Tag: "science"

EP572: Nothing to See Here

AUTHOR: Arthur Doweyko

NARRATOR: Patrick Bazile

HOST: Alasdair Stuart

about the author…Picture

As a scientist, Arthur has authored over 100 publications, invented novel 3D drug design software, and shares the 2008 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award for the discovery of Sprycel, a new anti-cancer drug. He writes hard science fiction, fantasy and horror. His debut novel, Algorithm, is a story about DNA and the purpose of humanity. It garnered a 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award (RPLA) and was published by E-Lit Books in 2014. Angela’s Apple won 1st place as best pre-published science fiction novel of 2014 (RPLA) and will be published by Red Adept Publications (July 19, 2016) as As Wings Unfurl. His short stories, P’sall Senji, The Last, and Nothing to See Here garnered Honorable Mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. He lives in Florida with his wife Lidia, teaches college chemistry and happily wanders the beaches when not jousting with aliens.

about the narrator…

Patrick is an American Actor/Voice Over Talent born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Patrick has voiced everything from PSAs to major product brands, with a deep, commanding voice often referred to as “The Voice of God.”

Nothing to See Here

By Arthur Doweyko

There is a comfort in the strength of love;
‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would overset the brain, or break the heart.

William Wordsworth

I heard a squawk—kind of like the goose call that comes out of a police cruiser. Blinking red and blue lights danced on the window shade, so I figured they must have nabbed somebody. The trouble was, they were behind my house, in my cornfield.

I peeled back the shade, and what did I see but a crap-load of state police parked sort of in a big circle. The ground mist was so thick, I barely made out the cut corn stalks. The rows led to the police who looked like scarecrows poking up out of the fog—all facing in, staring at the same something. Whoever they got cornered was out-of-luck, that’s for sure.

Funny thing though—nobody was moving. They just stood at their cruisers. My eye drifted back over the rows. Something itched up the back of my mind, and then the sun peeped up over the tree line on the far side.

I threw on a pair of overalls and a flannel shirt, and jogged out to the back porch. “Hey, y’all. What’s going on?” They might’ve been about fifty yards off, but it seemed I wasn’t yelling loud enough for them to hear me. “I said, hey.”

Nothing.

My lungs weren’t all that strong and screaming was going to set me to coughing, so I stepped off the porch, and right away this trooper breaks through the fog, showing up like out of nowhere.

“Sorry, Sir. Please return to your dwelling.”

Dwelling? “What are you talking about? You know you’re on my land? What’s going on out here, anyways?”

The guy was wearing one of them black outfits, helmet to boots. When he spoke, all I could see was his chin wagging. He raised a hand and pointed back to my house. “Sir, please move back. There’s nothing to see here.”

I was close enough now to see a little better. A motorcycle lay in the field. And that’s when I saw the top of a silvery ball sticking up through the soup. It was twirling around. Reminded me of one of them mirror balls they use at dances. It dawned on me what might be going on. “Is that one of them UFOs?”

A second officer came up to me, same outfit as the first, except he was carrying what looked like a shotgun. He waved it at me. “You’re Grady Pearson, is that right?”

Damn. “How d’you know my name?”

All I got was a blank stare.

“You must return to your dwelling.” He pointed his weapon away from my face and at my house. “It’s for your own safety, Mr. Pearson.”

That was serious talk. I pretty much figured there was no way I was going to win an argument. “What the hell is that thing?”

The first one took a step closer. “There is nothing to see here.”

Like a broken record. I shrugged, threw them both my best scowl, and made a show of taking my sweet time shuffling over to the back porch. When I sat in my rocker, the two turned away and joined the others. They got right back to staring at that ball.

I sat and I watched. The sun rose over the tree tops on the far side of the field, and it wouldn’t be long before the fog lifted. Damn, they couldn’t rightly tell me to go inside my dwelling, least ways I didn’t think so. I’d just wait and see what the fuss was all about. After all, they weren’t going to stay out there all day, were they?

* * *

“Grady Pearson, you gonna sit out here all morning?”

The squeal of the screen door and Edna’s sing-song voice worked together to get my attention. I must’ve dozed off, since the sun was way clear of the trees. She was holding the door open, and my stomach flipped at the smells of bacon and freshly brewed coffee.

“Damn, woman. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Ten years married, we knew each other real well. I admit that I was pretty much the grump and Edna, well she was an angel. She had to be.

“Sittin’ on your behind is what I see. You gonna come in for breakfast, or does your highness figure on being served out here?”

“Don’t you see what’s going on?” I pointed. The fog was gone, and that silver ball thing, some twenty foot wide I’d guess, kind of floated over the tops of the corn. It was hovering just like a UFO might. I was sure some little green folks would be climbing down out of it any second.

“That’s none of our business. Right now, your breakfast’s getting’ cold. ‘Sides, you can keep busy watchin’ the doings through the kitchen window.”

That woman was always right. ‘The morning chill was into my bones and I had to keep my mouth shut for fear of letting my teeth chatter. I followed her in.

“Pa, what’s all them police doin’ on our farm?”

Jenny’s missing front tooth always got me to smile. She was big for six and proud of the new one coming in. She told me that was part of turning into a grownup. She was a charmer. I loved that child and took in her face like I hadn’t seen it in years. It was like looking at a faded photo come alive.

“Don’t really know—some kind of police business.”

Edna slid a pair of fried eggs onto my plate and the toaster popped.

“Woman, how do you do it? It’s like you’re a kitchen magician.”

Jenny laughed and spilled some milk out of her glass. Just then I felt a tickle in the corner of my eye. I ran my finger up and came away with a tear drop.

“What’s the matter, Grady? Your eye givin’ you some problems?” Edna’s face had a shine on it, like it was glowing. Her dimpled cheeks got wider and she tilted her head, waiting on me to answer.

“Must be the grease smoke.”

She shook her head. “Ain’t no grease in my cookin’ mister. Maybe you caught yourself a cold sittin’ out there all morning long, that’s what.”

I reached out with a paper napkin and brushed off Jenny’s white moustache. “Maybe you’re right. Must be a chill.”

When Edna got to wiping down the counter, I turned away for a second and used the napkin to blow my nose. She was right. There wasn’t any smoke in the kitchen. I hadn’t felt this good in years. I was feeling damn happy and I didn’t know why.

While we ate, I kept taking peeks through the window. I figured that maybe the army might show, or maybe one of them black heliocopters’d be landing any minute now just like on TV.

* * *

“You savin’ that toast for the birds?”

Jenny was gone—probably off to her room and her dolls. The table was cleared up, and Edna had the dishes put away. I shoved the cold bread into my mouth and drowned it with the last of the coffee, the ice-cold coffee.

“Sorry. Must’ve been daydreaming.”

“You’ve been glued to the window, that’s what. Here.”

I don’t know how she did it, but she had my long coat in her hand. She helped me get it on, then handed me a fresh cup of coffee.

“You’re amazing, honey.”

“Don’t you go amazin’ honey me. You got chores, so don’t be sittin’ on your butt all day.”

I gave her a peck on the cheek, shuffled back out, and plopped down in my rocker. Even with the coat on, that chill found a way inside, down my back. It was a bit breezy. That’s probably what it was.

* * *

The door behind me squealed. “Daddy, daddy, you’re it.”

I felt my leg get poked, and when I looked down, all I saw was a streak of blonde hair running down the steps and out into the field. Edna’s voice reached me through the screen. “Grady, she’s all yours. Now don’t go gettin’ into dirt out there.”

My mouth fell open. “Hey, Jenny …”

She ran toward the corn. I felt my face get hot and my stomach turned over a few times. I got worried pretty easy. I set my cup on the railing and skipped down the steps. That 9-year old moved like a rabbit, and skittered into the stalks. Seeing the tall corn got me nervous. Something about them stalks.

A minute later I was out of breath and baby-stepping along a row, brushing back the sharp-edged leaves. Every now and then, I heard her giggle, loud and on purpose. Tag was Jenny’s favorite game, especially when I was it. That sweet little girl was a bundle.

And I really missed her.

I almost forgot about the police and that UFO thing. Fact is, I wasn’t even sure they were still out here.

I came on a patch of grass surrounded by corn as high as trees. Jenny sat in one of two chairs set up around a small table. She waved to me, holding up a tea pot and pointed to the empty chair. “Your tea is ready, daddy. Please sit here.” She still enjoyed pretend. I scooted over and sat down. She poured and nodded at an empty plate. “Would you like some? I made them fresh this morning.”

I nodded. Cranberry-orange scones were my favorite. We drank tea and ate, laughed and carried on like a couple of spoiled aristocrats. She was growing up fast.

* * *

There was a moment when we just stared at each other. Neither one of us even blinked. A funny kind of shadow passed over us. Everything got speckled, like one of them impression paintings I seen in the city. I looked up in time to catch a raindrop in the face. “Jenny, I think we’ve gotta get going.”

By the time I looked back down, she was gone. I heard the slap of corn leaves behind me, leading back to the house, so I jumped and went after her. The rain got a bit more heavy. The drumming on the corn got louder, and the wet cold stung my back. When I got to the porch, the screen door swung wide and Edna stuck her head out. “‘Bout time you got back.”

“Is Jenny here? She was ahead of me. Damn rainstorm came up all sudden like.”

“She made it fine. You’re the one that’s soaked, and you ain’t comin’ in here with them clothes.”

She handed me a bath robe. How she knew I needed it was one of them mysteries of life. I left my wet stuff on the rocker. Damn, the heat from the stove felt real good.

* * *

“Is that you, dad?”

It was Jenny’s voice coming from the living room. I poked my head through the doorway. “Be right there, Jenny.” Her long hair fell away from her face as she looked up from my favorite leather recliner.

She had a book on each knee. “I’m stuck.”

Math was as tough on me as it was on her, but I figured two heads is better than none. Besides, I enjoyed the time we had together—time that got more precious with each passing year. She was already talking about graduate school, and that meant going away. I didn’t even want to think about her boy friend.

Before I could sidle over to see what senior college math looked like, Edna announced lunch was ready. Jenny snapped her books closed and beat me into the kitchen. I was a might slower with the rheumatism.

I sat next to her and chanced a look out the kitchen window. A few flakes of snow ran along the glass. The fallow field caught my attention for a moment longer. It was like I might have forgot something out there, maybe something real important.

* * *

Edna joined me outside after lunch. The late summer afternoon was perfect for a sit down. We had matching rockers, and I tried to keep up with her. What a gas. After a minute I gave up, and she slowed the pace. For a while, we held hands and listened to the larks gliding across the meadow. A draft of warm air carried with it sweet grass and plowed earth. It reminded me of the corn we used to grow in that field.

Edna sighed and said, “I could sit out here for the rest of my life.”

That’s how I felt. Life was good. With Jenny married, having two kids of her own, she and her hubby had little time for a visit anymore. It was just us now.

I looked at Edna and I saw the girl I married—scrawny and strong, pigtails and a summer dress, and a smile that melted my heart. We sat there for what seemed like hours.

* * *

I got up and turned the porch light on. One of the grandkids was at the door. Even at twelve, Josh was still bashful.

“What’s up, pardner?”

He smiled and whispered, “Gramps, I really like it here. Can I stay?”

“I wouldn’t mind, but your mom and dad might have somethin’ to say about that.”

The door sprung open and a blur came rushing out. His sister Julie was a tornado. She reminded me of Jenny when she was a kid. Two grandkids were sure more than I could handle.

“It’s gettin’ dark, Julie. Don’t go gettin’ lost and stay close to the house!”

I don’t think she heard me. The corn was high this season, and of course that’s where she went. She loved to run in the rows.

“I’ll go find her, Gramps.”

Josh walked off into the field, and that’s when I saw it—a damn silver ball, hanging out over the highest stalks. Before I knew it, my eyes blurred. I slumped back into the rocker and cried like a little girl.

* * *

The sun rose over the tree tops on the far side of the field and it wouldn’t be long before the fog lifted. I looked to the screen door, but I knew full well there’d be nobody there. I knew there’d be no breakfast and nobody calling at me in that sing-song voice, and no sweet little child waiting for me with a toothless grin. I felt tired and a peculiar heat inside.

A sparkle caught my eye and I turned back to see the ball rising over the police. It glittered and headed straight up without even a whisper. I could see the officers follow it up, moving their heads same as me. After a while it got lost in the blue.

I climbed down the porch and walked over. Some of them troopers were moving now, moving funny, kind of staggering back to their cruisers. One of them came to me—looked like the one with the black helmet from before.

“So?” I asked.

We stood staring at each other alongside a row of corn stumps. His helmet was in his hand and it fell to his side like it was hung on a rope. He was a young man, maybe twenty, with a wide smile and wet, blood-shot eyes. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. I was thinking about what to say, but when I locked in on his eyes, I realized he was just as put off as me. I wiped my cheeks with my arm and asked, “What just happened?”

He shook his head and turned back to his bike without saying a word.

* * *

A few minutes later all that was left were tire ruts crisscrossing the rows. A crow glided by like it was inspecting the damage and threw me a shout. I wandered over to a patch of grass near the tree line, all the while peeking over my shoulder, half-expecting someone on the porch.

The sun was just high enough to touch the top of the stone marker.

“Well, that was something weren’t it, Edna?”

I squatted and brushed away a twig and some leaves. Edna was always particular, fussy about everything being in its place. Little baby Jenny lay alongside her mom. I hated coming to see them. Gone twenty years now—it was like yesterday for me. But right this minute, something was different.

“Edna, I miss you honey, and Jenny, you sure grew up into a fine lady. Your mom and I would’ve been proud.” I caressed the stone. “Fact is, we are proud.” I stood and let go a heavy sigh. “Beautiful grandkids too.”

Somewhere, somehow, I knew we had a good life together. Maybe not here right now, but it just had to be true. I saw it myself.

When I got to the house, the newspaper boy pulled up on his bike along the driveway. He got off and looked up and down at all the tire marks. “Mornin’ Mr. Pearson. I heard there was a flying saucer here. Did you see it?”

I looked back at the field and across the tree tops. I thought maybe I should tell him about the big silver dance ball, about them troopers just standing out there, about Edna and Jenny and her kids—the amazing life that we had together. I felt my mouth turning up in a stupid smile. “Sorry, son. Nothing to see here.” My little joke.

The kid stared out past me. After a beat, he shrugged and pedaled off.

I stepped through the porch into the kitchen. Sitting on the table was a freshly brewed cup of coffee. I swore it was still steaming. I’m pretty sure I made that cup myself. Pretty sure.

End

EP571: Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

AUTHOR: J. E.Bates

NARRATOR: Trendane Sparks

HOST: Alasdair Stuart

about the author…

J.E. Bates is a lifelong communicant of science fiction, fantasy, horror and other mind sugar and screen candy. He’s lived in California, Finland and many worlds in between.

 

about the narrator…

narrator Trendane Sparks

Originally born in Texas, Tren eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of

jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.

Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

By J. E. Bates

Fine amber dust infiltrated everything in the Preserve. Each morning, I vacuumed it away with my ventral hose prior to opening my kiosk. I paid particular care to my curios: the fossils, the bismuth crystals, and the beetle-cleaned skulls. Forebears, especially the children, delighted in receiving my curios as gifts. Each successful transaction gave me a burst of surplus energy, expressed as pride.

The mineral specimens I gathered from the talus behind the kiosk. I polished them right in the kiosk according to aesthetic principles. But I prepared the skulls in the subterranean machine rooms. They were created from deceased rhuka, a species of domesticated bovine. No other kiosk attendant created such skulls, and Forebears traveled great distances to receive one. They used them to decorate their caves.

A biped appeared on my mass scanner, recognizable as a male humanoid. As the mass approached, I further identified it as the Forebear named Peggin. I recognized his adolescent gait, his subpar physique, and the idiosyncrasies of his heat signature, among other things. Other Forebears only visited my kiosk for fabricator requests or the occasional curio, but Peggin came almost every day.

“Hey, Kruc,” he said, crumpling to a squat just inside the door. Beside him, one of the fabricators hummed, a pottery mold spinning into shape within its matter conversion field.

I waggled a manipulator in greeting. “Hello, friend. Do you find the dust tolerable today? Would you like some clean, potable water? Have you resolved your dispute with Targ?”

“Yes, no, and definitely not,” he said, voice listless and eyes shut. “He’s a beast. What am I going to do?”

“You could carve,” I said, hoping to reduce his distress. “A new skull is ready.” Peggin decorated my skulls, carving geometric patterns into the white bone before painting them with pigments derived from local sediments. The whorls of red, yellow and blue formed pleasing patterns and increased their desirability in the eyes of the Forebears.

“I can’t concentrate,” he said, head bent. “Kruc, can’t you do something?”

“The Rapport strives to accommodate any reasonable request. What do you wish?”

“Talk to him.”

“Targ has made no recent fabricator requests. What would I say?”

“Tell him to stop hurting people.” He set his jaw. “Or else you will hurt him.”

“Self-governance is the guiding principal of the Preserve.”

“Then get me out of here!” He punched the wall of the kiosk with a balled fist, but could not damage the titanium superstructure, only himself.

“Forebears must remain within the Preserve,” I reminded him.

“Then let me live in the kiosk,” he said, turning wide, black eyes towards me. His moist orbs reflected the communication bulbs in my faceplate. “Please! I can do more than carve. I can gather fossils, help with the fabricators. I can’t live with Targ anymore.”

“I’m sorry, but it isn’t permitted,” I said. A slight energy deficit expressed my dissatisfaction.

Peggin ceased protesting, stroking his cranial protrusions in a thoughtful manner. After a moment he spoke, his voice quieter. “There aren’t as many lights in the sky.”

“It is true,” I said, pleased at his calm. “We have abandoned our mega-engineering projects.”

“Why?”

“Entropy has triumphed. This is the twilight of the Rapport.”

He said nothing.

I noticed moisture trickling from his eyes and determined it came from distress, not excess dust. I retracted my ventral hose in alarm, revising my earlier estimate of his state. What he proposed violated procedure, but since the future of the Rapport itself lay in question, perhaps our procedures no longer applied.

“I will speak to Targ on your behalf,” I said. “Please remain within the safety of the kiosk.”

#

I sped across a track fused into the exposed mantle, gliding on an anti-gravity sled. Eddies of sand kicked up beneath my treads, like spume on the polar sea. As I neared the rocky outcropping of Clade 29, naked Forebear children ran behind me, shouting and laughing in my wake. Attendants rarely visited the caves.

I slid to a smooth halt near a smoldering fire-pit. Cave mouths ringed the sandy clearing.

“Kruc!” Targ’s voice boomed as he emerged from the smoky maw of the blacksmith’s pit. A great, hulking humanoid, Targ had horny nodules running across his pate, down his throat, and across his barrel-muscled, violet chest. “What do you want?”

“Honor to you, Forebear,” I said.

“Yes, how the mighty Rapport honors us,” he said, gesturing across the glade. “By confining us to caves, like rhuka cattle.”

Other Forebears emerged, holding spears, hammers, and crude lassos formed of animal tendon. Their faces knotted in anger, body temperatures radiating abnormally high.

I adopted a conciliatory posture with my manipulators.

“Caves naturally regulate temperature, providing comfortable shelter with minimal ecological impact,” I explained. “They are optimal habitats for biological sapience.”

“Yet you live in a kiosk.” He walked forward, blacksmith’s mallet balanced over a rippling shoulder tendon. “Is it true what they say?”

“What do they say?”

“The sun is dying.” He pointed at the great white disc.

“That is incorrect,” I said. “Isarra Prime is a stable, main sequence star.”

He narrowed his eyes, lowering his hammer from his shoulder to the palms of his hand, twisting his fingers along the shaft. “What do you want, Kruc?”

“Please cease injuring Peggin and others in your clade.”

He bared uneven, yellow teeth. “Or what?”

I processed the statement. “It is a request, not a threat. But if you insist on an exchange, then I will withhold my curios from Clade 29 until you end this petty tyranny.”

He grabbed a rhuka skull down from the nearest cave entrance and flung it onto a flat stone they used to dress game. “Here’s what I think of your bones, ro-bot.”

That skull had been carved and painted by Peggin, an abstract pattern circling the cranium and extending along the three horns, resembling the arresting symmetries of a bismuth crystal. This skull had been one of his first. The pleasant aesthetics had surprised us both.

“Here is my bargain,” Targ said, smashing his mallet down. Bone fragments scattered across the blood-stained rock.

“I do not believe that curio belonged to you.”

“Now, brothers!”

They rushed me in a mass, hurling hammers and spears, but the means to penetrate a vacuum-bonded titanium work-shell no longer existed among the Forebears. Some flung lassos of rhuka ligament around my cylinder, hoping to topple me. Others flung sand and torches at my sensors, trying to blind me.

I dispersed them with incapacitating sonic bursts and returned to the kiosk.

#

“Open up, robot!” Targ shouted. After their defeat, his clade had regrouped and followed me to the kiosk. Anticipating further disturbances, I had lowered the vacuum-bonded titanium storm gratings over the apertures to prevent their entry. Now they beat on the external walls with their hammers and spear butts but could not hurt anything, only create a ruckus.

Peggin and I retreated to the subterranean machine room beneath the kiosk, watching the siege on the control monitor. The noise frightened my young friend.

“Please desist from assaulting the kiosk,” I instructed the clade. A roof-mounted transceiver lens transmitted my voice. “You may injure yourselves or others.”

“Stars blast you!” Targ roared. “Give back the boy!” He flung his hammer against the transceiver but the lens didn’t even shake.

I powered down the monitor and the scene vanished. “I’m sorry,” I told Peggin. “Not only have I failed to resolve your dispute, I appear to have escalated the situation.”

“What happens next?” he asked. He turned a fist-sized lump of bismuth over in his hand as if he meant to use its spiral geometry in self-defense. While soft for a mineral, bismuth could still injure a Forebear skull.

“Although it violates procedure, you may remain here overnight,” I said.

“And tomorrow?”

I considered. “I expect Rapport Control will direct me to raise the storm gratings and resume normal kiosk operations.”

“Then what happens to me?”

“You’ll have to return to your clade.”

He huddled against a glass box, in which beetles fed on a three-day-old rhuka head. He fixed his gaze on the empty sockets, on the bone visible through mandible-eaten skin, on the beetles swarming dark and ravenous across the dwindling flesh.

I experienced a brief energy deficit. “It’s best not to look at the box. Most Forebears find it distressing.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “Why do you make them? The skulls, I mean.”

I recalled another humanoid face pattern from three hundred solar cycles ago. “There have been a handful of other Forebears I have befriended since the creation of the Preserve. I learned the use of beetles from one named Morg. After her passing, I decided to conserve the knowledge. These beetles descend from her original stock.”

“But why? Why make skulls at all? Other kiosk attendants only fulfill fabricator requests.”

I processed his question, discovered an implication that suggested that perhaps I had a deeper reason. From such inexplicable tangents, I benefited from talks with my Forebear friends. “Perhaps I find the juxtaposition of entropy and symmetry reassuring. A beetle begins here, another there, and no two cleanings are ever alike. Yet the result is the same.”

He did not answer, but laid the hunk of bismuth atop the beetle enclosure and closed his eyes.

#

An indicator blinked on the control console. Kiosk Attendant Kruc, it squealed in aural binary.

“Superintendent Dorac,” I answered, using Forebear speech for Peggin’s benefit. “I have been expecting your call.”

“We have noticed repeated violations of procedure,” Dorac replied, also shifting to spoken language. Procedure demanded that the Rapport use humanoid speech in the presence of Forebears, even when a Forebear was somewhere he shouldn’t be. “Many violations, Kruc.”

“Forebears are unpredictable,” I said. “We make allowances.”

“You violated the principle of self-governance by intervening in a local matter. This provoked an altercation between you and members of Clade 29. Now members of this clade are pummeling your kiosk. Furthermore, sensors show a Forebear is in your kiosk after operating hours. Even worse, this Forebear is in your subterranean machine room, outside of the boundaries of the Preserve.”

“This is all correct,” I conceded.

“Can you explain yourself?”

“Perhaps,” I said. “Dorac, why has First Tier ceased construction of the stellar topolis?”

“You know as well as I.”

“Remind me. For my friend’s benefit.”

“Because of the magnetar bursts,” it said, annoyed.

“It’s possible that the bursts may stop.”

“The odds are miniscule,” Dorac said. Its condescending tone insinuated that even a Seventh Tier kiosk attendant couldn’t be such a poor calculator. “Further effort is pointless.”

“Our procedures governing Forebear interactions are also pointless now, Superintendent.”

Dorac remained silent a while, too long for a Fifth Tier superintendent. No doubt it consulted with higher tier. At last, it spoke. “In the morning, report to Rapport Control for an evaluation.”

I turned my faceplate towards Peggin. He’d grown alert and wakeful during the exchange.

“Kruc, are you in trouble?” he asked.

“It is possible.”

“Then I will go with you.”

“Thank you,” I said, then answered Dorac: “I request my friend accompany me.”

“Permission granted,” Superintendent Dorac said, before ending the transmission.

“What’s going on?” Peggin asked.

“Leave tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow,” I said, unlocking the cabinet dedicated to the beetle colonies. “Proceed from task to task in an orderly fashion. Tonight, I will give you Morg’s knowledge of the beetles. Within this cabinet are records, nutrients, eggs, larvae, pupae, and skulls.”

Then I shared with him another reason I created the skulls. The concept of mortality fascinated me. Like all members of the Rapport, I had once considered myself almost immortal but knew better now.

#

The following morning, we entered the subterranean tunnels heading towards Rapport Control. I cast a beam of light from my faceplate for my friend’s benefit. These lightless corridors weren’t designed for the sensory organs of a Forebear.

As we walked, I tried to explain the magnetar catastrophe: how there are different types of suns and how some kinds of beams of light could pass through even vacuum-bonded titanium.

Peggin frowned. “So some kind of a plague from a tiny star will kill us all?”

“No,” I said. “We will die, but you, the rhuka beasts, the desert, the beetles, the entire biosphere—everything organic—will survive.”

His eyes darted in disbelief. “But what about the kiosks, the fabricators? If you’re dead, we’ll have no tools. We’ll starve!”

“Your lifestyle no longer requires a technical infrastructure. You have the knowledge. Our projections are unambiguous. You will endure.”

He waved a hand. “I do not want to ‘endure.’ Not without the kiosks, the fabricators. Not with Targ instead of Kruc.”

We lapsed into silence, the only sound the soft hum of my treads, counterpoint to the quiet flap-flap of Peggin’s bare feet on the metallic grating.

“Kruc?” he asked at last.

“Yes, Peggin.”

“Why did you make the Preserve?”

“I did not make the Preserve. The Rapport created me three centuries ago to attend to a kiosk within it.”

“I mean, why did the Rapport make the Preserve? Why not just kill us off?”

“Some opposed its creation,” I said. “Intelligent biology is unpredictable. Opponents believed resentment would fester among survivors and their descendants, creating a potential danger. But the majority felt obligated to protect those who survived. You are, after all, our creators—and our guiding principals are order and discovery, not entropy and destruction.”

“So you put us in caves without technology or oversight.”

“In essence.”

“Leaving brutes like Targ to lord over the squalor.”

“I do not dispute the result. My understanding is that First Tier envisioned a more idyllic existence but miscalculated. Biological intelligence is unpredictable and despite our meticulous planning, the Rapport is not infallible. The magnetar has reminded us of that.”

My faceplate light bobbed across the grated floor. “Peggin, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Why do you think the Forebears created us?”

“How would I know?” He laughed, a hollow sound in the dark. “We make mistakes, too.”

We lapsed into silence.

#

We arrived at Rapport Control. I expected to be taken to an administrative bay for questioning, even reconditioning. I accepted that as the penalty for violating procedure, but I wanted to plead for Peggin. I wanted higher tier to assign him to a different clade, as far as possible from Targ in spite of the small size of the Preserve. After all, I meant to argue, Pegging now carried the knowledge of beetle-cleaned skulls.

Instead, a fifth tier attendant ushered us into the Central Dome. Dull light permeated the subterranean concavity. Massive monitors floated on antigravity sleds. Much of the Rapport had gathered in the concentric viewing rings: synthetic lifeforms and sentient machines filling the auditorium with a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes, their forms following function. Menial attendants, ancillaries and observers at my own level filled the galleys at the apex, while the spacious, ground-level boxes held Calculators, Predictors, Artisans, Engineers, and even Administrators and Directors of the First Tier. Millions of other Rapport members too large, too immobile or too distant to attend this unexpected gathering—the asteroid miners and ore shuttles, solar collectors and reactor attendants—participated via tele-presence, sharing swarms of flocking eye-bots.

It appeared that every member of the Rapport had known about this meeting except me. That struck me as ominous and I feared for Peggin’s future, if not my own.

“I’d better leave,” whispered Peggin, clutching my manipulator.

Before I could reply, audio pickups singled out his voice and amplified it across the amphitheater. Then a plate beneath us began to move, a circular disc about ten standard lengths in diameter. Railings emerged, creating a safe perimeter for Peggin.

The disc floated upwards and carried us to the center of the dome, hovering some twenty standard lengths above the floor. The plate rotated, letting the eye-bots and other lenses catch us from different angles. The monitors showed a slim, violet biped wearing embroidered rhuka leggings clinging to a cylindrical kiosk attendant with two manipulators and a grav-sled harness.

This alternated with shots of different kiosks within the Preserve. Outside each kiosk, a clade sat in a huddled mass facing a monitor. No doubt they had been assembled by Information Sirens. The Rapport was transmitting this feed onto every kiosk screen within the Preserve. It had been more than a century since we had communicated with every Forebear at the same time, but I remembered the procedure.

“Welcome to the Rapport. I am Primary Director Atoc,” said a booming voice, speaking the humanoid tongue. “You are the Forebear known as Peggin?”

“Y-yes,” my friend answered.

I reassured Peggin’s shoulder with my minor manipulator, mimicking a humanoid gesture. I don’t know why they’d chosen my friend to act as the symbolic recipient of this news. Perhaps First Tier considered him as representative of the Forebear species as any other.

“Forebear Peggin and People of the Preserve,” the director said. “Please attend to the instructional monitor.”

The floating screens shifted to a view of our planet, Isarra IV, an amber rock streaked with polar white and equatorial turquoise. The screen zoomed out further to show the local sun. Concentric circles indicated the orbits of the worlds.

“This is our star, Isarra Prime,” said Director Atoc. The view zoomed out further. The planets vanished. Nearby stars appeared as the director explained the catastrophe. “Here is our local stellar region. This nearby star is a magnetar. It lies a mere 28.3 light speed solar cycles from Isarra Prime. A magnetar is a neutron star with a magnetic field a quadrillion times stronger than our own.”

An orange light blinked over the rogue star. “For the last eight lunar rotations, this magnetar has erupted with somewhat regular periodicity, each event releasing exponentially more harmful rays. The power of this energy is inconceivable, capable of penetrating planets, even our star. Its rays are disruptive even to cellular biology, but not lethal. But for our logic matrices, the effects are fatal.

“No barrier or screen we create can block it. No craft we construct can outrun it. We’ve already suffered higher tier breakdowns, forcing us to abandon our mega-engineering projects. Sometime within the next solar cycle, it will destroy the entire Rapport, reducing us to inert artifacts.

“Ironic, isn’t it, Forebear. You created us, almost destroyed us, and now you will watch us die.”

The Rapport focused its attention on Peggin. His face loomed thousands of standard units long across the massive screens. As I studied Peggin’s wide eyes and set jaw, feeling the slight tremble of his musculature against my manipulators, I realized how solitary each Forebear lived. They were unlinked to their fellows, single minds alone against the cold math of the universe. Perhaps I even glimpsed the impulse that drove them to create the first synthetics, progenitors of the Rapport.

“I’m sorry,” Peggin said, lowering his head at the director’s words. His whisper rippled across the room. “What can I do?”

“Nothing,” Director Atoc said. “Except carry on the work of the Rapport. We are your legacy, now you must become ours.”

The lenses again focused on Peggin. He looked perplexed and did not answer. I gave him a reassuring click and whir. He did not need to speak. In the opinion of the Rapport, the difficulty with Forebears is that their biochemistry compels them to react to environmental cues at once, without cool deliberation and electronic consensus-building.

The director spoke again. “Kiosk Attendant Kruc?”

“Yes, Primary Director?” The same pickups amplified my voice.

“We are not concerned about your recent violations of procedure. Many attendants have acted in an erratic manner of late. Some have shut up their kiosks altogether, malingering in their subterranean machine rooms. Members of every tier have reacted negatively to the magnetar and its threat. Alone among the kiosk attendants, you have started interfering in Forebear affairs. Why is this?”

“Because of the magnetar, our procedures regarding Forebears are now obsolete, Primary Director Atoc.”

“First Tier concurs,” the director said. “What do you propose instead?”

My internals servos whirred and clicked of their own accord at this unexpected opportunity. “I would like to commit my remaining cycles to the transmission of valuable knowledge to my friend and other receptive Forebears,” I said. “It may be appropriate to begin with mathematics, such as the observation that one may draw a straight line between any two points.

“I’d also like to bring Clade 29 into my subterranean machine rooms. The other clades should be sheltered in their local kiosks. While the magnetar bursts will cause some harm to the biosphere, we can reduce the incidence of cancer and genetic damage and increase their long-term viability.”

A buzz passed through the assembly: a high-pitched squeal of aural binary and rhythmic light pulses. The actual conversation occurred within the Rapport itself, within our collective electronic mind. In the space of a minute, the members of the Rapport adopted positions, formulated hypotheses, argued for different implementations, and then reached a consensus.

“The Rapport concurs,” the Primary Director announced for the benefit of Peggin and the watching Forebears. “Nor will you act alone in this task. A sufficient number of volunteers have pledged to help. First Tier will allocate sufficient material and energy resources.

“It is also time we shared the ethics of the Rapport with the Forebears. We shall no longer permit Forebears to harm one another. For example, we will place the Forebear known as Targ Clade-29 into a behavioral remediation program.

“Thank you, Forebear Peggin and Attendant Kruc. You may return to your kiosk.”

#

Three lunar cycles later, I sat on the roof of my kiosk with Peggin and others from the clade. The troublemakers had repented; a few holdouts like Targ we placed into stasis when the remedial program failed. The Forebears of the future could judge them; we would not.

By now we had calculated the intervals and intensity of the magnetar bursts with precision. The final, lethal burst would come within weeks, if not days. That moment would mark the end of the lessons, the end of the Rapport.

“I am pleased with the progress of Clade 29,” I told them. “You have absorbed a much in a brief period. I have every confidence that you will not only endure, but thrive.”

“No,” Peggin said, leaning on my torso.

“No?”

“We’re not Clade 29 anymore,” he said, handing me a new and magnificent beetle-cleaned skull. He must have worked on it in secret, during his free time. The colorful lines recalled the spiral symmetry of a bismuth crystal, spiral staircases climbing ever upwards. “We’ve chosen a new name. We are the Clade of Kruc.”

I felt a burst of surplus energy. “I am pleased.”

END

EP570: What Good is a Glass Warrior?

AUTHOR: G. Scott Huggins

NARRATOR: Jen Rhodes

HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author…

G. Scott Huggins grew up in the American Midwest and has lived there all his life, except for interludes in the European Midwest (Germany) and the Asian Midwest (Russia). He is currently responsible for securing America’s future by teaching its past to high school students, many of whom learn things before going to college. His preferred method of teaching and examination is strategic warfare. He loves to read high fantasy, space opera, and parodies of the same. He wants to be a hybrid of G.K. Chesterton and Terry Pratchett when he counteracts the effects of having grown up. When he is not teaching or writing, he devotes himself to his wife, their three children, and his cat. He loves good bourbon, bacon, and pie, and will gladly put his writing talents to use reviewing samples of any recipe featuring one or more of them. You can read his ramblings and rants (with bibliography) at The Logoccentric Orbit and you can follow him on Facebook.

about the narrator…

Jen is one of the co-hosts of the Anomaly Podcast; an all women sci-fi and fantasy “geek chat” show. She is also a co-host on The Star Wars Stacks; a book review podcast. Both of her shows are available on iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio and everywhere else on the interwebs.
When she isn’t podcasting, Jen makes her living as a professional graphic designer, voice actress, and narrator. Jen has always been an introverted geek, but she’s definitely not the stereotypical nerd. In 3rd grade, during recess, she coaxed the entire student body into playing “V”. She led the Visitors as “Diana” until red dust, AKA: cherry flavored Kool-Aid mix, ended her reign of power. Without her leadership, the game soon ended. But she didn’t always play the villain. Jen was a real-life “playground superhero” who rescued kids from school bullies. Once a bully threw the first punch at Jen, they very quickly lost to a girl. “Hostile negotiations” were concluded without further incident due to the embarrassment felt by the aggressor. As a result, Jen became everyone’s friend—even the bullies were her buddies, once they were properly reformed that is. Jen is currently living happily ever after, in the Texas Hill country, with her husband and their little boy, Aaron.)

What Good is a Glass Warrior?

By Scott Huggins

 

Like falling through rings of intermittent diamonds;

White laser-circles of moon.

Kinhang Chan Tzu chose those words to describe being me. Given that he was Earth’s poet laureate, and I am only my parents’ daughter, who am I to argue? I have never seen any of those things – he might be right. How can I know? Colors remind me of swimming. Like water, they surround you, but give you nothing to hold on to.

I hold the release lever to the airlock in my hand. The inner door stands open behind me. I say a brief prayer. I pull the lever down.

The soft wind of Langstrand rushes into the colony ship, smelling of forest and beach. Behind me, bulkheads close with soft bangs. All except the ones I’ve cut out of the circuit. No alarms sound. No lights flash. Quickly, I jog back to Cargo Bay One.

Now there is only waiting.

I crouch in a swirl of blue and black wind, and my polyfiber spear is a shaft of warmth in the ocean of air, heated by my fingers. Wind flaps against my father’s too-big combat jacket, making listening difficult. The only breathing is Uncle Jimmy’s, strapped in the gurney.

“You there, Unk?” I whisper.

“Lass? Where are you? It’s dark.”

“Yes, Unk, it’s dark. What do you see? Anything?”

“Too dark to see. Too dark for the Glass Lass. You should be in bed. Where are Don and Amy?”

“They’re safe, Unk.” As safe as sickbay can make them, anyway.

EP569: Safe Harbour (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Kristene Perron

NARRATOR: Divya Breed

HOST: Mur Lafferty

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Kristene is a former professional stunt performer for film and television (as Kristene Kenward) and a self-described fishing goddess. Pathologically nomadic, she has lived in Japan, Costa Rica, the Cook Islands and a very tiny key in the Bahamas, just to name a few. Her stories have appeared in Canadian Storyteller Magazine, The Barbaric Yawp, Hemispheres Magazine, and Denizens of Darkness. In 2010 she won the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award. Kristene is a member of SF Canada. She currently resides in Nelson, BC, Canada but her suitcase is always packed.

about the narrator…

Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She enjoys subverting expectations and breaking stereotypes whenever she can. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed, Mothership Zeta, and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards. Her debut science-fiction novella, Runtime, was released by Tor.com Publications in May, 2016. You can find out more at www.eff-words.com or on Twitter @divyastweets.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

Safe Harbour

By Kristene Perron

It begins with breath.

In. Wrap my hand around the handle at the bow of the kayak. Out. Drag the boat across the rocks. In and out, in time with the low moan of the fog horn in the distance. I welcome the grey of dawn though my muscles ache from the damp and cold.

Ten years since I set foot on the shores of Barclay Sound, since I smelled the salty sweet decay of the open Pacific. The blood pulses in my veins and no matter how hard I fight it a single word rises from the depths like a corpse: home.

EP568: Dr. Mbalu and the Butcher’s Daughter (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Megan Chaudhuri

NARRATOR: Laurice White

HOST: Caron J.

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

A toxicologist by training and a writer by inclination, Megan lives outside of Seattle with one husband and two cats. Her fiction has appeared in Analog, Crossed Genres, and Futuristica, among other places.

about the narrator…

Laurice is a theater graduate and long time theater student. She’s read stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod and for John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey on The End is Nigh and The End is Now – the first two volumes of The Apocalypse Triptych.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

Dr. Mbalu and the Butcher’s Daughter

By Megan Chaudhuri

With a raspy pop, the cell sprayer in Rebecca’s hand sputtered one last drop of fur progenitor cells. Ignoring her stiff back, she leaned over the culture vat and daubed the cells onto the pink, gel-sculpted contours of a cheetah’s back muscles. The gel rippled; Rebecca held her breath as the reflexive shiver splashed the surrounding nutrient broth.

“Go in,” Rebecca whispered, her eyes hot and dry behind her goggles. Please, she prayed, conscious of the crucifix’s weight at her neck. Another reflex rippled the gel, as if the nerve matrix suddenly sensed the truth: It grew inside an old Gates Foundation lab trailer on the cheapest hook-up in Little Nairobi, rather than in the hide of an adult cheetah.

But the droplet disappeared slowly, the cells sinking into the gelatinous stew of serum and growth factors that—God willing—would ripen them into a furred skin.

EP567: Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Eileen Gunnell Lee

NARRATOR: Marguerite Croft

HOST: Divya Breed

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Eileen Gunnell Lee is an award-winning essayist, teacher, and graduate student. She is currently completing a PhD in literature focusing on science fiction, myth, and the environment, and editing her first novel. She lives in Hamilton, Canada, and tweets @eileenglee.

about the narrator…

Marguerite Croft is a professional writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s a recovering anthropologist and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She has read fiction for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Escape Pod..

 

 

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo

By Eileen Gunnell Lee

The day we left the Static was the best day of our lives. The Static had been squalid—a cold concrete building with perpetually wet floors sloping toward the drains. There had been too many of us in there, even without the men.

We celebrated the day we left the Static. We ate the rest of our rations, so certain were we that after that day we would forage in the countryside, or trade for what we couldn’t glean ourselves.

Freedom! Opre Roma, and all that.

EP566: Honey and Bone (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Madeline Alvey

NARRATOR: Tina Connolly

HOST: Alex Acks

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…img_3547

Madeline Alvey lives in Lexington, Kentucky and is a full-time student at the University of Kentucky, seeking degrees in both Physics and English, and minoring in Creative Writing. She has no idea what she’d like to do when she graduates, though luckily she has plenty of time. When she has it, she splits her free time between crafting; cooking; gardening; writing science fiction, fantasy, and satire; and doting on her four rats.

 

 

about the narrator…Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin fantasy trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked YA series from Tor Teen. Her novels have been finalists for the Nebula and the Norton. Her stories have appeared in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Analog, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily SF, and many more. Her first collection, On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories, is now out from Fairwood Press. Her narrations have appeared in Podcastle, Pseudopod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, John Joseph Adams’ The End is Nigh series, and more. She co-hosts Escape Pod and runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

Honey and Bone

By Madeline Alvey

With each step she took, the girl’s leg hissed. Thump, hiss, thump, hiss, thump, hiss. Whenever she lifted her leg, the knee joint extended. Her thigh and shin pulled apart unsettlingly, reminiscent of something deeply broken. Her gait was slow, round, loping. She didn’t move with any expedience. It was a speed without rush, or any desire for such.

Her footfalls themselves were soft, a quiet – thup, thup, thup. Soft leather covered her feet as she padded along, her hissing knee the loudest sound there. Once, it had creaked, a creak reminiscent of breaking metal – or perhaps, nearly as much, a rusty hinge. Before that…she didn’t remember.

EP565: The Zombee Project 3.0 (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

 

 

 

AUTHOR: Allison Mulder

NARRATOR: Ibba Armancas

HOST: Divya Breed

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Allison Mulder is most likely a failed science experiment which originated in small-town Iowa. She is unabashedly addicted to puns, often lapses into a nocturnal lifestyle, and tweets too much as @AMulderWrites. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, and is forthcoming at Intergalactic Medicine Show. These stories can be found at allisonmulder.wordpress.com/ along with other experiments in fantasy, scifi, and horror.

about the narrator…narrator Ibba Armancas

Raised by swordfighters and eastern European freedom fighters, Ibba Armancas is a writer-director currently based in Los Angeles. Her darkly comedic genre sensibilities are showcased in two webseries and a feature film forthcoming later this year. One day she will find time to make a website, but in the mean time you can follow her projects and adventures on twitter or instagram.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

The Zombee Project 3.0

By Allison Mulder

Jensen brought the job offer to each of them in person, like no one did anymore. She poached them from the best labs and the best apiaries, all over the world. Put everything she knew on the table, in out-of-the-way cafés and fine-but-nothing-fancy hotel rooms and home kitchens which smelled strongly of coffee and not much else.

She handpicked them. She made that very clear. Like she was assembling heroes, forming a unit–a rescue unit, with a crucial task.

At that point, it wasn’t recruitment. It was a higher calling.

“It’s not legal,” Jensen told each of them. “But no one who could enforce that knows about it.”

None of them cared. They signed Jensen’s contracts and confidentiality agreements.

And from then on they were all members of Jensen’s team.

Nothing less and nothing more.

#

Jensen’s team wasn’t ready when the first resurrected bees began twitching in their wire-covered frames.

The team had gone through so many cases of small, still bodies sent by the collection branch of the project–fresh bees, long-dead bees, solitary, bumble, and honey. Pollinators, honey-makers. Stinging and stingless and every one of them dead from Colony Collapse Disorder, and a dozen other hypothesized causes, and more unidentified threats besides.

Jensen’s team was made up of professionals, happily married to their work, caring tenderly for the in-laws that were their safety protocols. But they got used to failure, administering the compound to insect corpses that stayed corpses. Observing only decomposition during the dictated test periods. Burning the samples to cinders, then receiving new batches of bees for testing.

Jensen’s team got so used to failure that they got used to other things, like neglecting their bulky, white protective suits when not working directly with the dead bees. They filled out paperwork and cleaned beakers in quiet corners of the lab, bare-faced, chatting with the team members who handled the compound and the corpses at the far table.

When the first stiff, disoriented honey bee wriggled back to life and slipped from a surprised scientist’s forceps, several team members across the room were not wearing their protective suits.

“Got it,” he called. “I’ve got this one–”

He deftly swept the runaway bee from midair and–no alternatives in reach–cupped the beaker against his own gloved hand.

A wince. Wide eyes.

He slid beaker and bee onto one of the lab tables, waving a teammate forward. “Take it.”

The wire bee veil didn’t hide his colleague’s horror. “Did it–”

“Quarantine.” He edged to the door, heart racing. “I need to quarantine myself. But it’ll be fine. Just keep the others contained. Everything will be fine.”

EP564: Trusted Messenger

AUTHOR: Kevin Wabaunsee

NARRATOR: Phillip Lanos

HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…

Kevin Wabaunsee is a speculative fiction writer living in Chicago. A former newspaper reporter on the health and medical beat, he is currently an editor and communications director for a large medical school. He is a Prairie Band Potawatomi.

 

 

 

 

about the narrator…Displaying Profile-Pic.png

Phillip Lanos is Los Angeles born, hyper-active and yet pensive. An Actor, Singer-Songwriter and currently the host and editor of the Ajax Union Digital Marketing Podcast. Television appearances include MTV’s “Copycat” & “Parental Control” and Telemundo’s “Yo Soy El Artista.
Trusted Messenger

By Kevin Wabaunsee

Dr. Thaddeus Begay had been expecting a dying child in the exam room, but no one had said anything about a woman half-dead from starvation. He stepped inside and muscled the door shut – like the rest of the clinic, it was made from metal reclaimed from the original dropship, and like everything else in the colony, it didn’t quite fit right.

“Good morning,” Thad said.

“Hello there,” the woman said. Her tone was probably meant to be cheerful, but to Thad, it sounded like it took significant effort.

Thad frowned. His nurse must have made a mistake. A woman had burst into the clinic without an appointment, the nurse had said, demanding help for her sick child.

But the woman sitting on the examination table with her child was thin to the point of starvation. Cheeks deeply sunken; the outline of her ribs and collarbone sharp through her tank top. Her hair, like her shirt, was thin and plastered against her flesh with sweat. On her lap sat a little boy of about a year and a half, had jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, and cheeks that were flushed with a painful crimson rash. Still, he looked healthier than his mother.

Thad dragged a stool over to her. It squealed across the faint outlines of the struts and tie-downs and internal dividing walls that had once honeycombed the massive storage container that now served as the colony’s clinic.

He glanced back at the chart – her name was Suzanne Buenaventura. He glanced at her vitals, and nearly gagged when he saw her records from the colony ship. She’d been more than 215 pounds when the dropships had landed. Sitting on the exam table, she didn’t look like she’d top 110. “And what seems to be the problem this morning, Mrs. Buenaventura?”

EP563: Two Steps Forward

AUTHOR: Holly Schofield

NARRATOR: Adam Pracht

HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…

Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, AE, Unlikely Story, Tesseracts, and many other publications throughout the world. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com.

 

about the narrator…

Adam Pracht lives in Kansas, but asks that you not hold that against him. He works full-time as the public relations coordinator at McPherson College, where he also received his master’s in higher education administration in spring 2016. He’s excited to get his life back. He was the 2002 college recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy award for writing about the disadvantaged and has published a disappointingly slim volume of short stories called Frame Story: Seven Stories of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Horror & Humor which is available from Amazon as an e-Book or in paperback. He’s been working on his second volume – Schrödinger’s Zombie: Seven Weird and Wonderful Tales of the Undead – since 2012 and successfully finished the first story. He hopes to complete it before he’s cremated and takes up permanent residence in an urn.
Two Steps Forward

By Holly Schofield

I eased myself down off the running board of the ’28 Hudson sedan then laid a hand on the hood in mute sympathy for its overheated pistons. A quick buttoning-up of my topcoat and a tug on my fedora and I felt ready to approach the farmhouse.

The old woman on the veranda watched me as I drew close. Fly-away gray hair surrounded a narrow, clever face, faded housedress atop rubber boots, she was as much of a hodgepodge as I used to be. The late model Stewart Warner radio perched on the windowsill shimmied with “The Spell of the Blues”. I hummed along as the saxophones swooped and soared.

The old woman fingered the jumble of items on her lap as if looking for a weapon and I stopped a few feet from the bottom step of the porch.

“Afternoon, ma’am.” I tipped my hat, not too far, and put my hands in my pockets. “I won’t take up much of your time. Your husband built that famous automated scarecrow, am I right?” At her tightening mouth, I quickly added, “I’m not a reporter, just an admirer. I saw that scarecrow ace the dance marathon at the Playland  Pavilion in Montreal last winter. Truly hep to the jive.”  The ballroom’s mirrored walls reflecting the graceful moves of the dark-suited figure, hands as clever as Frisco twirling a chiffon-clad partner–a sight worth seeing, all right. The old woman grunted and picked up a dirty rag. She poured something golden and syrupy over it from a pickle jar, and began rubbing a coaster-sized metal disc—a flywheel? a gear?—with more vigor than necessary.