All of Escape Artists is taking a hiatus to think about how best to move forward with this project in a way that serves our listeners, authors, and staff in the best way we can. Please read the full details in the post above!
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…)
I am being Blair. I escape out the back as the world comes in through the front.
I am being Copper. I am rising from the dead.
I am being Childs. I am guarding the main entrance.
The names don’t matter. They are placeholders, nothing more; all biomass is interchangeable. What matters is that these are all that is left of me. The world has burned everything else.
I see myself through the window, loping through the storm, wearing Blair. MacReady has told me to burn Blair if he comes back alone, but MacReady still thinks I am one of him. I am not: I am being Blair, and I am at the door. I am being Childs, and I let myself in. I take brief communion, tendrils writhing forth from my faces, intertwining: I am BlairChilds, exchanging news of the world.
The world has found me out. It has discovered my burrow beneath the tool shed, the half-finished lifeboat cannibalized from the viscera of dead helicopters. The world is busy destroying my means of escape. Then it will come back for me.
There is only one option left. I disintegrate. Being Blair, I go to share the plan with Copper and to feed on the rotting biomass once called Clarke; so many changes in so short a time have dangerously depleted my reserves. Being Childs, I have already consumed what was left of Fuchs and am replenished for the next phase. I sling the flamethrower onto my back and head outside, into the long Antarctic night.
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…)
I always said I wanted to be one of the first to die on Mars. I never wanted to be the last. But here I am.
I can’t even tell the others apart now. I know that inside those vaguely undulating metal cocoons are the bodies of the rest of my team—Marshall, Cherie, Gem and Abdul. Which squirming ovoid contains whom—there’s no way to tell.
And I’m about to join them. The swarm has already engulfed my legs. I can’t feel anything below the knee, which is a kind of relief. Devoured by my own creations is a terrible enough way to die—at least it probably won’t hurt.
I know I should be mourning the others, or desperately trying to save myself, but I don’t feel anything like that now. Maybe this is a side effect of the paralysis, maybe it’s not just a physical but an emotional anesthesia. Because all I can think about is how I got here. How we all got to be here, lying on the floor of our brand new habitation buildings, smothered by tiny robots.
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…)
“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.
Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.
She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back for Semaphore. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.
Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of The Mesozoic, Semaphore’s first film.
He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”
To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.
“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.
“Well, Mrs. Rojas, the good news is that it’s contagious. I can safely state that pneumonia has never had such a positive outcome before.”
Dr. Robyn’s smile crinkled at the corners, as sharp and as numerous as the creases in the medical consent form that Lorelei had folded into an elephant, like the ones she’d been studying in Brahmagiri just before she took ill four days ago.
“Are… you sure?” she said. It was still astonishing to hear her own vocal chords. They weren’t soft and mellifluous like the rain dripping from the cherry blossom petals after the storm. They weren’t sharp, silvery and musical like the flute her son Casper played every afternoon at two-thirty. They weren’t a mellow alto like her sister’s. Her voice was croaked and cracked, an overeager frog at the far end of a drought-stricken remnant of a pond.
And yet it was a voice.
Dr. Robyn bobbed his head up and down. “And you said you have-” he checked his charts. “-Two children with the same condition?”
“Yes. My boys, Capser-” she tried again. “Casper. Liam.”
“And they have not seen you since you came home from your trip?”
Lorelei shook her head and gestured at the hospital bed under bed. She wished her tablet was within reach. Her chest hurt and her voice was already tired.
Dr. Robyn seemed to understand and bobbed his head again.
“You’ve presented us with an intriguing possibility, you know. It’s not often a condition like yours can find a cure – especially when it’s not a trigger word like ‘cancer’ or ‘Alzheimers.’ Truthfully, most of these types of non-life threatening conditions won’t be cured except through flukes like the one you picked up. It’s harsh, but there you have it.”
Lorelei nodded, and Dr. Robyn went on.
“We could culture this strain; give it to other patients with your condition. Even your sons could receive it.” (Continue Reading…)
When I was eleven, my best friend could kill you with a handshake.
He almost killed me the first time we met. On that fateful day, I was out of class having been caught passing a chit in Mr. Mboyo’s maths test. Given the choice between touching my toes and receiving canes, or getting reported to my mum, the schoolmistress, I chose being reported. I knew my mum would be too busy to punish me if I kept out of sight. I might still get suspended, or have to dig an anthill, or sweep all the classrooms in our block, but all that was nothing compared to Mr. Mboyo caning you.
Mr. Mboyo, afraid of the endless drizzle outside, scribbled a chit and sent me to the admin block. On the way to mum’s office I branched off into the library a.k.a. the computer lab. The 6E kids, busy thumbing keyboards and squinting at computer screens, didn’t pay me any attention as I sneaked behind the wobbly chairs on my way to the stairs at the end of the narrow church-like room. It was a miracle I escaped Mrs. Nadya’s all-seeing gaze. I locked the creaky door behind me, and climbed to the roof.
No teachers ever came to the roof. It overlooked the school farm, and if the wind was strong, it smelled like manure. It was the last place my mum would send a prefect to search for me. You could spend the whole day there and no one would ever bother you. Problem was I was so restless, I always got bored.
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…)