Posts Tagged ‘death’

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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…)

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Escape Pod 628: The Endangered Camp


The Endangered Camp

By Ann Leckie

After the terrible push to be free of the Earth was past, we could stand again. In a while, the engineers had said, everything would float, but for now we were still accelerating. We were eight in the small, round room, though there were others on the sky-boat–engineers, and nest-guardians examining the eggs we had brought to see how many had been lost in the crushing, upward flight. But we eight stood watching the world recede.

The floor and walls of the room were of smooth, gold metal. Around the low ceiling was a pattern of cycad fronds and under this scenes from the histories. There was the first mother, ancestor of us all, who broke the shell of the original egg. The picture showed the egg, a single claw of the mother piercing that boundary between Inside and Outside. With her was the tiny figure of her mate. If you are from the mountains, you know that he ventured forth and fed on the carcass of the world-beast, slain by the mother, and in due time found the mother and mated with her. If you are a lowlander, he waited in the shell until she brought the liver to him, giving him the strength to come out into the open. Neither was pictured–the building of the sky-boat had taken the resources of both mountains and lowlands.

On another panel was Strong Claw, her sharp-toothed snout open in a triumphant call. She stood tall on powerful legs, each foot with its arced killing claw, sharp and deadly. Her arms stretched out before her, claws spread, and her long, stiff tail stretched behind. The artists had worked with such skill that every feather could be distinguished. Behind her was the great tree that had carried her across the sea, and in the water were pictured its inhabitants: coiled ammonites, hungry sharks, and a giant mososaur, huge-mouthed enough to swallow a person down at a gulp. Before Strong Claw was forested land, full of food for the hunting, new territory for her and her daughters yet unhatched.

A third panel showed the first sky-boat departing for the moon that had turned out to be farther away than our ancestors ever imagined. That voyage had been a triumph–the sky-boat (designed, all were ceaselessly told, by lowlander engineers) had achieved a seemingly impossible goal. But it had also been a disaster–as the mountain engineers had predicted, and the lowlanders refused to believe until the last, irrefutable moment, there had been no air on the moon. But as we had now set our sights on Mars, the artist had left off the end of the tale, to avoid ill-omen.

The engineers had used mirrors to cast an image of the Earth on the last, blank panel of the curved wall. It was this that held our attention.

As we watched, disaster struck. A sudden, brilliant flash whited out the image for an instant, and after that an expanding ring began to spread across the face of the world, as though a pebble had been dropped into a pond. Almost instantly a ball of fire rose up from the center of the ripple and expanded outward, obscuring it. I blinked, slowly, deliberately, sure that my vision was at fault. Still the fire grew until finally it dissipated, leaving a slowly-expanding veil of smoke.

There was silence in the sky-boat for some time. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 627: Humans Die, Stars Fade


Humans Die, Stars Fade

By Charles Payseur

They come to study. Not me. Not really. No, they come for Aerik—what he’s become. What I suppose we both will become when the slow swell of time and gravity finally draw us together wholly. After everything, all the years with only the brush of winds, then this slow draining death, it’s almost something to look forward to. Even if he’s not there anymore.

But the aliens. The humans. The UEF Intrepid. They’re here to study, ship space-worn and eager, scanning like a bird poking at a pool of water with its bill, unaware of what might lurk beneath. They don’t know the gravitational anomalies of the area, the way that Aerik sometimes surges as if reaching for me, as if he can jump back from the annihilation that claimed our planets, his life, and our love. There is little I can do for them. For anyone. (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 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…)

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Escape Pod 610: The Sweetness at the End


The Sweetness at the End

By Jenny Rae Rappaport

This is how it happens:

Tony and Ma are in their seats in the skimmer, strapped in and grinning at us. Daddy and I kiss them good bye; take a photo of them in their spacesuits for posterity, and wave at them. We stay behind at the Kennedy Space Center–there’s a viewing room that has live GPS tracking available for suborbital flights.

This is a huge thing for Ma. Positively, absolutely huge. She’s wanted to go to space since she was a little girl, and watched that old space shuttle explode on TV. The one with the teacher and all. Way before I got here, of course.

No one takes you to space when you’re old. Or if you take a medicine or two, here and there, because again–old. Old rules you out of almost everything fun. Money can overrule some of the old, but we don’t have that much money.

But then, Tony got his suborbital license. And no one regulates who you take up in a SubOrb plane; as long as you file your flight plan in advance, the government can’t really say anything. So Ma was going to get to go up as far as they would let her, all without having to pay anything to the expensive SubOrb tour companies. Tony had managed to snag the use of a plane from a guy he knew from training; otherwise, it would have still been way too expensive.

So there we are, Daddy and I, bumming around the viewing room. I’ve got one of those new sodas that are dispensed in round bubbles made of stiffened sugar; you can literally eat the can after you’re done with them. Beats the hell out of recycling it, any day. Daddy is tapping his fingers, as he stares at the GPS screen.

“They’ll be over Europe soon,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say.

We watch together, as they cross the Atlantic, swooping northeast, their flight path tracked in gold on the map in front of us. We’re one of the only flights today–Christmas is not a popular SubOrb day–so we have the viewing center mostly to ourselves. The fat couple to the left are clutching hands and praying, as a purple line streaks south over India. To my right, there’s a little old man, a cane across his lap, and his eyes fixed on the red line that’s near Australia.

I’m getting to the bottom of my soda bubble, almost to the part I love best, when I can eat the crunchy outside. I start slurping, ignoring Daddy’s silent looks; I never did have very good manners.

And then, our line stops moving over Spain. It hangs on the map, a golden thread from here to there, suspended in time. We stare at it, willing it to keep moving, to keep doing the grand jete it’s making over the rest of the continent.

But we know. You always know. (Continue Reading…)