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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…)

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Escape Pod 675: Man of Straw


Man of Straw

By Russell Nichols

I pissed my PJs when I saw that scarecrow.

It was the middle of the night and everybody was knocked out. Marcus, my big brother who died the week before last, had his door cracked. I heard him snoring under the hum of the refrigerator. The carpet creaked under my feet as I stepped into the dark living room. I wanted to turn back, but I had to pee so bad and Mama told me Jesus didn’t shed blood for bed-wetters.

I never made it past the living room. Because that’s where I saw it: that stuffed body in our front yard, grinning at me through the window, face colored black, egg shells for eyes and straw sticking out the top of his head. My scream came out the wrong hole, wet and warm, streaming down my flannel Captain America pants.

I ran back to my room.

“The hell you doing?” asked my brother, Nick, on the top bunk. My adopted brother.

I was fumbling in pitch blackness, trying to change, trying not to think about what I saw, but couldn’t shake the image: that face, those eyes, the straw.

“N-nothing,” was all I could get out.

Nick reached down to cut on the light, catching me in my soaked boxers. “Damn, man, again? Marcus got you shook?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 674: And Yet


And Yet

A. T. Greenblatt

Only idiots go back to the haunted houses of their childhood. And yet.

Here you are. Standing on the sagging, weed-strangled front porch that hasn’t changed in twenty years. Every dip in the floorboards, every peeling strip of paint is exactly as you remember it. Time seems to have ricocheted off this place.

Except not everything has stayed the same. You have your doctorate in theoretical physics now, the ink’s still fresh on the diploma. Your prospects look good. You’re going start teaching next month, your first steps on the path to tenure. You have a grant for a research project you’ve been waiting for years to start. The secrets of the universe are a locked door and you might have the key. That is, if the house doesn’t kill you first.

You’re lingering on the doorstep, not quite ready to commit. There’s an early morning hush to the neighborhood, but it’s already ungodly humid and warm. The backs of your calves stick to your leg braces, your backpack is heavy on your shoulders, and your walking cane is slick from your sweaty palm, though you’re not sure if that’s because of the heat or because being back on this porch is doing terrible things to your heart rate. Even the dragonflies are smart enough to linger at the property line.

This is a terrible idea. Your hand is clenched around the doorknob and you’re listing all the valid reasons you should walk away.

And yet. (Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 673: Optimizing the Verified Good (Artemis Rising)


Optimizing the Verified Good

by Effie Seiberg

The little cleanerbot whirrs as it crisscrosses the arena, sucking up the robot dust with the vacuum chute on its right and picking up strewn robot parts with the multi-hinged arm on its front. The arm is strong – it can pick up parts that are larger than the entire cleanerbot, and fling them up into the little cart that trundles behind it.

The cleanerbot is officially named SpeedyKleen v1.5, though it doesn’t think of itself that way. Its only goal is of low-order complexity: clean the arena, with no speed specified. (A clean arena is Verified Good, and as all it can do is clean, it is an optimized solution.) It doesn’t mind the work – doesn’t stop to think about gurgling up the remains of its brethren. The dust is made of flecks of titanium and carbon fiber and plastic ground off in battle by the sawbots, ash from the flamethrowers of the firebots, and pulverized chunks of electronics bashed off by the wedgebots and hammerbots. The dust gets dumped into a buildbot, where it gets cleaned and reconstituted into lightweight amalgams perfect for printing new bot pieces. Any larger pieces that can be salvaged go to a repairbot to be hammered or flattened or re-soldered.

When it’s out of the arena the cleanerbot drops off its cart with the repairbot (a Fixer8300C), dumps out its vacuum container into the buildbot receptacle (a Build-A-Bot Arkitekt Pro), then parks in its chargeport, waiting in anticipation for its next scheduled arena cleaning. There’s nothing else for it to do that’s Verified Good.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 672: She Knits the Universe a Pink Angora Sweater (Artemis Rising)


She Knits the Universe a Pink Angora Sweater

by Bo Balder

Aulis shuts out the frenetic buzz of the arena where she’s competing for an Oikotekt placement in the space navy. Only an Oikotekt, a person of powerful imagination, can hold onto a picture of the universe as it is supposed to be against the reality-altering presence of the Katabiotic aliens.

The Katabiotics’ erratic trajectory leaves a trail of despoiled reality, where physical laws no longer work, suns gutter and whole ecologies have never existed. So far they have cost humanity only the planet New Hope and its inhabitants, but the Katabiotics could potentially destroy the entire human sphere in the galaxy. Ordinary weaponry doesn’t work against them. There is nowhere to flee to. The economy is collapsing and people everywhere congregate in fear, pray, drink, make desperate love or kill themselves, whatever their nature tells them to.

The navy needs the Oikotekts, or Cobblers as they call themselves, to repair the world when the aliens come.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 671: Octonet (Artemis Rising)

Show Notes

Keyan Bowes would like to thank  Dr. Jennifer Mather, author of “Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate” for being kind enough to read and comment on this story. She recommends Dr. Mather’s book, Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, which was an important source document for “Octonet.”

Other links for this episode:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/inside-the-grand-and-sometimes-slimy-plan-to-turn-octopuses-into-lab-animals/2019/03/01/c6ce3fe0-3930-11e9-b786-d6abcbcd212a_story.html

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/timpratt/miracles-and-marvels-stories


Octonet

By Keyan Bowes

Sometimes at night when my mind is calm, I think I hear the octopuses. Around the world, the great network of molluscan philosophers.


I had many reasons for moving to the Pacific Northwest –  weather, closeness to potential clients and my big brother Rav, distance from a very ex ex. Slimy cephalopods definitely didn’t make the list.

But then Rav needed someone to fix their new IT system. And that’s how I met the octopuses.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 670: The Scent of Lions (Artemis Rising)


The Scent of Lions

by Tara Campbell

“Congratulations, Mrs. Costa,” chirped the young Life Center nurse. “You’re ready to go home! Here’s your shield.”

Maria raised the infant in her arms high enough for the nurse to slip the slim, silver band around her waist.

“Let’s check the charge.” The nurse stepped back and smiled, nodding for Maria to switch on her shield. Maria shifted little Leon to free up a hand, causing her bag to slip off her shoulder.
“Oops, you don’t want to lose that,” cautioned the nurse, looping the strap back in place. She’d just rattled off the contents of the WellBaby Bag to Maria a moment ago: a blanket and hat, formula (to be used only “if all else fails”), diapers, home vaccination kit, a full power infant shield, and an emergency replacement shield.

The nurse stepped back and pushed her pink infospecs up the bridge of her nose. “Okay, try again.”

Maria slid a switch on the inside of her belt. She jumped slightly at the fizz of her shield activating—it had been over half a year since she’d last worn it—and little Leon’s body stiffened against her. She rocked him gently to comfort him. As the shield quieted to a low hum, he settled back into the crook of her arm.

Maria stretched her other arm out to reacquaint herself with the shield. The field of charged particles followed the contours of her body, moving with her and extending about a foot all around her. She looked up at the nurse again and squinted. Maria used to see through her shield just fine every day on the way to work. Now she found it hard to concentrate on the young woman’s face through the swirling, marbling effect.

“You’re not imagining things,” said the nurse. “Your shield strength is higher. We’ve given you an extra charge to make sure you and little—” The nurse hesitated, checking the display in her glasses. “—little Leon will get home safely. The shields in your bag have also been fully loaded.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 669: Craphound (Flashback Friday)


Craphound

By Cory Doctorow

(Excerpt)

Craphound beat me out the door, as usual. His exoskeleton is programmable, so he
can record little scripts for it like: move left arm to door handle, pop it,
swing legs out to running-board, jump to ground, close door, move forward.
Meanwhile, I’m still making sure I’ve switched off the headlights and that I’ve
got my wallet.

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Escape Pod 668: The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi


The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi

by Wole Talabi

The spindly, sleek ship hurtled forward at hyperliminal speed, blurring its own intricately patterned design in six dimensions and wrecking the fabric of space–time in its wake. Its captain adjusted the dial on the control panel, accelerating the ship three thousand lightspeed units faster in Planck time. Reality shifted.

The sphere that was chasing the ship matched their maneuver and kept the distance—if it could still be called that—between them, unchanged. The sphere suddenly added an extra-dimensional rotation to its motion and burst ahead with a surge of energy that set off a singularity event behind it. It slammed itself against the ship finally, throwing off gigantic streams of pure energy, and latched on to it with long, spiny hydra-like tendrils that branched into manifold others.

The sphere began to consume the ship in a dazzling display of fractured light and twisted gravity, tendrils reaching into it like the fingers of some monstrous creature seeking sustenance. The ship’s captain, in a panic, condensed every aspect of themself into one place for the first time since they’d first gained super-sentience. They could not let the ship be taken. If the object it carried fell into the hands of the beings that controlled the sphere, every conscious aspect of the universe could become a weapon in their hands. It was better if all was lost; destroyed forever. The object pulsed a thought in agreement with them. They resonated with resolve. This would be the final act of the Great War. It had to be done.

The captain pushed a gray dot above the main control panel and the universe stood still for the most minuscule of moments before a bright azure stream of pure plasma tore its way through the core of the ship, expanding at imperceivable speeds. In a flash, it obliterated the ship, the sphere, and everything within a five-hundred-galaxy radius before finally pausing to allow something like an explosion occur. Time and space became shrapnel. Pressure and temperature became meaningless abstractions in a bubble of broken reality. The universe trembled.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 667: The Best We Can


The Best We Can

By Carrie Vaughn

In the end, the discovery of evidence of extraterrestrial life, and not just life, but intelligence, got hopelessly mucked up because no one wanted to take responsibility for confirming the findings, and no one could decide who ultimately had the authority—the obligation—to do so. We submitted the paper, but peer review held it up for a year. News leaked—NASA announced one of their press conferences, but the press conference ended up being an announcement about a future announcement, which never actually happened and the reporters made a joke of it. Another case of Antarctic meteorites or cold fusion. We went around with our mouths shut waiting for an official announcement while ulcers devoured our guts.

So I wrote a press release. I had Marsh at JPL’s comet group and Salvayan at Columbia vet it for me and released it under the auspices of the JPL Near Earth Objects Program. We could at least start talking about it instead of arguing about whether we were ready to start talking about it. I didn’t know what would happen next. I did it in the spirit of scientific outreach, naturally. The release included that now-famous blurry photo that started the whole thing.

I had an original print of that photo, of UO-1—Unidentified Object One, because it technically wasn’t flying and I was being optimistic that this would be the first of more than one —framed and hanging on the wall over my desk, a stark focal point in my chronically cluttered office. Out of the thousands of asteroids we tracked and photographed, this one caught my eye, because it was symmetrical and had a higher than normal albedo. It flashed, even, like a mirror. Asteroids aren’t symmetrical and aren’t very reflective. But if it wasn’t an asteroid . . . . (Continue Reading…)