Archive for EP Original

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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 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 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…)

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…)

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Escape Pod 660: Hoping for Red


Hoping for Red

by Adam Knight

Vixen had just one question for the doctor:
“Can you do it?”

Doctor Fizzwinkle smiled and patted the fur on Vixen’s neck. Outside of the office, the winds whipped furiously, as they did most of the time north of the Arctic Circle. In the office, though, the glow of fluorescent light and the smell of rubbing alcohol made Vixen feel secure and cared for.

“I’m afraid not,” he said. “The procedure you heard about is simple in principle―I would take DNA samples of you and Mr. Vixen, then analyze the cells to see your genetic predispositions, and manipulate the chromosomes to produce the calf that you and your husband desire.”

“Then why not?” Vixen said, stamping her hooves in a little dance.

“Well, everything is simple in principle,” the Doctor said. “But I’ve never done it before.”

Vixen smiled and shook her antlers. She nuzzled against Doctor Fizzwinkle. All the reindeer, indeed all of the animals in the North Pole, loved the good doctor, the best veterinarian north of sixty-six degrees latitude.

“Have you and Mr. Vixen tried all of the techniques I presented? Did he take the pills I prescribed?”

“Yes, and yes,” Vixen replied.

“Give it time, and patience, and you can certainly have a healthy, normal calf.”

“But I don’t want a normal calf!” blurted out Vixen. The Doctor smiled sadly and shook his head.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 658: Beatrix Released

Show Notes

Termination Shock
Termination Shock

TERMINATION SHOCK is a new roleplaying game from Greg Stolze, chronicling your adventures as an ordinary human rescued from hellish war by disorganized aliens. What will you do as a refugee in a strange cosmos? Cling to your past, or find a purpose among inscrutable aliens? Will you just get by, or will you redefine humanity in the eyes of a million extraterrestrials? The choice is yours in this new tabletop game, on Kickstarter now.


Beatrix Released

By Shaenon K. Garrity

The lichen in the cupboard has at last begun to sing.  It sings in two-part harmony, bel canto, essaying a faultless duet with itself.  What a strange and lovely fairy!  I am convinced more and more that my earlier theory was correct, that the lichen is a bipartite organism comprising both fungus and an algae or bacterium.  A remarkable symbiosis, distinct I believe from any recognized taxonomy.  The love its halves sing to one another is profound enough to make one blush, and I soon retreated to the far end of the room to sketch my collection of English mice in the bone cabinet.  Papa and Mamma have allowed me to keep a few childhood specimens in my room again, to be used for art lessons only.

Dinner party tonight.  All the MPs got a clinical dissection, it was lively.  Papa and Grandpapa are appalled by Gladstone’s capitulation to the Irish Free Staters.  I agree entirely.  If it were me I’d turn them all out with a thrashing.  When the guests moved to the drawing room for dessert and coffee Mamma suggested I retire, as the conversation was likely to get too intellectual for a girl like myself.

(Speaking of conversation: I’ve decided to continue this diary in a new code.  The previous simple substitution code was v. solvable, and the thought of Mamma reading my less charitable observations was keeping me up at night.  She will go through my things!  Besides it is good mental exercise to practice a new writing system.)

A few new faces among the dinner guests.  One gentleman with an amusing gait, stiff and precise, like a spider.  He specifically resembles the Pholcus phalangioides or Daddy long-legs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of spiders is hydraulic pressure, which assists them in flexing their limbs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of the dinner guest is unknown. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 649: Loyalty Test

Show Notes

Visit The Drabblecast Reborn on Kickstarter here.


Loyalty Test

by Andrew Gudgel

When the intercom on his desk buzzed, Marc’s head snapped up, instantly awake. He’d been dozing in his chair. His finger stabbed the button that told the boss he was on his way. He stood up and straightened his rumpled gray suit before glancing at his watch. One seventeen AM. It figures. The boss tried to cut him as much slack as he could, but humans just couldn’t keep the same pace as the Vrith, who came from the sunny side of a tidally locked planet and didn’t sleep at all.

“Yes, Governor?” Marc said, even before the door to the boss’ office was fully open. Speaking before he could be seen did double duty: it showed that he was eager to be of service, as well as preventing the boss from seeing his yawn–the Vrith sometimes considered wide-open mouths a sign of aggression, and their claws could cut deep. Marc had a couple of scars on his forearms from when the previous Governor’s instincts got the better of them. It was an occupational hazard of working for the Vrith who now ran Earth’s government.

“Marc,” the translation box on the boss’ desk said. “Tell me about–doors.”

He walked across the rough, tile floor that the Vrith preferred to the side of the desk at the far end of the boss’ office, where he made his obeisance by looking down and crossing his arms at the wrists in a sign of submission. He spoke without looking up. “What would you like to know about doors, Governor?”

“You may look at me when you speak,” the boss replied. “Are doors always necessary?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 646: Subtle Ways Each Time


Subtle Ways Each Time

By Y.M. Pang

A man loses a woman.

It’s happened a thousand times before and it’s phrased like this nine hundred times. A man loses a woman. As if she were car keys, an umbrella, a scraggly doll in the arms of a child. A literal and grammatical object to be lost. Let’s find a truer cliché. It takes two to tango. Let’s try again:

A woman discards a man.

Raised voices in a summer-boiled attic. Old records, lovingly collected, smashed up like jagged pieces of skyscraper windows. They’re in his mother’s house, gazing down at the familiar yard, the scent of peach blossoms wafting through the window. They’d played there on wobbly toddler legs, cussed out teachers as teens wearing cut-off jeans and crooked baseball caps, shared their first kiss in the shadow of the peach tree and afterward neither could say who initiated it or who was more surprised. Little fights dogged them throughout those nineteen years, but children’s minds are better at forgiving and worse at carving scars.

Only during that fateful day in the attic did they say things that couldn’t be unsaid, voice words their adult brains forgot how to forgive. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 641: Flash Fiction Contest Winners


The Toastmaster

By Kurt Pankau

“Burnt the Pop Tarts again?”

“Yes,” Toaster responded over wifi. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Blender whirred with sympathy.

“Owner was upset,” said Toaster. “She picked me up and looked at my underside to make sure everything was okay.”

“That’s odd,” said Blender. “There’s nothing there but your crumb tray, though.”

“I know, and so does Owner. I don’t know why she did it. It was humiliating.” (Continue Reading…)