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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…)

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Escape Pod 665: The Man Who Lost the Sea (Flashback Friday)


The Man Who Lost the Sea

By Theodore Sturgeon

[EDITOR: This was originally released as audio-only, and we don’t have the rights to post the text of this story. It’s widely available online by searching.]

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Escape Pod 663: Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus


Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus

By Bogi Takács

So let’s do it this way. I’ll show you whatever I want and you’ll believe me, because I’m an octopus. I might as well get some benefit out of it, not that we ever had much – especially not since you left. Humans, huh?

Humans. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 648: A Handful of Dal

Show Notes

Visit The Drabblecast Reborn on Kickstarter here.


A Handful of Dal

By Naru Sundar

200g Dal
300ml Water
Ghee
Turmeric
Coriander seeds
Whole black pepper
Cumin seeds

Start with the dal. Wash it like one washes the feet of ascetics entering a temple: with love, with care. Shake loose the dirt and twigs that inevitably stow away alongside it. Perhaps this note will stow away with you onto the Yatra, a tiny mote of the past to accompany you on your grand journey.

Then, a finger of coppery ghee in the pot, and seeds of coriander fattening in the heat. Let the dal swirl into the now fragrant fat. Watch it flush as red and bright as the stones in Fatehpur Sikri that we marveled at once. Let turmeric dust it in gold, as bright as suns. Drown the dal in water quickly, before it blackens to ash—like the protesters in Chandni Chowk. Who can blame them, our people carry the sin of division under our skin, and the selection process for the Yatra was not immune.

You were chosen, Rajiv. I can only hope that when you grind pepper and cumin, you will think of your children’s children, fated one day to smell the air of a distant world. When the dal is ready, soft and lush and swollen, let everything marry. A tapestry of flavors, a gift from your ancestors to your descendants. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 640: Paradise Regained


Paradise Regained

By Edward Lerner

My head hurts. I expect it: this is winter. I want it to be spring.

Paradise does not ask what I want.

The winter is young, and I think the dogs are not yet so hungry as to attack me. Still, I hold tight to my spear. Dogs or no dogs, the spear helps me walk through the knee-deep snow.

Only trees show above the snow, and I do not know what is under. In winter, asleep, the plants cannot scream when I step on them.

Because they are asleep, Father told me. Long ago. Before Mother died. Before I left home. I did not understand what he meant. I do not now.

I think Father is gone, too. “Watch the flag,” Father told me, long ago, pointing at the tall pole that stood near Ship. “I will change the flag every day. Unless … I can’t. Then you must come. You must.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 638: Ulla (Flashback Friday)


Ulla

By Daniel Schwabauer

(Excerpt)

The world we now occupy is red, fourth from its sun, and extreme in its temperature. The atmosphere is lethal. Without our shelters we would die. But we will not be here long. Already the attack-cylinders, loaded with machinery and the weapons of destruction, stand ready in the firing tubes. Soon I shall be sending you thoughts from the third planet.

I have loved you.

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Escape Pod 637: At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia)


At the Village Vanguard

(Ruminations on Blacktopia)

By Maurice Broaddus

In this, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the lunar colony, First World (colloquially called Blacktopia by its residents), The Indianapolis Recorder, the nation’s oldest-surviving African-American newspaper, continues its series re-visiting key events. Their reporter interviewed (and re-interviewed) many of the principals in order to piece together a picture of the terrorist threat that nearly ended it and the heroic actions of Science Police Officer, Astra Black.

 

Jiminy Crootz (aka J-Croo, Science Police, Senior Investigator. Retired.)

When the alarms sounded for the converter station, I had no doubt she would beat me there. The gate surrounding the solar panel farm had been slit open, like someone wanted to perform a Caesarean but only had a rusted pair of clippers at their disposal. The backdoor of the converter station had been battered in. The air, heavy and re-breathed, like the filters weren’t working at full efficiency. Panels ripped open, wires everywhere. Nanobots probably skittered across the room like roaches in my aunty’s old kitchen. The farm was strictly a backup source of power for the lunar colony, so it wasn’t as heavily guarded as say the nuclear fission power station or the magnetic generators. But there was still a man down and Astra Black stood over his body.

 

Dr. Hensley Morgan (aka Dreamer, ranking Science Council member)

Astra had an elegance about her, like the waltz of a First Lady. When she walked, she stepped with purpose. Long strides, though only the balls of her feet ever seemed to touch the ground. At first glance, nothing about her stuck out as exceptional. Average height and build. Hair drawn back in Afro puffs. But she had this way about her.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 633: Lucky Shot (Part 2)


Lucky Shot

By Gerri Leen

The fire crackles, and Sirella watches as Kai lies with his eyes closed, pretending to sleep. She knows he’s pretending because his breathing is too soft. She’s heard his almost snores since the second night, when they’d both finally relaxed enough to sleep. She heard them and registered the strange, soft noises—realized they came from him and not from someone or something trying to sneak up on them in the dark of night—before falling back to sleep.

“Kai?” The word is a whisper. She isn’t sure what she wants to say to him. Just that she should say something.

His breathing stutters, but he doesn’t open his eyes.

“I’m sorry.” She looks away from him. She is sorry. But she doesn’t know who the people he lost were. She doesn’t know if they were innocents or not. She doesn’t know why they died, only that someone from her side killed them. She wishes he hadn’t lost people he loved. But he would have died if her shot hadn’t flown so damned wide. And then what? Would some other Vermayan have sat with some other person from one of the nations that make up the Revirian Confederation, and drawn out in strangely colored sand how Vrenden Kai was killed?

Vrenden Kai would have killed her if his shot hadn’t also gone wide.

They’re in the middle of a war. Killing is part of that. She can’t feel bad about it.

She mustn’t feel bad about it.

She feels bad about it. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 632: Lucky Shot (Part 1)


Lucky Shot

By Gerri Leen

Lieutenant Sirella Nacleth breathes in green dust and tries not to cough. Her feet feel too heavy to move, but she forces herself to walk on, ignoring the heat that blasts down and around her, heat carried by winds that do nothing to cool the air from the sun above. This planet is a harrowing furnace, and she is bound here for the rest of her life—or until her people find her.

Or until her enemy’s people do. She glances back and sees that the Vermayan has finished filling in the deep grave he put his crewmates’ bodies in. She’s assuming the Vermayan is a he. It’s hard to tell from where she stands, and she doesn’t intend to get very close if she can help it.

If their ships hadn’t crashed almost on top of each other, she might not have seen him for days, if at all. But their ships did land nearly twisted together, and the bodies of the crews are strewn all over. She has to get closer to him than she likes just to retrieve her dead.

She’s the only one on her ship who survived the crash. Her left arm is broken, and her right ankle wrenched. Her back feels strained and her head hurts. But she’s alive. She’s alive and burying her dead, shoveling one handed and pulling her crewmates behind her as she limps from body to hole, body to hole.

The Vermayan is way ahead of her. There are no rust-colored bodies strewn over the plain anymore, while so many of her own dead still lie waiting for her to reach them. The green sand blows over the bodies as the blazing wind lifts stinging grit and flings it at her, making her eyes hurt and her lips crack. She will help her friends; she will give them rest. But not soon. She’s only one person. And she’s tired. So tired.

The Vermayan has sat down. He’s watching her as she limps toward the next body, which is halfway between where she’s dug her hole and where he’s resting. Glancing at his rank, she sees he’s the Vermayan equivalent of lieutenant. He’s taken his weapon out of its holster and is playing with it—no, he’s checking it. She laughs bitterly. If it’s built as poorly as hers, it will be clogged with the fine green grit of this damned world. And since his ship didn’t perform any better than hers, why should his gun?

“It won’t work,” she says, unsure why she bothers. He won’t understand her and talking will only make the dryness in her throat worse.

He gets up, closes the weapon, and aims at the ground. The gun sort of clicks as he pulls the trigger, but it doesn’t fire.

“Nothing like fine Vermayan craftsmanship,” she says, laughing as he drops the weapon on the ground. Obviously, the Vermayans went with the lowest bidder, too. She’s sorry she laughed when her throat begins to itch. Soon she’s coughing, and she imagines her lungs are filling up with green dust.

He stares at her, and she stares back at him as soon as she gets the coughing under control, wondering if she should challenge him to a hand-to-hand duel. They are enemies: the Revirian Confederation is at war with the Vermayan Union. Surely they should fight? (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 629: An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition

Show Notes

Author’s Notes:

For more on consciousness as compression, see:

Maguire, Phil, et al. “Is Consciousness Computable? Quantifying Integrated Information Using Algorithmic Information Theory.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1405.0126 (2014) (available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.0126).

For more on natural nuclear reactor piles, see:

Teper, Igor. “Inconstants of Nature”, Nautilus, January 23, 2014 (available at http://nautil.us/issue/9/time/inconstants-of-nature).

Davis, E. D., C. R. Gould, and E. I. Sharapov. “Oklo reactors and implications for nuclear science.” International Journal of Modern Physics E 23.04 (2014) (available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1404.4948).

For more on SETI and the Sun’s gravitational lens, see:

Maccone, Claudio. “Interstellar radio links enhanced by exploiting the Sun as a gravitational lens.” Acta Astronautica 68.1 (2011): 76–84 (available at http://www.snolab.ca/public/JournalClub/alex1.pdf).]


An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition

By Ken Liu

My darling, my child, my connoisseur of sesquipedalian words and convoluted ideas and meandering sentences and baroque images, while the sun is asleep and the moon somnambulant, while the stars bathe us in their glow from eons ago and light-years away, while you are comfortably nestled in your blankets and I am hunched over in my chair by your bed, while we are warm and safe and still for the moment in this bubble of incandescent light cast by the pearl held up by the mermaid lamp, you and I, on this planet spinning and hurtling through the frigid darkness of space at dozens of miles per second, let’s read. (Continue Reading…)