the brochures and turn off the signals I was getting from her.

Grandma’s eyes welled. To her question of how many from my class, I told the truth: “Just me. I think I’ll be the first from town.” It wasn’t just the town. I’d be the first from our state.

I signed, spent the next six months sure that it was a scam. Then I had two weeks after graduation to shop and pack and part from Grandma, nearly weeping. I fit in a few last dates with Jack before it was all over. Then it was the bus to the plane and the wait in a tiny airport until all of our planes had come in and the academy shuttle picked us up in the dark. Each leg of the trip was like another six months. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 619: A Study in Symmetry, or the Chance Encounter of an Android and a Painter (Artemis Rising)


A Study in Symmetry, or the Chance Encounter of an Android and a Painter

By Jamie Lackey

HK-812 stepped out of her charging pod and gazed out the single narrow window that her 8×14 living space boasted. The brick wall outside was a whole eight inches away from the glass, and the morning sunshine gave the red-brown a cheery tone. As she watched, a single moth fluttered past, its wings white and delicate and brilliant in the light.

HK hummed a happy tune as she pulled on her regulation gray uniform. It was going to be a good day.


Lawrence stared at the empty hook by his front door. “Where are my keys?” he demanded.

“They are in the sink in your painting studio,” his house replied. “However, the car is not in the driveway. Would you like me to ping the GPS?”

Lawrence sighed. “Yeah.” He vaguely remembered getting a self-driving car home last night after he’d drunk one (or two, or seven) too many toasts to the happy couple. He didn’t really remember painting anything. He just hoped he hadn’t left the studio a complete disaster area.

“Your car is parked in the lot at 124 Lake St.”

Outside the reception hall. Which was about twenty miles from his lakefront house. And now he was supposed to pick them up and drive them to the airport for their honeymoon. His college best friend and high school sweetheart—they were sickeningly perfect together. They’d fought over whose side he’d be on in the bridal party.

They told him that they could get to the airport on their own, but he’d insisted. He was happy to do it, he wanted to see them off, he was so happy for them.

His head hurt.

It was going to be a rough day. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 618: All Profound and Logical Minds (Artemis Rising)


All Profound and Logical Minds

By Bennett North

The space station was silent in the way that a black hole is black; it was more than just an absence of noise. There was something physical to the silence, a force pulling in all sound and eating it. Hannah anchored her boots to the floor of the atrium, feeling the reassuring click as the magnets engaged. Emergency lights washed the atrium floor with a watery red light.

Taking a deep breath of her tepid suit air, Hannah unzipped her bag. An insulated thermos floated out. She left it slowly rotating next to her elbow while she rummaged around to find her keychain. It was a cheap one, made of injection-molded nickel, in the shape of a caffeine molecule. Stupid and gimmicky, yes, but she needed a symbol of her faith and as an atheist, it worked. Bethany had come up with the idea of doing the ritual as an exorcism. A real Catholic exorcism would take much longer, but the clients liked the concept, and Hannah’s abbreviated version worked.

A faint click in Hannah’s ear warned her a second before she heard her sister’s voice over the radio. “Ship to Missionary. Come in, Missionary.” Bethany’s voice was thin and staticky, more white noise than words, but it was like tasting cream after having nothing but water.

Hannah closed her eyes for a second, savoring the soft hiss, and then opened them again, shifting a glance to the heads-up display to trigger the radio to pick up her response. “This is Missionary. I’m in position in the atrium.”

“How’s it looking in there?”

Hannah looked toward the starboard side of the atrium. Six or seven bodies had collected in the awning of a cafe like a lost handful of balloons. They were dressed casually as if they’d been strolling through the park at the time that the station vented.

“Quiet,” said Hannah.

“Good.” Bethany’s voice had a laugh in it. “The longer it stays quiet, the better.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 617: A Cure for Homesickness (Artemis Rising)


A Cure for Homesickness

By S. L. Scott

Krem was dead.

Well, not exactly, yet, but he knew death when he saw it, and the scavenger holding a plasma shotgun three feet from his face sure looked like death. The Torqu might have exoskeletons strong enough to keep hardened steel from piercing, but that wouldn’t stop the ensuing explosions from ripping him apart. They’d just be nice big chunks instead of tiny pieces. Not that Krem was surprised he’d go this way. He’d signed up for glory and adventure traveling the galaxy, and what that really meant was boring travel time followed by constant near-death experiences. The former he’d learned to live with; the latter, it seemed, would be harder to ignore.

At least he’d finished his mission. They’d been hired to recover passengers from a crashed ship, but the scavengers and slavers had all gotten there at the same time. By now, the last group of survivors should be close to the final checkpoint, where the captain could get them to the safety of their ship.

“Del,” he whispered into his com. “Make sure they sing for at least two hours at my funeral. If I’m going to die a hero, I think I deserve it.”

Krem wanted to go out shooting and kill his own killer in one of those “showdowns” he’d seen when Max, their human crewmate, picked the entertainment. There was a certain appeal to two people facing each other over the fate of the universe. Krem was decidedly more practical though. He knew one drone like him wouldn’t matter any more than the one scavenger about to kill him. He’d done his part, and now he would come to an end for the betterment of the mission. That was how the Torqu thought of heroics, after all.

The scavenger raised his gun slightly—better to hit Krem in the neck between his more protected thorax and skull plates—and promptly exploded. A shower of sticky blue internal juices and meat splashed Krem’s entire front and dripped into his gasping mouth. The scavenger tasted rather sweet, he noted, as little else seemed to make it through his shock-addled brain. There, behind the scavenger and just as covered in corpse debris, stood Max.

“Why’d you come back?” he asked slowly and with as little understanding of the human as he ever managed. Max had taken the second group. There was no reason for her to be there.

Max, wiry as a bridge cable, wiped the blue blood from the visor protecting her eyes and spit a bit or two of scavenger from her mouth. Apparently, humans didn’t find it as appetizing. Once able to see again, she reached out a hand to hook his claw and yanked him to his feet. “We’ve got a saying back on Earth: never leave a man behind.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 616: My Generations Shall Praise


My Generations Shall Praise

By Samantha Henderson

The woman on the other side of the glass must be very rich and very sick. I study her face, looking for any kind of resemblance. If I’m a Jarndyce candidate, we must be related. It’s the only way she could ride my brain.

She’s a predator. I recognize my own kind.

Mrs. Helena McGraw is studying me too. The side of her mouth quirks up, twisting her face out of true. “Great-grandmother Toohey,” she says, a little too smug.

Never knew my great-grandmother, but I do a quick calculation. That makes us second cousins. Helena’s lucky, me ripe for picking on death row. Only this low-hanging peach has some say in what’s going to happen to her. Not much: a choice of deaths. But how I choose means everything to her. (Continue Reading…)