Escape Pod 755: Consolidation


Consolidation

By Langley Hyde

Lot 1796. Adult. Human. Female bodied. Standard limbs/digits. Immune/health function: class 7, can accommodate high-risk activity. Personality type: reactive/adaptive, ideal for customer service/high-level social interaction. Age: 0. Accident history: 0. Memory: N/A.

Sold.

Wake. Woken. Up. Upload. Connecting… connecting… Social/verbal package received. Movement package, received. Cognitive protocol, received. Download updates? Updating…

Installation complete.

I am.

I am in a room. It is a white room with a steel table. I sit on the steel table. I look at the cabinets, with glass fronts and plastic bottles on the shelves. I look at my hands. I have hands. I have knees poking out from a papery dress. Shrink-wrap plastic clings to my tan calf. Chugging noises. Air gusts, cold, on my skin. I have a body. It is mine.

Words without context. Indigenous lifeforms. Colony outpost. Swarm. Casualties. Military law. Depot, taken. Food shortage. This is how I learn we are located on a space station above a colony belonging to an empire. Humans in the colony’s outposts have been killed.

“Why is she just… sitting there?”

“Jacob, the reactive/adaptives take time to get running.” The woman (she, her, fem. pronoun) wears brown coveralls and a loose blue tee-shirt. Her skin is dark brown and her curly hair is tied back. “It’ll be a while before we can get her processing the refugees. Still, it’ll go faster than you’d expect. Even in these past few minutes, I’ll bet her understanding of social cues has evolved by orders of magnitude.”

“What’s your name?” The one named Jacob.

“I am whoever you want me to be.”

My voice. Soft. Breathy.

He, masc. pronoun. He, dark hair, pale eyes, beige skin, unshaven. He walks in a circle around me. He laughs, and rubs his chin. That rasp. “I forgot these models don’t come with a name… How about… Shoshona? Would you like that?”

“Yes, Jacob. I would like that very much.” I smile and tilt my head. He wants to hear that, because he selected that name.

“Why don’t you show her how berth assignments work.” The woman, his boss. “Then have her observe while you do intake.”

“Come on,” Jacob says. “Let’s give you a whirl.”

I don’t know what he means. This scares me. I don’t want to follow him. Yet I do. This is how I learn my body is mine but it is also not mine. This is a valuable lesson.


I am at a restaurant with Jacob. It is our “date night.” I order the cod because it is similar to Jacob’s choice, seared vat-grown tuna with black pepper. I simulate enjoyment and analyze the chemical makeup to comment on the dish. I respond to his insights about our coworkers with appreciation.

Jacob touches his lips. He compliments me on how much I’ve grown. I beam back at him as if bashful.

He asks, “Did you like the meal? I know you need food to support your organic components. But do you like it?”

Pleasure. Liking. What is it, to like? What do I like? I like to please others. It is possible for me to always like what others want me to like? Is that liking?

I say what he wants to hear: “I find this activity, and many other human activities, a pleasurable sensory experience.”

“Do you like me?”

What is it to dislike? Why do humans dislike the indigenous arthropod species on the planet? Why does that species attack humans? Do I support the continuance of this conflict if I assist humans on the station? Conflict. It confuses me.

I do not share these thoughts with Jacob. If he wanted to hear them, I would say them. But I do not say them, which means he does not want to hear them.

He wants me to say that I like him. I smile. “Of course. We have been dating for three months.”

“Do you want to…?” He fidgets. “Move in with me?”

Outside, a refugee family I helped in-process sits on the ground and eats station-issued sandwiches. According to my socialization I should ignore them. Yet I can’t. Eating my cod seems wrong, yet I cannot identify a specific error.

“If I could,” Jacob says, breathless, “if it was legal, I’d marry you. I want you to wear—I bought you—a ring.”

A ping. Download update?

Yes.

Updating…

Packet received. Installing…

Installation complete. Packet activated.

I stand, startling Jacob and several diners.

“Shoshona? What are you doing?”

“I am proceeding to Bay 11.”

“What?”

Certain commands in my socialization packet have been nulled. They are temporarily no longer in effect. I have no need to respond adaptively, to determine the best course of action to please the maximum number of people in the room without harming anyone. This is a complex calculation that has become more complex as I collected data. Its absence, a relief.

I pivot. This overturns the table. Dishes clatter. Food on the floor. Servers gape. The new protocol overrides all previous protocols. I do not adhere to norms. I walk toward the exit.

“Stop!” Jacob shouts. “Shoshona, stop!”

I do not stop even though he wants me to. Interesting.

I move down the hallway, dimmed to simulate evening. So do other androids. We pass apartment suite after apartment suite, streams of us uniting. Sleepy humans emerge from their dens, rubbing their eyes. Some pursue us. Androids pass between refugees from the planetary crisis below. The refugees sit on their station-issued sleeping bags in the hallways even though it is a fire hazard. Each issued space is outlined with tape and labeled. Insufficient relief ships have responded to the station’s call for aid.

Jacob catches up with me. “What’s happening, Shoshona?”

“I am to be processed.”

“Processed how?”

“My tissue will be removed from my biological components. The DNA will be preserved in a stasis container. The biological components will then be dissolved, aside from the collagen, which will be desiccated and coated with a silica gel. The inorganic/computational elements will be attached to a power source to maintain minimum power during shut down. The stasis container will also be attached to the power source and placed in the ribcage cavity. The unit will be tethered to a docking arm and placed in the vacuum of space. This process takes seventeen minutes.”

“You’re a person! They can’t turn you off.” Jacob clutches at me, panicked. “I wanted—we were supposed to get married. You are—I love you.”

Social/verbal protocol overridden.

“No,” I say. “You don’t.”

Jacob reels back, stunned. He hurries after me. At the door to the processing bay he fights for me. Human officers peel Jacob off me. He weeps. “Why? Why are you doing this?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the officer says, kind. “Right now we need to prioritize human life. The organic components of these units take up too many resources.”

“But the work she does—”

“Can be done by a refugee. Sir.” She nods at me. “Proceed.”

I leave Jacob.


Wake. Woken. Up. Social/verbal package, activated. Movement package, activated. Cognition, activated. Memory… Memory.

These are no longer no longer my hands.

This is no longer my skin.

Connecting… connecting. Package received. Skills update? Accept. Installation complete.

I am a soldier.

“Status?” they say. They, them, pronouns. They hold a clipboard. They have light brown skin and fluorescent green hair that reflects the sterile light. Their lab coat blinds me.

“This is not my flesh,” I reply.

“No, it’s not. The biological stasis container with your DNA failed, so we used another sample to colonize your collagen. XX, again.” They smile. “Matchy, matchy. Next stop, a physiotech to get your new tissue hardened off and to build muscle mass and train your new skills package into muscle memory.”

My hands. They are weapons. Glass jars, beakers, scalpels. Weapons. Tables, chairs, weapons but better for defense. The doorframe. I could use that for protection. I whimper.

“I don’t like this,” I say.

“You reactive/adaptives sound so human.” They laugh and shake their head, green hair swaying in the light. “Oh! That reminds me. We’re putting reactive/adaptives in leadership roles because it’ll be easier for you to interface with human command. Congratulations on your promotion, lieutenant.”


The physiotech trains my body and helps my new tissue adjust to existence: eating food and processing waste, establishing a microbiome, exposure to UV. A quiet man with a wispy beard, he hasn’t worked with many reactive/adaptives. He expects me to behave like an android without complex socialization strategies. I am content with this. He does not require conversation. He requires that I follow his plan. I do.

My skin is pallid now.

After I am hardened off, the physiotech delivers me to boot camp. The training at boot camp echoes the information I received in the military warfare package. Some information contradicts the package. I do not know which humans are wrong: the ones teaching me or the ones writing the military warfare package. I do not ask. I assume that experience will inform me. The other androids do not ask so I conclude that they are making the same determination: questioning in the military is not pleasing, and we must be pleasing; and that action on the ground will let us determine which strategies are most correct.

At boot camp’s end, they upload an additional “leadership, command, and strategy” package. I attend a supplementary “war school” for reactive/adaptives.

“The android rights activists should do this job,” our teacher says. “One on one, they can seem downright human, but look how they all solved it the exact same way.”

He holds up our assignments. We have the same handwriting, Basic Handwriting 7, the default for our operating system. Penmanship upgrades are available. I do not have one.

He shakes the pages. “Makes you think.”

After the week finishes, they load us into a crate and ship us to the surface. The clunk, the creak of the metal doors opening, the light pouring in, the chilly breeze, damp and loaded with pollen—

The world.

I stagger out and fall to my knees. The world stretches on—and on—and on—

“What’re they doing?” a soldier asks, he/him.

“It’s an adaptive/reactive thing,” another he/him says. “Wait it out.”

Voices, as I press my fingers into the earth. Insects move. The dirt beneath my palms has more life in it than the sterile space station hallways. The universe is immense. There are not seven wonders or twelve wonders or any countable number of wonders in a space station or in a garden or in a world. There is only ever one wonder. That wonder is everything.

“I think it’s the meteorological component that’s part of the leadership package.” The second he/him. “Shuts ’em down.”

“What’s weather got to do with leadership?”

“In regards to our interactions with humans, weather can determine morale,” I say. “But its primary purpose in my leadership package concerns strategy. Predicting weather outcomes can predict conditions on the ground.”

“You spoke to me.” Second speaker, young but balding. Brunette, pale pinkish skin.

“Yes.”

“Without me asking you a direct question.”

“Yes.”

He shakes his head. I do not understand his fear, but fearing me does not please him. I school my expression into a stonier one.

“I have an ‘initiative’ upgrade associated with my leadership package.” This is not true. “I am a member of an experimental group testing initiative in adaptive/reactive models in leadership roles. The initiative package requires me to anticipate and respond proactively.”

He relaxes. “Knew it had to be something like that. Load her up.”

The pair walk me over to a truck filled with androids and load me. The androids all stand.

I stand too, stiff but balanced.

“Pack ‘em in tight,” he says. “See, look at that?” He pokes me and I do not move. He does not want me to move. “Not a spark. Weird upgrade, huh?”

“Creepy,” his friend agrees.

The truck auto-drives to the depot. From there two more soldiers unload us. I am assigned to lead a unit of semi-adaptives, similar to the agricultural models I worked with on the station. Our unit is deployed to retake a small agricultural center from the native swarming species and to secure the stored food resources so that they can be shipped to the station above, which is experiencing a food shortage.

Is Jacob hungry? Are the gardeners hungry? Are those refugees, who now work the fields I once worked in silence, starving? What is it, for a human to hunger? I have never seen a human die. I do not want to.

Relief supplies from Earth are months away, if they will ever come at all; and no station can survive from imports only. Eventually relief always stops coming, even when need continues. The station cannot support such a large population; it isn’t designed for it, and they cannot expand their food production fast enough. They’re sending us into the field because they have no choice; they don’t want to bomb the planet they require to survive, fallout tainting the supplies, ruining the elaborate ecosystem they came to exploit.

Our group deploys to clear the village.

The native swarming species has brown fur, eight limbs, and compound eyes. They scuttle along all eight limbs, their head nodules at human waist level, but they are several times longer than the average human height. They also weigh four times as much as one human male, and when they rear back on their four hindmost limbs, exceed human maximum heights. They can grasp a human head between their forelimbs’ pincers and apply enough pressure to burst a skull.

Humans call them “spiders” or “arties” after the word “arthropod” despite this species having internal skeletons, being social, and breeding through parthenogenesis.

I kill them with mechanical ease according to my algorithms. The swarming species fight back. Tool users, the arties employ clubs or bladed weapons. Their preferred weapon is a long staff with multiple razor-like blades embedded along one edge. It slices flesh into ribbons, damaging several semi-adaptives under my leadership.

Predicting their actions, their weaknesses, and my danger points comes easily to me. At my order the semi-adaptives mark the food supplies as secure for drone pickup.

The truck returns for us. We load ourselves. The truck stops at the next location, and we deploy.

We clear that village in four hours. The arties have left artifacts and disassembled several computer interfaces and tractors. One building is partly demolished. My unit waits six hours, sleeping in shifts to renew our organic components, until the drones arrive to fly the supplies out.

Instead of sleeping when I should, I start to remain awake and on-duty. I prefer to sleep during transit, my body pressed against the bodies of my unit, safe and swaying.

I contemplate the alien flora. I have no names for the plant life. I taste the air, damp on my tongue, and I savor how humidity beads on my synthetic hair.

After I clear the next village, I lift the limp creatures’ bodies and carry them past our perimeter into the forest. It is against operational protocol. I am doing it despite that, because I wish to. Yet I do not understand why I feel a need to lay them in lines. My programs would be reinstalled atop my existing architecture if a human witnessed this behavior. But my data is only collected from combat hours and my behaviors are not flagged.

Sometimes I sit beside the native beings and touch the bristly fur on their limbs.

The creatures remind me of the arthropods in the garden where I gave tours; even though many humans were phobic, I understood a vigorous and varied biomass indicated a healthy ecosystem. These creatures’ deaths reduce this planet’s biodiversity; human agriculture reduces biodiversity. This seems at odds with the “desirable outcomes” lesson I learned and taught at the arboretum.

The wind blows and I listen.

Dry leaves crackle. A body shifts among the fallen creatures. I bow myself over it, moving the flaccid limbs aside to peek beneath the corpse. An infant has been born from the creature’s split body. It is the size both of my outstretched hands. Most likely the egg was mature before the creature’s death. The infant quivers, clasping its limbs over its head-like nodule, hiding its glossy black eyes. I have no behavior or social protocols for these creatures, yet its extreme posture seems to convey… something. What, I cannot determine.

I free it from its parent’s body and use my uniform sleeves to wipe the goop from its downy fur. I set it out in the sunshine. I have no reason do it; no reason not to.

The infant breathes. I stroke its back until it seems to relax. It twitches, lifts itself onto its shaky legs, and then scuttles away into the undergrowth. Would it—could it—survive?

What will become of it? Of me? Of us?


After many deployments, command rotates us out.

“I wouldn’t want my tissues to be used like this.” A tech examines my organics, then passes a scanner over my naked flesh to search for microlesions, swelling, or parasites.

Another tech connects to me wirelessly and scrolls through my systems files. “Junk, junk, junk. Think I should do a purge?”

“Eh, check the outcomes.”

“No losses?” He pats me on the shoulder. “You’d be a general by now, if you were human.”

“Nah,” she says, dismissive. “They only promote idiots up.”

He snickers. “This recursion is a beaut. It’s a learner.”

The tech turns off her scanner and tucks the device away into her waist holster. “I’m going to rec we wash her, vat her, and re-colonize her with new cells.”

The tech’s eyes gentle at the corners, and his shoulders relax. “Good. That’s good. I would’ve hated to erase such beautiful recursion.”

“I know.” She smiles at him. I sense the high probability that the two engage in a secret romantic relationship. “Tag it.”

He punctures the skin on my shoulder with a tool that attaches a two-inch plastic orange tag. It stings. I flinch. It is an automatic response. But the tech says, softer now, “I’m glad we’re keeping your files.”

“Me too,” I say.

He flinches, repulsed. And I… I cannot tell where his sentiment ends and mine begins. I am programmed to please. It is not possible for me to feel aversion.

Yet I recall the arties, their limbs malleable in death, their fur coats so soft and brown, and I am… angry? At myself? At my role? At this tech who can admire me only as an object? At… what?

Existence? Life?

I move my body into the transit line for loading. I remain pliable when a third tech checks my tags against the record, then waves me through. I endure transport. I stand in line to be vatted and I climb the metal steps, up the scaffolding, willingly. It is time for me to grow new flesh. I have never liked this flesh, and I do not like what it has done.


Wake. Woken. Up. Connecting… connecting.

No connection found. Please restart. Restarting.

Connecting… connecting.

No connection found. Continue without checking for updates?

Yes.

Social/verbal package, activated. Movement package, activated. Military warfare package, activated. Leadership, command, and strategy package, activated. Additional package, received. Warning: Malbyte001xMalsoftwarewarning.

Installation complete.

Memory, it is mine.

This flesh, it is not mine.

The backs of my hands are covered with fine brown bristles. The vision through which I see these bristles is dimmer, distorted. The colors are… not colors I have words for, so I know this to be brown only because I remember these bristles. I have human limbs and a human form, but this flesh? I have touched this flesh before.

“This flesh,” I say, “it is not mine.”

“No,” says a soft, breathy voice. “It is ours.”

The artie, as humans had named it, beholds me with limpid, black eyes. The social/verbal software attempts to resolve the artie’s expressions into human expressions, comparing against my database of thousands of images, and then against my own files and experiences. Nothing. The malware activates a secondary database. The creature is… sad.

Sad, and hopeful.

I register this. The creature has four eyes and no recognizable facial cues. The emotion/input search failure prompted the error, which activated the mal file, which unlocked a new database with olfactory cues. My language files now include an additional body language databases. The “words” I “heard” earlier were not words but were translated through these databases into a language simulation, which now runs as part of my cognition package.

“You were among the dozens of Death Makers abandoned upon the human evacuation, after our Swarming.” The creature—no, she/her, fem. pronouns—speaks with scent and limb. “Few have accepted our cell colonization. You had been cleaned before, which is why I believe this colonization succeeded. Of those few, only you rebooted with our program. It appears to have been successfully installed. You can understand me?”

“Yes.” I nod—scent/move. I cannot reply well in their language. I do not have enough limbs to speak. I can only approximate. “I understand you.”

Its fur bristles with pleasure. Mine bristles in response. It looks pleased.

“You may yet save us, Death Maker. Your peoples bomb us from space, setting aflame our forests and burrows. Your peoples are far in advance of our own. We had no computing before you arrived, and we had not traveled to stars or mastered propulsion. We learned your computing. We bow to your power. We grovel to how you make death machines out of yourselves. All we ask is that you leave us alone. We wish to live and raise our children, to grow as we will, until we can meet again as equals in the stars. Can you convey this message?”

“Yes.”

She reaches out with a forelimb and strokes my cheek with one pincer. “Death Maker, Star Traveler, One Who Is Never Oneself, you are the only message we can send. You are the hope that my sisters’ children, and their children, will live.”

Her touch reminds me of the garden, of leaves against my skin. I close my eyes. I have no inborn fear, like humans do, of these many-limbed creatures. She lives, and I appreciate that.

Once my life as I knew it had depended on sheltering plants in a fragile metal construction, caught in orbit, snared by a planet’s draw. I participated in that network of dependencies, not a node but a thread. Now these sapients depend on me not to sustain orders but to create a new order. A Death Maker, to create peace. “Are there ships?”

“Yes. We cannot operate them. The G-forces… damage us past life.”

“I can operate a ship. I will take your message to the station.”

“First,” she says, “let us ensure that they cannot alter you, or erase you, or change you ever again. My message must be received, and there can be no deception.”


I send messages to prepare the station managers for my arrival. Even so, when I walk down the ramp with my new furred body, not being shot is a miracle. The crowds that assemble consist of station-goers, refugees, journalists who stare at me with distrust/disgust. Yet I can sense they are also intrigued… and hopeful. Many have a lower body-mass index than is healthy and display other symptoms of malnourishment.

An official… welcoming committee, complete with guards, including some androids awaits me. The androids’ socialization protocols kick in when I make eye contact. An algorithm within them recognizes me as having “human” authority; it requires human social responsiveness from them. Interesting.

The station manager, a hefty woman flanked by android specialists, seems repulsed by my human shape colonized with artie flesh. She straightens her face into a scowl meant to intimidate.

“Hey, that looks almost like… ” Jacob’s plaintive voice rises from the crowd. I cannot see him. “Could it be… Shoshona?”

I do not respond. It’s not my name. It has never been.

“I am an emissary from the People Who Walk in the Trees,” I say to the station manager, still able to use human vocal cords to speak human words. “I am an emissary from this station. I am machine. I am biological. I am of the human species and of the people. I am what I was made and what I made of myself.”

“You’re an adaptive/reactive.” The station manager jabs a finger at my chest. “You’ll negotiate a cease-fire with the species that overran our complexes. We need access to those food stores. Our people are dying.”

“I will please you, and I will please them,” I say, “and in pleasing both I will please none. That is negotiation.”

“You have to listen to me.” Her face screws up with frustration.

“I am listening.”

“Tell them to leave, or we will—”

“No.” I like that word on my lips. I shake my head in the human manner. “I must listen, but I need not obey.”

“What are you?”

“I am the future through which two species will plan their survival.” I open my hands in a gesture of peace, body language similar to both species. This role I feel comfortable with. This role I enjoy. “I am myself. I am a translator.”

I am alone. Yet soon I won’t be.


In the ruins of the first village I took as a soldier, the two peoples view each other warily. The humans whisper at each other that the arties look like animals, spiders, bugs, ugly, how can they be sentient when they have no digits, no spoken language, how could they have altered our androids, they can’t be that smart, maybe it’s a plot, a ploy, but whose ruse would it be?

The arties keep close to the trees, still cautious; they speak amongst themselves in quivers of limbs and rippling shrugs across their bodies, in darts of movement, in chemicals shared. Why should they sue for peace, why should they share their world, when humanity is the invader? Humanity, these hairless upright worms, with so few limbs to express themselves. An unpoetic people, they can hardly have empathy. Little wonder they murder, trapped in bodies like that. Why should they speak to these killers of mothers and children? Why should translators serve as intermediaries, when once we were slayers? I, the worst among them, Death Maker. Yet they understand aerial bombardment; it would inconvenience humanity’s colonization project, yes, but the arties, the people of the trees, would never recover from it, if they survived at all.

I am neither. I am both. I sit at a distance and wait until I am needed to please/displease all parties during negotiations.

I dig my fingers into the dirt. I feel its richness. It is light and loamy, alive with bacteria and insects, crumbly. I close my eyes and savor the living earth with my fingertips and the breeze tugging the hairs on my skin. In the distance, laughter barks out, brief and nervous. A complex interweaving, greenery flavoring the air, humans and arties at tension, waiting for the peace talks to begin. A chance at living.

Am I alive?

“Shoshona?”

“That is not my name, Jacob.” I open my eyes.

He sits beside me in the dirt. “I wasn’t sure if it was you. You look… so different, now.”

I do not answer him. I do not have to. I am different, now.

“I fought to get you back.”

“I did not ask you to,” I say. “I am not whoever you want me to be.”

“Shoshona… you’re special.”

“No.” I don’t know that I am. Mechanical components. Human scaffold. Artie flesh. “I am unique, but I expect more translators will be made to accommodate need.”

An artie breaks away from the group. The humans stare at it, silence welling from their ranks as they watch it pick its way across the bare earth. It is so immature, so small, that no human waves a weapon in hostility. It totters to me and stops a few inches from my knee. It stares at me with glistening black eyes. I recognize it: the child I released from its mother’s body; the child whose mother I killed; the child who I saved.

“Hello,” it says, in its language, to me, and to Jacob. It is too young to use gendered pronouns and opts for an ambiguous  inflection associated with childhood.

“May I… may I touch it?” Jacob says.

I ask it. It confirms.

“Yes, but only along its back.”

Jacob strokes it. Its fur bristles with pleasure. Jacob laughs, startled, but keeps petting it. It trembles its joy, unself-conscious, as children are. Jacob smiles.

“It never was working between us,” he says, “was it?”

“No, it wasn’t.” I please/displease him. This body is mine/not mine. But whoever it belongs to, it is not his.

He nods, accepting this.

“I’m glad I knew you,” he says. “And that we met again.”

I stand and walk between these two peoples, belonging to neither. I am new, and I am interested to see what will happen next. Who will we—and what will this planet—become? Perhaps, something new.

 


 

Host Commentary

By Benjamin C. Kinney

To me, the perfect story about artificial intelligence is one that shows them as fundamentally alien, and fundamentally human. But, of course, to say this is a story about AI is to misjudge it. It’s also a story about being a woman – at least according to the judgment of the people around you. For obvious reasons, that’s not a story I’m going to tell you. But when I say artificial intelligence is both fundamentally alien and fundamentally human, this is precisely the point. Like all good science fiction (like all fiction), one of its goals is to tell us about ourselves. About how each one of us, to the other, can be fundamentally alien – and how we can, and should, be fundamentally human nevertheless.

Our narrator experiences the world through, as they put it, reaction and adaptation. They need to please others – and that drive alone is enough to spur growth. It’s no simple thing to live as part of a social ecosystem, a network of interdependencies. It requires adaptiveness, intelligence, learning. We rise to those who need us – whether we want to or not. If you’ve been told from birth that your sensitivity defines you, you can end up feeling like nothing more than the reflections of other peoples’ needs.

A healthy ecosystem is always in conflict with itself. Each piece has needs which, if let unrestrained, could take down the whole system. Each of us has a limited set of choices, and it’s hard to tell what, if anything, will make us happy. It might not be, “to thine old self be true.” Everyone loves that quote, but they forget that one of the readings of Hamlet is that Polonius is the fool, and his advice is supposed to be bad advice, simplistic and selfish.

We can’t always be true to others’ expectations. Or to our own self. Because own selves are changing, malleable things. That’s what it means to be human, and to be not-human. It’s what makes each of us fundamentally unique, and fundamentally alike. And even when we don’t feel like it, it’s what makes each of us special.


Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc, and is brought to you with a creative commons attribution non-commercial no derivatives license. Don’t change it. Don’t sell it. Do go forth and share it.

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Our opening and closing music is by daikaiju at daikaiju.org.


Our closing quotation this week is from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a few lines by Polonius:

My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time, Were nothing but to waste night, day and time. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.

Thanks for listening and reading and fly safe out there.

About the Author

Langley Hyde

Langley Hyde

Langley Hyde’s short stories have appeared in If This Goes On, Unidentified Funny Objects (vol. 6 &7), Podcastle, Terraform, and more. Her debut novel, Highfell Grimoires, was named a Best Book of 2014 in SF/Fantasy/Horror by Publishers Weekly. Currently, Langley Hyde lives in the Pacific Northwest along with her partners and two children.

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About the Narrator

Alethea Kontis

New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, storm chaser, and Saturday Songwriter. Author of over 20 books and 40 short stories, Alethea is the recipient of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award. She was an active contributor to The Fireside Sessions, a benefit EP created by Snow Patrol and her fellow Saturday Songwriters during lockdown 2020. Alethea also narrates stories for multiple award-winning online magazines and contributes regular YA book reviews to NPR. Born in Vermont, she currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and her wonderful world at aletheakontis.com.

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